HL Deb 22 February 1858 vol 148 cc1850-4

, resuming, said, that the statement of the law to which allusion had been made was as follows:— The state of the English law I believe to be this, that foreigners are able to do in this country that which your own subjects are unable to do, and that which would be a crime in natural-born British subjects is a matter of impunity in foreigners. Such was the statement as reported: but he (Lord Campbell) would declare that that was not the law of England, and it was of the last importance that it should be known to the public and to Europe that this was not the law of England. For acts committed within the realm of England there was no difference and no distinction between natural-born subjects and aliens. As long as aliens were in England they were within allegiance to the Queen; they were the subjects of the Queen as long as they remained in this country; and were liable to the same procedure as natural-born British subjects. Whether a person was guilty of high treason, or the lowest offence known to the law, if it were committed in England, no difference existed whether he was an alien or a natural-born subject; and it would be most disastrous if it was to be supposed to be the law of England, that in the case of aliens, owing allegiance as they did to the Queen, there was no power to make them amenable to the law of England. While aliens lived under the protection of the law of England they were bound to obey, and were liable for any infractions of the laws of England, exactly in the same manner as every other person in the realm; and for any conspiracy they were as liable as any other persons. It would, therefore, be monstrous to proclaim to the world that foreigners who were enjoying the benefits of an asylum in this country might with impunity commit crimes for which English subjects would be liable to punishment. If a foreigner came to this country having committed a crime in his own country we could not punish him by our law, as that would be a proceeding contrary to the law of nations; but for British subjects we could legislate all over the world, and they could be made amenable to our laws for crimes committed anywhere. A foreigner could not be made so amenable; but for any crime committed within the realm of England any foreigner, equally with any English subject, was bound by our laws. He had read with astonishment a statement that it was doubtful whether a conspiracy in this country to murder the Empress of the French; at the time she was on the eve of giving birth to an heir to the throne, would be an offence within the law of England. Any one who conspired to effect a thing malum in se was liable to be tried as a conspirator in this country, whether the offender was a foreigner or not. With regard to the Sovereign of a foreign country, it should be recollected that Lord George Gordon was tried for a libel on Marie Antoinette; and if the offence of libel on the fair name of a foreign Sovereign was punishable by law in England, how could it be said that it was no offence to conspire to compass the death of the consort of a foreign Sovereign at the time that she was about to give birth to an heir to the throne? He made these observations without reference to the Bill now pending relating to conspiracies to murder. That Bill did not create any new offence, nor alter the law—it merely altered the punishment inflicted for an existing offence. He viewed the Bill as simply a measure for the amendment of the criminal law, and as such, when it reached that House, he should give it his cordial assent.


trusted that he might be allowed to say a few words in vindication of his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, with whom, however, he should say he had had no communication on this subject; but in his name, and without consulting him, he ventured to say that if his hon. and learned Friend was represented to have said what he was alleged to have said, he must have been misrepresented. It was impossible that he could have said it. He (the Lord Chancellor) thought that he could perceive how the mistake arose. In the very difficult task of reporting debates it might easily happen that a mistake might occur; for undoubtedly if a person, a foreigner, committed a crime abroad, and came to this country, he might do so with impunity, except that he might be subject to extradition under a treaty. That must have been what was said by his hon. and learned Friend; and perhaps it was mixed up with a question which had before arisen as to what was the offence of a British subject murdering a foreigner abroad. The question arose on the case of a man named Azzopardi, who was a British subject, and who was indicted for having murdered a foreigner abroad. A majority of the Judges decided that if a British subject murdered a foreigner abroad he was liable to be tried for that offence in this country. Though he (the Lord Chancellor) was stated to be a party to that decision, and as he was reported to have been so he had no doubt it was the case, yet, on consideration, he felt that there was great difficulty in holding that an Englishman abroad, by murdering a foreigner, violated the law of this land, and could be dealt with by our law. He presumed that the report of the case was quite accurate; but he should have much difficulty in holding now that a prisoner could be found guilty of murder in this country for the murder of a foreigner committed abroad, not in pursuance of any conspiracy concocted or carried on in this country. This was not the proper time or place to discuss that subject, and he only alluded to it for the purpose of stating that it might be on some question of that kind that a misapprehension of his hon. and learned Friend had arisen. He did not regret what had now occurred, for it was of the last importance that it should not go forth to Europe uncontradicted that according to our law aliens could with impunity be guilty of crimes for which British subjects were punishable. Be was glad to have had an opportunity of stating his belief that it was impossible that the Attorney General could have said so.


was understood to say that, with respect to the case to which his noble and learned Friend had alluded, whether the law was so or not, eight Judges, of whom his noble and learned Friend on the woolsack was one, agreed in a decision that he was amenable, and the sentence was executed, and the man hanged.


agreed with his noble and learned Friend. There could not be the least doubt whatever on the subject—there was not the shadow of a doubt—nor did he believe that there had been any doubt at any time in our legal history—expressed on the point that an alien in this country was as amenable to the municipal law of England as a natural-born subject; and if he was tried, he was proceeded against by the same course of procedure, and was liable to the same punishment and the same penal visitation, as a natural-born subject. Their Lordships, however, were not now discussing what the Attorney General had actually said, but what he was reported to have said. It was well that attention should have been drawn to the subject; but at the same time he must say, that there would be no end to debates in Parliament if their Lordships were, on every paragraph in a newspaper and on every report of what occurred elsewhere, to suffer themselves rashly and habitually to be drawn into discussions of this kind. But the present occasion was an exception, on account of the predicament in which they stood with regard to both countries—one country, he was grieved to say, influenced by the multitude out of doors, and the other influenced in an equal degree by the armed multitude out of doors. Any misrepresentation of the law of England required instant explanation, and an immediate answer ought to be given to any misstatement on that subject. He agreed in the opinion expressed by his noble and learned Friends, and he could not believe that anything like the doctrine attributed to the Attorney General had been ventilated by him.


was understood to concur entirely with his noble and learned Friends. It was impossible to deny that foreigners resident in this country were subject to our laws in all respects as British subjects were. Nevertheless, grave doubts having arisen with regard to the effect of certain of our laws as they at present stood, they ought to be set right. He did not say that his noble and learned Friend the Lord Chief Justice was not right in saying that any persons in this country, conspiring to murder the Emperor of the French or any foreign Sovereign, were guilty of conspiracy; but the punishment was only fine and slight imprisonment; and many cases were not provided for.


said he would not enter into the subject further than to express his entire concurrence in the opinions which had been stated by his noble and learned Friends.