HC Deb 18 June 1824 vol 11 cc1458-63
Mr. Brougham

presented a petition from the Speaker, and several of the members of the House of Keys, in the Isle of Man, which, he observed, was deserving of the serious attention of the House, both from the nature of the subject, and the respectability of the individuals by whom it was signed. The Speaker was colonel Wilkes, a gentleman well known for his conduct in India, and the able works he had published respecting that quarter of the world; the second name was that of the hon. member for Cumberland; the third was a general officer; and so on. By the constitution of the island the members of the House of Keys were virtually the representatives of the people of the island, as much as the hon. gentlemen who surrounded him were the representatives of the people of this country. These were the parties, who, in the petition which he held in his hand, preferred their complaints to the House. They complained, first, of several institutions which had been improperly introduced into the island; and secondly, of the conduct of the governor under those institutions. Their first complaint was, that the members of the House of Keys were not allowed to form a part of the criminal court of Tynwald; a privilege to which they contended that they were fully entitled; and from the opportunities which he had had of investigating the subject, it appeared to him that their claim was well founded. Since the petition had been signed, however, an occurrence had taken place, which would, perhaps, give an opportunity of settling the question. Three persons had been tried in the island for felony; one of whom had been sentenced to death, and the two others to transportation. From these sentences, in consequence of what they conceived to be the defective consttution of the court, the prisoners had appealed to the king in council. But, even if it should be decided against them, high as that authority was, it would not preclude the House of Keys from still asserting what they conceived their right. The other ground of complaint urged by the petitioners was the general conduct of the governor of the island. That governor was the duke of Athol; and certainly, in consequence of a variety, of considerations, his grace was as unfit a person as could be selected for the situation of governor of the Isle of Man. The circumstances under which the duke of Athol had resigned his paramount rights in the Isle of Man to the Crown in 1765 were well known. Since that period, however, the duke had been constantly prosecuting claims of every description in the island. Previously to the year 1805, he had made no less than five applications to parliament, with reference to what he conceived to be his rights in the Isle of Man; all of which had proved unsuccessful. In 1805, however, parliament consented to re-open the bargain which the duke had made with the Crown. In addition to the 70,000l. and the 2,000l. a year which had been originally contracted for, an addition of three or four thousand pounds a year was made. As if to shew the impolicy of disturbing bargains of such a nature, the duke had been ever since bringing forward greater claims, and making new encroachments. By his demands of territorial rights, of seigniorial rights, or of paramount rights, he had been constantly disturbing the quiet of the island. Such were the circumstances which rendered the duke a very unfit person for the situation of governor. As such, he was the chief judge in the court of Chancery, the sole judge in the court of the Exchequer, and had the patronage of the two courts of common law; namely, the appointment of the two deempsters and the attorney-general. The tithes of the island were divided into three parts; of which the duke had one, the bishop (appointed by the duke) another, and the clergy generally the remainder. The way in which the tithes were divided was in successive years—to the duke, to the bishop, and to the clergy. Of course the duke did not settle the modus for the tithes of his own year; but as he determined it for the two other years, the probability was, that the modus of his own year would be fixed at the same rate. Another complaint made by the petitioners referred to the appointment to judicial offices. They stated that, by law, the deempsters were irremovable; but that the duke had been known to call before him one of those judges, and to institute a private inquiry into a complaint made against him. The complaint was of the conduct of the judge on a trial in which the defendant was a servant of the duke's. The duke reprimanded the deempster, reminded him that the defendant was in his employ, upbraided him for issuing a process of the court, which the deempster was bound to issue; and asked him how he could pursue such conduct to his (the duke's) servant, when he, the deempster, had received so many benefits from him, the duke? His grace called upon the deempster to justify himself, which he did most satisfactorily; but, nevertheless, he was removed from his office. The acting attorney-general on the occasion was also rebuked, and removed. The individual who defended the accused party in the cause (who, by the by, was acquitted), soon after obtained a high ecclesiastical situation, and the foreman of the jury, an Irishman, was made clerk of the court. The last complaint of the petitioners was so serious, that he should really hesitate to believe it, if he were not certain that the petitioners would not state what was not true. In 1821, there was a serious riot in the island. At the subsequent trial of one of the rioters, he, the rioter, knocked down a witness, attacked the high-bailiff, and afterwards the deempster himself. For this offence he was tried, and sentenced to be fined 50l., and imprisoned for two months. When this sentence was transmitted to the governor, his grace endorsed it with the words, "I hereby suspend the execution of this sentence;" and afterwards said to the culprit," I pardon you; go about your business? This dictum of his grace was uttered in the court of Chancery, to which he had summoned the prisoner; although that court had no jurisdiction whatever in a criminal case. The Keys prayed the House to investigate the facts, to settle the rights of the contending parties, and to inquire, at the same time, to what extent the report of the commissioners of 1791 had been carried into effect.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, he felt that many of the charges were, in fact, against himself, and not against the duke of Athol, and he rose with a confident expectation that he should be able to satisfy the House of his innocence. One accusation was, that the House of Keys had been deprived of their right of forming part of the criminal jurisprudence of the Isle of Man, and it was insinuated that he (Mr. Peel) had so excluded them, because they had displeased the governor. The question of their right to sit in the criminal court, and thus to control the jury, was disputed in 1823; and he had required to be furnished with all the papers on the subject: the duke of Athol sent them, accompanied by the opinion of Mr. Clark, the attorney-general of the island, that the House of Keys had no claim so to sit without summons. The point was referred to the attorney and solicitor-general, and they had twice confirmed the opinion of Mr. Clark. On the 30th April last, he had therefore written to the lieutenant-governor, stating, that if the Keys were not summoned, the secretary of state was only anxious that the question should be brought, in consequence, before a competent tribunal—the privy council. No appeal had been yet made, but a petition, on the contrary, had been presented to the House of Commons. Three prisoners had been convicted in the Isle of Man, one of them capitally, and notice was given him that he might appeal. The prisoner replied, that he could not afford the expense; to which he (Mr. Peel) had answered, that as a great public question was involved, the government ought to bear the charge. The right hon. gentleman contended further, that the duke of Athol had expended far more than the revenue he derived from it, upon the internal improvement of the Isle of Man, and he had never heard of any accusation against his grace, of having abused the powers of his office for the sake of doing injustice. He could not deny that there had been unfortunate bickerings and disputes between the duke of Athol and the House of Keys, and his (Mr. P.'s) great object throughout had been, to accommodate differences, and to induce the parties to bury in oblivion past animosities. So lately as the 5th July last, the House of Keys had felt much exasperated against the duke of Athol, for certain language used by the latter; but after a meeting between them, a resolution for reconciliation had been agreed upon. Since that date there had been no real ground for complaint; but the House of Keys had taken up a most mistaken notion, that his grace had been instrumental in depriving them of their supposed right to sit in the criminal court. He was sorry to be under the necessity of stating his reasons for advising the Crown to suspend Mr. Vaughan from his office of judge. A Mr. Fell had written to him, mentioning that a female servant, whom he had brought from Liverpool, had formed a criminal connexion with the judge, which induced the latter to give her counsel and advice in a suit she had commenced against her master Mr. Fell also accused the judge of other mal-practices, in reference to an action brought for defamation against Mr. Fell arising out of these transactions. After various inquiries into the character, of Mr. Fell, he (Mr. Peel) had referred the matter to the attorney-general of the island, and the fullest investigation having taken place, it was found that the proofs of misconduct against the judge were so strong, that he could not avoid dismissing him from his office. It was true that the council for inquiry was held at the house of the governor, but that was not out of the usual course. Upon his honour as a gentleman, he (Mr. Peel) declared, that in removing the judge, he had never for a moment considered whether that individual was or was not offensive to the duke of Athol. He justified the duke's conduct in other particulars, with the exception of some little excess in the language which he had used in one or two of the instances which had been given.

Mr. Bright

thought, that much of the grievance stated in the petition might be referred to the bickering and heat which prevailed in the island. But certainly the Keys should have been informed, not only of the reasons for the dismissal of their judge, but also on what grounds their right of forming a part of the criminal jurisprudence had been suspended. That it had been their right, was declared in the report of the commission of 1791; and the book of law, which was then for the first lime reduced from oral and uncertain precepts, issuing chiefly from the deempsters and the officers of the council, to a written and ascertained form, stated, that this right was of the very highest antiquity in the tradition of that law. He could not help feeling that government had proceeded too hastily in withdrawing that right, before the question had been solemnly argued in the presence of the privy council.

Mr. Hume

suggested the propriety of an inquiry being instituted into the fact, whether the interests of the duke of Athol were not, in some instances, incompatible with his duty as a governor. From the sentiments expressed by the right hon. gentleman, he was sure he would not advocate the continuance of such a state of things, if it were once found that this was actually the case.

The Attorney-General

said, the privy-council was the proper tribunal to which petitions ought to be addressed on such subjects. He also alluded to the three points of law mentioned in the joint opinion given by himself and the late attorney-general, which, he said, remained unchanged, and upon which the secretary of state had acted.

Mr. Brougham

in reply, contended, that the court of Keys had a right to sit on criminal cases without being summoned. He had heard that night, for the first time, of Mr. Vaughan's conduct, and could therefore say nothing to it. He felt it, however, to be his duty to bear testimony to the character of Mr. Robert Cunningham, than whom a more honourable young man was not to be found in the Isle of Man. It was true that this young man had, in a moment of intoxication, committed an act of imprudence; but it was no less true that, since that period, he had been elected one of the Keys, with the approbation of the duke of Athol. He was received into the houses of the most respectable persons in the island, and was universally treated in such a manner as showed that his offence was forgotten, and that his reputation was unimpaired. The only method of allaying the dissentions which existed in the Isle of Man would be by altering the form of the government, and by taking out of the hands of one individual the power which he held, and which his interests must occasionally prevent him from exercising for the purpose of its institution.

Mr. Peel

admitted the perfect respectability of Mr. Cunningham, and that the offence which had been alleged against him was an exception to his general conduct.

Ordered to lie on the table. On the motion that it be printed, Mr. Brougham expressed a hope that, during the summer his majesty's ministers would make an inquiry into the administration of justice in the Isle of Man, and take such measures as might seem expedient.