HC Deb 27 April 1855 vol 137 cc1869-72

said, he wished to put a question to the right hon. baronet the Home Secretary, and in order that he might be enabled to make a brief statement on the subject to which it referred, he begged to move that the House at its rising adjourn to Monday next. The right hon. gentleman and the House were aware that at the present moment there was in one of the prisons of this city an Italian who had been convicted of murder, who was under sentence of death, and whose execution, he understood, was fixed for next Monday. He wished to call the attention of the Home Secretary to the fact that at the trial of this individual, Mr. Shaw, the senior surgeon of the Middlesex Hospital, in which institution the prisoner had been for some time, was subpœnaed by the Crown as a witness. Mr. Shaw attended in Court and expected to be called, but the counsel for the Crown, having ascertained that the evidence of Mr. Shaw would be in favour of the prisoner, refused or neglected to call him and to place his evidence before the Court. Now, although such a course might be perfectly legitimate in the case of disputes relating to property, he would put it to the right hon. baronet and to the House whether, when the life of an individual was at stake, and when the prosecutor was the Crown, acting on behalf of the justice, and dignity, and impartiality of the law, the conduct of the counsel for the Crown was justifiable? He could not help expressing his strong opinion that the conduct of the counsel for the Crown was entirely unjustifiable in refusing to call a witness whom he had himself summoned to the Court, that witness being better acquainted than any other person could be with the actual state of mind of the prisoner, and the plea set up by the prisoner's counsel on his behalf being a pica of insanity. He believed those facts had been laid before the Home Secretary in a memorial from Mr. Shaw. Evidence had been given on the subject by Mr. Henry, the assistant-surgeon at Middlesex Hospital, a gentleman who, although young, gave promise of eminence in his profession; but it was not likely that so much importance would be attached to the evidence of this gentleman as to that of his senior, Mr. Shaw, who was ready, had he been called upon, to give similar evidence. The evidence of the gentleman who had been called to prove the sanity of the prisoner rested, he believed, entirely upon one interview with him, and was not, therefore, to be placed in the balance against the evidence of medical Gentlemen of high character who had attended him for several weeks. He (Mr. Bright) had in his possession a memorial, signed by Dr. Conolly, of Hanwell, by Dr. Baly, of Milbank prison, by Dr. Forbes Winslow, by Mr. Shaw, and by Mr. Henry, in which they expressed their opinion strongly in favour of the insanity of the prisoner at the time he committed the act. He did not mean for a moment to imply that the Secretary of State had not given his most dispassionate and earnest consideration to this case; but he (Mr. Bright) thought the cause of public justice and the reputation of our Courts would be greatly damaged if importance were not to be attached to the fact that a medical man, who was more competent than any other person in the Kingdom to form an opinion on the sanity of the prisoner, was in Court, having been subpœnaed by the Crown, and that the counsel of the Crown, having, during the trial, taken means to ascertain that the opinions of this medical gentleman were in favour of the prisoner, neglected or refused to put him into the witness-box, thus excluding evidence which, in all probability, would have had conclusive influence upon the jury, and might have saved the life of the unfortunate prisoner. He understood that Mr. Bodkin, the counsel for the Crown, stated that he did not call Mr. Shaw into the witness-box because his name was not on the back of the brief, but he (Mr. Bright) had been informed that it was a common thing not to place the names of medical witnesses upon briefs. It might be asked why the counsel for the prisoner had not called Mr. Shaw? Their omission to do so, he supposed, must have arisen from some misunderstanding, but that omission could not affect the claim of the unfortunate prisoner—who might have committed, and who probably had committed, this crime while in a state of insanity—to have justice done to him. He might remind the House that not long ago a Mrs. Brough had been charged with the murder of several of her own children, and she escaped capital punishment, he believed, because it was considered that no person in a sane state of mind would have committed so atrocious a crime. In that case, however, he believed no evidence was given of the conduct of the prisoner before the commission of the crime which could lead to the belief that she was insane. Ho rejoiced at her escape, and he was not without hope that, from the laches with respect to the evidence of Mr. Shaw, something might be done to save from the gallows the unfortunate man to whose case he was referring. He wished to ask if the Secretary of State could inform the House whether it was the custom for counsel of the Crown to take such advantages as he had mentioned against prisoners placed in such critical and desperate circumstances, and whether it was not the duty of counsel in a case of this kind to adduce all the evidence, in order that a prisoner might have every chance for his life which the law fairly gave him?


said, he was sure the House would feel the danger and inconvenience of entering into a discussion with reference to a criminal trial which had taken place according to the ordinary law of the land. He could only state that a representation, signed by several medical gentlemen, with reference to the case to which the hon. Member for Manches- ter had directed attention, was received by him on Monday evening last. He immediately referred that representation to Mr. Justice Erle, before whom the case was tried, and he had since received the report of that learned Judge. He (Sir G. Grey) and the Under Secretary of State had given their most careful consideration to the case, and the decision at which he had arrived was one with regard to the justice of which he did not feel the slightest doubt, considering the obligation which rested upon him to administer the law of the land. With reference to the omission of the witness on the trial to which the hon. Gentleman had referred, he was not himself competent to speak without a full knowledge of the facts of the case; but he might state that Mr. Justice Erle did not think that Mr. Bodkin, who conducted the case for the Crown, had been guilty of any laches. The witness was in court, and might have been called by the counsel for the prisoner, and the statement which he could have made was, he believed, brought under the notice of the Judge.