HC Deb 23 February 1821 vol 4 cc918-33
Mr. Denman

said, he held in his hand a Petition on a subject highly important to the due administration of justice. The petition was from Thomas Davison, formerly of Duke-street, West Smithfield, but now a prisoner confined in Oakhampton gaol. The petitioner complained of having been fined whilst making his defence by Mr. Justice Best, before whom he was tried in October last, at Guildhall. The petitioner was tried for a blasphemous libel, and in the course of his defence he was fined three times by the learned judge. The first was a fine of 20l. inflicted on the petitioner, because he stated to the jury, that no counsel at the bar would enter into an honest defence of the defendant under existing circumstances. The defendant, in the course of his defence, was afterwards fined twice, each time in a sum of 40l.; so that during his defence he was fined 100l. He was not aware that there was any instance of any man having been ever fined for what was said by him whilst defending himself against a charge brought against him in a court of justice. That fact was worthy the attention of the House. The petitioner had entered into a sort of legal argument. He had cited the case of sir Walter Raleigh, who was certainly on his trial severely handled by sir E. Coke, but who in his defence uttered sentiments which were at the time deemed to approach to high treason; nevertheless the court heard him, without any attempt to impose a fine for his expressions. The next case was that of Prynne, Bastwick, and Burton, who were brought before the star-chamber, where it was the practice to proceed in a great degree by written documents. Prynne and the others, in their written defence, arraigned the conduct of archbishop Laud in terms of such severity, that the archbishop urged the star-chamber to reject the defence, and fine the parties for venturing to make it. The star-chamber, however, refused to reject the defence, although they admitted its culpability; and observed that, scandalous as it was, and an aggravation of the offence, yet as the defendants deemed it necessary for their own cause it ought to be received. There was also the case of colonel Lilburne, in the time of the Commonwealth; and although he indulged in the most violent attack and vituperation upon the judges, yet he was not only not fined, but, was acquitted. In examining the books, he also found, in the 1st of Henry 5th, the case of lord Cobham, who was tried for heresy, an offence which, if the power existed, was very likely to call for the interposition of the judge, if a defendant pressed his sentiments with unusual warmth; and yet in that case, although lord Cobham arraigned the conduct of the archbishop of Canterbury, to whom he applied the most violent language, yet he was never stopped. There was a late case of the "King v. Williams," before lord Kenyon, where a gentleman of the bar was defending the party for publishing Paine's "Age of Reason," and was interrupted by the learned lord, who considered him as embarking directly in the defence of the doctrines promulgated in the book. The learned counsel informed the judge, that unless he could proceed in the line he had been pointing out, it was impossible for him to do justice to the case of the defendant. The court, upon hearing this declaration, refrained from interrupting him during the remainder of his defence. Indeed, every reference which he had made to the practice of the courts confirmed him in his opinion that the power of fining under such circumstances was novel. When he denied the right of the judge to inflict a fine upon a defendant, he begged not to be understood as for a moment calling in question the undoubted right of the court to punish for contempts, to remove obstructions, to preserve order, and to vindicate its own dignity in the most prompt and effectual manner. But, when it went beyond the necessary removal of obstructions, and the vindication of its own dignity, he thought its proceedings ought to be watched with a jealous eye. The power of fining, in the manner in which Mr. Justice Best was represented to have fined this defendant, was capable of obstructing, rather than aiding the ends of justice. Suppose for instance, a man were indicted for a libel, he had a variety of protections thrown around him by the law, before he could be visited with any penalty. There were all the advantages which he might have from any defect in the technicalities of form, and there was the verdict of a jury. But, an the case of a fine imposed in this man- ner, the defendant had nothing to depend upon but the will of the judge. There were many other reasons which forced themselves upon the mind in considering this subject. The defendant stated one very powerful one;—namely, that the imposition of the first fine had intimidated him, and prevented him from going on with his defence in the manner he intended, and which would have been calculated to serve his cause with the jury. It would be no answer to say that, notwithstanding the fine, the defendant went on fluently and firmly; for no person but himself could state what passed in his mind at the moment. The defendant, in conducting his own cause was only exercising a discretion which was open to all men: and most certainly it had happened, that individuals had succeeded with juries, where, in all probability, counsel would have failed. A defendant might be indicted for a libel under circumstances which, if he suffered judgment to go by default, might expose him to no greater punishment than a fine of 50l. And yet, according to this doctrine, if he ventured to defend himself, he might, by incurring the displeasure of the judge, incur a ruinous accumulation of fines far exceeding the penalty had he pleaded guilty at the outset; so that the spirit of his defence might possibly lead to a tenfold aggravation of the penalty which would attach to a conviction for the offence, had he not said a word in exculpation. Suppose the party were a poor man and unable to pay; a fine of this nature, then he must square his defence according to his poverty, and proceed to address the jury with his mind fettered with the terror of an indefinite imprisonment, should he drop a phrase at which the judge might take objection. There was another very strong objection which he had to this mode of proceeding, it was this:—that it committed the judge, as it were, personally with a defendant, a most unfavourable and unsuitable circumstance to appear in a court of justice. [Hear.] It was true that in this particular case, Mr. Justice Best, in t charging the jury, took care to assure them that what had been done by the defendant should not operate against him in his mind, in summing up the evidence. The hon. and learned gentleman then read the prominent parts of the petition. He repeated his doubt upon the right of the court to construe these expressions of the defendant (however improper they might have been) into a contempt of court. All he desired at present was to have this petition printed; He meant to move nothing further unless he received some encouragement from the House. He certainly thought the subject of the highest importance; for it might so happen that the defendant could have saved himself from his present sentence; and, in that view, the circumstances, when examined, might possibly justify an address to the Crown for a mitigation of punishment. He begged to disclaim any desire to countenance interference with the decisions of courts of justice. The greatest mischief must result from such a practice, unless in extreme cases. He then moved, that the said petition be brought up.

Mr. Hobhouse

thought that the petition deserved the attention of the House. Although he had searched with the utmost care, he had been unable to find a single case bearing on the question before the House. The absence of any similar exercise of power by a judge, amounted, he apprehended, to a proof of the illegality of the practice; for, according to lord Coke, as usage proved the intendment of the law, so non-usage proved what was not intended by the law. The strongest authority in favour of the existence of such a power was that of judge Holt, who said, that if a defendant was guilty of contempt, the judge might issue a warrant against him, if the contempt was committed out of court, or fine him if it was committed in court. This, however, was only the dictum of a judge, and as such could not be opposed to the law of the land. When judge Jeffries was on the bench, William Penn had been fined forty marks for refusing to take off his hat in court, and the jury had been imprisoned for giving a verdict contrary to the opinion of the bench. But, though Penn had insulted the bench, he was not fined for any expression made use of in his defence, but solely for refusing to pull off his hat; and surely what had been too much for judge Jeffries to do ought to be too much for any judge of the present time. In the 3rd Institute of Coke, p. 142, there was a report of the case of William Bruce, who, though he had grossly insulted the court, had not been fined for his conduct. A verdict having been found against Bruce, he addressed the judge in those words—"Roger! Roger! now thou hast thy will of me," and on being asked what he meant, he added, "what for a long time thou hast sought, my loss and my shame; and I will think of it, and reward or recompense it." Here though the judge had been insulted, and though the offence of the defendant was deemed so great that he had afterwards been indicted for it, still it had not been attempted to fine him. But, if even a thousand adjudged cases could be produced in favour of the practice, they were not to be regarded as legal precedents, if contrary to the common law of the land. If the law allowed the imposition of such arbitrary fines, Mr. Fox's libel bill was useless; for a defendant might by this power be so crippled in his defence, as not to be able to avail himself of the benefit which that act was intended to give. Let the expressions used by the defendant in this case have been ever so gross, that had nothing whatever to do with the question before the court; for, however the gross-ness of the language might be proper matter of consideration in awarding the amount of a fine, it never could of itself give a judge the power of fining. The late lord Ellenborough on the trial of Eaton, though the defendant introduced the most blasphemous and libellous matters in the course of his defence, had said, that he thought it better for the ends of justice to let him go on. The House should bear in mind that the ermine with which a judge was clothed did not invest him with infallibility. The present case was one that loudly called for the interference of that House, and he hoped they would see the propriety of putting a stop to a practice so inconsistent with every principle of justice.

The Attorney General

said, he did not understand that his learned friend had denied the legality of the proceeding of the learned judge; though the hon. seconder had roundly denied it. His learned friend, however, doubted the legality of the power to fine a defendant for contempt. His learned friend could not have been present when the question was fully discussed in the court of King's-bench and when all the judges gave their deliberate opinions upon it. The petition called in question the propriety of the decision of that court. The offence for which he defendant was tried, was not a political, but one of the most disgusting of blasphemous libels. He would read one short passage.

Lord John Russell

believed it was contrary to order to read any statement from a printed paper, without the express permission of the House.

The Speaker

said, it was true, that no person, without leave of the House, could read from a printed paper though this rule had not been strictly insisted upon.

The Attorney-General

said, he should read a very short passage. The defendant in his libel intreated his countrymen to throw from them that book (meaning the Bible), which was full of blasphemy, lies, and uninteresting nonsense. The House must know that it was the practice of persons who were charged with such an offence, to reiterate the libel on their trial, and, indeed, to utter worse blasphemy. In that case, the judge had to determine whether he could suffer such a proceeding. The defendant had come prepared with a long written defence. In that defence, after he had been admonished by the judge, he attacked the whole profession of the law. For this he was not fined, but was checked by the judge; upon which he conducted himself with the greatest insolence, held out his hand in a menacing manner, and said, "If you wish to send me to your dungeon, here is the key." For this he was fined 20l. and having persisted in his blasphemy, he was fined 40l. more, and also a third time. After this he pleaded his wife and children, and his inability to pay the fines, on which the judge remitted them, because they had answered their purpose, by checking the inundation of blasphemy. The question was brought before the King's-bench on a motion for a new trial; a rule was granted to shew cause, and the case was deliberately argued. After argument, the judges were unanimous in their opinion of the propriety and legality of Mr. Justice Best's conduct. After this deliberate decision in a court of justice, the petition could not be received with the allegation that the learned judge had acted illegally. If his learned friend thought that the law ought to be altered, lie might present a bill to that effect; but that House had not yet assumed the power of acting as a court of appeal from the court of King's-bench. The petition was the more objectionable on account of the last allegation, which was false and absurd, namely, that the learned judge had imposed the fines to obtain his own end—the conviction of the defendant.

Mr. Creevey

was of opinion, that the petition had been properly presented. He must say that he thought Mr. Justice Best a very intemperate judge. He had shown himself intemperate on the trial of sir F. Burdett, at Leicester: he had shown himself intemperate in resorting to the practice of which this petition complained. He was the only person on the bench whom he would call a political judge: that was the designation which he would give to Mr. Justice Best. Happily, however, the House knew that he was not infallible; for when he had a seat in it there was no party with which he had not acted.

Mr. Serjeant Onslow

said, that having known the learned judge, and enjoyed his friendship for the last forty years, he could not sit still and listen to the language of the last speaker. He requested to know whether such language was not disorderly.

The Speaker

said, he had not conceived at the moment that it was his duty to interfere, whatever the opinion of the House might be as to the decorum of the hon. member's observations. It had appeared to him, that the the hon. member was making reference to the motives under which the learned judge had decided, which was the gist and gravamen of the petition. He still considered, that the hon. member was not out of order.

The Solicitor General

said, that the hon. member had taken an opportunity to charge intemperate conduct on the learned judge and had referred to the proceedings of that learned person on the trial of a member of the House. He would ask, what there was in the conduct of the learned judge on that occasion, which called for such reprehension? As to the merits of the publication which was the subject of that trial, there could be no doubt that it was of a most malignant nature. All the judges of the court of King's-bench, even Mr. Justice Bayley, who differed from his brothers on the point of form, agreed that it was a malicious and malignant libel. But, on the point of form the majority of the judges concurred with Mr. Justice Best. Yet the hon. member for Appleby accused Mr. Justice Best of intemperance. When they talked of intemperance, what was the character of the hon. member who made such a serious charge upon such slight grounds? As to the petition of Davison, it contained an incorrect statement of the proceedings on his trial. When that person began to make an attack on the gentlemen of the bar, the judge said, "I allow you the greatest latitude in your defence, but you must not make it the opportunity of uttering libels on others." With that reproof the matter terminated. The petitioner stated that he was then fined, which was not true; for it was in reply to this admonition, that extending his hand to the judge, the defendant said, "If your lordship has the dungeon ready, I wilt present you with the key." For that he was fined 20l. It was manifest that the object of the defendant was to be imprisoned for contempt, so that the trial might have been interrupted. To impose a fine was therefore the only course that remained to the judge in order to preserve decorum. The defendant then proceeded to libel the first ranks of the country, and particularly the bench of bishops, as disbelievers. For this he was again fined, and subsequently a third time. The defendant complained that he was embarrassed; but the learned judge desired him to take his own time, and to pursue any legitimate course of defence in his own manner. This was a correct history of the proceedings at the time; and if the affair had stopt here, would the House have had a right to interfere? But this was not all. The defendant applied to the court of King's-bench, and the case was argued with respect to the law, the merits, and the hardship of it, with all the advantages that learning, ability and zeal could give. The cases mentioned by the hon. member for Westminster, were then quoted. The decision of the judges was unanimous; and unless the House made itself a court of appeal, the petition could not be suffered to lie on the table.

Mr. Lockhart

declared himself quite satisfied with the explanation which had been given as to the conduct of the learned judge in the case under discussion. There could be no doubt as to the power of a judge to punish for contempt; for without such a power it would be impossible for a judge to preserve order in court, or to administer justice. If a defendant, under the pretence of pleading his cause, thought proper to indulge in blasphemous, or seditious language, how was the judge to silence him? The judge could not be required to use physical force, for the purpose of restraining such an offender; and if he were to order him out of the court while the trial went on in his absence, a much louder cry might be raised. No defendant should be permitted to repeat his libellous language in court, with aggravating additions, under the pretext of defending that language.

Mr. Scarlett

expressed his regret that he was not present when the petition was read, as he was therefore unable to pronounce any opinion upon its merits. But, if it disputed the power of a court of law to punish for contempt, he certainly could not concur with the petitioner; for there could be no doubt of the existence of such power. He was not present at the trial referred to by the petitioner, and therefore he could give no decided opinion upon it, but could have no doubt that the judge would exercise a sound discretion in preventing a defendant or any other person in court from violating the rules established for the better administra-of justice, or from controverting every position of the law and the gospel. If, indeed, the judge did not possess such a power, a defendant might resort to any excess of irregularity; for instance, he might place himself in such a position towards the jury as would be grossly indelicate and indecent, under the pretence that he could only defend himself in such a position; and surely in such a case the judge should have the power of controlling him. If, then the judge ought to have the power of preventing personal indecency, why not that also of prohibiting the moral and religious indecency of controverting every position of the law and the gospel. With regard to what had been observed as to the deference due to the judges, no man more strongly felt that deference than himself; but that feeling should not restrain him from questioning the conduct of any one or more of the judges, where that conduct appeared to him to be erroneous. He should, however, always express his dissent from such high authority with great diffidence; but that diffidence could not restrain him from making a few remarks upon a recent case, where a fine was imposed upon a journalist for publishing certain trials contrary to the order of the judges. This was, in his opinion, carrying the doctrine of contempt much too far. The publication of a trial in any British court with fidelity was certainly no offence, and therefore could not legally be construed into contempt; yet in the case to which he alluded, the journalist was fined for publishing a trial, without a charge of any want of fidelity in the report. Now, if it were allowable to punish a man for publishing a trial, he could not see why others might not be punished for reading it when published: nay, that any one who happened to speak of whatever occurred in court, after the interdict of the judges against publication was issued, should not also become the subject of punishment. The principle upon which this fine was levied, was indeed such, that according to it there could be no end to the doctrine of contempt. But there was in fact no precedent whatever to sustain this principle. In any of the higher courts of Westminster-hall, an attachment could be issued to bring any party before it, who was conceived guilty of contempt; but no such power belonged to any court of quarter sessions, or special commission. The authority of such courts did not extend beyond its own limits as to contempt. The special commission alluded to had not, in his judgment, any right to call a party before it for contempt of its order out of court, and having no right to call any party, it had no power to hear that party in his defence, and consequently no right to inflict the penalty to which he referred.

Sir F. Blake

objected to this petition as being too inflammatory; but he begged it to be understood, that he was a decided advocate for the right of petitioning upon proper subjects and in adequately strong language; and what language could be stronger than nolumus leges Angliœ mutari? From his solicitude for the right of petitioning he had voted last night, for referring the petition respecting the misconduct of the sheriff of Dublin to a select committee; for if such outrages were overlooked, he should not be surprised to find another Cromwell taking military possession of that House.

Lord Castlereagh

observed, that as no doubt appeared to be entertained upon the legality of the judge's conduct to which the petition referred, and as the court of King's-bench had solemnly adjudged that conduct to be correct, he saw no reason why that House should at all enter into the subject. If a defendant availed himself of the indulgence afforded him of making his own defence to commit fresh crimes, was his attempt to be tolerated of committing still further crimes, in the shape of a petition to that House? It would be quite inconsistent with the sober exercise of the right of petitioning to allow conduct of this nature. The right of petitioning was a privilege which could never be brought into question except by its own abuse. It was proper, that on this occasion, the House should express its opinion of such attempts, as there appeared a growing disposition, on the part of the public, to drag every subject before the House—a disposition which was fed by the facility with which members lent themselves to present their petitions. As this was the case, he could not do better than call the attention of members to the way in which the House had been engaged during the month they had sat. More than half that time had been employed in discussing petitions from various places. He meant those applications to the jurisdiction of the House, in matters in which it afterwards appeared that the House, in the exercise of its discretion, decided that it ought not to interfere. He thought this ought to be a caution to gentlemen not to be too ready to listen to such applications as the present; and that when made to them, it ought to be pointed out when the cases were such as the House should not interfere with. The present was a case in which as it appeared to him, the House could not do better than to mark its sense of such applications by not allowing the petition to be brought up.

Mr. J. P. Grant

said, that it was too much for any minister to talk of admonishing the people upon the exercise of their inalienable and most sacred right, or that the time of the House was misapplied in discussing their petitions. As to the petition under discussion, he could not decline voting for its reception, upon the ground that it referred to the conduct of a judge; feeling, as he did, that it was competent to that House to take cognizance of the conduct of any judge, however high his character.

Lord Castlereagh

explained. If the House permitted the petition to be brought up, it would be an admission that the subject of it was matter fit for the consideration of the House.

Mr. Bright

said, that this was not to be regarded as a mere question of legality, but as an appeal to that House upon its great constitutional privilege, according to which, it was competent and imperatively bound to superintend the proceedings of the judges, and to watch with jealousy the manner in which justice was administered. It was known, indeed, from history, that judges had often acted wrong, and by that House they had been set right. But where was the remedy for mal-administration on the part of the judges, if that House, acting upon the false delicacy of which he had heard too much that night, should decline to interfere upon any charge against a judge? He did not mean to say that Mr. Justice Best had acted wrong, or that that judge would not be able to justify his conduct in argument; but this he would maintain, that he would find it difficult to do so upon precedent. There was not, lie believed, any one precedent for such a proceeding, as a judge inflicting three fines on an individual under such circumstances. The fact of his afterwards remitting them was, in his mind, an admission that he had been wrong. If this was to be considered the Jaw, the people of England should be informed of it; the House of Commons should know it, in order that a remedy might be applied. If this doctrine of in-Aiding immediate punishment for alleged contempt were to be acted upon, it would lead to most horrible aggression. It should be considered whether a discretionary power should be given, which might be exercised at the very moment when the feelings of the party exercising it were roused. If this were to be held as law, it was a most dangerous one, and a remedy for it could not be too speedily applied. Looking at all the circumstances of the case, he thought they were such as justified the petitioner to make the present application; which, in his mind, ought to be embraced, in order to set the matter at rest.

Mr. Hutchinson

said, it was not to be endured, that a minister of the Crown should declare, that a petition complaining of a grievance should not be brought up. Was it not too much that it should be assumed that the petitions of the people were so immoral, seditious, and blasphemous, that they ought not even to be heard?

Lord Castlereagh

said, it was true he was a minister of the Crown, but he was also a member of parliament, and he had yet to learn that he was to he precluded from offering any observations to the House, upon any subject before it. If there was to be no discussion allowed upon the question of bringing up a petition, it was unnecessary to have it put to the House from the Chair.

Lord Althorp

expressed a wish to have the doors of that House thrown wide open for the reception of the petitions of the people. As to the language of a petition, he thought the House should not object to any strength of expression which naturally arose out of the case of a petitioner, for otherwise a case of great oppression or injustice could not be adequately described; but he would object to any strong language which was not strictly relevant to the matter of complaint.

Mr. Wynn

thought, that a complaint of a decision in the court of King's-bench, was not a fit subject for a petition to that House. He was far from maintaining, that the conduct of a judge might not be so flagitious and unconstitutional as to be a fit subject of parliamentary inquiry. If any member was satisfied that such had been the conduct of the judge in the present case, the proper course would be, either to Jay a charge upon the table by way of impeachment, or to propose an address to the Crown for his removal. If the House sanctioned the present application, where would they draw the line?

Mr. Bernal

would put it to the noble lord, whether the present was the time when they should discourage the petitions of the people. In the present state of the public feeling he would open the doors of the House as much as possible to their petitions.

Mr. Huskisson

said, that the general practice on presenting petitions was, to state their nature and object, in order to let the House see whether they were such as ought to be received. The reading of the petition would inform the House of the language; but the matter should be stated before it was brought up, and the House would decide on that matter. He understood that the present petition contained a charge against one of the judges, that the petitioner had been illegally fined by him, and that the judge having thus gained his end of preventing his defence, had remitted the fine. Now this was a gross charge; and the question was whether they would receive a petition which was admitted to contain a libel.

Mr. Denman.

—I did not say it was libellous.

Mr. Huskisson

maintained, that if the petition contained this charge, it was a libel, and it ought not to be received. It had been said that if this petition was not received, the House would be shutting its doors against the petitions of the people; but he contended, that the rejection of such petitions would be a benefit to the people.

Sir R. Fergusson

said, that the plain question before the House was, whether this petition should be rejected unheard, and unread? If the language of a petition was decorous and respectful, it was a matter of course that it should be read; if afterwards it appeared to be inadmissible, it was in the discretion of the House to receive or reject it.

Mr. G. Bankes

thought that the petition ought to be rejected. The learned gentleman had said, that be was not prepared to propose any ulterior step. Besides the petition contained an imputation against a learned judge which was false upon the face of it. Though he did not stand up in that House as the advocate of the learned judge, and it would be unbecoming in him to assume that character yet he could not help regretting that the name of that venerable person had been brought before the House, in a manner so much to be deprecated.

Mr. Curwen

trusted, that whenever a judge was found corrupt enough to pervert the laws, there would never be wanting bold and independent men in that House, who would bring their conduct before parliament. He rejoiced that the subject had been brought before the House; he was before disposed to think not very favourably of the conduct of the learned judge, but this discussion had satisfied him that his conduct had been perfectly correct. It was the right pf the people to complain to that House of the conduct of courts of justice. If, when the petition should be read, it should be found to impute to the learned judge, a desire to obtain a conviction, then he would concur in rejecting it. When the noble lord talked of reading a lesson to the people of England, not to come to that House with their complaints, did he consider the consequences of the people being compelled to look for redress by other means at the expense of the constitution? There was a point—he would not say where—but there was a point, at which resistance was a virtue and a right; and if the petition were refused to be brought up, the moment at which we should arrive at that point would be accelerated.

Sir C. Long

said, that what he understood his noble friend to mean was, that he was desirous of admonishing the people not to present petitions upon subjects which could not properly be inquired into in that House. The charge against the learned judge was no less, than that he had interrupted the petitioner in his defence, for the purpose of obtaining ah illegal verdict against him; and that, having effected his object, he remitted the fines which had been imposed upon him. He thought the House was bound to reject a petition in which so flagrant an offence was imputed to the venerable judge, without the slightest foundation.

Sir J Newport

said, it had been urged that the administration of justice was not a fit subject for the control of that House, for what purpose, then, was the committee of justice appointed every session? He trusted that whatever might be the opinion of the House as to its admissibility when they heard the petition read, no objection would be made to it being brought in.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that the only petitions which were received as a matter of course in that House, were election petitions. All other petitions were liable to be received or rejected as that House thought fit, and it would be found, upon reference to the Journals, that the House, had exercised that discretion in a variety of instances. Indecorous language was a good ground of rejection, and in this case the language was admitted not only to be indecorous, but libellous. It contained an imputation upon a learned judge which was believed to be false by the learned gentleman who presented it.

Mr. Denman

said, he had never stated that the petition contained a libel on the learned judge; he had said, indeed, that it contained a charge against him, which, knowing the learned judge as he did, he did not believe to be true; but, if the man believed the charge to be true, he had a right to state it in his own language, and if parliament was a part of the constitution he had a right to lay his grievances before that House, and if necessary, have an opportunity of proving them. If no charge was to be entertained by that House, because, if false, it might be libellous, there was an end to the doctrine of impeachment; for how would it be possible to impeach, if no charge could be made, which, in the event of its being disproved might turn out to be libellous? An hon. gentleman thought that no petition ought to be received unless some specific measure were founded upon it; forgetting that it was a breach of privilege to point out any specific measure in petitioning parliament. But in point of fact, he had pointed out two specific measures, for he had stated that the matter might either be referred to the grand committee of justice, or to a particular committee which might judge of the expediency of founding some legislative measure upon it, with a view of limiting the excessive powers of courts of law, in cases of contempt. The attorney general had said, somewhat invidiously, that he had not ventured to express any doubt of the legality of fining for contempt. On the contrary, he entertained the strongest doubts whether the expressions of the petitioner were such as justified the learned judge in imposing the fines. At all events, it was a fit subject of inquiry by that House, whether in a particular case, a venerable judge acting without precedent, had or had not overstepped the powers vested in him by law.

The House divided: Ayes, 37; Noes, 64.