LEONARD HOWELL BEING TRIED FOR SEDITION IN SAINT THOMAS
Charge for Abusing King George and Govt. In Speech to 300 Persons at Seaforth
KING RAS TAFARI
(By a Staff Reporter)
The current sessions of the St. Thomas Circuit Court, being presided over by the Honourable the Chief Justice, Sir Robert William Lyall-Grant, with Mr. H. M. Radcliffe, K.C., Assistant to the Attorney General, representing the Crown, were continued yesterday at Morant Bay.
(the first 3 cases were edited out since they have no bearing on the sedition trial of Leonard P. Howell)
Next on the list was the cause celebre of the Assizes.
The small courtroom was packed with anxious spectators when Leonard Howell was called up to answer to two charges of sedition preferred against him.
He pleaded not guilty to an indictment charging him with uttering, on the 10 th of December last year, in the presence of H. M’s liege subjects a seditious speech, in which he abused the Sovereign, the Queen, Queen Victoria, the Governor of Jamaica and both the governments of Great Britain and this island, “thereby intending to excite hatred and contempt for His Majesty the King, and of those responsible for the Government of the island and to disturb the public peace and tranquility of this island.
Howell, an athletic figure in black, with a beard not dissimilar to that worn by the king of Abyssinia, whose photograph and name figured largely in the evidence, was undefended by counsel.
He took with him into the dock sheaths of documents and a few books of unusual proportions.
He wore a rosette of yellow, green and black similar to that worn by a large number of men and women who accompanied him to court.
Naturally, considerable interest was evinced in his case and the proceedings were followed throughout with marked attention.
The following jury was empanelled to sit on the case: Messrs. P. H. Davis (foreman), Joseph A. Hay, Aaron Edmondson, Edward Ewbank, John Aldridge and Rupert E. Bogle.
In opening his case to the jury Mr. Radcliffe defined sedition in terms of the indictment, quoted before.
He made it quite clear that the law in a British colony was not against the free speech and liberty of a subject. A subject was at liberty to criticise Government, once he did so constitutionally. That was to say so long as he kept within the bounds of honest and fair criticism, founded in fact. When one however went beyond the limit, and uttered language liable to stir up hatred between classes, and bring the Sovereign into contempt, and Government and those administering it into hatred, to put class against class and stir up discontent among the public, it amounted to sedition.
Mr, Radcliffe then referred to the context of the speech.
Commenting on the reference to the King, he asked: “What wrong has the King done us—a King whom we all respect?”
He proposed to the jury that while they might pass over some of the references as being untrue and nonsensical, those references were nevertheless brought within the realm of utter contempt and ridicule for the Sovereign.
After reading the speech through, he submitted that if the jury believed the evidence of the police officer who took it down in writing, they should consider the effect it was liable to have on the particular people to whom it was addressed. If they thought it was calculated to bode ill, to stir up resentment, contempt and hatred in the people for the Sovereign and the Government and disturb the peace of the community, then it was duty, while giving him every opportunity of defending himself. as every prisoner was entitled to do, to find the accused man guilty of the charge of sedition.
The evidence was then tendered.
Issac Ebenezer Brooks, Corporal of Police in charge of the Seaforth station, said in answer to Mr. Radcliffe, that he had been in the force for 17 years.
On Saturday, 10th December last year, accompanied by Constable Gayle, he went to Seaforth around 7 p.m. He saw the accused Howell, addressing a crowd of about 300 people of the labouring class. Both he and Gayle made notes of what Howell said.
They were seated around a table about 12 yards off and wrote by the aid of a light.
He did not take down all that Howell said: but only those parts of the speech which he considered to be seditious. The witness read his notes of the utterances charged in the indictment as being seditious. The speech Corporal Brooks said were punctuated with cheers by the audience.
Led by Howell, who spoke from a platform, the people sang a song of four verses.
BIBLICAL IN CHARACTER
the “psalm” terminated with a line which ran thus: ‘Day by day I see what Leonard Howell is doing for my soul.”
Howell paused in his speech to advertise for sale, at one shilling each, pictures of “King Ras Tafari” of “Ethiopia” The address was resumed, and at the conclusion Howell called upon his hearers to sing the British National Anthem—“not for the King of England, but for King Ras Tafari” on whom they should concentrate.
OBJECT TO JURORS
Asked if he wanted to cross examine the witness, Howell objected to certain members of the jury sitting on his case. Called upon to “show cause” he said that those jurors to whom he was objecting were from Seaforth and Morant Bay. Some of them might be friendly with the Corporal of police concerned in the case and whom they all knew. The Court, as the trial proceeded, would see that the charge was ‘trumped” up against him, Howell declared.
His arrest was the result of a letter to the Inspector of Police from twelve men, including clergymen at Seaforth. He was not soliciting mercy or leniency, Howell declaimed, but was insisting upon the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.
He would ask the court, if he were to be found guilty, to give him the maximum penalty prescribed by law.
Then: He would be bringing the 300 people, whom the Corporal said were listening, to say that what the Corporal said was false.
Pressing his objection to certain members of the jury, Howell said he was prepared to abide by the decision of a jury which he thought to be satisfactory, even if the verdict went against him.
In reply to the Judge, he said he wanted excluded from sitting on the jury all those members of the panel who came from Seaforth and Morant Bay. He could
NOT PICK OUT
any of the jurors empanelled to try him and whom he was objectingto and say that that he personally had a grievance against him (Howell) but the people of Seaforth and Morant Bay were prejudiced against him.
Stones had been thrown at him in Morant Bay and it was rumoured that the jurors of both places were only waiting for a chance to sit on his case.
After hearing the Assistant to the Attorney General, the Chief Justice refused Howell’s application consequent on his objection to the five members of the jury who were from Morant Bay or Seaforth.
Cross-questioning the Corporal, the prisoner suggested to him that his testimony was false.
He had the witness, who said he took his notes of the speech in longhand make notes of certain statements which he read from documents he had carried with him in the dock.
Some of those utterances were:
“It is my honourable duty to stand before you this afternoon, beloved Ethiopians.”
“What is needed to-day is international salvation, not individual salvation.”
“International salvation is wanted for the people to-day.”
The result of Howell’s dictation was received in evidence and submitted to the jury for their scrutiny.
Comparing the two sets of notes taken by the Corporal, Howell asked him if he wrote better when he wrote faster.
The cross-examination was next directed to the circumstances of the meeting which Howell was addressing o the night in question.
The corporal said he went to the meeting in consequence of information he received, but he declined to give the source of his information. He said he had heard that Howell was abusing the King and Queen, Queen Victoria, in fact everybody.
Howell wanted to know if the Corporal really intended it to be believed that he stood before the public at Seaforth, intelligent people, and abused the respected persons he was said to have abused.
The answer was the affirmative.
“Do you think I am mad?”
Howell next suggested that the Corporal was intoxicated on the night in question—a suggestion emphatically denied by the Corporal.
“I saw you myself.”
The Chief Justice: Don’t give evidence. Ask questions.
Re-examined by Mr. Radcliffe, the Corporal said that Howell did not speak on the night in question as fast as he spoke in court when he was dictating to him.
At this stage the trial was adjourned until today at 10:15 o’clock in the forenoon.
The Daily Gleaner Wednesday March 14, 1934
Compliments of the Leonard P. Howell Foundation and the Gleaner Archives.