HC Deb 24 February 1885 vol 294 cc1166-8

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether there is any circular or instruction issued to the local magistracy of Great Britain, in reference to the prohibition of public meetings or processions, or their action in relation thereto; whether his attention has been directed to the Salvation Army case (Beatly and others, Appellants; Gillbanks, Respondent, Law Reports, Q.B. 308), wherein the following "Public Notice" was placarded through the streets of Weston-super-Mare:— Whereas it hath been made appear to us the undersigned, two of Her Majesty's justices of the peace for the county of Somerset, acting in and for the division upon the outh of divers persons, that a riotous and tumultuous assembly did take place on the night of the 23rd of March in certain public streets in Weston-super-Mare, and further, that there are reasonable grounds for apprehending a repetition of such riotous and tumultuous assembly in the public streets of Weston-super-Mare. We do therefore hereby require, order, and direct all persons to abstain from assembling to the disturbance of the public peace, in the public streets, within the parish." (Signed by two magistrates.) That, thereupon one Beatly and others were arrested for holding an assembly and forming a procession in contravention of this magisterial notice or proclamation, and were subsequently convicted by the local magistrates and ordered to find sureties to keep the peace. That such conviction and order was set aside, with costs, in the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice (13th June, 1882); that the appellants assembled with others for a lawful purpose and with no intention of carrying it out unlawfully, but with the knowledge that their assembly would be opposed, and with good reason to suppose that a breach of the peace would be committed by those opposed to it; that it was held by Field and Cave, T.S. that they could not be rightly convicted of an unlawful assembly; that Mr. Justice Field, in the course of giving judgment, said— What has happened here is that an unlawful organisation has assumed to itself the right to prevent the appellants and others from lawfully assembling together, and the finding of the justices (magistrates at petty sessions) amounts to this, that a man may be convicted for doing ft lawful act if he knows that his doing it may cause another to do an unlawful act. There is no authority for such a proposition; whether he acquiesces in the principles of Law laid down by the learned judges in the above case, and that the prohibition of public meetings or public processions, under the circumstances therein occurring, and proclamations or public notices purporting to suppress such public meetings or public processions in local authorities are not warranted by Law in Great Britain; and, whether, in consequence of this decision, he has felt it to be his duty to withdraw or modify any former circular or instruction to local magistracy or issue any fresh one; and, if so, whether he will lay a copy of the same before the House?


in reply, said, that he had not issued any such Circular. He had no power to send instructions to local magistrates as to their duty; he never attempted to do so. When applied to for advice, he had given the best information and advice he could. Before the decision in the Weston-super-Mare case the Home Office gave advice, founded upon opinions given by Law Officers of the Crown. Papers were laid upon the Table in 1882 in connection with what was called the Basingstoke case. Then, came the legal decision referred to, and after that, whenever magistrates appealed to the Home Office, they were referred to that decision. The whole matter was fully set out in a speech he made on the 15th of July last year on the Cleator Moor case.