§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
said, that, in asking their Lordships to give this Bill a second 948 reading, he would occupy but a small portion of their time, for it seemed to him that he ought rather to apologize for not going further with the proposed alteration of the law than to combat the objections that had been urged against moving at all in this matter. Even if the measure he now proposed became the law of the land, it would still not be in a perfect state, although within the last few years very great improvements had been effected in it; morn particularly by that Act which provided that the party charged with having published a libel might plead the truth of the statement on which the action was founded, and that it was for the public benefit that the matter charged should be published. When that Act was before Parliament there were some who expressed their apprehension that the proposed alteration would lead to an increase of libellous accusations; but he could take upon himself to say to their Lordships that the effect had been quite the contrary — that it had had a manifest and sensible effect in discouraging slander. It had had, besides, this very beneficial effect—that persons who were subjected to actions for slander or libel could no longer allege, as they used formerly to do, that if the law allowed them they were able to prove the truth of the statement, and that they were only found guilty because they were not allowed to prove that what they had said was true. Now they were allowed to plead that it was true, and the consequence was, they thus were more chary of their assertions. Another of the beneficial enactments of the Act of 1843 was, that those infamous attempts to extort money by threatening to publish slanderous statements in low-class newspapers unless money were given for the suppression of the libel, had been put an end to, and the class of publications which existed by these means were at an end. Still, much remained to be done to place the law of libel in a satisfactory state. The distinction between verbal and written slander could not easily be defended. As the law now stood, to say at a public meeting that a man was a coward, a liar, and a scoundrel afforded no cause of action unless some special damage had been sustained. So also a woman, if assailed by the coarsest language that could be used, could obtain no redress unless she could prove that she had suffered some special injury. He had himself tried most strenuously in the year 1843 to redeem our law from that reproach; but he failed then; and he did not now feel encouraged to renew his 949 attempt. He feared that the present Bill would cause great disappointment to those who had petitioned in its favour. They had asked for a great deal more than he proposed to grant. This movement owed its origin to the action of "Davison v. Duncan," of which their Lordships had probably heard, which had been brought in the Court of Queen's Bench against the proprietor of a respectable journal in the county of Durham, because he had published an account of what took place at a public meeting held under a local Act appointing Commissioners with large powers and authority to impose taxes for public objects. It was pleaded in that action that a true and faithful report had been given of what occurred at the public meeting: but on the case being argued on demurrer, this was held to be an insufficient justification. Great sensation was produced by the ultimate result of the action, for, the demurrer being overruled, the parties went to trial, and the jury found that the report in the newspaper was a good and true representation of what was spoken in public, and that it had been published without any malice. The jury, however, were told, and very properly, by the Judge, that, technically speaking, the publication was a libel, and that they must find a verdict for the plaintiff. They accordingly found a verdict for the plaintiff, with one farthing damages. The defendant had not to pay the costs of both sides, but his own costs in the action amounted to about £400. Upon this, petitions came in from various parts of the country, praying for a complete change in the law of libel; most of the petitions asked that there might be entire immunity to the proprietor and publisher of every public journal for the publication in newspapers of all that is spoken at all public meetings, if the report be faithful; that the only remedy should he against the person by whom the words at which offence was taken had been uttered at such meeting; and that if it were proved that the party had spoken anything, however calumnious, the individual injured should have no redress whatever against the publisher. That appeared to him (Lord Campbell) to be an excessive and unreasonable demand, and it purported to be based on a misconception of what was called Lord Northampton's Case, which was supposed to have established the rule that one might say or write anything respecting any man, woman, or child, provided only that he 950 gave the name of the author of the slander. That was certainly a very alarming doctrine; but it had no foundation; no such thing as that had been ruled in Lord Northampton's case. In the discharge of his duty, he had last Session moved for a Select Committee to consider whether the same immunity might not be given to reports of the proceedings of both Houses of Parliament which was now given to reports of the proceedings in courts of justice, and whether it might not also be extended to other public meetings. A Select Committee was appointed, composed of some of the most distinguished members of their Lordships' House, chosen from all shades of politics. Some most eminent members of the Committee thought that there was no occasion for alteration, that there was no serious practical inconvenience from the present state of the law on the subject. But a considerable majority were of a different opinion; and they recommended that the same immunity should be granted to faithful reports of the proceedings of either House of Parliament at which strangers have been permitted to be present, as was now granted to reports of the proceedings in the courts of justice; and they further recommended that there should be a certain concession made to those who complained of the present law respecting reports of public meetings, namely, that in the case of reports of public meetings called by lawful authority, where there was every reason to suppose that nothing but what was lawful would take place, and where the report was faithful, there should be this protection for the publisher of the report,—not that he should have complete immunity, but if the jury should be of opinion that no actual injury had been suffered by the party complaining, so that they would only give, if required according to the present law, one farthing damages, they should be at liberty to find a verdict for the defendant, which would relieve him from any damage arising from the action, and throw all the costs upon the pettifogger who got up the proceedings. The Bill consisted only of three clauses—the first referring to reports of proceedings of the two Houses of Parliament; the second to reports of public meetings called by the public authorities, by the publication of which no damage could be proved to have been occasioned to any person; and the third defining what are public meetings. He could not understand on what ground 951 a difference should be made between the reports of the proceedings of the two Houses of Parliament and the reports of Courts of Justice. It had been solemnly determined that a fair and faithful report of what took place in a court of justice afforded no ground for an action of libel. In the case of "Curry v. Walter," decided more than seventy years ago, it was solemnly declared that such was the law of England, Mr. Justice Eyre stating that as to a true account of what had taken place in a court of justice, which is open to all the world, the publication of it was not unlawful. That had been called judge-made law. It was true there was no Act of Parliament for it, but he thought the Court was well authorised in coming to that decision. Why, then, should not the reports of the proceedings of the two Houses of Parliament be put upon a similar footing? His Bill, he should add, proposed to restrict the immunity to reports of proceedings within the Houses at which strangers should have been permitted to be present, and not when they were sitting foribus clausis. Was it not for the advantage of the public that that should be done? He admitted that between the proceedings of the two Houses of Parliament and the proceedings of general meetings there was, for purposes of this kind, a very great distinction. Some of the witnesses examined before the Select Committee upon this subject went so far as to claim, even for the reports of public meetings in Hyde Park on a Sunday, for seditious and mischievous purposes, the same immunity as was given to the reports of proceedings in a court of justice. In this he (Lord Campbell) could not concur; but he had high authority in favour of the proposition; but he would only trouble their Lordships with the opinions of two distinguished men. Mr. Justice Laurence, one of the greatest Judges that had ever adorned the bench in the country, in the case of "Curry v. Walter," said:—Though the publication of such proceedings may be to the disadvantage of the particular individuals concerned, it is of vast importance to the public that the proceedings in courts of justice should be made universally known. The general advantage to the country of having those proceedings made public more than counterbalances any inconvenience to private persons whose conduct may be the subject of investigation. The same reason also applies to the proceedings of Parliament. It is of advantage to the public, and even to the legislative body, that due accounts of their proceedings should be generally circulated; and they would be deprived of that advantage if no 952 person could publish them without being punished as a libeller.His distinguished predecessor (Lord Den-man), when examined before a Select Committee on the law of libel, which sat in 1843, said—The result of my consideration of the subject generally is, that a faithful report of all proceedings in a court of justice ought not in any case to be considered libellous, unless it tends to corruption of manners; I extend this even to ex parte applications with a view to ulterior proceedings, because I think that on the balance of evils that evil is much less, and that it is upon the whole the more desirable course even for parties publicly questioned. I have no doubt that the publication of police reports is extremely useful for the detection of guilt, by making facts notorious, and for bringing those facts more correctly to the knowledge of all parties interested in unravelling the truth. The public, I think, are perfectly aware that those proceedings are ex parte, and they become more and more aware of it in proportion to their growing intelligence; they know that such proceedings are only in course of trial, and they do not form their opinion till the trial is had. Perfect publicity of judicial proceedings is of the highest importance in other points of view, but in its effects on character I think it desirable. The statement made in open court will probably find its way to the ears of all in whose good opinion the party assailed feels an interest, probably in an exaggerated form, and the imputation may often rest on the wrong person; both these evils are prevented by correct reports. With regard to the reporters of debates in Parliament, I cannot help entertaining a strong opinion that no faithful report of a debate ought to expose the publisher to an action or to a criminal proceeding. This is a question involving privilege, and therefore one of great delicacy; but as long as the debates are practically public, it seems to be unjust and wholly inconsistent with public freedom to subject their promulgation to punishment.The great objection which had arisen against the first clause of his Bill was a question of privilege. Now, he (Lord Campbell) had always been a "privilege" man. When he was a Member of the other House of Parliament, he on all fitting occasions resolutely defended its privileges, and if the privileges of their Lordships should ever be invaded he should defend them with equal zeal. This Bill would not in the remotest degree interfere with the privileges of either House of Parliament. Time was when there was an order in both Houses that the proceedings should not be published by their own Members or by public journals. But already, in both Houses, all these orders had been practically done away with, and he would show that if this Bill passed it would not be necessary for either House to alter one single syllabic of its existing Standing Orders. He would give their Lordships a 953 history of the origin of the supposed privileges of Parliament with reference to publication of their proceedings. Until he had closely investigated the subject he had been at a loss to understand that extreme jealousy on the subject of the publication of their proceedings which had induced both Houses of Parliament to make Standing Orders constituting such publication a high breach of privilege; for in all other countries where similar assemblies existed, and in which those assemblies enjoyed the right of canvassing the acts of the Executive, full liberty of publishing their proceedings had been enjoyed. Their Lordships knew very well that some of the greatest orators and lawyers of antiquity —Cicero, for example — published with great applause and effect their speeches before senates and courts of justice immediately after their delivery. Why should not we in England enjoy the same privilege? The reason why the Orders prohibiting the publication of the debates had been passed by both Houses was this: — During the progress of the struggle between the Crown and the two Houses of Parliament every effort was made by the two Houses to prevent the Crown from exercising the illegal power which it had usurped of punishing Members for what they spoke in Parliament, and it was then that these Orders were made. Secrecy was then of great consequence, because when the Crown heard that proceedings which it disapproved were going on in the House of Commons next morning, the Black Rod would knock at the door and summon the Commons to the Upper House, and Parliament was dissolved. Sometimes matters went further than this. Members were summoned before the Privy Council and examined as to their speeches, and if they could not give a satisfactory explanation they were sent to the Tower, there to pass their time until the prorogation. It was to prevent the Crown from getting notice of what was going on in Parliament that these Orders were made, and they were chiefly directed against the publication by Members of their own speeches. On the 13th of July, 1640— not to go further back—the Commons ordered that "No Member shall either give a copy or publish in print anything that he shall speak here, without leave of the House;" and on the 22nd of March in the same year—"that all Members of the House are enjoined to deliver out no copy or notes of anything that is brought into the House, pro- 954 pounded or agitated in the House. On the 28th of March, 1642, the Commons resolved that "What person soever shall print or sell any act or passages of this House under the name of a diurnal or otherwise, without the particular license of this House, shall be reputed a high contemner and breaker of the privilege of Parliament, and so punished accordingly." Their Lordships followed the example of the Commons, and made similar orders; and they summoned persons before them for publishing accounts of their proceedings. But, as their proceedings were more moderate and discreet than those of the Commons, they had not the same dread of punishment, and their Orders were not so frequent. On the 13th of March, 1647, a message came up from the Commons with a vote for inhibiting the publication of Parliamentary proceedings, in which the Lords were desired to concur. They did not, however, immediately concur, but replied that they would send an answer by a messenger of their own. After the Revolution, when constitutional government was established, it might have been expected that, as the reason for the rule had ceased, the rule also would have ceased; but this was not the only instance in our history of old customs and laws remaining in force long after the cause for them had ceased. It was just at this period that their Lordships made the Standing Order which was now the only one remaining on their books in reference to this subject. In 1698 there was published by one Churchill a book which called in question this very jurisdiction of their Lordships; whereupon it was resolved that "it is a breach of the privileges of this House for any person whatsoever to print, or to publish in print, anything relating to the proceedings of this House without the leave of this House." Until the year 1771 both Houses set their faces steadfastly against any publication of any part of their proceedings: but the rule was violated by reports under fictitious names. There were reports, for instance, of the proceedings of the Parliaments of Lilliput and of Utopia, in which the speeches of Bolingbroke and other great speakers of the reigns of Anne and the first two Georges were given under fictitious names. But there was great apprehension that the publisher of these might at any time be sent to prison. Since 1771, however, the rules against the publication of reports had been relaxed, in consequence of a memorable 955 crisis that then occurred, and of which an excellent account was given in Lord Mahon's history, when the House of Commons tried to enforce their order to prevent the publication of debates, and sent a messenger to arrest the publisher. But the messenger himself was arrested and sent to Giltspur Street Compter; and although the House of Commons sent the Lord Mayor and an alderman to the Tower for contempt, the House was finally baffled, and from that time any person who pleased had published the debates in Parliament without fear. The question was, whether there was anything upon the records of either House to prevent this Bill obtaining the approbation of the Legislature. Their Lordships were governed by the Order of 1698, which forbade the publication of any of their proceedings without the leave of the House, and he maintained that their Lordships had given this leave in the most ample and authentic manner. In 1849 a Committee was appointed, at the instance of Lord Beaumont, to consider the accommodation of the new House, to which were referred several petitions relative to the reporting of Parliamentary proceedings. That Committee made the following report: —The Committee have examined witnesses respecting the facility of hearing in the temporary gallery erected for the convenience of strangers connected with the public press, and in consequence of the evidence given by them the Committee feel themselves justified in recommending a permanent structure on the plan submitted to them by Mr. Barry. Mr. Dod, the senior reporter, and Secretary to the Reporters' Committee, states that they hear in the present gallery of the House of Lords as well as in the House of Commons, or as well as they ever heard in any House of Parliament. Other witnesses corroborate Mr. Dod's evidence. But notwithstanding the success which has attended the experiment made by Mr. Barry, neither the strangers who are allowed to be in the precincts of the House, nor even the Members present in the House itself, can expect to hear distinctly unless strict order is preserved both below the bar and on the steps of the throne. The Committee recommend that a portion of the space at the foot of the throne be railed off.Again, on the 30th of July, a Resolution was carried for an Address to the Crown, praying that a gallery, according to the recommendation of the Select Committee, and upon the plan of Sir C. Barry, should be erected. The Address was presented, and upon that Address the gallery was erected which was now occupied by the reporters. Until 1845 there were positive orders of the House of Commons against the admission of strangers:— 956Ordered that the Serjeant-at-Arms attending this House do from time to time take into his custody any stranger whom he may see, or who may be reported to him to be, in any part of the House or galleries.It was forbidden to any stranger to come into any part of the House or gallery belonging to the House. It was also ordered:—That no Member of this House do presume to bring any stranger into any part of the House or galleries.In consequence of a Motion of his friend Mr. Christie, those Orders were reformed in 1845, and now stood in this shape:—That the Serjeant-at-Arms attending this House do from time to time take into his custody any stranger whom he may see, or who may be reported to him to be in any part of the House or gallery appropriated to the Members of this House.That no Member of this House do presume to bring any stranger into any part of the House or gallery appropriated to the Members of this House while the House or a Committee of the Whole House is sitting,The prohibition directed against the admission of strangers, therefore, now only applied to those parts of the House appropriated to Members, and there was no necessity for the slightest alteration in the Standing Orders of either House of Parliament. Both Houses had, in fact, recognised the presence of strangers, reserving at the same time the right to exclude them. That right would not be affected by the passing of the present Bill; and he agreed that if any person published reports of what took place when either House had ordered that strangers should be excluded, he would be justly punishable, as now, for the breach of privilege. But it was said that there was no necessity for the Bill, because no practical evil had arisen from the present state of the law. But an action might be brought, or an indictment preferred, for the publication of anything that transpired in the course of their Lordships' proceedings that could be construed as reflecting upon the character of any one. And no later than last Session the noble Earl opposite (Earl Grey) had, while bringing forward the case of "Shedden v. Patrick," found it necessary to make the strongest imputations against private character, for which an action might have been brought against the journal publishing a report of them. It would be seen whether it was true that no one suffered by the evidence given before the Select Committee. One of the first witnesses was Mr. Dobie, a very respectable solicitor, 957 who was the solicitor for The Times newspaper. Mr. Dobie gave this evidence:—Will you be good enough to state any facts which have come within your experience bearing upon this subject? I consider that this fact will arise from the experience which I have had in defending the proprietors of The Times newspaper from the consequences of actions for damages in reporting proceedings of the House of Commons and proceedings in public meetings:—If the press had the same immunity or protection in publishing the reports of the proceedings of Parliament and public meetings as they enjoy with regard to courts of justice, it would be a great benefit to them and a great advantage to the public.Have you known any actions brought against The Times newspaper for reports of proceedings in either House of Parliament?—I defended one action for a speech of Dr. Lushington's and another for a speech of Lord George Bentinck's, and the proprietors of The Times were put to very considerable expense in justifying the truth of those two speeches, as well as proving that they were true reports.One of those instances was a speech of his learned friend Dr. Lushington, who, in representing the misconduct of an individual, said he had been suspended as a proctor three times. It turned out that the man had really only been suspended twice, but Dr. Lushington said three times, and was correctly reported; but for this inaccuracy an action was brought against The Times, the proprietors of that newspaper were harassed by legal proceedings, and they had to pay some costs. In the other case of Lord George Bentinck there was a scandalous informer who had raked up a long-forgot ten Act of Parliament, and had brought an immense number of qai tam actions upon an obsolete statute. Lord George Bentinck very properly spoke strongly of such a scandalous use of an old Act of Parliament, and for a report of what Lord George Bentinck said an action was brought against The Times. If it had occurred in a court of justice there would have been complete immunity; and why should there not be the same immunity when a matter was discussed in Parliament? Mr. Hansard, a name well known to their Lordships, after stating that he had not had actions brought, but had been in constant dread of them, gave this evidence:—Your Lordships are very well aware that my publication is the only publication which professes to record the proceedings of Parliament in extenso, and with very considerate fidelity, but that I am nut in any way recognized—that I have no protection whatever more than any other person who should publish in extenso or otherwise any reports of debates in your Lordships' House or of debates in the other House. Now, the consequence of the present state of the law of libel is 958 this: that if matter is uttered in debate in either House which would be libellous and would be unprotected if published out of the House, I am obliged to consider whether it would be safe for me to print that matter; and if I am clearly of opinion that it would not be safe for me to do so, inasmuch as the publication is not of such a nature that I could stand the expenses of a prosecution, the result is that I strike the matter out without any attempt at modification or otherwise.That apprehension induces you to suppress that which ought to appear if the report were fully accurate? It is, advisedly and systematically so.Earl Stanhope: Am I to understand you to say that those instances occur often?—Not often; but they do occur with sufficient frequency to be, as I conceive, of material consequence.It had been said that if his Bill were passed into a law, and if immunity were given, persons would come to public meetings and deliver libellous speeches, which would then be published with a view to libelling their enemies. But no such thing could happen. There was a case in the books— "The King v. the Earl of Abingdon." The Earl of Abingdon made a speech in that House libelling his steward, which speech he afterwards published. For that offence the Earl of Abingdon was very properly indicted, convicted, and punished; and if parties followed the Earl of Abingdon's example the same result would occur, for the publication of such a speech would not be a fair or bonâ fide use of the privilege of publication of the debates in Parliament Their Lordships need be under no apprehension that such an abuse could possibly occur if this Bill should pass. It was argued that as no action would he against a Member of Parliament for what he had spoken in his place in Parliament, so an aggrieved man would be deprived of all remedy if he could not proceed against the journal which published such a speech. But the same thing took place daily in the courts of justice. No action could be maintained against a counsel for a speech made in a cause, or against a Judge for a charge to the jury, or against a witness for what he might say in evidence. Therefore, it might be said that a person whose reputation suffered was left at present without any remedy for the loss he had suffered. But what loss could thus be sustained which could counterbalance the infinite advantage offered by the publication of the proceedings of courts of justice? He trusted, therefore, that their Lordships would agree to this clause of the Bill. He now came to the second clause of the Bill, the great object of which was 959 to protect the public press from vexatious and pettifogging actions, which were now sometimes brought where no injury had been sustained. This object had been in some measure attained by a recent Act of Parliament, enacting that if the damages were under 40s. costs equal to the damages should alone be given; but this Act had not afforded that protection to the press which it was entitled to. The press had a right to expect that where actions were brought against them without foundation all the costs should be thrown upon the plaintiffs. But still in an action where the jury might find for the plaintiff with a farthing damages, by which he would be entitled to no costs, yet the defendant would have to pay his own costs, which might amount to £300 or £400. Surely, where the report published contained a bonâ fide account of the transaction and no damage had been done, the person who published it should not be saddled with his own costs. It was supposed that some of the journals had declared that his Bill would be of no advantage to the press; but he believed that journalists looked to the Bill with great expectations of relief, and two witnesses, who were examined before the Select Committee, stated that they should gratefully accept such a measure. A most respectable witness, Mr. Baines, proprietor of the Leeds Mercury, gave the following evidence:—Has it ever suggested itself to your mind that it might be a relief if, under such circumstances, the plaintiff were liable to pay the costs of the defendant if the jury should be of opinion, by finding a farthing damages, that the plaintiff had no real cause of action?—It would be a very important relief to the press if the plaintiff were thus rendered liable.In that case the danger of vexatious actions being brought would be very much lessened?— It would be exceedingly lessened.Mr. Dobie, the solicitor of The Times, was asked—Do not you think it might prevent actions from being brought where there has been no real damage sustained if the law were to be, that upon the jury finding only the nominal damages of a farthing the defendant should be entitled to recover costs from the plaintiff?He replied—Certainly it would be a very great assistance to the defendant.That would be the exact result of the second clause, because it would allow the defendant to plead in bar to an action that it was a faithful report of the proceedings of a public meeting lawfully assembled, and then the jury might find a verdict for the defendant and all the costs would 960 fall upon the plaintiff. Who would be injured by such a clause? If any real damage had been sustained the remedy was untouched, the jury would find for the plaintiff and the defendant would have to pay the damages and costs; but if no damage had been sustained, no one could say that the party to a pettifogging action would be at all aggrieved if he had to pay the costs that had been incurred by the defendant. The only other clause in the Bill referred to the definition of public meetings, to which he was not aware that any objection had been made. In the category of public meetings were comprehended all meetings the publication of the proceedings of which was likely to be of service to the public such as meetings called by any public functionary authorised to call such meetings, meetings to petition the Queen or either House of Parliament, meetings for the election of Members of Parliament, meetings of town councils, of local boards, and generally of all meetings held under the authority of Acts of Parliament. It was of as much advantage to the public that the proceedings of such bodies should be reported as that the debates in Parliament should be published. These were meetings of bodies at which decency would be observed, and over which some control would always be exercised. He had never contemplated giving an unrestricted liberty of publishing all speeches made at any public meeting whatever without any remedy for parties aggrieved. His noble and learned Friend (Lord Lyndhurst) was of opinion that the speaker at a public meeting ought to be equally liable for what he said when his speech was faithfully reported and published in print as he would be if he himself had published it, or caused it to be printed and published. Objection might be taken that this would be doing away with the distinction between written and spoken slander: but the answer was that such a distinction was absurd in this particular instance, for if a man knew that his speech would be taken down by a shorthand writer with a view to publication, and if he spoke the speech with a view to its publication, then he ought to be liable for it as he would be if he published it himself. This would enable the party aggrieved to resort to the speaker in all cases, and there would be no apology for the person who said that he was injured by words spoken at a public meeting not bringing his action against the person who made the speech. 961 The change might be made without injury to any individual, and with a most beneficial effect. With these observations he must leave the Bill in their Lordships' hands, and trusted that they would give it a second reading. No doubt they would hear many predictions of evils which would follow the change which he proposed. Such predictions had been made before, and had always been falsified. There was no record of what occurred when the application of the peine forte et dure to persons who refused to plead was abolished; but no doubt that alteration of the law was not made without many predictions as to the evils which would follow it. Similar predictions were uttered when the law was altered so as to allow witnesses to be sworn for prisoners, and to give to accused persons the benefit of counsel. Many persons whose opinions were entitled to great respect were much opposed to the latter of these two measures, and apprehended that it would produce the most serious consequences. The last great improvement which was made was allowing parties to a cause to be examined as witnesses. His noble and learned Friend opposite (Lord Wensleydale) was at the time opposed to that measure, but he had since given to it his important sanction, and had admitted that it had been productive of great advantage to the administration of justice. His noble and learned Friend disapproved this Bill as he did of that, but he trusted he would live to see the day, and that not a distant one, when it would be shown that his apprehensions in this case were as groundless as those which he entertained in the other. The noble and learned Lord concluded by moving,
§ That the Bill be now read 2a
§ [Here the EARL, OF DERBY interrupted the debate, and communicated the receipt of a telegram announcing the fall of Luck-now on the 19th. The telegram was read amid general cheering.]
§ Loan LYNDHURST
My noble and learned Friend the Lord Chief Justice in closing his address referred to something which fell from me with respect to this measure on a former occasion, and I therefore feel called upon to state as shortly as possible the views which I take of it. I need hardly say that I entertain all proper respect for my noble and learned Friend, and also for the Select Committee to whom the present question had been referred, and upon the Resolutions of which this Bill, as I understand, is based. At the 962 same time, I must recall to your Lordships' recollection the fact that only one-half of the said Committee was present when these Resolutions were agreed to, and that less than one-third of the Committee voted in their favour. The Committee consisted of sixteen members, of whom eight were present when the Resolutions were discussed, and five voted in their favour. I therefore feel that I am perfectly at liberty to entertain my own opinions upon this subject without running the risk of being charged with being either obstinate or presumptuous. I must say that I altogether dissent from the conclusion at which the Committee arrived. With all deference to my noble and learned Friend, I think that, if it is necessary to legislate at all upon this subject, the measure which he has brought forward is most inefficient for the purpose, and ought to be greatly extended. In my opinion, as the Bill stands at present, it would be almost wholly inoperative. Every one of your Lordships, I feel certain, will admit the importance of the reports to which the measure relates. They are indeed marvellous for their accuracy. Every man, without stirring from his home, is made acquainted by them with all the circumstances attending all these public meetings—held not only in the Metropolis, but in every part of the Kingdom — and with all the facts and arguments which are discussed at them. It is hardly possible to overrate the advantages which result from this system, and it is, I conceive, the duty of Parliament, as far as possible, to do justice to those persons to whom we are indebted for these great advantages. Now, my Lords, a word upon the law. My noble and learned Friend very properly drew a distinction between libellous and defamatory words spoken, and those words when actually reduced to writing, With but few exceptions, persons may calumniate and defame by word of mouth to almost any extent with perfect immunity, and without being subject to any punishment; but the same words, when reduced to writing, may subject a party to a prosecution, and to the payment of damages, if found guilty, to the person injured. The principle upon which this distinction is founded I imagine is this. Words may be uttered hastily, in a moment of passion, and without consideration; they may have been misreported, and may be forgotten; whereas, writing denotes premeditation, care, opportunity for consideration. The written libel 963 is permanent, and may be extensively circulated. These are the grounds upon which the law at present draws a distinction between words spoken and words actually written. Now, apply the principle upon which this distinction is founded to the meetings which are the subjects of this Bill. A man attends a public meeting, and from the most malicious motives makes a speech defamatory of the character of another person. He knows it will be taken down in writing: he sees the reporter before him. He knows that it will be published; the very object for which he speaks it is that it may be published. Yet that man passes with impunity; the law cannot take hold of him. On the other hand, the reporter, whose mind is intent upon one object only,—taking down accurately what he hears,—who has no time for consideration as to whether the language uttered be libellous or not, who sends his slips off one after another as fast as they are completed; who, when he revises them, revises them in the utmost haste because they must be published immediately and without delay; such a man, under such circumstances, having no malicious motive, perhaps not knowing the point on which the calumny turns, is made the scapegoat; an action is brought against him, and he is fined in damages, or he may be indicted for the libel, and punished as a criminal. Now what can be more unjust than that state of things? My Lords, when you come to consider the circumstances attending a public meeting such as I have described, the principle on which the distinction between written and oral slander is made, hardly applies. A man goes to a meeting prepared with a slander. He sees it taken down; he speaks it for that purpose; he knows it will be published. Take, however, another illustration. Supposing I dictate words detracting from the character of another man to a person who puts them down, and I wish him to publish them. In that case I am responsible, and may be indicted for the libel. It is true that in the example we are now considering there is no authority given—no expression of a wish that it should be published. But everybody knows that it is the intention of the speaker that it should be published; and therefore I say, the distinction between oral and written slander does not apply to the case we are now dealing with. The law should be so altered as to make the party who utters the slan- 964 der solely responsible. A very trifling link in the chain, if supplied, would do justice to the parties. I mention these facts in the presence of my noble and learned Friend, to give him an opportunity of considering them, with a view to giving effect to the principle I have stated. But if he should think it impracticable to adopt that principle, still, looking at the Bill in its present shape, I must hold it to be very inadequate and imperfect. The second clause provides that if an action be brought to recover damages for the publication of a report the defendant may answer that "this is a faithful report of what passed at a public meeting lawfully assembled for a lawful purpose." And if the jury under those circumstances should be of opinion that the plaintiff had sustained no loss or injury, the defendant will be entitled to a verdict. The consequence of his being so entitled to a verdict is, that all the costs of the proceedings must be paid by the plaintiff. No doubt, this would afford great relief to the publisher, because as the law now stands, if the publication be in strict law a libel however small the damages, be they only one farthing, the plaintiff has to pay no costs, and in the case of Davison v. Duncan, to which my noble and learned Friend has so repeatedly referred, we have an instance of the costs under such circumstances amounting to between £400 and £500. Therefore, if the Bill stopped here, it would give a very great relief to the publisher; but, unfortunately, it does not stop here. The very next clause entirely neutralises the provision which precedes it. Clause 3 defines the meetings which are to be deemed lawful meetings lawfully assembled within the meaning of the Act. Never was there so extraordinary a definition! My noble and learned Friend gives, under four heads, meetings as convened by lawful authority, namely, for presenting petitions to either House of Parliament or to Her Majesty; meetings of Town Councils; meetings for the election of Members of Parliament; and, lastly, meetings held under any local Act for the purpose of imposing any rate or transacting any business with respect to a parish or a district. On first seeing this limitation, I turned it over and over again in my mind to discover upon what principle it proceeded. Is it that these meetings are meetings where order and decorum pre-eminently prevail? If I wished to select any meetings of a contrary character, I should se- 965 lect one of the very heads inserted in this Bill. Take for instance a vestry meeting for the purpose of making a church rate—is that the kind of meeting which is peculiarly marked by order and decorum and by an absence of personality? My Lords, I have seen a vestry meeting presided over by the clergyman of the parish. Argument goes on, turbulence succeeds to argument, the clergyman is obliged to abandon the chair; some other person takes his place, when renewed confusion and perhaps tumult ensue, and certain resolutions are passed which are probably of a most objectionable description. And yet this is one of the special, or, according to the phrase of my noble and learned Friend, one of the "favoured" meetings to which his measure extends. He has condescended to include the meetings of this House and of the other House of Parliament. We, too, are "favoured" meetings, we are "lawful meetings," and are to enjoy the benefit of my noble and learned Friend's Bill. We shall not be turned out of this House; he does us the honour, and I am grateful to him, of styling us a lawful meeting within the operation of the Act. But, my Lords, what will the right rev. Bench say to it? The right rev. Bench remained present during three quarters of an hour of my noble and learned Friend's speech, but they abandoned their places before its conclusion. What, however, would they say, if they were here and heard that Convocation is not a "lawful" assembly? Neither the Lower nor the Upper House of Convocation is included in the Bill. In the Lower House, indeed, perhaps a few sharp words might be exchanged.
§ LORD LYNDHURST
The Upper House, presided over by a most rev. Prelate, and consisting of right rev. Prelates, the dignitaries of the Church—sober, quiet, silent, unruffled—what does my noble and learned Friend say to it? Why he excludes it entirely from his Bill. There really never was such a Bill framed before for the consideration of Parliament. A Select Committee meets day after day to consider it, and at last they come to the conclusion that Convocation is an unlawful assembly. 966 Certain meetings, held at Exeter Hall, are presided over by a right rev—I mean by a noble Friend of mine who has a seat in this House. Those meetings, which occur three or four times a-week, are of a religious character, or for a charitable purpose; sometimes they are meetings on behalf of schools, and are attended by Clergymen of the Established Church and Dissenting Ministers. The speeches are sometimes of great eloquence, and the questions discussed most important. Yet they are not lawful assemblies within the meaning of this Bill. They are all deemed unlawful! Why my Lords what a Bill it is! I wish that a noble and learned Friend of mine— a walking cyclopedias, who is now doing suit and service in a neighbouring country, were now present. He would, I have no doubt, feel himself somewhat aggrieved by the definition given by his noble and learned Friend, as to what would be lawful meetings under this Bill. I remember reading the report of an address which my noble and learned Friend (Lord Brougham) delivered last autumn at Birmingham. The meeting, on that occasion, was held to consider very important subjects, most interesting to society, and it comprised Members of Parliament, literary and scientific men, and, in fact, the élite of the population of this country. I don't know whether the attention of my noble and learned Friend opposite was directed to that meeting. I hardly know how to characterize it. I am not quite sure that I have organs sufficient to articulate the name of it. It was called a Sociological Society, and I am not sure whether a noble Duke opposite was not one of the Vice Presidents [The Duke of ARGYLL shook his head]. At all events, this combination of Latin and Greek is, I think, most amusing; and the objects of the society appear to be very comprehensive. That society, however, if it should still be continued, will not be a lawful society under this Bill. Need I go further, my Lords? It may be remembered that about this time last year a meeting was held, presided over by a noble and learned Friend of mine, whose absence on the present occasion I greatly regret, upon a subject of the utmost possible consequence in a commercial country. It was, I believe, attended by commercial men from the large towns in the north, and, if I am not mistaken, some countrymen of my noble and learned Friend were present. I refer to the great meeting held for the purpose of considering the law of Bankruptcy. Now, what could be a more proper subject for a public meeting? 967 Yet that would not be a lawful meeting within the terms of this Bill. What does the Bill mean? What does it include? It excludes everything; it includes literally almost nothing. Before I left home this morning, I noted upon a paper a number of cases, including meetings of the greatest gravity and importance that were not included in the Bill. I came to one hundred and four, and then I stopped. I certainly expected to hear my noble and learned Friend, coming fresh as he does from a great judicial trial at which he was presiding, offer some more satisfactory explanation on this head, but I am grievously disappointed. The proposition of my noble and learned Friend seems to me most extraordinary. If a jury are of opinion that there is no damage, how can it be material at what kind of meeting the alleged libel was uttered? Mark how the Bill will operate. An action is brought for libel. It is proved that the meeting at which the alleged libel was uttered was a lawful meeting, assembled for a lawful purpose, and the jury say, "We are of opinion the plaintiff has no damage." The defendant says, "Oh, then I am entitled to a verdict."—"Oh no," exclaims the Judge, "this was not a vestry meeting; it was not a lawful meeting within Lord Campbell's Act—a carefully drawn measure." The meeting might have been held to consider the propriety of raising a monument to one of the best and bravest heroes of modern times—General Havelock —but the Judge must direct a verdict for the plaintiff, who may have his farthing damages, while the defendant is saddled with costs amounting to £300 or £400. What foundation, then, is there for this restriction? The noble and learned Lord said, as I understood, in the Committee, that it would not do to include all meetings in the Bill, because then the proceedings at seditious or treasonable meetings would be protected. Seditious meetings! treasonable meetings! — it is impossible, my Lords, for they are not lawful meetings, assembled for a lawful purpose. Such a ground, then, is no pretence for supporting the Bill. What I would suggest to my Noble and learned Friend, if he does not choose to assent to the alterations I propose in the first instance, is that he should agree to strike out the third clause altogether in Committee, and leave the second clause as it is, applying to any "public meeting lawfully assembled for a lawful purpose." Is not that protection enough. It should also be distinctly laid down that nothing in 968 the Bill should affect the privileges in any way of either Houses of Parliament. I wish the Bill to be read a second time, and to go into committee upstairs, in order that we may ascertain whether this Bill is not totally inefficient and inoperative, and that we may devise a measure marked by some common sense.
§ LORD WENSLEYDALE, who was very imperfectly heard, said, that he had always been an advocate for useful reforms in the law, and scarcely any measure with that object had been brought forward by his noble and learned Friend (Lord Campbell) to which he had not given his active support. He could assure his noble and learned Friend, therefore, that it was with very great reluctance he felt obliged to oppose the present Bill. Any one who contemplated the history of English law for the last quarter of a century must be struck by the importance and with the extent of the improvements which had been made in the common law, in criminal law, and in equity law; and if the noble Earl (Earl Stanhope) should complete the history which he had commenced, he would undoubtedly refer to that period as distinguished by the most valuable improvements that had ever been effected in the legal institutions of this country. He entertained very strong objections, however, to the present Bill, and he did not agree with his noble and learned Friend who last addressed their Lordships, that it ought to be allowed to pass a second reading. One chief objection was, that it would have the effect of placing a person charged with verbal slander on the same footing as the man who was charged with written slander. It had long been established as the law of this country, that with respect to verbal slander an action could only be maintained when offences were imputed, for the commission of which the offender would be punishable by law, or for saying what might exclude the person slandered from society, or hurt his trade or livelihood, or discharge him in an office of public trust—indeed, the cases in which such actions could be maintained were very limited; but an action would he for any slander in writing or in print, because this writing or printing gave the slander a character of perpetuity, and also extended it far more widely than it could be spread by verbal publication: the injury inflicted by a written or printed report was therefore much greater than that done by verbal slander. The proprietors of public journals were undoubtedly at perfect liberty to pub- 969 lish fair and correct reports of the proceedings of the two Houses of Parliament; and; the public had been greatly benefited by such reports. But the Bill raised the question, whether newspaper proprietors should be permitted to publish with impunity, speeches vilifying the character of individuals on the ground that those speeches had been made in Parliament. That certainly ought not to justify the publication of slander. Among several witnesses examined before the Select Committee was the solicitor to The Times, who stated; that the proprietors thereof had been sued for having printed a speech made by Dr. Lushington in the House of Commons, and had to pay the costs of the action brought against them by the party who considered himself aggrieved by the report of the speech. That, in fact, was the only instance in which an action had been brought against The Times for printing reports of the proceedings in Parliament; and, in fact, the witnesses altogether failed to show that newspaper proprietors suffered any practical inconvenience from the law of libel as to reports of Parliamentary proceedings. They admitted that the law made them act with great caution with reference to speeches in Parliament of a libellous character. The law at present gave ample privileges to every person to express his opinions upon all subjects, so long as it were done fairly and without malice; but this Bill introduced a new provision into the law which had hitherto been unknown. At present every man had a right of action whose character was injured by slander; but the noble and learned Lord wished to lay it down that, a man must have suffered some pecuniary loss or damage before his action for slander would lie. No sufficient reason had been shown for these innovations on the ancient law, and he should therefore move that the Bill be road a second time that day six months.
§ Amendment moved, to leave out "now" and insert (" this day six months.")
§ EARL GRANVILLE
said, he would not have ventured to introduce his unlearned opinion amongst those of the noble and learned Lords who had addressed the House, if he had intended to enter into any detail or make any minute examination of the question. He rose only to suggest that the House should give the Bill a second reading, and that his noble and learned Friend on his right should consent that the Bill, having been so read, should be referred to a Select Committee. No doubt 970 there was a great difference between libel and slander. The slander might be spoken at some district meeting of a person, it might be of a tyrannical or bad character, but would never become known beyond the meeting or the district; but if those statements were reported in the newspapers all over the kingdom, and remained uncontradicted, no doubt it created a great difficulty; and the greater the publicity that was given to them the more highly injurious to the individual. At the same time it had been suggested by the noble and learned Lords whose opinions had great weight, that a person so speaking had a right to expect that his words would be reported, and consequently was justly liable for the injury done. Provisions to suit these difficulties might be made in committee on the Bill with respect to the practice of publishing reports of proceedings in Parliament. It appeared to him perfectly monstrous that, after both Houses of the Legislature had given every possible convenience to reporters to report their proceedings, and when they expected to have them properly reported, that they should be held liable for these reports, He had only heard of two accusations against the press—only two complaints, one to the effect that their Lordships' speeches were too condensed, and another of a noble Lord who complained that he was not reported at all. He thought the general feeling of Parliament and the public alike, was one of astonishment that the press gave the debates so well immediately after they were spoken. It was unreasonable too that the publishers of those reports should be held liable for whatever might be said, when it was impossible in many cases, to say whether such reports were libels or not. It was very undesirable that the reporters should be left to exercise their own discretion in such matters. In a great many cases, that which was spoken affecting the character of one man was the only defence of another, and it was better for the public to have the whole thing than to have mere garbled extracts. He was not sure whether or not it was not even to the advantage of persons accused that the greatest publicity should be given. It was of advantage under all circumstances to have the most accurate report, and that it should be brought before the public eye in the best and widest way. It was surely much better that a man against whom something had been said in either House of Parlia- 971 ment, should learn what had been said from an impartial report, rattier than from the casual and often imperfect report of a friend. He did not wish to go more fully into the merits of this case, but he did feel it desirable that they should give the Bill a second reading. The noble and learned Lord had told them that he had had occasion to observe a deficiency in the law, and that he had accordingly brought the matter before the House, and it was carried before a Select Committee composed of some of the most eminent men in the House. He (Earl Granville) did not belong to the Committee, which certainly was composed of some of the most eminent men of their Lordships' House; but when he found that only five Members of that Committee voted on the question, and eight were absent, it appeared to him to be a most extraordinary thing. When he observed that there were on that Committee the noble and learned Lord (Lord Campbell), holding one of the highest positions in the criminal judicature of the country, the then Lord Chancellor, and three noble Earls, he thought it was for the dignity of their Lordships' House that they should support the measure which had resulted from the Report of the Committee. Under the circumstances, he thought that the Bill should go to a second reading, in order that it might go before a Select Committee, which would have the advantage and might avail themselves of the discussion that had taken place upon the question, and be able to collect the details and bring about a good and effective remedy to the blot that had been discovered in our legislation.
The LORD CHANCELLOR
— I regret, my Lords, that I for one cannot agree with the suggestion of the noble Earl (Earl Granville) to permit this Bill to go to a second reading for the purpose of referring it to a Select Committee. The proposition is one which I am sorry to say I cannot accede to; and I think, my Lords, there is not in the slightest degree anything undignified in your Lordships' coming to the conclusion as to the impropriety and undesirableness of giving this Bill a second reading, because my noble and learned Friend who has proposed it to us presents to us a certain principle, on which we are called on to decide at this stage of the Bill, as it is a principle to which I intend to address your Lordships' attention; for I think my noble and learned Friend has not established any case what- 972 ever for the Bill which he now proposes. My Lords, I have been so accustomed for years to pay implicit deference and submission to my noble and learned Friend, that I feel as if I were guilty of some impropriety in venturing to put forward my opinion in contradistinction to his. My noble and learned Friend has a very great advantage over me in the discussion now before your Lordships. The noble and learned lord has had great experience, he has entitled himself to considerable weight and respectful consideration in your Lordships' debates; he has entitled himself to weight and authority both in and out of this House;—and he is the author of many very excellent laws, particularly one upon the law of libel; and if my noble and learned Friend had never passed any other measure than his recent one, by which he suppressed the sale and circulation of impure and infamous publications, I think he would be entitled to the gratitude of every one who has the morality and well being of society at heart. But, my Lords, my noble and learned Friend must not be allowed to draw too largely on his stock of merit, and upon the influence which he possesses in your Lordships' House, by calling on your Lordships to take upon trust, without very careful examination, any proposal which he submits to your Lordships' attention. The Bill proposes alteration in the existing laws; and the real question is, is there any necessity for the change? is there any grievance? or is there any mischief arising from the present law which requires that any alteration should be brought about in the law? My noble and learned Friend has, I think, failed altogether in the establishment of any case in support of his Bill. Now, a full consideration of the question is requisite for the purpose of enabling your Lordships to come to a determination. The law is perfectly well known, and has been acquiesced in by the public press for a great number of years; they know precisely the extent of their responsibility, and they are constantly acting under a sense of it. A case has occurred which appeared suddenly to have roused them to a sense of their danger. A report was published in the Durham Advertiser of proceedings at a meeting of the West Hartlepool Improvement Commissioners. Whether it was a lawful meeting or not, I will not stop to inquire; but in the course of the proceedings some very injurious remarks were made against the 973 chaplain and secretary of the Bishop of Durham on the subject of a licence of a chaplain to the West Hartlepool Cemetery. The secretary brought an action against the newspaper in the court over which my noble and learned Friend presides. The editor of the paper pleaded that what he had published was a faithful report of the proceeding's of that meeting. To this plea, the plaintiff demurred; which is an admission of the truth of the statement and that it was a faithful report, but denies that it was any answer to the action. The Court of Queen's Bench decided in favour of the demurrer—decided according to the well-known law upon the subject. This decision, however, appears to have excited a groat deal of attention. I will not say in consequence of what appeared in the public journals, but following upon this publicity, my noble and learned Friend moved for a Select Committee to deter mine whether the same privilege could not be accorded to reports of proceedings in Parliament and at public meetings, such as was accorded with regard to reports of proceedings in courts of justice. The Committee, undoubtedly composed of most distinguished members of your Lordships' House; but I must be permitted to say, with the greatest deference to them, that their inquiry appears to me to have been much more directed to the consideration of the matter as regards the newspapers than how the interests of individuals and their security against slanders and calumny should be secured. My Lords, there were four witnesses—and only four, examined before this Committee — Mr. Baines, the proprietor of the Leeds Mercury; Mr. Dobie, solicitor to the Times newspaper; Mr. Hansard, the well-known publisher of the Parliamentary Debates; and Mr. Hargrove, the proprietor of the York Herald. No other persons than those who were concerned for the protection of the newspaper publications were called before the Committee. Now, what was the result of that inquiry? Was there any grievance established on the part of the press? Was there any inconvenience, any mischief shown to have arisen from the present state of the law? Mr. Baines, the proprietor of The Leeds Mercury, stated that for thirty years there had never been any action brought against that newspaper for any slanderous or calumnious publication. Mr. Baines, on the question being put to him—"Do yon know of any practical evil from the present state of the 974 law?" answered "None whatever." A similar inference might be drawn from Mr. Dobie's evidence with regard to actions brought against The Times. Why was that? Why, the answer was to be found in the evidence of the persons examined before the Committee. No actions had been brought against the proprietors of newspapers because they exercised care and caution in what they published; they acted under a sense of responsibility which. attached to them. What Mr. Hargrove says on that point is rather material: "In the existing state of the law I take care not to insert anything which has a libellous tendency." Now, my Lords, I say it is for the advantage of the public that this state of things should continue; that there should be a responsibility attaching to the proprietors of newspapers. It has been suggested, that if the law were changed there would be the same care and the same caution observed, and the same abstinence from publishing anything which would have a tendency to injure the character of individuals. My Lords, I must be permitted to doubt whether that would be the result. I know how much easier it is to be indiscriminate in publishing everything that is taken down; how difficult it is, in the hurry of publication, day by day, to select the portion of a report which is fit for publication, and to reject that which is not. Your Lordships may recollect this, that we are here dealing not only with those respectable journals to which the noble and learned Lord has alluded, and the editors of which would most likely be careful of private reputation, but that the privileges which they are to enjoy under this Bill are to extend to every newspaper throughout the kingdom; and I ask your Lordships whether there are not some journals at least which it is not likely would be extremely guarded and careful as regards doing injury to private character. When I look to the Resolutions which ultimately emanated from the Select Committee, and to the names appended to those Resolutions, I find that some noble Lords, Members of that Committee, whose opinions would have been extremely valuable, were not present when those Resolutions, which were carried by a majority of five to three, were put to the vote; for upon the decision of the Committee has been founded the Bill of the noble and learned Lord, which contains only three clauses, but those are of great importance. The noble and learned Lord proposes, in the first place, 975 to legalise the reports of all proceedings in either House of Parliament, however defamatory, however injurious these reports may be to the character of individuals; and the noble and learned Lord proposes that any person who is injured, and may be ruined by the report of debates which take place and in which his character has been assailed, should be utterly remediless; that proof of the publication being a faithful report of proceedings in either House of Parliament should be a complete answer to any action against the newspaper. I cannot help adverting to a little difficulty which seems to me to arise in the terms of my noble and learned Friend's clause. My noble and learned Friend proposes that the answer should be that the report is "a faithful report of the proceedings in Parliament." Now, how is the fidelity of the report to be established? On whom is the burden of proving that it is "a faithful report" thrown? Will it be sufficient for the proprietor to state that he considers what he has published to be a faithful report? If he is bound to prove it, how is he to do so, except by an invasion, in some degree, of the privileges of Parliament, by proving what actually passed in either House of Parliament? My noble and learned Friend assimilates the proceedings in Parliament to the proceedings in courts of justice; but there is a marked distinction between the two classes of proceedings. In courts of justice the proceedings are not ex parte. The whole case is heard, from beginning to end, on both sides; and the whole is published for the information of the public. But with regard to slander which takes place in the course of debates in either House of Parliament, it is mere ex parte statement. No answer may be given— probably no answer can be given—at the time the charge is made, and that constitutes, as it appears to me, a material and striking difference between the two cases. Consider the danger to which private persons will be exposed, if this Bill passes. I am sure that, if the noble and learned Lord's Bill passes, no noble Lord would abuse the decorum that pervades your Lordships' House by taking advantage of the altered state of the law in order to make his speech in debate a vehicle for private malice. I am sure that the same may be said of the Members of the other House of Parliament; but I can imagine that Members of some future House of Commons might avail themselves of the 976 advantage afforded them by a law as proposed to be altered by my noble and learned Friend, and knowing that what they said would be circulated throughout the country on the following morning, might use their position, and embrace the opportunity given them for the purpose of gratifying their private malice. Sly noble and learned Friend who proposed this Bill, referred to the case of Lord Abingdon. He might have referred to a similar case—that of Mr. Creevy; but both those were cases in which the speakers published their own speeches. The Bill, I admit, will make no alteration in the law in such a case. But the alteration which the noble and learned Lord proposes, refers to newspaper publications. At present, if a newspaper publishes slander spoken in the course of a Parliamentary debate, an action may be brought against the newspaper, and the party bringing it has an opportunity of vindicating his character; and the proprietor of the newspaper has this advantage, that if the statement be correct, he may plead that fact in justification. I will suppose a case in which a Member may be acting honestly and faithfully in the discharge of a public duty, and may yet commit a great wrong on an individual —do him, perhaps, an irreparable injury if the statement which he makes of that individual be published. I must be permitted to illustrate this by a case which lately occurred before the Privy Council. Proceedings were taken there in which certain respectable merchants of the city of London were charged with having been implicated in certain slave-trade transactions. The matter was debated and discussed at very considerable length before the Privy Council, and their Lordships took time to consider their judgment. Now, I have reason to know that the publication of those proceedings was most injurious to the credit and character of those respectable persons, and that it was only when the judgment was pronounced, in which they were entirely acquitted of all participation in the nefarious traffic, and in which very strong observations were made on the proceedings of. the Crown, and the Crown was saddled with the costs, that their characters were vindicated. I can imagine some Member of this or the other House of Parliament, whose heart burns within him when he speaks of the abominable slave traffic, breaking out in indignant reproach at the conduct of some London merchants whom he supposes to 977 have been engaged in it. My Lords, as long as that language is confined within the walls of this or the other House, the injury done those merchants would not be so great; but if on the following morning all that has been said flies through every part of the country, and is taken up by the country newspapers, the characters of the individuals, who are upon the assumption wholly innocent of any participation in this infamous trading, are completely destroyed, and they are irreparably injured. If this Bill passes, they will have no opportunity of vindicating their characters; all the remedy they will have will be, that they may address a letter to all the news apers which have inserted the injurious statement contradicting it. This letter may be inserted, or the newspapers may say, "Prom pressure of matter, we are unable to insert the letter;" and then the consequence of this measure which my noble and learned Friend deliberately proposes to the House, will be, that these persons will be irretrievably ruined and left without a remedy. My Lords, I cannot help thinking that this would be a most dangerous innovation and a most mischievous change in the law, which I think has been found, even on the evidence before the Committee, to provide a sufficient protection to newspaper proprietors, and, at the same time, has not left the characters of individuals defenceless. I now come to the clause of my noble and learned Friend's Bill which refers to proceedings at public meetings. It is perfectly true, that for words spoken, no action can be maintained unless they charge some indictable offence, with the single exception of cases in which it can be shown that special damage had resulted from the speaking of the words. My noble and learned Friend does not propose to abolish this distinction; indeed, the Report of the Select Committee condemns any such alteration. The Report says: —To meet this objection it has been proposed entirely to do away with the distinction between verbal and written slander, or to make the speaker at a public meeting always liable for all true printed reports of his speech. But we think that such alterations of the law are unnecessary, and would be inexpedient.He must be permitted upon the subject of these reports of public meetings to quote the words of my noble and learned Friend himself—words not uttered in this House, but used in the course of that case which has given rise to this discussion. My noble and learned Friend said,— 978If this plea is good a fair account of what takes place may be published, whatever harm the publication may do to private character, provided it take place at a meeting of a public nature —a wide description, embracing all kinds of meetings, from a county meeting to a parish meeting. At such meetings things may well be said very irrelevant to the subject in hand, yet very calumnious. In what an unhappy situation a calumniated person would be if a calumny might be published, and yet he could not bring an action and challenge the publisher to prove the truth of the statement.That was the language of my noble and learned Friend, who now proposes to legalize the publication of all reports of what takes place at a meeting lawfully assembled. [Lord CAMPBELL: Not so!] My noble and learned Friend must forgive me when I say that this is the effect of his clause. I admit that he allows an action to be brought for damages; but the party is not to be entitled to recover unless he can prove loss or damage. Now, my noble and learned Friend knows that that means pecuniary loss or damage; the consequence of which will be, that in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the person calumniated at a public meeting will be deprived of all remedy, because he cannot show that he has sustained any pecuniary loss or damage. Suppose he be a person not in trade, and that he be charged with a gross breach of morality, or with being guilty of some falsehood. Now, such an imputation is more painful to an honourable man than a pecuniary loss of thousands of pounds. My Lords, are we to set a money value only on reputation? Is it to be weighed against a quantity of gold? I trust the time will never come when, in this country, the reputation of a man will cease to be considered as the dearest of his possessions. I am sure that if such a time ever arrives it will not be until this country has been reduced to the lowest standard of morality. It has been suggested that the Bill should be committed, with the view of introducing into it an Amendment, constituting the person who published the agent of him who uttered the words. Of such a course I cannot approve. After the humorous description which has been given by a noble and learned Lord (Lord Lyndhurst) of the great number of public meetings which had been omitted from the definition contained in this Bill, I think that if the Bill ever goes into Committee my noble and learned Friend will find that the difficulties in its way are so great as to be insurmountable even by his great power of overcoming obstacles. Under these 979 circumstances I cannot, consistently with my position, give a silent vote on this subject, nor can I, after the most careful attention I have been able to give to this important matter, bring myself to agree to the proposal of my hon. and learned Friend. I do not find any real grievance in the existing state of the law. I think my noble and learned Friend was bound to establish some case. He has utterly failed in doing so; and, therefore, I think the Bill ought not to have a second reading.
§ LORD CRANWORTH
thought that, although the Bill of the noble and learned Lord Chief Justice might not be adopted in its integrity, it at least contained the germ and foundation of a good measure, and that, therefore, it ought to be read a second time. As to the reporting of Parliamentary proceedings, he doubted very much whether they were not proceeding altogether upon a fallacy. He did not believe that the character of a person calumniated in Parliament was likely to be damnified by the slander being reported; on the contrary, the fact of publication the next morning afforded him the best means of becoming acquainted with the charges made against him, and of refuting those charges. But for that report he might never know of the calumny, and might, therefore, suffer from imputations which he never had an opportunity of refuting. It was not at all clear to him, therefore, that it was not for the interest of the very person calumniated that there should be no restriction of publication at all, and, therefore, he thought that this alteration of this law should be made. But the case of journals publishing reports of public meetings required the utmost consideration. Was the law, as it stood, in a satisfactory state? It was said that there had been no cases of hardship. There had been one case, at least, and, in his opinion, it was the duty of their Lordships, when the principle of the law could not be justified, to act even upon a single instance. It was a great hardship to the publisher of a Durham newspaper that he should have had to pay £400 because he had published something which was actually stated at a public meeting held with reference to the improvement of the town of Hartlepool. And what had happened in that instance might, and most likely would, happen in many others. He did not, however, think that oral should he treated in the same manner as written slander. Such a rule would give rise to disgrace- 980 ful, pettifogging actions as was exemplified in the lawbooks of the reign of James I. and Charles I., when endless questions were raised as to whether such and such words were not slanderous so as to subject the person uttering them to an action. He was glad that, whether by judge-made law or otherwise, we had escaped from those difficulties, and, practically speaking, oral slander was not a ground of action. The case, however, was very different when the oral slander was uttered at a public meeting. There was little distinction between the act of directing libellous words to be published and that of uttering such words orally in public with the knowledge that they would be published; a person so speaking might properly be regarded as his own publisher, and it would be consistent with reason and justice to make him the party responsible. But under this Bill the injured party would bring his action against the publisher, who might plead that the report was a true and faithful one, made without malice. He would not encourage the notion that they ought to legislate on a mere theory; but when they saw that a certain amount of practical evil had already resulted from the state of the law it would not be wise to overlook what had occurred, and wait till further mischief arose before applying a remedy. He therefore hoped that their Lordships would read the Bill a second time.
§ THE EARL OF DERBY
said, that the noble and learned Lord had already addressed the House at considerable length, and that on the Motion for a second reading he had no right to a reply.
said, he was not aware of any instance in which the courtesy of a hearing in reply had been refused in such a case; but the noble Earl, not content with having overwhelming numbers on his side, insisted that there should also be no argument. He should be most willing, if the Bill was read a second time, to refer it again to a Select Committee; but it should be remembered that the measure had already been carried by a large majority in the Select Committee. Under those circumstances would their Lordships affirm that it was so vicious in principle that they could not hope to improve it at any subsequent stage? The powerful speech of the noble and learned Lord (Lord Lyndhurst), whose jocular observations had enlivened a very dull debate, was to a great extent favourable to the measure. It had pleased 981 the noble and learned Lord to assume that all meetings not included in the third clause, and, among others, those of Convocation, were unlawful. Now, it so happened that in the Committee he had himself proposed to include Convocation, but he was outvoted on the ground that it was disrespectful to suppose that anything libellous could fall from so grave and venerable a body. His reply to that had been, that he had heard right rev. Prelates use very sharp words in the House of Lords. To have enumerated meetings for the purpose of raising a monument to an illustrious General, or the meetings at Exeter Hall, to which reference had been made, might, he thought, have been deemed indecorous; but, if desirable, they might yet be included in the Bill when in Committee. His noble and learned Friend on the woolsack had done him the honour of referring to some of the measures he (Lord Campbell) had had the good fortune to originate and to carry into law, and, among others, to the Act for Preventing the Sale of Obscene Publications. His noble and learned Friend might have been aware that that measure was assailed even with more bitterness than the Bill now before their Lordships, and that all means were adopteed to cover it with discredit and ridicule. That Bill, however, received the sanction of their Lordships and of the other House of Parliament, and it was admitted by his noble and learned Friend, and by other eminent lawyers, that it had operated most beneficially. If the present Bill should pass and should become the law of the land, he believed it might receive as high commendation. [A laugh.] It was impossible to foresee what might happen, and in the course of the year this measure might receive the approval of some other occupant of the woolsack. The object of the Bill was, in the first instance, to give immunity to reports of Parliamentary proceedings; and next, to protect the public press, to a certain extent, in the publication of the proceedings at meetings of a particular description. Were their Lordships prepared to say that in secula seculorum they would invite reporters to attend, and would allow reports of their proceedings to go forth to the public; but that they would leave the; proprietors of newspapers liable to be sued by civil action, or imprisoned upon criminal information, for the faithful discharge of this duty? Bid the proposal to change this state of things involve so vicious a principle that their Lordships 982 would refuse a second reading to the Bill? Would they refuse to entertain any proposition for giving protection to the public press in the publication of faithful reports of proceedings at public meetings, and were the proprietors of newspapers to despair of any remedy or redress for the grievances of which they now complained? His noble and learned Friend had greatly misunderstood the object of the second clause, for he (Lord Campbell) had always regarded as wholly inadmissible the claim that complete immunity should be given with regard to everything that was said at every public meeting, and the clause applied exclusively to cases where no loss or damage was sustained. He foresaw what the fate of the Bill would be; but he had discharged his duty in bringing the subject under their Lordships' consideration.
§ On Question, That ("now") stand part of the Motion? their Lordships divided:—
§ Contents 7, Not-Contents 35: Majority 28.
|Clarendon, E.||Campbell, L. [Teller.]|
|Granville, E.||Cranworth, L.|
|Saint Germans, E.||Wrottesley, L. [Teller.]|
|Chelmsford L. (L. Chan-||Doneraile, V.|
|Beaufort, D.||Hutchinson, V. (E. Do-|
|Bath, M. [Teller.]||Bateman, L.|
|Exeter, M.||Belper, L.|
|Salisbury, M.||Berners, L.|
|Carnarvon, E.||Boston, L.|
|De La Warr, E.||Colville of Culross|
|Ellenborough, E.||De Ros, L.|
|Hardwicke, E.||Feversham, L.|
|Huntingdon, E.||Monteagle of Brandon,|
|Mayo, E.||Redesdale, L.|
|Sandwich, E.||Sondes, L.|
|Seafield, E.||Tenterden, L.|
|Verulam, E.||Wensleydale, L.|
§ Resolved in the negative; and Bill to be read 2a this day Six Months.
§ House adjourned at Nine o'clock, to Thursday next, half-past Four o'clock.