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Committal Of A Member By The Court Of Queen's Bench For Contempt

Volume 218: debated on Thursday 19 March 1874

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acquainted the House, that he had received a Letter from the Lord Chief Justice of England, which Mr. SPEAKER read to the House, as followeth:—

March 19, 1874

Sir,—I take the liberty of troubling you with reference to the facts which I am about to bring under your notice. I am not at all sure that I am not troubling you unnecessarily. Should this be so, I trust that my motive will be deemed a sufficient excuse.

On the 23rd of January last, Mr. George Hammond Whalley, then a Member of the late House of Commons, was adjudged by the Court of Queen's Bench, then sitting on the trial at Bar in the case of the Queen versus Castro, to have been guilty of a Contempt of that Court, in having published certain observations on evidence given on that trial, while it was still pending, and for such his Contempt was sentenced to pay a fine to the Queen of £250.

Having in open Court declared his determination not to pay such fine, Mr. Whalley was further ordered to be imprisoned till such fine should be paid.

In conformity with previous precedents, I should have felt myself called upon, as presiding on the occasion in question, to notify to the Mouse of Commons, in the name of the Court, the fact of one of its Members having been thus imprisoned, as soon as the House, which was at that time prorogued, should have been again sitting. But on Monday, the 26th of January, Parliament was dissolved by Her Majesty's Royal Proclamation, and in the meantime, Mr. Whalley, having paid the fine imposed on him, was in due course of law discharged.

The case does not therefore fall within the existing precedents, in each of which the report was made to the House of which the Member imprisoned for Contempt was an actual Member.

If I rightly apprehend the principle on which I Lord Chancellor Brougham, in the case of Mr. Wellesley, and Lord Chancellor Cottenham, in the case of Mr. Charlton, proceeded in reporting to the House of Commons the imprisonment of one of its Members—and I say so after having consulted very high authorities—it was not that there was any doubt of the power of a Court of Justice to commit a Member of the House of Commons for Contempt, but because it was thought right, out of that deference and respect which every Court of Justice would desire to manifest towards the House of Commons, to inform the House of the arrest of one of its Members, and of the reason why the Member so circumstanced was prevented from appearing in his place and discharging his duties as a Member of the House.

This reason would not appear to apply to a case in which the House of Commons, of which the Member was a component part at the time of his arrest, had ceased to exist before any report could be made—unless, indeed, the party imprisoned having been again elected a Member of a now House of Commons, the imprisonment should be continued, and the Member should be thus prevented from taking his seat—which, however, is not the case in the present instance.

I am therefore disposed to think that I am unnecessarily troubling you in reporting the imprisonment of Mr. Whalley when a Member of the late House of Commons, ft has, however, come to my knowledge that a different view of the matter is taken by several present and former Members of the House of Commons, for whose opinions I entertain the highest respect; and as it would be matter of the deepest concern to me that the Court of Queen's Bench should by any possibility be deemed to have been wanting in respect to the House of Commons, I prefer to run the risk of appearing to do that which may be unnecessary, to the possibility of appearing to be wanting in deference to the House.

I beg, therefore, under the circumstances, to submit the matter to your judgment; and if you should be of opinion that the fact of Mr. Whalley's commitment for Contempt by the Court of Queen's Bench, when a Member of the late House of Commons, should be notified to the present House, I beg leave, through you, to communicate the fact with the expression of my profoundest respect for the House. I have the honour to remain, Sir, your very obedient humble Servant,


The Rt. Hon. the Speaker of the House of Commons, &c., &c., &c.