§ Mr. Hume
was sorry at that late hour to bring the subject of which he had given notice under the consideration of the House. He would state shortly the object of his Motion. Hon. Members might have seen the petition to which it referred on the Votes. He was induced to bring the matter forward because it was a case of great hardship towards a poor man, following his vocation as a hawker. He hoped that that circumstance would not induce the House to refuse to entertain the question. It was not his wish to say anything calculated to offend any individual connected with this affair. He was only induced to bring the subject before the House in consequence of certain facts which had come to his knowledge, and which appeared to establish a case of great oppression towards the individual in question. He would first state the circumstances of which he complained. It appeared that Alfred Moore was a licensed hawker. He earned his living by pursuing this trade, and was endeavouring to save a sufficient sum to enable himself and family to emigrate to one of our Colonies. On the 2nd of September, 1843, when Alfred Moore was pursuing his business in the town of Shrewsbury, he was stopped by a policeman of the name of Thomas. The policeman asked Alfred Moore to show his license. Before the man was asked to show his license his basket was taken from him and placed upon the ground. The hawker produced his license. Before he had ventured to bring this matter before the House, he had made an application to the officer and had ascertained that Alfred Moore had been a regularly licensed hawker for several years; that he had been appointed to sell goods, and bore an excellent character. Those facts having been established to his satisfaction, he was disposed to listen to his statement, which was sim- 284 ply this—On the 1st of September, 1843, a policeman of the name of Thomas desired Alfred Moore to produce his license. He complied with the demand and showed the license. The policeman took the hawker's box and placed it upon the ground. The policeman after examining the license said, "Take your box and go about your business." The language of the policeman gave offence, and Alfred Moore said, "You have no right to take my box." Other words followed, and Thomas (the policeman) took the man into custody and locked him up for two hours. At ten o'clock he was bailed out. The next morning he was taken before the magistrates, and after waiting two hours (no witnesses having been examined), the magistrates retired. Soon afterwards the clerk said, that the Mayor considered him (Alfred Moore) guilty, and committed him to solitary confinement in the House of Correction for three months, for endeavouring to levy charitable contributions under false pretences. Two or three days after his confinement, Moore applied to the Home Secretary requesting his interference, but the answer he received was that no relief could be afforded him. He (Mr. Hume) having heard of the circumstances, and of the universal good conduct and proper behaviour of the man, applied himself to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State, but he was told that no remedy could be obtained except by suing the magistrates; but that was a course altogether so difficult for a poor man to pursue, that he (Mr. Hume) had felt it his duty to bring the matter before that House, to show to that House and to the country the manner in which individuals of the best character might be punished, and that severely, by the present system of summary convictions — a system which he until now had no idea was practised by magistrates to anything like the extent that it really was. The charge against Moore was that of asking charitable aid under false pretences; and the only ground for such a charge appeared to be, that in the House where he lodged resided some persons who had carried on the practice of sending circular letters asking charity, coupled with the circumstance that there was found in his possession a certain card containing the names of Lord Alford and several other persons with sums of money opposite them. That, however, as he was given to under- 285 stand, was neither more nor less than the amount of money received in return for goods sold at the Houses of these different persons. He was informed that three or four persons in connection carried on the same trade, and that it was a mutual agreement between them that each should enter upon a card the quantity of goods sold to, and the price obtained from, every person who dealt with him. He complained that the magistrates should have assumed that Moore should have written begging letters, without comparing his handwriting as they had had ample means of doing. He found from the last Return presented to Parliament upon this subject, that no less than 72,028 persons were committed by summary convictions in one year. If the punishment those persons suffered were slight in its nature he should not say so much about it; but of that number those who were confined for less than one month were 34,895; between one and two months, 21,691; between two and three months, 7,649; between three and six months, 7,106; between six and twelve months, 796; between one and two years, 169; and between two and three years eight; whilst 144 were sentenced to be whipped, fined, and imprisoned for an unlimited term. It did appear to him that there should be some limit to the exercise of such power upon the part of Magistrates; and it had struck him that it would have been proper for the Secretary of State, after the good character of the man had been made known to him, and the circumstances of the case fully detailed, to direct some person to make inquiry into the subject, and to procure the man's discharge if it should be found that he had been improperly convicted. He should add, that this commitment was not made by the County Magistrates, commonly called "the unpaid," but by the Mayor and City Magistrates of Shrewsbury; and he should also add, that he had himself no complaint to make of the Mayor, who had been very candid in his statement, and had given the reasons which had guided the Bench in its decision. Those reasons, however, did not appear to him to be sufficient, and he could not but regard the case as one of the grossest injustice. He had taken the greatest pains to ascertain the truth of the matter; he believed the man to be perfectly innocent, and that the policeman was very much in fault. 286 For these reasons he begged to move that there be laid before the House a copy of the commitment of Alfred Moore, licensed hawker, at Shrewsbury, upon the '2nd of September, 1843.
said, if he had had any idea that the hon. Gentleman, the Member for Montrose, was about to bring before the House the question of Summary Jurisdiction, he should have requested him to introduce the matter in such a form as would call for a reply from some Gentleman holding a more important position in that House than himself—in such a form that perhaps even the right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary of State for the Home Department, might not have deemed it unworthy of notice.! But when he (Mr. D'Israeli) saw that question brought forward upon so isolated a point, and under circumstances so limited as those connected with the commitment of one licensed hawker, he hoped that the House would not deem it arrogant upon his part if, even at so late an hour, he rose to defend his constituents. The hon. Gentleman admitted with that candour which characterised him, that he had met with every attention from the Mayor, and had had every advantage offered to him in prosecuting his inquiries in the present case; and he (Mr. D'Israeli) might add that the hon. Gentleman, who had certainly had considerable experience in bringing forward grievances to that House, had never brought any case forward under circumstances so peculiarly advantageous. No sooner did the magisterial functionaries find that the hon. Gentleman intended to bring forward this case than—confident in their own innocence, or alarmed, perhaps, at the threatening attitude assumed by the hon. Gentleman—they posted up to London, and, instead of consulting their representative, they went at once and consulted the hon. Member himself. They made the hon. Gentleman completely acquainted with all the circumstances of the case, and they were astounded when they heard that he intended to bring the subject before the House. The parties then came to him and asked him what they could do. He told them their only chance was that it was not at all impossible, judging from the observation he had made of the conduct of the hon. Gentleman during the time he had been in the House, that the hon. Gentleman might misunderstand their case, and misstate his own. It had turned out 287 exactly as he bad anticipated; the hon. Gentleman had totally misunderstood every circumstance which had occurred, and had misstated the case which he ought to have brought before the House. The House must have observed that the hon. Gentleman had really made no distinct allegation. Here was a person convicted, who afterwards had an opportunity, of which he availed himself, of appealing to the visiting Magistrates to examine into the matter, which they did not. He then appealed to the Secretary of State, and he did not think proper to interfere. The case was now brought before the House of Commons, and the House, he trusted, would follow the example of the Secretary of State, and not interfere. The hon. Gentleman had called this a case of great injustice. He did not wish to enter into the details; but it appeared that the conviction of the individual was with the hon. Gentleman a sufficient argument, to prove his assertion. But what were the facts upon the sworn information before the Magistrates, and not upon the desultory statement of the hon. Gentleman? He would state them, and then leave the House to draw its own inference. It seemed that a person, a hawker, had been called to account in the Market-place. The hon. Gentleman seemed to deny that he was drunk, but the officer swore that the hawker was drunk; and a respectable officer would not swear to that fact unless there were some circumstances to justify his opinion. The person was arrested; and the hon. Gentleman said, that he was confined in a lock. up house before sunset, and not taken before a Magistrate. It so happened, that though he was not immediately taken before a Magistrate, a Magistrate saw him, and he was admitted to bail, directions being given that very good bail should be taken, the Magistrates having particular reasons for giving such directions. And there were sufficient reasons in the papers taken from him; not that mysterious letter from the lady. [Mr. Hume: The Mayor's letter.] He thought the affair would turn out to be a mare's nest, and not a mayor's letter. It so happened that a system of begging-letter imposition had been carried on in Shrewsbury to a great extent. A card was found on which was a list of the commissioners, and orders executed by this Alfred Moore, the hawker; and among them was the 288 name of an hon. Gentleman who represented the county of Salop; and those not acquainted with his handwriting would have taken it for a genuine signature. But if that hon. Gentleman were present in the House he would have no difficulty in showing the hon. Gentleman that he had not given the order for 10s. worth of cutlery. There was the signature of Mr. Armstrong, equally genuine. And, moreover, he had the letters of the lady, but he would not trouble the House with them at that late hour. But the Town-clerk would prove that they were in the same handwriting as those which were sent to the Shrewsbury post. The man and his wife were examined before the magistrate, and the account they gave of each other was perfectly incorrect. They were examined separately. The man swore that he had arrived at Shrewsbury about a week before. The wife afterwards swore they had been three weeks in Shrewsbury. A signature was traced as that of another person, who was also examined, and who swore that she had not been acquainted with the woman; but the man swore that they had been three weeks acquainted with her. Among the papers of Alfred Moore was found a successful imitation of the handwriting of the Town-clerk, so perfect that it might deceive any person not particularly acquainted with his handwriting, and which was intended to bear upon another begging transaction. [Mr. Collett: Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will state the nature of it.] He was stating the facts as sworn, and the House would draw any inference they liked. He wished to impress upon the House, how totally different was the character of the case from that which it had been represented to be by the hon. Member for Montrose. It had been investigated with the greatest care; the inquiry occupying the whole day. By the information sworn, it appeared that the man was examined early in the morning, and the case was adjourned until six o'clock in the evening, and then the magistrates entered into the case and decided it; the decision having been communicated from the Bench, as he was informed, by the Mayor, and not by the Town-clerk, as the hon. Gentleman assured the House that it was. The Mayor himself delivered the sentence, the prisoner never having cross-examined one of the witnesses. [Mr. Collett: Who were the witnesses?] As the hon. Gentleman asked 289 who were the witnesses, he seemed to be ignorant of the case. The witnesses were, John Thomas, the officer who arrested him—the head of the police of Shrewsbury, Mr. John Peel, the town-clerk, who entered into all the circumstances of the letters, and swore that he believed the writing upon the card and the letters of the lady to which the hon. Member had referred to be the same, and who also swore to the forgery of the signature of the hon. R. Clive, a Member of that House. The other witnesses were Johanna Shore, who kept a house resorted to by such persons in the Abbey-causeway; and Priscilla Rogers. These circumstances took place in the month of September; and he mentioned that, because it had been said in a local print not under the influence of the hon. Gentleman, but one which admired him, that this affair was a consequence of magistrates being made by a Tory Government. Now, every Gentleman concerned in the transaction was a magistrate either appointed by the late Government or chosen to office by municipal influence. The appointment of the magistrates, then, was not in the least dependent upon the influence of the present Government, and the principal individual, Mr. Cooper, was one who had greatly admired the hon. Member for Montrose until the hon. Gentleman determined to bring this case before the House; for it was by his advice, and upon his recommendation, that the magistrates of Shrewsbury had consulted the hon. Member for Montrose upon the subject. Therefore the House would see there was no party feeling in vindicating the conduct of the magistrates. Under these circumstances, then, he must say that there never was a case at any time, in any Parliament, or in any country, not even any case that the hon. Gentleman himself had ever brought forward, so utterly unworthy of notice. It was a case so totally devoid of all pretext of complaint, that he defied any one to point out a parallel even in the greenest period of the career of the hon. Gentleman, when he was in the habit of bringing cases of grievance from all parts of the globe, which were instantly disproved, and turned out to be exactly the reverse of his allegations; although at that period the hon. Gentleman told Mr. Canning, when charged with making unfounded allegations, that he (Mr. Canning) was the " greatest alligator" in the House. 290 There never was a complaint more unfounded than the present, and never had a case been more thoroughly investigated. Circumstances of a very complicated fraud were discovered, and the delinquent was treated as he deserved to be, according to the law of England, as a rogue and a vagabond. This was the client of the hon. Gentleman. The case, as he had stated, happened last September, and the hon. Gentleman had disturbed the town of Shrewsbury ever since with his correspondence and examinations. After seeing the matter on the Notice-book of that House for at least two months, he certainly thought the hon. Gentleman would have had something of a case; but, when the hon. Gentleman asked whether any evidence had been given, he should have thought that the Mayor, whom he pumped so successfully, his friend the Town-clerk, and the other municipal authorities, with whom he had been in frequent communication, might not have left him so wholly in the dark as to the merits of the case as to conceal from him the testimony of the four witnesses whose names he (Mr. D'Israeli) had mentioned to the House. This fact, however, showed how the hon. Gentleman had investigated the subject. Upon the whole, he could not help thinking the House would give a decided negative to the Motion.
wished to know, whether it was for being drunk, or for having begging letters in his possession, that the man had been taken into custody?
said, he had already stated that the man had been taken into custody for being drunk in the market-place; and, according to the conviction which had been read by the hon. Member for Montrose, it appeared he was convicted as a rogue and a vagabond, because he had endeavoured to procure charitable contributions under false and fraudulent pretences.
§ Mr. Hume
thought if bold assertions and a perversion of facts could do anything, the hon. Member for Shrewsbury had made a good defence. But he wished to know what the right hon. Baronet opposite (Sir J. Graham) could have meant when he said that the only redress the man had was by action at law? Did not that imply an opinion that the man had been unjustly treated? He denied that the man was drunk; there was no other evidence to prove it than that of the policeman who 291 had committed the outrage upon him. It was an invariable rule with him when he received a complaint against any man to give him an opportunity of answering it; and upon this occasion he had sent a copy of the Petition to the Mayor, requesting him to give him any explanation of the circumstances he might wish; but in the meantime he considered it a case of gross injustice. He had received his statement, and, along with Mr. Clive, he had met the Mayor and Town-clerk, and asked them why they had searched this man? The reply was, merely because he was drunk. He repeated there was no proof that he was drunk, and of the nine names on the card seven had been written to for the purpose of inquiring whether the man had not sold them goods, but no answer was received. There was not the shadow of proof of forgery against the man. Yet he was confined for three months to hard labour on bread and water, without being permitted to see even his wife. He still thought the case one of the grossest hardship, and he did expect to hear from the right hon. the Home Secretary whether he did not disapprove of such proceedings as a violent outrage against the liberty of the subject?
§ Sir J. Graham
said, as the hon. Gentleman was not satisfied with the answer given by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury, but called on him to give some explanation of the part he had taken in the matter, he would make a very few observations to the House. To the best of his recollection, the Petition was presented to him by this individual while still in prison. The hon. Member for Montrose was incorrect in stating that parties summarily convicted had no redress, and no opportunity of appeal in case they were wrongly convicted. The Petition was presented to him praying that he would advise Her Majesty to extend to the prisoner the mercy of the Crown, and he referred it to the convicting magistrate, who, as the hon. Member had correctly stated, owed his official dignity to popular election. He was the Mayor of Shrewsbury. The Mayor informed him of the facts of the case, which in every particular corresponded with the statement made by the hon. Member for Shrewsbury. The prisoner was drunk in the Market-place; a police officer went up to him—he was very abusive, and being very abusive and disorderly he was taken into custody. The hon. Member for Mon- 292 trose said, that was no proof that the man was drunk; but the fact rested on the sworn testimony of the police officer taken before the Mayor and his brother magistrates. When the man was searched at the station-house, a certificate, purporting to be signed by eleven persons who had given him money in charity was found upon him, recommending him as a fit object of charity. Several frauds had been committed at the time in the neighbourhood by a person having a certificate in the French language, and the magistrate, after an examination, was satisfied that the certificate signed by the eleven persons and the French certificate were both written by the prisoner. After an examination, which lasted the whole day, they came to a decision, founded both on sworn and documentary evidence, that the accused had obtained money on false pretences, and they committed him as a rogue and vagabond for three months. This explanation he (Sir J. Graham) had received from the Mayor in answer to his inquiry, and he had come to the conclusion that on the whole the magistrates and the Mayor had arrived at their decision after due caution, and that it was not a case in which he could advise Her Majesty to extend mercy to the prisoner. The prisoner remained in gaol, and then a letter was written to him asking what remedy he had? The term of his imprisonment having then expired he answered, that there was no remedy except a proceeding at law against the magistrates for false imprisonment. He (Sir J, Graham) had formed his judgment on the facts as they were reported to him. He did not neglect the case, but made due inquiry of the magistrates. They sent their statement in reply, and he then believed, and he still believed, that statement, and he further thought that for the sake of justice complete punishment ought to be inflicted, and now he equally thought that this person was convicted upon full testimony and on full examination into the case.
§ Sir J. Graham
said, it was impossible for him in that House to try the case over again. He believed that the Mayor and the magistrates had no interest to distort the facts.
§ Mr. Aglionby
understood the right hon. Secretary to say that the man was con- 293 victed for obtaining money on false pretences. He had yet to learn that a magistrate had the power of summary conviction on such a charge. There must be an indictment tried by a jury before a man could be convicted and sentenced on such a charge. But the right hon. Gentleman had thought fit to say that he considered the magistrates had rightly punished the man in question on that charge.
§ Sir J. Graham
must protest against discussing a question of law in that House with all the legal acuteness of the learned Gentleman. But as a matter of courtesy—
§ Mr. Aglionby
wanted none of the right hon. Baronet's courtesy. But after what had fallen from the right hon. Baronet on the subject, he wished to ask him the question—not to argue any legal point— whether he rightly understood the right hon. Baronet to approve of the magistrates having convicted this man summarily, on a charge of getting money on false pretences.
§ Sir J. Graham
referred to the statement sent him by the magistrates. After repeating the circumstances of Moore's apprehension, it went on to say that papers were found on him at the station-house which turned out the next day to be forgeries. He then referred to the conviction, which was under the 5th of Geo. IV., c. 83, sec. 16, which stated, that "on the 26th day the said Alfred Moore did, in the said borough, endeavour to procure charitable contributions from Mr.—under false and fraudulent pretences," and that in conformity with that statute he was convicted for so endeavouring to obtain money on false pretences. The right hon. Baronet then referred to the Clause of the Act before-mentioned, which after setting forth who should be entitled to bear certificates, enacted that "Every person asking alms or relief under, and by virtue of, any certificate or other instrument hereby prohibited, is liable to be declared an idle and disorderly person as if he or she had no such certificate."
§ Sir J. Graham
No; but what I object to is, trying to crush a conviction by arguments in this House on technical grounds.
§ Mr. Wakley
Undoubtedly; if there was any opportunity of avoiding such an appeal. But to the poor man the Courts 294 of Law were not open, unless he could pay a lawyer. In this case a grievous wrong had been done to this poor man, and it had by no means been lessened by the argument of the hon. Member for Shrewsbury. It was a great perversion of the powers of mind possessed by that hon. Member to endeavour by wit and eloquence in that House to palliate the conduct of these magistrates. The conduct of the authorities had been most reprehensible. This man was apprehended on some offence, taken by the police-officer, and the result was, that he had been sent to gaol. He (Mr. Wakley) had had some experience of gaols, and could assure the right hon. Baronet, notwithstanding all he had clone with respect to them, that a sentence even for a short period was equivalent to a sentence of death. Several such cases had been before him—one in particular, which he meant to bring under the notice of the House. It was his conviction that hundreds—nay, thousands— of innocent persons were incarcerated. It was most important that cases of this kind should be inquired into. They were now giving a lesson to all England with respect to the administration of justice, and he asked the right hon. Baronet whether these proceedings were warranted against a man who was apprehended on the charge of drunkenness. [Sir J. Graham: No.] Yes; that was the accusation. He was asked for his license, and he produced it; but the officer had first interfered on the ground that the man was drunk in the market-place. Was it lawful on the part of the officer to search the individual and to take his papers? And not only so, but the meddling officious mayor must fain go into a prying, pettifogging, paltry examination of the man's papers, making-up and manufacturing a charge from them, after having stolen them. ["Oh ,oh!"] According to the law the man's papers were stolen from him, there being no law justifying their seizure under such circumstances. Was there one tittle of evidence to show that money had been obtained under false pretences? [Sir J. Graham: We are not trying the case.] Certainly not; and it is unfortunate the case should be before the House. He trusted that his hon. Friend would see further into the case, and that he and others would aid the poor man with means for bringing his claim before a court of justice. An attempt to brine the case before a court of 295 justice should certainly have been made before it was mooted in the House. And this being, it appeared, the opinion of Gentlemen opposite, he hoped they would assist in enabling the man to obtain justice.
§ Motion negatived.
§ House adjourned.