Monday, 1 February 2016

1st February 1816: Charles Sutton's final hearing at the Court of King's Bench

On Thursday 1st February 1816 & three months after Charles Sutton's application to have the guilty verdict against him set aside had been considered, his appeal had now reached the final decisive hearing at the Court of King's Bench in London:

The King against Sutton 
AN information filed by the Attorney-General against the defendant for publishing a malicious and seditious libel, to which the defendant pleaded not guilty, was tried before Graham B. at the last Nottinghamshire assizes. The information alleged, that at divers and very many times before the publication of the scandalous, malicious, and seditious libel, &c. (to wit) in 1811 and 1812, divers and very many acts of outrage had been committed by divers disorderly and ill-disposed persons, in and in the neighbourhood of Nottingham, against the property of divers of his majesty's subjects, and particularly against the frame-work knitted stocking, and frame-work lace manufactory, whereby the property of many of the subjects had in several instances been wholly destroyed, and that divers of the persons engaged and suspected to be engaged, in the perpetration of such outrages, had been reputed to act under the direction of some supposed and unknown person, called General Ludd, and had been commonly called Luddites, &c., and that there was war between this country and the United States of America, and that the defendant, unlawfully and maliciously intending to excite discontent and disaffection in the minds of the subjects of the king, against the king and his government, and to bring the government of the king into public hatred and contempt, and to excite persons to break the peace, and to commit acts of violence and outrage, unlawfully, maliciously, and seditiously printed and published the scandalous and seditious libel, which it set forth, and which was in the form of a letter from General Ludd to the editor of the Nottingham Review, contrasting the conduct of his son Ned, then serving (as the letter stated) in his majesty's forces under a commission to exercise his prowess against the Americans, with the conduct of himself and his family in their united efforts in breaking frames, that while these were commented on with severity, the scales were turned, and their enemies converted into friends, and sung a new tune to an old song, and the deeds of his son were trumpeted forth in every loyal paper, and his son was not now confined to the breaking a few frames, having the sanction of government, &c., and it concluded,—"though by the bye I am of opinion that all which I and my son have done in Nottingham and the neighbourhood, is not half so bad as what my son has done in America, but then you know he has supreme orders from indisputable authority for his operations in America, and that makes all the difference." Signed Gen. Ludd,

And in order to prove the introductory allegation as to the acts of outrage, the king's proclamation, dated 18th Dec. 1811, and the preambles to two acts of parliament, were offered in evidence. The proclamation recited that it had been represented to the Prince Regent that a considerable number of persons, chiefly composed of persons employed in the stocking manufactories, had for some time past assembled together in a riotous and tumultuous manner, in the town and county of the town of Nottingham, and likewise in several parts of the counties of Nottingham, Derby, and Leicester, for the purpose of compelling their employers to comply with certain regulations prescribed by themselves with respect to work and the wages to be paid for the same, and had had recourse to measures of force and violence, and had actually committed various acts of outrage in different parts of the counties above mentioned, whereby the property of many of the subjects had in several instances been wholly destroyed, and their lives and properties were still greatly endangered; and the proclamation went on to offer a reward for the discovery and apprehension of persons concerned in such proceedings. The preamble to the first act, 52 G. 3. c. 16. recited, "that the provisions of the 28 G. 3. for the better protecting stocking frames, &c., and for the punishment of persons destroying or injuring such stocking frames, &c. had been found ineffectual, and that such outrages had for some time past been carried on to an alarming extent." The preamble to the second act, 52 G. 3. c. 17. recited, "that considerable numbers of disorderly persons had for some time past assembled themselves together on different occasions in a riotous and tumultuous manner, in several parts of the county of Nottingham, and in the town and county of the town of Nottingham, and in the adjoining counties, and had had recourse to measures of force and violence, and had actually committed various acts of outrage in different parts of the said counties, whereby the property of many of his majesty's subjects had in several instances been wholly destroyed, and their lives and properties were still endangered." 
And it was objected that these documents were inadmissible for the purpose for which they were offered in evidence; for non constat that the acts of outrage recited in them did really exist, and if they did they were capable of other proof. The learned Judge admitted the first as being an act of the state founded upon the existence of outrages recited in it, and the others as tending to shew the notoriety of their existence. Evidence was also given by several witnesses, one of whom deposed to the existence of outrages in breaking frames in 1811 and 1812, and to his having seen the name of General Ludd chalked on the walls of Nottingham, and having seen songs respecting him; and that he was present at and assisted in the apprehension of some of the rioters at Sutton Ashfield, which is about fourteen or fifteen miles from Nottingham, who were running away from a place near to which he afterwards saw many frames broken, and that he heard them call themselves Luddites, and speak of General Ludd. Another witness spoke of having in 1811 seen riots at Sutton Ashfield, and frames broken there; and a third witness deposed to a transaction on the 12th of February 1812, at Nottingham, when about a dozen persons armed and disguised came into his father's house, and broke the frames, and that one called the other Ned, but he did not hear them call themselves Luddites, nor that they mentioned the name of General Ludd. Another witness also proved that he had heard General Ludd much talked of, and that he considered him to be a fictitious person, set up by the persons who committed the outrages in this neighbourhood, as their supposed leader. Upon this evidence, and proof of the publication of the libel, and the innuendos, it was found against the defendant. 
And in the last term it was moved by Denman that there should be a new trial; first, because of the improper admission of the evidence objected to at the trial. For the proclamation does not even state as a fact that outrages did exist, but only that it was represented that they did; but if it had stated the fact, it would make no difference, because it could not be proof of the truth of the fact . Even the certificate of the king under his sign manual of a matter of fact (except in one old case in Chancery, Hob. 213.) has been always refused, (a) And it appears by that old case that it passed without exception. Also the preambles ought not to have been received, because recitals in acts of parliament are not evidence of facts, but only of the opinion of the legislature. For instance, if one of these acts had recited that any particular house in Nottingham had been tumultuously destroyed, would this be evidence that the thing was so? As well might it be said that the insulting and arresting the person of the Russian ambassador, recited in 7 Ann. c. 12., or the stabbing of Harley by Anthony de Guiscard, recited in 9 Ann. c. 16., with the circumstances attending each of those transactions, might have been proved by the preambles to those acts of parliament, as evidence of the facts against the persons who were charged with having committed them; for if these recitals be evidence for one purpose, they must be so for all. Next, it was objected that the allegation, that acts of outrage were committed in the neighbourhood of Nottingham, was not proved, for the place to which the proof applies is fourteen or fifteen miles from thence, and therefore cannot be fairly said to be in the neighbourhood. Lastly, it was objected, that the Judge had misdirected the jury, because in the course of his summing up, he had stated to them that they were at liberty to refer to their own personal knowledge, if they saw any of those acts committed. Which doctrine, however it may have prevailed in ancient times, has been long exploded, and is incompatible with modern practice. (b)  
The Attorney-General, Clarke, Vaughan Serjt., Reader, and Reynolds now shewed cause, when it appearing by the Judge's report, that he did not refer the jury to their own personal knowledge, as matter of proof, for he stated that he conceived there was proof enough without it, but only as illustrating that which had been given in evidence, they contended that here was no misdirection. For is it meant to be said that a juryman is bound to reject all he knows, and is not at liberty, like other men, to use his own experience, in judging whether any particular facts which have been proved, are true? As if a fact which is perfectly notorious be proved by witnesses, is not the very notoriety one step towards the conclusion that the witnesses speak true? And even if the jury have received improper evidence, as where one of them, after the withdrawing of the jury, offered evidence to the others, yet if the Judge reports that the verdict is according to the evidence, a new trial shall not be granted, (c) And as to the admissibility of the evidence, the king's proclamation is an act of state, of which all ought to take notice (d); for it is a principle that every thing which relates to 'the king, as king of this country, is in its nature public, and therefore a gazette which contains any thing done by the king, in his character of king, or which has passed through the king's hands, is admissible evidence in a court of law to prove such thing, (e) Thus the journals of the House of Lords were admitted to prove the address to the king, and the king's answer to the House, in order to make out an averment in the indictment that divers controversies existed between his late majesty and his allies, and the king of Spain, (f) In like manner, as every man in England is, in judgment of law, party to the making of an act of parliament (g), and the preamble is a part of the act itself, surely these preambles were evidence to shew that the enactments were founded upon the mischiefs recited in them. And that such mischiefs did exist was proved by the testimony of eye-witnesses: as it said indeed, not in the neighbourhood of Nottingham, because they were fourteen or fifteen miles off; but this is, in a popular sense, the neighbourhood, agreeing with one definition of that word, viz. "Those that live within reach of communication." (h
Denman and Phillipps, contra, argued that it was plain, that both the proclamation and preambles must have been offered in proof of the averments in the information, because the averments are laid in the very same words: and though these documents might be evidence that the executive government and the legislature acted upon certain representations made to them, this by no means proves what the information alleges, that the facts represented were true, but only that the government and legislature gave credit to them; for if they could be carried farther, they would have greater weight than judgments, which are not evidence of any collateral matter. And as to their proving that the facts were notorious, if by that is meant a notoriety such as exists in general rumour, then the jury ought not to have taken that into their consideration; if it be meant that all the world knew them, then à fortiori they might and ought to have been proved. For to assume that the recital in every act of parliament is even primá facie evidence of the facts recited in it, would lead to very extensive consequences, and might sometimes perhaps bring the truth into hazard; as if the statute which passed at the dissolution of monasteries, should be taken as evidence of the fact that the abbots and priors, &c. of their own free and voluntary minds, and without constraint, &c. surrendered to the king, because the statute so recites. (i) So the preamble to a modern statute (j) recites, that Malta is now in the possession of his majesty, when it might have happened that at that time it was in the enemy's possession. And it is singular that one of the preambles now in question should have recited that these disorders pervaded the county of Nottingham and the adjoining counties, so that if this were evidence it might be adduced as proof that they existed in Lincolnshire, when it is perfectly well known that that county has been entirely free from them. But it may be asked, what peculiar force is there in the preamble of an act of parliament, that it should attract to it verity in every particular? It is but matter of inducement, and cannot be founded upon oath, for neither branch of the legislature can for this purpose administer an oath; whereas all evidence ought to be upon oath; and no instance is stated to warrant the admission of a recital either in an act of parliament or proclamation to prove a fact in issue. If indeed a mere act of state is to be proved, as that addresses were presented to his majesty (k); or a matter of diplomacy, as that the country stood in any particular situation with regard to its foreign relations (l); which are the cases cited contra; these from their nature can only be proved by state documents; but how does this apply to facts like the present? And as to the argument that there is evidence enough without these documents to sustain the verdict, whatever may be the rule as to that in civil actions, there is no such rule in criminal cases; on the contrary, the rule here is, that if amidst evidence which was proper to be given, evidence which was inadmissible was received, inasmuch as the Court cannot know upon what part of it the verdict was founded, nor even that the jury may not have disbelieved so much of it as was lawful, and acted upon that which ought to have been rejected, a new trial shall go. Also, in addition to the objection that there is no proof to sustain the allegation that outrages were committed in the neighbourhood of Nottingham, there is this defect in the proof of the allegation concerning those which were committed in Nottingham, that they are not proved to have been committed by persons called Luddites, or that they were acting under a supposed and unknown person called General Ludd; for all that is proved upon that subject is, that General Ludd was chalked on the walls; but the evidence negatives that any such name was mentioned at the time, or that any one of the party was called a Luddite. There is nothing therefore to connect these persons with this name, or as acting under General Ludd. So the allegation concerning the person called General Ludd is disproved; for the alleging that he was a supposed and unknown person, imports that he was an existing person; whereas it was proved that such a person was altogether fictitious. 
Lord ELLENBOROUGH C. J. If in this case I had been able to detect any particle of proof that ought not to have been offered to the consideration of the jury, I should have thought such vicious proof would have corrupted the verdict and avoided it. But after the utmost attention, I am unable to discover that there is any vice in any particle of this evidence. The material objection upon which the rule was obtained, was founded upon a supposed misdirection of the learned Judge at the trial, viz. that he had referred, in aid of some defect of evidence, to the personal knowledge which the jurors might possess, for proof of the fact that outrages had been committed in Nottingham; for as to their having been also committed in the neighbourhood of Nottingham, I do not think that it is material to prove both. It now appears however from the report, that the Judge did not lay any stress on the personal knowledge which the jury might be supposed to possess in order to aid any defect of evidence. On the contrary, it appears that he considered the evidence as fully sufficient to establish a verdict in favour of the crown; only he made the observation with reference to what they knew, as a matter of illustration, that it formed a part of the history of the county, that such outrages had been committed; as if he had said, every one must be aware of what has passed before their own eyes, and at their own doors; but he did not advise them to rely on that as a source of information on which they were to found their verdict, but only that it might make the proof more satisfactory to their minds, if they knew what had passed, because no one can have any reason to doubt what he knows and sees. It is conclusive, I think, upon the report, that the Judge did not leave this to the jury as forming a branch of evidence of itself. Next it is objected, that the acts of parliament were not evidence. For what purpose, then, are the Judges bound to take judicial notice of public acts of parliament, but in order that they may have a knowledge of them themselves, and communicate it to others? The Judge is bound not only to take judicial notice of their contents himself, but also to state the same to the jury; for if he is not to state them, for what purpose is he to take notice of them? According to the argument for the defendant, the Judge would be bound to take notice of them, yet would be precluded from stating them. I do not say how far this evidence was conclusive; I only say that it was admissible. Public acts of parliament are binding upon every subject, because every subject is, in judgment of law, privy to the making of them, and therefore supposed to know them, and formerly the usage was for the sheriff to proclaim them at his county court; and yet what every subject is supposed to know, and what the Judge is bound judicially to take notice of, it is said the jury cannot advert to; for if this evidence was inadmissible, it must be because the jury could not be charged with it. Next, as to the proclamation, I consider it as an act of state. The proclamation recites, that it had been represented to the Prince Regent, that a number of persons had committed various acts of outrage in the town, and in different parts of the county of Nottingham, &c.; and that the Prince Regent has thought it necessary to propound certain rewards for the discovery and conviction of the persons concerned in such proceedings. The propounding of these rewards necessarily implies that such acts of outrage have actually been committed, for otherwise it would have been nugatory to propound them. I do not say that it was conclusive evidence of the fact that these outrages were committed; but surely it was admissible, and like other acts of state to be laid before the jury. Next, as to the proof of the allegation that the persons committing these outrages were denominated Luddites; this was proved by eye-witnesses, and the very name of General Ludd on the walls confirms the common reputation that he was the supposed head of the persons acting under the denomination of Luddites. It is said, the information alleges that this was some supposed unknown person, and that it was not proved that there was any such person, but on the contrary, that he was altogether fictitious; but yet he was supposed to have existence for the purpose of carrying on these outrages, and whether he existed as a real or a fictitious person can make no difference. We read of the fancied existence of gnomes and sylphs, who are imaginary beings created and existing for the purpose of the plot they are to carry on, and who for this purpose at least must be treated as realities. In like manner this person had an existence, though it was created, and existing only in fiction for a particular purpose. Mr. Hobhouse said that he did not believe that there was actually such a person, but that he was set up as a person for the purpose of carrying on these outrages. It seems to me, therefore, that all the allegations and descriptions are made out in proof, and that there is not any part of this evidence to which it can fairly be excepted that it was inadmissible. And if this be so, I do not think that on account of an observation made to the jury by the learned Judge ex abundanti cautelá, this verdict ought to be disturbed. The report has cleared the case of the objection upon which the Court was principally induced to grant the rule. As it now stands, I am satisfied that the verdict was founded upon sufficient evidence, and that there has been no misdirection. 
LE BLANC J. This is an application for a new trial after conviction upon an information charging the defendant with having published a seditious libel. The application is grounded upon three objections; first, on account of the admission of evidence which ought not to have been admitted; secondly, because of the want of proof of certain allegations in the information; and thirdly, because the jury were referred to certain knowledge of their own as matter of evidence. This rule was granted upon a ground which I think cannot be disputed as a rule of law, namely, that if a verdict in a criminal proceeding like the present passes upon evidence, some parts of which are inadmissible and other parts admissible, the Court has not the means of referring the verdict to those parts only which were admissible, and it is their habit in such a case to grant a new trial. Therefore it becomes very material in this case to examine whether any evidence was received which ought not to have been received; and in considering this it is in the first place material to advert to the nature of the libel. It is a libel in the form of a letter from General Ludd to the editor of the Nottingham Review, reflecting on the conduct of his majesty's government, by comparing the conduct of the military serving in America, with the conduct of certain persons acting in Nottingham and the neighbourhood under the description of Luddites, representing that the son of the supposed writer who was serving in his majesty's forces in America, was now applauded for acts done by him in that country, similar to those for which the persons called Luddites were condemned in this country. Such is the nature of this libel. The first introductory allegation is, that before the publishing of the libel, many acts of outrage had been committed by divers disorderly persons in, and in the neighbourhood of Nottingham, by the destruction of frames. Now as to the objection that so much of this allegation as respects the committing of outrages in the neighbourhood was not proved, a satisfactory answer has already been given to it, namely, that it is not necessary. But as to its not being proved, there was one witness who proved the forcible attack by an armed party upon a dwelling-house in the town of Nottingham, and their breaking the frames there, and two other witnesses proved outrages of the same sort to have been committed in the county of Nottingham, at about fifteen miles distant from Nottingham. Therefore, if it were necessary to prove both parts of this allegation, I should think the evidence was sufficient. The next allegation is, that divers persons engaged in these outrages had been reputed to act under some supposed and unknown person called General Ludd, and had been commonly called Luddites. As to which the parol evidence proved that in two instances the persons committing these outrages called themselves Luddites, and spoke of General Ludd, and that that name was also chalked on the walls of Nottingham. Now this seems to me sufficient to substantiate the allegation, that persons who committed the outrages called themselves Luddites: and the name of General Ludd being chalked on the -walls of Nottingham was also evidence of the other part of the allegation, that they were reputed to act under a supposed leader of that name. As to his being an unknown person, Mr. Hobhouse proved that some persons might suppose there was a real person of that name, but that he considered him only as a fictitious person. This was certainly evidence in support of the introductory allegation, unless encountered by evidence on the other side. And that brings me to another objection, viz. that here evidence was received which ought not to have been received. This evidence consists of the king's proclamation, reciting that it had been represented that certain disturbances caused by persons employed in the stocking manufactories had taken place in Nottingham and several parts of the county, and offering a reward for the discovery and apprehension of offenders. There are likewise two acts of parliament reciting in their preambles the existence of these outrages, and making provision in the body of them, the first, for the more exemplary punishment of persons committing these outrages, the second,' for the better preserving the peace, by enforcing the duties of watching and warding. When the nature of these documents is considered, is it possible to say that they were not admissible, particularly as the libel refers to the conduct of the persons called Luddites, in destroying frames in Nottingham and the neighbourhood, and compares that conduct with the conduct of the military in America? Are not the documents material to shew that these disturbances existed in Nottingham, and existed to such a degree as to call for the interference of the executive government, and the legislature, to offer reward for their discovery, and to inflict a more exemplary punishment upon them, and to protect the peaceable inhabitants by compelling the observance of watch and ward? Surely they were evidence for this purpose, when the inquiry respected a libel of the description laid in the information, tending, as it is charged, to alienate the minds of the subjects from the king and government, and to make them think that what had been condemned at Nottingham by the government, was held laudable in America; when, according to the language of the libel, they were singing a new tune to an old song. I cannot see therefore any ground on which these public instruments could be objected to as inadmissible. They seem to me to go clearly to prove the facts which are alleged, because they shew in what way the executive government and the legislature acted upon them. The last objection is, that the Judge at the trial of this information left it to the jury upon their own personal knowledge, as evidence of the fact, to determine that these outrages had been committed. The Judge's report is an answer to this objection, for it states that he never left it to the jury to determine on their own personal knowledge that acts of outrage had been committed, but that he left that question to them upon the evidence. But in order perhaps to obviate tome observations that might have been made to the jury, to induce them to disbelieve the witnesses who spoke to these transactions as having been eyewitnesses, the Judge might advert to facts which were notorious to them as doing away the weight of any such observations. It seems to me therefore that we ought not to grant a new trial in this case, and that in refusing it we are doing nothing but what is perfectly consistent with the rule, which I admit to be a fundamental one, that where improper evidence has been received at the trial, the Court cannot sift it in order to see whether there be not enough which was admissible to sustain the verdict; because they cannot say on what part of the evidence the verdict was founded. 
BAYLEY J. Although I have not been free from doubt at times, yet on the best consideration that I am able to give to this case, I think that no evidence was received that was not admissible. And if the evidence had been confined to one branch of the allegation, either to outrages in Nottingham, or in the neighbourhood of Nottingham, I should have thought it a divisible allegation, and that such evidence would have been sufficient. The fact of outrages having been committed was proved not only by eye-witnesses, but the libel itself furnished strong evidence, upon its own admission, that such outrages had been committed; because the libel adverts to the breaking of frames as existing acts; and then the supposed writer speaks of what he and his son have done in Nottingham, there being no other acts mentioned as done by him but the breaking of frames: so that the libel itself goes to shew that outrages of this sort had been committed. The question then is reduced to this, whether the verdict is ill on account of the admission ,of the king's proclamation, and the two acts of parliament, in evidence. The proclamation sets forth, that it had been represented to the Prince Regent that a number of persons, chiefly of those employed in the stocking manufactories, had actually committed various acts of outrage; it is therefore an assertion on the part of His Royal Highness, that such a representation had been made to him, and he proceeds to act upon it, by offering a reward for the discovery of such offenders. This I think was evidence to this extent, and no farther, that a representation was made to, the executive government that such outrages existed, and that the executive government thought fit to act upon it; for they so far acted as to promulgate an act of state upon it. Therefore I cannot say that it was to be rejected, where there was other evidence. The preambles to the two acts of parliament I think are still more free from objection than the proclamation, and they assume as facts that outrages did exist. When we consider in what manner an act of parliament is passed, and that it is a public proceeding in all its stages, and challenges public enquiry, and when passed, is in contemplation of law the act of the whole body, it seems to me that its recital must be taken as admissible evidence (m), and in this case was confirmatory evidence. There is one point upon which for some time I entertained a doubt, namely, as to the allegation that these persons were reputed to act under some supposed and unknown person, whether this did not imply an existing person; but what has fallen from my Lord and my brother Le Blanc, has in a great measure removed that doubt; and I am not so convinced that it does import. an existing person as to differ in any respect from the rest of the Court.
Rule discharged.

Having lost his appeal, the guilty verdict given against Sutton at the Nottinghamshire Summer Assizes of 1815 was upheld, and Sutton would be sentenced in 8 days time.

(a) Per Willes C.J., Willes, 556.
(b) 3 BI. Com. 374.
(c) Kitchen v. Manwaring, cited Andr. 321. But as to whether a juryman's offering evidence to his companions without being sworn, will avoid the verdict, see 2 Hale P. C. 306. Sid. 235, Goodman v. Cotherington. Styles, 233, Bennet v. Hundred of Hertford. Tri. per Pais, 209, Duke v. Ventris. Salk. 405, Anon. Bull. N. P. 313.
(d) Wells v. Williams, Ld. Raym, 283 per Treby C. J.
(e) Rex v. Holt, 5 T.R. 445. Per Buller J
(f) Rex v. Franklin, 9 St. Tr. 259.
(g) 1 Bl. Com. 185.
(h) Johnson's Dict.
(i) 31 H. 8. c.13.
(j) 41 G. 3. c.103.
(k) Rex v. Holt, 5 T.R. 442.
(l) Rex v. Franklin, 9 St. Tr. 255.
(m) Sec Co. Lit. 19. b. as to the rehearsal of a statute.

This is from Maule & Selwyn's 'Reports of Cases', vol.4 (1817, pp.532-550).

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