UK, House of Lords, “Canadian Prisoners”, vol 46, cols 1177-1178 (25 March 1839)
By: UK (House of Lords)
Citation: UK, HL, “Canadian Prisoners“, vol 46 (1839), cols 1177-1178.
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Lord Brougham rose to move for a series of returns connected with the Canadian prisoners now in Newgate, of which he had given notice on Friday night.
The Marquess of Normanby did not think, that the returns ought to be laid before the House while the case of the prisoners was still under the consideration of a court of law.
Lord Brougham thought there was something in the objection, and would not press his motion. There were, however, other returns which he thought might be supplied—namely, returns of prisoners tried since the 1st of November, 1837, the result of those trials, and the sentences that had been passed. He wished now to state, that he had been informed, that certain other persons had been brought to this country from Canada, who did not belong to the same class of prisoners as those who were now confined in Newgate. Those parties to whom he alluded had been actually, as he was informed, tried and convicted in Canada; they had been brought over to this country under the Act of 1st of Victoria, and had since been sent to New South Wales. His objection to this course of proceeding was, first, that the amnesty was intended to extend even to persons who were taken with arms in their hands. Those persons had escaped altogether, and, that being so, he could not see the justice of punishing individuals who were much less guilty. These were cases to which he thought mercy might, with much grace and propriety, be extended. He must, in the next place, protest against treating those people who were political offenders, if they were to be sent to New South Wales, as they treated common highwaymen, housebreakers, and thieves, by sending them away without any distinction, discrimination, or classification in convict ships. It
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had been the policy of the wisest and most humane states in every age to draw a distinction in the punishment of political and common offenders, and justly so. When a common felon found that men of a better situation in life were for a political offence treated in the same way as himself, the effect was, that it raised the felon in his own estimation, and prevented his feeling that proper level of shameful position to which his offence ought, and which it was the object of the penal law, to bring him in the eyes of the public. He did not wish to revive the controversy on the subject, but be could not avoid expressing a hope, that he had been misinformed in this respect, but if he bad not been misinformed, that the Government would pay some attention to the principle for which he contended.
The Marquess of Normanby suggested, that even though there might be no objection to the returns, it was much more convenient that notice should be given. With regard to the other question put by the noble and learned Baron, although he had given no orders himself of the nature alluded to touching other convicts, he would make inquiry into the matter. As to the first return mentioned, the objection was, that the prisoners were now waiting under proceedings of the legal tribunals of this country, and he apprehended that generally there must be an objection to the production by the Government of the opinions of the law officers of the Crown.
Lord Brougham said, generally speaking, that objection was valid, but in the present instance it did not apply, inasmuch as the opinions of the Attorney and Solicitor-General had already been shortly furnished to the House, as well as the opinion, in extenso, of the Attorney-General of the island of Bermuda.
The Marquess of Normanby replied, that he believed the production of those opinions had been absolutely necessary.
Notice of a motion for the following day given.