Phillips v Eyre – A Study of Constitutional Law and Empire

71 Pages Posted: 13 Jan 2023

Date Written: January 2023


[This is a teaching resource for Constitutional and Administrative Law students in the UK]

When studying law, you are presented with hundreds and hundreds of cases in your modules. You will be taught about them in lectures, and read about them in textbooks, or in law reports.

But these only provide summaries or snapshots of what the cases were about. Even in law reports, the judges and law reporter will only summarise the relevant facts which are at issue in the legal dispute, and they will not provide the full story behind the case.

More than this, it is the court, lawyers and judges who decide what the relevant facts are. Individual testimonies are mediated through witness statements and rules of evidence. Wider questions of morality and justice are made to fit into legal tests recognised by the common law.

In this resource, designed for your final tutorial in the Constitutional and Administrative Law module, we take a close look at a case from 1870, Phillips v Eyre, and (more importantly) its background.

This case is often presented as no more than a footnote in textbooks for law students, worthy of a few sentences of comment.

Yet this case was the final chapter in a long, bloody struggle in the history of the British Empire (and one which has been all but forgotten in the United Kingdom), the Morant Bay rebellion.

The rebellion took place in the British colony of Jamaica in October 1865.

The colonial administration in Jamaica viewed it as a direct challenge to British imperial rule and set out to suppress it and to ensure that another rebellion would not happen again.

Following these events, a lengthy political and legal dispute arose.

You will also consider the events of the rebellion, and the response of the colonial administration that led to the dispute arising.

You will read the words of the people involved in the rebellion, the colonial administrators of Jamaica, British Government officials, and those Jamaicans caught up in the tumult and its aftermath.

You will also read about the history of British rule in Jamaica, Jamaica’s history of slavery, and the problems facing the island in the 19th century.

Ultimately, you will read about how the case of Phillips v Eyre has been presented by lawyers. You will also read an excerpt of the judgment of the case itself.

As you work your way through these materials, consider whether the case of Phillips v Eyre accurately represented the events of the Morant Bay rebellion.

You should also think about the ways in which the British Empire administered its colonies, and how it treated its colonial subjects.

What does this history tell you about the role of law in the British Empire? And what does this case tell you about the ability of colonial subjects to receive justice in the imperial legal order?

Keywords: British Empire, Public Law, Colonialism, Justice, Rule of Law, Imperialism, Legal History

JEL Classification: K00

Suggested Citation

Frost, Tom, Phillips v Eyre – A Study of Constitutional Law and Empire (January 2023). Available at SSRN: or

Tom Frost (Contact Author)

University of Leicester ( email )

University Road
Leicester LE1 7RH, LE1 7RH
United Kingdom

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