HC Deb 07 June 1860 vol 159 cc144-6

CAPTAIN JERVIS moved a Resolution to the following effect:— That whereas by the Act 17 & 18 Vict. c. 102, s. 14, it is expressly enacted that no person should be liable to be prosecuted for any offence committed against the said Act unless such pro- secution shall commence within one year from the date of the said offence, this House is of opinion, with reference to certain prosecutions commenced at Common Law against divers persons at Wakefield for offences committed at the late General Election against that Act, but which prosecutions have not been commenced within the time prescribed by that Act, that such prosecutions should be abandoned.


said, it was impossible at that late hour of the evening (half after two o'clock) to proceed with the discussion of the Resolution, which involved considerations of great importance. He should therefore move the adjournment of the debate.


Sir, I have had great pleasure in seconding the Motion of the gallant Officer, and I do now entreat the Attorney General to withdraw these prosecution of witnesses under the Wakefield and Gloucester Commissions. The witnesses were induced under an Act of Indemnity to make the fullest disclosures without reserving any circumstances criminating themselves. After this, surely, it would be an act of positive injustice to institute prosecutions that would cancel the promised indemnity in the faith of which the witnesses were induced to make such disclosures. It is in vain to pretend that those disclosures would not be used as evidence against them. The facts are generally known, and could not fail to influence a jury. Under the circumstances the prosecutions would bear harshly on the parties, especially on Messrs. Leatham and Charlesworth, who had made the fullest and most unreserved disclosures of the errors into which they may have been led in a warmly contested election, and have already suffered a sufficient punishment for those errors in the long suspension of these prosecutions over their heads. From what transpired in the debate on Friday last, I believe the general feeling in the House on the subject, including the Attorney General himself, to be in unison with my own, and I therefore trust the learned Attorney General will no longer hesitate to abandon those prosecutions.


said, the House of Commons was called upon by the Resolution to perform functions which did not belong to it—namely, to interfere with the administration of justice. He might add that he did not think it would be satisfactory to the country that a decision on the question should be taken in so thin a House—[An hon. MEMBER: There are 100 Members present]—there being very few present but those who were there for the particular purpose of supporting the Motion. He could only say that, whatever the decision of the House under such circumstances might be, the prosecutions should be proceeded with under the statute, notwithstanding that he should bow to that decision when duly recorded.


said, he rose to express a hope that his hon. and gallant Friend would, after the statement of the hon. and learned Attorney General, postpone his Motion to a more fitting opportunity.


said, he could not understand what use there would be in proceeding with the Motion at all if the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General, upon whose immovable nature it was not easy to produce an impression, might set the decision of the House at defiance.


said, he would not object to the adjournment of the debate if the Attorney General would pledge himself to stay proceedings in the meantime.


I will not stay proceedings for a single moment.

Debate adjourned till To-morrow.

House adjourned at a Quarter after Three o'clock.