seeing the attorney-general in his place, took the opportunity of presenting a petition, to which he had already called the attention of his majesty's law officers. The petition came from Mr. R. G. Butt, whose case he should proceed to state as briefly as possible. It would be in the recollection of the House, that Mr. Butt brought actions of false imprisonment against sir N. Conant and Mr. Newman, the keeper of Newgate, having been imprisoned before a bill of indictment was found against him, and that the Jury returned a verdict in his favour with 1s. damages. The case was afterwards argued before the four Judges of the court of Common Pleas, who laid down for law a doctrine which he believed to be utterly illegal, and in this opinion he was supported by the authority of lord Camden. The consequence of this decision was, that the costs of the actions amounting to 155l. in that against sir N. Conant, and to 93l. in that against Mr. Newman, were thrown upon Mr. Butt. The hard part of the case, however, was, that when the friends of Mr. Butt waited upon the defendants to pay the money, the defendants stated, that they could not receive it, for that the Treasury had paid all their expenses. It was to this part of the case that he was anxious to direct the attention of the House; for he maintained, that the Treasury could not legally pay the expenses of any individual in a law-suit, and by that means become the creditor in place of the original creditor. Sir. N. Conant having declared that he could not receive the money without subjecting himself to an action for fraud, as he had already been paid by the Treasury. Mr. Butt applied to the keeper of Newgate, who also declined receiving the money on the same ground. Mr. Butt then applied to the Treasury, arid was told that he did not stand as debtor upon their books; upon which he made an application to Mr. Justice Richardson, who recommended him to move the court of Common Pleas. After a learned argument from Mr. Serjeant Vaughan, the rule to show cause was refused; Mr. Butt next applied to lord Sidmouth through Mr. Sheriff Parkins, and lord Sidmouth said that Mr. Butt was not confined under any Crown process, and that he could not interfere. An application to Mr. Sheriff Waithman was equally unsuccessful; for that gentle- 1075 man, after having consulted his solicitor, was unable to point out any means by which Mr. Butt could obtain his release. Mr. Butt next petitioned both Houses of Parliament; and from parliament he obtained the usual relief—that was to say, no relief at all. At the time of the Coronation, when all the king's debtors were discharged, Mr. Butt expected that he should be included: but an exception was made against him, and he was not released. At length, both the defendants died, and Mr. Butt then applied to young Mr. Conant, who stated distinctly, that though the action was defended by his late father, the expenses were paid by the Treasury, and it was to that board, therefore, that Mr. Butt was indebted for the costs of the action. Here was a direct avowal that the Treasury had interfered in this action, and employed the public money to support a justice of the peace, against whom the action was brought. Another application having been made by Mr. Butt to the Treasury, he was told, that if he chose to take the benefit of the Insolvent Debtors' act, they would take no steps to prevent him. He would ask whether this fact did not furnish a convincing proof that the Treasury considered themselves the creditors? What right, he would ask, had the Treasury to pay the money in behalf of sir N. Conant? Their interference was a direct violation of the statute against maintenance; an offence, defined by Mr. Justice Blackstone, to be, the intermeddling in a suit, by furnishing money or other assistance to either party to prosecute or defend it. The Treasury at length consented to the discharge of Mr. Butt, after this unfortunate gentleman had been confined 26 months and 14 days, for a debt which he had offered to pay.
resumed. The solicitor-general denied, in a manner not the most courteous, that Mr. Butt had offered to pay the debt. He (Mr. H.) took the liberty to say that he had offered to pay it: but, whether he had or had not was immaterial to the main question. The main question was, the legality of the transaction; and he believed that even the learned solicitor with all the modest assurance which belonged to him, would not venture to stand up in his place, and assert that the Treasury could legally make itself the creditor of an individual, by paying the 1076 expenses of a private suit. He had letters showing that Columbian bonds were offered in payment of the debt, at a time when the value of those securities was not impeached. He had felt it his duty to state this ease at some length, that the House might mark its sense of the transaction, and prevent its recurrence; for, if the government could buy up individual debts, such a power might be grossly abused, and the public money might be applied to purposes of injustice and oppression.
said, that since the hon. member had mentioned the case on a former day, he had brought the correspondence between Mr. Butt and the Treasury, day after day in his pocket, which, he believed, would have satisfied the House that the Treasury had acted with the greatest moderation and forbearance towards Mr. Butt. Today he had not brought down the letters in question, but he would state the nature of the transaction to the House. Mr. Butt, after having been convicted in the court of King's-bench, published a most offensive libel upon lord Ellen-borough and the marquis of Londonderry, which he caused to be placarded in all parts of the town. The secretary of state sent to sir N. Conant, desiring him to take measures to prevent the continuance of this nuisance. Sir N. Conant accordingly issued a warrant for the apprehension of Mr. Butt, and upon his refusal to give bail, Mr. Butt was committed to Newgate. Mr. Butt having been advised that the whole transaction was illegal, brought actions against sir N. Conant and Mr. Newman, the keeper of Newgate, in the court of Common Pleas, in order to try the legality of the warrant. The case was conducted on the part of sir N. Conant, not by the Treasury, but by sir N. Conant himself and his own solicitor. A special verdict was found, and a special case reserved, in consequence of the great importance of the question, involving, as it did, the legality of another transaction which had been much discussed in that House—he alluded to the well-known circular of lord Sidmouth. The case was elaborately argued in the court of Common Pleas, and the court, after much consideration, were of opinion, that the warrant was legal, and judgment consequently passed against Mr. Butt. As Mr. Butt could not pay the costs, which amounted to 500l. the secretary of state (thinking it extremely hard that they should fall 1077 upon sir N. Conant and Mr. Newman) wrote to the Treasury, requesting that they might be reimbursed. He would put it to the House whether there was any thing irregular or improper in this transaction? The hon. member had said, that Mr. Butt had offered to pay the costs to sir N. Conant. If the hon. member knew, of his own knowledge, that such an offer had been made, he could not, of course, say that it was not so; but he had made every inquiry, and the result certainly was, that no such offer had ever been made. Mr. Butt had offered a warrant of attorney to the lords of the Treasury, as a security for the debt; and the result of this application was, that the Treasury had declined the warrant of attorney, and granted his discharge without any condition. So far was Mr. Butt from having any just ground of complaint against the Treasury, that, in a letter addressed to the lords of the Treasury, he had expressed great gratitude for their moderation and forbearance.
§ Mr. Denman
could not understand how the Treasury had a right to apply the public money to the buying up of the debts of an individual, and thereby to keep him in prison at their pleasure. He trusted that a proceeding like the present would not be repeated; as it gave to the government an unlimited power of oppression.
denied that the solicitor-general had taken the edge off the case. One point only he had made clear; and that was that the law had been violated; for he had not ventured to maintain that the Treasury had a right to pay the expenses of a private law suit. He begged the House to consider what an engine of oppression such a power might become, if, when magistrates committed any act of injustice and oppression, the government could defend them out of the public purse. It was merely to say, that sir N. Conant and not the Treasury, had defended the action in question. The learned solicitor had talked of the moderation and forbearance of the Treasury. Those qualities belonged only to the just exercise of power, but the Treasury had no just power. They had acted under an usurped authority. It was absurd, therefore, to talk of their moderation and forbearance.
The Attorney General
repeated the statement of the solicitor-general, and contended that the conduct of the Treasury was neither unjust nor illegal, in remunerating sir N. Conant for expenses which he had incurred, at the instance of 1078 government, and which the court of Common Pleas had declared to be perfectly legal. He must be permitted to state, that he thought the opinion of the court of Common Pleas, on the legality of holding persons to bail for libel, was quite as likely to be correct as that of the hon. member for Westminster, much as he valued himself on his legal knowledge. For his own part, he did not believe that Mr. Butt had ever been in a condition to pay the costs. If he had tendered the money to sir N. Conant, and that individual had refused to receive it, he ought to have immediately moved the court upon the subject.
said, he had founded his opinion of its being illegal to hold individuals to bail on charges of libel, upon the authority of lord Camden; and trusted that the House would not attach too much weight to the counter decision of the court of Common Pleas, when he informed them, that in that court, for the first time since the Revolution, a judge had ventured to stand up for the character of the Judges who had tried the Seven Bishops, and to state, as Mr. Justice Park had done, that lord Camden had, in particular, pressed too hard upon the character of that wretch, Mr. Justice Allybone. He understood well what was meant by the sneer of the learned attorney-general; but he would tell him, that he did not think the opinion of the law-officers of the Crown, on a point where the liberty of the subject was concerned, to be worth that! [Snapping his fingers]. Every body knew for what purpose they were sent into that House; every body knew out of what wood it was that an attorney and solicitor-general were hacked. Ex quovis ligno fit Mercurius. It was not to be endured that they should turn out of their course to taunt the unlearned with ignorance of law, at the same time that they did not show any willingness to enlighten their darkness. If an unexperienced layman complained of any grievance which he conceived to have been offered to any of the king's subjects, it was the duty of the attorney and solicitor-general to show him, if they could, that he was mistaken in his opinion: not to taunt him with his ignorance of the subject. In the present case, nothing had dropped from the regular defenders of regular abuses, that at all went to establish the legality of the conduct of the Treasury. It had been stated, that their 1079 conduct was fair and proper; and much had been said about the hardship it would be on sir N. Conant to allow him to be a loser; but not once had it been stated that they had acted legally. No. He defied the hon. and learned gentlemen opposite to the proof upon that point; "and let me tell them," continued Mr. H., "that I am confident I am right in this instance, because I am opposed to them. At the same time, I think it only fair to state, that my opinion rests, not upon any confidence in myself, but upon my distrust of them; and that I am not so much certain that I am in the right, as I have a tolerable assurance that they are in the wrong."
§ Ordered to lie on the table.