§ LORD BEAUMONT
presented a petition from Constant Derra de Meroda, of No. 21, Ryder's Court, Leicester Square, in the County of Middlesex, Gentleman, complaining of the Conduct of James James, Esquire, One of Her Majesty's Justices of the Peace for the Borough of Birmingham, in having unjustly granted a Warrant for the Arrest of the Baroness Von Beck and himself in August last, and of Messrs. Lucy, Mayor, H. Smith, Martineau, and Welch, Justices, before whom the Petitioner appeared, in having allowed the Papers of the Baroness to be handed over to Mr. Toulmin Smith, her Prosecutor, by which Means Inquiries towards the Establishment of her Character have been partially frustrated, and praying for Inquiry into the Circumstances of his Case, with a view to granting him Redress, and preventing such harsh Exercise of Magisterial Authority for the future. The noble Lord said the circumstances under which the petition was offered justified him in calling their Lordships' attention to it, as they involved an important question with regard to the manner of administering justice in this country. The petitioner was a native of Pesth, and came to this country 1276 in April, 1851. A short time after he arrived, he became acquainted with a lady who bore the title of the Baroness von Beck, and who, under that name, had become known in this country as the author of a History of the War in Hungary. That work was very successful, and the publisher had prevailed upon her to undertake another work. She was occupied in that work, which was to have been entitled Personal Adventures during the Recent War in Hungary; and she engaged the petitioner, who was of a good family in Hungary, though in needy circumstances, as her secretary. The publisher, Mr. Gilpin, drew up a prospectus of the work, and gave the petitioner and Baroness von Beck letters to his friends in Birmingham and other places. The prospectus set forth the true character of the book, and promised nothing but what was certainly the intention of the writer to fulfil. It was also understood that the authoress and her secretary were to make a tour and procure subscribers to the work. They arrived at Birmingham and presented the letters. Amongst the rest was one to a gentleman of the name of Tindal. The Baroness and her secretary at first lodged at the Clarendon Hotel; but after a short time the lady became very ill, and her medical adviser recommended that she should have a change of air. Mr. Tindal invited her to his country house in the neighbourhood, and she accepted the invitation. She was residing there; and on the 29th August, while she was one of a party in the drawing-room of Mr. Tindal, she was called out of the room and apprehended by a police officer, and her secretary was called out and apprehended also on the charge of obtaining 1l. 4s. (the amount of the subscription of the forthcoming work) on false pretences from one Mr. George Dawson. They were apprehended on a warrant, but it was not produced or read to them; nor if it had been, could they have understood it. They were taken to the police station and locked up in separate cells all night, the lady being all that time in the evening dress which she was wearing at the time of her apprehension. In the morning the lady, who had suffered much from weak health, and from excitement, was taken dangerously ill, but the police officer dragged her upstairs in order to bring her before the magistrate. She was obliged to be assisted on her way to the court-house, and when she arrived in the antechamber she suddenly expired. The remaining prisoner 1277 was then taken before the magistrate. Mr. Toulmin Smith appeared for the prosecution, and he complained that these parties had got money under false pretences; that the lady styling herself the Baroness von Beck was not the Baroness von Beck, but that she was a spy employed by the Hungarian, or rather the Austrian, Government at the time of the Hungarian war, and that she had obtained money as the Baroness von Beck from Mr. George Dawson. The magistrates, having heard the case, discharged the prisoner; but it seemed that application was made for the papers of this woman, and that they were first impounded, and afterwards handed over to the prosecutor, and he believed were still in his hands. Since then a careful investigation had been gone into with regard to this lady; and he (Lord Beaumont) had now in his possession the depositions of twenty or thirty persons con-connected with Hungary, from which it seemed that this woman was really what she represented herself to be, and that although she might not be entitled to the honorary dignity of Baroness von Beck, she had been known under that name (and no doubt also under that of Racedula) in various places during the war in that country, and that she was, as she represented herself, acquainted with Kossuth and others. That, however, was not a point on which he wished to dwell. It mattered little whether her real name was Baroness von Beck or Racedula; she was known as both, and had published under the former. It might be an assumed name as "Boz," or "Little." It was her name as an authoress. He wished to call their Lordships' attention to the point whether the magistrate was justified in issuing a warrant for her apprehension. Now this, at most, was only a case of misdemeanour, and he believed that in such cases it was the invariable practice to issue a summons instead of a warrant, except in cases where there was any fear that the person would go away and evade justice. Now there could be no fear that these persons would abscond, for they were actually staying at the house of Mr. Tindal; and this said Mr. Tindal (with shame be it remembered) was privy and a party to the proceeding against them. He thought, therefore, that, if anything was required, Mr. James, the magistrate in question, should have issued a summons, and not a warrant. But he contended that there was no ground for any criminal proceedings whatever. The 1278 warrant stated that Wilhemina von Beck and Constant Derra de Meroda had obtained the sum of 24s., the money of George Dawson, under false pretences, and with intent to defraud him. He (Lord Beaumont) contended that there was no false pretence in the case. This lady had undoubtedly published a book, and, as the prospectus stated, was about to publish another, to be entitled Personal Adventures during the Recent War in Hungary, and, in due course, Mr. Dawson would have received the book in return for his money. There was therefore no false pretence. Well, this was the history of the case; and what was the defence set up on the other side? Why, that, in the former book, written by the Baroness von Beck, there was something against the character of M. Pulszky. But was that a sufficient reason? If M. Pulszky was libelled, he could have proceeded by action or criminal information. The whole affair, from first to last, appeared to him to be so monstrous that he scarcely knew whether to condemn most the friends of M. Pulszky, who gave their authority to commence proceedings; or Mr. Toulmin Smith, for the manner in which he fulfilled the duty imposed on him; or the magistrate, Mr. James, who issued the warrant; or the police officer who executed it in the barbarous way which he had related. He thought the whole of the parties were to blame, and he hoped some means might be taken to let them know they were to blame. He should wish himself that something in the nature of a little further investigation should take place; but he did not at the present moment propose it, because there was an action against the parties for false imprisonment, and he hoped that would do justice to the case. His reason for bringing it before their Lordships was this, that if provincial magistrates were so ignorant of their duty, it was high time measures should be taken to restrain them. It was most dangerous that large discretionary powers should remain in the hands of men so ill qualified to exercise them. And if the course which had been pursued in this instance was usual, it was imperative on the Legislature to interpose, and, by Act of Parliament, limit and define the powers of magistrates in issuing warrants. The petitioner had taken legal proceedings against the parties, which were now pending; and into his case he (Lord Beaumont) did not propose further to enter than by stating that the petitioner set 1279 forth the proceedings at full length: the information on oath; the warrant; the depositions taken on the hearing; and the decision of the justices. The petition concluded by representing that the proceedings had been harsh, cruel, and unjustifiable by law, and prayed that an inquiry might be made into the circumstances, and into the conduct of the justices, especially as to their right to hand over the papers of the deceased lady to the prosecutors, after she was dead, and the petitioner had been acquitted. The letters and other documents thus given up to the prosecutor were not forthcoming. They were probably destroyed, and thus all evidence, which would have established her character, was suppressed. The petition particularly prayed that precautions might be taken to prevent other unprotected foreigners from being exposed to similar arbitrary arrests; and against the discretionary issue of warrants, or, at all events, against their being executed in such a manner as in the present instance—at the dead of night—even in the case of a lady in ill health, and deprived of all power of defending herself from the accusations brought against her, for the purpose of gratifying the malice of her enemies by obtaining her temporary arrest.
The MARQUESS of SALISBURY
said, the matter had been brought before him some weeks ago, and then, as now, he thought it a very lame story. The noble Baron had not stated the depositions on which the warrant had been issued, and on which everything depended so far as the magistrate was concerned, who might have acted quite properly, perceiving that the party making the information on oath had sworn positively to the charge of false pretences—in which supposition the proceeding, at least on the part of the magistrate, would have been regular and proper. He could not say how far this was or was not so; but as the matter at present stood, their Lordships hardly had materials for pronouncing any censure upon the magistrate, whatever might be the case as to other parties, and as to them an action was now pending; so that he submitted it would be improper for their Lordships to enter into the inquiry until the action was decided, the result of which would, he doubted not, be to show that in any case in which a wrong had been perpetrated, the law of this country was adequate to give ample reparation to the injured party.
§ The EARL of ABERDEEN
said, he 1280 really was astonished to hear the language of the noble Marquess the Lord Privy Seal, who called this "a lame story." A lame story! Why, he had never heard one more completely established, or more painful in its character. It was hardly credible that such a case should have occurred in this country. On a late occasion a noble Lord had observed of some case that it was only in Madagascar it could be conceived to have occurred; but the case before their Lordships seemed of such a character as could scarcely be credited of any country, however cruel or uncivilised. What were the facts so far as they were undenied, and related not to the petitioner, but to the deceased lady? That a female, a foreigner, in bad health, was arrested in a barbarous manner at night, and dragged to a prison on a charge of obtaining money under false pretences—a charge which turned out to be totally false, for the magistrates entirely acquitted her companion of the same charge. What false pretences could there have been? The lady had represented that she proposed to write a work. Well, she had written one already, and was no doubt about to write another, and the money was received as subscriptions for it, and the subscribers would have received the book when published—what false pretence was there in this representation? How could any person who had subscribed his money upon this representation, pretend that he had been defrauded of it under false pretences? As to the lady's title of baroness—if their Lordships were to decide whether all the barons or baronesses were entitled to bear such rank, many persons might have to relinquish them. But really this had nothing whatever to do with the question. Here was a poor lady in ill health, dragged out of the house at the dead of night, on such a false accusation as this, locked up in a prison all night, and then dragged before a police court—until, under excitement, she sank down dead! Surely no person of any human feeling could hear these plain facts without sensations of horror. It was shocking to see that such things as these could happen in a country such as this—which boasted its equal justice and its fair laws. And then, when the person who had gone down to prosecute this poor helpless woman—the real reason being some offence given to certain of her countrymen in her former publication—when this lawyer who prosecuted made the demand, the magistrates—while 1281 her corpse was lying before them—made an order for delivery of the papers to the prosecutors—to obtain which was possibly the main motive of the prosecution. It was a very good thing that such a monstrous case should have been brought forward to be stigmatised as it deserved; and he hoped an inquiry would be instituted into the conduct of the magistrates who had acted or allowed others to act with such illegality and inhumanity.
The LORD CHANCELLOR
regretted that so mistaken a course should have been pursued in this case. If the facts were fairly stated by the noble Lord who had laid them before their Lordships, there could not be a doubt that, representation made, the noble and learned Lord who at that time filled his office, would have granted a supersedeas. Had the case been brought, as it ought to have been, before that tribunal, justice would have been done to this magistrate; he would have been heard in his defence, but he would also have been held to give a strict account of his conduct. It seemed too plain that those who interested themselves in seeing justice done, had lost time; during all the time that had elapsed since the events related, the proper tribunal had not been addressed. He had not himself been aware of the facts of the case until he heard them stated that night; no communication ever was made to him on the subject. This was to be lamented; for, in common with all who had heard of the case, he had been very much shocked at it. He could not conceive it was true, it was so shocking. The question was, how far the proceedings were culpable. He thought, however, that the noble Lord who had presented the petition, had hardly taken the most judicious course; for he had impeached all parties concerned—the counsel, the magistrate, the officers, the prosecutors, while an action was actually pending on the part of the petitioner. Their Lordships could not at present proceed with the inquiry prayed for. On the face of the matter, undoubtedly, there had been unjustifiable proceedings. Even if the poor lady had in some way acted improperly, it was impossible to vindicate the course which had been adopted. The practical question was, who was the party responsible and culpable? Probably, not the magistrate, who perhaps acted on information given on oath—some person swearing positively to the lady's guilt. Unquestionably a magistrate ought not to grant a 1282 warrant without great consideration, and the magistrate ought to take care not to be imposed upon; especially ought he to be cautious how he allowed a warrant to be executed at night, as in this instance, in which (though the magistrate might not be responsible for the manner of executing the warrant) the poor lady had been dragged from the very hearthstone of a friend. With regard to the conduct of Mr. T. Smith, which had been so strongly censured, there was nothing to show that the gentleman in question was a party to the harsh manner in which the warrant had been executed, or that he was aware that the lady against whom it was issued was in bad health. He could not say that the case was not one which should have been brought before their Lordships, who were bound to protect the lowest of their fellow-subjects from the undue exercise of magisterial authority; but the moment chosen to ask their Lordships' interposition was inopportune, as there was an action pending, and this very discussion might have an effect on the verdict of the jury, though he was sure the noble Baron would be the last man to wish this.
§ The EARL of CARLISLE
concurred in a feeling of satisfaction that the case should have been brought forward; and he could not avoid expressing his indignation that such a case should have occurred. The remark of the noble and learned Lord, that an action was pending, applied only to the petitioner, and not to the poor lady whose life had been sacrificed, and who was now beyond the reach of human violence and inhumanity. As a female, as a foreigner, as an invalid, and as a guest, she had been treated with brutality and injustice; and not only with brutality as a female, but with treachery as a guest. He could not help alluding to the conduct of the magistrate, in ordering to be delivered up to the prosecutors on a charge dismissed as untenable the papers of one of the parties accused, who was actually dead—the poor woman, one of the parties, having expired before the case was heard, so that against her, of course, no charge could have been substantiated; and the other—the petitioner—having been acquitted. He could not but say—without going further into the case—that (with respect to the retention of the papers particularly) the ordinary course of justice had been culpably departed from.
The DUKE of NORTHUMBERLAND
said, he was sure all of their Lordships 1283 had felt shocked at the case; hut he submitted that the fact of a suit being pending should prevent its being at present inquired into or discussed.
§ The EARL of ELLESMERE
said, he felt indebted to the noble Baron who had brought this case before their Lordships. He felt not only pity for the fate of the poor lady who had lost her life, but commiseration for the simplicity of the magistrates who had allowed themselves to be made dupes and instruments for the perversion and prostitution of our law to the purposes of private malice. That was the real history of this case. Suppose the noble Earl the Secretary for Foreign Affairs had allowed a British subject in Austria or Tuscany to be treated as this poor lady had been, he would have been served up, for the daily morning's amusement of newspaper readers; he would have been baited with questions, and vestry agitators would have lived upon him for a week. It seemed to be suggested that the poor victim might be hunted down with impunity, because, as it was said, she was not a Baroness Von Beck: she said she was. If every body who assumed a title that did not actually belong to him, was to be hunted down in the same way, the result would be extremely disagreeable to a vast number of persons. The gentleman, for example, who made so much excitement with his itinerant oratory as being Governor General of Hungary, would have thought it very hard, if somebody or other who did not like him had got some magistrate to lock him up in a solitary cell, on the proposition that he was not Governor General of Hungary. He would not enter further into the subject, in deference to the appeal of his noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor, not with much respect for the opinion of the noble Marquess the Lord Privy Seal, who really seemed to think there was nothing irregular in the case.
§ LORD BEAUMONT
begged to say, with reference to the observations of the noble Marquess, that all the depositions were incorporated into the petition, and all the proceedings before the magistrates at the hearing of the case when they dismissed the charge, so that their Lordships had all the materials necessary to form a fair judgment on the case. The matter, indeed, had been decided by the magistrates, who had acquitted and discharged the petitioner. As respected the petitioner, he did not desire their Lordships at present to interpose, an action being pending; but as to the 1284 poor lady who was dead, and had been so ill treated, what remedy could be had at law? If, as the Lord Privy Seal seemed to think, all this was only the regular course of law, the sooner such law was altered the better for the country and its character.
protested against this proceeding being drawn into a precedent. As far as the petitioner was concerned, it was acknowledged by the noble Lord (Lord Beaumont), that as an action had been brought, it would be improper for him to appear for that person, but he appeared for the shade of the departed woman. If all that had been stated was true, the magistrates were amenable to a criminal information, and liable to be dismissed; but even if a criminal information were granted against them, they would have been heard in their defence.
The MARQUESS of SALISBURY
explained that he did not dispute that the case deserved inquiry; but only that at present it was impossible to pronounce upon the conduct of the magistrate.
The MARQUESS of CLANEICARDE
said, he thought the House and the country were indebted to his noble Friend for bringing this matter forward; and he sincerely hoped that no such case of hardship would ever occur in this country, either to a British subject or to a foreigner, that would not be brought forward in some quarter or other; and, if proper redress could not be had out of that House, that some noble Lord in it would bring the subject under the consideration of their Lordships. It was fallacious to say that there was a legal remedy available to the parties, for an action could not afford reparation to the poor lady; and as to a criminal information, who was to run the risk of setting the law in motion? The very fact, however, that the Lord Chief Justice had pointed out that course of a criminal information, proved how serious the case was. What provision had been made to prevent a recurrence of such cases? The matter took place in August last, and since that time it did not appear that the authorities had acted. Was the case to be passed over without any attempt to apply a remedy, or to afford redress? Surely the magistrates must have seen it was only a case for a summons. And though the magistrates might not be responsible for the manner of executing the warrant, they were responsible for the character of the officers whom they retained in their employment to exe- 1285 cute these warrants. In such cases it was often not practicable to set in motion the processes of the law for the purpose of obtaining redress; and their Lordships should institute an inquiry, as the authorities had not thought proper to take the matter up at all.
§ The EARL of DERBY
said, it was remarkable that two noble Lords should have expressed their opinion, in the strongest and most unreserved terms, that a gross act of hardship and oppression should have been perpetrated, and yet those two noble Lords were themselves Cabinet Ministers, and responsible for the business of the country for a period of several months after the events in question took place. It might suit them now to make very indignant and eloquent speeches with respect to the great injustice that had been suffered; but for months after this unhappy case occurred, those who were responsible for omission and neglect in reference to it were not his noble Friends near him, or the noble and learned Lord now on the woolsack, but the noble Lords opposite and their Friends. He was convinced that if the late Secretary of State for the Home Department had thought this a proper case for interference, the right hon. Gentleman's well-known humanity and respect for the laws would have led him to interpose; but whilst the case was pending in a court of justice, it was extraordinary that two noble Lords who had lately been Cabinet Ministers should get up and complain that it had been neglected, and that it was the fault of the superior authorities that such oppression should be permitted.
The MARQUESS of CLANRICARDE
denied entirely that he had treated this as a party matter. If he were in office now, there was not one word he had uttered which he should not be prepared to repeat and adhere to. He made no accusation against any one; all he had said was that his noble Friend was justified in bringing this case before them. He adhered to his opinion that if such an occurrence had actually taken place, that House was the proper place in which to bring forward the complaint; and he hoped that the matter would be inquired into at the proper time.
§ The EARL of CARLISLE
said, he must also offer a word in explanation. Not one single syllable had fallen from him imputing blame to any authority among the 1286 noble Lords opposite, nor indeed to any authority whatever. The blame he had alleged was confined to the conduct of the parties who took part in the transaction at Birmingham, of whom he believed that the magistrate was probably the least in fault. The case was only brought before his (the Earl of Carlisle's) notice within the last few weeks, and by a gentleman with whom he bad not the honour to be acquainted, but who dated from the Conservative Club.
said, that he had the honour to hold the Great Seal at the time when this occurrence was stated to have taken place; but among the many matters which then engaged his attention, he had not much opportunity for reading the newspapers, and therefore he was not aware that this case had happened. If, however, it had been regularly brought under his notice, he should certainly have deserved the heavy censure of their Lordships if he had not immediately given it his serious consideration, and brought it before the attention of the Government. But it was not in the power of the Lord Chancellor, or of the Secretary of State, or, indeed, of the Minister who presided over any other department, to watch the reports in the newspapers—their duty was, whenever a matter was officially brought before them, to give it the best consideration it demanded. In this particular instance he had not yet heard any grounds for believing that the magistrate was open to the very severe censures that had been passed upon him; but he supposed the jury would hear of them when counsel stated the case in a court of law, and no doubt every sentence that had been pronounced in their Lordships' House would be found to add to the damages. He (Lord Truro) thought it singular that the petitioner, if he really wished to bring the transaction into notice, and to have the treatment which this unfortunate lady had received stamped with public reprobation, did not take steps to place the matter before the Home Secretary; if that had been done, no petition, like the present, would have been necessary. He (Lord Truro) could see nothing in this case that warranted the conclusion that the magistrate had not proper grounds for acting as he did; nor, on the other hand, could he see any evidence to show that Mr. Toulmin Smith was at all aware of the position in which the lady stood when the warrant was issued. With regard to the manner in which the warrant 1287 was executed, the officer was clearly responsible; but there was no certain knowledge before the House that any responsible party was cognisant of her state of health, or any other circumstance; and unless the matter was brought before the Lord Chancellor or the Home Secretary, it was not to be expected, nor would it be convenient, that they should volunteer to interfere. If the allegations against the magistrates had been proved, he should concur in their condemnation, but he objected to their being condemned before the proofs were stated. If, however, the petitioner had sought for redress in the proper quarter, and by the proper means, and had failed in obtaining it, he hoped that that House would be always open to receive applications for justice; but he trusted they would never open a door to any ex parte complaints against public authorities.
The MARQUESS of CLANRICARDE
said, he had a letter which explained why this case had not been brought before the Lord Chancellor or the Home Secretary. The occurrence took place on the last day in August, and very soon after the proceedings were first taken in the action that had been referred to, because early in November a summons was issued from the Court of Queen's Bench at the instance of the plaintiff. An application was afterwards made by the defendant to remove the venue to Warwickshire, and the action then stood for the spring assizes. Circumstances interposed to prevent the suit proceeding at that time, and it was again postponed to the Warwickshire Summer Assizes.
The DUKE of ARGYLL
said, that the most serious complaint against the magistrates was, that they had delivered up the papers of the unfortunate lady to the prosecutor, although no case had been made out against her; and it was extraordinary that Mr. Toulmin Smith should still have them in his possession.
said, it was possible that the papers comprised a list of the subscriptions that had been obtained by these parties, and the prosecutor desired that they might be impounded, to have them produced before the grand jury.
§ LORD BEAUMONT
said, that the papers were seized, and not impounded, and were handed over to the prosecutor. That was the information he had received. After this conversation, he would take the 1288 liberty of asking the noble Earl opposite whether it was his intention to recommend the Secretary of State for the Home Department to make an inquiry into this case, with the view of ascertaining the grounds upon which the magistrate issued the warrant, how the warrant was executed, and what were the subsequent proceedings?
§ The EARL of DERBY
replied, that it was not his intention to interfere in any way; but he had no doubt that the Secretary of State for the Home Department, if the case were properly brought before him, would take any steps that he ought to take in the discharge of his public duty.
§ LORD BEAUMONT
said, that if the noble Earl, after what he had heard that night, did not intend to speak to the Home Secretary on the subject, he would now give notice that he meant to bring forward a specific Motion for inquiry in that House.
§ Petition ordered to lie on the Table.