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Treason or Treason-Felony – The case against George McIntosh

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The news that Ordon Graham is to be charged for treason or for uttering seditious words arising from a comment made at a public meeting at Buccament has forced me to look back at the case of George McIntosh.

The riots in St Vincent on October 21 and 22, 1935 had seriously embarrassed the colonial government and sent them looking for scapegoats. They were of the view that there was some ‘brain’ behind the events and George McIntosh appeared to fit the bill. The legal department agonised over agreeing on the charge since in their view or more precisely the view of the Attorney General there was need to charge him with “…an offence of so serious a nature that the very charge would not only make him realise fully the gravity of his conduct but would deter him and others from a repetition of acts of the kind which brought about the events of October 21, 1935.”{{more}}

The charges under consideration were for treason or treason-felony. The Attorney General Mr Ross explained his decision for opting for the charge of treason-felony. He argued that if McIntosh was brought up on a treason-felony charge a majority verdict would be possible “but not on a charge of treason”. Furthermore the Counsel for the Defence would not have had the opportunity to indicate the nature of the penalty which he might have had to suffer if he was convicted of treason. The charge preferred was to the effect “That on the 21st day of October 1935 at Kingstown you did unlawfully compass or intend to levy war against Our Lord the King in the Colony of St Vincent in order to put force or constraint upon His Excellency the Governor of the Windward Islands and the Legislative Council of the Colony of St Vincent and expressed or uttered or declared such compassing or intention by certain overt acts or deeds.”

Mr Ross continued in his memorandum, “…if the facts or matters alleged in an indictment for any felony under this Act shall amount in law to Treason such indictment shall not by reason thereof be deemed void, erroneous or defective; and if the facts or matters proved on the trial of any person indicted for any felony under this Act shall amount in law to treason, such indictment shall not by reason thereof be deemed void, erroneous or defective; and if the facts or matters proved on the trial of any person indicted for any felony under this Act shall amount in law to treason, such person shall not by reason thereof be entitled to be acquitted of such felony.” Ross admitted that he had to rely for his opinion on Archibald’s Criminal Pleading, Evidence and Practice.

McIntosh was arrested on November 23, about a month after the riots. Because of the charge he was not entitled to bail but a decision was made following enquiries by his Trinidadian lawyer L.C Hannays, to speed up the preliminary trial. The proceedings began on December 5, 1935 under Acting Police Magistrate Stanley DeFreitas. The case for the Crown was led by Mr H.J Hughes, a Police Magistrate. The Attorney General C.C Ross was injured during the riots and he was therefore kept out of the trial. Hannays was partnered by O.W Forde in defending McIntosh.

By October 9 the Defence was seeing the trial for the farce it was. Mr Hannays appealed to the Court. He stated, “I do not think that this should continue. I do not think that this could happen anywhere else. Witness after witness is asked to establish the innocence of the accused but the case is still continued and bail refused.” Mr Hughes reminded him that all the evidence had not as yet been given to which Hannays asked “Why don’t you call your best witnesses first?” Hughes, “I call them as I like.” There were interesting exchanges at different points. The Magistrate objected to Hannays style of cross examination: “You can’t ask him a question the answer to which is ‘yes’ or ‘no’;” Hannays responded, “But I am cross examining”, to which Magistrate DeFreitas said “Even in cross-examination you are not allowed to ask such questions”; Hannays, “That certainly is a novel doctrine to me.”

DeFreitas “It is not to me, Mr Hannays.”

Hannays, “Possibly, but in the whole course of my experience I have never heard of such a doctrine. Will Your Worship be good enough to refer me to some book in which such a statement may be found” (laughter)

By December 11 Magistrate DeFreitas had also had enough. He was prepared to make his ruling: “I do not intend to spend weary moments. This is an exceptional charge. I have taken 59 pages of evidence. Nineteen witnesses have been called in order to support the charge against Mr McIntosh. I have given as much attention to the evidence as Mr Hughes or the Counsel for the defence. This is one of the cases where a Magistrate has a very simple task. I am not confronted with any doubt, conflicting evidence or any nice points of law. All the evidence and all the depositions, with the exception of the last witness who heard certain words which might or might not have some reference to the charge against the accused, is in his favour. I am only here to consider whether there is any sufficiency of evidence. I felt that if the defence has set themselves out to select all the witnesses for the prosecution and asked them to say what they had said, it would have been difficult for them to have done better. I have found no thread of any incriminating evidence against this man. Information was placed before the Police and they did their duty and prosecuted. I think that Counsel for the accused will agree that Mr Hughes acted with fairness in the way in which he examined. I have come to the conclusion that there is no case and therefore discharge the accused.”

The Times newspaper of December 12 captured the moment.

“Breathless the crowd awaited the decision and as soon as the court adjourned, Mr McIntosh’s friends and there were not a few rushed to clasp his hands and those of his able counsels. A further surprise awaited Mr McIntosh. On leaving the Court Yard he was met by crowds of people some of whom lifted him on their shoulders and bore him many yards. Throughout the balance of the evening there was conspicuously in evidence among many people in Kingstown a spirit of joy on Mr McIntosh’s acquittal.”

The rest is well known. McIntosh was able to use the energies and frustrations of the masses to build a mass party. The idea of the St Vincent Working Men’s Association probably emerged at that moment.

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