HC Deb 19 April 1875 vol 223 cc1228-31

I desire, Sir, to crave the indulgence of the House for a few moments while I call attention to a statement made by the hon. Member for Peterborough (Mr. Whalley), on Friday night, reflecting on the judicial character of a most distinguished Judge—the Lord Chief Justice of England. I see the hon. Member for Peterborough in his place, and I have given him Notice of the Question I am about to put to him. The House will remember that on Friday there was a discussion of a Petition then before the House. In the course of that discussion the hon. Member said, that the Lord Chief Justice had, on several occasions during the trial of "The Queen v. Castro," in addressing the defendant's counsel, asked this question— Have you considered what a disastrous effect, socially and morally, would follow if, after all we have heard from these lords, ladies, and gentlemen to the effect that he is not Tichborne, the jury should find that he is? I heard these words imputed to the Lord Chief Justice with astonishment, but as I knew that all—every word indeed—from the beginning to the end of the trial, had been published, and was in print, I did not suppose that any hon. Member could have made that statement, unless he had been prepared with authority for it. I accordingly asked the hon. Member where that statement was to be found, whether it was in the Charge of the Lord Chief Justice; or in any other part of the proceedings. The hon. Member, thus challenged, replied that he had not spoken of the Charge; but that, more than once during the trial, the Lord Chief Justice had addressed the defendant's counsel to that effect. Of course I could not at the time verify the statement of the hon. Member, nor did the hon. Member himself do so, nor was I prepared to deny it; but the next day I addressed a letter of inquiry to the Lord Chief Justice, whether there was any foundation for the statement of the hon. Member, which was made of course in the absence of the Lord Chief Justice, but to which, if made in his presence, there are not a few in the House at this moment who, remembering him in Parliament, can well imagine what sort of answer he would have given to it. The Lord Chief Justice sent me a reply which I hold in my hand. I do not propose to read it fully to the House, but I will give the substance of it. ["Read!"] Since the House wishes it, I will read it. The Lord Chief Justice writes to me as follows:— Court of Queen's Bench, April 17, 1875. Dear Mr. Bulwer—I beg to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of this day's date, in which you call my attention to an extraordinary statement made by Mr. Whalley in the House of Commons, in which he asserted that I had on more than one occasion in the course of the trial of "The Queen v. Castro" addressed to the counsel for the defendant the observation set forth in your letter. The notion that a Judge should have addressed such an observation to the counsel for the defendant is in itself so preposterously absurd and ridiculous that it carries its own refutation with it, and I should have deemed it unworthy of notice; but as I see you are evidently shocked that a Judge, in whose Court you practise as a barrister, should have said anything so monstrous and improper, I feel that I ought not to hesitate or refuse you the means of refuting it. You have my authority and that of my brother Judges for refuting every word of Mr. Whalley's statement. It is not only untrue from the beginning to the end, but is absolutely destitute of the slightest shadow of foundation. I have not only not said what Mr. Whalley imputes to me, but nothing that by the most reckless perversion could be taken to mean it. I cannot suppose that Mr. Whalley would intentionally misrepresent me; and I presume therefore that his credulity has been imposed upon by some false report. At the same time it is difficult to suppose that any one possessed of common sense could have been misled by a statement so extravagantly absurd. But be that as it may, you have my authority for giving to Mr. Whalley's statement my most unqualified denial. (Signed) A. COCKBURN. There is a postscript to that letter, which is as follows:— We fully concur in what has been said by the Lord Chief Justice, that Mr. Whalley's statement is without foundation. That declaration is signed by Mr. Justice Mellor and Mr. Justice Lush, who, having both been present during the whole time, must have known if any such statement had been made either by the Lord Chief Justice, or any other member of the Court. I will not offer any comments to the House upon the letter. It speaks for itself. I trust I have kept my word in not trespassing upon the attention of the House longer than was necessary.


I recognize, Sir, very clearly in the letter just read the emphatic language of the Lord Chief Justice, and I regret exceedingly that I do not feel myself prepared at once to acquiesce in the contradiction of the statement I made the other evening, and to express to the House—as indeed would be the case—the great satisfaction I should feel if I could conscientiously do so—namely, to avow my regret at having—whether from want of common sense or some other cause—fallen into such an error. I also beg to acknowledge the courtesy of that portion of the letter in which the Lord Chief Justice supposes that I had not invented the statement; but, at the same time, I am unable, notwithstanding that letter is countersigned by the two other Judges, to acquiesce in the condemnation which the Lord Chief Justice and the two other Judges have given, and I do not make that statement merely on hearsay. It was only a few minutes before I entered the House that I received intimation from the hon. and learned Member of his intention to bring the matter before your notice. I thanked the hon. and learned Member for that intimation; but I wish to point out that I have not had time to make the inquiry which I think necessary. I will only say at present that it is not from hearsay merely that I have made the statement which is now the subject of complaint. I have made it from my own distinct recollection of the reports in the newspapers, confirmed by statements of the hon. Member for Stoke, and re-confirmed by answers I have got from the same hon. Member to questions I addressed to him. I shall, of course, refer to such authority as I can command, and I feel assured the House will allow me as early an opportunity as possible to state the specific authority on which the statement was made, or to offer such apology as I can. In the meantime, I very much regret that when I made a similar statement on a former occasion—when by Notice I brought the question of Contempt of Court and of some of the proceedings at that trial before the House—["Order!"]


The hon. Gentleman cannot go into that, as he will be out of Order.


I will mention the subject again at a future and on as early an occasion as possible.