Mr. Serjeant Onslow
rose, in pursuance of his notice, to move for the appointment of a select committee, to inquire into the state of the Law respecting the Writ of Habeas Corpus ad Subjiciendum. The hon. and learned gentleman, said he made this motion in consequence of the fate of a Bill upon this subject which had passed through that House in the most unanimous manner, but the second reading of which was postponed for six months in the House of Lords, the Bill being thereby virtually rejected. The object which he had in view, in introducing the Bill originally, was to correct 567 certain defects which he conceived to exist in the law respecting writs of Habeas Corpus, as it at present existed. The principal defect to which he alluded was the fact, that this most salutary law was, except during the sittings of the Courts at Westminster, wholly nugatory; persons who might be unjustly held in confinement, at any other period, having no means of redress. Many instances of hardship were upon record, in which individuals had suffered from this circumstance, and it was for the purpose of having these occurrences investigated by Parliament, so that a proper remedy might be suggested, that he submitted his present motion. He conceived that some provision might be made, by which the Judges, during every part of the year, whether in term or not, should have the power of deciding upon cases in which persons complained of undue imprisonment: in all matters in which the liberty of the subject was at all concerned, he thought it was the duty of Parliament to he most jealous. The hon. and learned gentleman concluded by moving, "That Select Committee be appointed to consider of the state of the Law respecting the Writ of Habeas Corpus ad Subjiciendum, and to, report their opinion thereon to the House."
§ The question having been put from the Chair,
The Attorney General
said, he should not oppose the motion of his hon. and learned friend; but he could not help expressing a doubt of the practicability of carrying the suggestion which he had thrown out into effect. He conceived that apprehensions would be entertained without doors, if such a plan were adopted, that it was intended to give to the Judges a power of too extended a nature. Indeed, he could not help thinking, that such an inference would not be very far short of the truth; for if the functions of the Judges were so enlarged, it would be giving to one judge the power of trying and deciding upon a cause, unrestrained by any higher authority. It was true, that now and then a case of injustice, or of undue imprisonment, might arise under the law as it was at present constituted; but then the parties aggrieved were not without a remedy. If it were possible to improve the law upon this subject, he should be most happy in landing his assistance to promote such an end. He saw the difficulties, however, which lay in the way; and al- 568 though he felt no disposition to oppose his hon. and learned friend's motion, he thought it incumbent on him to state, that there were grave grounds of difficulty existing.
thought this was a subject which called for the serious attention of Parliament. The hon. and learned gentleman who had spoken last seemed to have insinuated, that no very many instances had occurred, in which the law as it existed had been attended with ill consequences. If, however, no instance of the sort had ever occurred, and the possibility of the liberty of the subject being infringed only existed, he thought that bare possibility would be sufficient to call upon the House of Commons to take such measures as would obviate such a chance. It had been said in another place, with reference to the Bill which had already passed the House upon this subject, that the House of Commons was not entitled to much respect with reference to any act of legislation upon such subjects; and that the Bill could not be considered as a well-digested measure. He would abstain from making any comment upon this language, if it had been used, and would only observe, that it reflected disgrace not on the House of Commons, but on the person who had brought forward an objection of such a nature.
§ The motion was then agreed to, and a committee appointed accordingly.