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Spain—Detention Of British Subjects—Question

Volume 229: debated on Friday 26 May 1876

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asked the Under Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Whether his attention has been called to the following telegram from Cadiz in the "Times" newspaper of 25th May:—

"A sad perversion of justice is occurring. A British subject, Henry Pratt, has served eleven years' penal servitude. His time expired two years ago, and five successive Spanish Ministers have declared him free, but have neglected to sign his papers, and he has just been moved from Melilla to Ceuta, still a prisoner, having served two years beyond his allotted term;"
and, whether the above report is true; and, if so, what steps Her Majesty's Government have taken for his release?

I am glad my hon. Friend has called attention to this case, although the facts are not at all what the Question would suggest. It appears that Pratt, a British subject, was sentenced about 11 years ago to imprisonment for life for the crime of homicide, so that his time cannot be said to have expired. About two years ago he petitioned for his release, and his petition was sent to Her Majesty's Minister at Madrid as well as to the Minister of Justice in Spain. Mr. Layard considered that it was not a case in which he could interfere officially; however, he spoke privately to Senor Sagasta, who was then Minister of Foreign Affairs, and who inquired into the prisoner's conduct and character, and subsequently told Mr. Layard that the account he had received was so very good that he should immediately recommend him for a full pardon. Her Majesty's Representative repeatedly received similar assurances from Senores Ulloa and Castro and Count Casa Valencia, who were successively Ministers for Foreign Affairs. In November last Senor Calderon Collantes, the present Minister for Foreign Affairs, who was acquainted with the case of Pratt, because he had been Minister of Grace and Justice, on a further representation being made, assured Mr. Layard that he was entitled to his liberty, as, although the punishment of imprisonment for life was inflicted by the Spanish Code, practically imprisonment was never extended beyond the term of 10 years, and Pratt should be pardoned at once. As, however, no steps appear to have been taken by the Spanish authorities to carry out the assurances given to Mr. Layard, he was instructed a short time ago to bring the matter officially before the Spanish Government. Sufficient time has not elapsed to enable a reply to be received to this representation.