HC Deb 09 May 1850 vol 110 cc1277-9

rose to put a question to the Chief Secretary of State for the Home Department. On Tuesday last at the Clerkenwell Police Court a man of the name of Reardon was put into the witness box. The New Testament was handed to him, but before he was sworn the officer of the court, after ascertaining that he was a Roman Catholic, told him to make the sign of the cross. Reardon refused, stating that it was an insult to him to ask him to do so, as it implied that unless he first made the sign he would not consider his oath on the Evangelists binding. Mr. Combe, the presiding magistrate, then took up the matter, and said he had never before known a Roman Catholic witness refuse to make the sign of the cross before being sworn. Reardon still refused, and Mr. Combe said, that if a Roman Catholic priest were present, he would say that unless he first made the sign of the cross, a Roman Catholic would not consider himself bound by his oath on the Evangelists to tell the truth. Rearden persisted, and was sworn without making the sign. His evidence contradicted that of witnesses on the opposite side. Mr. Combe said, he would believe the other witnesses in preference to him (Reardon). The latter asked Mr. Combe if he meant to say that he (Reardon) was a perjured man? Mr. Combe distinctly told him, twice over, that he was so. He (Mr. Fox) wished to know what notice Her Majesty's Secretary of State meant to take of this extraordinary proceeding?


said, that his attention having been called by his noble Friend the Member for Arundel to the report in the Times newspaper of the proceedings at the Clerkenwell Court in the case referred to, he directed a letter to be written to Mr. Combe requesting any explanation or observations he might wish to make with regard to it. Mr. Combe stated, in reply, that the report in the Times newspaper was generally accurate. The witness named Reardon was asked by the office-keeper to cross himself before he was sworn, according to what appeared to be the usual practice at that court; and Mr. Combe stated that in some instances he had known Catholic parties insisting upon Catholic witnesses being required to cross themselves, because otherwise the witnesses would not consider the oath to be binding. In this case, on the witness saying that the oath would be binding without his crossing himself, it was administered; and Mr. Combe added, that the opinion he afterwards expressed as to the credit due to him was not on the ground of his refusal to cross himself. He (Sir G. Grey) must, however, say that the practice was one of which he never before heard; and that, having now inquired of several persons well informed on the subject, it appeared to be clear that, although in frequent instances Roman Catholic witnesses among the lowest classes voluntarily crossed themselves before they were sworn, not the slightest right existed to require them to do so, and that the practice of requiring them to do so was wholly unknown in the ordinary courts both in this country and in Ireland, and he (Sir G. Grey) believed it did not exist in any other of the metropolitan police courts. This opinion had been communicated to Mr. Combe, and he had been informed that the practice should be forthwith discontinued at the Clerkenwell Court.