HL Deb 11 July 1805 vol 5 cc825-6

The judges, pursuant to the order of the house, being in attendance;

The Lord Chancellor quitted the wool-sack, and, in pursuance of what transpired in the discussion of last night, rose for the purpose of submitting an important law proposition to their consideration. He adverted in the course of his observations, to several positions which had been advanced; and also to the dictum of a noble and learned lord respecting the competency of witness in certain cases to demur; and concluded, as the result of the whole, by submitting a question to the following effect, for the opinion of the law lords:—Whether, in point of law, a witness be compellable to answer questions, the answer to which may not tend to criminate himself, but may establish, or tend to establish, that he owes a debt, for the recovery of which he may be liable to a civil suit." This question was ordered to be referred to the consideration of the learned judges.

Lord Minto, introductory to an additional question, which he deemed it proper to refer to the consideration of the judges repeated several of his observations of last night upon the general subject. He particularly dwelt upon the important distinction between a civil action instituted on the part of the crown, and one instituted by ordinary individuals, as, in the former case, he argued, it was of the nature, and had the effect of a criminal proceeding: there was,.therefore, he contended, a substantial difference between a suit so instituted and a common suit for debt. The query he had to propose was, "whether, in point of law, a witness was required to answer questions, the answer to which may not expose him to a criminal prosecution; but, may expose him to a civil suit on the part of his majesty, for the recovery of profits made by him, by the use and application of public monies entrusted to his charge?"

The Lord Chancellor shortly observed, he should make no objection to the motion; at the same time, by his agreeing so far, it did not follow, that his opinions upon the point adverted to were similar to those of the noble lords. The question was then put, and the proposition of lord Minto was, in like manner, referred to the consideration of the judges.—Adjourned.

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