HC Deb 30 April 1858 vol 149 cc2011-3

said, he would beg to ask the Secretary for the Home Department whether his attention has been called to the Report in the Papers of yesterday, of a Meeting held on the 28th instant, at St. Martin's Hall, in aid of the "Press Prosecution Defence Fund," in which one of Her Majesty's Counsel is stated to have been present, and to have taken part in the proceedings? And also whether it is true that Mr. Edwin James had been offered a Brief from the Crown, and had declined it? And whether it is competent for one of Her Majesty's Counsel to refuse to hold a Brief for the Crown in a State Prosecution?


Sir, Until my hon. Friend had put this Notice on the Paper, my attention had not been called to the report of the proceedings at St. Martin's Hall. I sent for the papers immediately, in order that I might see what was reported to have taken place on that occasion, and I need not say that I read it with the utmost astonishment. Since that time I have been informed by a Gentleman, a Member of this House, and who is a friend of Mr. James, that Mr. James attended the meeting, not in company with Dr. Bernard; that he attended it only as an auditor; that he was called upon to ascend the platform, without having received any notice that he would be asked to do so; and I am glad, from the information I thus received, to add that Mr. James states the report to be inaccurate. With reference to the other part of the question—namely, whether Mr. James was offered a Brief from the Crown, and whether it is competent for one of Her Majesty's Counsel to refuse to hold a Brief for the Crown in a State Prosecution, I have this plain statement of facts to make. First of all, a Queen's Council cannot act for the defence in a Crown Prosecution without a license from the Crown, given for that purpose. Secondly, I have to state that my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, wishing to have the assistance of such criminal lawyers as he thought it would be advisable to have in conducting the prosecution, applied to Mr. James, through the Solicitor of the Treasury, to have his assistance in the case. Mr. James has stated the effect of his answer to that application in a letter which I now hold in my hand:—"I replied," he says, To that letter, stating that I had been retained by the defendant, and had had a consultation on his case with his counsel and attorneys, and that I presumed that, under these circumstances, the Attorney General would not insist upon my services. Now, I think it right to bring clearly under the notice of the House the statement which has gone forth, totally contrary to the impression which ought to he left on the mind of the public, with reference to this particular prosecution. The statement as reported—I hope I may say as inaccurately reported—is, that Mr. James said at the meeting to which I have referred— He had rejected a retainer from the Crown, in the late prosecution, because he believed that an obsolete Act of Parliament was sought to be put in force, to please a foreign despot. That is the statement which Mr. James is reported to have made. I have already read you, Sir, his answer when applied to by the Solicitor of the Treasury. I will now read the answer of my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, given with my complete sanction, knowledge, and concurrence, which I think will show the House that every possible opportunity was offered by the Crown to the prisoner to have such counsel as he might choose to select to assist him on his trial. The answer was this:— I have shown your letter to the Attorney General, and he desires me to say that he was not aware that you had been retained for Bernard, still less that you had conferred with his counsel and solicitor. He thinks that it might now be a great disadvantage to the prisoner to be deprived of your assistance, and would give him a just cause of complaint, and therefore that you ought to be at liberty to go on on his behalf. JOHN GREENWOOD. So little did Mr. James complain of the course which the advisers of the Crown had taken, that he replied in these terms, which I think must satisfy the House that there is some strange error or inaccuracy in the report of the proceedings at St. Martin's Hall:— My dear Greenwood,—I thank you for your note, and feel the compliment paid me by the Attorney General. I will only add, that the moment the license to defend the prisoner was applied for at the Home Office, that license was given; and I hope that this plain statement will now go forth to the public as showing that in no case does the Crown in this country deprive prisoners of any legal assistance which they may desire to have.