HL Deb 19 July 1831 vol 5 cc1-4

The Lord Chancellor rose to call the attention of their Lordships to a subject, which he ought, perhaps, before to have brought under their notice—he alluded to a matter which was of the highest importance, as being connected, not only with the jurisdiction of the Court of Chancery, but with the judicial powers of their Lordships' House, which was the highest Court of Judicature in the kingdom. He thought, himself called upon to make a statement to their Lordships on the subject, although he was not aware that he should have to recommend to their Lordships to take any steps in consequence of that statement. Their Lordships might remember, that in the course of the Session before last, an appeal from an order of the Court of Chancery came before their Lordships, and, after a solemn and deliberate hearing, the order of the Court below had been affirmed by the judgment of their Lordships. The order was to this effect—that the children of Mr. Long Wellesley should be taken from under his care and custody, and disposed of according to the direction of the Court of Chancery; and Mr. Wellesley was prohibited, under any pretence whatever, to remove the children from under the care of those to whose charge they were committed by the Court. Mr. Wellesley's daughter was placed under the charge of her aunts, the Misses Long, and from that charge Mr. Wellesley was prohibited by the order from removing her. That order had been affirmed by the unanimous judgment of their Lordships, and therefore had the sanction of, and became the order of the House. But notwithstanding this, Mr. Wellesley, in contempt of the order of the Court of Chancery, and the order of that House, had, a few days ago, proceeded to the house of the Misses Long, and by force and fraud had got possession of the person of the child, and taken her away from the custody of her aunts. Admission had been procured to the house in the absence of Miss Long, under the fraudulent pretence of a message from that lady's solicitor, and this was the fraud employed. The force was, that Mr. Wellesley had taken along with him four persons, armed with constable's batons, which these persons exhibited as their authority to those who attempted to prevent the abstraction, and Mr. Wellesley committed what was in law an assault, by shaking his fist at the servants of the Misses Long, and by those combined means of fraud, of assault, and other force, he succeeded in carrying away the infant. On information being given to him, as Lord Chancellor, of what had taken place, he had sent his officer to bring the child and Mr. Wellesley before him. The child could not be found, but Mr. Wellesley had attended, and confessed the fraud, the force, and the assault, in direct contempt of the order of the Court of Chancery, sanctioned and confirmed by that House. And he added, that he had got possession of the person of the child, and that he would not give her up; and he further added, to make the contempt more flagrant, that he had removed the child beyond the jurisdiction of the Court. He had immediately ordered Mr. Wellesley into the custody of the Serjeantat-Arms, and if he had hesitated to do so, he should have been unworthy to hold the office with which he was intrusted, and he should deserve to be impeached for having been guilty of a high misdemeanour. If a pretence of privilege were to be set up as a defence to conduct like this—if all the Members of this and of the other House were to be exempt from punishment when they acted in such a manner—and were to be permitted to set themselves above the law; and if the law makers were thus to set the example of being law breakers, instead of being the guardians and support of the law, then it would be better that all Common and Statute Law should be abolished at once. There was an exemption in favour of Members of Parliament, as to process against their bodies in respect of payment of money, or matters merely civil. But this commitment for contempt was not a process, but a punishment. A punishment for a wrong, done in a wrong manner; and here Mr. Wellesley, although he might, perhaps, have been actuated by an amiable feeling, had not only done wrong, but had done that wrong in a most unworthy manner. He (the Lord Chancellor)had immediately ordered that Mr. Wellesley should be committed to prison—not for his refusal to give up the child, but for what he had before done—for his having, by fraud and force, got possession of the person of the child, in direct contempt of the order and prohibition of the Court. It was to punish him for that which was not punishable in any other way. He might, it was true, be indicted for the assault, but for the contempt of the Court he could be punished in no other way than by the Court itself. Members of Parliament did, as he had said before, enjoy exemption from arrest on civil process; but he had yet to learn, from some one who might look only at some pretended law of Parliament, and who might know nothing about the law of Westminster Hall, that privilege was a protection from punishment for contempt of Court—even the highest, in the kingdom. If it were to be held that, the orders of the Court of Chancery might be set at defiance under a pretence of privilege, the consequence would be, that no Member of Parliament could be brought into a Court of Justice as a witness to give evidence, and that a Member of Parliament might walk into a Court of Justice, and interrupt the proceedings of the Court by a long, abusive, and inflammatory speech, and the Court could have no remedy by his removal unless he committed an actual breach of the peace, which he could easily avoid. Such a doctrine he had never heard set up before, and he trusted he never should hear it set up again, for he hoped that the wisdom of the Lords and Commons would promptly and decidedly abjure all pretensions to so odious and pernicious an exemption. He had thought it his duty, under these circumstances, to call their Lordships' attention to this subject at this time, but he did not mean for the present to recommend any ulterior proceeding.

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