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Colonial Cases

Newspaper commentary and minor cases, Cocos and Keeling Islands

The Times, 30 March, 1903
  At a recent Special assize at Singapore a Chinese named Swi Heng was indicted, before the Chief Justice of the Straits Settlements, with the murder of another Chinese at Direction Island, one of the Cocos group. Objection was taken on behalf of the accused that the Court had no jurisdiction; and, in delivering judgment allowing the objection, the Chief Justice discussed the curious legal position into which the group has been brought. The Cocos Islands, he said, have not been annexed to, and do no form part of, the Straits Settlements; but the Governor of the latter, after the crime, the subject of the indictment, had been committed, made regulations for the group, one of which provided that the Supreme Court of the Straits Settlements should have jurisdiction over all offences committed there. These regulations were made under powers given by Letters Patent under the Great Seal in 1886. The Chief Justice remarked that he was not sure the Letters Patent themselves were valid, for the islands were not obtained either by conquest or treaty, but by occupation; and, when Englishmen form settlements in some uninhabited country, they introduce not only the sovereignty of their King, but also their own laws, or so much as is applicable to their new situation, and by the common law the King possesses no legislative right over such settlements."
  Hence the prerogative of the Crown is of no avail in such cases, and the power to legislate by the Crown must be granted by statute. Such power has been granted for possessions acquired by occupation by various Acts of Parliament, specially the British Settlements Act of 1887 (50 and 51 Vict. c. 54.) But the powers thus granted must be exercised in the manner prescribed - namely, by Order in Council laid before Parliament. Even if the Letters Patent in the present case were valid, the Chief Justice held that they did not, and could not, give authority to the Governor of the Straits Settlements to alter the law of that colony, as the regulations do by professing to confer on the Supreme Court jurisdiction over territory not included in the colony. This can be done only by express legislation. Accordingly, the Court had no jurisdiction to try the accused.

The Times, 8 July, 1910.
We regret to announce that Mr. George Clunies-Ross, Governor of the Cocos and Keeling Islands, died yesterday after a long illness at Ventnor.
  George Clunies-Ross is described in the Colonial Office List as "Superintendent of the Cocos and Keeling Islands."  He was in reality proprietor and king of the coral group, which lies in the Indian Ocean 700 miles south-west of Sumatra and 525 from its nearest neighbour, Christmas Island.

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