Skip to Content

Colonial Cases


This site now contains consular and other court cases heard in Japan. 

The British, European and United States consular courts which operated in China and Japan did so on the principle of extra-territoriality. That is, they had jurisdiction over their own subjects and citizens who were in the physical area of the courts in locations such as Shanghai and Nagasaki. See Douglas Clark's three volume history of extraterritoriality in China, Japan and Korea: Gunboat Justice: British and American Law Courts in China and Japan (1842-1943), Earnshaw Books, Hong Kong, 2015, referred to at  His website also refers to a video of what appears to be a Judge of the Supreme Court, taken in 1928. Some of the cases have been reported formally: see especially, CS Lobingier, Extraterritorial Cases, Bureau of Printing Manila, 1920.

See also G.W, Keeton, The Development of Extraterritoriality in China, 2 vols., Longmans, 1928, and Georges Soulié De Morant, Extraterritorialité et Intérêts Étrangers en Chine, Geuthner, 1925, both reviewed by H. Dodwell, (1929) 5(3) Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 654-655. The most recent thorough studies are P. Cassal, Grounds of Judgment: Extraterritoriality and Imperial Power in Nineteenth-Century China and Japan, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2013; and Turan Kayaoglu, Legal Imperialism: Sovereignty and Extraterritoriality in Japan, the Ottoman Empire and China, Cambridge University Press 2010. See also N. B. Dennys, The Treaty Ports of China and Japan: A Complete Guide to the Open Ports of Those Countries, Trübner & Co., London, 1867, p. 387; Eileen P. Scully, Bargaining with the State from Afar: American Citizenship in Treaty Port China, 1844-1942, Columbia University Press, New York, 2001.

Kayaoglu provides a chart of the dates of British extraterritorial courts, stating that they operated in China between 1833 and 1943, Japan 1856-1899 and Korea 1883-1910. There were six British extraterritorial courts in Japan in the mid-1880, 66 in the Ottoman empire in 1900 and 26 in China in 1926 (Table 1 and note 4 in the introduction).

A clear analysis of the consular courts generally and particularly those of the United States was published in 1919, when there were fifteen American consular courts in operation in  China: C.S. Lobingier, American Courts in China, Bar Association Publications, 1919, reprinted  by Bibliolife. This was an Address by the President of The Far Eastern Bar Association. It explained the relationship between territorial and personal jurisdiction, and the interaction of the amateur consular courts and the professional United States Court for China. See also C.M. Bishop, "The American Consular Court System in China" (1922) 8 American Bar Association Journal 223-225.

The following cases were transcribed from digital copies of newspapers in national libraries around the world. The transcriptions were made by Peter Bullock, who contributes so much to the Macquarie and Austlii colonial cases projects, and by Bruce Kercher. ]

The best judicial discussion of the British courts' jurisdiction in China and Japan is in R. v. Carew, 1897. That is less a case report than a newspaper explanation of the function and power of the courts. See also Hart v. Von Gumpach, 1872 and Findlay Richardson & Co. v. Pitman & Co., 1872 on jurisdiction. On the establishment of the Supreme Court of China and Japan in 1865, see Supreme Court, establishment

The newspapers frequently made valuable  comments on the European and American courts in China and Japan. They are collected together below and on the left hand side of this page, under the heading Newspaper Commentary.

The British Supreme Court for China and Japan had jurisdiction over both places. That court had original jurisdiction in Shanghai and appellate jurisdiction from the consular courts elsewhere in China and Japan, as well as Korea. The consuls of the various towns and cities in China and Japan had judicial power. Their commonality lay in the appeal to the Supreme Court, and from there to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Cases heard in Japan are listed separately under Japan. Those appeal cases are collected together under the heading of China and Japan.

The British were not the only Europeans to hold consular courts in China and Japan. Most of the cases reported here were heard by British courts, though some other European and United States consular courts' cases are also included here. Non-British cases are indicated in the case lists in bold. One noticeable feature of those cases is how common were their legal principles in the typical small commercial or criminal cases in question. A  brief statement of the cause of action is attached to each case record, and to the lists of cases under each year or group of years.

Japan, 1860s decisions

Japan, 1870s decisions

Japan, 1870 decisions

Japan, 1872 decisions

Japan, 1890s decisions

Newspaper Commentary and Minor Cases, Japan 1860s to 1870s

Newspaper Commentary and Minor Cases, 1880 onwards.

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School