HC Deb 21 July 1887 vol 317 cc1726-36

Order for Further Consideration of Postponed Resolution [19th July] read— That a sum, not exceeding £26,524, be granted to Her Majesty to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending the 31st day of March 1888, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Department of Her Majesty's Secretary of State for the Colonies, including certain Expenses connected with Emigration.

MR.M'EWAN (Edinburgh, Central)

Before this Vote is taken, Sir, I wish to bring under the notice of the House a case of flagrant injustice done to Pr. Grech, resident physician at Malta. On the 27th of December last a man arrived from Port Said with his face covered with pimples of a suspicious character; he went the same day to Dr. Grech, who pronounced his case small-pox. He immediately sent for the chief physician, who made an examination, and also pronounced it a case of small-pox; he ordered the patient to be isolated in the upper story of the house; on the 29th of the month three members of the family were also affected with the disease. The sanitary officer came and the deputy-inspector, and they told the patients that they must be removed to the lazaretto. Dr. Grech being referred to, pointed out that there was some danger, it being night, and the weather stormy and cold; and he said that the house was sufficiently large to enable them to isolate the whole of the patients. The chief physician was called in, the same arguments were used, and he also "would not take the responsibility of ordering the patients to the lazaretto: the whole three went to the police office for the purpose of ascertaining the views of the police. The superintendent did not reply, and Dr. Grech then ordered the attendant to go to Valetta for instructions. Upon that the police officer took from his pocket an order for the removal of the patients. Dr. Grech protested against their taking this nocturnal journey, and said, with, perhaps, some asperity, that it was a remarkable thing that the police should show so much activity, seeing that they had been so remiss in letting infected people come into the island. The policeman said he did not know anything about these matters, but was simply obeying orders. Dr. Grech then left. About an hour afterwards he was apprehended, put into an open boat, taken across the water, and when he landed at Valetta he found the magistrate waiting to try him. The policeman charged him with having insulted him and prevented him in the discharge of his duty. Dr. Grech requested that the trial might be postponed in order to get witnesses and prepare the defence; but the magistrate refused. He asked to have counsel, which the magistrate refused at first, but afterwards they were sent for. They had no opportunity of consulting Dr. Grech, and they knew nothing of the case; but they pointed out that it was not a case of urgency, and that it ought to be postponed till next day. The accused demanded that the men should be examined; but the police magistrate said that no further evidence was required, and he was condemned to prison for four days; he was taken to the common gaol of Corodino, where he was immediately ordered to strip and put on the prison dress, and he was thrust in amongst the convicted scoundrels of the island. There is in the prison no distinction of persons or crimes; the men guilty of the most trifling misdemeanour have to herd with the most abandoned criminals—assassins and thieves. Application was made to the Governor of the island to release Dr. Grech, or commute the sentence; but the Governor said he could not interfere with the course of law. This arrest was illegal, the trial was illegal, and the conviction was illegal. The charge that Dr. Grech had prevented the policeman from doing his duty broke down before the magistrate, because it was found to be utterly unsupported by his testimony. The policeman, as a matter of fact, did not remove the patients till the next day, and Dr. Grech was not arrested until an hour afterwards; according to the laws of Malta no prisoner can be tried until he has had two clear days to prepare his defence and get witnesses; but that law was totally disregarded, and consequently the conviction which followed was illegal. When Dr. Grech came out of prison he applied to the Court for a copy of the evidence on which he had been convicted, which was refused; he then applied to the Governor of the island, who also refused it. Dr. Grech did not hesitate to say that his object in asking for this was to lay the whole case before a higher authority. The Colonial Secretary, being an English gentleman, sent out a most indignant despatch, condemning the action taken against Dr. Grech; but there the matter ended, no apology being made. Objection was raised to giving the evidence, because as it was said a claim for redress might be founded upon it. I say that a great injustice has been done, and if redress is not given, or the means of getting redress are not furnished, it is evident to me that both the Governor of Malta and the Colonial Secretary do not think that a Maltese, although a subject of the Queen, is entitled to the same protection of the law as Englishmen. If this man had been an Englishman I think the right hon. Gen- tleman would not have contented himself with merely writing a despatch; if he had been an Englishman the probability is that the Governor of Malta would have been removed, and that the Colonial Secretary himself would not have felt very easy in his office. I think the Colonial Secretary has failed to do his duty in this case, and for that reason I move the reduction of the Vote by £1,000.

Amendment proposed, to leave out "£26,524," and insert "£25,524."— (Mr. M'Ewan.)

Question proposed, "That, £26,524 stand part of the Resolution."


I am glad to recognize the very temperate manner in which this Amendment has been moved. I am not surprised at this very painful case creating attention, and I think the House is indebted to the hon. Member for having brought it under their notice. I can assure the House that I have given to it my anxious and careful consideration, and I have not hesitated, as the hon. Member has frankly admitted, to express my opinion strongly upon it. I am not prepared to dispute many of the statements advanced by the hon. Gentleman; but I will venture to call the attention of the House to a point in the case which was hardly dwelt upon by the hon. Member. In removing these persons, convalescent as well as those who had not caught the disease, from this infected house the police were acting legally, and in strict accordance with a most useful sanitary law of Malta, especially framed to prevent the spread of disease. Looking to the importance of this preventive measure it is clearly very undesirable that any difficulties should be placed in the way of the police who are carrying out orders under that law. Now, I am bound to say that I think that Dr. Grech—though acting from an honest conviction that he was in the right—at one time overstepped the limits of discretion, and used language which the hon. Member admitted had some "asperity" in it, but which I should characterize in somewhat stronger terms. Dr. Grech, entertaining the views he did, had a right to protest; but he should have contented himself with such a protest, and not used language which was calculated to raise difficulties in the way of the legal action of the police in removing these persons from the infected house. But having said this much, I must now express my strong disapprobation of the subsequent proceedings, and of the unjust, I might almost say barbarous, treatment of Dr. Grech. With the permission of the House, I will read out three paragraphs of my Despatch of 17th June to the Governor, which fully and briefly express my view of the case— 3. After carefully considering Dr. Carbone's Report, and the depositions taken by the magistrate, I have failed to find any sufficient justification for the arrest of Dr. Grech, after he had ceased to interfere with the removal of the small-pox patients, or for the hasty trial of the charge at night; and I must add that the refusal of the magistrate to postpone the hearing until Dr. Grech could call witnesses, was, in my opinion, a denial of justice. I am further unable to find in the depositions any evidence of the alleged insult to the police, and even had this been otherwise, the sentence of four days' imprisonment was, considering Dr. Grech's position, in my opinion far too severe. 5. I regret to be obliged to come to the conclusion that Dr. Grech has been treated not only harshly, but unjustly, and the case strongly illustrates the necessity of the proposed amendment of the law by giving an appeal from the decisions of the magistrates. 6. I request that you will cause Dr. Grech to be informed that while I much regret his conduct in opposing the removal of the patients to the lazaretto, I have been obliged to express my strong disapproval of the proceedings taken against him. I may add that I have since received another Despatch from the Governor, giving me further explanations of the case; but that I have felt compelled, after consideration, to reply that I see no reason to modify my opinion. As regards the action of the Governor, I desire to say that he must be acquitted of blame. He acted on the advice of his Law Officer, and in the Colonies, as, indeed, in this country, the Government cannot be blamed for so acting. Sir Lintorn Simmons was fully justified in adopting the opinion of the Crown Advocate, though I confess I cannot myself agree with that opinion. Let me say also that the arrest has been spoken of as illegal. This is not the case—the arrest in itself was legal, although, in my opinion, the charge upon which it was made was not sustained before the magistrate. But subsequent failure of proof would not make the arrest illegal. I have been asked to reverse the sentence; but after inquiry into this point, I do not see how, in the absence of any appeal from the magistrate's decision, and after the sentence has been worked out, there could be any formal reversal. Nor, again, can I see how, or by whom, any formal apology can be given. Dr. Grech has received by my decision, which was communicated to him by the Governor, and which he can make public, and he will further receive from the debate this evening, a full admission of the justice of his complaints and of the harsh treatment to which he has been subjected. He is thus set right in the eyes of his family, his friends, and the public. I have been asked if I will direct compensation to be awarded to him. Well, in the first place, Dr. Grech himself has not made a formal application for compensation, and, after making inquiries upon this point, I find that the cases where compensation has been awarded are extremely rare, and that they are of a more serious character than the case under consideration. At the same time, if Dr. Grech should think it worth his while to make such application, I shall be prepared to give it careful consideration. In conclusion, I hope I have shown the House that I have dealt fairly with this very painful case, and that I have, as far as possible, remedied the injustice done to Dr. Grech.

MR. CHILDERS (Edinburgh, S.)

I also am aware of the facts of the case my hon. Friend (Mr. M'Ewan) has brought before the House, and I think he may well accept the answer of the Colonial Secretary (Sir Henry Holland). There is, however, one feature of the case which I hope the Colonial Secretary will not lose sight of. He has very properly stated that in matters of this kind the Governor is bound to follow the advice of his Law Officers, and that the very distinguished general officer who is Governor of Malta did what was proper in taking the advice given him. I think the Colonial Secretary may well consider whether the Crown Advocate or principal Law Officer has shown in this matter anything like competency for the Office he holds. I trust that the right hon. Gentleman will not postpone dealing with this case till a proper system of appeal is established; but that at once he will consider whether the Crown Advocate is really competent for the Office he fills. This is a delicate question, and I should not wish to carry it further. There has been a gross miscarriage of justice, arising, apparently, from the Advocate's incompetency; but, after the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman, I hope my hon. Friend will not think it necessary to go to a Division.

MR. ANDERSON (Elgin and Nairn)

I heard with great gratification some of the remarks of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies, though I was very much surprised, having attended closely to the case, to hear him say he thinks this arrest was not illegal. Anything more monstrous than the arrest of this gentleman I cannot conceive. Do let me remind the House what the charge was. The charge against this doctor was that he had interfered with the police in the discharge of their duty. That is not proved; I am sure the right hon. Gentleman will say that is not proved. But that was not the charge of which he was convicted. Is there existing at Malta any power by which the police can arrest a person for an offence which he has not committed? What this doctor did was simply this: he suggested, on a winter's evening at the end of December, that it was very dangerous to remove people in the height of small-pox four miles in an open carriage. I think his suggestion was most humane, and if he had not made it he would grossly have neglected his duty. The policeman produced his order, and insisted upon taking these people to the hospital four miles off, and because the doctor said—"You will endanger the lives of these people if you do it," he was charged with interfering with the police in the discharge of their duty. But the doctor was convicted of one of the most extraordinary offences ever heard of in the world. He was acquitted upon the charge of interfering with the police in the discharge of their duty, but found guilty of having addressed "indeterminate reproaches" to the police. It appears that in the law of Malta there is a clause which enables persons who have been guilty of what are called "indeterminate reproaches"—but I think I ought to read the clause to the House. It is very short, but nevertheless instructive. There are several clauses about insult, but one of them says— If the insult consists of mere vague expressions, indeterminate reproaches, or words or acts merely indecent, the offence shall fall under the class of contraventions, and the person charged and convicted shall be punished with one month's imprisonment; and then follow definitions as to what indeterminate reproaches mean. It is startling to us in this country, who recently have had considerable enlightenment on Criminal Law, to hear of such a state of things as exists in Malta. It is an indeterminate reproach for a doctor to lodge a protest against four people being removed in an open carriage, and on a winter's night, to a lazaretto four miles distant. For making this protest he was arrested. I entirely fail to see on what possible ground this arrest can be declared legal. It is monstrous to hear a Minister of the Crown say he thinks the arrest is legal. It is shameful to think that a subject of Malta can be taken off to prison for having acted as Dr. Grech did, brought before a magistrate at 9 o'clock at night, and refused an adjournment in order that his counsel and witnesses might be sent for. [Cries of "Agreed!"] Hon. Members may cry "Agreed!" but this is a very important subject, and we mean to have it discussed. I venture to say no more important matter has been brought before the attention of the House; and I protest against the action of the Maltese authorities in respect to it. I have great sympathy with the Motion my hon. Friend has made, and I think that something ought to be done in the matter. I am disappointed I did not hear from the Government a single word of real redress in the case. It must be conceded that Dr. Grech has been shamefully treated. Is the magistrate who acted in the case to remain in his position? Is there no power to prevent a recurrence of this state of things? I think the magistrate ought to be removed; I think the policeman ought to be dismissed; and, what is more, I think the Governor, Sir Lintorn Simmons—of whom I know nothing, but who, I have no doubt, is an officer of great experience—should, when the facts were laid before him on the following day, have disregarded all the redtapeism, and have instantly ordered the discharge of the official at fault. The statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies is not satisfactory. He holds out no hope that the magistrate will be removed; and, therefore, I, for one, will most heartily go into the Division Lobby with my hon. Friend.

MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)

I should not have risen to address the House at this late hour (12.45) if this had been the only case of gross maladministration of justice at Malta which has come under my notice. I should like the House to consider the extraordinary character of this case. Dr. Grech protested against the removal of four patients in an open carriage, on a winter's night, to a lazaretto four miles distant, when there was plenty of accommodation in the house of the patients—plenty of room for isolation. Dr. Grech was arrested on a false charge in order to justify the arrest. The charge of having obstructed the police was withdrawn, and the charge of "indeterminate reproaches" substituted. Dr. Grech was taken at 8 o'clock at night before a magistrate, who, as a matter of fact, was not on the rota for trying cases that night, and at half-past 10 o'clock the conviction was recorded, no postponement having been allowed for the attendance of the prisoner's witnesses or counsel. Could anything be more monstrously injudicial on the part of any magistrate? I submit that unless we receive from the Government some assurance that the magistrate will be dismissed, we ought to go to a Division as a protest against his conduct. Lot us consider the next step in the case. The very next day an appeal was made to the Governor. As the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary truly says, the Governor cannot be held responsible for a decision of this kind; he must, undoubtedly, act by the advice of his Law Officers. But, surely, in a case so gross as this—four days' imprisonment, four days' herding with criminals of the most abandoned type, for the offence of protesting against the removal in an open carriage, on a winter's night, of respectable patients from their own home to a lazaretto—no officer could be justified in refusing to give redress. I consider the officer who advised the Governor equally guilty with the magistrate who convicted the man, and I trust the Colonial Secretary will be able to give us some assurance in the direction—not of compensation of Dr. Grech, for I do not think compensation is sufficient—of preventing similar oases occurring in the future. I remember that a very gross miscarriage of justice occurred not very long ago. There is something very wrong in the administration of justice in Malta, and it is absolutely necessary a reform should be made.


I think that so far as Dr. Grech is concerned, my hon. Friend the Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. M'Ewan) might very well be content with the statement made to-night by the right hon. Gentleman the Colonial Secretary, for that right hon. Gentleman has stated that this is a case in which justice has been denied, in which the insult that was charged against the prisoner did not take place, and in which the sentence which was passed upon him was excessive. He has pronounced the opinion that in the eyes of the public Dr. Grech has been acquitted, and with the statement of the right hon. Gentleman Dr. Grech and his friends might well be content this case should pass away. But there is one consideration to which I wish to direct attention. There is the justice of Great Britain in one of its smallest Colonies to be vindicated. The question of compensation has been mentioned, and the Colonial Secretary has offered to do more in that direction than anybody could have expected. But compensation is nothing to the point. What we want is that the men who have lowered the name of Britain in the Colony should be punished. We want a full inquiry— a fuller inquiry than has yet taken place. We want the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Colonies himself to go into the case more fully, and to carry punishment as high as punishment ought to be carried, even if it should reach as high as the Governor himself. Let the magistrate be punished, let the Crown Advocate who has given bad advice be punished, and if there are higher officials who have been guilty, let punishment reach them also. I agree with my hon. Friends that we have been amply justified in bringing this case forward by what the right hon. Gentleman has said. If the right hon. Gentleman refuses to carry punishment higher my hon. Friend the Member for Central Edinburgh (Mr. M'Ewan) will certainly be justified in carrying his Motion to a Division.

Question put.

The House divided.— Ayes 162; Noes 74: Majority 88.—(Div. List, No. 314.) [12.55 A.M.]

5. "That a sum, not exceeding £172, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1888, for meeting the Deficiency of Income from Fees, & c. for the requirements of the Board of Trade, under 'The Bankruptcy Act, 1883.'"

Resolutions agreed to.