§ Lord Cochrane
rose to make the motion of which he had give notice. The noble lord began by stating that he had before had occasion to trouble the House on this subject, but he then failed in his attempt to obtain justice, on the ground that there was not sufficient evidence of the facts stated to warrant the House in entertaining his motion. He had since however personally been at Malta, and had procured such a chain of evidence, that if the House should now be pleased to entertain his motion, he had no doubt but he should be able to lay before them such a connected string of evidence of flagrant abuses in the Vice-Admiralty Court at the Island of Malta, as would astonish all who heard it He would undertake to prove, that if the Court of Admiralty at home would do their duty one third of the naval force now employed in the Mediterranean would be sufficient for all purposes for which it was employed there, and that a saving might be made in the naval service alone of at least five millions sterling a year. If the Committee for which he moved last year had been granted, the evidence to prove this might now have been before the House. The noble lord then read a letter from a captain of a vessel at the Cape of Good Hope, complaining" that the officers of ships of war were so pillaged by those of the Vice-Admiralty Courts, that he wished to know how they could be relieved; whether they could be allowed the liberty to send their prizes home, and how far the jurisdiction of the Vice Admiralty Court extended, for that the charges of that Court were so exorbitant, it required the whole amount of the value of a good prize to satisfy them. In the case of one vessel that was sold for eleven thousand rupees, the charges amounted to more than ten thousand. This was the case at Penang, Malacca, and other places, as well as at the Cape. He would not, however, wish to dwell on this, but put it to the feelings of the House, whether naval officers had any stimulus to do even their duty, when the prizes they took would not pay the fees of the Vice-Admiralty Courts-merely 465 for condemning them? It had been staled the other day at some meeting or dinner, by a very grave personage, the lord Chancellor, that the ships of France were only to be found in our ports. If that statement were believed by ministers, he should be glad to know why we at this moment kept up 140 sail of the line, and frigates and sloops of war in proportion to that number. His lordship then produced the copy of a Proctor's Bill in the Island of Malta, which he said measured six fathoms and a quarter, and contained many curious charges. [The unrolling this copy caused a general laugh, as it appeared long enough to reach from one end of the House to the other.] This Proctor, the noble lord said, acted in the double capacity of Proctor and Marshal; and in the former capacity feed himself for consulting and instructing himself as counsel, jury, and judge, which he himself represented in the character of Marshal; so that all those fees were for himself in the one character, and paid to the same himself in the other. He then read several of the fees, which ran thus—for attending the Marshal (him-self) 2 crowns, 2 scudi, and 2 reals; and so on, in several other capacities in which he attended, consulted and instructed himself, were charged several fees to the same amount. An hon. member, not then in the House, had last year opposed the motion he had brought forward for a Committee to enquire into this subject; but on seeing these articles of this his own proctor's Bill, his lordship flattered himself, that the hon. member would now join in the support of the present motion. The noble lord said he had produced the copy of the Bill to shew the length of it. He then shewed the original; and to shew the equity and moderation of the Vice-Admiralty Court, he read one article, where, on the taxation of a Bill, the court, for deducting 50 crowns, charged 35 crowns for their trouble in doing it. A vessel was valued at 8,608 crowns, and the Marshal received one per cent, for delivering her, and in the end, the net proceeds amounted to no more than 1,900 crowns out of 8008—all the rest had been embezzled and swallowed up in the Prize Court. He was sorry, he said, to trespass on the time of the House, on a day when another matter of importance was to come before them. He pledged himself, however, that no subject could be introduced more highly deserving their serious attention and consideration. He would not trouble 466 them with any thing concerning himself, because he trusted he had a remedy elsewhere. The noble lord then stated, that altering or regulating the fees established by the King in council, for the Island of Malta, was contrary to Act of Parliament; that when he went to Malta, five years ago, he found the fees very exorbitant; and in order to prove to the House that the fees demanded now were fees which had been altered since the table of fees was sent out, the noble lord mentioned an instance of thirteen small vessels which had been taken by the gallant captain Brenton, who lately lost his arm in the service, being brought into the Vice-Admiralty Court for condemnation: the charge made for doing that act (which must be done before the prizes could be sold,) was 3,767 crowns; but on a severe remonstrance from Captain Brenton, the Judge deducted 3,504 crowns, and was glad to accept 263 crowns, instead of 3,767, rather than have a noise made about it in England. He could assure the House, the subject was well worthy their attention; and if the Lords of the Admiralty knew all the circumstances, he was confident that, instead of opposing, they would support his motion. He meant to accuse the Judge, the Marshal, and the Register of the Court, with abuse of their offices, and concluded by moving, "That there be laid before this House, 1. Copy of the Commission or Appointment of Dr. Sewell to officiate as Judge of the Vice Admiralty Court of Malta. 2. Copy of the Commission or Appointment of Mr. John Jackson to the office of Marshal of the said Court. 3. List of the Proctors officiating in the said Court, with the dates of their admission. 4. Copy of the Appointment of Mr. Locker to execute the office of Register of the said Court. 5. Copies of the several deputations given by the Register and the Marshal of the said Court to their respective deputies to the end of February last; together with the notifications of those appointments to the High Court of Admiralty, or the Board of Admiralty, with the reasons assigned for such nominations or appointments. 6. Copies of any representations made to the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty regarding the incompatibility of the situations of Proctor and Marshal united at Malta in the person of Mr. Jackson, and the consequent correspondence with the Court of Admiralty, or the Judge of the Court of Admiralty, on that subject. 7. Copy of any 467 Table of Fees established by his Majesty in Council, and furnished to the Courts of Vice Admiralty under the Act of 45 Geo. 3, c. 72, or any other Act of Parliament. 8. Copy of the Table of Fees by which the charges were made on the suitors in the Court at Malta. 9. Copy of the Authority by virtue of which the Judges of the Vice Admiralty Courts are empowered to alter or amend the Table aforesaid, or to make any other Table of Fees, to regulate the charges incurred by the suitors in that Court. 10. Copies of Official Demands made, or Official Correspondence which has taken place, between the Judge of the Vice Admiralty Court at Gibraltar, or at Malta, with the High Court of Admiralty, or with the Judge of the High Court of Admiralty, requiring or regarding a Table of Fees to be sent for the guidance of those Courts, or either of them. 11. List of the number of vessels that have been prosecuted in the Court of Vice Admiralty at Malta, and which have been liberated on payment of costs and damages or otherwise. 12. Copies of the Appointments which Wood, esq. late Secretary to lord viscount Castlereagh, holds in the Island of Malta."
§ Mr. Yorke
said, that he did not mean to object to the production of the greater part of the papers moved for by the noble lord. His motion seemed to charge with extortion the persons connected with the Admiralty Court of Malta; and certainly The prima facie appeared to justify it, and some reform might be necessary in some of the departments, which induced him to acquiesce in the general features of the noble lord's motion; but some difficulty might exist in the production of one or two of the papers he moved for, as they possibly implicated some private correspondence, which it would be improper to produce. Many of the papers moved for must be brought from Malta; and therefore it would be impossible that the investigation could take place this session; and he hoped the noble lord would, on examination, if he found just ground, persevere in his motion, as it was certainly highly proper for the dignity of the House and the doe management of the affairs of the country, that a remedy should be applied to those evils, if they existed.
§ Sir John Nicholl
(King's Advocate.) while he admitted with the first Lord of the Admiralty, that the cafe as it stood at present, called for inquiry, thought proper at the same time to state, in the absence 468 of his learned friend (sir W. Scott) that he had no controul over the Vice-Admiralty Court of Malta in matters of prize. The Appeal laid to the King in Council, and his learned friend was not in the smallest degree responsible. If the abuses charged by the noble lord existed, they ought to be corrected; but his doubt was as to the means. His Majesty in council had authority to correct abuses as to fees, &c.; but no application, as far as he knew, had been made in that quarter. It was the fashion now to come to parliament in such cases. As to the character of the judge of the Prize Court at Malta, he not having been in the habit of corresponding with him, could not undertake to speak positively to that point. Having practised with him for some time at the same bar, he had every reason to believe that he was a man of talent and integrity, and the noble lord knew that he was not wanting in spirit to execute what he thought right. He was absent, and he was a Judge—and no prejudices ought to be admitted against him till he had an opportunity of being heard in his defence. He hoped the noble lord was under a misapprehension. The regulation of the fees had been probably left to the judge, because he himself could hardly have any interest in augmenting them. They could hardly fall below 2,000l. to which sum only he was entitled out of them. From the failure of the noble lord in substantiating charges made by him on former occasions, it might be fairly inferred that accusations preferred by him might possibly turn out to be unfounded.
Sir Francis Burdett
said, he should have made no observation on the subject, after having seconded the motion, but from what had fallen from the right hon. gent. who had just sat down, that his noble colleague had not substantiated the charges he formerly brought forward. The reason of this was obvious; the noble lord had never had an opportunity given him to substantiate his charges. He had pledged himself to prove them at the bar of the House, but his motion for a committee was negatived.
said, that when abuses in the Vice-Admiralty Courts abroad were detected, measures were always taken to rectify them, and proceedings were at present pending against three of those courts. But he defied the noble lord to point cut any impropriety in the Admiralty Courts at home. After the minutest 469 investigation, he could not find a single ground of complaint against the officers of that Court. The proctor for the navy was remarkable for his attention and integrity, and his charges were more moderate than those of any other proctor. The interests of the officers of the navy were as well attended to as those of any individual. The noble lord had failed in two charges on former occasions. He had brought charges against the Admiralty Court, and against the government for the treatment of the prisoners of war. Both were utterly unfounded. The prisoners, as had been found on inquiry, were even more healthy than our Militia regiments.
said, the right hon. gent. who spoke last had allowed abuses existed; he did not know whether it was so or not, but he knew several officers of the navy of the highest character, who complained loudly that there were, and this was in his opinion good ground for granting the present motion.
§ Lord Cochrane
stated, that having complained to the Admiralty here of a grievance in being obliged to submit to exorbitant charges in the prosecution of a prize cause at Malta, the opinions of the Attorney and Solicitor General and other lawyers, had been pat into his hands, purporting that his plan was to apply to the Judge at Malta. He wrote to the Judge accordingly, who referred him to the Proctor, as he did not choose to enter into private correspondence with suitors in causes before him. He then wrote to the Proctor, who sent for answer that it was unprecedented to demand a bill to be taxed that had been paid so long ago as 1808; so that he thought his having got the money a good reason for not parting with it. He then wrote to the Judge, but got no answer; and this was the redress he got in the quarter where the crown Jaw officers had advised him to apply. The noble lord further observed, that in opposition to the act of the 45th of the King, the Judge at Malta had not only established, but altered the table of fees. An allusion had been made to the spirited conduct of the judge; but he had affidavits of captain Maxwell and others, who were present, that the Judge had admitted that he had no proof of the crime for which he (lord C.) had been sent to gaol. Against him, however, he would proceed in another way, unless he should find it necessary to call for the interference of the House to bring this Judge home. 470 He had consulted lawyers, and understood that he could not proceed against him till he came to this country. As to his former charges, he had been denied the opportunity of proving them. He concluded by repeating his charges of extortion, &c. against the Judge and Marshal.
§ Mr. Whitbread
said, that if the official correspondence did not clear up the case, he would move for further papers if no one else did.
Some alterations were then made in the motions in consequence of a difference of opinion as to the construction of the 45th of the King, relative to the establishment of tables of fees in the Prize Courts; after which they were all carried.