MR. RUSSELL GURNET
, in rising to call the attention of the House to the arrest and detention in prison of Leonard Edmunds at the suit of the Crown; and to move for Papers, said, it was easy for the hon. Member for Windsor (Mr. Eykyn) to give way when the Government were ready to give him the Committee next Session for which he asked. He, however, stood in a different position, and there was the less necessity for him to give way, because the case he had to bring before the House would only occupy a very short time. It was known a short time ago as the "Edmunds' Scandal." The House was aware that there had been matters of litigation between Mr. Leonard Edmunds and the Government, who claimed a very considerable sum as having been received by Mr. Leonard Edmunds, and for which they contended he was liable He disputed the liability, and made counter-claims against the Government. An information was laid by the Crown some years ago in the Court of Chancery, and the then Vice Chancellor Giffard gave a decision adverse to Mr. Edmunds in some points, and making him liable for certain sums, of which he directed that an account should be taken; but, in justice to Mr. Edmunds, he ought to state that he entirely and expressly acquitted Mr. Edmunds of all moral fault. [The ATTORNEY GENERAL: The whole matter was not before the Court.] It was the duty of the Government to have laid the whole case before the Vice Chancellor, and if they failed to do so they were in fault, and they were not entitled now to make it a point against Mr. Edmunds. An account having been ordered to be taken, the whole matter was subsequently referred by counsel to two barristers, against Mr. Edmunds' expressed desire. Those barristers, who doubtless were gentlemen entitled to every confidence, ultimately decided, that Mr. Edmunds was indebted to the Crown in the sum of £7,000 odd, which, with a moiety of the costs of the reference, 510 amounted altogether to about £8,100. That was in the month of November last year. Nothing further took place for a short time; but it happened that in consequence of a certain publication that had been made by two high officers of State Mr. Edmunds conceived that he had ground against them for an action for libel, in which the whole question between himself and the Crown would have been re-opened. Such was the position of the two parties, when in the spring of this year Mr. Edmunds was arrested for his debt to the Crown and thrown into prison, where he now remained. Now no, in common, he believed, with all hon. Members, at the time believed that by the Act of last year imprisonment for debt was abolished, except in the particular cases specified by the Act. The case of Mr. Edmunds came under none of them, yet in this instance the recovery of the debt he owed to the Crown had been pursued by the odious mode of imprisonment. He could not dispute the legality of the arrest, seeing that a very learned Judge had decided that it was legal; but he could easily have understood that another view of the matter might have been taken. He was bound to assume that the Crown had the legal right of imprisonment. But then it was a different thing to determine whether it was right to exercise that right. He trusted the House would consider how the question stood. It was distinctly stated by Vice Chancellor Giffard that there was in the case no moral fraud; that it was a mere question of debt; that there was no violation of trust, no retaining of money in his hands which he was unwilling to pay over, nor anything for which the penalty was prescribed by Act of Parliament. That being so, how was Mr. Edmunds placed? As far as he was concerned, unless the special mercy of the Crown was shown to him—and very little mercy had been shown to him hitherto—he would be imprisoned for the term of his natural life. Formerly, a man had the power to relieve himself from this position by becoming bankrupt. But that was the case no longer. He might give up every farthing he possessed; but unless he gave up £8,000 odd, he must remain a prisoner for the term of his natural life. Was that a position which Parliament contemplated when it abolished imprisonment for debt? If such a thing had 511 then been mentioned on the floor of this House he was sure that a special provision would have been introduced to meet it. This was a casus omissus, and the Crown had taken advantage of it. This, then, was the position in which Mr. Edmunds was placed; and he called the attention of the House to the fact that when they all believed that imprisonment for debt had been altogether abolished, it was still continued in this odious form. Under these circumstances, he had thought it right to bring the matter before the House. It might be asked, why he did not come forward and propose an alteration in the law? But he need not tell the House that it would be idle for a private Member to attempt an alteration of the law at this period of the Session. But it was a question for the House, and still more for the Government, to consider whether it was right and fitting that the name of the Sovereign should be introduced into an Act of this sort; that when it was agreed that all others should be deprived of the right of imprisonment, the Sovereign, and she alone, should have this odious power, which was condemned by the good feeling of the House and the country? He begged to move—That there be laid before this House, a Copy of any Warrant or Order of Court for the commitment to prison of Leonard Edmunds at the suit of the Crown.
§ MR. WEST
said, he was astonished, that the well-known principle of law, "That the Crown was not bound by an Act of Parliament, unless specially named," should have been described by a lawyer to be "an old doctrine recently revived by the Law Officers of the Crown." The doctrine was as old as the existence of law in this country; it was still acted upon every day. His right hon. and learned Friend seemed to forget that the Prerogatives of the Crown, however they might be exercised in former days for the personal benefit of the Crown, were now only exercised for the benefit of the public, and had, in fact, become part of the rights of the nation. He dissented altogether from the proposition of his right hon. and learned. Friend when he said that, if before the passing of the Act the attention of the House had been called to the matter, provision would have been made for the abolition of the rights of the Crown. He would only say that if this 512 had been so his voice would have been raised to protect the rights of the Crown, which he held to be of the highest importance to the welfare of the nation; for it was the nation, and not the Crown, that was concerned in the matter. He would not go into this miserable case of Mr. Edmunds; but he hoped that the Law Officers as long as the law existed would enforce it. If a wretched boy robbed his master's till of 1s. 6d., he was sent to prison; but if a public servant deprived the Exchequer of some thousands of pounds a morbid sympathy was raised for him, and an outcry was raised if he were dealt with according to law. His fear, on the contrary, was lest the Law Officers of the Crown should exercise the Prerogatives of the Crown with too gentle a hand. He would remind the House that there was a great distinction between the Crown and private debtors. An ordinary tradesman could sell his goods to whom he chose; but the Crown had no such choice. Its debts were contracted not by the choice of the Crown, and how was the Crown to recover the taxes from its debtors unless it had the power to enforce them? He hoped, therefore, the Crown would not give way upon this case. If the law was to be altered, let it be altered. But as long as it continued to exist it was the duty of the Law Officers to enforce it.
§ MR. SCLATER-BOOTH
said, he had no intention of entering upon the legal argument, for which he felt himself utterly incompetent; but in consequents of the virtuous indignation into which the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down had worked himself, he rose to ask the House to consider what the world at large were likely to say of the matter. He believed the world would consider that the rights of the Crown had little or nothing to do with it. They would look upon the Crown on one side, and Mr. Edmunds on the other, as two parties to a civil action which had been left to arbitration. It was not the case of a defaulting taxpayer, nor that of a defaulting officer of Inland Revenue. The facts of the case were that a suit between the parties had long been going on — between Mr. Edmunds and the Crown—and in the end a decision was given for the Crown. Hereupon the Lords of the Treasury issued a Minute which laid them open to a charge of 513 libel. The action for libel was commenced, when it was stopped by the arrest of Mr. Edmunds. Now, would not the world say that this was an improper position for the high Officers of the Crown to place themselves in—that it was an unfortunate position for the Crown, and one to which it ought not to have been committed?
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, he must express his great surprise at the speech of his right hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Russell Gurney). The way in which the Law Officers viewed the matter was this—that Mr. Edmunds was a defaulter to the Crown in respect of moneys which he had received, and which he was bound to pay over to the Exchequer. His distinct duty was prescribed to him by Act of Parliament, and therefore he could not concur with the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Sclater-Booth) that his case was different from that of a defaulting taxpayer or defaulting collector of Inland Revenue. Mr. Edmunds had received money due to the Crown, and he had not paid it over, as it was his duty to do. But he was at a loss to understand the argument of his right hon. and learned Friend who introduced this Motion. He admitted that Mr. Edmunds had received £7,000 which he was bound to pay. He admitted that the Crown had a right to issue process against Mr. Edmunds' person. One of the highest authorities on the Bench, Mr. Justice Willes, entertained no doubt that the Crown had a right to adopt the proceedings that had been taken. If Mr. Edmunds had thought fit to appeal against the decision of Mr. Justice Willes he might have done so. His right hon. and learned Friend said that the Act of last Session was misunderstood. With great respect to his right hon. and learned Friend he must characterize that as a rather bold assertion. For himself, he must say he thought he understood it. Could anyone doubt that the Lord Chancellor and the Law Lords in the other House who passsed it understood it? If his right hon. and learned Friend rose and said he did not understand it he would give implicit credence to that statement, however it might surprise him; but he believed the Solicitor General and all the other lawyers in the House understood it in the sense he did. The Bankruptcy and Insolvency 514 Acts of previous years had not interfered with the rights of the Crown, though certain of them had all but abolished imprisonment for debt in the case of debts due to ordinary creditors. Neither had the Act of last Session been intended to do away with the Prerogatives of the Crown in the case of defrauding debtors. When he spoke of the rights of the Crown in such matters he spoke of rights exercised for the benefit of the people. He thought his right hon. and learned Friend was entirely mistaken when he endeavoured to make out that it was the intention of the Legislature last Session to repeal the power of imprisonment for debt on the part of the collective community as represented by the Crown. In the Customs and Inland Revenue Act of last Session, passed within a week or two of the Act to which his right hon. and learned Friend had re-referred, there was a provision to the effect that where a sufficient distress could not be found, in every such case any two of the Commissioners were thereby authorized, by warrant under their hands, to commit the defaulter to the common gaol or House of Correction of the place where he was arrested, there to be kept until payment was made or until he should be released by order of the said Commissioners. This was an extension of the power of imprisonment for debt on the part of the Crown. If his right hon. and learned Friend then held the opinion he now appeared to do, it was astonishing that he did not object then to that provision. For himself, he was not much attached to imprisonment for debt, and would be thankful to see it abolished; but he had made inquiries of the Solicitor to the Inland Revenue Board, who told him that, in his opinion, it would be impossible to abolish imprisonment for debt in the case of persons who owed taxes, or of collectors who did not pay them over, and he also found that that Department and the Treasury, and all the Courts, had acted on the supposition that the Act of last Session did not apply to debts due to the Crown. In January, February, March, April, May, and June last a number of warrants and executions for non-payment of taxes and other debts due to the Crown were issued against the person, and the effect of those executions was that the debts were paid. There might be reasons why, as between subject and subject, 515 the Legislature should abolish it; but nobody, he thought, would deny that imprisonment for debt was the most effectual of remedies. Several persons had been imprisoned since that Act was passed, and they had paid the debt; and he found there was one man in prison now for a comparatively small debt. Why were they to have all that sympathy for a great debtor and none for the small debtor? The question before the House was whether imprisonment for debt at the suit of the Crown should be altogether abolished. If so, the thing ought to be done by a well-considered Act of Parliament, and not by a Motion of that kind brought on at the end of the Session. They could not say that this remedy of the Crown, being enforced against other persons, it ought not to be enforced against Mr. Edmunds, although that would appear to be the effect of the Motion. He had no desire to enter into the merits of the case; but as his right hon. and learned Friend had done so, and Mr. Edmunds had circulated a large number of pamphlets calculated to mislead hon. Members—one-half of which might be described as consisting of misstatements in his own favour, and the other half of libels on other people—he thought it necessary to say a few words as to the real state of the case. He considered this an exceptional case, and believed that if there was anyone Crown debtor against whom it was necessary to issue execution it was Mr. Edmunds. Mr. Edmunds was appointed Clerk of the Patents in 1833 by Lord Brougham, and then the salary of the office was £400 a year. Mr. Edmunds' own account of the matter was that he accepted the office on the understanding that he was to receive £100, and pay the rest of the salary over to the Brougham family. It was not necessary for him to investigate whether that statement was true or not. If it was true, Mr. Edmunds, by his own showing, entered into a corrupt bargain, whereby he became the conduit pipe for clandestinely conveying the public money to persons who had no right to it. Mr. Edmunds, it appeared, did none of the duties of the office, but appointed a person named Ruscoe to perform the duties, which he did for a number of years. Ruscoe received nothing from Mr. Edmunds, but earned a precarious subsistence by small fees received from 516 patentees, selling patent boxes, and buying stamps for patentees at wholesale prices, and selling them at retail prices and pocketing the difference. This trade in stamps subsequently became very profitable, and at length it was clearly made out that Mr. Edmunds took a sum of £500 of public moneys, which it was his duty, as he perfectly well knew, to pay into the Exchequer, and applied it in the purchase of stamps wholesale, which stamps he sold by retail, and thus he went on trading from year to year with that £500 of the public money, and making a large profit, which, in addition to the emoluments of his office, he put into his own pocket. But the case did not stop there. For some years he paid over the moneys he received to the Exchequer. It was his duty, by the Act under which he was appointed, to pay them over quarterly, and make a declaration that he had so paid them, which he did for some time. After a time he intermitted those payments; instead of making them quarterly he did it half-yearly, then yearly; and, as nobody found it out, he kept the sums in his possession for two years; and, finally, there being nobody to cheek those irregularities, he ceased making any payments at all. And from the year 1852 to the period when he was found out he put all that money, which he was bound to pay into the Exchequer, into his own pocket. Now, how was he found out? Quite accidentally. Mr. Edmunds, having a violent temper, quarrelled with Mr. Woodcraft, who did all the work of the office, and brought various charges against him, which turned out to be unfounded. Mr. Woodcraft did not then know of Mr. Edmunds' malversation, but made counter charges against him only of negligence and remissness in his duties. The subject came before the Commissioners of Patents, among whom were his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer), the Lord Chancellor, the Master of the Rolls, and himself, and it was thought desirable to refer the whole matter with respect to the Patent Office to two gentlemen of the highest possible character—Mr. Greenwood and Mr. Hind-march. The arbitrators took great pains with the case—they examined into the matter carefully, and they had Mr. Edmunds before them. In the course of their investigation they expressed a 517 desire to see the accounts, and they asked Mr. Edmunds for his pass-book. He was very unwilling to produce it; but the more unwillingness he displayed the more determination they manifested to get possession of it. Each time that they asked for the book he made excuses for not producing it, such as he had lost it, and the like. Finally, the arbitrators threatened that unless he gave it up they would apply to the Bank for a copy, and under terror of this threat the book was produced. From this book the arbitrators found that from the year 1852 Mr. Edmunds had never paid in one farthing to the public account. Now, what was his first account of the transaction—because in matters of this sort it was extremely important to ascertain the first story told by the individual whose conduct was implicated. It appeared from the Blue Book upon the subject that Mr. Edmunds had handed a paper across the table to Mr. Greenwood, admitting the wrong in relation to the non-payment with sorrow, and that was the only explanation of the matter the arbitrators could obtain from him. Eventually, the arbitrators found that Mr. Edmunds owed the Exchequer a sum of between £3,000 and £4,000; but before that decision was announced Mr. Edmunds paid into the Treasury the sum of £7,000, for which, fortunately for him, he obtained a receipt. He said fortunately, because the then Law Officers, after some hesitation, came to the conclusion that as the Treasury had chosen to treat him as a debtor, it was not, on the whole, expedient to prosecute him as a criminal. He referred to this matter to show that Mr. Edmunds, so far from having been hardly dealt with, had all along been treated with much leniency. But this was not the termination of the affair. Mr. Edmunds had been a pluralist. He had held, besides his other appointment, the Clerkship to the House of Lords, and the matter was investigated by a Committee of that House, among the members of which were the Duke of Somerset, the Earl of Derby, the Duke of Montrose, the Earl of Clarendon, and Lord Chelmsford, before whom he was cited, and personally called to give evidence. He admitted then that he had unfortunately omitted to pay a certain sum of money into the Consolidated Fund in the year 1852, and that he had also failed to do the like thing in the year following. Having 518 missed two years, he said that he became alarmed, and was afraid to pay the money into the Exchequer the third year lest the whole of his accounts for 20 years previously should be audited. Each year, he declared, the difficulty of paying up the arrears became greater and he consequently allowed them to run on. There were many hon. and learned Members in that House who had prosecuted clerks for embezzlement, and they knew that the usual course of defence was, that having once omitted to make a payment they were afraid of making subsequent payments. The matter having been carefully considered by the Committee of the House of Lords, their Lordships came to the unanimous conclusion, among other things, that he was guilty of retaining in his own hands sums of money that ought to have been paid into the Exchequer, and that he had appropriated to his own private use various sums that belonged to the public. The Crown subsequently instituted proceedings in the Court of Chancery with reference to some other matters; and, with all respect to the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Russell Gurney), he must state that only part of the case was tried before the Vice Chancellor. Upon the evidence that was laid before him, the Vice Chancellor decided against Mr. Edmunds, but observed, at the same time, that there was no charge against his moral character. ["Hear, hear!"] Hon. Gentlemen might cry "Hear, hear!" but the Tice Chancellor had not the whole case before him, the misappropriation of the £7,000 under the circumstances he had stated was not referred to on the part of the Crown. He (the Attorney General) was bound to state, however, that he had in his possession a letter from Vice Chancellor Giffard, which he was willing to show to the right hon. and learned Gentleman, or to any other hon. Member opposite, informing Mr. Greenwood that had he known the whole facts of the case the observation with repect to Mr. Edmunds' character would not have fallen from him.
MR. RUSSELL GURNET
remarked that the letter to which the Attorney General referred was probably written by the Vice Chancellor, after hearing a one-sided statement.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, he was willing to show the letter to 519 which he had alluded to any hon. Member who might desire to see it. It was very unfortunate for Mr. Edmunds that the Vice Chancellor had made the complimentary remark to which he had referred, because it had encouraged him to proceed, with an action he had brought against Messrs. Greenwood and Hindmarch, and to make extravagant demands against the Crown. Thereafter the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite agreed to refer all matters in dispute between Mr. Edmunds and the Crown to arbitrators. [Mr. RUSSELL GURNEY: No, no!] He maintained that such was the case. He had been engaged in the case from the beginning, and knew all the facts. On behalf of Mr. Edmunds it was demanded that all his claims—legal, equitable, and moral—should be referred to arbitration. It was at first objected to on the part of the Crown to arbitrate upon his moral claims; but latterly they agreed even to include these claims. The hon. and learned Member for Tiverton (Mr. Denman), and Mr. Pollock—a counsel of great eminence—were appointed to arbitrate, Mr. Manisty acting as umpire. They were engaged 11 days in hearing the case, two or three being occupied by Mr. Edmunds himself, and they came to an agreement without calling in the umpire.
§ MR. DENMAN
said, he wished to state that he and Mr. Pollock took especial pains to have it understood that they were not arbitrators either for the Crown or for Mr. Edmunds, but they entered into the case quite irrespective of persons.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, he did not question that both the learned gentlemen were impartial. They agreed that a sum of over £8,000 was still due from Mr. Edmunds to the Crown in respect of money which he was bound to pay over, but had retained in his possession, and had put some of it out to interest for a number of years, and some of which he had used for the purpose of carrying on the trade in stamps. Mr. Edmunds had then the courage to assert that he retained that money purposely and advisedly, because he had applied once or twice to the Treasury for an audit but could not obtain one, and when asked to whom he applied he named two gentlemen, both of whom were dead, one of whom was Mr. James Wilson, the Secretary 520 to the Treasury. No letters; however, could be found making such application. Mr. Edmunds also said he told Mr. Wilson that he had several thousands of pounds in hand, which he desired to pay over on his accounts being audited, and he added that on hearing his statement Mr. Wilson shrugged his shoulders and said nothing; he would leave anybody who knew the late Mr. James Wilson to judge whether he was the man, in hearing that money was due to the Treasury, to say no more about it. If Mr. Edmunds had hinted anything of the kind he would have had a Treasury letter the next morning. According to Mr. Edmunds' own account what he desired was an efficient audit. Well, Messrs. Greenwood and Hindmarch were appointed for the purpose of investigating the whole question. Yet they found the greatest difficulty in getting at the whole facts, and only learned them from Mr. Edmunds under the influence of a threat. If ever the right of the Crown against the person was to be enforced, it surely should be enforced against Mr. Edmunds. How could this Prerogative of the Crown be enforced against small debtors if it was allowed to lie in abeyance in the case of the greatest Crown debtor of the century? If the House wished to repeal the power of the Crown to apply a summary process against any debtor, a Bill ought to be introduced in order that the matter might be thoroughly discussed; but as that power still existed the Treasury would have failed in its duty if it had not applied it to the case of Mr. Edmunds. Had the Crown treated him as a bankrupt Mr. Edmunds would not have been better off, for the Court of Bankruptcy might have dealt with him as a fraudulent debtor, in which case he would have been liable to imprisonment. He left the case in the hands of the House, submitting that they could not come to the conclusion that the Treasury had done wrong in this matter.
§ SIR JAMES ELPHINSTONE
said, his right hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Russell Gurney) had opened the case as shortly as possible, while the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down had gone into the case elaborately, arguing it as a counsel engaged on the other side against Mr. Edmunds, and the only tiling he had proved — if he had proved anything—was that he himself 521 had compromised a felony. The question was not whether the Crown had the right of imprisoning for debt or not, but whether the course pursued towards Mr. Edmunds was, on any ground whatever, justifiable. He (Sir James Elphinstone) had known Mr. Edmunds for 31 years, and he did not believe he was a fraudulent debtor. On the contrary, he agreed with the judgment of Lord Justice Giffard, and was of opinion that Mr. Edmunds was an innocent man. He therefore asked the Mouse and the country whether it was right and becoming that the power of the Crown should be exercised to crush this unfortunate man? Here was a man who, at the cost of thousands of pounds, had defended himself against the vilest charges, and now, at the age of 69 years and five months, he was in prison, and was left there to die, and if he did die they knew where his blood would rest. ["Oh!"] Yes, he was near his three score years and ten, the period allotted to man. Although the decision against him was given last November, Mr. Edmunds was allowed to be free until he had brought an action against certain high officers. The moment it became clear that an action would be brought steps were at once taken to make it a remanet, and Mr. Edmunds was persuaded to postpone his action by means which were scarcely creditable. Three weeks ago Mr. Brutton waited on him (Sir James Elphinstone) just before he had started for a Committee of that House. He told him he came from Mr. Bradley, the Solicitor to the Treasury, for the purpose of negotiating Mr. Edmunds' release. He (Sir James Elphinstone) told Mr. Brutton that Mr. Edmunds ought not to consent to postpone the trial unless he first obtained his freedom; but he, at the same time, added that if Mr. Edmunds had an honourable understanding with the Treasury he would advise him to postpone his action, as it was a most inconvenient time for prominent Members of the Government to be asked to engage in such a matter. He wrote a note to the effect to Mr. Edmunds. Well, this gentleman, who represented that he was set in motion by the Treasury, went to Mr. Edmunds, in Whitecross Street Prison, and repeated his statement in the presence of Mr. Bernardo Shiel, who happened to be visiting Mr. Edmunds at the time. Mr. Edmunds said to Mr. Brutton—"I will 522 not give the required consent for the remanet unless I receive a quid pro quo. I require an exchange of papers—the consent on the one hand, the unconditional discharge from prison on the other." Mr. Edmunds spoke roughly and in the most decided manner. Mr. Brutton said that could not be done, as there were some red-tape formalities to be gone through, adding that his only object was to help him through his difficulties. If these persons were summoned to the Bar of the House they would prove the correctness of what he had just stated. Mr. Edmunds would never have given up the lever he had over the Government, only for certain promises held out to him; and now having been induced to withdraw by some means or other, the unfortunate man was to be kept in prison until next December. It was the opinion of his medical advisers that this would be most injurious if not fatal to his health. Sir William Fergusson, on the 4th of July, said he had just seen Mr. Edmunds in Whitecross Street Prison; that he had been in the habit of attending him for 20 years, that he had lately had an attack of erysipelas, that he had been always accustomed to bracing exercise in the open air, and that a long detention in prison would seriously affect his health. Dr. Waters also stated that he had been struck by the altered appearance of Mr. Edmunds, which he could only attribute to his present confinement. The case, if he was spared, would come before a jury of his countrymen in December, and then he would obtain that verdict to which he had a right. If it was adverse his friends might desert him; but he (Sir James Elphinstone) never would.
§ MR. DENMAN
said, he felt bound to take part in this debate after the remarks which had fallen from the Attorney General; but it would be, of course, unbecoming in him to adopt one side or the other as regarded voting upon the question. He had attended frequently in that House whenever that Motion was on the Paper, because he thought it would be a proper opportunity of answering a charge made against him by the hon. Baronet (Sir James Elphinstone), who, however, he was quite aware, know nothing whatever about the legal bearings of the question. He and his brother arbitrator had been charged on an occasion when he was not in the 523 House with having decided this case ex parte. Nothing could be more different from the fact than such a statement. When first appointed arbitrators, he, himself, and Mr. Pollock had distinctly given it to be understood that they only accepted the reference upon the understanding that they were to be joint arbitrators to all intents and purposes, and not the arbitrators of either party. They examined the evidence most carefully, and read all the Blue Books and documents which were prepared by both sides. They read those documents both during the hearing and afterwards, and they then met together to discuss the case, when they both took exactly the same general view of the case, and were of opinion that they could not do otherwise than make an award to the extent of over £7,000 against Mr. Edmunds. He ought, in justice to themselves, to say that the inquiry before the arbitrators was somewhat limited in its character though it was large in its scope. In the first place, they had, in accordance with the principle laid down by Vice Chancellor Giffard, as to the legality of certain transactions of Mr. Edmunds, to decide whether any money was due to the Crown, for the Vice Chancellor laid down a principle, according to which, if they found certain facts, Mr. Edmunds had no right to retain certain moneys, and by that principle they were bound. They also felt themselves almost bound not to award any costs against Mr. Edmunds, however much they might think he was in the wrong; because the Vice Chancellor had decided the question of costs in the Chancery suit not in Mr. Edmunds' favour, but still not against him, and they found themselves tied by the order of reference in that respect Under the order of reference, they were empowered to say whether upon any moral grounds they recommended that Mr. Edmunds should be relieved from the payment of sums which might be actually due from him. In the sequel they did find that a larger amount than £7,000 was due from him; but they decided to advise the Crown to release him from the payment of a portion of the amount due. He wished to explain, however, that although they acted under that part of the order of reference which enabled them to recommend that Mr. Edmunds should be relieved from some portion of the strict claims against him 524 on "moral grounds," they did not at all mean to say that any part of Mr. Edmunds' conduct was meritorious or honourable to him. The arbitrators found that during a certain period Mr. Edmunds had been receiving a less sum than he might have expected to receive, according to the original terms of his employment, and therefore they remitted a certain portion of the amount due from him. The award of the arbitrators, was founded upon a belief that Mr. Edmunds, who ought to have paid very large sums to the Crown, had wilfully, and with a full knowledge that he was doing wrong, kept back that money for a great many years, and made a profit out of it on his own account. That was the basis of the award, and it was on that ground that the arbitrators decided against him. He could not, therefore, say he looked upon Mr. Edmunds as free from moral blame. He had heard the opinion of Vice Chancellor Giffard quoted more than once as though it were directly in the teeth of the opinions of the two Commissioners, Mr. Greenwood and Mr. Hindmarch, the opinion of the Committee of the House of Lords, and the opinions of the two arbitrators. But Vice Chancellor Giffard himself had told him (Mr. Denman), after the award was made, that he had not read the Blue Books on the subject when the case was argued before him, and that if he had read them at the time he should have come to a very different opinion, and would have abstained from expressing anything like an acquittal of Mr. Edmunds from moral blame in his judgment. That he could vouch for as having been said to him by Vice Chancellor Giffard. He gave this explanation because of the attacks which had been made upon him and his fellow-arbitrator not only in the course of this discussion, but in Mr. Edmunds' pamphlet, in which the arbitrators were falsely charged with having resolved to conclude the arbitration by a certain day, and decided the case ex parte against Mr. Edmunds, the charge being accompanied with the line—So wretches hang that jurymen may dine.Whereas the matter had been most fully heard from beginning to end, and there was not a particle of foundation for any such statement.
§ DR. BALL
said, that everyone who considered how unsuitable that House was for the discussion of legal questions must regret that a discussion of the nature of the present should have arisen. If legal questions demanded consideration, there were proper tribunals appointed by the Constitution for their decision. The bringing before that House in an indirect manner a charge against the execution of a law founded on an allegation of the illegality of the proceeding could have no justification, because if the commitment were illegal, the person arrested under it would be discharged from arrest. He, therefore, declined to give any support or assistance to any attempt here to impeach the proceedings, on the ground of illegality, or on the ground that a particular Act of Parliament was passed without its meaning or intention being understood. The law, as it existed, must be administered; and, if it were wrong, it must be altered by legislative interference, and not by indirect Motions or charges against the officers who were responsible to the public for its execution. Beside the objection that this was not the proper tribunal to decide, it appeared to him there also existed, the objection to the discussion that it was most inexpedient. The hon. and learned Member for Tiverton (Mr. Denman) who, the moment he was appointed an arbitrator, became a Judge and utterly ceased to have anything to do with the case, except as it lay within the record placed before him, whose mind should have been incapable of receiving an impression upon the case, except in his judicial capacity, and who ought not to have been as it were forced to come forward to express an opinion upon the matter, had been brought into examination, and obliged to give a history of his mode of reading the Papers in the case, and of his conferences with his brother arbitrator, and to reveal matters which would more wisely have been secluded within the sacred precincts of judicial investigation. The right hon. Gentleman (the Recorder of London) had made that House a tribunal for entering into the conduct of two men, whose position, honour, and reputation at the English Bar were quite sufficient to protect them, without having to come forward in any other way. He did not approve of the mode in which the question 526 was brought forward; and he must say that he had not the remotest doubt as to the £7,000 being due, when he found it awarded by such men. Still it did not follow from that that he or any other Member of the House should be perfectly satisfied with the proceedings. When he came down to the House his impression was entirely in favour of the Crown; but the Attorney General had pointed out in his speech another mode of proceeding, which would have been much preferable to the one actually adopted, if it were open to the Executive—proceedings in bankruptcy.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, he did not say that the Crown could have proceeded against Mr. Edmunds in bankruptcy; but that if they had been able to do so he did not think Mr. Edmunds would have fared better.
§ DR. BALL
said, that he was not acquainted with the English bankruptcy laws, which were different from those in Ireland; but he must say that some such proceeding, if it could have been adopted, would have been preferable to one in which the Government made themselves the absolute masters and judges of the whole matter. Why had Parliament passed an Act which repealed the law for imprisoning a man for debt? Simply because it was not held right to imprison a man for a pecuniary demand. The tendency of the age was to abolish imprisonment except where there was a moral wrong in the case. But what had been done in this case? There was no finding of a moral wrong by any legal tribunal. Mr. Edmunds was arrested for £7,000, but it did not seem to have been considered what was to be done with him? Was there a period at which he could be discharged, or was it intended to detain him for life? for that was what the matter came to. The Government, when they took the step of arresting Mr. Edmunds, made themselves the judges of his misconduct or malversation. The Crown possessed a vast power in following and reaching goods which no private individual possessed; but instead of putting it in force in this case, Mr. Edmunds had been arrested, and the Government made themselves the judges as to his period of incarceration, for Mr. Edmunds could not take the benefit of the Insolvent Act. He had looked into such of the documents in the case as were before the House, and 527 he found that Lord Justice Giffard in his judgment declared, as to some part of the case, that it arose from an unfortunate Act of Parliament passed in reference to a state of circumstances which changed immediately afterwards. And Lord Justice Giffard also judicially declared that the arguments and evidence placed before him had been successful in clearing the character of Mr. Edmunds from all imputations. That was the solemn judgment of a learned Judge; but the whole effect of it was to be frittered away by a letter not on sworn testimony, not after argument by counsel, not after all the advantages had been accorded which the law gave to every man who demanded inquiry, but on the private question and application of the Attorney General or of the arbitrators.
§ MR. DENMAN
denied that he had ever said that it was upon his application that Vice Chancellor Giffard had made the observation he had quoted. It was a purely voluntary observation made by the Vice Chancellor to him.
§ DR. BALL
said, that did not, in his opinion, make the least difference. It was an alarming principle that the decision of a Judge in his judicial capacity was to be frittered away by private conversations, because there was no case ever decided in which it might not be said that though the judgment pronounced on the Bench pronounced one thing, yet the conversation of the Judge afterwards over the dinner table asserted another. Mr. Edmunds got the office, as he understood the facts, with an agreement that the present Lord Brougham was to receive a proportion of the salary, and it was said that that noble Lord admitted that he had received £9,000 from the emoluments of the office while the whole salary was but £400 a year. Now was that office, or was it not, under the control of the Lord Chancellor, and ought not successive Lord Chancellors or Chancellors of the Exchequers to have kept their eyes upon it? Had there not been gross laches on the part of the Crown? Had not successive Governments given a sort of connivance to what had taken place by abstaining from interference? Then, he asked, was it not hard that the Government should suddenly turn round upon Mr. Edmunds and say—We will bring you to account. You have had £7,000 out of the office you had no 528 right to; but we close our eyes to the fact that out of the income £9,000 has gone to Lord Brougham. Surely that was a matter to be inquired into; but Ille crucem tulit hic diadema. The condemnation fell upon Mr. Edmunds alone, although he had come under the notice of several Chancellors; and although the demand arose under an Act of Parliament, passed under different circumstances, and he was ordered to pay the whole as if it was a plain and simple transaction. It seemed to him that, unless no excuse could by possibility have been given for his conduct, and that it was plainly and undoubtedly morally wrong, the imprisonment of Mr. Edmunds was extremely harsh, and that every other means which could have been suggested ought to have been tried before this proceeding was taken. But, without any judicial condemnation of him as morally guilty, Government acted as judge and executioner in their own case.
§ MR. SERJEANT SHERLOCK
said, he thought it was rather unfortunate for Mr. Edmunds that his case had been brought before the House. Regular proceedings were instituted against him, and he defended them, and the result was that he was found to have incurred a very heavy debt to the Crown. The exculpation pronounced by the learned Judge was purely voluntary, and the last act of the Judge must be taken as explaining why he wished to retract what he had stated in his judgment. But again the matter was referred to the arbitration of two gentlemen of unimpeachable character, who went out of their way to say that not only legally, but morally, Mr. Edmunds was a debtor to the Crown in £7,000 or £8,000. The Crown had therefore no option but to proceed upon the decision, and all that could be said in mercy to Mr. Edmunds was that he had now no means to pay this debt, and was in his 69th year, and in bad health. There was no defence, and yet it was made an accusation against the Officers of the Crown that they had done their duty. The friends of Mr. Edmunds had injudiciously entered into details which would not bear investigation; whereas, if they had appealed ad misericordiam to the Crown, the circumstances of his present position might have been taken into consideration, and he (Mr. Serjeant Sherlock) would then have been prepared, for one, to support 529 the case. As it was, Mr. Edmunds had been imprisoned by his own default.
§ SIR ROUNDELL PALMER
said, nothing could be more disagreeable, or more opposed to the general rule on which he acted, than for him to take part in a debate relating to matters in which he had been officially or professionally concerned; but he felt that he should be doing some wrong to his hon. and learned Friend below him (the Attorney General), and those who shared with him in the responsibility of the Government, if he were to be entirely silent upon this occasion. He desired to remind the House that the proceedings against Mr. Edmunds were, as nearly as possible in substance, although not in form, taken under the direction of the House. There had been inquiries, and the results had been made public, and the matter had been carefully examined by a Committee of the House of Lords, who considered that he had been a defaulter in respect of public accounts committed to his care, out of which he was considered to have made illegitimate profit. Frequent questions were asked in that House, and pressure was put upon the Government of the day to compel them to take some effectual proceedings against Mr. Edmunds. It was considered most proper to adopt the civil form of procedure, as being that least accompanied with harshness, and a course which would enable the Crown to avoid, as far as possible, introducing any unnecessary imputations with regard to personal conduct. In the bill filed in Chancery the case was stated as drily as possible, the Officers of the Crown confining their statements to what was strictly necessary for the purpose of obtaining a decree for an account, the proper civil remedy. When the case came before I the learned Judge, they directed their arguments—as they had also directed their evidence—to that point alone, Somewhat unexpectedly, though perhaps not unnaturally, the counsel for Mr. Edmunds went into those points of personal crimination which the Crown had abstained from touching. It was, therefore, almost inevitable that the learned Judge—whose name it was impossible to mention without a deep sense of the serious loss which the country had sustained by his death—should be induced to soften the decision upon the points of law which he felt compelled to pronounce 530 by saying that, as the matter came before him, the explanations offered by Mr. Edmunds appeared to be such as might relieve his character from imputation, though insufficient to prevent a decree for an account being made against him. But it was a total misapprehension to suppose that the learned and excellent Judge was expressing, or could by any possibility have then given, a final opinion upon the real merits of the case, which were not, and could not be fully before him until the particulars and the general result of the account were seen. What was said on that occasion was quite consistent with the subsequent award. It would be an unfortunate circumstance if anything which might take place in the House should give countenance to the notion that persons intrusted with public money could be allowed to be so lax in their accounts as to have the opportunity of making use of any portion of the money for their private purposes. He trusted that nothing would be said or done in Parliament which might lead to the conclusion outside, especially among public officers, that the House looked upon matters of this kind more leniently and indulgently at the present time than it did in the year 1865.
§ MR. HORSMAN
said, that he and Sir James Fergusson had been requested to look into this case. Subsequently it had been submitted to arbitration, and he would not have the presumption to question the judgment of the arbitrators. He did not, however, admit that the case before the House was simply that of the Crown and Mr. Edmunds. The question was not whether Mr. Edmunds had acted rightly or wrongly, but whether, imprisonment for debt having been done away with in civil cases, Mr. Edmunds, who had not been previously convicted as a fraudulent debtor, should be shut out from the benefit of that change in our law. Though four learned Gentlemen of great ability had addressed the House from the Government side, not one of them had applied himself to that point. It should be admitted that while the Government possessed this exceptional power they were bound to exercise it with great discretion, under great responsibility, and bearing in mind that they should give no occasion for any suspicion of animus in whatever they did. It was an unfortunate coincidence, 531 calculated to produce a bad effect out-of-doors, that when Mr. Edmunds commenced an action for libel against the Treasury, at once the Treasury should have sought to incarcerate him. The public at large, not being as well informed on the matter as the House of Commons, might think that a cruel proceeding, though the House did not think so. They knew that the Attorney General and the Chancellor of the Exchequer divided between them the honour of Mr. Edmunds' incarceration, and they knew they were both humane men. The Attorney General was a man of great humanity, who would not tread upon a worm; and the Chancellor of the Exchequer was well known to have the tenderest of hearts. It might truly be said of the right hon. Gentleman, as it had been said of Kirke White, that "he was not only overflowing with the milk of human kindness, but he monopolized the whole of the cream." What could they obtain from this shattered old man? He had been in possession of a valuable appointment. That was gone. He would have been entitled to a pension for long service. That was gone. He had occupied a good position in society. That was gone. He had had ample means of livelihood. They were gone. Even his health was shattered. How much lower was it necessary to bring him? They might take his life; but would there be any advantage to the public in that? The British public were in favour of justice to the fullest extent; but they abhorred anything like persecution. And he must express his own opinion that anything which had the semblance of persecution was a degradation to the position of the Law Officers, and to the Government under which they served. He did not see what public interest could be served by the incarceration of a poor, ruined, and borne-down man from whom nothing more could be obtained.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, that if the Motion invited the House to pass almost a Vote of Censure upon the Law Officers of the Crown, he was sure the House would readily agree that a case had not been made out for any interference on the part of Parliament. He thought the House would rather concur in the opinion of the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Dr. Ball), in declaring that to bring to the 532 Bar of the House of Commons questions of law, and to discuss them as political and even party questions, was a highly objectionable course. We had been told, on high authority, of the disadvantages which would arise if gentlemen holding high judicial positions were allowed to occupy seats in the House of Commons. He would not express any opinion on that as a general proposition; but if right hon. Members eminent in their judicial position, most eminent in their character, and most admired for their antecedents in that House, were to bring to the Bar of the House of Commons other Judges, and to almost impeach the legality of their proceedings, then one might be led to doubt whether the presence of other Judges in that Assembly would be an advantage. What had been done in this case? Here was a gentleman with whom the Government had nothing whatever to do. Mr. Edmunds was personally unknown to him. When he took Office he and his learned Friend the Attorney General found that proceedings had been instituted against Mr. Edmunds by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer), and it was in progress when his hon. and learned Friend was in Office. The case was referred by the Treasury, at the earnest instance of Mr. Edmunds himself, to arbitration, and it was referred upon the principles laid down by Vice Chancellor Giffard, who carefully conducted the case so as not to raise moral questions. If Vice Chancellor Giffard gave a moral judgment it was an extra-judicial one, given for the purpose of making a disagreeable judgment as agreeable in manner as was possible. At the earnest instance of Mr. Edmunds, the case was referred to arbitrators, one of whom was chosen by himself and the other by the Government; and they decided that Mr. Edmunds, in addition to nearly £8,000 which he had paid over, under terror of exposure, was justly indebted to the Crown to the amount of nearly £8,000 more. When asked to make an explanation Mr. Edmunds conducted himself as a man who was guilty of malversation and paid over the £8,000. A suit was, therefore, instituted for the recovery of £7,000, and as Mr. Edmunds would not pay what else could they do? How could they avoid putting into execution the powers with which they were 533 clothed? His right hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Russell Gurney) must know that, although imprisonment for debt had been abolished, this did not hold good with regard to a debtor to the Crown. What argument against the exercise of this power was it to say that this gentleman was 70 years of age? With respect to the sarcasms thrown out by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Horsman) against his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer and his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, he (the Solicitor General) was quite ready to share the responsibility of sanctioning what had been done. The power in question was a most salutary power, and one without which it would be impossible to collect a large portion of the Revenue. He thought it right that, when a portion of the public money had been misapplied, extraordinary power should be exercised.
§ MR. RUSSELL GURNEY
said, he thought it necessary that he should say a few words in reply. He had been astonished to hear the hon. and learned Solicitor General say that he had been guilty of bringing the Judges to the Bar of that House. Anything more unlike the course he had really pursued than that statement could hardly be conceived. Not a single word had fallen from him that could bear the interpretation put upon his remarks by the Solicitor General. From the commencement to the end of his observations he had said he was not going into the merits of Mr. Edmunds' case. He had called attention to the only judicial judgment on record in the matter—namely, that of Vice Chancellor Giffard. The hon. and learned Member for Richmond (Sir Roundell Palmer) said that information was filed in a way that would bring not the criminality, but the conduct of Mr. Edmunds before the Vice Chancellor; but the very things which had formed the substance of the Attorney General's speech were pressed by the hon. and learned Member for Richmond and Mr. Wickens before the Vice Chancellor, and having those matters before him the Vice Chancellor came to the decision which he had stated—namely, that there was no criminality, that it was a simple case of debtor and creditor, that Mr. Edmunds was legally liable, and that was all. He had brought that matter before the House, having been asked to 534 do so, as an important constitutional question, and he had urged that at a time when the public believed, and the House believed, that imprisonment for debt was abolished, except in certain cases specified in the Act of Parliament, they found, in that which was declared by the only judicial decision upon the case to be a mere debt, the Crown was enforcing payment of the debt by the odious mode of imprisonment, which was condemned by the moral sense of the country. The speech of the Attorney General that night was a kind of rehearsal of the speech he would have to make next November, and it was scarcely becoming in the principal Law Officer of the Crown to make a strong ex parte speech in that House in respect to a case in which he was subsequently to appear before a jury. He had distinctly told the learned Attorney General beforehand that he was not going into the merits of the case, but simply into the question of imprisonment for debt. He had strictly followed that course, and yet the hon and learned Gentleman had thought fit to enter into matters which were hardly becoming the position he occupied.
§ THE DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. DODSON)
ruled that the hon. and learned Attorney General might give an explanation of what he had said.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
wished to remark that he complained that his right hon. and learned Friend had said he would not go into the merits of the case, and then had proceeded to enter into them.
§ THE DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr. DODSON)
ruled that the hon. and learned Gentleman might claim to speak in explanation.
§ SIR ROUNDELL PALMER
said, that his right hon. and learned Friend seemed to think that he had convicted him (Sir Roundell Parmer) of inconsistency when he referred to his argument before Vice Chancellor Giffard. What he had said was that he had not then gone into matters of a personal kind. The passage to which his right hon. and learned Friend referred simply stated the facts, which were necessary to entitle 535 the Crown to the account which it sought and obtained, and which raised the questions of law, upon which the Judge decided that Mr. Edmunds was wrong.
§ Ordered, That there be laid before this House, a Copy of any Warrant or Order of Court for the commitment to prison of Leonard Edmunds at the suit of the Crown.—(Mr. Russell Gurney.)