HC Deb 08 June 1888 vol 326 cc1541-2
MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)

asked the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, Whether he has read the judgments delivered in the Queen's Bench Division in the case of Mrs. Davies, lately imprisoned for contempt of Court, in the course of which Mr. Justice Mathew said— It is not deemed right for a Judge in a Criminal Court, compelled to sentence a prisoner, to direct that his imprisonment shall continue until some condition is complied with, and the prisoner is entitled, when he has undergone his punishment, to unconditional release. Further, we have the assistance of the opinion of the Legislature against indefinite imprisonment for contempt, an opinion expressed in Acts of Parliament, and Rules of Court made with Parliamentary sanction; whether there are at present imprisoned in Irish gaols for indefinite terms five prisoners for contempt of Court—namely, Cornelius Brien, James Quigley, Thomas Moroney, Nicholas Grace, and Mary Brien; whether he is aware that, in the case of a prisoner named Thomas Moroney, his mind is giving way, and that in another case, that of Mary Brien, the prisoner is reported "aged and infirm;" and, whether, inasmuch as three out of the said five prisoners have already been imprisoned for more than 12 months (the term to which by "The Debtors Act, 1869," "even in a case of grievous delinquency the imprisonment is restricted"), he will consider the propriety of advising Her Majesty to exercise her Prerogative of Mercy, and direct the release of these prisoners?


Of course, the point is not one that comes within my official cognizance; but I find that the report of the case of Mrs. Davies does not contain the observations attributed to Mr. Justice Mathew. I am referring to The Times report, which is the only report I have seen. According to that report, Mrs. Davies, who had been imprisoned for one year and four months for contempt of Court in asserting her claim to certain property by taking forcible possession, was brought before the Court in custody with a view to her making an application for discharge. Inasmuch, however, as she gave no undertaking to obey the order of the Court, the Court decided that her imprisonment should continue. Lord Chief Justice Coleridge, in delivering the judgment of the Court, in which Mr. Justice Mathew concurred, is reported to have said— It is not the Court which keeps her in custody. It is her own conduct in refusing to comply with the order of the Court. She has only to say she would not continue her molestations, and she may at once walk out of prison. With reference to the prisoners mentioned in the Question, I have no doubt that if they would take the course suggested by Lord Coleridge, the Judges by whom they were committed would act on the principles laid down by the Court of Queen's Bench. It is not a case for the exercise of Her Majesty's Prerogative of Mercy, but one in which the prisoners can obtain immediate discharge by purging their contempt. My information as to the condition of Thomas Moroney does not agree with that stated in the third paragraph of the Question.


explained that whilst the right hon. Gentleman was referring to a Judgment on the 30th of April last, his Question referred to another Judgment which was given by Mr. Justice Mathew only two or three days ago. He would not further proceed with the matter now, but would put another Question on Monday.