R v Lewis (1857) Dears & B 182

Murder – High Seas – English jurisdiction where both the victim and the perpetrator are not British citizens


John Lewis (J), a French-American seaman, injured a German man (G) on board an American ship on the high seas. G died in hospital in England after arrival of the ship in Liverpool. J was convicted by the last Liverpool Assizes for manslaughter under section 8 of the Offences Against the Persons Act 1828 (the 1828 Act) which provided that where a person is ‘feloniously stricken’ on the high seas and dies in England, England has jurisdiction over the case. The case was reserved and stated for the consideration and decision of the Court of Criminal Appeal. 


The issue in question before the Court of Criminal Appeal was whether, under the circumstances of this case, the offence committed was cognizable by English law; whether the Liverpool Assizes had jurisdiction to try and convict J, where neither J nor the victim, G, were subjects of the Queen and the offence was committed on the high seas.


The offence was not cognizable by English law. England had no jurisdiction in the circumstances of this case where a foreigner injured another foreigner on the high seas, leading to that person’s death, albeit in England. Section 8 of the 1828 Act was read in conjunction with section 7 of the same act, which provided that British subjects can be tried in England for murder or manslaughter committed abroad. Upon reading these sections in conjunction, the words ‘feloniously stricken’ under section 8 of the 1828 Act therefore had to be read as ‘felonious’ only where the perpetrator was a British citizen, which J was not. The 1828 Act being inapplicable to J, the conviction was quashed.