HL Deb 16 June 1820 vol 1 cc1096-7

On the first reading of the Insolvent Debtors Bill,

Earl Grosvenor

adverted to the case of persons imprisoned for contempt of courts of equity, observing, that those who were imprisoned for non-payment of money could, he believed, take the benefit of the Insolvent act; but there were others who were imprisoned for refusing to obey orders of court, who could not be relieved under that act. He was aware that considerable difficulties stood in the way of granting any relief to persons in that situation, and only mentioned the circumstance that the attention of the noble and learned lord on the woolsack might be called to it.

The Lord Chancellor

observed, that he would be very much obliged to the noble lord or any other person who could show him how relief could be administered in cases which really deserved it; but the subject had been much misunderstood. The committals for contempt generally arose in consequence of the party refusing to do some act ordered by the court. Now, if the party had the power, and refused, his case was similar to that of a debtor, who, though he had the means of payment, allowed himself to be taken in execution, and chose to remain in prison; and if the present Jaw did not apply to such a debtor, why should it in the case of contempt? In fact, it was not the law that imprisoned the party, but the party that imprisoned himself. Suppose an individual, who is entitled to have the conveyance of an estate from another, calls upon a court of equity to make an order to that effect, and, when the order is made, the individual refuses to obey, and is thrown into prison, was it the fault of the court that the individual rather chose to remain there than to make the conveyance? If there were any cases to which relief could with propriety be extended, he would most readily concur in any measure to that effect. But their lordships must be careful that such measure was consistent with the principles of justice. It was impossible to give relief in cases where men, to the injury of others, refused to do acts which they were legally called upon to perform, and instead of obeying the order of the court, by which they would be relieved, rather chose to stay in prison and complain.