HC Deb 25 April 1823 vol 8 cc1292-8
Mr. Grey Bennet

presented the following petition:

"To the honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland in parliament assembled:

"The petition of Richard Deller, farmer, of the parish of Easton, in the county of Hants, complaining of the conduct of three justices of the peace, the duke of Buckingham, the rev. Robert Wright, and the rev. Edmund Poulter:

"Most humbly sheweth,

"That the farm occupied by your petitioner, in the parish aforesaid, is bounded in some parts by lands of the duke of Buckingham, and that game preserved by the duke does your petitioner an injury yearly to the amount of thirty or forty pounds:

"That on the 19th of February and on the 6th of March last year, your petitioner was out on his farm with a party of his friends (to whom the grey-hounds belonged) coursing hares, having full liberty from his own landlord to sport on the farm; that informations were laid against him by a game-keeper of the duke of Buckingham; that as to the first day, your petitioner proved the owner of the dogs to be qualified, and that therefore no penalty lay against him; that, as to the second day your petitioner was summoned to appear before a justice of the peace, and, to the great surprise of your petitioner, this justice of the peace was the duke of Buckingham himself, who summoned your petitioner to appear before him, at his house at Avington in the said county:

"That thus, John Roberts, a game-keeper, and the servant of the duke, stood as informer, and George White, another game-keeper and servant to the duke, stood as witness, and the duke himself, the employer of that informer, and of that witness, sat as judge:

"That, your petitioner thus appeared before this singular tribunal on the first day of the present month of April; that the day before, a compromise was offered to your petitioner, in the duke's name, by his steward; that this compromise was not accepted, because the duke would not agree to pay for the damage that might be done to your petitioner by his game:

"That, when your petitioner went to answer the summons, he took a friend with him to be witness of what might pass; that the duke would not permit this friend to enter the room until the said friend had declared, that he was neither barrister nor attorney; that the duke had with him an attorney, named Woodham; that your petitioner wished his friend to write down an account of what passed; but, that the duke forbade him to do it.

"That your petitioner could have brought witnesses to prove that he ought not to pay the penalty for which he was prosecuted; that he demanded to have such witnesses examined; but that the duke refused to suffer him to call such witnesses, unless he would state beforehand what questions he meant to put to such witnesses; that your petitioner refused to do this; and, that, therefore, the said witnesses were not called:

"That, upon your petitioner's entering the room where the duke was sitting as justice of the peace, he was, before any proceedings had taken place, told by the said duke, that, if he uttered one impertinent word, there was a constable in the room to take him to 'gaol or to the stocks:'

"That, thus, threatened in this manner at the outset, deprived of the evidence that he could have called if he had been free so to do, he was, by this said duke, sitting as justice of peace to decide on an information laid by his own servant, and that, too, after this justice's steward had offered a compromise to your petitioner; thus, under these circumstances, was your petitioner convicted in the penalty of 5l. for being in pursuit of hares on his own farm, on which these hares feed, and where they do him damage yearly to the amount of from 30 to 60l.; and this, too, while your petitioner has to pay a part of those county-rates and those poor-rates which are occasioned by the prosecutions and punishments for the preservation of game:

"That your humble petitioner has heard much talk about the liberty and property of Englishmen; but that, to his plain understanding, a state of slavery so complete as that in which he has the misfortune to live, cannot be found in any other country in the world; for, though the ingenuity and caprices of tyranny are infinite, he believes, that in the utmost wantonness of insolence, it never before compelled a man to pay rates for the preservation of animals that eat up his crops; to do this because those animals afforded sport; and to submit to punishment for attempting to partake in that sport:

"That, while your petitioner was thus treated by a duke justice of the peace, two parson justices treated him in the following manner:

"That on the 10th of this instant month of April, a servant of the duke of Buckingham, having three dogs with him, entered the land of your petitioner: that your petitioner demanded his name, which he refused to give, and refused to give any account of himself whatever; that your petitioner told him, that, unless he told his name, he would take him before a magistrate; that he still refused; that your petitioner then took him by force, and conducted him to the house of the rev. Robert Wright, a justice of the peace, at Itchen Abbas, about two miles from the spot where the trespasser was seized; that the said rev. Robert Wright, refused to hear the complaint of your petitioner, saying, that he would not hear it till the next day, and then at Winchester, where his clerk was; that your petitioner went the next day to Winchester, and that then the rev. Robert Wright still refused to hear your petitioner, and told him he must come to the bench at Winchester the next day; that your petitioner went to the bench, where the rev. Edmund Poulter presided, and Mr. William Neville; that your petitioner now found that he was to be treated as a criminal instead of as an injured party; that the servant of the duke was permitted by those justices to swear an assault against your petitioner, and your petitioner was actually bound over accordingly; that your petitioner remonstrated against this, and appealed to the act of parliament, passed in the first year of the present king's reign, and being the 56th chapter of that year; that your petitioner showed the said justices, that agreeably to the third section of that act, he was fully authorised to seize the said servant and to take him before a justice; that, notwithstanding this, the said justices compelled your petitioner to enter into recognizances as aforesaid, on pain of being sent to gaol; that your petitioner demanded that his complaint against the duke's servant should be first heard, seeing that he had been the first complainant, and had been compelled to go so many miles backwards and forwards, and to lose so much time on the business; but that the said justices persisted in refusing to hear the complaint of your petitioner, until after they had heard the servant of the duke and had compelled your petitioner to give bail:

"That, when this had beep done, the said William Neville quitted the bench, leaving the said rev. Edmund Poulter, and the said rev. Robert Wright on the bench; that your petitioner then applied to these two justices for redress against the said servant of the duke; that they heard his complaint; but that they refused to decide at that time, and put off your petitioner again until the next Saturday; that your petitioner, wearied with journeys on account of this business, and seeing no hope of obtaining redress, resolved to appear before these justices no more, and to lay a statement of his case before your honourable House.

"Your honourable House need not be reminded, that the act just mentioned, of the first year of the king, was passed expressly for the insuring of "a more summary mode of repressing and obtaining satisfaction for damages done to land," &c. When, therefore, your honourable House shall have duly considered the conduct of the said rev. Robert Wright and Edmund Poulter, the delays, the procrastinations, the trouble and expense of your petitioner, and especially the binding of your petitioner over for the assault, though the very oath on which that bail was demanded proved that your petitioner had not been guilty of an assault, but had acted in strict conformity to the law; when your honourable House shall have duly considered these things, your petitioner will not doubt or your disposition to cause justice to be done to him.

"Your petitioner, pledging himself to prove the above alleged facts at the bar of your honourable House, if you will be pleased to permit him so to do, most humbly prays, 1. That you will be pleased to permit him to produce such proofs at your bar. 2. That you will so alter the game laws, as to enable all occupiers of land to kill any wild animals on the land they occupy; that you will take out of this code the punishment of death and transportation; and that, at any rate, you will cause the expense of punishing poachers, and of keeping their wives and children, to be borne exclusively by those who prosecute them. 3. That you will be pleased to pass a law to prevent ministers of the Church of England from being justices of the peace; and for preventing any justices from acting as such under the game laws, where their own servants are the informers and witnesses.—And your petitioner will ever pray."

Sir T. Baring

bore witness to the high character of the two clerical gentlemen of whom the petitioner complained.

The Marquis of Chandos

described the petitioner as an unqualified person, who had been allowed to join in the sports of coursing along with those who were qualified, and who had been proceeded against, only because he had gone with other unqualified persons.

Mr. Sumner

said, that he thought the petition should not be allowed to be brought up [Murmurs]. His reason for saying so was, that the law had provided sufficient means of redress for the grievance complained of, through the jurisdiction of the courts.

Mr. Ellice

said, he could not understand the grounds of the hon. member's objection. The petition was most respectfully drawn up, and complained not alone of the specific injury sustained by the petitioner, but also of the operation of the laws under which he had suffered.

Mr. Wynn

said, that if the petition had been confined to a complaint against the conduct of the magistrates, for which there was a remedy given to the petitioner by appeal, under the statute, to the quarter sessions, undoubtedly the practice of the House would warrant an opposition to its being brought up. But, as it also prayed for an alteration of the laws, it ought to be received.

Mr. John Williams

considered the denial to follow game on a man's own grounds a grievance to the people of this country, and a manifest invasion of the rights of property. He trusted the whole of the Game laws would undergo a complete revision.

Mr. Hume

stated it as his belief, that there was not another man in the country, who, being a judge in his own cause, would have acted as the duke of Buckingham had acted. The petition was another proof of the impropriety of placing clergymen in the commission of the peace. In one or two of the counties of England it was a very wise proceeding of the lord lieutenants not to recommend clergymen to the magisterial office, and the result was, that those counties were free from those broils and disagreements, which existed where the practice was different.

Mr. S. Wortley

and colonel Wodehouse both differed from Mr. Hume, as to the propriety of placing clergymen in the commission of the peace. They knew that the most beneficial effects, particu- larly to the poor, had followed such magisterial appointments.

Ordered to lie on the table.