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Colonial Cases

Cases from the 1880s

Correspondence and Cases from the 1880s

Consular Court, Siam (Bangkok)
Source: National Archives (U.K) FO881/5803

 

Printed for the use of the Foreign Office, July 15, 1889.

            CONFIDENTIAL.

Memorandum giving the Cases in which

the Action of the Consular Court at

Bangkok has been impugned.

Mr. Satow, No. 3,

January 10, 1887

 OUR attention was first called to these complaints by Mr. Satow, then Her Majesty's Minister at Siam, in a despatch dated the 10th January, 1887.

   The complainant was Mr. E. B. Michell, at one time a well-known English amateur athlete, a member of the Chancery Bar of England of nearly twenty years' standing, and brother of the present Duchess of Sutherland, who early in 1886 took up his abode in Siam as the Legal Adviser of the Siamese Foreign Minister, a position he continues to hold.

   The charge was that Mr. Gould, Her Majesty's Consul at Bangkok, had improperly refused to entertain an action which Mr. Michell wished to bring in the Consular Court.

Inclosure 1 in No. 3.

   The grounds of the refusal were thus dictated by Mr. Gould to Mr. Michell:-

   "Mr. Michell having  sworn that he is a Siamese subject, and having declined to register himself as a British subject, Her Britannic Majesty's Minister Resident intends to treat him in this matter what he assumed to be, viz., a Siamese subject.

   Consequently, Her Majesty's Minister Resident declines to entertain Mr. Michell's action unless he brings a note from the Siamese Minister for Foreign Affairs stating that he is a Siamese subject, and requesting that his claim against Captain Bush may be investigated.

   Mr. Michell based his claim to be heard on paragraph 6 of Article II of the Agreement with Siam of the 13th May, 1856, which provides that:-

All civil cases in which both parties are British subjects, or in which the defendant is a British subject, shall be heard and determined by the British Consul.

   In forwarding the complaint, Mr. Satow remarked that Mr. Michell had refused to register himself as a British subject, and that though it was the usual practice in Her Majesty's Consular Court to entertain plaints when presented by Siamese subjects without the intervention of the Siamese authorities, it was by no means unusual for them to be forwarded through the Siamese Minister for Foreign Affairs, and he considered that he had the power to require that that course should be pursued.

   In this case he thought it specially desirable to exercise this power, Mr. Michell being an employe of the Siamese Government, and the action being to recover moneys in which various members of the King of Siam's family and many Siamese Nobles were interested: the real object of the action was, he believed, to sell up a going British concern (docks), and enable the Siamese Government to acquire it at a depreciated value.

Law Officers,

April 7, 1887.

   The question, which involved points connected with the nationality of Mr. Michell, was referred to the Law Officers, who reported as follows:-

                                                              Royal Courts of Justice,                                                                                    

April 7, 1887.

My Lord,

   We were honoured with your Lordship's commands signified in Sir Julian Pauncefote's letter of the 14th ultimo, stating that he had the honour to transmit to us, by your Lordship's directions, the papers noted in the accompanying list, which related to the case of Mr. E. B. Michell, a member of the English Bar, now residing at Bangkok in the capacity of Legal Adviser to the Siamese Minister for Foreign Affairs.

   That it would be seen that Mr. Michell, although undoubtedly a natural-born British subject, refused to register himself as such in accordance with the provisions of section 29 of the Siam Order in Council of the 28th July, 1856, and had, moreover, recently filed affidavits in the proceeding of Michell v. Bush, then pending before Her Majesty's Consular Court for Siam, in which he described himself as a Siamese subject.

   That in those circumstances the British Minister and Consul-General had at present refused, on the grounds which were stated in his own despatch of the 10th January, 1887 (Mr. Satow's No. 3, Confidential), and in Mr. Michell's letter of the 3rd January, 1887 (Inclosure 1 in   Mr. Satow's No. 3, Confidential), to entertain a plaint which had been presented by Mr. Michell unless it was forwarded to him by the Siamese Minister for Foreign Affairs.

   That it was provided by Article II of the Commercial Agreement of the 13th May, 1856 (commonly known as the "Parkes Agreement"), and supplementary to the Treaty between Great Britain and Siam, of the previous year, that 'all civil cases in which both parties are British subjects, or in which the defendant is a British subject, shall be heard and determined by the British Consul alone;' and that section 5 of the Siam  Order in Council of the 28th July, 1856, further ordered that 'it shall be lawful for Her Majesty's Consul to hear and determine any suit of a civil nature against a British subject arising within any part of the dominions of the King of Siam, whether such suit be instituted by a subject of the Kings of Siam or by the subject or citizen of a foreign State in amity with Her Majesty, subject, in case either party be dissatisfied with the decision of the Consul, to an appeal to the Supreme Court at Singapore.'

   That section 29 of the same Order in Council provided that a register should be kept of all British subjects residing within the Kingdom of Siam, 'shall, within a reasonable time after his arrival, apply to the Consul to be enrolled, and who shall not be able to excuse to the satisfaction of the said Consul such his refusal and neglect, shall not be entitled to be recognized or protected as a British subject in any difficulties or suits whatsoever in which he may have been involved within the dominions of the Kings of Siam within the time during which he shall not have been so enrolled.'

   That it was conceived that any British subject neglecting to register himself as such, and being unable to excuse his neglect in that respect to the satisfaction of the Consul, would lose, among other privileges, the right of suing as plaintiff in the British Consular Courts, and, further, that in the particular case then before the Court. Mr. Michell could not be allowed to sue in the character of a Siamese subject until he had established to the satisfaction of the Court that he had become voluntarily naturalized in Siam, and had within the terms of section 6 of 'The Naturalization Act, 1870,' ceased to be a British subject.

   That the Consul-General, however, as would be seen from his despatch, elected to treat Mr. Michell as a Siamese subject on the mere assertion of that gentleman that he was suing in that character, and he refused to entertain his suit on the ground that the plaint had not been forwarded through the Siamese Minister for Foreign Affairs.

   That the following questions seemed to arise in relation to the case:-

  1. Could the Consular Court properly decline to entertain Mr. Michell's suit until he should have registered himself as a British subject under paragraph 29 of the Order in Council, or until he should have established, to the satisfaction of the Court, that he had become voluntarily naturalized in Siam, and had ceased to be a British subject?
  2. Could the Consular Court impose on Siamese plaintiffs the condition that their plaints should be forwarded through the Siamese Minister for Foreign Affairs, in view of the terms of Article II of the Parkes Agreement and of paragraph 5 of the Order in Council of 1856?

 

    That, before instructions as to his future action with regard to Mr. Michell were dispatched to the Consul-General, your Lordships desired to be favoured with our opinion on the question submitted in Sir J. Pauncefote's letter, and with any general observations which we might have to offer on the case.

   In obedience to your Lordship's commands we have the honour to report -

  1. That the Consular Court cannot properly decline to entertain Mr. Michell's suit until he has complied with the conditions mentioned in the question, as the fact that the defendant is a British subject brings the case within the jurisdiction of the Consul without regard to the nationality of the plaintiff.
  2. The Consular Court cannot impose on Siamese plaintiffs the condition that their plaints shall be forwarded through the Siamese Minister for Foreign Affairs.

We think it the clear duty of the Consul to hear and decide the case according to law, without regard to any impression he may have formed as to Mr. Michell's objects in bringing the suit.

      We have, &c.

       (Signed) RICHARD E. WEBSTER.

                        EDWARD CLARKE.

 

  1.   In this case, therefore, Mr. Michell was in the right.
  2.  The registration of British subjects in Siam at the Consulate seems really the question which underlies all Mr. Michell's complaints, and he charges Mr. Satow with having borne him ill-will ever since a meeting convened by Mr. Michell for the purpose of expressing his views as to the legal aspect of the question. - Mr. Michell. April 25, 1887

   Mr. Satow contends that, as Legal Adviser of the Siamese Government, Mr. Michell had no right to take part in a meeting having for its object to overthrow a Regulation approved by Her Majesty's Government affecting British subjects.

   Mr. Michell also accuses Mr. Satow of inconsistency in first requiring him to attend the Court as a Siamese subject, and then, in a subsequent case, in which he was defendant (Badman v. Michell), dealing with him as a British subject, and making an order against him for payment of a sum of money.

No. 56, May 4, 1887.

   Mr. Satow has argued the question with the Foreign Minister, who contended that as Mr. Satow had not compelled Mr. Michell to register himself as a British subject under Article V of the Treaty of 1855, viz., "All British subjects intending to reside in Siam shall be registered at the British Consulate," the latter could not be considered a British subject for judicial purposes.

   Mr. Satow pointed out that it was not till the 1st January, 1887, that he had any power to enforce registration, and complained that he was since prevented from doing so by the refusal of the Siamese Government to give him a police force to carry it out, Mr. Michell having threatened to shoot any one who interfered with him on behalf of the Court.

 

May 2, 1887.

   The Law Officers were consulted, and they reported as follows:-

Royal Courts of Justice,

May 2, 1887.

My Lord,

   We were honoured with your Lordship's commands signified in Sir Julian Pauncefote's letter of the 28th ultimo, stating that he was directed to transmit to us the papers noted in the accompanying list, relative to a claim put forward by Mr. E. B. Michell, a member of the English Bar, now resident at Bangkok, in the capacity of Legal Adviser to the Siamese Minister for Foreign Affairs, that he should be exempted from the jurisdiction of the British Consular Court for Siam, and should be considered by Her Majesty's Minister Resident and Consul-General at Bangkok as a Siamese subject.

    That Mr. Michell, although he had persistently claimed in the course of various controversies with the Minister Resident to be a Siamese subject, and had even sworn one or more affidavits before the Consular authorities in which he had so described and represented himself, was undoubtedly a natural-born British subject, and admittedly continued in that nationality up to the time of his taking up his residence in his present capacity at Bangkok.

   That he had since received no formal recognition by the Siamese Government as a subject of Siam, nor did he suggest any other manner in which he had 'voluntarily become naturalized' in that State, so as to be deemed (under the provisions of section 6 of 'The Naturalization Act, 1870') 'to have ceased to be a British subject, and be regarded as an alien.'

   That he had, however, refused to enrol himself as a British subject in the Consular register at Bangkok in accordance with the provisions of section 29 of the Siam Order in Council of the 28th July 1856, had protested against the publication of his name in the list of British subjects liable to serve on juries, and had in other ways declined to recognize and protested against the exercise of any kind of Consular jurisdiction over him.

   That in addition to his original claim to exemption from the jurisdiction of the Consular Court, on the ground that he was a Siamese subject, Mr. Michell now apparently claimed to be exempt from such jurisdiction on the further and separate ground that he was domiciled in Siam.

   That it appeared to be open to some doubt whether, as a matter of fact, his domicile was Siamese, but that, even assuming that such was the case, it was conceived that he would not, on that account, or so long as he continued to be a British subject, be exempt from British Consular jurisdiction.

   That, acting under the advice of the Attorney-General for the Straits Settlements, Her Majesty's Minister Resident at Bangkok had refused to recognize the validity of Mr. Michell's claims, and had, under the circumstances detailed in his despatch No. 20 of the 28th February, allowed a suit which had been brought in the Consular Court against Mr. Michell to proceed to a hearing and determination.

   That Judgment in that action had been given against Mr. Michell, and that the usual notice of Decree had been served upon him.

   That Mr. Michell, however, refused to recognize the validity of that Decree, and styled the service of the notice upon him as a "gross breach of international law and comity."

   That he had referred the matter to the Siamese Minister for Foreign Affairs, who had promised to communicate with Her Majesty's Minister Resident upon the subject, who, pending the receipt of that communication, and of instructions from the Secretary of State, had not directed any further action to be taken in the matter.

   That in those circumstances, Sir Julian Pauncefote was to request that we would take the papers transmitted with his letter into our consideration, and that we would favour your Lordship with our opinion as to:-

  1. Whether Mr. E. B. Michell had ceased to be a British subject or not.
  2. Whether, assuming that he had lost his British domicile of origin and acquired a Siamese domicile by choice, that fact would, so long as he remained a British subject, in any respect exempt him from the jurisdiction of the British Consular Courts in Siam?
  3. Whether, if Mr. Michell were still a British subject, the Minister Resident should, having regard to all the circumstances of the case, proceed to enforce the registration of that gentleman as such under the provisions of paragraphs 1 and 2 of the Registration Regulations, and should now permit the execution of the Judgment which had already been obtained against Mr. Michell in the action in the Consular Court to proceed?

 

   That Sir Julian Pauncefote was to add that your Lordships would be glad to be favoured at the same time with any general observations which we might have to offer on the case.

   In obedience to your Lordship's commands, we have taken the papers transmitted with Sir Julian Pauncefote's letter into our consideration, and have the honour to report -

  1. That there is no evidence before us that Mr. E.  B. Michell has ceased to be a British subject.
  2. Assuming Mr. Michell to have, in fact, lost his British domicile of origin and acquired a Siamese domicile of choice, this fact would not, in our opinion, exempt him from the jurisdiction of the British Consular Courts in Siam, so long as he remained a British subject.
  3. In our opinion, the Minister Resident should proceed to enforce the registration of Mr. Michell, under the provisions of the Registration Regulations, and should now permit the execution of the Judgment obtained against Mr. Michell to proceed.

                         We have, &c.

                              (Signed)  RICHARD E. WEBSTER.

                                             EDWARD CLARKE.

 

To Mr. Gould, No. 42, July 19, 1887.

   Lord Salisbury's opinion was taken as to whether a gun-boat should be sent to assist in enforcing the Judgment of the Court, and he wrote:

"I do not think our interest in Mr. Michell's obedience is sufficient to repay the expense of even one shot.  We have nothing to lose by losing him."

 

    Accordingly, in communicating to Mr. Gould, who had taken charge, the substance of the Law Officers' opinion, we contented ourselves with instructing him to refuse to admit the Siamese contention, and to state that we considered we had a right to call on the Siamese Government, under Treaty, to assist our Consular authorities in enforcing the Judgments of the Court against Mr. Michell.

No. 69.

   Our instruction, however, was crossed by a despatch from Mr. Gould, dated the 16th July, 1887, in which he reported that Mr. Michell had paid under protest the amount due under the Decree of the Court in the case of Badman v. Michell referred to above, with the costs of the action and of the distress warrant, and had further requested that his name might be registered under the Order in Council of 1856, "on the provisional supposition that (he was) for judicial purposes a British subject."  On this Mr. Gould had pointed out that, whilst Mr. Michell's name had, in accordance with this request, been placed on the general list of British subjects, Mr. Michell had not complied with the Regulation of the 19th March, 1886, which required him to register himself and receive a certificate of registration by attending and signing personally.  Mr. Michell had thereupon declined to be bound by the Regulation or to take any further step towards his registration, which he held to be already complete.

 

Mr. Gould, No. 80, September 22, 1887

   On the 12th July, 1887, an Order in Council was issued in regard to the registration of British subjects in Siam, and on the 29th August, 1887, a Circular giving notice of it was served on all British subjects in Bangkok who had not then registered.  They all complied, with the exception of Mr. Michell and a Dr. Gowan, who were consequently fined, and who, after reading protests against such a course, paid the fines into Court.

   Then above are the general outlines of the position occupied by Mr. Michell.  He protests that his opposition to the Court is based on a general wish to clear up questions which affect all British residents in Siam, and that he has been met with prejudice and incapacity.  Our officials assert that he is a mischief-maker, who is back up by the Siamese Government in the hopes of discrediting our Consular Courts.

   It may be added that a Memorandum promised by the Siamese Government to Mr. Gould, setting out their reasons for considering Mr. Michell exempt from our jurisdiction, has not yet been communicated.

   The following are the more specific charges or cases brought forward by Mr. Michell, or (with the exception of one by a person named Hitchcock, who writes from gaol) at Mr. Michell's instigation.

 

  1. Vyte v. Naraina; case heard in Consular Court in June, 1887.

Vyte brought an action against Naraina under the following circumstances:

    It was alleged that a certain agreement had been come to between three persons, in the presence of five others.  Amongst these eight were Vyte and Naraina.

   Naraina subsequently stated that Vyte had forged the agreement, and quoted  in support the evidence of one Dorosami, whom he stated to have been one of the eight.

   It appears that the others who were present were ready to swear to the          genuineness of the agreement.

    When the case first came on, Mr. Gould is said to have accepted Naraina's statement, and committed Vyte for trial without calling the other witnesses or allowing bail.

    Vyte was kept in prison for five days till the trial came on, when Dorosami attended, and swore that Naraina's story was trumped up, and that he (Dorosami)  had not been present at the signing of the agreement.

   Vyte's pleadings throughout were (to use Mr. Michell's words) "drawn in broken English, so that the Court should not suspect that he had had legal advice from me" (Mr. Michell).

   The case was dismissed by the Court on the ground that the defendant had "reasonable ground for believing, or did believe, that the forgery had been committed."

    Mr. Michell, in a letter published in the "Bangkok Times" of the 18th June, 1887, writes: "If ever a case of false imprisonment and malicious prosecution stood clearly exposed, I say that this is that case." 

   He then enters into a series of allegations against the legal conduct of the caser, the character of one of the Assessors, and the use by the Consul of the Siamese language in his public communications with his interpreter.  He further accuses the latter of conspiring with Naraina to induce Dorosami to give false evidence.

No. 69, July 16, 1887.

   Mr. Gould, reporting on the case, says that the "two independent and intelligent gentlemen" who sat with him as Assessors "entirely concurred in the finding of the Court.

Mr. Michell, December 8, 1887

   The case was, however, taken on appeal to Singapore, and Mr. Gould's decision reversed with costs.

 

  1. Ahmet Ally v. Maidansah, case tried July 30, 1887.

Mr. Michell, August 2, 1887.

The petitioner accused the defendant, who is interpreter to the Court, of using threatening language to him, and prayed that he might be bound over to keep the peace.

   Mr. Gould dismissed the case as a petty quarrel.

No. 69, July 16, 1887.

   In his vindication of his action in doing so, Mr. Gould states that he made every possible official inquiry, and believed the charge to be entirely unfounded.

   Sir J. Pauncefote's Minute on this explanation is: "Mr. Gould's No. 69 disposes of this complaint."

  1. Case of Mee Dang v. Mee Noo; tried before the Court.

Mr. Michell, January 17, 1888.

   Here it was said that, after the case was over, one Nai Peah, a Siamese subject, called on Mr. Michell to state that he had paid money as blackmail to Maidansah, the interpreter.

   Mr. Gould, having heard of this, "very harshly rebuked" the plaintiff, who gave him the information, and held an "inquisitorial examination of Nai Peah," and subsequently of two Indians, who had been witnesses to his deposition before Mr. Michell, in a manner which the latter qualifies as "grossly illegal," "a shameful outrage upon justice and propriety," and "an abominable perversion of justice, and a gross outrage upon the rights and liberties of Her Majesty's subjects."

   Ity may be observed that the letter bringing forward this case was signed by Mr. Gowan (who joined Mr. Michell in his resistance to registration), as well as by Mr. Michell.

Mr. Gould, No. 6, February 28, 1888.

   Mr. Gould meets the case of Nai Peah by stating that he had the man before him and put him on his oath, when "he made a statement which entirely exculpated Maidansah, and was tantamount to a charge of very dishonest dealing on the part of Mr. Michell himself."

   The statements made by Nai Peah to Mr. Gould being sent by the latter to Mr. Michell, Nai Peah was thrown into gaol at Mr. Michell's instigation, with a view, as is alleged, to extract, and with the actual result of getting from him, further and contradictory statements; see No. 21 of the 26th April, 1887, and Mr. Michell's of the 31st March, 1888.

 

  1. Honesty of Maidansah.

As regards the attacks on the honesty of Maidansah, the interpreter, Mr. Gould, in his No. 6 of the 28th January, 1888, gives a history of the man.  He had, in 1874, been imprisoned for twelve months for secreting, on behalf of the heirs of an insolvent deceased trader, moneys which were properly due to the creditors.  Subsequently he made money by cattle jobbing, and was in good circumstances when appointed interpreter and "a sort of native constable" to the Court.  Mr. Gould says that no complaints were ever made against Maidansah till the charge made by Dhorosami, alluded to above, and that he had no reason to believe in the truth of those which Mr. Michell had subsequently worked up.

Mr. Gould, No. 21, April 26, 1888.

His complete investigation was not carried out, as before its termination he found it necessary to dismiss Maidansah for using abusive language about the Queen and the King of Siam.

Mr. Gould, No. 36, July 22, 1888.

   Mr. Michell, and one Baboo Ramsamy, in a letter in Mr. Michell's handwriting of the same date, [July 24, 1888] complain bitterly that Mr. Gould has protected Maidansah, and illegally refused to prosecute him.

No. 36, July 22, 1888.

Mr. Gould, however, has referred the point home, with the result that Mr. Davidson and Sir Julian Pauncefote agreed that, though Mr. Gould's law might perhaps not stand very severe examination, there were various legal difficulties with regard to putting Maidansah on his trial for using seditious language, and that on general grounds Mr. Gould's action in declining to do so might be approved.

 

Hameet, August 31, 1887.

   In August 1887 one Hameet, or Hamit, addressed us a letter, of which the last few lines are in Mr. Michell's handwriting, complaining of the "unjust, illegal, and cruel treatment" to which he had been subjected by Mr. Gould.

  1. )           He complained that Mr. Gould had declined to accept a charge he (Hameet) had wished to bring in Court against a British subject for assault.  Hameet went to Singapore and engaged counsel to apply to the Supreme Court for a mandamus ordering Mr. Gould to hear the case.  The Court refused the application.
  2. )           His brother made an application to Mr. Gould that Maidansah, the interpreter, who had used threatening language to him, might be bound over to keep the peace.  Mr. Gould refused.
  3. )           Hameet was assaulted by a person in the employ of a friend of Maidansah, his jaw broken, and his face and head badly hurt.  He claimed to possess a certificate from a surgeon in Bangkok Hospital to prove that he would be unfit to attend the Court to prosecute his assailant for a week at least.  Nevertheless, Mr. Gould tried the case within two days, compelling Hameet to remain standing before him, and to conduct the case personally.  As he was physically unfit to do so he could not appear next day, and in his absence Mr. Gould dismissed the case.

   To these charges of Hameet, or Hamit, [No. 1.] Mr. Gould replied on the 8th January, 1888.

  1. )           Hamit tried to force his way to the judicial table while the Court was hearing another case.  Told he must wait, he went away cursing.  At Mr. Michell's instigation, and with funds provided through him, Hamit went to Singapore, where the Judge "very contemptuously dismissed" his case.
  2. )           Is not noticed.
  3. )           Hamit attended with a complaint in Mr. Michell's handwriting charging one Emamsah with assaulting him and breaking his jaw.

His jaw was not broken, though injured, as appears from a medical certificate sent home by Mr. Gould, who, seeing he was capable of giving evidence, and that his witnesses were at hand, fearing also that if he delayed the hearing Hamit would be able to work up a false case, summoned the accused, and took their evidence.  Emamsah pleaded an alibi.  The next day was fixed for the trial, Assessors appointed, and witnesses summoned.

   When the time came Hamit did not appear, and a letter was received from Mr. Michell saying he had advised him not to do so.

   The case was tried as an ordinary criminal case without him, his witnesses gave false evidence, Emamsah proved "a very clear alibi," and was acquitted.

 

Mr. J. Maclean's case.

Mr. J. Maclean, May 18, 1887.

   Mr. J. Maclean is described by Mr. Satow, who was in England when his complaint arrived, as "a half-caste under British protection, who does not bear a very high character."

   His story is that an engineer in his employ "absconded, leaving the steam-launch stripped of many of its most necessary appliances."  Subsequently the man was arrested and taken to the British Consulate, and about 9 P.M. of the same day Mr. Maclean was requested by Mr. Gould to attend at the Consular Court to charge him.

   Mr. Maclean was busy, and did not go until 10 A.M. the next day, when he found Mr. Gould had liberated the main without obtaining his address.

   Eventually Mr. Gould is said to have discovered the accused was not a British subject, nor subject to British Consular jurisdiction.

   Mr. Maclean complains of the illegality of Mr. Gould's proceedings throughout, and adds, "this is by no means the only case in which I have experienced at the hands of the Consular authorities treatment which I consider to have been illegal and unfair; but I mention this caser as a specimen."

No. 1, January 3, 1888.

   Mr. Gould's reply to this charge is that as no one appeared to prosecute, and there was nothing to prove his jurisdiction, he released the man rather than have him locked up in a Siamese gaol; that he did not send for the complainant at night; nor does he remember the alleged conversation of the next day; that Mr. Maclean having gone to China he could not inquire of him as to the grounds for his belief; that he presumed Mr. Michell worked up the case for him.

 

K. Pillay, August 17, 1887; Mr. Gould, No. 1, January 3, 1888.

     In the case of Kyamboo Pillay, complaining of the unjust dismissal of his claim against Naraina Nikar, Mr. Gould states that, having heard the case, he "had no doubt whatever that the claim was not a just one."  He admits that "the Hindoo evidence, such as it was, was in favour of the plaintiff's story," but says he used his own judgment, and that if the Court were compelled to give judgment simply on mere statements of Hindoo witnesses, without regard to probabilities, no British subject's property or life would be safe from the bad characters who infest Siam.

   The notice of appeal, in M r. Michell's handwriting, though dated the 17th, only reached the Court by post on the 20th of the month, when the time for appeal was passed.  The post-mark was the 19th, "from which," he says, "the notice of appeal would appear to have been deliberately antedated with a view of, if possible, deceiving the Court."

   Mr. Gould was informed by us that "his explanations in regard to these three last cases were quite satisfactory."

 

Case of Michell v. French.

Mr. Gould, No. 5, February 19, 1889.

   Mr. Michell, as having been called to the Bar by the Honourable Society of the Middle Temple, claims a right to practise before all Her Majesty's Courts exercising ex-territorial jurisdiction.

   In the exercise of this alleged right, and without having received leave so to practise, he appeared in 1887 before the Consular Court as advocate for a certain suitor.

   Mr. Gould refused to let him plead on the ground that her had not received such permission, and further that he did not consider him a fit and proper person to act for others in the Court in view of his past conduct,* and he made a written order to that effect in the Judicial Case Book.[1]

   On the 7th April, 1888, Mr. Michell announced to Mr. French, then sitting as Judge, his intention of appearing as counsel.

   Mr. French referred him to the 1887 Order, and, on Mr. Michell persisting in addressing the Court, had him removed by the constable. (The constable put his hand on Mr. Michell's arm, who then left quietly.)

   On the 23rd April, 1888, the same scene was enacted; an action was entered by Mr. Michell in the Singapore Supreme Court against Mr. French on account of the latter expulsion, with a claim for 50,000 dollars damages.

   The Attorney-General on behalf of the defence entered a demurrer to the jurisdiction.

   The Chief Justice admitted the demurrer, but took advantage of the necessary absence of any denial or qualification by the defence of the statement of fact made by the plaintiff to assume the latter to be correct, and refused to make the plaintiff pay the costs of the defence.

   Mr. Davidson criticizes the discretion thus exercised by the Chief Justice, who, it should be added, in his judgment made uncalled-for criticism of the Judges of the Consular Court, which he subsequently retracted.

 

   The last complaint we have received is from one F. Hitchcock.

   It is dated the 13th May, 1889, from the "British Consulate Gaol, Bangkok."

   It does not appear how he got there, nor even what he wants, but a post-card from him which accompanies it runs:-

Violation of the Treaty of Siam by the British Consular officials, namely, whipping three Siamese subjects, named Kebo, Nana, and Pi, boatmen of Gould's.  This is worse than hawling (sic) down the flag.

(Signed) F. HITCHCOCK.

 

   It should be added that on the 12th October, 1887, a protest was addressed to us by several British European residents in Bangkok against "the systematic efforts that are being made by two or three individuals to bring British Consular authority and justice in this country into discredit."

   "From our own knowledge," the writers continue, "we can assert that Her Majesty's Consul, Mr. Gould, has the entire confidence and esteem of all respectable European and Asiatic British subjects in Siam."

November 26, 1887.

   Mr. Michell followed this up by preparing a counter-manifesto, "signed by twenty British Europeans (two more than Mr. Leckie's) and seventy Asiatic British subjects against nine for Mr. Leckie."

   A letter which appeared in the "Law Times" of the 27th August, 1887, is annexed to this Memorandum, as it gives in Mr. Michell's own words what were then the heads of his charges against the administration of British justice in Siam.

   It must be remembered that although the British Consular officers at Bangkok are not trained lawyers, yet that they refer to the Attorney-General at Singapore, or his locum tenens, for legal advice, and that an appeal lies from their decision to the Supreme Court there.

 

   The course recently adopted in the Office in regard to Mr. Michell's complaints is to treat them as vexatious, and simply acknowledge them.

 

CLEMENT Ll. HILL,

Foreign Office, July 1, 1889.

 

ANNEX.

 

Extract from the "Law Times," August 27, 1887.

 

   BRITISH JUSTICE IN SIAM. - On arriving in Siam about eighteen months ago as a legal practitioner I found a state of things existing here which I could not have believed possible, and which I am sure many of your readers will find it difficult to credit.  Every month that I have remained here has increased my amazement, and given me fresh examples of the deplorable condition in which the Brutish community in Siam now lives. It is hardly too much to say that the whole of that large community, and more especially that part of it which is of Asiatic birth, lives in a state of terror, and is afraid to disclose the gross scandals and abuses under which it suffers at the hands of its ostensible protectors, the Consular authorities.  The prevailing opinion is, that if any sort of complaint is made against these authorities, whether justifiable or not, the person who makes it will in some way or other be made to feel most severely the displeasure of the official against whom the complaint is made. Persons in business fear that if they are known to have uttered any complaint their business will be ruined; and smaller people fear all sorts of dangers, such as imprisonment, fine, and social ostracism.  I do not say that such fears are altogether justifiable, but I do say that there is abundant reason for their existence, and I wish to quote publicly a few examples in support of this assertion:- 

  1. Certain persons attended public meeting held here in December last for the purpose of discussing a Regulation issued by the Consul-General for levying an annual registration fee, which Regulation was afterwards admitted by the Consul-General to be illegal, and was withdrawn.  One of these persons, who had ventured an opinion against the legality of the Regulation, was at once denounced by the Consul-General as having been guilty of "improper conduct." He and others, who had attended the meeting, were "cut" in public places by this functionary, and when a national fete was held at the Consulate on the last occasion of the Queen's Birthday, their names were pointedly omitted from the list of invitations.
  2.  One of these persons shortly afterwards instituted - or rather tried to institute - a suit at the Consular Court for the recovery of a sum alleged to have been illegally extorted from him by a British subject.  The Consul-General, in defiance of the Siam Orders in Council, refused to entertain the action.
  3. The same person attended at the Consular Court to swear an affidavit.  The Consular officials, in defiance of their duty, refused to allow the affidavit to be sworn.  He attended again to make a statutory declaration, and the Consular officials refused to allow it to be made.  The declarant therefore went to the United States' Consul-General, who at once consented to take the declaration in due form.
  4. Another of the same persons attempted in January last to institute an action for account against a partnership in which he was a partner.  The Consul-General refused to entertain the action on the ground that the plaintiff was not, in his opinion, a British subject.
  5. In the very same month this very same person was sued as a British subject by a tradesman in Bangkok.  The Consul-General entertained this action, and made an order against the defendant as a British subject.
  6. Another person, who owes his appointment in Siam to the favour of the British Consular authorities, was warned by a petty dignitary of the Consulate that if he showed sympathy with the movement against illegal taxation he would get into trouble.
  7. One of the chief instruments by which the reign of terror over Asiatic Britishers is a man named Maidansah, an ex-convict, now employed as interpreter in Her Britannic Majesty's Consular Court.  I have before me the written Petition of a British Indian charging this man with subornation of a witness, and with a conspiracy to defeat the ends of justice.  I have also before me a statutory declaration made by no less than four British subjects stating that they paid money at various times to this Maidansah as bribes or blackmail to induce him to further or impede law-suits in which they or their friends were engaged.  Yet this man is still retained in the employment of the Court, with these charges against him unheard and uninvestigated.  His salary is about 2l. per month, and yet he is a rich man, driving expensive carriages and wearing jewellery, and is now building for himself a fine house at a cost of 500l. or more.
  8. An Indian British subject, who was out of favour with Maidansah, was lately cast into prison for five days, without the option of bail, on a charge of forgery which was on the face of it absurd, which was unsupported by any evidence, and which, when investigated in the Court after five day's delay, immediately broke down.
  9. When this man instituted an action for false imprisonment and malicious prosecution, the charge was dismissed in the face of evidence which the local paper here considered perfectly conclusive in its favour.
  10. 0.  One of the witnesses in the forgery case afterwards presented a written Petition to the Consul to the following effect: that he had been suborned by Maidansah and others to give false evidence; that he had been afraid to do so and had told the truth; and, finally, that he was afraid to live in Bangkok without special protection.  This Petition was simply ignored; protection was not given; the man was not bound over to prosecute, and, fearing for his life, fled from Bangkok a few days after.

 

   What wonder that a terror exists, and that people are afraid even to speak openly about the injustices which they have suffered?  It is only now, since a few victories have been won on the side of public justice, that the sufferers are beginning to dare to come forward and declare their grievances.  With regard to the sort of justice administered in this Consular Court, I could give instances enough to astonish the most incredulous, and disgust the most innocent.  I must confine myself to mentioning only a very few:

  1. Assessors.  On every occasion that I know of, save two, the same two men have been chosen as Assessors.  They are both special personal friends of the Consul and Consul-General, and this is the only known reason why they are selected, as they are both profoundly and admittedly ignorant of law.  These two persons and the Consul were the only European Britishers of really independent position here who voluntarily absented themselves from the great assemblage of British subjects held here to celebrate the Queen's Jubilee this month.
  2. Irresponsible Agent. One of these same persons was lately sued in the British Consular Court in an action for slander.  The charge was not denied, but the defendant pleaded (or rather demurred!!) that he was acting as Danish Consul.  Upon this pretext the action was dismissed, leave to appeal being refused; and this person (so invariably chosen as Assessor) remains irresponsible and safe, exempt from all actions for damages!
  3. Prejudiced Assessors. On one occasion neither of these Assessors appeared. This was in a slander case, so weak that I had refused to take it up for the plaintiff.  The habitual Assessors were not summoned, their places were filled by two other British subjects, one of whom was the employer of the plaintiff in the suit, and the other was well known as the bitterest enemy in all Bangkok of the defendant.  The verdict, which literally took away the breath of the audience in Court, was 1,000 dollars damages for the plaintiff, a dock engineer.
  4. Helpless defendants. The proper presentation of any case to the Court is quite impossible, as the authorities prohibit not only the parties to civil suits, but even those accused of criminal offences, from appearing by solicitors or counsel, or even by their friends.  Often these accused persons are Asiatics, unacquainted with English law, and even with the English language, pitted against clever rascals, pretty well up in both.  Considering the despotic power which the Consular Judges freely use of excluding or admitting evidence, whether admissible or not, of cross-examining either of the parties at their good pleasure, and generally of dealing with the whole case without any chance of public criticism, it will easily be perceived what sort of order and method there is in a Consular Court, where Judge, parties, and audience are equally ignorant of the elementary principles of legal procedure.
  5. Smuggled Pleadings. So great was the terror of an Asiatic client of mine (Falsely accused of a felony, and afterwards acquitted), that he besought me not to let it be known that he had utilized my advice; and his pleadings were drawn in broken English, so that the Consul should not suspect him of having had professional aid.  The result of all this is, that the Court in question, far from being of any use, is regarded with unbounded suspicion and abhorrence.  One British subject, occupying a high position, was so disgusted at the rude and unjust treatment he received there that he demanded the withdrawal of his name from the list of British subjects, and placed his house (and would have placed himself if he could) undetr the protection of another Consulate.  Another tells me that he always refuses to engage any servants who are of British nationality, because he finds that they have only to go to the Consulate, and they can enforce any claim, however absurd, against him. Foreigners are heard, as they leave the Consular Court, after a case had been decided, exclaiming, "Well, thank Heaven, I am not a British subject!"

 

   I have now attempted to expose some of the incredible abuses of the system, existing here, and possibly in some other of the British Consular Courts of the East.  That is the first step forward to reform.  The second and more indispensable, is, that a qualified Judge should be sent here, and that suitors should be allowed a practical, and not an illusory, right of appealing h against absurd decisions.  If the London press will help us towards these ends it will earn the everlasting gratitude of Englishmen in the East. 

(Signed) E. B. MICHELL.

Bangkok, June 30, 1887

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Note



[1]  This referred in particular to the manner in which Mr. Michell had threatened the officers of the Court with personal violence in case any attempt were made to enforce the Judgment delivered against him.

This material was selected, edited and transcribed by Peter Bullock.

 

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