HC Deb 15 July 1833 vol 19 cc644-6
Mr. Hawes

presented a Petition from the Grand Jury of the late Easter General Sessions of Newington, Surrey, complaining of the withholding of their rights to inspect the County Gaol. For persisting in that right one of the Grand Jurors had been fined 10l. As long as the present system was continued, it would be impossible, that the provisions of the Gaol Act could be properly enforced. The Grand Jury could not even now act up to their duty, which called upon them diligently to inquire into such subjects as might afford matter for presentment. If no other Member brought forward such a measure as would facilitate the views of the petitioners, he should himself take an carly opportunity of doing so.

Mr. Denison

thanked the hon. Member for the temperate manner in which he had brought forward the subject. He could assure the House, that that gaol was as clean and well regulated as any one in the kingdom.

Mr. Tennyson

had frequently visited prisons in his quality of Grand. Juror; and when he heard of a chairman telling a Foreman that he would send him to gaol for pressing that right, and when they found that a fine of ten pounds was inflicted, it was necessary for Grand Jurors to have the matter settled.

The Solicitor General

said, the Grand Jury had no right to inspect the gaol as visitors, but they certainly had the right to view and inspect the building both inside and outside, in order to report or represent whether it was in a proper state for carrying the laws and regulations of the Magistrates into effect. It was right that he should inform the House, that, with respect to the fine of ten pounds, it having been levied for a contempt of Court, it could not be brought before any Court by way of action. There was, he believed, no remedy for it. It was to be supposed, that no fine could have been inflicted without some very great provocation having been given; but, at the same time, he could not suppose that any gentleman, in the situation of Foreman of a Grand Jury, and supported by all his fellows, would be guilty of any provocation to render so extreme a course necessary. He repeated, that the Grand Jury had a right to inspect the whole of the gaol, both inside and outside, for the purpose of making their presentment; but that they had no right to go further, and inquire into the discipline, as that power was expressly given to the visiting Magistrates.

Sir James Scarlett

said, the Act of Parliament, (the Gaol Act) did not give the Grand Jury any further powers than they before possessed, for it related chiefly to building and repairing of the gaol. He thought, however, that Grand Juries had the power to inspect gaols before they could be called on to make any presentment, and, he hoped, that no Court would resist their viewing a gaol unless something particular prevented it. As to fining one gentleman ten pounds, he really thought it could not be for requesting to view the gaol, but for something which occurred afterwards, and the proceedings were not before the House to enable them to judge of the question.

Major Beauclerk

said, as far as he understood the case, the fine was not for contempt of Court, but only for asserting a right to visit the gaol.

Mr. Cobbett

said, in Queen Elizabeth's time, persons who were called poor people, are now called paupers; those who were once called gaolers, are now called Governors; so that both the English language and English feeling were perverted, he believed the plain truth was, that the Magistrates and Governors of gaols wished to prevent the people of England from knowing how prisoners were treated.

Mr. Divett

said, he would not allow the foul libel of the hon. member for Oldham on the Magistracy of England to pass without a most positive contradiction.

Mr. Cobbett

said, as truth was a libel, he could not say he was not a libeller.

Mr. Hughes Hughes

said, that the Foreman was fined for using violent language in the Court, and not for claiming a right to visit the prison.