HC Deb 16 July 1863 vol 172 cc871-3

said, he wished to ask Mr. Attorney General, Whether the attention of the Lord Chancellor has been called to the case of the Countess Delia Seta v. Lord Vernon, heard before Vice Chancellor Sir John Stuart, and to the language and demeanour of the Vice Chancellor to the Counsel and others concerned in the case; and, if so, whether his Lordship intends to take any steps to prevent a repetition of similar proceedings?


Sir, in the absence of my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, I have to answer the Question of the hon. Member, and perhaps the House will pardon me if I make a short statement of the circumstances to which the Question refers, and I hope the House will be satisfied with the statement which I am about to make. The case came on in the ordinary way before Vice Chancellor Stuart; but before the nature of the case was explained to the Court, it was stated to his Honour by one of the learned counsel employed, that some young ladies, infants and wards of the Court, and parties to the suit, were not only interested in a pecuniary point of view, but that their reputation might be seriously affected by a discussion in open court. It is the invariable practice of the Court of Chancery to take all possible precautions for the protection of infants under its care, and it is right it should do so, with or without the consent of parties, and that practice has been indisputably established by the highest authorities. In this case, it was not necessary that this right should be exercised on the mere authority of the Vice Chancellor. Although one of the counsel did object in the first instance, and pressed his objection, he afterwards, with that good judgment and feeling which I trust ordinarily distinguishes the counsel practising in all our Courts, waived his opposition in deference to the representations which were made to him. The Vice Chancellor, therefore, in taking that course, acted in accordance with the usual practice; and I am authorized by the Lord Chancellor to say that the course which was so taken meets with his most thorough approval, as in all respects consistent with the duty of the Judge, and worthy of the character of the individual who had to execute that duty. The hon. Member's Question further refers to some other matters which subsequently occurred. The course then taken by the Vice Chancellor in the discharge of his duty was very greatly misunderstood by some persons concerned or not concerned in the cause. [Mr. MALINS: Certainly not concerned.] The result was that there appeared in some of the journals representations as to these circumstances involving the gravest imputation that could be laid to the charge of a Judge—namely, that out of respect for the position of a nobleman he had departed from the ordinary and proper course, and had, contrary to his duty, determined to hear the cause in private, and to shield an influential, powerful, and noble person from the possible exposure of circumstances which he desired to have concealed. Of course the House will understand, that if any Judge had been capable of so acting, he would have been unworthy of the position which he held. Now, that charge is utterly groundless and would be most calumnious, unless it had arisen out of entire misapprehension of the circumstances. That imputation could not but affect the mind of a man of high honour, like Sir John Stuart. It was open and competent for him, if he had thought fit, to deal with it as a grave contempt of Court. His Honour, however, did not think proper to do so; and if in publicly adverting to those cir- cumstances he may have been betrayed into some warmth of language, if the indignation which must have been excited in the mind of any man of honour found its way to his lips, and influenced the tone of his observations, I am quite sure it is not necessary for me to vindicate him in this House.