Skip to Content

Colonial Cases

R v. Carew [1897]

jurisdiction of courts

Court for Japan

Source: The Pall Mall Gazette (London, England), 4 February 1897, issue 9941 [1]


It is seldom that the proceedings of a so-called " Consular"court attract so much attention at home as those popularly known as the Japanese Maybrick case. The jurisdiction of the British Crown in foreign, especially Eastern countries, is wholly abnormal, and arises from the fundamental fact that Oriental and Western conceptions of law differ so entirely that our Government could not safely allow cases in which only British parties and interests were involved to be entrusted to the local courts. Moreover, in such cases the Oriental Government feels no difficulty in letting the Europeans fight it out among themselves.   This British jurisdiction abroad is generally regulated by treaty. That with Japan was signed in 1858. It provides that "British subjects who may commit any crime against Japanese subjects, or the subjects or citizens of any other country, shall be tried and punished by the consul or other public functionary authorized thereto, according to the laws of Great Britain."

Thus, by the last words, our common law obtains in a case of murder. Our courts in Japan are constituted by a series of Orders in Council. Under these there is a Supreme Court for China, Japan and Corea , which sits at Shanghai under a chief justice and an assistant judge. Thither till 1878 this case must have gone. Since 1878 there has been her Britannic Majesty's Court for Japan which sits at Yokohama and has a judge and an assistant judge. This is the court in which Mrs. Carew has been tried. The judge must be a British barrister of seven years' standing at the time of his appointment, and, as a matter of fact, the consuls have nothing to do with it, except that the one of that district is the assistant-judge. The Consular courts, properly so called, are the provincial courts, which simply consist of the consul or vice-consul for the district. Of course, these courts have much smaller powers than the Judges' court. In the Court of Japan there must be a jury (of five) in a capital case.

It is expressly provided that when any person is sentenced to death the judge is forthwith to send a report of the sentence, with notes of the proceedings, and his remarks, to her Majesty's Minister in Japan, and the sentence cannot be carried into execution without his direction in writing under his hand. If he does not give such a direction, he must determine what punishment the convict is to undergo. The only appeal in criminal matters form the Court of Japan is to the Supreme Court, when the former sees fit to reserve for the latter any question of law arising at the trial. From the Supreme Court there is an appeal to her Majesty in Council, that is, to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, when the court declares the case a fit one. The British Minister in Japan is, of course, subordinate to the Foreign Office.

Source: The Brisbane Courier (Queensland, Australia), 17 July 1897 

The Judicial Committee of the Privy Council have rejected the appeal of Mrs. Carew (who was convicted at Yokohama of poisoning her husband and sentenced to death, the sentence being afterwards commuted to imprisonment for life) for leave to appeal against the sentence passed upon her by the Yokohama Consular Court.

Source: The Times, 3 January 1898

LAW IN 1897.

... In the Privy Council the body of decisions is smaller than it has been in some recent years. ... In "Carew v. Crown Prosecutor of Japan," the Board, by the voice of the Lord Chancellor, held that a British subject abroad has no constitutional right to be tried by a jury of 12, and that an Order in Council prescribing in the Consular Court a jury of five was valid.


Source: The Times, 15 February 1898


Mr. PICKERSGILL asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department under what authority Mrs. Carew, who was convicted of murder in her Majesty's Consular Court in Japan, is now imprisoned in England.

Sir M. W. RIDLEY. - The prisoner was moved from Japan to Hong-kong under the provision of the Order in Council which regulates consular jurisdiction in China and Japan; and from Hong-kong to England under the powers given by the Colonial Prisoners' Removal Act, 1884.

Source: The West Australian, 20 December 1898


Mrs. Carew, who some months ago was sentenced to imprisonment for life by the British consular court at Yokohama for poisoning her husband, has been brought to England.

Source: The Argus (Melbourne, Australia), 4 November 1911




... Mrs. Carew, who has been an inmate of Aylesbury Gaol in England, has now been released after serving over 13 years in prison.


[1]  An extremely detailed account of the inquest and of the trial of Mrs Carew is online at Harvard University Library. Searching the terms "Carew Yokohama" gives a long list of references to the case, including the book Murder on the Bluff: The Carew Poisoning Case, by Harry Diamond and Molly Whittington-Egan.

See also Los Angeles Herald, 12 January 1897; Sacramento Daily Union, 8 February 1897; South Australian Register, 3 February 1897; 

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