HC Deb 17 April 1815 vol 30 cc653-5
Sir Samuel Romilly

rose, in pursuance of notice to move, That an humble Address be presented to his royal highness the Prince Regent, that he will be graciously pleased to give directions that there be laid before this House, a copy of the Report to his royal highness the Prince Regent, by the Recorder of London, of the case of Robert Lathrop Murray, tried for bigamy at the Old Bailey in January last." The case of this unfortunate gentleman had been already detailed, at various times, to the House and the public, and no person had ventured to contradict the statement. It was one by no means aggravated in its circumstances, but which had been visited by the severest punishment it was possible to inflict. The prisoner had petitioned his Majesty's Government to permit him to transport himself to any place out of his Majesty's dominions; but even this had been refused him—while many others, convicted of the crime of bigamy, under cases much more aggravated, were pu- nished merely by twelve months imprisonment. What was the peculiar nature of the present case, that called for such, severity? or why was such a variety permitted in inflicting the punishment, that, one man should be sentenced to seven years transportation, a second to imprisonment, and a third punished by the infliction of a pecuniary fine? Since the Act had been passed which attached the punishment of transportation to this offence (now eight years), not one in four had suffered that sentence. Out of 104 cases, only 23 persons had been transported for the offence, and in general the punishment was only one year's imprisonment, or a small fine. The second wife, knew perfectly well of the first marriage before she married the prisoner, and, as well as the prisoner, was convinced the first marriage was illegal, it appeared to him, therefore necessary that the Recorder's report should be seen, that a fair judgment might be formed of the cause of such an extraordinary distinction.

The Attorney General

deemed it his duty not to let the present motion pass without some observations. He adverted to the opinion of the hon. and learned gentleman opposite, when he made his first motion relative to Murray, namely, that the House ought not to interfere with the sentences of courts of justice without the most grave and weighty reasons. In this opinion he perfectly agreed; but he assured him that he totally differed from him in the view he had taken of the case in question which he considered to be one of the most flagrant nature. If it had been deemed necessary of late to make the punishment for the crime of bigamy more severe, it was because the law had found that imprisonment was not sufficient to deter evil-minded persons from committing it. He reprehended the conduct of the second wife of Murray, in consenting to marry him, without the knowledge of her friend, after he had told her of his former marriage, and merely taking his word that it was null and void. She had a fortune of 10,000l. which was to be paid to her on the day of her marriage, and she was entitled to 70,000l. more at the death of her mother. He would therefore ask, whether, if her guardians or parent had known of this intended marriage, it could be supposed possible that they would not have interfered to prevent it? The circumstances alleged by the hon. and learned gentleman in behalf of the culprit, those of his having had a University education, and being an officer and a gentleman, only tended, in his opinion, to render him still more criminal. But even the grounds on which he had petitioned for a reversal of the judgment were marked by depravity; for it would scarcely be credited, that in the document now lying at the Secretary of State's office, he had dared to say, that having had a dispute with a jeweller who had used him ill, and that jeweller being the brother-in-law to the Recorder, who had tried him, it was not extraordinary that he should have been convicted. Such a libel upon so just and honourable a man was not to be endured; and he could only attribute the interest which his hon. and learned friend had taken in this culprit's case to his excessive urbanity. Under all the circumstances, he appealed to the House if this was a case in which the sentence pronounced by the judges ought to be brought to that House to be revised. He felt it to be his duty to offer the most decided resistance to the motion.

Mr. Addington

thought that no case had been made out to warrant the interference of the House, with the exercise of the judicial authority.

Sir Samuel Romilly

, in reply, contended, that the case under consideration was one of peculiar hardship, and therefore one in which the interference of the House was loudly called for.

The motion was negatived without a division.

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