HC Deb 10 February 1831 vol 2 cc376-84
Mr. Hunt

rose to move, pursuant to notice, for "a Return of a Copy of the Regulations in his Majesty's Gaol of Fisherton, in the County of Wilts, stating whether the practice has been for Criminal Prisoners to see their Attornies in private or not, and whether a paper of the case of a person named Lush, drawn up by the Prisoner, was, or was not, in the hands of the Gaoler." It would be remembered, he said, that on a former evening, when he moved for an Address to the Crown, he mentioned, that it. was the practice in the county gaol of Wilts not to permit prisoners to communicate with their attornies, except in the presence of the gaoler or turnkey, and he particularly mentioned the case of a person named Lush, a prisoner in this gaol, who had drawn up a statement to submit to his attorney, which statement was taken from him by the gaoler's clerk, and placed in the hands of the gaoler, it having been stated that every written document, coming from a prisoner, should be read, in the first instance, by the gaoler. When he stated these facts on a former evening, he had assumed, as a possible case, that a prisoner might be entrapped into writing a statement of his defence, which should be afterwards submitted to the prosecutor for the Crown, and used for the conviction of the prisoner. The Under Secretary of State (Mr. G. Lamb) did not contradict the facts as stated by him (Mr. Hunt), but he seemed to throw a doubt on the statement; and the hon. and learned Attorney General came forward in that manly and conscientious way in which he always acted, and said, that as he knew nothing of the facts, he could not contradict the statement; but he could not suppose that any thing of the kind had occurred, for that if such a practice prevailed, he had no doubt any attorney who was interfered with in such a way would resist the interference, and make his complaint in the proper quarter. Now, as he (Mr. Hunt) would never come forward with any statement which he should not be able to prove, he would move for certain returns, not only to prove that the practice of which be had complained did really exist as he had stated, but also for the purpose of setting himself right with that House, and more particularly with the hon. and learned Attorney-General. Under the right hon. member for Tamworth's (Sir Robert Peel) Bill, prisons were subject to certain regulations, and visiting Magistrates were authorized to establish others, which were very often extremely numerous. The precise object of his motion was, not only to ascertain the rules which existed at the period referred to in the county gaol of Wilts, but also the practice as it appeared in the individual case of the prisoner Lush. As was his duty, he waited on the under Secretary that morning, for the purpose of explaining the nature of the return he intended to move for; and was somewhat surprised to learn that, though there was no objection to producing the printed rules and regulations, there was some objection to the latter part of the motion. If no such practice as he complain-ed of existed, nothing could be easier than to make a return to that effect; and, if such a practice did prevail, his Majesty's Government ought to be anxious to rescue the administration of justice from such a reproach. There was no lawyer in that House who could stand up and say that this was consistent with any legal or equitable principle, that the conferences of a prisoner with his counsel should be known to others. If the motion was not granted, he should consider it his duty to obtain the evidence of the attornies practising in Salisbury, to prove that what had occurred in the case of Lush had always been the practice in that gaol. His statement was founded on the facts furnished to him by the attorney concerned in the particular case alluded to. If the return was granted, after what had taken place, he should not found any motion on it, as he was satisfied the practice would be put an end to, as his Majesty's Government must concur with him that it was illegal and unjust. He could not sit down without thanking the hon. and learned Attorney General for defending him the other night against the charge made against him of exhibiting a kind of spurious humanity. He must also briefly refer to what had taken place in the House in the early part of the evening. He was sorry to say, that it was the prevalent opinion out of doors, that the sufferings of the people were treated in that House with coolness and indifference. Now, only that he was bound to believe the contrary, he should have been inclined to come to the same conclusion, in consequence of what had passed that evening. When the hon. member for Middlesex told the House that he was in much pain and suffering from a cold, the statement was met by a laugh. If this had happened in any other assembly, he should have thought they were laughing at the sufferings of the people; but he supposed (because he was bound to do so) that in that House it was a matter of course, and meant no such thing. As he was on this subject, he must say, that the way in which petitions were received was calculated to make a person believe that they were disregarded—[cries of "No, no".] He contended that such must be the impression of every one who saw the manner in which petitions were received. He had that day presented petitions, in which the parties petitioning eloquently described their sufferings; and those sufferings, he might be permitted to say, in any other assembly would have caused tears to flow. In that House, however, the recital of those sufferings appeared to be received with indifference, if not neglect. He wished the people of England to know how their affairs were managed in that House; and he wished their petitions could receive more attention; because, that they were not listened to was the only way in which he could account for the indifference with which they were treated. The hon. Member concluded by moving for the return.

Mr. Warburton, in seconding the Motion, said, he knew nothing of the case to which the Motion related, but he was anxious to make a few observations in reply to what had fallen from the hon. Member. Any person coming into that House, and not knowing the great quantity of business which the House had to transact; any such person who had perused with attention the composition of petitions which he might present, might imagine that they experienced a rather indecorous reception. But when the immense number of petitions which were necessarily laid before that House from day to day was considered, it must appear plain to any one, that if each hon. Member on presenting a petition should accompany it with a long speech, it would be absolutely impossible to get through the business of the House. He (Mr. Warburton) would recommend, that a Committee should be appointed to class the petitions, an arrangement which was adopted in the Congress of the United States: that the petitions belonging-to a certain class should be all brought up together, and then hon. Members who wished to speak upon the subject to which a particular class of petitions referred, would have ample opportunity to deliver their sentiments. He merely threw out this observation by way of suggestion. The number of petitions was increasing every day, and as it was necessary the people should have an opportunity of stating their grievances, it would soon be found that some kind of classification was indispensable.

Mr. G. Lamb

said, that after he had stated the information which was in his possession, he was sure that the hon. member for Preston would see the propriety of not persevering in this Motion. In consequence of a petition which that hon. Member had presented to the Home Office, stating that a confession of the prisoner Lush had been inspected by the gaoler at Salisbury, and that there was a suspicion that it had been used against him on his trial, an investigation into the matter had been instituted on the part of the Magistrates, and he (Mr. Lamb) had now in his possession a most satisfactory letter as to the result of that investigation, from one of the Magistrates, a noble Lord, who was no enemy to liberty, or to the rights of the people,—he alluded to the Earl of Radnor. There was certainly a regulation in Fisherton gaol that no written document should go forth from any of the prisoners without being first inspected by the gaoler; there was no exception made for the confession of a prisoner, as it was supposed that if there were, the regulation could be easily evaded. It was true that an attorney came to the gaol to take instructions from the prisoner Lush, and that he was accompanied by one of the turnkeys, but the statement in question was not drawn up in the presence of the turnkey, for it had been previously drawn up by one of Lush's fellow-prisoners. It was delivered to an attorney, of the name of Seymour, he believed, in the presence of the turnkey, and the attorney, knowing the practice of the gaol, said it must be delivered in the first instance to the gaoler. The turnkey brought it to the gaoler, who, under such circumstances, merely cast his eye over it to satisfy himself that it was a bona fide confession, and then gave it to the turnkey, who returned it in a few minutes to the attorney. As to any use having been made of it, it was, in fact, never in any way used at the prosecution of this man. The gentleman who was employed by the Crown to get up the cases, stated, that he had never seen or heard of such a paper. There was no use, therefore, made of it, and he believed that the gaoler knew nothing whatever of its contents. There was no rule amongst the regulations of Fisherton gaol to prevent the prisoners from communicating with their professional advisers, but he should certainly infer from the circumstances which had taken place in this instance, that the practice was, that one of the turnkeys should be present on such occasions; and he would undoubtedly admit that it was a wrong practice. In many well-regulated gaols—and he would instance that of Lincoln as one—the rule was, that the prisoners should be allowed to communicate with their confidential professional advisers, without having the turnkeys present. He hoped that it would now go forth as an acknowledged truth that the prisoners, in all the gaols throughout the country, had a right to such private access on the part of their counsel. Under these circumstances, he hoped the hon. Member would not think it necessary to press his Motion.

Mr. North

was surprised to learn that such regulations could exist in any gaol in the kingdom. It was in violation of a great legal principle. If an attorney was summoned on a trial, he might refuse, and the Court would refuse to receive in evidence what the prisoner had communicated to him professionally. What protection, however, had the prisoner in this privilege of his attorney, if a third person, not so privileged, was present when he made his confidential communications? Such an abuse called loudly for reform; and every lawyer in that House was bound to stand up and protest against it.

Mr. Horace Twiss

entirely coincided with the last speaker. He had no doubt that the practice in this instance had arisen from accident; that it was not intended by the Magistrates, but was owing to a mistake of the rule of the gaol, and he hoped, after what had now taken place, that it would be corrected.

The Attorney General

acknowledged that the adoption of such a practice was a great abuse. At the same time, after the unanimous expression of opinion which had taken place, he was sure the abuse would not be of long continuance, either in Wiltshire or elsewhere. As to the case of Lush, he was satisfied that no information obtained from him in the manner described had been used against him. Every Gentleman concerned for the Crown, on the late prosecutions, would have known the impropriety of such a proceeding. If a conviction had taken place under such circumstances, he did not hesitate to say, that it ought to be got rid of; but though he was not present at the trial, from his knowledge of those concerned in conducting those cases, he was convinced that no advantage was taken of any confession made by the prisoner.

Mr. Alderman Wood

believed, that the practice complained of prevailed nearly in every gaol in the country. In the great metropolitan prisons, a room was allotted for the prisoners to confer, in private, with their professional advisers, or with any persons who could aid them in their defence. The greatest facilities were afforded for this purpose in the great metropolitan gaols, but it was otherwise in the country wherever he had been.

Sir Thomas Baring

could not allow the metropolitan gaols to stand as a splendid exception. In a gaol with which he was particularly well acquainted, from being a visiting Magistrate, and in several other gaols throughout the country, the most unrestricted private communication was allowed between prisoners and their attorneys.

Mr. Alderman Wood

said, he could name several county gaols which he had visited in the country, and where the practice spoken of existed.

Sir Charles Wetherell

begged to differ from the worthy Alderman. As far as his experience went, he could contradict the worthy Alderman's statement; and though the worthy Alderman had perambulated the country, and though he might be one— Qui mores hominum multorum vidit et urbes, still against such an authority, he (Sir C. Wetherell) would contend that the general practice in the gaols in England was to allow private and confidential access to the counsel employed by the prisoners. The worthy Alderman, therefore, must permit him (Sir C. Wetherell) to say, that he had not picked up very accurate information in the course of his travels when he asserted the contrary.

Lord Nugent, as visiting Magistrate of one gaol, could bear his testimony to the inaccuracy of the general statement which had been made by the worthy Alderman. In the Warwick county gaol, also, he had reason to know that the freest access was permitted between prisoners and their attornies.

Mr. Wolryche Whitmore

thought, that all written, as well as oral communications of prisoners with their counsel, should be private; and when such communications passed between attornies and criminals, they ought to be held sacred.

Mr. G. Lamb

quite concurred in the opinion, that when an attorney was admitted to a prisoner, the papers or documents confided to him should be as sacred as any private communications could be. Perhaps, however, the rule as to written communications was considered as a necessary precaution, to prevent other writings from making their way out of the gaol.

Mr. Dickinson

said, that no such practice as that which had been so justly condemned by the House existed in Somersetshire.

Mr. Hunt

rose to reply. The hon. Member said, that no men knew less of what passed in gaols than visiting Magistrates, and for very obvious reasons. He did not mean to accuse the Magistrates in the present case of acting improperly, for Lord Radnor, for instance, was an amiable and excellent man, and would not sanction such a practice as that alluded to; but what he complained of was, that the rules and regulations of the gaol gave the gaolers a license to do such things as these. The late Secretary of State for the Home Department, when he (Mr. Hunt) was confined in a gaol, had brought in a bill, by which, no regulations could become the law of a gaol, unless they were approved of by a full Bench of Magistrates, and afterwards confirmed by the Judge of Assize. The member for Somerset knew nothing of the gaol, alluded to, for not a man rode into the town without a try being raised of, "Here comes a visiting Magistrate," and immediately the interior of the gaol was made to put on a different appearance. When he (Mr. Hunt) was in gaol, he was precluded from seeing his attorney upon professional business; he was prevented from seeing his family and children when he was ill, and from having his doctor to perform an operation upon his eye, in a case of ophthalmia, under which he was labouring. In consequence, however, of the bill brought in by the late Secretary of State, such things could not be done now, unless there was a great neglect of duty on the part of the local authorities. The hon. member for Wiltshire had said, that he was a vigilant Magistrate, and if such things had passed in a gaol within his district, surely they might pass in other gaols. The information which the Secretary of State got was the very worst in the world. Lord Radnor knew nothing of the facts, and the paper alluded to had been three days in the hands of the gaoler before it was transmitted. The Secretary of State had been grossly imposed upon, and he hoped that visiting Magistrates would take a lesson from this. He had had the honour of being confined for two years in gaols, and he knew what Magistrates were very little aware of. Under the circumstances of the case, however, he should not press the matter further, and would withdraw his Motion.

Mr. G. Lamb

begged to remind the hon. member for Preston, that he had never said that Lord Radnor was a visiting Magistrate; all he had said was, that upon this occasion his Lordship had undertaken to visit the gaol, and to investigate the case.

After a few words from Mr. Benett the hon. member for Preston withdrew his Motion.