HC Deb 06 July 1888 vol 328 cc582-97

, Member for the Borough of Northampton, rose in his place, and asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House, for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance—viz., the harsh enforcement by the Treasury of certain Orders made on the 17th of December last by Mr. Bridge, Metropolitan Police Magistrate.

But the pleasure of the House not having been signified,


called on those Members who supported the Motion to rise in their places, and not less than 40 Members having accordingly risen—


said, he was sorry to intrude upon the time of the House by moving a Motion for Adjournment, and he should not have done so on this occasion but for the extraordinary Answer which had been given by the Home Secretary to a question which he had put to the right hon. Gentleman early in the sitting. In the cases to which he desired to call attention, summonses had been issued which were returnable at Bow Street Police Court tomorrow. All of them cited an order made on the 17th December, 1887, for the payment of £10 10s. costs, and they called upon the persons summoned to satisfy the Court that they had not had the means of paying that sum since the order was made, One of the summonses was against a man named John Coleman, who, at the time the order was made, and ever since, had been in prison. How, then, could it possibly be alleged that this man could have had the means of paying the 10 guineas ordered against him for costs? He could have had no prospect whatever of doing so until, at least, his term of imprisonment had expired, and it might have been expected that under such circumstances no proceedings would be taken against him. His wife was living in one room in a model lodging house. She had only a few trifling sticks, some bedding, and a few other articles of furniture. She had come to him in great distress, fearing that they would be seized. In another case, the defendant, Dennis White, when in full employment was what was called a casual porter at the London Docks. He possessed no furniture, but lived with an aunt, who was herself miserably poor. These were the people whom, after more than six months since the order was made, the Treasury were summoning to pay this, to them, enormous sum of 10 guineas for costs, or to show cause why they should not be committed to gaol. He would not refer to another case— that of a man named Feargus O'Connor— but would leave that to be dealt with by the hon. Member for Shoreditch (Mr. Stuart), knowing that the case would be in much better hands than his own. He might explain now bow these cases arose. Some charges were made of assault against the police—assaults committed by the police upon prisoners because the persons assaulted were in custody. Summonses were issued on sworn information. The Home Secretary, when these cases were raised in debate, had accused him of having been misinstructed, and had blamed him for having sprung the matter upon him. But the right hon. Gentleman had since admitted that all the facts were in the possession of the Treasury for many weeks before they were stated in the House, and seven or eight questions had to be put before he could even get that admission. It was necessary that he should mention this fact, in order to show that this charge had been unfairly made against him. The summonses having been granted, what was the position of things? The right hon. Gentleman had stated that the defendants were represented in Court by a legal adviser. As a matter of fact, they were represented by a lad from a solicitor's office, who stated that his principal was engaged elsewhere, and who asked for an adjournment. He would not then attempt to justify, or, indeed, to deal with the Trafalgar Square matter, but there was one point which he must mention in answer to the right hon. Gentleman. With regard to Coleman, he was in custody at the time that the assault was alleged to have taken place, on another charge. The charge was one of assault, which was followed by a Petition to the Home Secretary, who, in consequence of the Memorial he received, granted an order requiring that Coleman's body should be produced at Bow Street on the hearing of the summons. Coleman's body, however, was not produced, and he was not present when the summons was called on. One ground for asking for an adjournment of the summons was that the Treasury who had Coleman in custody, did not produce him. The right hon. Gentleman did not concur in that statement, but he (Mr. Bradlaugh) restricted himself solely to facts which, after careful investigation, he had ascertained for himself. He would remind the right hon. Gentleman that the statements he had made on the previous occasion had been altogether contradicted subsequently by the sworn information which was in the hands of the Treasury. What did the magistrate, Mr. Bridge, do? According to the right hon. Gentleman's statement the summonses had already been adjourned once. That was quite true, but in the end Mr. Bridge dismissed the three summonses with 30 guineas costs, and he (Mr. Bradlaugh) took leave to say no such course had ever been heard of before in the whole history of the police. The counsel was on behalf of the Treasury, the witnesses were police constables, and yet 30 guineas costs were ordered to be paid by persons in the position of dock labourers, one of whom lodged with an aunt, and another of whom was in a goal, and whose furniture was not valued at more than £2 or £3. He maintained that it was a monstrous proceeding on the part of the Treasury, and that the Government had acted in a manner that was calculated to provoke an angry feeling by the harsh treatment that they had meted out to these men. If they had desired to provoke resentment on the part of the public they could not have taken a course more calculated to do so. He had himself fought the Treasury for six months, and the taxed costs only amounted to £13, which he had had the pleasure of paying. On a subsequent occasion he fought the Treasury for a year and a-half, and in that case the taxed costs only came to £38. Yet in the case of these poor men they were ordered to pay 30 guineas costs, and the Home Secretary stood up in that House to defend it. Certainly, John Coleman had no opportunity of running away, for he was already in prison, and it was altogether impossible, in the circumstances in which he was placed, that he could have an opportunity of earning the 10 guineas he was called upon to pay to the Treasury as costs. He regretted that the right hon. Gentleman should have wasted the time of the House by compelling him to bring this matter forward on a Motion of Adjournment. He did not know why the police, who had only a mechanical duty to perform, should have allowed six months to elapse before they preferred it. He should have expected from any just or generous Home Secretary, that knowing that these persons had been in prison, be would at once admit that 30 guineas costs were excessive, and that all proceedings should be stopped when they came out of gaol. No such costs were ever endeavoured to be extracted even by a pettifogging attorney. On these grounds he appealed to the House to stand between these unfortunate wretches and the Treasury.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—

MR. JAMES STUART (Shoreditch, Hoxton)

said, he was anxious to state some facts in connection with this case, which had come to his own knowledge, and should do so without comment, simply confining himself to a statement of facts. Yesterday, when sitting in the House he received a card bearing the name "Feargus O'Connor" with an address. He went out into the Lobby to see the person who brought the card, and there he met a gentleman who showed him a summons similar in form to that which had been produced by the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh). It referred to a case in which Mr. O'Connor was plaintiff, and Constable 98 A was defendant. Mr. O'Connor told him that he had received the summons that morning to appear on Saturday to answer why he should not be committed to prison for the nonpayment of £10 10s. or £10 12s. On asking him what his objection was— what point he had to urge against the summons being served upon him, Mr. O'Connor told him that on Sunday, the 20th of November, he was in Northumberland Avenue, and was knocked down by a policeman while he was walking with two friends. He was rendered insensible, but his two friends took the number of the policeman and were prepared to swear that the number on his collar was 98 A. The result was that Mr. O'Connor served a summons at Scotland Yard upon Constable 98 A, and attended on a certain day to prosecute his case before Mr. Bridge. When Mr. O'Connor appeared at the Court, accompanied by his two friends, he was prepared to swear to the truth of his charges; but he was met by the statement, which be understood was made on oath, that there no such constable as No. 98 A—that was an importtant point in the history of the case—but that there was a Sergeant or Inspector of Police who had that number, but who was at the time engaged on duty in Geneva or some other foreign place. Under these circumstances, Mr. O'Connor, still believing in the truth of what his friends had told him—for having been insensible he knew nothing himself—asked for an adjournment of the case. That was an exceedingly natural thing to do under the circumstances, because Mr. O'Connor alleged that the Authorities in Scotland Yard refused to give him the name of the Sergeant or Inspector who had the No. 98 A on his collar. They refused even to give the name of the constable who was alleged to be in Geneva. When Mr. O'Connor appeared before Mr. Bridge on the 17th of December, he again found that there was no defendant there. No police-constable 98A came forward, nor could he get from Scotland Yard any further assistance. The same statement was adhered to which was made in the first instance. In these circumstances, Mr. O'Connor proposed to withdraw the summons; but Mr. Bridge said he would not permit this to be done, but would decide the case against him with costs. He understood that, after that, Mr. O'Connor took the case to the Court of Queen's Bench where the decision was confirmed. Nothing further occurred at the time, and Mr. O'Connor received no notification of any kind from that day until yesterday, when he received a document similar to that which had been quoted by the hon. Member for Northampton. He would abstain from making any further comment on the case than to repeat the observation which he made to the gentleman himself, that, whatever might have been the object of that method of serving the summons, the effect of it seemed to be that the Police Authorities were determined to teach a very heavy lesson to any person who should have the effrontery to prosecute them. In conclusion, he believed that every hon. Member who had listened to the statements which had been made by his hon. Friend and himself would be convinced that the poor were not always fairly or rightly treated by the Authorities of Scotland Yard.


said, that, after the very able statement which had been made by the hon. Member for Northampton, he would not have taken part in the debate except for the purpose of making an appeal to the Home Secretary. Before the right hon. Gentleman entered into a defence of the conduct of the Treasury he asked whether he thought it would add to the already waning popularity of Her Majesty's Government by enforcing these costs against this poor devil of a labouring man? [Cries of "Order!"] He should be delighted to retract anything upon the authority of Mr. Speaker, but not upon the irresponsible authority of hon. Members who chose to cry "Order!" He wished to know from the Home Secretary whether he thought the ends of justice were being served by piling up costs upon these two men? Personally, it gave him the greatest possible satisfaction that the case had come up, because it would tend to strengthen that ever-growing hatred between the rich and the poor, without which no true reform was possible. [A laugh.] Hon. Gentlemen who laughed might, perhaps, see the truth of these words some day. He hoped that this case would serve to show the poor that our boasted British justice, like our Christianity and our morality, was a gigantic fraud when applied to them.


said, he did not think the action taken by the hon. Member for Northampton was convenient. It was only that morning that the Question of the hon. Member, applying for the remission of certain costs in this case, had appeared on the Paper. He had not had time in the course of the day to inquire into the manner in which the costs were made up. But he agreed with the hon. Member that the sum seemed to be somewhat excessive for the costs incurred in a police case. He had had no possibility, however, of inquiring how these costs were made up. The second ground urged by the hon. Member for the remission of the costs, was the poverty of the defendents. He thought, however, that this point had been sufficiently met when he pointed out that the matter was still sub judice, and that the judgment summons would be heard to-morrow. It would then be a perfectly good statutory answer to say that the defendents had not the means of paying the costs. His own conduct in the matter had been nil. He was waiting for the decision of the magistrate on one point in the case before he acted in the matter, but, looking at the surroundings of the case, he should like to point out that these two men had brought charges of assault against the police at a time of great public excitement, the memory of which he did not wish to revive more than he could help. The House would recollect that a very angry feeling prevailed towards the end of last November. Coleman and White, it was said, were men of extreme poverty. But with these summonses before the magistrate at Bow Street they had professional advice, and were represented there by a solicitor upon both occasions— first, on the 10th of December, when an adjournment was applied for, and next, on the 17th of December, when the adjourned summons came on again before Mr. Bridge. The hon. Member for Northampton said, with great indignation, that Coleman's body was not produced on the 17th. No, it was not. And why was it not? The Home Office had granted an order, at the request of Coleman's solicitor, that he should be allowed out of prison on the 17th; but on the 16th the solicitor wrote to the Home Office asking that the order for Coleman's appearance should be suspended "until such day as may be appointed." On the 19th the solicitor wrote again saying that the summons had been dismissed. Therefore, Coleman's presence was not required. Consequently, the non-attendance of Coleman on the 17th was not due to his incarceration, or to any action on the part of the Authorities, but was due solely to the action of his own solicitor—not a little boy, as had been represented, but the solicitor himself, who sent the letter requesting that the order should be suspended. The solicitor applied to the Court that the summons might be withdrawn, he himself having contrived that Coleman should not appear—


said, that the explanation of the right hon. Gentleman made the matter worse, because the Treasury were trying to enforce costs to the amount of 10 guineas for the non-appearance of a defendant on a day when they knew he would not appear.


said, that the costs were not for the non-appearance of this man, but, as he was pointing out, the solicitor himself applied that the summonses should be withdrawn, having himself contrived that Coleman should not appear. The Treasury were represented, and great expense had been incurred in getting up evidence in order to meet the charges brought against the police. All the witnesses were in attendance, and Mr. Poland, who represented the Treasury, stated, according to the newspaper reports, that the treat- ment to which the police had been subjected was unfair. The charges had been trumpeted abroad through the Press and in other ways in order to prejudice the public mind against the police, and then the application was made not to adjourn the case, but to withdraw the charges altogether. Mr. Poland protested against the withdrawal of the charges, and asked that the cases should be dismissed. The magistrate took that view. It was not for him to say whether the magistrate acted rightly or wrongly. He presumed that the Judges of the land and the London Police Magistrates acted properly. In this case, Mr. Bridge thought it would not be fair to the police to withdraw the charges, and, therefore, he dismissed the summonses with costs. The solicitor himself said that there was no intention on the part of his client to appear on the 17th, and when an application was made for a further adjournment, it was refused, the summons being dismissed with costs. He had not looked into the bill of costs; he had had no time nor opportunity to do so. As he had already said, the Question only appeared on the Paper that morning. He did not complain of the course which had been taken by the hon. Member for Northampton; all he said was, that he had been unable to look into the merits of the case, and could not say whether the costs were unreasonable or not. The hon. Member said, and said with justice, that the Treasury were not usually exorbitant with regard to costs. For himself, he could not say whether the costs in this case were exorbitant or not. However that might be, no evil consequences could befall either Coleman or White if they were really unable to pay the costs. If they could show that they were penniless they would get off; and there was no ground for supposing that the costs which had been incurred by the Police Authorities in resisting the charges made against the police—charges which appeared to be altogether groundless—would be pressed against the defendants. The complainants' solicitor might have acted with perfect discretion in asking leave to withdraw charges in which he could not persevere, and in wishing to get out of the proceedings in the easiest way for his clients, so as to avoid costs. In the end the solicitor sought to abandon the charges altogether—




said, that that was so, and the solicitor intimated that Coleman would not be brought up before the magistrate on December 17th, which was the day to which the case had been adjourned—


said, that the application of the solicitor was that the summons should be suspended until another day to which the case might be adjourned. The application was for that adjournment, and not for the abandonment of the case.


said, that that was not strictly accurate. The application was not to adjourn the case, but to withdraw the summons. He had no desire to prejudge the case, nor was he expressing any opinion about it. He was only stating the facts as they had been made known to him. In the first instance, the summons was adjourned because it was alleged that the presence of Coleman was indispensable. It was adjourned to a particular day, and the day before the case was to be heard Coleman's solicitor wrote to the Home Office, stating that the man was not wanted on that day, and he did not ask for a further adjournment, but for the withdrawal of the summons. It was not for him to state what defence the Treasury had. The Treasury said that these charges had been made a sort of public scandal against the police, and that if the prosecution were backing out by asking to withdraw the charges, it was only fair to the police that the summonses should be dismissed with the usual consequences. That was all he knew about what occurred before the magistrate. He was not yet aware why the demand for the payment of costs had been delayed so long. On that he was not in a position to make any statement to the House. He had not been able to communicate with the Treasury upon the subject. All he knew was that the summons was now sub judice, and that it would be heard to-morrow. It would be probably necessary that an inquiry should be made into the means of Coleman, and if the facts were as the hon. Member for Northampton had represented—namely, that the man was in such a state of poverty that he was unable to pay the costs, of course the magistrate would not make the order. The hon. Member had suggested that it would be impossible for Coleman to appear to-morrow; but it would be perfectly possible, the invariable practice being to grant permission in such cases. The hon. Member had used somewhat warm language in reference to him; but he would submit that it was impossible for him, in his position as Home Secretary, to interfere in a matter of costs, and upon a Question put in that House suddenly without his having an opportunity of referring to the bill of costs, of seeing how it had arisen, and also of inquiring why the costs had not been paid. When the proper tribunal—namely, the magistrate—had ascertained whether the man was able to pay the costs or not, then would be the time to see whether there was anything improper in the claim for costs, or anything in the conduct of the Treasury that required explanation.


said, he wished to say a word by way of explanation. The right hon. Gentleman had said that the case of Coleman, in the first instance, had been sprung upon him. That was scarcely correct. The Treasury had all the depositions in their hands for weeks before he made his statement to the House, and the Home Office could have obtained all the information they desired from the Treasury.

MR. J. ROWLANDS (Finsbury, E.)

said, he regretted that the Home Secretary had not entered into the spirit of the case adequately. The right hon. Gentleman admitted that the case was mixed up with an important matter which occurred last winter. He had no desire to enter into that matter now, because he believed that the hon. Member for Northampton intended to raise it upon the Vote for the Police. He wished, however, to draw the attention of the House to one point upon which the right hon. Gentleman had not touched at all. His hon. Friend the Member for the Hoxton Division of Shoreditch (Mr. Stuart) had drawn attention to the case of Mr. O'Connor; but the Home Secretary had not dealt with that case at all. In the case of Mr. O'Connor, the summons was not withdrawn willingly, but Mr. O'Connor wished to test the question of the legality of the action of the police in a Court of Law. The Police Authorities, however, in this, as in some other cases, had no desire to test the case legally, but had done all in their power to prevent such an investigation, and had prevented the person who complained from obtaining the necessary information. Now, what were the facts of Mr. O'Connor's case? Mr. O'Connor's friends thought they knew who the policeman was who had committed the assault. The police, however, declined to aid Mr. O'Connor when he desired to test the question whether he had been assaulted by the police or not. If there existed a feeling of want of confidence in the police among the people of London, it was due to the fact that those who asked for an opportunity of testing the question whether the police had gone beyond their duty or not were denied the proper facilities for that purpose. There was a growing feeling in London in regard to the conduct of the Home Office and those who controlled the police. He could, however, assure the Government that they had not yet heard the last of the matter even in the present Session of Parliament. He regretted that the Government should endeavour to exasperate the people. The conduct of the police had created a scandal in London which would yet have to be thrashed out on the floor of the House. If the right hon. Gentleman had the confidence he professed to have in the conduct of the police, he ought to have given the opportunity which had been asked for in this case. What was the plum of comfort the Home Secretary had for all these poor men who were to come up to-morrow? It would appear that if a defendant happened to be supplied with legal advice, whether he was either plaintiff or defendant, that fact alone was to be held sufficient to show that he was able to pay excessive costs. The right hon. Gentleman had pointed out that these men had legal advisers when they appeared in the Police Court, and he drew the conclusion that they therefore had money which would enable them to pay the costs of the Treasury. It did not follow, however, that if these men had a legal adviser that they had employed him themselves? It could not be for a moment supposed that ordinary dock labourers paid for legal advice. As a matter of fact, it was their friends who employed the legal adviser, in order to see that, if possible, justice should be done. He regretted that the Home Secretary had not attempted to alleviate the feeling growing up in London with regard to the Home Office and those who controlled the police; but he hoped that some expression would yet come from the Treasury Bench to indicate that the policy of exasperation which had been carried on during the whole of the present year should be terminated. The men who had been in prison were not criminals in the ordinary sense, and the Treasury Bench might extend some ray of hope to them.

MR. HUNTER (Aberdeen, N.)

said, he regretted that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had excused himself by saying that this question had come up suddenly, and that these summonses would be adjourned, at all events, for a week; and he regretted still more not to hear a single word of comment from the right hon. Gentleman upon the shocking and scandalous injustice which had been perpetrated on Mr. Feargus O'Connor. The right hon. Gentleman was ready to allow the case to go by default.


I beg the hon. Member's pardon. I did not say a word on the matter because it was not relevant.


said, he rose to point out that the Notice of Motion for the adjournment referred to certain orders made on the 17th December 1887, by Mr. Bridge, Metropolitan Police Magistrate. Mr. Feargus O'Connor's case was involved in these orders, and he expressly said that he thought the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary had better hear the whole of the case before he made his reply.


said, it was scarcely possible for the mind of man to imagine a more outrageous instance of injustice than the facts of that case, as raised by the hon. Member for the Hoxton Division of Shoreditch, disclosed. There was no doubt that Mr. Feargus O'Connor was knocked down and brutally assaulted. That was beyond all dispute; he had two credible witnesses to prove it, and anyone who was present in Trafalgar Square on that day could have no hesitation in believing any credible witness with regard to the assaults. He himself had seen a considerable number of unprovoked and brutal assaults committed by policemen in Trafalgar Square on that day. Therefore, he was quite content to believe that Mr. Feargus O'Connor's friends were accurate when they said that a brutal assault had been committed upon that gentleman. The two witnesses took down the number of a policeman, which was 98A. It was possible that they might have made a mistake in the number, and that it might have been 93 or 90; but whether these men had made a mistake, or whether the police had lied, was a matter on which he would express no opinion. The summons was issued against policeman 98 A, and the case for the police was that no 98 A existed—that there was no such person at all. Thus they had a summons against a non-existent person, and those who made the mistake had to pay 10 guineas costs. It appeared that some individual had gone before the magistrate, and taken upon himself the defence of this non-existent person to whom the magistrate ordered 10 guineas cost to be paid. He (Mr. Hunter) repeated that a more gross case of injustice it was impossible to bring before the House. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary would not lay down the principle, that because there might have been an error in the number of the policeman such assaults should go unpunished, and that any person who desired to complain was to be fined in this preposterous manner.


said, he rose not to express an opinion upon cases of which he knew nothing, but with the view of bringing the discussion to a close and making a commencement with business. But he thought that the hon. Gentleman who had introduced this question had made a reasonable appeal—namely, that the costs should not be enforced until the right hon. Gentleman had time to look into the matter. There was no reason whatever that the right hon. Gentleman should not give an assurance that the execution of these costs should be delayed until he had time to investigate the circumstances. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman, therefore, would be able to say that the execution should be delayed in this particular case. Having had experience of such matters, he should say that there was no greater injustice done in connection with legal proceedings than the manufacture of exorbitant costs. There were cases in which small fines were imposed, and where the costs were 10, 20 and 30 times the amount of the fines. He had struggled against that as much as he could, and he was sure that the right hon. Gentleman would sympathize with his views in that respect. [Mr. MATTHEWS signified assent.] He hoped that the right hon. Gentleman would say that before these costs were enforced he would, in the meantime, see that no injustice was done.

MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)

said, that the whole argument of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department was, that the whole attitude of the solicitors of these unfortunate men was exceedingly unfair towards the police. Now, the police could take very good care of themselves, and, therefore, the appeal ad misericordiam was out of place on their behalf. The right hon. Gentleman's statement was, that in consequence of what he called the unfair treatment of the police these heavy costs had been laid down. Now, if a magistrate was to act on the principle that because the solicitors had taken up a particular attitude with regard to the police, these men ought to be fined in costs which were perfectly disgraceful, it appeared to him that there was a denial of justice to the poor which had never been heard of before the present Government came into Office. The only parallel was the exorbitant and heavy costs now enforced on poor people in Ireland who objected to pay the blood tax. These cases were to be heard next morning; the men were to be put in jeopardy of losing their liberty, and there was no reason for one moment to suppose that they could pay costs amounting to 10 guineas. It was not denied that the men could not pay, and to ask for delay to see whether they could pay or not was simply to waste the time of the House. The essential point was, it was a gross piece of tyranny and injustice to these men that, after the time which had elapsed, they should be called upon to pay these costs, and if the right hon. Gentleman had any regard for the popularity of the police in London, he would see that these cases of tyranny and wrong were not repeated; he would use his high Office to step in between the tyranny of the police and the poor people who came under it. It was monstrous that any attempt should be made on the part of the Treasury or the Police Authorities to crush down men who were simply asking for justice. He had said before, and he now repeated it, that there was, in consequence of these petty actions of injustice, a terrible feeling of irritation growing up in the minds of the people against the police; and in the interests of law and order, which hon. Gentlemen opposite were so fond of talking about but never acted upon, he earnestly appealed to the right hon. Gentleman to hold out some hope that this injustice should not be proceeded with.


said, he thought that he had already conveyed that he was waiting for the inquiry before the magistrate, in order to see whether the men were able to pay the costs or not. He certainly would cheerfully look both into the character of the bill of costs and into the ability or otherwise of the men to pay.


said, that having regard to the reply of the right hon. Gentleman he would ask leave to withdraw his Motion for the Adjournment of the House.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.