HC Deb 11 February 1861 vol 161 c272

said, he rose to ask a Question of the Secretary of State for the Home Department with respect to a case that lately occurred in the County Court of Rochdale, where a witness on a trial on a question affecting her own property, was asked a question which she could not answer in the way she was expected to do. The question was whether she believed in a future state of rewards and punishments, and because she was not able to say that she did believe in them, the Judge announced that she must be nonsuited, and he was reported to have added words to the effect, that if she chose to outrage society by her opinions she must take the consequences. Now, the question he wished to ask the right hon. Secretary of State was, Whether, in his opinion, considering this case, any alteration in the law of evidence was likely to be made; or whether under circumstances where life was endangered, character insinuated away, or accusations made against a person which involved social degradation, that person would not be allowed to give evidence because he was not able conscientiously to declare that he believed in a future state of rewards and punishments?


said, the question, as he apprehended it, was this, whether, in a criminal case, a witness who did not believe in a future state of rewards and punishments, and who was, therefore, incapacitated from taking an oath, should yet be allowed to give his evidence, subject to the disadvantage of not having been sworn. He could only say that the hon. Baronet had not given him notice of the question, and his attention not having been called to the subject, he was unwilling, on a professional question, to give an answer off-hand. If his hon. Friend would repeat his question on a future day he would then endeavour to give him an answer.


I give notice Sir, that I shall ask the question again to-morrow.


In reference to the statement of my hon. Friend (Sir John Trelawny) I understand that the Judge of the County Court afterwards said that it was a mistake to say that he had used the words, "If the witness would outrage society she must take the consequences." He either explained away or denied those words, and as my hon. Friend has quoted them, I think it is only fair to the Judge that this should be told.

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