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tion, in order that he may recom- scarcely to be found in any other mend to the several magistrates to instance, against the power asact thereupon, in all cases where sumed by justices of the peace of any person shall be found offend- committing or holding to bail for ing against the law in the manner a libel, his lordship took under above-mentioned.
his consideration the conduct of I beg leave to add, that persons the secretary of state, in issuing vending pamphlets or other pub- his circular letter to the lords lications, in the manner alluded lieutenants of counties, for the to, should be cunsidered as coming direction of the magistrates in the under the provisions of the Hawk- administration of the law. He ers and Pedlars' Act, and be dealt held that such a direction to the with accordingly, unless they show magistrates, not being a general that they are furnished with a exhortation to vigilance and care, licence as required by the said act. but a specific instruction as to the I have the honour to be, &c. way in which they are to construe
SIDMOUTH. the law, would have been, even if To this circular letter was sub- the law had been clear and undisjoined a copy of that of the two puted, a high offence against the law officers, the attorney and so- constitution. The character of licitor-general, signed W. Garrow this proceeding, therefore, he did and S. Shepherd. The substance not hesitate to call most unconsti. of it was, that a warrant may be tutional; and he brought two issued to apprehend a party charged striking instances to show the on oath for publishing a libel, danger that might arise from it. either by the secretary of state, a In conclusion, Lord Grey moved, judge, or a justice of the peace. “ That the case submitted to the
On May 12th the subject was law-oflicers of the crown, &c. be brought before the House of Lords laid before this House.” on a motion from Earl Grey. His Lord Ellenborough, after conlordship stated, as the principal plimenting the noble earl for his topic which he had to discuss, the very able and elaborate speech, question whether any justice of which proved that he had conthe peace may be called upon, by sidered this important question in any common informer, to decide all its bearings, said that he was at once what is or is not a libel, by no means convinced from any and upon his sole judgment and of the authorities he had cited, authority commit or hold to bail that the law was different from the person accused. The know- what he had always considered it ledge which he displayed on the to be, namely, that justices of the subject was very considerable; but peace can arrest and hold to bail depending entirely upon the opi- in cases of libel. Ile then called nions given by different lawyers, to his support some of the gravest and his comments upon them, it and most ven-rable authorities of will not allow us to enter into the law which spoke expressly and particulars. After he had brought explicitly on the subject; and together a degree of cumulative affirmed that if, from the tirae of proof which, he contended, was the revolution to the present day,
the practice were not sufficient to added in fine, that he was ready establish this point, there could be to avow all he had done, and no safe guide for any man in theex- would take upon himself all reercise of his judicial or legal duties. sponsibility for his acts, be the
Lord Erskine assured the House, consequences what they might. that during the whole time that Earl Grey begged leave to detain he practised at the bar, he never the House with a few observahad the least idea that it was com- tions. When he came down to petent to a common justice of the the House, he felt of course conpeace to arrest before indictment siderable distrust as to the correctfor libel ; and he prayed them to ness of his opinions, knowing that remember, that the libel act was he was to be opposed by the higha dead letter, if this was held to est legal authorities; but having be law; that any justice of peace listened to the noble lords with might overhaul collections of books the utmost attention, he must say in any shop or library throughout that all that fell from them rather the kingdom, and upon his own strengthened than weakened his authority pronounce the sellers or own opinions ; for he had never possessors to be criminal, and send in his life heard any thing more them by his warrants to prison. jejune and unsatisfactory than the
Viscount Sidmouth said, that arguments of those learned lords. when he had the satisfaction of He called for law, and they gave hearing it proclaimed in the House him authority; he called for dethat the measure which he had liberate discussion, and they had thought it his duty to adopt was given him bare assertions. conformable to the opinion of the After some further remarks on highest legal authority in the this subject, he came to the speech country; when he found it con- of the noble secretary of state formable to the opinions of the (Lord Sidmouth), who, he said, greatest text-writers on the law, with a tone of great self-satisfacand also to the recorded practice tion had taken to himself the of all the most eminent law ser- credit of stopping the progress of vants of the crown; he felt it blasphemy and sedition. He supwould be presumptuous in him to posed that the noble lords on his attempt to add any weight to this side of the House were as little mass of living and dead authority. friendly to blasphemy and sedition There was, however, another point as the noble viscount; but the on which he should think it a mat- question was, whether the latter ter of great self-reproach if he had not overstepped the bounds of could not vindicate himself to their law, and endangered the constilordships. It seems that he stood tution, which he boasted of saving. before their lordships charged with The House at length divided, having used his best endeavours when the Earl's motion was reto stop the progress of blasphemy jected by Non-contents 75 ; Conand sedition. To that charge he tents 19: Majority 56. pleaded guilty; and while he lived It was not till the 25th of June should be proud to have such a that the same subject was moved charge brought against him. He in the House of Commons by Sir
Samuel Romilly. He began with mous or seditious libel, but all saying, that he should not offer such as have been charged with any apology to the House for expressions considered as equivabringing under their notice the lent; for it is well known, that circular letter of Lord Sidmouth; words spoken are punishable what he felt himself most disposed equally with publications bearing to apologise for, was that he had the same character. Thus by the so long delayed in calling the at- command of any magistrate, howtention of parliament to that ex- ever prejudiced or indiscreet, a traordinary letter. The Secretary person might be held to bail or of State, by the letter in question, sent to prison, on the oath of an communicates to the magistrates informer. No newspaper, in any in all the counties of England and part of the country, could criticise Wales, that by consulting the law the measures of ministers, or officers of the crown, he had as- render itself obnoxious to some certained that they had a right to busy magistrate, without the issue warrants for apprehending danger of exposing its author to persons charged upon oath with imprisonment or expense without publishing blasphemous or sedi- trial. The tyranny of the reign of tious libels, and to compel them Charles II. could not be greater to give bail to answer the charge. than this. He then entered into The letter itself admits that doubt the consideration of legal arguhad been entertained whether the ments, upon which, however, he magistrates had such a power; would not detain the House long, and the minister takes upon him- after the admirable discussion self to solve the doubt, and to they had received by a noble friend declare, upon the authority of the in another place, and which was attorney and solicitor general, now in print. Having finished what the law is. What more that topic, he concluded with dangerous authority was ever as- moving « That an humble address sumed by a servant of the crown, be presented to his Royal Highthan to pretend to interfere with ness the Prince Regent, that he the magistracy by suggesting to will be graciously pleased to give them how the discretion which by directions that there be laid before law is vested in them should be this House, a copy of the case exercised?
upon which the opinion of the After the learned member had attorney and solicitor-general of forcibly dwelt upon this topic, and the date of the 24th of February had taken a historical view of the last was taken." political state of the country, he The Altorney General began proceeded to examine the legal opi- with saying, that no parliamentary nion of the law officers on which ground had been laid for the adopLord Sidmouth's circular tion of the motion of his hon. and founded. The magistrates would learned friend, nor could he conhave the power of committing or ceive of any which would warrant holding to bail, not only every man the House in calling for the prowho should be charged on oath duction of any case which governwith having published a blasphe- ment might submit to the con
sideration of the crown lawyers. supported. Sir S. Romilly in his He then in strong language disc reply took notice of the circumclaimed any purpose of gaining stance, and observed, that the the goodwill of ministers by sacri- suffering the question to go thus ficing to their interests. No quietly to a decision, shewed the clamour or calumny, he said, little value that was set upon cases should ever restrain him from the of importance to the liberty of the declaration of his opinion; and in subject. The motion was negathis case be had no hesitation in tived; after which Sir S. Romilly stating his deliberate judgment, moved the following two that a magistrate could legally lutions. commit and hold a man to bail 1. “That it is highly prejudicial for the publication of a libel. He to the due administration of justhen went through an examination tice, for a minister of the crown of the principal cases which had to interfere with the magisrrätes been adduced for the contrary of the country in cases in which a opinion; and in applying his doc- discretion is supposed to be by trine to the power granted to jus- law vested in them, by recom tices of the peace in cases of libel, mending or suggesting to them lie said that of course he meant how that discretion should be that the justice must see and read exercised. the libel, and not decide it to be 2. “That it tends to the subsuch on the mere oath of any man. version of justice, and is a darIt had further been alleged against gerous extension of the prerogathe circular letter, that the secre- tive, for a minister of the crown tary of state had interfered with to take upon himself to declare in the die and regular administration his official character to the magisof justice. But in what way could tracy, what he conceived to be the such interference prejudice the law of the land ; and that such ends of justice, when there was exercise of authority is the more no denunciation of persons by alarming, when the law so declarname, but only a general recom. cd deeply affects the security of mendation to be vigilant with re- the subject and the liberty of the spect to the progress of an existing press, and is promulgated upon evil ?
no better authority than the opiWith the exception of the So- nions of the law cflicers of the licitor-general, who rose in de- crown.” fence of his colleague, the other The Attorney-general having members spoke in reprobation of moved the previous question, the Lord Sidmouth's circular letter, House divided, Ayes 49; Noes and the opinion by which it was 157 : Niajority 108.
Prince Regent's Message to both Houses, and proceedings in consequence.
PRINCE REGENT'S MESSAGE. been brought down from the
V the third of June, Lord throne, he said that the hands of
lowing message to the House of for want of such a precedent. All Lords.
they were now called upon to do, His Royal Highness the Prince was to pledge themselves to an Regent, acting in the name and inimediate consideration of the on the behalf of his Majesty, has subject; with which view he given orders that there be laid be- should move, That the papers be fore the House of Lords, papers referred to a committee of secrecy. containing information respecting After some conversation among the continuance of practices, meet- the lords, the motion was agreed to. ings, and combinations, in differ- Lord Sidmouth then proposed ent parts of the kingdom, to to continue the same persons who which, at the commencement of composed the former committee, the present session of parlianient, with the substitution of the Earl his Royal Highness called the at- of Talbot for the Duke of Bedtention of the House, and which ford who was indisposed by ill are still carried on in such a man- health ; which was agreed to. ner, and to such an extent, as are Earl Grey said, that as the calculated to disturb the public learned lord on the woolsack had tranquillity, and to endanger the so much business to transact in security of the established consti- the court of chancery, he would tution of these realıns.
move that his name should be His Royal Highness recoin- omitted for the purpose of intromends to the House of Lords to ducing that of the Earl of Roslyn. take these papers into their imme. The motion was negatived, and diate and serious consideration. the committee as proposed by
GEORGE P. R. Lord Sidmouth was adopted. The message having been read, On June 12th the second report Lord Sidmouth proposed an address of the secret committee of the of thanks to the Prince Regent, House of Lords respecting certain which was unanimously agreed to. dangerous meetings and combina
Lord Sidmouth rose a second tions was presented to their Lordtime, and after observing that he ships by the Earl of Harrow by. was not acquainted with any instances on the journals in which REPORT OF THE SECRET COMa committee was moved for on the MITTEE appointed to take into
on which a message had consideration the everal Papers Vol. LIX.