HL Deb 17 June 1856 vol 142 cc1570-1

, in presenting petitions from the prisoners in the Debtors Prisons at Manchester and other places, imprisoned for debt and contempt of Court, praying for the abolition of imprisonment for debt, called attention to the hardships under which those persons laboured who were imprisoned for contempt of the Court of Chancery. Many persons in this position remained incarcerated for years; indeed sometimes their term of imprisonment ended with life only.


admitted that occasionally it would appear that great hardships were inflicted upon individuals imprisoned for contempt, but the question was surrounded with so many difficulties that he felt himself unable to devise any means of getting out of the practice of imprisoning in some cases. Their Lordships would bear in mind that imprisonment by order of a court of equity was not to be considered a punishment, but only as a means of enforcing obedience. A man was imprisoned because he would not per- form a certain act; and unless some such method of enforcing its decrees existed, the orders of the Court would become nullities. As an example of the difficulties which surrounded the matter, he would mention one actual case which came under his notice soon after he first took his seat on the woolsack. The case was that of a man who had been committed in the early days of Lord Eldon's chancellorship for refusing to disclose certain facts, and who remained in prison obstinately declining to make any statement upon the subject until his death, which took place but a few months ago. If, however, his noble Friend could suggest any method of meeting the difficulties attending this subject he should be most happy to give it his most earnest consideration.


said, he would very gladly co-operate with the noble and learned Lord in devising some Amendment of the existing law.


expressed his concurrence in the prayer of the petition, and said that he had much pleasure in stating that in the Court over which he presided committals for contempt were always for a definite and fixed period, at the end of which the prisoner was discharged.

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