HC Deb 25 April 1873 vol 215 cc1001-3

in rising to call the attention of the House to the case of Mr. M'Aleese, now suffering imprisonment in the prison of the County Antrim, under sentence for contempt of Court; and to ask if the Inspectors General of prisons have taken any step with reference to the treatment to which he is subjected, said, Mr. M'Aleese, the editor of The Ulster Examiner, a newspaper published at Belfast, was recently sentenced to four months' imprisonment and to pay a heavy fine, for having commented on a trial which had taken place before Mr. Justice Lawson and had terminated, and complained of the severity of the sentence which had been passed. It should be remarked that the comments were not published till after the close of the trial.

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Members being found present,


then resumed—He admitted that the Judge was perfectly right in sustaining the authority of the Court, and did not find fault with the severity of the sentence; but what he complained of was the treatment to which he had been subjected in prison—a treatment which the prison rules never contemplated in the case of persons who had not been convicted of crime, who had never been tried, and who had simply been sentenced to be imprisoned for con- tempt of Court. While he had been in prison his friends had been denied admission to see him; his request to allow him to supply his own food had been refused; his request for wine had been refused; and even a request that he might have a copy of the prison rules had been refused. His wife had certainly been allowed to see him, but always in the presence of some of the gaol officials, so that no private conversation could pass between them. At 5 o'clock every evening, Mr. M'Aleese was locked up in his cell without a fire, and he was not let out of his cell until 9 o'clock in the morning. He was not allowed to send away any letters until they had been submitted to the supervision of the gaol officials, and he was not allowed to have any bed beyond a straw bed. That was the way in which a gentleman, against whom no crime was alleged, was treated in a civilized nation. He (Sir John Gray) did not ask the House to interfere in the matter in any way, but all he asked for was whether the Inspectors General of Prisons had inquired into the case; and, if so, whether the treatment accorded to Mr. M'Aleese was considered to be proper treatment for a man charged with no crime, and only supposed to be held in safe custody?


said, he regretted that, as no Notice of the Question had been given him, he was unable to give the hon. Gentleman much information, as the Reports were in Dublin. It was not necessary to follow the hon. Gentleman into any discussion of the propriety of the sentence passed by Mr. Justice Lawson, as a Return moved for by the hon. and learned Member for Limerick (Mr. Butt) would place the House in full possession of the facts. The hon. Gentleman had stated that the comment in question had been made on a trial which was over, and was not then pending. Technically, that was true; but he must remind the hon. Gentleman that although the article for which Mr. Justice Lawson summoned Mr. M'Aleese to appear before him was upon an individual case that was over, yet that the Assizes were not over, and there were other cases of a similar kind to be tried. Statements having appeared in the newspapers as to the treatment of Mr. M'Aleese, inquiry had been made and official reports contradicted those statements in almost every particular, declaring that, though there was no fire, his room was warmed by hot water, that he was allowed to provide food, was also allowed the use of books and papers, and could see his friends. Further statements having appeared in the newspapers as to the treatment of Mr. M'Aleese, further inquiry was made, and an hour or two ago he had received a telegram which stated that a warder was always present at interviews between the defendant and those who visited him, except his solicitor and the Roman Catholic priest, and that, subject to certain restrictions, he was allowed to receive newspapers and letters. That was all the information he could furnish to the House. The Papers which had been moved for would give fuller information, and if the Reports received were not deemed satisfactory, one of the Inspectors General would be deputed to visit the prison. He could assure the hon. Member that there was no wish on the part of the Executive to treat Mr. M'Aleese with any unnecessary severity. It must be borne in mind, however, that the prison in which Mr. M'Aleese was confined was not under the control of Government, but under the control of the Board of Superintendence, and the Government Inspectors had no power to order any changes, even if they thought them necessary, but only to recommend them.