HC Deb 08 April 1859 vol 153 cc1557-9

said, he rose to call the attention of the House to remarks said to have been made by Mr. Baron Bram-well at Bala and other Assize Towns in the North Wales Circuit. The case to which he referred was one in which an indictment for embezzling his employers' money was preferred against a man named David Williams. A true Bill was found against him, and the accused on being brought up pleaded "Not Guilty." The case was gone into, and nine witnesses were called against the prisoner, and several others were called to speak to his character, the witnesses being highly respectable persons in the county of Merioneth and other counties in North Wales. He (Mr. Salisbury) admitted that the evidence was very strong against the prisoner, but there were points in it to which, he thought, the Judge ought to have called the attention of the jury as being favourable to the accused. But Baron Bramwell did not do so. The jury, however, retired and returned into Court with a verdict of acquittal. Now, he knew it was a very delicate thing to complain of the conduct of a Judge; but, on the other hand, it was a very delicate thing on the part of a Judge to interfere with the due administration of justice in the country. The case having been tried, the following proceedings were reported to have taken place: — The Clerk of the Court asked: Do you find the prisoner, David Williams, guilty or not guilty? —Foreman: Not guilty. (Great cheering, which was at once suppressed.) The Judge requested the officers of the court to bring any one before him whom they saw joining in the applause, and he would send him to prison. His Lordship then addressed the jury as follows:—Gentlemen,—You have said that you find the prisoner Not Guilty. Do you understand the case? Do you understand that it is your duty to say whether or not this man received his employers' moneys, and applied them to his own purposes? Do you say he is not guilty of so doing?—Foreman: Yes, Sir.—The Judge (emphatically): Then I am thankful it is your verdict, and not mine. Addressing Mr. Matthew, his Lordship said: Are you an Englishman, Sir?— Mr. Matthew: I am, my Lord.—Judge: And your firm is English, I suppose?—Mr. Matthew: Yes, my Lord. Judge: This should be a warning to an Englishmen not to invest their capital in Wales. [Laughter.] This might be a very laughable matter, but before sitting down he thought he could satisfy the Court [Laughter]—he appealed to the House as a Court on that occasion—that, however laughable the subject might be here, it was of a very serious nature as regarded the administration of justice in Wales. He did complain of the remarks made by the learned Judge at the close of the trial, but when Mr. Baron Bramwell proceeded to Carnarvon he made the case rather worse. The prisoner Williams, having been acquitted by the jury, was in the eye of the law innocent of the crime imputed to him; yet at Carnarvon, after congratulating the grand jury on the state of the calendar, the learned Judge went on to say: — I believe one bill will be presented to you charging a person with an attempt to suborn perjury. Subornation of perjury.. is an offence the enormity of which is not so much felt here, I may say, as it ought to be… I am afraid it is at the bottom of more than one dishonest verdict which I have known to have been given, and for which it is impossible not to feel the deepest regret … I have been told that a jury found a grossly corrupt verdict because they wanted to screen a prisoner—a man holding some office in a Dissenting congregation. That is one of the most monstrous things in the world, and yet I am told it is true. These remarks were made at a time when the prisoner could have no opportunity of replying to the charges made against him. He had received a letter from a highly respectable gentleman residing at Bala, who, in referring to the case, said it might appear unaccountable to many persons not acquainted with the circumstances how the jury could have given such a verdict as that which they returned. It ought, however, he went on to add, to be explained that a system prevailed in the slate quarries where David Williams had been employed, and which he was afraid would be described in no more favourable terms than that of "cooking" the accounts; and it was, therefore, not difficult to understand how a jury would be averse to seeing a poor man hunted to death for an offence, the commission of which they might be disposed to think was the fault not so much of the individual as the system. The Gentleman to whom he alluded further proceeded to say that if anything could warp the minds of the jury it was likely to be the intemperate conduct of the Judge, and that if such men went often into Wales the Welsh people would in all probability soon equal the Irish in their hatred of Englishmen. The learned Judge had left the impression upon the minds of the jury at Carnarvon that the prisoner had been acquitted be cause he was a Dissenter, and the fair inference from his observation on that point was that the members of the jury by whom he had been tried were Dissenters also. The gentleman from whose letter he had just quoted, however, said that he had been informed upon competent authority that there had been two Scotchmen on the jury, that the foreman was a Scotchman, and that it included only three Dissenters, the remaining members being Churchmen. Now, he could not help thinking that the learned Judge, in making the observations which he had made, had acted very improperly. He had complained of the finding of the jury at Beaumaris, and in every town in North Wales in which he had presided at the assizes; but when he arrived at Chester—perceiving, perhaps, that notice had been given that the attention of the House was about to be called to the subject—he had abstained from making further reference to the trial. It was not to be tolerated that a man who had been acquitted should be thus branded from the bench, and he therefore begged to conclude by asking the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department if he has any explanation to offer to the House on the conduct of the learned Judge.