HC Deb 04 August 1835 vol 30 cc47-9
Lord Francis Egerton

reported from the Committee on the Great Yarmouth Election, that William Prentice had twice refused to answer the question put by the Committee, from whom he received the 100l. or 200l. mentioned in the course of his evidence.

The Report was laid upon the Table.

Mr. Hardy

presented a Petition from William Prentice, stating that he refused to answer the question from no other reason, but an apprehension that it would criminate himself. He complained that in prison he suffered much from not having an opportunity of seeing his family and friends. He prayed that the House would extend their indulgence to him by permitting him to go down in custody of the Sergeant-at-Arms, and remain with his family till Friday next. The hon. Member proceeded to show from the 44th of George 3rd, that Prentice was left perfectly free to answer or not to answer any question tending to criminate himself. The Member for Dublin said the other night, that the tendency of a question was not to be determined solely by the witness. No other person, however, could know the tendency of a question so well as a witness himself. Who else could judge of it? The hon. Member referred to the cases of Parker v. Lawson, and Folkes v. Hardacre, in the 2nd of Swanton, and 4th of Taunton, to show that the witness only was to judge whether the answer he was called upon to give would criminate himself. If it did, the House was bound to excuse him. To-day another witness had been called before the Committee, under this species of Star Chamber inquiry, who had also refused to answer questions on the same ground as that taken by Prentice. As the House could only protect a witness by passing an Act of Parliament, a person in that situation was bound to take care that he did not subject himself to prosecution and penalties.

The Solicitor-General

denied, that the cases referred to, proved that a witness was to be sole judge of the tendency of a question to criminate himself. If the judgment of a witness were to be conclusive, it would be easy for him to trifle with a Court, and refuse to answer any question. Suppose, for instance, a witness were asked, what his name was. There were cases—such for instance, as that of a returned transport—in which the answer to the question would tend to criminate him. Now, would it not be trifling with justice that the witness, here was to be left sole judge of the matter? An answer to the question put to Prentice could not by possibility criminate him. He received a sum of money (100l. or 200l.) from certain persons. He mentioned the name of one or two, and refused to mention a third. It could make no difference at all in his guilt to tell all the names. The cases mentioned by his hon. and learned Friend were not in point here.

Petition to lie on the Table.