Eight Days in a Lifeboat for Author of Indispensable Irish Criminal Law Text Torpedoed off Africa, 1941

Image via the Times

From the Irish Examiner, 3 November 1941:

After eight days in a lifeboat, following the torpedoing off the West African coast of a Dutch ship in which he was travelling, Mr Robert Lindsay Sandes, a Dublin barrister who has been practising in South Africa for a number of years, was picked up and taken to Konakri, capital of French Guinea. He has now been handed over to officials of British Gambia, says the Associated Press. Mr Sandes, who was formerly well-know in Dublin legal circles, is a barrister-at-law of King’s Inns, Dublin, and Gray’s Inn, London. He was an advocate in the Supreme Court in South Africa. He is the author of the legal work entitled: Criminal Procedure and Evidence,’ which reached a second edition.”

Robert Lindsay Sandes BL had previously come to prominence in June 1926 when he acted as a Deputy District Court Judge in Donegal while the local District Court Judge was on holiday. This promotion to locum tenens initially caused some perplexity, not just because the appointment itself was unusual, but because of the appointee’s presumed lack of association with the new regime. Pondering the point, the Derry Journal whimsically remarked regarding Sandes that

“He may, of course, have done a bit in the ‘Tan’ war, though his name has not exactly a mise le meas flavour about it. But perhaps Mr Sandes is a very modest man who figured in many an ambush up the country… perhaps he was even in the GPO in Easter Week, but has been too bashful to tell the world… for whereas only a few handful of men where thought to be associated with the fight in the GPO in 1916, vast numbers have now manfully come forward and admitted their connection with that exploit… Owing to the smoke and flames that enveloped the burning building it is quite obvious that a great many of them could not have been seen…”

Sandes did not remain long in Donegal, departing on Judge Walsh’s return, but the following review of the first edition of his Criminal Procedure textbook from the same newspaper of August 1930 is testimony to his popularity during his brief time there.

It is said that ‘somewhere in Ireland there is a a justice of the District Court of Saorstát Eireann who is kept right in matters of law by his motor driver; and to the list of queries, which this useful functionary is wont to put to his perplexed master, when they are packing the bag on a court morning, the driver now always takes care to add the very important one – ‘have you Sandes with you all right? ‘ The reference is to a very handsome and comprehensive book entitled Criminal Practice, Procedure and Evidence in the Irish Free State, written by the facile pen of Robert Lindsay Sandes, well know to Donegal people as a very capable and broadminded and sympathetic Deputy Justice of the District Court. This wise and learned chauffeur, drawing on his long and varied experience of ‘coorts’ is evidently of opinion that it is not safe to allow any Justice to mount the Bench without having Mr Sandes most useful book at his hand. I am inclined to agree with him – except that I would go further and like to see it in the hands of every District Court Clerk, every Garda officer, and every sergeant or other Garda who really wants to learn his job and to secure his advancement. Above all, I would like to see the volume in the office of every solicitor, who has ever to appear at a District Court or to handle a criminal case before any of our tribunals.”

We find Robert Lindsay Sandes back in Ireland again in August 1950 as a witness at a bigamy trial in Ennis Circuit Court, giving expert evidence regarding the validity of an English marriage. The marriage may have been English, but the accused’s defence was uniquely Irish – he claimed to have separated from his first wife after being visited by the ghost of her deceased father.

Sandes himself married late in life in 1940, decades after his call to the Bar, to an Irish rector’s daughter. It is not reported whether or not she was with him during his Atlantic adventure. A third edition of his text came out in 1951, which continues to be referenced in a number of recent textbooks as well as in the report of the Morris Tribunal. Whoever would have guessed at its author’s wartime experience!

Author: Ruth Cannon BL

Irish barrister sharing the history of the Four Courts, Dublin, Ireland, and other Irish courts.

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