HC Deb 12 August 1833 vol 20 cc531-4
Mr. Littleton

said, he had a Petition to present from Mr. Molyneux, a Magistrate for the counties of Stafford and Worcester, and also for the town of Dudley, in which he carried on the business of a banker, complaining of a statement made by the hon. and learned Solicitor General—the effect of which was, that the Magistrates of Dudley were such, as in their absence he did not like to describe, that the people did not appoint them, had no control over them, and therefore they gave little satisfaction to the people, but were in truth political partisans. The statement thus said to have been made by the hon. and learned Gentleman had been posted up in the town, and had, of course, excited considerable attention. There were four gentlemen who filled the office of Magistrates in the town of Dudley, and he (Mr. Littleton) begged leave to state, that having long had the pleasure of knowing each of these gentlemen who acted for that part of the county of Stafford, he could positively declare, that there could not be found men of greater honour and respectability in every way. As to the charge of their being political partisans, and, as the statement intimated, partisans of a kind not accordant with the feelings of the people of Dudley, the hon. and learned Gentleman must be in error in some degree; for he (Mr. Littleton) could only say, that he thought them the reverse, for they gave him their best support during the late election. The petition prayed for an investigation into the subject.

The Solicitor General

asked for the indulgence of the House while he made a few observations upon the matter of this petition, and, in making them, he should do what he could to avoid touching on a breach of privilege. He certainly should not oppose the prayer of the petition for an investigation, and the result of it, he was sure, would show, that the Magistracy of that part of the country was in an unsatisfactory state. He begged, however, at the same time, to declare, that he had made no personal imputations on any of these gentlemen. He had not charged them with misconduct, nor did he charge them now. All he had said was—and to that statement he still adhered—that the present state of the Magistracy in that part of the country was unsatisfactory; and that, with a view to render it otherwise, there must be a change in the local administration of the law there. To show the House that he had cast no imputations of personal misconduct on the Magistrates, he begged to be allowed to read some extracts from a letter which he had addressed to them.—'The conduct of every public functionary in this kingdom, and his fitness for his office, may be made the subject of fair criticism and comment. My own conduct, as a law officer of the Crown, has been severely blamed by individuals both in and out of Parliament, without feeling myself at all aggrieved. In my observations on the Dudley Magistrates, I did not impute any misconduct to them, although I regretted, and do regret, the state of the Magistracy in that part of the country. I believe it is notorious, that they are all zealous, active, political partisans, and all of one party. Justice may be very purely administered by them, but, according to my own observation, it is not administered to the satisfaction of the public, and serious discontents do prevail. Another ground of dissatisfaction, often stated to me is, that though very respectable in their private characters, they are all engaged in trade, and are, therefore, disqualified to adjudicate on certain statutes, and may be considered not altogether free from prejudice upon other matters that may come before them. In the discharge of my public duty I therefore pointed out the present unsatisfactory state of the Magistracy in Dudley as a reason for granting charters to the new boroughs. I had no intention to give any personal offence, and I am sorry if I have wounded the feelings of any individual.' He could only add, to show that his opinion of the necessity of alteration in the Magistracy of Dudley was borne out, a petition which he held in his hand, signed by between 300 and 400 respectable inhabitants of that town, and containing allegations that, in every respect, bore him out in what he said on the subject. He had heard nothing that induced him to alter the opinion he had formed, and he was happy to hear, that, in the course of next Session, a Bill would be brought in, by which towns like Dudley, containing a large and industrious population, would be enabled to elect their own Magistrates; to be no longer, as now, under the dominion of a party; but to be able to secure to themselves a satisfactory administration of justice.

Sir Oswald Mosley

begged to bear his testimony to the good character of the Dudley Magistracy. He was Chairman of the Quarter Sessions there, and consequently had often met them in Court, and more respectable individuals he did not believe to exist.

Sir Francis Burdett

did not understand from what had passed, that there was any imputation cast on the character of these gentlemen; but it was well known, that it had been long matter of complaint, that the Magistracy of the country had strong political partialities and political feelings, so that, though they might not be suspected of partiality in the ordinary administration of justice, it was notorious that the system was not as satisfactory as it ought to be. This, at least, was clear, that the subject was one well deserving the attentive consideration of the House, especially as it related to the administration of the laws by men who were in situations and circumstances that rendered them less responsible than others were. There was a great deal in the laws of this country upon subjects connected with the present that required amendment. He had often been struck with this, and the opinion he had formed had been enforced by what he had seen in the papers this morning. A trial had taken place at Lewes, and a man of good character had there been found guilty of sheep-stealing. It seemed, that there was in that county a custom, that when two lambs were dropped by one ewe, the shepherd was to have one of them. As this event did not probably often take place, the loss to the master was not very considerable, and, at any rate, it appeared to him, that there was no harm in the custom. But notwithstanding this, a man of good character was condemned for the offence of sheep-stealing, when it appeared that he had only taken that which was permitted by custom, and the man was to be transported for life. He had taken this opportunity of mentioning this circumstance, and hoped that this really innocent and honest man would not suffer the shame of being transported.

Mr. Cobbett

said, that if the custom was what the hon. Baronet supposed— namely, that of every two lambs dropped by a ewe at one time, the shepherd was to have one, he would soon have a flock of his own. The hon. Baronet was under a mistake as to the custom. The fact was, that sometimes there was a bargain made to let the shepherd have one lamb out of every three produced at one time; but this shepherd had gone further than that custom, and had violated the law. With respect to the matter of the Dudley Magistrates, he knew this, that early this Session he had presented petitions from the inhabitants of Dudley, complaining of great partiality in the conduct of the Magistrates, and alleging, that in one case there had been an absolute refusal of justice. He cordially agreed with the prayer of the petition, and hoped there would be an investigation.

Petition to lie on the Table.