The Secretary of State to the Diplomatic Agent and Consul General at Tangier ( Blake )

No. 641

Sir: The Department refers to your despatch No. 551 of October 8, 1930, and subsequent communication concerning the attempt of the Tangier Mixed Tribunal to assume jurisdiction over Messrs. Joseph G. Abrines, Dragoman, and Gregory T. Abrines, Interpreter, of the American Diplomatic Agency at Tangier, both of whom you state are British subjects.

The Department approves your refusal to accept the jurisdiction of the Tribunal over these men and should any further attempt be made by it to assume jurisdiction over them or over other personnel of the Diplomatic Agency you should refuse to submit them to such jurisdiction and report to the Department.

The Department also approves of the position taken by you in your communication of October 2 [3], 1930, to the British Consul General at Tangier, in regard to their immunity from such jurisdiction. In addition to the provisions of the British and Spanish treaties of 1856 and 1861, respectively, with Morocco, to which you refer, your attention is called to Article 2 of the Madrid Convention of 1880, to which both the United States and Great Britain are parties, which recognizes that foreign representatives at the head of a Legation in Morocco may select their interpreters and employees from among subjects of Morocco, “or others”, and that these persons are included among the protected persons of the Legation.

The position of the Department in regard to the immunity from other jurisdiction of interpreters or other employees of the Consulate General at Tangier, even when of foreign nationality, is set forth in its note of April 5, 1872, in the Peter W. Scott case, addressed to Sir Edward Thornton, British Minister at Washington, to which you refer.45 The Department’s files do not disclose that any response to this note was ever received from the British Government. A copy of the note was transmitted to Consul General Mathews at Tangier with the Department’s instruction No. 43 of October 1 and was acknowledged by him in despatch No. 84 in November of that year.46 However, for your convenience a copy of this note as well as other pertinent communications are enclosed.47

[Page 767]

As indicative of the practice in Tangier your attention is called to the statement in Mr. Mathews’ despatch No. 50 of December 7, 1871,48 that he was “informed by the representatives of France, Italy, and Portugal, (the latter [having] been almost all his life in Tangier), that provided one of their subjects takes official employment without the consent of his Government of a position such as Vice Consul or Dragoman in Tangier, under a foreign flag, he loses the protection of his nation and enjoys the immunities and protection of the country he is serving.”

Aside from any special situation that may exist at Tangier by reason of the capitulatory regime or otherwise, these men as well as other duly registered personnel of the American Diplomatic Agency at Tangier would be immune from local jurisdiction under generally recognized principles of international law.

The Department notes from your despatch No. 567 of December 4, 1930,48 that while your British colleague has disclosed no definite information you gather from remarks made by him that he has received communications in the matter from his Government and that while that Government does not perhaps entirely acquiesce in the technical legality of the American Government’s contention in the premises, it deprecates any conflict between the two Governments and is desirous of reaching a satisfactory understanding in the matter. No communication has been received by the Department regarding the matter from the British Government and it is probable that that Government does not intend to raise the question formally.

The Department, while it must maintain the immunity from local jurisdiction of the personnel employed in the Diplomatic Agency at Tangier, is also desirous of avoiding any unnecessary discussion in the matter. Accordingly, it deems it advisable for you, should the subject again be opened by your British colleague, merely to inform him orally of the Department’s approval of the position taken by you in the matter in your communications to him.

It is improbable that any further attempt will be made to assert jurisdiction over these men in this case but should such an attempt be made you will, of course, as indicated earlier in this instruction, refuse to permit them to submit to such jurisdiction.

The Department desires you to inform it promptly of any developments in the matter.

Very truly yours,

For the Secretary of State:
W. R. Castle, Jr.
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The Secretary of State to the British Minister ( Thornton )

Sir: I have had the honor to receive your note of the 3d instant, expressing on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government the opinion that, pursuant to the treaty between Great Britain and Morocco of the 9th of December, 1856, British Consular officers in that country are entitled to exercise both civil and criminal jurisdiction over Mr. Scott, the Interpreter to the Consulate of the United States at Tangier, who is acknowledged to be a British subject. In reply I have the honor to state that the treaty adverted to has here been carefully examined, but no foundation for the claim of a right of jurisdiction by British Consular officers over the Interpreter to the Consulate of the United States, can there be discovered. The treaty, it is true, gives to Consular officers ample jurisdiction over British subjects in Morocco generally, but certainly no treaty to which the United States are not a party can rightfully extend such jurisdiction over any foreigner whom they may think proper to employ in their Consulate. Furthermore, Mr. Scott cannot properly be said to be within British jurisdiction, because he is in the service of an officer of the United States accredited to the Emperor of Morocco, and who, as such according to the usage of that country is entitled to privileges of exterritoriality, one of which is the exemption of his servants, including his interpreter from any other jurisdiction than his own.

The difference of opinion upon this subject between Her Majesty’s Government and that of the United States, is much to be regretted, but inasmuch as if the case were reversed, it is not likely that this Government would ever have put forward upon similar grounds, a claim to jurisdiction over a citizen of the United States in British service, it is hoped that Her Majesty’s Government may, upon further consideration acknowledge the reasonableness of our objections to their claim to jurisdiction over Mr. Scott.

I have [etc.]

Hamilton Fish
  1. Infra.
  2. Neither printed.
  3. Other communications not printed.
  4. Not printed.
  5. Not printed.