File No. 300.115/8071

The Ambassador in Great Britain (Page) to the Secretary of State

No. 3493

Sir: With reference to my despatch No. 1693 of June 29, 1915, concerning the prize court proceedings against certain shipments of copper, consigned to Swedish buyers, on board the S. S. Zamora,2 I have the honor to report to the Department that on April 7, 1916, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council delivered their judgment in the appeal from the decision of the prize court in this case.

This reversal of judgment by the Privy Council has aroused extreme interest in all circles, and it is felt by some of the American attorneys who are now practicing in London that this may open the way for other appeals from prize court decisions, and may have an effect upon numerous other British orders in council and prize court decisions depending upon them.

I understand from private sources that the officials of the office of the procurator general are very much upset at the judgment of Lord Parker, and feel that any rulings under the order in council of March 30, 1916, may be set at nought by this decision. I am also informed that the officials of the Foreign Office, and those under Lord Robert Cecil, the Minister of Blockade, are extremely disturbed at the Privy Council’s action in this matter and do not know where they stand.

The leading article in the Times of April 11, 1916, clippings of Which are herewith enclosed,1 points out that this decision will rank as one of the chief leading cases in prize law and may have important practical consequences.

[Page 368]

The finding of the Privy Council—a report upon which appeared in the Times of April 8, 1916, and of which copies are enclosed1—may be summed up in the statement that it did not consider that it was consistent with international equity for the Crown, which appeared as a party in prize cases, to be empowered to make an order in council which would be binding upon the judge of a prize court in proceedings in which the Crown was also a party.

It would appear from this judgment that the Lords of the Privy Council consider that “the law which the prize court was to administer was not the national, or as it was sometimes called, the municipal law, but the law of nations; in other words, international law,” and that if a prize court in the United Kingdom was bound by and gave effect to the orders of the King in Council purporting to prescribe or alter the international law, it was administering not international law but municipal law.

I have as yet had no opportunity of conversing upon this subject with anyone in the British Government, but I have no doubt that it will have great bearing upon future prize court decisions, and that an endeavor to appeal other cases in view of this ruling may be generally made. I will keep the Department informed at length upon any matters which may come up in reference to this judgment of the Privy Council.

I have [etc.]

Walter Hines Page
  1. Foreign Relations, 1915, Supplement, pp. 46972.
  2. Not printed.
  3. See enclosure to despatch No. 1605, April 10, from the Consul General, ante, p. 364.