HC Deb 31 July 1833 vol 20 cc194-6
Colonel Evans

What is the intention of his Majesty's Government with respect to the conduct of the Middlesex Magistrates on a recent occasion?

The Solicitor-General

was not aware that any improper motives had been imputed to the Magistrates. There certainly had been some blunders; but he did not know that they were of a nature which required punishment.

Mr. Rotch

asked, if he was never to be allowed an opportunity to vindicate himself and his brother Magistrates from the charges which, night after night, were sent forth to the public against them? The Magistrates of the county were accused, not only of having acted erroneously, which he dared say they had done, but of having set up their opinion in opposition to that of the Judges. Now, if the House would permit him, he would make a plain statement of facts, which would show that the Magistrates had never done so; but that, although they were most anxious to act in unison with the feelings of the Judges, they had never yet received any instructions upon which they could proceed. It was hard that they should have been made the sport of the House and of the newspapers for such a length of time, and never have had an opportunity of explaining their conduct. He certainly was not prepared to deny, that it was the custom, and had been so for a period far beyond the memory of man, for the Grand Jury to go on with the business while there were no Magistrates at Clerken-well—and that might have arisen from the consideration, that it was useless for four Magistrates to sit in one room for a whole day with not a soul before them, while the Crier was swearing witnesses to go before the Grand Jury in another room. It should be recollected that Middlesex was different from other counties, for here the business of the session was a perfect labour. There were as many prisoners tried at one session in Middlesex (twelve of which occurred in the year) as in the whole year in other counties. He had been surprised to see in the newspapers a statement, said to have been made by the Solicitor-General, that Mr. Const, the late Chairman, felt it exceedingly hard that the practice should be supposed to have prevailed in his time. Now he himself, shortly after his connexion with the Magistracy, had presented a report to Mr. Const, as Chairman, complaining of that very practice. This fact must rescue the present Magistrates from the imputation, that the custom had been introduced through their negligence. It was notorious that the Crier of the Court was too old to do anything rightly. He was not able to give satisfactory evidence upon any subject, and yet he was the person who reported the circumstances to the Judges; and he had no doubt he had reported strange things. This person came to him (Mr. Rotch) of his own motion, with a new precept for holding a new session; observing, that from what the Judges had said, he thought it was their wish that a new session should be held. He declined to hold a new session until he had some more direct authority fur such a proceeding; and this had been magnified into his refusing to hold a new session, contrary to the opinion of the Judges. It was a mistake to say, that the Clerk of the Arraigns had told him that the Judges wished for a new precept. All that he had said was, that it had been talked of, and that everything depended upon the adjournment of the Court; that, if the Court had been regularly adjourned, there could be no objection to re-assembling the Grand Jury. But the question, whether the Court had been regularly adjourned, had not been decided. The Magistrates had a meeting on Thursday, and he took care that the Grand Jury should be in attendance on Friday morning, in order to receive any instructions from the Judges; but no such instructions came, and he, as Chairman, could do nothing but tell the Grand Jury they were discharged. The Magistrates had applied to Mr. Justice Littledale, but he declined (no doubt very properly) to give them any advice. He thought it rather hard that, having been for three weeks held up to derision and odium in that House, he should not be heard in his defence. When he saw the declaration attributed to Mr. Const, he applied to that gentleman, who said that what he had stated was, that while he was Chairman no bills were brought in except when two Magistrates were present. But that was not the question in the present case. The question was, whether the witnesses who went before the Grand Jury were properly sworn. Upon that point Mr. Const expressed his inability to say anything.

The Solicitor General

said, it was now indisputable that gross misconduct had been proved by the last speaker on the part of the Middlesex Magistrates, and some strong measures would be necessary.