§ Mr. Hume
rose, to present a Petition to the House which was signed by between 4,000 and 5,000 inhabitants of Preston, in Lancashire, and its vicinity; complaining of the severity of the imprisonment of Mr. Hunt. If the circumstances stated in it were true, he hesitated not to say, that the petition demanded the attention of parliament. He had written to the individual himself; to know whether the statements contained in the petition was, or was not correct, and as far as he was concerned, his statement went to substantiate the facts alleged. It appeared that Mr. Hunt had been placed for a number of days in solitary confinement—not a human creature being allowed, during that period to have access to him. He was taken ill and sent for his surgeon; but that individual was not allowed to see 511 him, and he suffered under severe spasms, until a surgeon who resided at the distance of five miles was sent for. It was, under these circumstances, the duty of the House to see that the individual, in undergoing the sentence of the law, was not sacrificed by those in whose power he was placed, whatever might be their motives for adopting a system of extreme severity. The petitioners stated, that they were unwilling to call on the House to interfere with the sentence of a court of justice, because they wished not unnecessarily to meddle with the established laws and institutions of the country; but they felt themselves found in this instance to come forward, because a punishment was inflicted on Mr. Hunt which the Court of King's-Bench did not authorize. This was evident from the fact, that when Mr. Hunt was sentenced, he had inquired whether he was to undergo solitary confinement; and he was answered by Mr. Justice Bayley, in these words:—"The court has given no such order," and he directed that Mr. Hunt's imprisonment should be attended with as few privations as possible. The petitioners, therefore, thought, that neither the malice nor the caprice of the sheriff, nor of the magistrates of Somersetshire, should be suffered to inflict a punishment on Mr. Hunt, which the court had not contemplated. They went on further to observe, that the order under which this individual was placed in solitary Confinement, was signed, in September last, by Mr. Justice Best; and they thought, that, as Mr. Hunt never entertained any idea of violating the law, two rears imprisonment in so unwholesome a gaol as that of Ilchester was punishment sufficient for any supposed infraction of the law. The petitioners were of opinion, that the meeting at which Mr. Hunt presided was perfectly lawful; and he (Mr. Hume) had no hesitation in saying, that he had the same opinion. That opinion he never would alter; and, entertaining it, he could not avoid thinking that Mr. Hunt was most unjustly sentenced. Having, however, been found guilty by a jury of his country, he could blame no person for what had subsequently occurred, but the judges. Punishment ought to be awarded in proportion to the offence committed: and Mr. Hunt having attended a meeting which he conceived not to be of a criminal nature, and which was stated in that House to have been legal, it certainly followed that very mild punishment 512 ought to have been inflicted. But he was sorry to say that the severity of punishment which had recently been resorted to, was likely to bring some of the great institutions of the country into contempt. If the House looked at the conduct of the courts of law for the last two or three years, they would find that the severity of punishment adopted during that period, went beyond all precedents in the history of England, except those that occurred in the time of judge Jefferies. When ministers and judges authorized a course of unmerited severity, their conduct tended to injure the institutions of the country, and endangered the safety of the constitution itself. He would ask of the learned solicitor-general, if an individual were merely sentenced to imprisonment in a particular gaol, and instead of ordinary imprisonment, solitary confinement were inflicted, whether that was not, in fact, altering the sentence, and inflicting a new and a for more severe punishment? If common confinement could be changed at pleasure into solitary confinement, he saw no reason why the power thus assumed might not be pushed much farther, even to the hanging of the man who was only sentenced to imprisonment. Such arbitrary proceedings were calculated to bring the courts of law into discredit, and to occasion a feeling of disrespect towards the judges. The petitioners adverted to the case of sir Manasseh Lopez, whose sentence had been remitted; and whose offence, contrasted with the alleged offence of Mr. Hunt, assumed a character of more than ordinary criminality. Yet the sentence of this individual had been mitigated, while Mr. Hunt had been placed in solitary confinement. That man, he would boldly say, could have no humanity, could entertain no love for his fellow-creatures, who would attempt to change ordinary confinement into that most dreadful punishment—solitary imprisonment. The House ought to take care that no set of men should be allowed, from a petty, paltry, mean feeling, to punish an individual, not for the crime actually committed, but for offences of a former date. It was shameful that an order of a quarter sessions should be enforced in such a manner as to preclude Mr. Hunt from a free intercourse with his family. Why should such severity be exercised towards him, while sir M. Lopez was treated with the utmost lenity, although his offence was described 513 by one of the Speaker's predecessors as the highest crime that could be committed against the constitution? Such partiality was disgraceful.
Sir T. Lethbridge
said, it was quite impossible for the magistrates of the county of Somerset to act from such motives as had been ascribed to them by the hon. member. It was very hard that magistrates, while acting conscientiously in the performance of their arduous duties, should be subjected to such unmerited attacks. He thought the House would do well to set its face against such proceedings. He would not oppose the bringing up of the petition; but, in his opinion, the House should do something to show its disapprobation of the calumnies that had been cast on the magistrates of Somersetshire, ever since they had any thing to do with this individual. With respect to the prayer of the petition, he conceived it would be very wrong for the House to set aside, in any manner, the sentence pronounced by a court of law. The hon. member was wholly in error, if he thought that Mr. Hunt had been treated with malice or caprice. He was equally wrong if he supposed that that individual was treated as a prisoner sentenced to solitary confinement. The fact was, that when Mr. Hunt was first placed in the prison, he received indulgences which no person, under his circumstances, had a right to expect: and the privations of which he now complained were occasioned by the withholding the indulgences that were originally extended to him. He denied, altogether, that Mr. Hunt had been improperly treated.
The Solicitor General
said, it was extraordinary that the hon. member for Aberdeen had thought fit to repeat the attack on the magistrates of Somersetshire, which had been indulged in some days ago, on an occasion similar to the present. He had stated to the House at that time the situation in which Mr. Hunt stood. That individual had made application to the Court of King's Bench, praying that he might be attended by his surgeon and attorney. It was not, however, customary for the court to act, except on affidavit; and they took the necessary steps to enable Mr. Hunt to state, on oath, what he had to allege against the magistrates. Those very judges who had been so scandalously libelled by the member for Aberdeen, contrary to the usual course which obtained in such cases, and although the 514 statement contained in Mr. Hunt's letter was not supported by affidavit, did, on that mere statement, direct an order to the gaoler, desiring that Mr. Hunt's attorney should be admitted, for the purpose of giving the complaining party an opportunity of making the necessary affidavits, in order that the complaint should undergo an investigation on oath. Notwithstanding this, Mr. Hunt had taken no steps in the business. He had made no regular application to the Court of King's Bench during the last term. It was not, therefore, too much, to suppose that the complaints were exaggerated; and he hoped that the House would suspend their opinion of the conduct pursued, both by the judges and by the gaoler, until the subject was investigated before a competent tribunal, on oath. That would be the fairest course, not only with respect to Mr. Hunt himself, but with reference to all the persons who were implicated. The member for Aberdeen had pointedly alluded to the conduct of one of the judges, in signing the orders in question.["No, no," from Mr. Hume.] He understood the hon. member to say, that owing to the order which had been signed by Mr. Justice Best, Mr. Hunt had been confined in a solitary place. What the hon. member said with respect to the observation of Mr. Justice Bayley was in substance correct. Mr. Hunt asked, whether he was to be punished by solitary confinement, and he was immediately told, that the court entertained no such intention: but if any thing were contained in that petition, alleging that Mr. Justice Best had ordered Mr. Hunt to be confined in a solitary place or had altered the punishment which had been awarded, such an allegation was utterly unfounded. That Mr. Justice Best and Mr. Baron Graham had signed the regulations for the government of Ilchester gaol was correct. He (the Solicitor-General) had sent persons to Ilchester to see what those regulations were, and to put him in possession of them; and he could confidently affirm, that there was not a single order of those learned judges that violated, in the smallest degree, the law of the land; nor was there a single order amongst those allowed by Mr. Justice Best that had not been also allowed by some of his predecessors—by as humane and honourable men as ever sat in a court of justice, and who were as much attached to the law and constitution of this country, and to the rational liberty of the subject, 515 as the hon. member could possibly be. With respect to what the hon. member had said of his (the Solicitor-General's) false and inapplicable arguments, and of the unanswerable and irrefragable reasoning of the individuals near him, when he stood forward as an umpire between gentlemen on opposite sides of the House, and decided in favour of his own friends, he would only say, that the question came before the Court of King's Bench, that it was argued with great learning and ability by the counsel of Mr. Hunt, that it was heard with a degree of patience, almost unexampled, and that the judges unanimously decided against the application. Whether the member for Aberdeen possessed a knowledge of the law so much superior to that of the judges, who had passed their lives in legal pursuits, and who were sworn to administer justice according to law, as to render their opinion of no value, it was for the House to judge. He, however, felt that his argument on the point in question was not answered by the other side; and he believed that if the subject again came before a court of justice, the decision would be precisely the same. He must protest against the course pursued by the hon. member. It was of very great importance that the character of the judges should stand fair and pure before the country. If, therefore, a charge could be made against any one of those learned individuals, the subject ought to be brought openly before the House, instead of being introduced incidentally on the presentation of a petition. The hon. member ought not to traduce and calumniate the judges in the scandalous manner, he would say, if he were not in that House, in which he had been pleased to indulge.
said, that Mr. Hunt had made no application to the Court of King's Bench, but had merely written a letter to Mr. Justice Bayley. He was not in the habit of corresponding with Mr. Hunt, but he had received a letter from him that morning, complaining of his treatment. Perhaps the severity exercised towards him might have originated in his having so successfully exposed the malpractices that had long existed in Ilchester gaol. He believed that the arrangements made in the gaol, under the order of the judges, were not applicable to persons under sentence for an offence like Mr. Hunt's. Those rules and regulations were, in fact, directed against felons; and he believed it was the first time that a person in the 516 situation of Mr. Hunt had been subjected to them. He had visited many of the gaols in this kingdom, and had seen no such instance, even where persons were confined for the worst of blasphemous libels. It appeared as if the magistrates of Somerset were determined to make up, by present severity, for recent remissness. Be that as it might, the rule was evidently bad, and ought to be abolished. He begged leave to make a few remarks on the lofty tone which the learned gentleman had thought proper to assume on this occasion. He had expressed himself as if he were in the magisterial chair at the Old Bailey, lecturing some witness or solicitor. Now, certainly, though the learned gentleman might bring the practice of the courts below into that House, he ought not to bring with it the manners of the courts below. He was, however, sure that the learned gentleman had used phrases which he might very well have spared. When the learned gentleman came into a society like the House of Commons, he ought to use such language as became his own situation, and the situation of those to whom he addressed himself. Such expressions as "scandalous," and "libellous," were really new within the walls of that House. With respect to Mr. Justice Bayley, he revered his character, and admired his conduct. Every day proved how well he deserved the situation which he so meritoriously filled. But, much as he respected that individual, he never would allow it to be contended, that it was not the duty of a member of parliament, if circumstances arose in the conduct of those who presided over the courts below which excited his suspicion, to bring those circumstances before the House. Lord Coke said, that "parliament was bound to keep the judges in order, as well as other men. Of course, those learned individuals ought not to be rashly charged: but if, in a great legal question, the judges of the land came to conclusions, which, in point of prudence and law, they ought to have abstained from—if they hazarded a judgment, which, in prudence and law, they ought not to have done, the member of parliament who thought so, was not an honest man, if he did not come to that House and say so. A member of parliament, who conceived the conduct of a judge to be incorrect, would be more blameable if he were silent, than if he stated what he felt.
§ Mr. Lockhart
was of opinion, that the House had a right, when it was necessary, 517 to investigate the conduct of the judges; because the absence of that right might give rise to a species of slavery. The learned gentleman had denied that the judgment of the Court of King's Bench was in any way altered. But the question was, whether, by the constitution of the country, such rules and orders could be maintained, as might, in fact, alter an original sentence? The learned gentleman said, that certain rules and orders, signed by the magistrates and judges, were put in force at Ilchester. Now, if those rules and orders could have the effect of inflicting any punishment on an individual, other than the court had sentenced him to suffer, he held them to be unconstitutional. If there were any new laws which delegated the power of changing a sentence to any set of magistrates, they ought to be compared with the old laws, and their foundation thoroughly investigated. When he first came to the bar, he never heard or read of solitary confinement; and it certainly was a practice of a very dangerous nature. A person thus imprisoned might be visited with mental affliction or bodily illness, and yet, in consequence of his situation, be deprived of all opportunity of communicating his state to those who might relieve him. That which was not originally intended by the law, ought not to be effected by subsequent regulations. If it were allowed, the punishment of individuals would be placed in the discretion of a class of persons who could have no knowledge of the crimes of those who were condemned except what they gathered from the prison calendar.
The Solicitor General
again offered himself to the notice of the House, for the purpose of explaining what had passed in the Court of King's Bench with respect to Mr. Hunt. Mr. Hunt did not, indeed, make a regular application to the Court of King's Bench; but he wrote a letter to Mr. Justice Bayley, who immediately communicated it to the other judges, in which he complained that his surgeon and solicitor were excluded from him, and expressed a wish that an order should be made to allow of their attendance. The Court of King's Bench could make no order, and could give no judgment, except on affidavits; but the judges did all they could do. They sent to the gaol, and desired that the solicitor of Mr. Hunt should be admitted to him, in order that he might draw up the affidavits which were necessary for a regular application. An hon. member 518 had thought proper to charge him with having used unbecoming language to another hon. member of that House. Now, it would be recollected that the hon. member for Aberdeen, not adverting to the language of the petition, but expressing his own private feelings, stated that no judgment was ever pronounced in the Court of King's Bench more infamous than the judgment in question, since the days of judge Jefferies. When that was the case, he would ask whether he was at all out of order, or whether he used indecent or unbecoming language, when he stated, that the hon. member for Aberdeen, in using such expressions, had grossly libelled the judges? If the hon. member for Shrewsbury imagined that he was to form his manners, or to adopt his language, to that hon. member's taste, he was much mistaken. When he spoke of that hon. member's conduct, or adverted to his sentiments, he would state nothing which he would not justify on every occasion, and in every place. [Hear, hear.]
§ The Speaker
said, that however mysterious the language of the hon. and learned gentleman was, he could know what meaning they were intended to convey, and he was sure that the House would see the propriety of his interfering, as the words in his opinion conveyed a meaning which would tend to invade the order of the house.
§ Mr. Hume
said, he would put the House in mind that allegations of a similar nature, which an hon. baronet had on a former occasion denied, had upon examination, turned out to be well founded; and he had no doubt but the present allegations would turn out to be so. It had been asked, what authority there was for saying that Mr. Hunt had been in solitary confinement? He had just received from Mr. Hunt a letter, which stated, that the complaints were literally true. Twenty-six days had elapsed since Mr. Hunt preferred his complaint, and he was in solitary confinement still. The learned gentleman, in replying to him, had made use of abuse, instead of argument; he had put the word ''infamous" into his mouth, but he could assure the learned gentleman that he must use argument, and not abuse, if he hoped to obtain any credit with him. It was very well for gentlemen clothed in a little brief 519 authority, to attempt to gloss over the practices complained of in that petition; but the country felt differently on the question. That the case was one of cruelty was known to millions.
Sir T. Lethbridge
said, that if it should turn out that Mr. Hunt was even for eight hours in solitary confinement, he should be the foremost to say it was improper. But at present he did not believe it even on the authority of a statement signed "Henry Hunt."
§ The petition was ordered to be printed.