The Trial of Casement


Court :
King's bench

Brief :
The trial of Sir Roger Casement took place in 1917 during the First World War. It raised a new point. The guilty act had been committed – not in England – but by Casement in Germany. Was that High Treason?

Citation :
R vs Casement [1017] KB 98,134.

The Trial of Casement

 

Introduction

The trial of Sir Roger Casement took place in 1917 during the First World War. It raised a new point. The guilty act had been committed – not in England – but by Casement in Germany. Was that High Treason?

 

 

1 Sir Roger Casement himself

 

i He is knighted

 

Roger Casement was born in County Dublin in Ireland in 1864. It was then part of the United Kingdom. So he was British. He was brought up by his uncle, an Ulster Protestant. He never married. He was, it is said, a homosexual. He entered the British Consultant Service and served all over the world. He made expedition after the fashion of Sir Walter Ralegh. He revealed atrocities cruelty in the Congo and in Peru. The white traders treated native labour abominably. Casement’s reports made him famous. He was knighted for his services in 1911. In 1912 he retired to Ireland.

 

ii He goes to Germany

 

He was always a strong Irish nationalist. So strong that at the outbreak of war in 1914 he thought he could obtain help from Germany to secure Irish independence. He went from Ireland to the United States and from there to Germany. He then visited the camps where there were British prisoners of war.

 

iii  The Irish Brigade

 

He tried to form an Irish Brigade. He issued leaflets to the Irish prisoners in these words:

 

IRISHMEN! Here is a chance for you to fight for Ireland! You have fought for England, tour country’s hereditary enemy. You have fought for Belgium in England’s interest, though it was no more to you than the Fiji Islands! Are you willing to fight FOR YOUR OWN COUNTRY with a view to securing the national fr5eedom of Ireland?

            With the moral and material assistance of the German Government an IRISH BRIGADE is being formed. The object of the Irish Brigade shall be to fight solely for THE CAUSE OF IRELAND and under NO CIRCUMSTANCES shall be formed and shall fight under the Irish flag alone. The men shall wear a special distinctively Irish uniform, and have Irish officers. The Irish Brigade shall be clothed, fed, and efficiently equipped with arms and ammunition by the German Government. It will be stationed near Berlin and be treated as guests of the German Government. At the end of the war the German Government undertakes to send each member of the brigade who may so desire it to the United States of America with necessary means to land…………

 

iv Its failure

 

By that leaflet he managed to get about 50 Irish prisoners to join him. They forsook their allegiance, and joined the armed forces of Germany: but most of the Irish prisoners rejected his proposals indignantly. So his attempt failed.

 

v He is captured

 

In 1916 there was an Easter rising in Ireland. Casement persuaded the Germans to get him over to Ireland to join the rebels. They took him in a submarine, accompanied by a surface ship loaded with arms. Our ships captured her and seized the arms. The submarine landed Casement in County Kerry. He was captured. He was taken to London. He was indicted for High Treason.

 

2 The trial itself

 

i Trial at bar

 

The trial was a ‘trial at bar.’ That was the practice in former times when the case was of exceptional importance. It meant that the trial was by three judges of the King’s Bench and a jury. (Such was the trial in the Tichborne case.) The facts in Casement’s case were hardly in dispute. The argument was on the law.

 

ii  Words in Norman French

 

It depends on a few words in the Treason Act 1351. They were in Noraman French.

 

The words are these: may commit treason by levying war against the King, and so on, ‘Ou soit aherdant as enemys nre Seign le Roi en le Roialme donant a eux eid ou confort en son Roialme ou par aillours,’ and that has been translated ‘or be adherent to the King’s enemies in his realm, giving to them aid and comfort in the realm, or elsewhere.’

 

iii The learned Serjeant

 

The case for Casement was argued by Sergeant Sullivan, a member of the Irish Bar and the English Bar. I remember him well. He was a most eloquent, learned and able advocate, very well liked by Bench and Bar. He had a remarkable memory. His clerk used to come into court, place the brief, tied up with red tape, on the front row. Sergeant Sullivan would not trouble to unite the tape. He knew the facts so well that he would not tell them to the court without untying the tape. It was, of course, a piece of showmanship. But it was very effective.

 

High Treason

 

iv His argument

 

His argument for Casement won him high praise from the Court of King’s Bench and the Court of Criminal Appeal. He submitted that

 

…this statute had neither created nor declared that it was an offence to be adherent to the king’s enemies beyond the realm of the king, and that the words meant that the giving of aid and comfort par aillours – that is outside the realm – did not constitute a treason which could be tried in this country unless the person who gave the aid and comfort outside the realm – in this case within the Empire of Germany – was himself within the realm at the time he gave the aid and comfort. This argument was founded upon the difficulties which must arise owing to the doctrine of venue that people were only triable within certain districts where the venue could be laid.

 

v Found Guilty and hanged

 

The Serjeant argued with much skill and learning. But the Court decided against him. Casement was found Guilty. The Lord Chief Justice pronounced sentence of death. Strong efforts were made for a reprieve but these failed. On 3 August 1916 Casement was hanged at Pentonville prison. Nearly 50 years his remains were returned to Ireland and given a state funeral.

 

vi His diaries

 

In July 1959 his diaries were made available for inspection by scholars at the Public Record Office. They contained detailed descriptions of homosexual practices in Casement’s handwriting. I do not suppose the jury were influenced by them. His guilt was plain to an English jury.

 

 

N.K.Assumi
on 20 September 2010
Published in Criminal Law
Views : 1605

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