HL Deb 01 August 1902 vol 112 cc389-91

My Lords, I beg to call attention to a case which has; recently occurred in the Admiralty Division of the High Court of Justice, where the certificate of the captain of the Allan Line Steamship "Grecian," which had been suspended for three months by a Naval Court sitting at Halifax, Nova Seotia, was restored to him on appeal, | Justices Jeune and Barnes characterising the charge as unfounded; but that, although successful in his appeal, the captain was required to pay his own heavy costs on the ground that the Board of Trade did not initiate the inquiry nor oppose the appeal; and to ask whether, in view of this great hardship, and the fact that it involves a precedent which may bear very unjustly on captains and officers in the future, the Department will communicate with the various Colonial authorities concerned, so that in similar cases some arrangement may, if possible, be arrived at whereby the Colony particularly concerned will, ex gratia or otherwise, defray the costs of the appellant; and whether this important matter could be brought before the Conference of Colonial Premiers who are now visiting this country. This is a case of very great hardship. Captain Harrison of the "Grecian" took a pilot on board going into Halifax, and while in the pilot's charge the vessel went ashore. A Colonial Court of Inquiry was held, and the Court highly complimented Captain Harrison on the way in which he had navigated his ship and on the special care he had taken prior to the pilot coming on board. But the Court stated that they had no jurisdiction over the pilot, and there and then proceeded to punish Captain Harrison for the fault of the pilot, which, I think your Lordships will admit, was a most unjust thing to do, for no captain, after a pilot has taken charge, ever interferes with the navigation of the vessel. An appeal was brought by the captain, and Sir Francis Jeune and Mr. Justice Barnes, who tried the case, declared that the charge which was made against the captain was unfounded, and that a great hardship had been inflicted upon him. They stated, however, that they could not grant costs against the Board of Trade, because they did not initiate the inquiry or oppose the appeal. A ship captain's pay is not very great, which increases the seriousness of the matter, and I think some steps should be taken by His Majesty's Government to meet such cases in the future.


As my noble friend has told the House, this is a case where a vessel was lost on the coast of Nova, Scotia, where a Colonial Court of Inquiry suspended the master's certificate for three months, and where, upon appeal to the Admiralty Court in this country, the master was absolved and his certificate returned to him. The counsel for the captain applied for costs against the Board of Trade, but costs were refused on the grounds that in this case the Board of Trade had done nothing to him at all, that they had not been instrumental in originally suspending his certificate, that they had not in any way opposed the appeal or added to the costs of the suit. The President of the Court did express sympathy with the captain that, having won his case he should have to bear the costs which he could no doubt ill afford, and I personally agree with my noble friend that those who know the circumstances of the case undoubtedly feel sympathy with the captain in having this burden placed upon him. At the same time, I do not know of any means by which any remedy could be found in this case. I understand that there is nothing which we could do at the Board of Trade, and it is doubtful whether, even if the case is referred by the Colonial Office to the Colony in question, any steps such as my noble friend suggests will be taken in the future. I can promise him, however, that we will confer with the Colonial Office upon it, and that if there is any way of meeting such a case in the future we will endeavour to find it. It seems to me to be a question of detail, and one which could be more properly, if at all, referred by the Colonial Office to the various Colonial Governments concerned.

House adjourned at a quarter before Five o'clock, to Monday next, a quarter before Eleven o'clock.