HC Deb 22 April 1833 vol 17 cc381-3
Mr. Roebuck

presented a Petition from a boy seventeen years old who had been confined for selling unstamped papers. The petitioner acknowledged that he had broken the law, but asserted that there were daily violations of the law with reference to the Stamp Duties, committed by publicans and others with the most perfect impunity, though the latter offences were such as did much greater harm to the revenue than what he had done. The petitioner alluded to the 29th George 3rd, by which any person lending a newspaper is liable to the penalty of 5l. for each offence, yet violations of this law were daily and hourly committed with perfect impunity. The hon. Member had also to present a Petition from one who seemed to have the mark of Cain upon him, so universally was this man avoided, though suffering under the persecution of tyrannical fanaticism. The present petition was from Richard Carlile, praying to be released from imprisonment. The petitioner had entreated almost every Member to present it, including his own Representatives, but he had almost universally met with a flat refusal, though there appeared to be nothing offensive in it. He (Mr. Roebuck) however, considered it his duty to present the petition of any forlorn or persecuted individual. And though he might differ in many points in opinion with the present petitioner, yet he hoped his prayer would receive due attention. The petitioner stated, that he was now in the third year of an imprisonment, to which he had been sentenced for certain paragraphs with reference to the miserable country people, at the period when fires were very rife in the rural districts, and which were unjustly alleged to have been intended as incitations to incendiarism. For this he had been sentenced to two years' imprisonment (already expired, though he was still kept confined) to pay a fine of 500l. and to find securities for 1,000l. more. This certainly seemed a heavy punishment for a few unguarded expressions, as the writer declared them to be. The petitioner detailed various former persecutions suffered by him and his family. The petitioner had been most harshly treated by the present Recorder of London—than whom he really never knew or heard of a more captious, and less careful, calm, and considerate Judge, nor one more wholly unworthy, and incapable of performing the great duties of the office he now held; and he (Mr. Roebuck) hoped that the day would shortly arrive when such a Judge would no longer encumber the Bench. This Judge, when asked by the Jury to explain the law, refused to do so. The Jury retired, and returned again, and wished to know whether the work of which they were to judge was libellous in the eyes of the law?—a very proper question for men to put who did not understand the law, and a question that it was peculiarly the duty and province of a Judge to answer and explain. But what did the Recorder say? Instead of telling them that, by Mr. Fox's Act, it was wholly their province to determine whether it was a libel or not, he shortly said, "I have already told you my opinion whether it is libellous or not, and all you have to do is to find a verdict upon the whole case." Thus, the Jury were not supplied with that information which they required; and he must say, that the Recorder was more culpable than the petitioner. The petitioner proceeded to state that he was now in the third year of his imprisonment, having been sentenced to two years only, but was detained, because he was unable to pay a fine and find sureties; and, if the Government refused to release him on other terms, it would be tantamount to a sentence of imprisonment for life. For himself he would say, that certainly, if he were in the prisoner's situation, and was in the habit of writing daily upon popular questions he would not find sureties. He asked whether it was possible that a Government acting upon such principles could ever hope to have the confidence of the people?

Mr. Lamb

said, that with regard to the first petitioner, the lad Barber, he thought his petition came before the House in a very questionable shape. He made no complaints as to his own sentence, nor offered anything in mitigation, but merely complained that certain other parties violated the law, as the petitioner thought, with impunity. If the enactment here referred to, however, were enforced, it would be far more tyrannical than that under which the lad was punished. Besides he did not consider the words of the Act referable to the lending of papers in the case alluded to by the petitioner. With regard to Mr. Carlile, there was enough to show that there were ample grounds for his prosecution, and punishment, without any reference to his former conduct. What was his offence? What had he done? Why, at a time when fires were blazing in every part of the kingdom, he wrote an exciting address to the insurgents. For this offence he had been tried by the laws of his country. An honest Jury found him guilty, and he saw no reason for any interference on the part of the Crown. He must however before sitting down, deprecate in the strongest manner the terms in which the member for Bath had spoken of the Recorder of London, which appeared to him highly improper in a Member of that House. As far as he could discern, the Recorder had discharged his duty with propriety. With regard to the punishment inflicted on Mr. Carlile, it was very severe, but not more severe than his offence deserved. As to his being confined beyond the term of his imprisonment for want of sureties, he thought the hon. Member was wrong. If it were the case, under the alleged circumstances, a refusal to depart from the words of the sentence would certainly amount to imprisonment for life. However, into that part, he would make some inquiry, though he did not say there was any ground for the exercise of the Royal Prerogative.

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