The Consul General at London (Skinner) to the Secretary of State

No. 5373

Sir: With reference to the Department’s instruction No. 2240 dated November 21, 1917, File 300.115/13263 stating the views of the Department with regard to conditions sought to be imposed by the British authorities on releases of needles after deposit of their value in Prize Court, I have the honor to report that these observations were laid before the British Procurator General, who asked that I indicate in what respect it is considered that the conditions referred to in the letter from his Department of September 8, 1917,13 constitute an improper and unjustifiable hardship upon the American consignees of the goods in question.

On December 31, 1917, I replied as follows:—

“I have the honor to acknowledge the receipt of your letter dated December 24, 1917, enquiring which conditions in your letter dated September 8, 1917, are considered by the Department of State as constituting an improper and unjustifiable hardship upon the consignees of the goods in question.

“It is my inference that these words refer to your stipulation—

“‘It must be understood that other claims if any must be made at the time when the case is brought before the Court for hearing.’

“because this stipulation may have been interpreted by the Department of State in a sense that you did not intend to convey. It is apparent, however, that the Department adheres to the views expressed in its Note of October 21, 1915, and that it is desirous that these releases be understood to be without prejudice to any claims whether or not they are matured.”

H.M. Procurator General under date of January 1, 1918, replied as follows:—

“I am directed by H.M. Procurator General to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 31st ultimo relative to the conditions [Page 613]attached to the release of needles detained from the mails, and to say that he regrets that he is unable to accede to the views that it is unreasonable to require claimants to put forward at the time of the hearing of the Prize Court proceedings claims which they are in a position to make at that date.”

By the words “other claims” as used in his letter of September 8, 1917, “claims which have matured” as used in his letter of September 13, 1917, a copy of which is attached hereto, “claims which they” (American claimants) “are in a position to make” as used in his letter of January 1, 1918, I would suggest is meant all claims except those going to the title of the goods or deposit: it being the plan of H.M. Procurator General that at the end of the war or when the ultimate disposition of the goods or their equivalent proceeds is considered, the interested alien claims—Americans, Swedes, Dutch, etc.—may set up conflicting claims as to the same goods, the British interests being virtually interpleaded as custodians with the right reserved in certain cases to exact costs.

It is the British desire to have all questions of jurisdiction of the Court, legality of the seizure, justification of the detention and damages therefor determined in the Prize Court in the ordinary course and at no other time or place, except at a diplomatic appeal; and I venture to suggest that the insistence on the fulfillment of this desire may give to possible diplomatic settlements after the war the character of a Court of Appeal from which all questions are excluded except those on which the Prize Court has previously ruled adversely to the particular American appellants—the failure to raise questions in the ordinary course before the Prize Court being regarded as a waiver of the right to have them considered diplomatically.

In this connection I would respectfully refer the Department to my dispatch No. 5373 [5374] dated January 9, 1918,14 on the subject of the procedure which has just been prepared for the protection of the interests of American claimants who have made deposits in Prize Court.

I have [etc.]

Robert P. Skinner

The Secretary to the British Procurator General (Woods) to the American Consul General at London (Skinner)

Sir: I am directed by H.M. Procurator General to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 11th instant with reference to the terms upon which the Needles under detention in this country are to be released for transmission to their destination.

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The Procurator General does not at present appreciate that his letter of the 8th instant limits or circumscribes the opportunity of the Consignees to establish what they may conceive to be their rights, but he will proceed upon the footing that any claims which have matured at the time of the hearing of the Prize Court proceedings will then be presented for decision.

I am [etc.]

R. W. Woods
  1. See despatch no. 4753, Sept. 11, 1917, from the consul general at London, p. 602.
  2. Not printed.