HC Deb 11 July 1873 vol 217 cc264-6

in rising to call attention to the state of the Law relating to offences known as Contempt of Court, and especially to the recent administration of the Law in the Court of Queen's Bench in relation to the Tich-borne Case now pending in that Court, said, that he had on various occasions endeavoured to state his views on this subject, but he had not succeeded, and at that late hour he would therefore confine himself to a very few words. In consequence of the manner in which this law of contempt had been administered, it was not possible for the defendant to have such a trial as would satisfy the prayer of above 100,000 persons, and at least five times that number whom he had himself seen and heard expressing the same opinion. Complete silence had been imposed on the Press and the public by the action of the Court, and the consequence was that the man was utterly destitute. Even a Petition could not be presented to that House, and he was entirely deprived of the means of defending himself in a prosecution instituted by the Government. After Dr. Wheeler, a witness for the defendant, had been examined by the Solicitor to the Treasury, he received a position abroad, with a salary four times greater than he had ever earned in his profession, so that he was prevented from giving evidence in the defendant's favour. That information he had from Dr. Wheeler himself. He held in his hand evidence which, he believed, would be conclusive before a Court of Justice, but if steps were not taken to bring it before the Court it would be utterly useless to the defendant. He would suggest to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department, that that precedent might in future be found most prejudicial to the administration of justice. He would remind the right hon. Gentleman that he had himself consented to the publication of a correspondence which had passed between himself and the Secretary to the Treasury on the subject. If the Secretary to the Treasury was not prepared to allow this man the money necessary to produce his witnesses, now that the case for the prosecution had closed, he should, at least, take such measures as would ensure justice being done. If not, it would create a general feeling of dissatisfaction in the country.


said, he was glad the hon. Gentleman had been allowed to unburden himself, and he hoped he would no longer think it necessary to occupy the time of the House with that subject. The hon. Gentleman had asked him whether it was not the duty of the Government to have provided funds not only for the prosecution, but also for the defence. He had all along suggested that the course which the Government had taken was not only unusual but in itself wrong. What did the hon. Gen- tleman think should have been done when the Judge ordered that the defendant should be prosecuted? From that moment, it became the duty of the Government to undertake the Prosecution. Had no such action been taken, there would have been a scandalous failure of justice for which the Government would have been responsible. The hon. Gentleman then said that the Government, having done that—having undertaken the prosecution—should also undertake the defence—that they should employ counsel and bring up the witnesses for both sides, forgetful that public prosecutions existed in every country in Europe. What did that mean? How could he distinguish that from any other case? Then the hon. Gentlemen spoke of the difficulties to which the defendant had been exposed in. consequence of the ruling of the Judges with reference to the law of contempt. Now, he did not deny that there were special circumstances in the case, but if those who advocated the cause of the defendant had conducted themselves with decency and propriety, without making reflections on the Judges or on the conduct of the trial, they might have acted with perfect security, and it was because they had not done so that difficulties had arisen.


rose to Order.


I also rise to Order, Sir, and move that the House be counted.

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

House adjourned at a quarter after One o'clock till Monday next.