Rex -v William Sawyer: 1815

(Old Bailey) The defendant was a British subject. He murdered another British subject, Harriet Gaskett, in Lisbon. He was found guilty of murder. The point was taken that, as the offence had been committed abroad, the indictment was not framed in a way to make it triable under a statute of King Henry VIII, namely, 33 Hen. VIII. c.23. It was heard by a court comprising the three Chief Justices of the Courts of Common Law and nine puisne judges. The decision of the court was shortly expressed in the first of the reports as follows: ‘The judges held that this offence was triable here, though committed in a foreign kingdom, the prisoner and the deceased being both subjects of this realm at the time it was committed. The judges were also of opinion that the stating Harriet Gaskett to be in the king’s peace at the time, sufficiently imported that she was the king’s subject when the offence was committed, and that the statement in the indictment that this was against the king’s peace sufficiently imputed that the prisoner was also at the time a subject of this realm.’
Held: Lord Ellenborough CJ observed that the King’s subjects were protected even if out of the realm of England. The following exchange then took place: ‘[COUNSEL FOR THE DEFENDANT]: The offender must be a person amenable to the laws of this country. That nowhere appears by this indictment, which certainly states him to be ‘late of London’, but that merely shows that he had been a resident in this country at one time; but he might be foreigner notwithstanding that. LORD ELLENBOROUGH: ‘Against the peace of the King’ applies to the offender: it relates to his capacity to commit the crime.’
A British subject is indictable under the 33 Hen VI11 c. 23 for the murder of another British subject, though the murder was committed within the dominion of a foreign state. Stating in the indictment that the person murdered was at the time in the king’s peace, is sufficient to shew that he was a British subject. The conclusion in the indictment that the offence was against the king’s peace, shews sufficiently that the prisoner was a British subject. For a common law felony, committed abroad, but made triable here under the 33 Hen. VIII c 23, the indictment need not conclude contra formam statuti


Ellenborough CJ, Chambre J and Wood B


[1815] EngR 431, (1815) Russ and Ry 294, (1815) 168 ER 810



Cited by:

See AlsoRex v William Sawyer 7-Apr-1815
Under the stat. 33 Hen. 8, c. 23, a British subject was triable in this country for the murder of another British subject, committed on land within the territory of a foreign independent kingdom. In such a case, the indictment sufficiently shewed . .
CitedRegina v Adebolajo and Another CACD 3-Dec-2014
The defendants had been convicted of the brutal and public murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby in London, and sentenced to whole life term for Adebolajo and 45 years for Adebowale. They now sought leave to appeal against conviction and sentence.
Lists of cited by and citing cases may be incomplete.


Updated: 02 May 2022; Ref: scu.336241