File No. 763.72112/886

The Consul General at Hamburg (Morgan) to the Secretary of State 1

No. 204]

Sir: I have the honor to inform you that under the regulations of the German prize courts it is provided that the court has to announce in the Reichsanzeiger (the official organ) the time at which interested parties may enter their claims for damages on account of the seizure or destruction of cargo on enemies’ ships and such claims to entitle them to consideration must be entered within the time stipulated by the court—not less than two weeks’ nor more than two months’ notice shall be given for the time allowed for the presentation of claims and such notice will be given for the cargo of each steamer which will come before the prize court. Paragraph 28 of the German law, which is of particular interest to citizens of the United States, has been interpreted by the prize court to mean that no claim presented after the expiration of the time appointed in the public notices published by the prize court in the Reichsanzeiger will be recognized. It would result, therefore, that if a notice is [Page 347] given by the prize court to file claims within two weeks after the publication citizens of the United States would be unable to file their claims through German counsel for lack of time, and for this reason I propose to cable to the Department immediately such notice is published giving the name of the vessel whose cargo will come before the court and limit of time fixed for filing claims. It will always be possible to withdraw the claim if it should appear impossible to maintain it, but a claim, however valid, cannot be made after the time limit for presenting same has elapsed.

Claimants can only be represented before the prize court by German counsel and in order that counsel should be able to present the case it will be necessary to give at least the name of the vessel, a description of the cargo claimed, an estimation of the value and some indication as to what proof the claimant has that the cargo in question is the property of a citizen of the United States. A. full power of attorney should at once be sent. For the first application to the prize court, however, a simple telegraphic authorization to German counsel will be sufficient. It is not necessary that the full phraseology of an American power of attorney should be telegraphed. Any proofs which the claimant may have should be dispatched at the earliest possible moment and further proofs can be sent afterwards, although it will help the case considerably if such proofs as are available are produced on entering the claim.

The formal application to the prize court, which must be within the time limit as hereinbefore set forth, has only reference to open proceedings. The actual trial of the case will only be heard by the prize court later and there will always be sufficient time to fully prepare the case and produce the necessary proofs.

To secure a favorable decision it will be necessary in the first place to prove that the claimant is a citizen of the United States. If the claimant is a company, a sworn affidavit or some other official document must be produced showing conclusively that all partners of the firm are citizens of the United States. If one partner of the firm is a citizen or subject of an enemy state, this fact alone will debar the claimant. If the claimant should be a limited company, it will be necessary to prove by an official document that such company is incorporated and domiciled in the United States. It will furthermore be necessary to prove that the cargo at the time of its capture or destruction was the property of a citizen of the United States and the production of the bills of lading of such goods will, generally speaking, be accepted as competent proof; but it will be advisable to produce at the same time proof that the bill of lading has not passed into the hand of an alien enemy, such proofs, for instance, as bankers’ letters showing that the receiver has refused to accept the drafts annexed or similar documents.

The law does not exclude the right of claimants to bring proofs by witness and paragraph 56 of the law in question provides that prize courts may order a commission to issue to German consuls to take the evidence of witness. It is the general opinion, however, of prominent lawyers in Hamburg that the prize courts would not resort to the long and tedious process of taking the depositions in America, and it is therefore of great importance that as full documentary evidence as possible be produced.

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From the decision of the prize court there is always an appeal to the supreme prize court and a notice of appeal must be given within two weeks alter the decision of the court of first instance has been handed down.

The prize court rendered a decision some time ago that the neutral owners of cargo on British vessels sunk by the German cruiser Karlsruhe had no right to claim for damages but an appeal has been taken from this decision. I am endeavoring to obtain a copy of the decision referred to and will send it forward when received.

All the foregoing information has been given after consultation with Dr. Stammann, of the firm of Dres. Schroeder, Stammann and Nolte, one of the most important and influential firms of attorneys in Hamburg.

Copies and translations of such parts of the German law as are cited in this despatch and which I have considered would be of interest to American citizens are enclosed herewith.

I have [etc.]

Henry H. Morgan

Paragraphs of the “Deutsches Seekriegsrecht” of Interest to Citizens of the United States

26. The president of the prize court should, although the prize has been released, request the interested parties to present their claims within a certain period by filing petition with the court. The time granted should not be less than two weeks and should not exceed two months.

The summons can be served by publication of the fact in the Reichsanzeiger. It is considered legal after the second day on which the publication of the announcement is made.

The interested parties, whose residences are known, should, when possible, receive special summons by post unless they have filed their claims in the meantime; however, they are looked upon as being legally notified by official publication of the summons.

The interested parties are:

The owner of the vessel and the cargo in the vessel seized;
All private persons claiming to have a lawful interest in the releasing of the prize, or in damages the owners may receive.

27. The petition must contain all facts and proofs upon which the claim is based; the originals of official documents should, if possible, be produced.

The petition must be presented by a lawyer admitted to practice before a German court, who is provided with a written power of attorney and who has acquired the right to perform the duties of a judge.

If the claimant does not reside within the official district of the prize court, a person should be named, residing within this district, upon whom the summons may be served for the claimant.

28. Upon such claims as have not been presented within the stipulated time, the prize court will pass judgment after having consulted the Imperial commissioner in regard to the evidence based on the records.

29. If the claim was presented in time, the president shall stipulate the time when the verbal proceedings should take place. The Imperial commissioner and the claimant should be summoned officially. Several claims regarding the same subject should as a rule be tried at the same time.

30. A term may be postponed ex officio or upon application the proceedings may be adjourned and another time may be set when the proceedings shall be continued.

31. The Imperial commissioner shall have full power to examine all vouchers.

Upon application and if permission is granted by the Imperial commissioner, the claimant or his representative may be granted permission to examine the contents of the vouchers prior to the proceeding. The Imperial commissioner can refuse his consent only in so far as military interests come into consideration.

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32. The hearings are public. However, the public may be excluded during the entire time, or such part of the time as the prize court may decide upon when the interests of the Government are endangered.

The stipulations of constitutional law for German courts are applied accordingly.

33. The hearings start with a statement of the facts by the assessor charged with the report, whereupon the Imperial commissioner and the petitioner are entitled to state particulars and make propositions. The introduction of new facts and proofs are admissible.

The claimant must be represented by a lawyer admitted to practice before a German court, authorized to act as a judge. The prize court may admit another competent person thoroughly versed in law matters.

Although the petitioner is not satisfactorily represented, the proceedings will go on.

34. A sworn clerk to take the testimony is required during the hearings. The constitutional regulations applicable to civil law are enforced accordingly.

35. The prize court passes judgment after consideration of all the evidence pertaining to the proceedings in question.

Should the judgment as passed be based upon facts which were not brought out at the hearings, the petitioner must be heard prior to pronouncement of the verdict.

The paragraphs of the constitutional law concerning discussions and rulings are applied accordingly. The associate judges must vote first, the president last, the younger members vote prior to the older ones.

36. In the verdict as pronounced all questions should be decided which are referred to in the first paragraph of this law.

37. Furthermore the verdict must state who is to pay the costs of the action at law.

If the claim of the petitioner is rejected he is to be held liable for the costs of the action resulting from his claim. If the costs were brought about by joint claims, they should be proportioned accordingly.

If the claim is acknowledged, the Government pays the costs. The latter is also liable for any necessary costs caused by the claim of the petitioners should the Imperial Chancellor declare that the exchange is warranted, unless sufficient reasons existed for the measures taken by the prize court, in which the claim was presented.

If a ship, the cargo of which consisted of contraband, is released, the costs of the trial relating to the seizure of the contraband, as well as the costs of maintaining the ship and cargo during the trial of the case, are to be charged to the owners of the vessel, although no claim was made.

The amount of the costs is stipulated in a special ruling. Such ruling may be combined in the verdict.

38. The verdict should state all reasons for the verdict as passed. It also should state the name of all judges having voted in the particular case, and it should be signed by the president and an assessor who should be thoroughly versed in legal matters. It should start with the preamble of introduction: “In the name of the Empire.”

39. The Imperial commissioner as well as the petitioner are entitled to take an appeal from the verdict, except in cases set forth in paragraph 25.

A written appeal must be filed with the prize court within two weeks after the verdict has been handed down.

The person taking the appeal should file a brief within one month following, stating the grounds on which the appeal is based, and what changes the petitioner desires to make.

The grounds for the appeal may be filed with the application.

The appeal and the grounds therefor filed by the petitioner must be signed by a lawyer admitted to practice before a German court and authorized to act as a judge.

The court may decide that a legal power of attorney be subsequently produced.

40. If the appeal was not taken in time or the grounds therefor are not supplied within the time limit or in due form, the prize court must reject it and hold that it is not admissible.

The applicant may demand within one week’s time after the verdict is handed down that the matter be, placed before the superior prize court. The prize court cannot alter the verdict returned the records must be sent to the [Page 350] superior prize court for decision through the mediation of the Imperial commissioner.

41. The prize court has a right to prolong the time limits stated in paragraph 39, sections 2 and 3, upon application by a petitioner taking an appeal.

42. If the appeal is taken in time and the grounds therefor filed within the time specified and in due form, the appeal and the grounds therefor are turned over to the plaintiff with the request that he file his answer to the appeal within two weeks’ time. The regulation contained in paragraph 39, section 5, is applicable to the declaration last mentioned.

43. After having received the answer to the appeal, or after the time has elapsed, the Imperial commissioner places the documents before the superior prize court.

44. The regulations contained in paragraphs 24, 25, 29 to 38 are applicable to the proceedings to be held before the superior prize court.

If any questions were not settled by the decision disputed by the petitioner in the matter turned over to the superior prize court, the same may be returned to the prize court, in so far as new hearings are made necessary.

56. All courts and administrations within the Imperial territory and within the German protectorates, as well as the representatives of the Empire abroad, have to comply with all requests of prize officials and of the Imperial commissioner to perform official duties within their respective districts. Nos. 158 to 162, 166 and 167 of the constitutional laws are applicable according to the legal assistance rendered by the court. German consuls are authorized to take the depositions of witnesses and experts under oath in order to determine such cases.

Costs (in cash) are reimbursed by the prize court making the request to the authorities to whom the inquiry was addressed.

  1. This despatch, together with its enclosure, was printed by the Department and transmitted to parties making inquiries concerning ships and cargoes captured or destroyed by German naval authorities.