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The Bristolian, Saturday 14th August, 1830

March 30, 2010

(The Bristolian,. Saturday 14th August, 1830)


About three years since I contested the right of access to your Police Court, and was turned out by the order of a Magistrate and by the strength of an officer. I subsequently prosecuted the parties for an assault, but a Bristol Jury acquitted them.

The right of the Public to enter a Court of Justice is undeniable and has been recently recognised, in distinct terms, by the Judges of the Court of the Kings Bench. It is of the utmost importance that the judicial proceedings on the part of the Magistracy, should be divested of that privacy in which they are too frequently enwrapped; and it is my intention, again to try this question of right, with regard to the Police Court of this City. I indulge the hope you have profited somewhat by the added experience of the last three years; and I trust, you need not to be informed, that the very attempt to repress publicity will justly excite suspicion that you have too much reason to Court secrecy. If I do not deceive myself in this point, you will hesitate before you provoke a reference to superior authority, in respect of a question on which an adjudication has been formally made; you will be no less anxious than myself, to evince your independence of public opinion by the manifestation of your readiness to brave its expression, by an upright and fearless dispensation of justice in open Court.

For your information on the point once disputed by you, I beg to subjoin the most recent legal decision on the subject:-

December 15th 1829.

This was an action of trespass. The declaration complained that the defendants vi et armis turned the plaintiff out of a room called the Justice Room, in a part of an Inn, called the White Hart, at Market Rasen, in the County of Lincoln, in which room the defendants, as Justices of our Lord the King, assigned to keeping the peace and were then holding a Court of Petty Sessions for the administration of justice; whereby the plaintiff was hindered and prevented from exercising, following, and transacting his lawful and necessary business as an attorney, at and in the same room. There were other counts not necessary to be stated. The discussion, on the trial, went chiefly to the point, whether Preston, the defendant in the information, had the right to appear by attorney.

The point was reserved for the consideration of the Court; and the plaintiff obtained a verdict, with nominal damages, against all the defendants to whom leave was reserved to move to enter a nonsuit.

A rule having been accordingly obtained in the Easter term, cause was now shown by Mr. Denman and Mr. Clinton; and Mr. Serjeant Adams and Mr. Serjeant Goulburn were heard in its support.

Mr. Justice Parke: Even if there were no right to appoint the attorney, it does not follow that you had the right to turn him out. At present I think that this was an open Court, and that the plaintiff, as one of the King’s subjects, had a right to attend it. The case is very different from that of Garnett v. Ferranti.

Mr. Justice Bayley: At present I think so too.

The Court, however, took time to consider; and on the next day, the judgement was delivered in the following terms by:-

Mr. Justice Bailey: We adhere to the opinion that we intimated yesterday. We have communicated to Lord Tenterden on the subject, and he concurs with us in that opinion. It is not necessary for us, in this case, to decide the questions which were made in the argument; whether a person charged with the offence with which Preston was charged before the defendants, has the right to appear before them by attorney, so as to dispense with his personal attendance; or, whether an attorney in such a case has the right to appear, as an attorney for the person so charged, and in that character, to maintain his right to be present, and take a part in the proceedings. We decide neither for those questions; but the place in which the trespass now complained of was committed, was a Court. Magistrates were acting in a judicial way: we think it is an essential ingredient of such a Court that it should be open. If, in such a Court, there be convenient room, and the persons present do not interrupt the proceedings; and if they in other respects conduct themselves in a becoming manner, and if there is no good reason for removing any particular individual, we think that, with these limitations, all persons have a right to be present. Here, the plaintiff was present in the Court, and there does not appear to be any fact in the case, to bring it within any of the limitations I have mentioned, so as to render it justifiable or advisable to have him his removed.

“The plaintiff was there, for this purpose at least, as one of the public; and without pronouncing any opinion upon his rights as an attorney, he was not the less one of the public, because he was an attorney. He may be considered as being there as the friend of the accused. The accused might desire to have his friend with him, to assist him, for instance, in noting down what was sworn to by the witnesses against him; a very important advantage, which the accused had a right to have, and the plaintiff a right to give him. This being the state of things, one of the defendants, the Magistrate, without any offence being given, without any offence being suggested, without assigning any reason, or, at least, any adequate reason, orders the plaintiff to be forcibly turned out of the room. For that trespass the action is brought, and we think it is maintainable; but, as only one Magistrate took a part in this transaction, we think the verdict should be limited to him, indeed, the propriety of this was conceded in the course of the argument. What we decide is, that the Magistrates were, on this occasion, sitting as a Court, in their judicial character; and it is highly important to preserve the general principle that the proceedings of such a Court should not be private. That is the ground upon which we dispose of the present case.”

Having thus demonstrated my right to do that which the law sanctions, I will not anticipate any obstruction from those, who, are presumed to be knowing in the laws of the land, and disposed to dispense them with impartiality and justice.

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