Bermuda’s legal history: a Tale of Two Judges

This is a short Tale of Two Judges of the Supreme Court of Bermuda, Sir Allan Chalmers Smith (1893-1980) and Dr. Earle Edward Seaton (1924-1993).

One became the Chief Justice of Sierra Leone; the other became the Chief Justice of the Seychelles.

This blogpost has been prompted, in part, by Chief Justice Kawaley’s recent article entitled ‘400 years of Bermudian courts: A sound legal foundation for an international investment domicile of choice’, which was published as part of the official magazine celebrating 400 years of Bermuda’s court history. Readers of that article might note that there is a passing reference in the article to Sir Allan Chalmers Smith, and his own “Outline of the History of the Courts in Bermuda“, which was published in the Bermuda Historical Quarterly, Volume XVII No. 3, Autumn Quarter 1960.

So who was Sir Allan Chalmers Smith?

Sir Allan Chalmers Smith trained as a barrister-at-law at Grays Inn, and he fought in the First World War, 1914-1918. He later served as a police magistrate in Bermuda from 1928 and in Nigeria from 1935, when he joined the Colonial Legal Service. He was made puisne judge in Trinidad, 1938 and the Gold Coast, 1944. He served as Chief Justice, Sierra Leone, 1951-1955. In 1955 he was appointed Attorney-General of Bermuda. He also served as Commissioner of the Pre-Federal Judicial Commission set up in the British West Indies. Sir Allan Chalmers Smith’s final appointment was as a Puisne Judge in Bermuda in 1956, a post which he held until his retirement in 1965. During that time, he also served briefly as Acting Chief Justice of Bermuda, between 1960 and 1961.

The Register of Bermuda Rhodes Scholars provides some further insights into the details of Sir Allan’s career. Sir Allan was awarded the Bermuda Rhodes scholarship in 2012, to study Law at St. John’s College, Oxford, but given the start of the First World War in 1914, he was one of many students of that generation whose legal studies were interrupted, half-way through, by 4 years of military service in France and Italy. Sir Allan’s younger brother, Donald Christopher Smith (also a Bermuda lawyer and a Member of Bermuda’s Parliament), suffered the same interruption to his studies, having been awarded the Rhodes Scholarship in 2014; and then, by a strange coincidence, one of his sons, Peter Smith, suffered a similar interruption as a result of the Second World War, having been awarded the Rhodes Scholarship in 1942.

For anyone with an interest in further historical legal research, a box of Sir Allan Chalmers Smith’s legal papers are held in archive at the Bodleain Library at the University of Oxford:

And what of Dr. Earle Edward Seaton?

Earle Edward Seaton’s remarkable life and career clearly justifies a separate and individual biography, various versions of which are available online.

The reason why I mention him here is because, despite being 31 years younger that Sir Allan Chalmers Smith, and despite obvious differences in their background, Dr. Seaton also had a remarkable judicial, legal and academic career, not only in Bermuda but also internationally.

This included practicing law in Tanganyika (now Tanzania), including as a Judge and as Tanzania’s Legal Counsel to the United Nations, as well as earning a PhD from the University of Southern California.

In 1972, Mr. Justice Seaton became the first black Bermudian to be appointed as a Justice of the Supreme Court of Bermuda (an office which he held between 1972 and 1978). He was controversially overlooked for appointment as Chief Justice in 1977, when the office went to Sir James Astwood. However, he was subsequently appointed, between 1978 and 1989, to act as Chief Justice of the Seychelles, and then, between 1991 and 1993, as an Appellate Judge of Uganda.



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