HC Deb 03 June 1924 vol 174 cc1212-4

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."— [Mr. Kennedy.]


I should like to refer to the question which was put by the hon. Member for North Hackney (Mr. J. Harris) yesterday, regarding the system of trial in the West African Colonies. I should like to call attention to certain anomalies that exist in these parts of our Colonial possessions as compared with other Colonial possessions. The case on which my hon. Friend founded his question was that of a Mr. Fitzgerald, a Government servant, who was charged in the Protectorate of Sierra Leone, as distinct from the Colony, with the misappropriation of .certain Government funds. In the Protectorate, as distinct from the Colony, there is no provision for trial by jury, and this ex-Government servant was brought before the Second Court Judge of Sierra Leone Protectorate, assisted by three assessors, and charged with the misappropriation of £20 odd of Government money. The trial proceeded and after it had concluded the assessors were called upon to pronounce their verdict and the three unanimously pronounced the prisoner to be not guilty. The Judge, however, as he was perfectly entitled to do under the procedure, overruled the verdict of the assessors, convicted the prisoner and sentenced him to a term of imprisonment.

I do not wish in any way to animadvert upon the Government, because those of us who have studied colonial administration of justice are well aware that it is not a matter that can be laid to the charge of any particular Government. It has been the result of an aggregation of conflicting judicial procedures. There is in some colonies an appeal from these decisions, but in some colonies there is no appeal. In the Sierra Leone Protectorate it so happens there is no appeal from a criminal conviction brought about in these circumstances.

What I am urging upon the, Government is this: In all Colonies, so far as I know —and I have made a fairly diligent search of the ordinances and rules of procedure in other Colonies than the West African Protectorates—in all Colonies except West Africa, so far as am aware, there is an invariable rule that any European charged with an offence against the criminal law is entitled to be tried by a jury of his own countrymen. In the Sierra Leone Protectorate, as distinguished from the Colony, where trial by jury is provided. there is no such provision, the only provision being for trial by assessors; and under the Criminal Procedure Regulations, the verdict of the assessors has no binding effect on the court whatever It is laid down that the Judge is entitled, if he wishes, to overrule the verdict of the assessors, and in this particular case he did overrule the verdict of the assessors

Without in any way commenting upon the propriety or impropriety of the verdict in that case—that has nothing to do with the point I am putting before the House—this procedure seems to be a very serious departure from the ordinary administration of justice as we understand it in this country. An accused person of our race is entitled to be tried by a jury of his own countrymen on the facts, and the Court must be bound by the finding of the jury. The difficulty is, of course, a practical one—we have to recognise that. The difficulty is to empanel a jury of Europeans in a place like the Sierra Leone Protectorate. My submission is that we have a perfectly good precedent to go upon, to he derived from other Protectorates of the Crown, and that is that where you cannot get a jury in the Protectorate with the Circuit Court or the District Court, as the case may be, you should commit the accused for trial to the nearest centre at which a jury can be empanelled in the Colony itself. In this case you have the two jurisdictions side by side. You have the Sierra Leone Colony, in which there is no difficulty whatever in obtaining a jury, because the natives are entitled to trial by jury. There is no provision whatever for trial by assessors except in such cases as the Attorney-General should certify that a fairer trial would be obtained by suspending trial by jury, and providing assessors for the Court. In the Sierra Leone Protectorate, which holders on the Sierra. Leone Colony, on the other hand, a European arraigned before a Court of justice is not entitled to be tried by a jury, and has no- claim to a jury, but must be satisfied with trial by assessors. I think I ought to indicate to my hon. Friend on the Treasury Bench that since 1901 there have been no fewer than 13 cases in which the Judge of the Sierra Leone Courts—

Notice taken that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members not being present—

The House was adjourned at Eleven Minutes after Eleven of the Clock until To-morrow.