HC Deb 12 September 1887 vol 321 cc279-80
MR. SHIRLEY (Yorkshire, W.R., Doncaster)

asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Whether he has considered the Judgment in the case of Mr. Dillet, barrister-at-law of the Inner Temple, pronounced by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council on the 25th of March last; whether the Mr. Sheriff who is so severely censured in that Judgment is the same Mr. Sheriff who has recently been appointed to be a Judge of the Supreme Court at British Guiana; whether it is the fact that, when accused of a crime of which he was afterwards declared by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council to be innocent, Mr. Dillet was kept in solitary confinement for 22 hours of the 24 for over three consecutive months, and was made to sleep during the whole of that time on the bare floor; whether such solitary confinement was in accordance with the law and the terms of his sentence; whether it is the fact that, about a month after Mr. Dillet's conviction, the Legislative Council of British Honduras passed a Law called "The Public Officers Protecting Ordinance, 1884," for the purpose of preventing the Chief Justice, the Colonial Secretary, and the gaoler from being sued in action for damages by Mr. Dillet; whether, notwithstanding the circumstances of this case and the opinion expressed by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, Mr. Sheriff is still to be retained in Her Majesty's Service; and whether attention will be paid to Mr. Dillet's application for reappointment, his conviction having been quashed on appeal?


I have given very careful consideration to the Judgment of the Judicial Committee and to all the circumstances of the case of Mr. Dillet, including a full explanation by Mr. Sheriff, which, unfortunately for himself, he did not bring before the Judicial Committee, as he was under the erroneous impression that his judicial conduct was not in question, and therefore did not appear before them by counsel. Mr. Sheriff, whose action as Chief Justice of British Honduras is censured, was at the time one of the Puisne Judges of the Straits Settlements; but had been allowed by my Predecessor to exchange that appointment for a Puisne Judgeship of the Supreme Court of British Guiana before the decision of the Judicial Committee was given. It is not strictly correct that the Judicial Committee declared Mr. Dillet innocent of the crime charged against him, though they quashed the conviction on the ground of misdirection. There was nothing special in his treatment in prison, except that at first the Prison Rules were not strictly enforced. The construction of the prison and the requirements of discipline render it necessary that prisoners not undergoing hard labour should be confined to their cells. All prisoners are provided with a rug and head-rest, and sleep on the floor. Mr. Dillet's treatment in prison was in accordance with law and the terms of his sentence. It is the fact that on the 12th of November, 1884, an Ordinance was passed called the "Public Officers Protecting Ordinance;" but I am informed that it is not the fact that this Ordinance was passed for the purpose of preventing any officer of the Colonial Government from being sued by Mr. Dillet. The Ordinance is similar to Ordinances in force in other Colonies. After careful consideration of the circumstances of the case, I arrived at the conclusion that I should not be justified in advising the Queen to cancel Mr. Sheriff's transfer to British Guiana on account of a single instance of failure in the discharge of his judicial functions in British Honduras. I may add that the Chief Justice of British Guiana has expressed himself as perfectly satisfied with my decision. Mr. Dillet has not for many years held any appointment in the Colonial Service. He served for a short period, commencing in 1870, as clerk to his father, who was Clerk of Courts in British Honduras. His application for employment will be considered with other applications. As to the additional Question asked by the hon. Member, I have to say that no such Resolution was passed by the Court of Policy; but that a protest was signed by four out of five of the elective Members and sent home. The fifth Member refused to sign.