HC Deb 03 May 1860 vol 158 cc562-3

said, he wished to ask the Attorney General, Whether any proceedings, civil or criminal, has been commenced against the persons implicated in the Report of the Wakefield and Gloucester Commissions; whether the intention of the hon. and learned Gentleman has been directed to the period (April, 1859) when those offences were committed; and whether he is of opinion that the limitation of proceedings under the Corrupt Practices Act, applied to civil proceedings only, or included criminal proceedings as well?


Sir. I am very much obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman for putting this question, for it has just been communicated to me that some persons imagine they have discovered that these delinquents can escape. I can only assure the Gentlemen who think so, that they have succeeded in finding a mere nidus equinus. Now, Sir, it was never my intention to proceed against these persons for any penalty, pecuniary fine, or forfeiture. I stated clearly that I should bring them to the bar of a Criminal Court. The offence they have committed is first of all a misdemeanour at Common Law, to which I would resort if there were any difficulty under the statute. But the statute leaves no doubt upon the subject to any informed person who will take the trouble of reading it. It enacts in the clearest manner that not only shall the offence be punishable by penalty, and that the party committing it shall be liable to forfeit £100, but that he shall also be guilty of a misdemeanour; and when the fine is imposed the language of the sections limiting the fine for recovering the penalty is applicable only to civil, and not to criminal process. It is impossible for the most morbid ingenuity of a lawyer to strain the language of the statute so as to bring the criminal offence or the criminal proceedings within the limit of twelve months. I intend, therefore, and I have given directions accordingly, that criminal informa- tions shall be filed, first against the two chief delinquents—namely, the two candidates, Mr. Leatham and Mr. Charlesworth, and then against the principal persons who abetted them in their respective proceedings.