Skip to Content

Colonial Cases

Stace v. Griffith, 1869


Stace v. Griffith

Judicial Committee of the Privy Council
9 February 1869
Source:The Times, 9 February, 1869

(Present - Lord Chelmsford, Sir J. Colville, Sir J. Napier, and Sir L. Peel.)
 This was an appeal from a judgment of the Supreme Court of St. Helena (on which island it transpired in the course of the case there was only one barrister and one attorney) given on the 13th of May, 1867, in an action for libel, in which the respondent, William Morrison Griffith, was plaintiff, and the appellant, Colonel William Crawley Stace, was defendant.
 The damages were 450 l. and the costs 3 l. 16s. 6d.  The declaration alleged that the defendant falsely and maliciously wrote and published of the plaintiff, in a letter  addressed to the Colonial-Secretary of the Island, that the plain tiff was drunk and disorderly at the theatre at Ladder-hill on the night of the 17th of October, 1866, and the plaintiff declared that the imputation exposed him, as assistant master of the Government head school, to the censure of his superiors, and ultimately to suspension and dismissal from the Government appointment. The case was tried before the Chief Justice, on the 1st of May, 1867, when a verdict was given for the plain tiff, damages 450 l., on which Colonel Stace, who was commander of the troops on the island, had appealed to Her Majesty in Council; and the appeal now came on for discussion.
 The Attorney-General and Mr. Archibald appeared for the Crown in support of the appeal; Mr. Joseph Browne, Q.C., was for the respondent.
 The Registrar, (Mr. Reeves) stated that both parties appeared by counsel when the Judicial Committee gave leave to appeal.
 A discussion followed on the case, and
 Lord Chelmsford declared that it appeared to be an extraordinary affair altogether, and that the judge (now dead) had discharged some of the functions of the jury. First they gave 450 l. damages, and some days afterwards the judge gave judgment in which he concurred with the jury. If the letter was a privileged communication the Committee could not see how evidence could be taken on the subject.
 Mr. Browne, Q.C., submitted that the jury were right in the verdict, and that Colonel Stace, as defendant, should have moved for a new trial.
 Lord Chelmsford observed that the letter was not produced, and yet evidence had been given and the jury had found with damages, and some days afterwards the judge gave his decision. He had never met with such an extraordinary proceeding. It seemed that there had been a former trial, and the declaration had been amended. His Lordship during the discussion asked whether the schoolmaster had drawn the declaration?
 Mr. Browne said it was a singular production, and such might have been the case.
 Lord Chelmsford remarked that the schoolmaster was evidently "abroad." (a laugh.)
 Mr. Browne proceeded to argue the case, and after going through the matter, he said he saw their Lordships were decided in the view they entertained of the application.
 Lord Chelmsford, after a short conference with their Lordships (without ordering the public to withdraw), gave judgment, and after recapitulating the facts, said there was no pretence for the action for libel. The letter in question was written by Colonel Stace, in his official capacity as commander of the troops in the island, to another official, the Colonial Secretary of the island, which was a privileged communication, and not produced on the trial, and yet the Court had admitted evidence and the jury had given 450 l. damages. And what appeared most strange was that the judge, some days afterwards, gave his decision in the matter, concurring with the jury. The judge had evidently discharged some of the functions of the jury. There was no ground for such an action, and the only question was as to the terms of the appeal. The appellant was dead, and being an action for libel the case abated.
  The Attorney-General suggested that their Lordships could order a nonsuit to be entered or a new trial.
  Mr. Browne objected to a nonsuit, as the costs would fall upon the respondent.
  Sir J. Colville thought the best course would be an arrest in judgment.
  A discussion arose on the point, and it was settled that their Lordships should order an arrest of judgment in the action for libel, and the Attorney-General said the costs would not be enforced.
  Judgment accordingly.

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