HC Deb 08 April 1859 vol 153 cc1587-91

said, he rose to answer one or two questions which had been asked some time ago, and which the House had very likely forgotten, owing to the varied character of the discussion which had taken place since they had been put. The hon. Member for Chester (Mr. Salisbury) had called the attention of the House to some remarks said to have been made by Mr. Baron Bramwell at Bala, on the North Wales circuit, and, speaking as a private individual, had ex- ercised the right—which he (Mr. Estcourt) would not contest—of expressing an opinion upon the discretion of the remarks attributed to the learned Judge. The hon. Gentleman pointed out that some of those remarks not only impugned the verdict of the jury, but that they seemed to depreciate the Principality of Wales in point of honesty, as compared with England. As a private individual perhaps he might join with the hon. Gentleman in thinking that although nothing was said by the learned Judge which could be made the subject of complaint, still, as a matter of discretion, a comparison between one part of the country and another might have been avoided. But he (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) would beg the House to observe that he was called to speak on this matter as a Minister of the Crown, and that there were considerations connected with it of far higher importance than that immediately referred to in the notice on the paper. The question was really one which seriously trenched on the independence of the Judges of the land. He should be 1oth to take any step, or to use any expression which might in the smallest degree disparage that independence of the Judges, which was one of the last qualities which that House ought to surrender. So strongly had Parliament always felt the necessity of maintaining that independence of the Judges, that they were not reckoned as officers over whom the Home Secretary had any control. The Judges of the land, in addressing juries from time to time, had frequently made use of remarks intended as warnings or reprehensions, or as guides to public opinion on matters not immediately before them, but which incidentally arose out of the circumstances they were trying. That liberty of remark had been felt to be a great preservative against innovations, misconduct, and a number of practices deserving of reprobation, in checking which no such opportunities were afforded as those which came within the province of the Judges in the administration of justice. That being so he had to state that he did not think it consistent with the duties of his office to offer any explanation by way of apology for the learned Judge who was said to have made the remarks to which the hon. Gentleman had called the attention of the House. He tinned now to the recent appointment of magistrates for Hereford, which the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Clive) who represented that city had brought under consideration in an earlier part of the evening. That was a different matter, and he (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) had felt bound to direct the attention of the Lord Chancellor to the notice which the hon. Member had placed upon the paper, in order that the noble and learned Lord might have an opportunity of affording any explanation he might wish to make in reference to the subject. It was impossible for him (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) to divine beforehand the nature of the speech with which the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Clive) would preface his question; but what he understood the hon. Member to complain of was, that six gentlemen should have been added to the commission of the peace for the city of Here-ford, all of whom were supposed to hold Conservative opinions, and two of whom the hon. Gentleman rather insinuated were scarcely fit for the office by reason of being tradesmen and carrying on business in that city. He also understood the hon. Gentleman to impugn the course pursued by the Lord Chancellor in having made the appointments in question without communication with the authorities of the city of Hereford. First, with regard to those six gentlemen, he understood that about this time last year, from which the commencement of this transaction dated, there were altogether, including the Recorder, the Mayor, and the ex-Mayor, ten gentlemen in the commission of the peace for that city. One, a medical gentleman, had never acted; and of all that body of gentlemen one alone was supposed to hold Conservative opinions, and eight of them had been appointed by former Lord Chancellors holding Liberal opinions. That being the state of the case, he (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) thought no one would wonder that gentlemen living in the city of Hereford and holding the same opinions as Her Majesty's present Government were dissatisfied, and that they considered an opportunity had fairly arisen when there ought to be an infusion into the magistracy of gentlemen holding similar opinions with themselves. The course which had been pursued was this. They held a public meeting, at which the names of certain gentlemen were canvassed, and after several transactions had taken place consequent upon some of those gentlemen declining to be put in nomination, the names sent up were: — Mr. J. H. Griffith, a barrister, a county justice of the peace, the son of a county justice of the peace, residing within five miles of the city of Hereford; Mr. John Prince, a gentleman of large property residing one mile from the city; Mr. Charles Price, a lieutenant in the navy, whose lately deceased brother was an active borough magistrate; Mr. William Bullock, a private gentleman residing in his own house, where his father and family had resided above fifty years; he was in the law, and his father a prebendary of the cathedral; Mr. Ambery Court, a respectable grocer in a large way of business; and Mr. John Parker, a respectable bookseller. Those names were agreed on at a public meeting, and afterwards submitted to the Lord Chancellor for consideration. What was the Lord Chancellor to do? Did he appoint them at once? No such thing. He communicated with the town clerk on the subject, informing him that an addition was about to be made to the bench, and requesting that the names of the existing magistrates might be sent up to him. That certainly was notice sufficient to the municipal authorities. They did not not, how over, recommend any names, and no communication, he (Mr. Sotheron Estcourt) believed, was made by them to the Lord Chancellor. The Lord Chancellor then made inquiries into the character of the gentlemen whose names had been sent up to him from the public meeting, and, finding they occupied the respectable positions which he (Mr. Estcourt) had described, the noble and learned Lord placed them upon the commission of the peace. Those were the circumstances of the case, and he had only further to say that he could not consent to the production of any correspondence on the subject, seeing that it had passed between the Lord Chancellor and gentlemen acting in behalf of a public meeting.


said, the right hon. Gentleman had stated that of the gentlemen in the commission of the peace at the time the six in question were appointed, one was a Conservative, and one alone. Would he mention the name of that gentleman?


Mr. Thomas Evans, an attorney (as we understood).


said, in that the right hon. Gentleman was mistaken.


said, that with reference to the question of the bon. Member for Chester (Mr. Clive) and with regard to which an explanation had been given by the right hon. Gentleman, he was sure that the House would cordially agree in the constitutional principles propounded by the right hon. Gentleman with respect to the independence of the Judges. He (Mr. James) thought that it was only a gross case of misconduct on the part of a learned Judge that ought to be made the subject of discussion in the House of Commons. Every one admitted the constitutional principle of the independence of the Judges; but the independence of the liberty of the subject depended upon the independence of juries, and he thought it a reprehensible practice for Judges to make remarks on the verdicts of juries. It was a practice from which our greatest Judges had always abstained. It was the duty of a Judge to expound the law to a jury, and the jury, moving in their orbit, were responsible for the verdict. A verdict so given our most distinguished Judges invariably respected, though they might not always approve. He had had the honour of being on the same circuit as the learned Judge whose conduct was impugned on this occasion. That learned Judge was elevated to the bench entirely on his own merits, and he (Mr. E. James) believed him to be a man incapable either of giving offence to a jury or of interfering with the due and impartial administration of justice. He trusted after what had taken place the discussion would be allowed to drop.


said, with reference to the magistrates of Hereford, he was glad to hear that the Lord Chancellor had adopted a different course to that which he had followed in other cases. In the borough which he (Mr. Dillwyn) represented, five gentlemen had been appointed magistrates without any communication with him or any one connected with the borough.


said, he wished to say one word in explanation with respect to what the right hon. Gentleman had said about one of the magistrates of Hereford being a Conservative. Last year the body corporate sent to Lord Cranworth the names of six gentlemen, four of whom were Liberals and two Conservatives, and Lord Cranworth appointed one from each side, but the name of the Conservative gentleman who was appointed was not Thomas Evans.