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Colonial Cases

Doyle v. Falconer, 1866

[contempt of parliament]

Doyle v. Falconer

Judicial Committee of the Privy Council
November 1866
Source: The Times, 10 November, 1866

(Present - Lord Westbury, Sir J. Colville, Sir E. V. Williams, and Sir L. Peel.)
  This was an appeal from the Court of Common Pleas in the Island of Dominica, against a decision whereby the respondent, who was a member of the Lower House of Assembly, had been awarded 770 l. damages in an action for false imprisonment, he having been by the Speaker committed for contempt of the House, and imprisoned for three days. The Speaker and the members, the other defendants in the action, had appealed to the Queen in Council, on the ground that they were justified in the course they had pursued.
  Mr. Mellish, Q.C., with whom was Mr. Macnamara, appeared for the Speaker and members of the Lower House of Assembly in support of the appeal; Sir Roundell Palmer and Mr. Leith were for the respondent, Mr. George Charles Falconer.
  The case was opened yesterday and resumed today, when the arguments were concluded. In May, 1863, Mr. Falconer was a member of the Lower House of Assembly, was called to order by the Speaker, Mr. Doyle, but he persisted in his speech and said, "Who the devil are you to call me to order? You are a disgrace to the House." It was resolved that Mr. Falconer had been guilty of contempt of the House, and should be held in such contempt until he apologized; he refused to apologize, and continued to address the House, and he repeated that the Speaker was a disgrace to the House.  In pursuance to the resolution of the House Mr. Falconer was committed to the common gaol, and had been imprisoned for three days.
  Mr. Falconer brought an action of assault and false imprisonment against the Speaker, and the members, in the Common Pleas of the Island, and a demurrer was argued and Chief Justice Pemberton gave judgment in favour of the plaintiff (Falconer) on the demurrer. The action was tried after many challenges of the special jury, summoned on account of their political views. Some legal objections were made, and a nonsuit refused. In placing the case to the Jury the Judge told them that nothing could justify the language of Mr. Falconer to the Speaker, and that the Speaker was entitled to protection.  In his (the Judge's) opinion they had proceeded to deal with the contempt in a way that the law, he conceived, did not warrant.  The Jury returned a verdict of "guilty" against the defendants and awarded 770 l. at damages.
  The Attorney-General of the island subsequently applied for and obtained a rule to show cause why the verdict should not be set aside, on the ground that the damages were excessive, but the rule was abandoned, and an appeal to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council resolved upon.
  On the part of the Speaker and members it was submitted that they were justified in committing Mr. Falconer for the gross contempt of which he had been guilty; and on his behalf it was argued that, although as a legislative body they were entitled to maintain order in the assembly, they had exceeded their power, and that the appeal could not be maintained.
   Their Lordships, at the conclusion of the arguments, reserved their opinion.

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School