The Second Charter of Justice and the First Recorder (Part 2)
This is the second of a two-part article that documents the earliest days of the Court of Judicature in Singapore and the problems in its administration. Read part one here.
This is a much revised and truncated version of a much longer chapter written in connection with the Law Society’s Administration of Justice in Singapore 1819–1942 project for which the Society was awarded National Heritage Board Research Grant, HR035 for 2020–2022.
Finalizing the Court Establishment
Penang, which had a Court of Judicature since 1807, had an existing court establishment which needed to the adapted to the new needs of the Straits Settlements. Certainly, the establishment would need to be expanded to handle the additional workload to be undertaken in Singapore and Malacca. Governor Robert Fullerton, with the help of the Registrar, Alexander John Kerr, had drawn up an Establishment comprising a Registrar, Clerks, interpreters, swearers and orderlies which would have cost just under 2,000 Sicca Rupees a month. Sir John Claridge, the first Recorder, who had already begun quarrelling with Fullerton not long after he arrived in Penang, considered this new establishment – which had been based on the old Penang Court of Judicature – wholly inadequate in manpower as well as in remunerative terms and proceeded to propose his own establishment. Capitalising on the absence of Penang Resident Councillor Robert Ibbetson (who was on convalescent leave), Claridge used his casting vote to sweep aside all of Fullerton’s proposals and objections. Claridge not only proposed to dramatically increase the salaries of existing officials, such as the Registrar, clerks, interpreters and swearers, he insisted on the addition of a Court Crier, a sheriff, and a number of additional peons. Claridge’s establishment would cost the Straits Government 3,771 Sicca Rupees a month, compared with the one proposed by Fullerton, which cost only 1,978 Sicca Rupees a month. Fullerton was furious but could do little as Claridge held the casting vote.
The impasse was broken by Ibbetson’s return. Ibbetson, who had the interests of the settlements uppermost in his mind, explained why he decided to vote with Claridge:
“When I contemplate the heavy arrears of business of this Court the daily accumulation of it – the overloaded state of our Jails and then revert to the Minute of the Honourable the Recorder of this day’s date now placed on record – I hesitate not one moment in giving my assent to all the propositions therein made for an immediate Court Establishment; not that I change from the o9pinions I have already recorded on this subject, but because pending a reference of the case to the decision of the Authorities at home, I feel persuaded that any temporary sacrifice of a pecuniary nature is insignificant when compared with the further suspension of public justice, which must be the consequence from the Recorders present determination.”1Langdon (n 27) at 387.
Fullerton relented and decided to back Ibbetson, thoroughly convinced that “unless the Recorder has his own way, unless he is allowed to dictate his own terms, to double all the expenses of the Court, he will throw in our way every embarrassment and difficulty in his power, and render the execution of our joint duties of Judges and Members of Government as disagreeable and inconvenient as he can.”2Fullerton’s Minute to Court of Directors, 1 Nov 1827, Minutes & Official Correspondence (n 38) at 44.
The judicial establishment proposed by Claridge included a registrar, a head clerk, subordinate clerks, a clerk as secretary to Claridge, a head interpreter, Chinese and Chuliah interpreters, a Muslim and a Hindu swearer, a “Shroff” or moneychanger, a crier and nine general staff.3Ibid, at 389. Claridge, with his love for pomp and ceremony, demanded the inclusion of a court crier at a salary of 100 Sicca Ruppes a month, having threatened that without a crier,4As a junior officer of the court, the crier’s principal duties are to announce the opening and adjournment of court, announce the admission of persons to the Bar, call the names of jurors, witnesses and to announce that a witness has been sworn in, to proclaim silence when so directed and make public proclamations generally. “he will never enter the Court at all but wait till a reference can be made to the King in Council.”5Ibid. Shortly after this, an unreal calm prevailed as the executive decided not to interfere with Claridge’s extravagant judicial establishment, and decided to afford him all that he wanted.
The First Session of the Court of Judicature
The first session of the new Court of Judicature was a session of Oyer and Terminer of the Straits Settlements held at 9.30 am on Monday, 19 November 1827. Fullerton and Ibbetson set aside their differences with Claridge and dutifully attended the sessions. Claridge opened with a long address in which he made numerous observations and proposed that petty grievances be properly assessed by the Registrar, and to separate the offices of sitting magistrate and superintendent of police as the current practice of having a single Magistrate in the Police office “flog, fine and imprison Offenders at discretion” was illegal, and proposed that these cases should instead be taken up at the General Quarter Sessions, which would consist of between two and nine Justices of the Peace and presided over by the Recorder.6Ibid, at 392. The Court of Quarter Sessions had extensive criminal jurisdiction, covering all indictable offences save for those which were triable only at the Assizes.
After nine days of sittings, the backlog was finally cleared and the Grand Jury made its first presentment. Among other things, the Grand Jury protested that the Quarter Sessions would not be able to cater to large number of petty complaints, and that in any case, it would take too long for these minor disputes to be determined authoritatively. The first Quarter Session was held on 17 December 1827 and was attended by Claridge, Ibbetson and eight Justices of the Peace.
Claridge’s Refusal to Go on Circuit
Having wrapped up the year with the first Oyer and Terminer and Quarter Session, plans were afoot to take the new Court of Judicature on circuit to Singapore and Malacca. As mentioned earlier, the Second Charter established a peripatetic court based in Penang. It was fully envisaged that court sessions would also be held in Singapore and Malacca. Furthermore, section 102 of 1813 statute, 53 Geo III c 155 required that “all His Majesty’s Courts exercising Criminal Jurisdiction … are hereby required, Four Times at the very least in every Year … to hold their Sessions for the purpose of taking Cognizance of all Matters relating to Pleas of the Crown”. 753 Geo III, Cap 155, 1813, An Act for continuing in the East India Company for a further Term the Possession of the British Territories in India, together with certain exclusive Privileges; for establishing further Regulations for the Government of the said Territories and the better Administration of Justice within the same; and for regulating the Trade to and from the Places within the Limits of the said Company’s Charter.
As intimated above, Claridge had always understood that his salary as Recorder did not include any allowances for expenses that would be incurred in travelling to Singapore and Malacca to hear cases. Williams-Wynne, President of the Control Board had told him that the Company would take care of all expenses to be incurred in travelling to and staying and working at Singapore and Malacca when conducting the business of the Court. Unfortunately, this understanding – explicit in Claridge’s mind – was never transmitted to the Penang establishment. Objectively speaking, Claridge’s understanding of the arrangement made absolute sense since the Charter did not specify how often court sessions were to be held in Malacca and Singapore, nor indeed in the entire Settlements. The Charter further provided for the possible expansion of the Penang Presidency, with the common use of the phrase “said Settlement of Prince of Wales’ Island, Singapore, and Malacca, and the Places now or at any Time hereafter to be subordinate or annexed thereto”. That being the case, it would be illogical to expect that the Recorder’s salary would be used to take care of expenses to be incurred to any of the territories beyond Singapore and Malacca as well.
Initially, Fullerton took the position that as Claridge was now receiving a much higher salary than the previous Recorder, the difference was meant to pay for Claridge’s circuit expenses. He later relented and while somewhat sympathetic to Claridge’s position, could not, in the absence of clear instructions from the Court of Directors, expend the Settlement’s funds for travel and other expenses without proper authorisation. A compromise was struck. The Company would pay for expenses incurred in the Recorder and his entourage travelling on circuit to conduct judicial business, but this expenditure would be subject to the Court of Directors’ approval. If these expenses were not approved, Claridge would have to personally refund these moneys to the Straits Government.
While Claridge was initially amenable to this arrangement, he began taking a harder line on circuit expenses after the first sitting of the Court in Penang. On 4 January 1828, Claridge wrote to Fullerton to inform him that he would not proceed to Singapore and at any other time unless his expenses were met by the East India Company. The Court would, however “be open every day” in Penang “for the despatch of Civil business”. He then proceeded to fix four sessions of Oyer and Terminer and Gaol Delivery to be held at Penang on 20 February, 20 May, 20 August and 20 November 1828.8Claridge to Fullerton, 4 Jan 1828, ibid, at 16. See also ‘Court of Judicature’ Singapore Chronicle, 31 Jan 1828, at 1. The dates of these sessions were later altered to 27 April, 8 July, 26 September and 20 December 1828.9‘Court of Judicature’ Singapore Chronicle & Commercial Register, 31 Jan 1828, at 1.
The dispute over Circuit expenses took on an even nastier turn when Claridge accused Fullerton of insulting him by suggesting that he arrange passage to Singapore on the 470-ton Speke while Fullerton commandeered the government frigate, the Hastings for himself even though the latter had been sent to convey both Fullerton and Claridge to Singapore.
This infuriated Fullerton, who was, by now, totally fed up with Claridge’s pompous self-importance. He explained that while the original plan had in fact, been to have Claridge travel with him to Singapore on board the Hastings, it was discovered that when the vessel arrived from Calcutta, it was “not in a state fit to carry one-fourth of the passengers required.”10Ibid It was thus decided that Governor and Recorder travel separately. Seeing that Claridge was determined to dig in his heels and not leave Penang, Fullerton decided to proceed to Singapore on his own to hold a session of Oyer and Terminer and Gaol Delivery there, sitting alongside Singapore’s Resident Councillor, Kenneth Murchison. On Monday 28 April, Fullerton, with his personal attendants and staff, along with the Court’s Registrar, Alexander John Kerr, departed Penang on the Hastings, bound for Singapore.
The Second Charter in Singapore
News of the arrival of the Second Charter reached Singapore about the same time it did Penang, and the arrival of the Recorder was awaited with great anticipation. In the meantime, the Resident Councillor – first John Prince, and then Kenneth Murchison – continued to run the Resident’s Court. Preparations were begun in Singapore in anticipation of the opening of the new Court of Judicature. Fullerton and his retinue arrived in Singapore 8 May 1828, greeted by the customary salutes. Sitting with Murchison, Fullerton opened the session of Oyer and Terminer and Gaol Delivery, and presided over the first-ever Court of Judicature session in Singapore on 22 May 1828.11Kyshe (n 2) at 99; see also ‘Singapore’ Singapore Chronicle & Commercial Register, 5 Jun 1828, at 1.
Notice of the first General Quarter Session of the Court, to be held in Singapore on 2 June 1828, following the session of Oyer and Terminer and Gaol Delivery, was published in the local newspapers.12‘Notification’ Singapore Chronicle & Commercial Register, 22 May 1828, at 1. Fullerton and Murchison completed the first Session, hearing 27 indictments brought by the Grand Jury, of which six were found guilty of murder, one for manslaughter, and the rest of the cases of assault and offences against property. Two persons were sentenced to death. Two persons indicted for piracy had to be released for want of jurisdiction.13Kyshe (n 2) at 99; see also ‘Singapore’ Singapore Chronicle & Commercial Register, 5 Jun 1828, at 1. After the Singapore sessions ended on 5 June 1828, Fullerton proceeded to Malacca where he opened the Assizes and held a session of Oyer and Terminer and Gaol Delivery for the first time on 16 June 1828, sitting alongside Malacca Resident Councillor Samuel Garling.14Ibid. Fullerton was back in Penang by the end of June, just in time for the next local sitting of the Court. The Court of Oyer and Terminer and Gaol Delivery was not to convene again in Singapore or Malacca during the rest of 1828 although Quarter Sessions were held in Singapore on 2 September15Singapore Chronicle & Commercial Register, 28 Aug 1828, at 1. and 2 December16Singapore Chronicle & Commercial Register, 20 Nov 1828, at 2. that year.
In October 1828, after the close of sittings in Penang, Claridge left for Bengal to plead his case with the Governor-General there. He did not appear to have made much headway and returned to Penang in December, in time for the final sessions of the Court for the Year. As the first circuit for 1829 approached, Claridge agreed to travel to Singapore and Malacca, arriving in Singapore on 28 January 1829. The first Session of Oyer and Terminer and Gaol Delivery was held at the Court House at 9.00 am, Monday 16 February 1828.17‘Proclamation’ Singapore Chronicle & Commercial Register, 12 Feb 1828, at 1. The Court dealt with 15 cases and adjourned on 23 February 1828.18‘Court of Judicature’ Singapore Chronicle & Commercial Register, 26 Feb 1829, at 2. In the course of his address to the Court, Claridge informed all present that the Court of Judicature would visit Singapore and Malacca twice a year to hold sessions of Oyer and Terminer and Gaol Delivery – in February and August. Otherwise, non-capital felonies must be tried by Magistrates in Quarter Sessions, and the civil business of the Court carried on by the Resident Councillor sitting alone for the remainder of the year.19Ibid. Claridge then proposed that if “the East India Company will furnish a steam vessel of moderate tonnage and respectable accommodations to the Court of Judicature for thirty days in each year” he (the Recorder) would “hold four Sessions of Oyer and Terminer and four sittings for the despatch of civil business at each of the three stations” each year.20Ibid. Unbeknownst to Claridge – who was advocating more sessions of the Court of Judicature in Singapore and Malacca – Fullerton had written to the Court of Directors recommending that the Court of Judicature be abolished and replaced by a Mayor’s Court:
“… if the administration of Justice entirely by civil public servants be objected to, there could be no difficulty in attaching five merchants, settlers, as assessors, on the same principle as a Mayor’s Court, the Resident as Mayor, the others as Aldermen, and the Governor and Council holding only, as formerly at Madras and Bombay, the Courts of Oyer and Terminer. Any one of the modes here proposed would be preferable to the present, which is more expensive and worse adapted than any system which could be devised.”21Quoted in Kyshe (n 2) at 102.
No one took this suggestion seriously although, through force of circumstances, Fullerton was to shut down the Court of Judicature the following year.
Claridge is Recalled
Claridge returned to Penang to attend just one further session of Oyer and Terminer and Gaol Delivery in July 1829. On 26 August, he sailed for Singapore on the Kellie Castle for what was to be the second circuit of the year. Fullerton and his suite departed the day before on board the Neriede. However, shortly before Fullerton’s departure, he received a despatch from the Secretary of State ordering Claridge to return to England to face the charges laid against him. Fullerton caught up with Claridge at Malacca on 2 September, and after failing to persuade Fullerton to allow him to remain until 1 November, Claridge sailed back to England on board the Kellie Castle, via China.
Claridge returned to England in September 1830 to face a series of six charges against him. In a Memorial and Petition by the Court of Directors to the King dated 28 September 1828 contained two charges against Claridge, but this was substantially revised in a second Memorial and Petition, dated 23 Feb 1831,22Claridge Statement (n 31) at 12–14. that levelled the following six charges against him:
“First Charge – The refusal of Sir John Thomas Claridge to execute the duties of his office of Recorder, in the manner observed by his predecessors, until the consent of the Government was obtained to guarantee the payment of Salaries to Officers of the Recorder’s Court, upon an increased scale, greatly exceeding, both in number and amount, what appeared to the Government sufficient.
Second Charge – The refusal of Sir John Thomas Claridge to administer the necessary Oaths to Kenneth Murchison, when duly appointed temporary Resident Councillor in the room of Robert Ibbetson, in order to his qualifying himself as a Judge of the said Court.
Third Charge – The refusal of Sir John Thomas Claridge to proceed to Singapore and Malacca, for the purpose of holding Sessions for the trial of Criminals at those places, unless the Government would pay his Circuit expenses.
Fourth Charge – The undue and vexatious exertion of authority by Sir John Thomas Claridge, in repealing individually a standing Order of the Court, which had been passed by a majority of the Judges.
Fifth Charge – The unbecoming conduct of Sir John Thomas Claridge on the Bench towards his colleague, the Resident Councillor at Malacca.
Sixth Charge – That Sir John Thomas Claridge had made use of his judicial station, to hold up the administration of the Government of the said United Settlements, with reference to the judicial establishment, to public odium.”23Ibid, at 14.
Claridge pleaded his case before a Committee of the Privy Council24The Council consisted of: The Marquis of Landsdowne (Lord President); Lord Brougham and Vaux (Lord High Chancellor); Lord Chief Justice Tenterden; Lord Chief Justice Tindal; The Duke of Richmond; the Early of Carlisle; Charles Watkin Williams-Wynne; and Charles Grant (President of the Board of Control). See, ibid, at 15. on 13 June 1831. Counsel were heard on 8 July and again on 16 September 1831 and the decision of the Council (dated 15 December 1831) was delivered on 2 March 1832.25Ibid, at 15–16. In the main, the Council absolved Claridge of his charges, holding that his conduct had “proceeded from a mistaken view of the line of his duty, and not from any corrupt or improper motive”. Even so, the Council felt that the measures to which he resorted to force the Company to pay his Circuit expenses could not be justified.26Ibid, at 16. In closing, the Council stated that “no imputation rests on the capacity or integrity of Sir JT Claridge, in the exercise of his judicial function, so as to preclude” the Crown “from employing him … in some other judicial situation.” Even so, the Council ordered that Claridge’s appointment as Recorder be revoked.27Ibid, at 17.
Notwithstanding the Council’s somewhat favourable views on his actions, Claridge was not to obtain any further judicial appointment although he had hopes of being appointed Judge in one of the Courts of Judicature in the Indian Presidency towns. At the time of his dismissal, Claridge was just 40 years old. He was to live another 36 years and die in ignominy. In the words of Anne Falloon, “he spent his long life as an almost Dickensian supplicant for legal restitution”’28Falloon (n 27) at 159. but never received the vindication he so desired.
|↑1||Langdon (n 27) at 387.|
|↑2||Fullerton’s Minute to Court of Directors, 1 Nov 1827, Minutes & Official Correspondence (n 38) at 44.|
|↑3||Ibid, at 389.|
|↑4||As a junior officer of the court, the crier’s principal duties are to announce the opening and adjournment of court, announce the admission of persons to the Bar, call the names of jurors, witnesses and to announce that a witness has been sworn in, to proclaim silence when so directed and make public proclamations generally.|
|↑6||Ibid, at 392.|
|↑7||53 Geo III, Cap 155, 1813, An Act for continuing in the East India Company for a further Term the Possession of the British Territories in India, together with certain exclusive Privileges; for establishing further Regulations for the Government of the said Territories and the better Administration of Justice within the same; and for regulating the Trade to and from the Places within the Limits of the said Company’s Charter.|
|↑8||Claridge to Fullerton, 4 Jan 1828, ibid, at 16. See also ‘Court of Judicature’ Singapore Chronicle, 31 Jan 1828, at 1.|
|↑9||‘Court of Judicature’ Singapore Chronicle & Commercial Register, 31 Jan 1828, at 1.|
|↑11||Kyshe (n 2) at 99; see also ‘Singapore’ Singapore Chronicle & Commercial Register, 5 Jun 1828, at 1.|
|↑12||‘Notification’ Singapore Chronicle & Commercial Register, 22 May 1828, at 1.|
|↑13||Kyshe (n 2) at 99; see also ‘Singapore’ Singapore Chronicle & Commercial Register, 5 Jun 1828, at 1.|
|↑15||Singapore Chronicle & Commercial Register, 28 Aug 1828, at 1.|
|↑16||Singapore Chronicle & Commercial Register, 20 Nov 1828, at 2.|
|↑17||‘Proclamation’ Singapore Chronicle & Commercial Register, 12 Feb 1828, at 1.|
|↑18||‘Court of Judicature’ Singapore Chronicle & Commercial Register, 26 Feb 1829, at 2.|
|↑21||Quoted in Kyshe (n 2) at 102.|
|↑22||Claridge Statement (n 31) at 12–14.|
|↑23||Ibid, at 14.|
|↑24||The Council consisted of: The Marquis of Landsdowne (Lord President); Lord Brougham and Vaux (Lord High Chancellor); Lord Chief Justice Tenterden; Lord Chief Justice Tindal; The Duke of Richmond; the Early of Carlisle; Charles Watkin Williams-Wynne; and Charles Grant (President of the Board of Control). See, ibid, at 15.|
|↑25||Ibid, at 15–16.|
|↑26||Ibid, at 16.|
|↑27||Ibid, at 17.|
|↑28||Falloon (n 27) at 159.|