Mr. Lothrop to Mr. Bayard.
St. Petersburg , February 17, 1887. (Received March 7.)
Sir: In compliance with the instructions of your dispatch No. 65, of December 4 last, I addressed a note on December 22 to the imperial minister of foreign affairs, asking for the facts and grounds on which the American schooner Henrietta was seized and confiscated off East Cape, in Behring Strait, on August 24 last.
On January 21 last I received a reply, a translation of which I inclose herewith, stating that the Henrietta was confiscated by the judgment of a commission, sitting on board the imperial corvette Kreysser for the offense of illicit trading on the Russian coasts.
On January 28 I had a personal interview with General Vlangally, the assistant minister of foreign affairs, in which I asked him how the commission that sat on board the corvette was constituted. He informed me that it was composed of certain officers of the corvette, acting under the orders of the governor of Eastern Siberia, within whose general jurisdiction such matters were vested.
I also called his attention to the fact that his note to me failed to specify in what the alleged “illicit commerce” consisted, and asked him for further information. He replied that he was not then able to give me the desired information, but said an answer in respect to the seizure and condemnation of the American schooner Eliza was in preparation, and would be sent to me in a few days, and he thought that perhaps I might thereby receive the information sought.
On February 11 received the promised communication respecting the Eliza, a copy of which will accompany the dispatch which will immediately follow the present one.
It will be seen that the seizure and condemnation of the schooners rest on the provisions of an administrative order,“dhme disposition administrative,” prohibiting, after the first of the year 1882, all trading, hunting, and fishing on the-Russian Pacific coasts without special license from the governor-general.[Page 946]
It is claimed that very extended publicity of the regulation was given in 1881–’83, through the newspapers of Yokohama, in the Russian consulates of the Pacific, and at the American custom-houses.
Upon the receipt of this last note I at once, for greater certainty, wrote to General Vlangally, asking him for a copy of the trading regulations or order.
I also asked if I was right in my understanding that the commission was composed of the officers of the vessel that made the capture.
The feature that strikes me as very peculiar in these cases is the fact that the captors are also the judges of their own acts. The commission seems to sit at once at the place of capture, and the evidence on which it acts would seem to be that which the captors derive from their own observation and their investigation on the spot.
It is perhaps a fundamental and equitable maxim of jurisprudence that no one can be a judge of his own cause; and it will probably be worthy of consideration, how far the decisions of a tribunal so constituted can be considered as valid.
I am, etc.,