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THE PROPERTY OF A GENTLEMAN
JOHN REEVES (1752-1829), FIRST CHIEF JUDGE AND CHIEF JUSTICE OF NEWFOUNDLAND, 1791-1792
Reeves, a barrister and law clerk to the Board of Trade (1787-1823) drafted proposals to establish a civil court in Newfoundland, following the crisis in the local judiciary system from 1788 to 1791. Viewed by the British as a seasonal fishing station, the island had developed a customary system of governance that met the needs of those in power, with Naval and civil magistrates becoming actively involved in government when their interests were threatened. Reeves visited the island twice, from 10 September to 11 November 1791 (as Chief Judge of His Majesty's Court of Civil Jurisdiction) and from 3 September to 30 October 1792 (as Chief Justice), proposing legislative reforms which would more fairly balance the interests of the planters and inhabitants on the one hand, and the merchants and their agents on the other. He set up a court of civil jurisdiction for Newfoundland 'and islands and parts adjacent, or on the banks' off Newfoundland, with a chief judge appointed by the King and two assessors appointed by the governor, and subsequently a supreme court with both civil and criminal jurisdiction. His proposals, which were essentially pragmatic, concentrating on the need for a system of executing the law rather than making new laws, received royal assent on 15 June 1792, despite opposition from West Country merchants. Reeves completed his famous History of the Government of the Island of Newfoundland in April 1793 which gave a comprehensive account of the island's past and the struggle between the interests of the inhabitants and merchants.