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Lords' committees, that they had been attended by the two Chief-Justices and Chief-Baron, and had heard them touching the construction of the act of the 7th and 8th of King William, “ for regulating trials in cases of high treason and misprision of treason,” the House, upon reading the report, came to several resolutions, founded for the most part on the construction of that act. What that construction was appeareth from the Lord High Steward's address to the prisoners just before their arraignment. Having mentioned that act as one happy consequence of the Revolution, he addeth, “ However injuriously that revolution hath been traduced, whatever attempts have been made to subvert this happy establishment founded on it, your Lordships will now have the benefit of that law in its full
I need not, after this, mention any other judicial acts done by the House in this case, before the appointment of the High Steward: many there are. For the putting a construction upon an act relative to the conduct of the court and the right of the subject at the trial, and in the proceedings preparatory to it, and this in a case entirely new, and upon a point, to say no more in this place, not extremely clear, was undoubtedly an exercise of authority proper only for a court having full cognizance of the cause.
I will not minutely enumerate the several orders made preparatory to the trial of Lord Lovat, and in the several cases I shall have occasion to mention, touching the time and place of the trial, the allowance or non-allowance of council, and other matters of the like kind, all plainly judicial ; because the like orders occur in all the cases where a journal of the preparatory steps hath been published by order of the Peers. With regard to Lord Lovat’s case, I think the order directing the form of the High Steward's commission, which I have already taken notice of, is not very consistent with the idea of a court whose powers can be supposed to depend, at any point of time, upon the existence or dissolution of that commission.
In the case of the Earl of Derwentwater and the other lords impeached at the same time, the House received and recorded the confessions of those of them who pleaded guilty, long before the teste of the High Steward's commission, which issued merely for the solemnity of giving judgment against them upon their conviction. This appeareth by the commission itself. It reciteth, that the Earl of Derwentwater and others, coram nobis in presenti Parliamento, had been impeached by the Commons for high treason, and had, coram nobis in præsenti Parliamento, pleaded guilty to that impeachment; and that the King, intending that the said Earl of Derwentwater and others, de et pro proditione unde ipsi ut præfertur impetit, accusat', et convict existunt coram nobis in præsenti Parliamento, secundum legem et consuetudinem hujus regni nostri Magnae Britannia, audientur, sententientur, et adjudicentur, constituteth the then Lord Chancellor High Steward (hac vice) to do and execute all things which to the office of High Steward in that behalf do belong. The receiving and recording the confession of the prisoners, which amounted to a conviction, so that. nothing remained but proceeding to judgment, was certainly an exercise of judicial authority, which no assembly, how great soever, not having full cognizance of the cause, could exercise.
In the case of Lord Salisbury, who had been impeached by the Commons for high treason, the Lords, upon his petition, allowed him the benefit of the act of general pardon passed in the second year of William and Mary, so far as to discharge him from his imprisonment, upon a construction they put upon that act, no High Steward ever having been appointed in that
On the 2d of October, 1690, upon reading the Earl's petition, setting forth that he had been a prisoner for a year and nine months in the Tower, notwithstanding the late act of free and general pardon, and praying to be discharged, the Lords ordered the Judges to attend on the Monday following, to give their opinions whether the said Earl be pardoned by the act. On the 6th the Judges delivered their opinions, that, if his offence was committed before the 13th of February, 1688, and not in Ireland or beyond the seas, he is pardoned. Whereupon it was ordered that he be admitted to bail, and the next day he and his sureties entered into a recognizance of bail, himself in ten thousand pounds, and two sureties in five thousand pounds each; and on the 30th he and his sureties were, after a long debate, discharged from their recognizance.* It will not be material to inquire whether the House did right in discharging the Earl without giving the Commons an opportunity of being heard ; since, in fact, they claimed and exercised a right of judicature without an High Steward, – which is the only use I make of this case.
They did the same in the case of the Earl of Carnwarth, the Lords Widdrington and Nairn, long after the High Steward's commission dissolved. These lords had judgment passed on them at the same time
See the Journals of the Lords.
that judgment was given against the Lords Derwentwater, Nithsdale, and Kenmure; and judgment being given, the High Steward immediately broke his staff, and declared the commission dissolved. They continued prisoners in the Tower under reprieves, till the passing the act of general pardon, in the 3d of King George I. On the 21st of November, 1717, the House being informed that these lords had severally entered into recognizances before one of the judges of the Court of King's Bench for their appearance in the House in this session of Parliament, and that the Lords Carnwarth and Widdrington were attending accordingly, and that the Lord Nairn was ill at Bath and could not then attend, the Lords Carnwarth and Widdrington were called in, and severally at the bar prayed that their appearance might be recorded; and likewise prayed the benefit of the act * for his Majesty's general and free pardon. Whereupon the House ordered that their appearance be recorded, and that they attend again to-morrow, in order to plead the pardon ; and the recognizance of the Lord Nairn was respited till that day fortnight. On the morrow the Lords Carnwarth and Widdrington, then attending, were called in; and the Lord Chancellor acquainted them severally, that it appeared by the records of the House that they severally stood attainted of high treason, and asked them severally what they had to say why they should not be remanded to the Tower of London. Thereupon they severally, upon their knees, prayed the benefit of the act, and that they might have their lives and liberty pursuant thereunto. And the Attorney-General, who then attended for that purpose, declaring that he had no objection on his Majesty's behalf to what was prayed, conceiving that those lords, not having made any escape since their conviction, were entitled to the benefit of the act, the House, after reading the clause in the act relating to that matter,* agreed that they should be allowed the benefit of the pardon, as to their lives and liberties, and discharged their recognizances, and gave them leave to depart without further day given for their appearance. On the 6th of December following, the like proceedings were had, and the like orders made, in the case of Lord Nairn.
* 3 Geo. I. c 19.
I observe that the Lord Chancellor did not ask these lords what they had to say why execution should not be awarded. There was, it is probable, some little delicacy as to that point. But since the allowance of the benefit of the act, as to life and liberty, which was all that was prayed, was an effectual bar to any future imprisonment on that account, and also to execution, and might have been pleaded as such in any court whatsoever, the whole proceeding must be admitted to have been in a court having complete jurisdiction in the case, notwithstanding the High Steward's commission had been long dissolved, which is all the use I intended to make of this case.
I will not recapitulate : the cases I have cited, and the conclusions drawn from them, are brought into a very narrow compass. I will only add, that it would sound extremely harsh to say, that a court of criminal jurisdiction, founded in immemorial usage, and held in judgment of law before the King himself, can in any event whatever be under an utter incapacity of proceeding to trial and judgment, either of condemnation or acquittal, the ultimate objects of every