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Colonial Cases

Silley v. Sarell, 1898


Silley v. Sarell

High Court of Justice
Grantham J., 1898
Source: The Times, 29 April 1898



(Before MR. JUSTICE GRANTHAM and a Special Jury.)


In this case Mr. Henry Silley, formerly chief clerk of the British Consular Court of the Levant at Constantinople, sued Mr. Philip Charles Sarell, clerk of the Registers of the same Court, for damages for alleged libel.  The defendant denied that he had written or published the words with any defamatory meaning, and in the alternative pleaded privilege.

Mr. Blake Odgers, Q.C., Mr. Alfred Mattel, and Mr. J. G. Pease were for the plaintiff; the Hon. Alfred Lyttelton was for the defendant.

It appeared from Mr. BLAKE ODGER'S opening statement that the defendant was next in seniority to the plaintiff and that they were both under Mr. Charles James Tarring, the Judge of the Court.  A Mr. C. E. Hamson and a Mr. W. A. Thompson were also officials of the Court.  The plaintiff lived on the other side of the Sea or Marmora, on the coast of Asia Minor, and cultivated vines in his garden.  The other officials of the Court used to visit the plaintiff at his house, and he used to sell the wine produced from the vineyard.  A Mr. Baker, whose land adjoined the plaintiff's, began to plant vines also, and he and the plaintiff then agreed to work together.

In 1892 Mr. Baker was desirous of selling his interest to the plaintiff, who upon the advice of the defendant decided to buy and turn the business into a company. In May, 1893, the Societe Vinicole was started to carry it on, and the defendant, amongst others, became a shareholder.  It was suggested that the plaintiff should sell to the company at the price at which he had bought, and finally the plaintiff agreed as the matter was being carried out between friends. After that the plaintiff came to England on some legal business. At that time the defendant was in Constantinople, and began clamouring for the plaintiff to return and render accounts.  In June, 1894, the plaintiff did return and he presented the accounts within six weeks, and they were audited and circulated among the shareholders.

A scheme was then suggested for reconstructing the Consular office, and the post of Consul was to be separated from that of Judge, and a Vice-Consul was to be appointed.  The defendant desired to become Vice-Consul, although the plaintiff was his senior and was applying for the post and sending in testimonials.  Then there were complaints made of the plaintiff's management of the company, although he was not the manager at all.  The plaintiff was then told that he must make a proposal or else the company would be wound up.  It was suggested that Mr. Tarring, the Judge, should be appointed arbitrator, and this was agreed to by plaintiff and defendant, and Mr. Tarring made his award, in which, instead of settling the doubts and differences of the shareholders, he decreed that the company should be wound up. But that was an award he had no power to make.  Accordingly the plaintiff moved before Mr. Tarring, as Judge, to remit the award back to himself, as arbitrator, and the Judge did so remit.

The arbitration was accordingly re-opened, and a portion of the alleged libels consisted in statements written by the defendant to the Judge in this connexion.  These statements described Silley as a moral lunatic, and suggested sal-volatile for the mind and a straight waistcoat for the body of the patient, as the writer was afraid that he saw signs of suicidal as well as homicidal tendencies.  Sir Philip Currie was informed of these disputes, and he intimated that under the scheme for reorganizing the office he could not consider the claims' of any one who did not sever his connection with the vineyard business.

Another alleged libel consisted in a letter written to Sir Philip Currie saying that the plaintiff obtained from his colleagues £1,000 on the faith of his bare words, that he would never have obtained this money but for his official position and for the relation in which he stood to his colleagues, and that he had disregarded entirely the moral obligation under which these circumstances placed him with regard to those colleagues. That had, however, it appeared, had been gone into in an action  upon the award brought by Mr. Thompson at Constantinople against the present plaintiff, and in that action Mr. Silley was successful.

MR. JUSTICE GRANTHAM said that on the ground of privilege he did not think that the plaintiff could succeed, but that it was better to hear the evidence than to non-suit him.

MR. LYTTELTON mentioned that the plaintiff had brought an action in Constantinople against Messrs. Tarring, Sarell, Hamson, and Thompson for conspiracy.  The case was tried before a Judge specially sent out from England, and it lasted 18 days, the whole matter being exhaustively gone into, and a verdict was given for the defendants.

MR. ODGERS. - I hope my learned friend will not go into it for 18 days.

MR. JUSTICE GRANTHAM. - You may rely on me for that. (Laughter.)

The plaintiff was then called, and gave evidence in support of his case.

At the conclusion of his examination-in-chief, the learned JUDGE said that he did not know what the jury thought, but the matter had been thoroughly threshed out in Constantinople.

A juryman intimated that he thought the case was a waste of the time of the Court.

MR. JUSTICE GRANTHAM said that he thought it was a case of privilege, but he would like to take their verdict.

The jury found a verdict for the defendant, and judgment was given accordingly.

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