No. 544.
General Sickles to Mr. Fish.

No. 950.]

Sir: I have the honor to forward herewith a copy and translation of a decree dated 30th December ultimo, appointing anew commission to consider and report the modifications necessary to adapt the penal laws of Spain, and its code of procedure in criminal cases, to the colonies.

You will observe the statement in the preamble, that a similar commission was created in 1869, and continued until 1872, when it was dissolved without having made a report. On November 28, 1872, another commission was named, which in turn is now broken up without having done anything. The present board was practically disbanded four days after it was appointed, since the government by which it was created fell on the third of January.

In my No. 472, I reported the debate in the Cortes which resulted in the appointment of the second commission in November, 1872. A promise was then made by Mr. Martos, on behalf of the government, that the serious grievances shown to result from the existing legislation should be at once removed, and three months was accepted as a sufficient time for the labors of the commission.

Another illustration is here afforded of the unwillingness of Spain to do anything toward the amelioration of the condition of the colonies, Since the revolution of 1868, the governments of Prim, Serrano, Sagasta, Zorilla, Figueras, and Castelar, have all promised to reform the administration in Cuba; and yet it is, perhaps, not too much to affirm that the situation of the island to-day is worse than ever.

I am, &c.,


Decree of December 30, 1873, organizing a new commission to report a penal code for Cuba and Porto Rico.

[Translation from “La Gaceta de Madrid,” January 2, 1874.]


The evident necessity of giving to the provinces of Cuba and Porto Rico a penal code which, based upon that in force in the peninsula, should be the exponent of modern progress in penal legislation and of the solicitude of the mother country for her ancient colonies, impelled the government of the nation to create, by the decree of September 10, 1889, a commission charged with proposing the necessary alterations in the penal code at that time in operation in the peninsula, in order to apply it to the provinces of ultramar; but, although the commission, composed of most worthy and zealous persons, commenced its labors, it did not terminate them, by reason of the absence of some of its members and the occupations of others, and for divers causes, which counseled the issue of the royal decree of November 20, 1872, by which the aforesaid commission was declared dissolved and another created in its place, composed of seven distinguished jurists, charged with proposing the modifications which they might deem advisable in the penal code of the peninsula in order to apply it to Cuba and Porto Rico within the fixed term of two months, at the expiration of which the commission would be dissolved.

Unfortunately, this new commission likewise failed to give the expected result, either by reason of the painful brevity of the time allotted or from causes analogous to those which sterilized the action of its predecessor.

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In view of the limited success obtained by these attempts, and of the urgency of extending to the Spanish Antilles the indicated reform in their penal legislation, putting in operation, at the same time, a system of procedure more conformable to science, and which shall contain, as a greater guarantee of justice, the right of appeal from the judgments of the higher courts, (audiencias,) and also, while remedying the infractions of penal laws and proceedings, shall make uniform the interpretation of the same and facilitate their more exact application, the undersigned minister has been led to consider necessary the creation of a new commission composed of elements taken from the ministry under his charge, upon which he can directly and immediately exert his supervision and influence to hasten its labors, this being, doubtless, the most efficacious means of happily carrying out, in a brief time, the reforms which he has already indicated.

To this end the undersigned minister has the honor to propose to the government of the republic the approval of the following draught of a decree.

The minister of the colonies ad interim,


The government of the republic, in a council of ministers, and at the instance of the colonial minister, decrees the following:

  • Article I. A commission is created, composed of the secretary-general of the colonial office as president, and of four officials, chiefs of bureaus and counselors in the same ministry, as voting members, in order that, in as short a time as possible, it shall propose the modifications it considers necessary to introduce into the existing penal code of the peninsula in order to set it in operation in the provinces of ultramar.
  • Art. II. The same commission shall also be charged with drawing up a bill of criminal procedure in harmony with the reforms effected in the peninsula during the last few years and compatible with the present organization of the colonial courts, in which shall be included the establishment of the right of appeal on issues of fact and of form from the final judgments of those courts.

The President of the government of the republic,

The colonial minister ad interim,
Joaquin Gil Berges.