Englishman sued for libel by a lawyer ends up in prison

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Englishman sued for libel by a lawyer ends up in prison


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Wilson's petition to the Viscount


A libel case involving an angry lawyer, accusations of corruption and charges of contempt of court led to a showdown between the Jersey and English authorities. This article, based on Jersey Heritage research,w as first published on the Bailiwick Express website

Jersey Gazette letter

London-based Advocate Charles Carus Wilson was at the centre of the case after a letter he wrote was published in the Jersey Gazette in May 1844. He accused local Advocate Pierre Le Sueur of criminally failing to defend a woman called Mrs Stratton.

Mrs Stratton had been accused of receiving stolen goods and Le Sueur was appointed to act as her lawyer. In his inflammatory letter, Wilson claimed that Le Sueur’s actions “were not the result of ignorance, accident, or inadvertence; but part of a grand conspiracy to prove the conviction of the prisoner under the colour of law; and this traitor advocate lent himself - his gown - his influence, and his office confided to him by the Court to this criminal purpose, and labored to secure a conviction by criminally throwing away every-even the remotest-chance of an acquittal”.

Incensed by the accusations, Le Sueur brought a libel case against Wilson and John Le Gros, the publisher of the Jersey Gazette. The case was heard in the Royal Court in September that year and Wilson came determined to fight the accusation.

Objections

He objected to the Bailiff sitting in the case as he claimed he had an enmity towards him and asked for the sitting Jurats to recuse themselves as well. Wilson also objected against the proceedings being conducted in French, or “gibberish” as he referred to it. The Bailiff and Jurats refused to step away from the case but the Court agreed Wilson could communicate in English, although the rest of the trial was in French.

Wilson continually interjected with objections and insults and as the judgement was about to be read, he interrupted the Court by accusing it of incompetency. This was a step too far for the Bailiff and he found Wilson in contempt of court, warning him to apologise and pay a £10 fine or be taken to prison.

Wilson refused and found himself in Newgate Street Prison. The Jersey authorities may have thought this would silence him but they were mistaken. At the time, there were two sides of the Prison; one for those who had committed misdemeanors and another for debtors. Wilson was placed in the criminal side, which he vigorously objected to. The next day, he was moved to the ward for sick prisoners but remained unhappy.

Dr Fixott, the Prison doctor, was called to check him over. Wilson refused to see him, demanding instead to see Dr Scholefield, his personal physician. Scholefield was allowed to enter the prison and prescribed a daily pint of brandy to calm Wilson’s nerves. This proved problematic for the Prison Board, who questioned Wilson’s sanity and complained that the medicinal alcohol was keeping him in “a state of uncontrollable excitement”, which meant an apology to the Court remained unlikely.

While in prison, Wilson continually wrote letters to the authorities protesting about his case and insisting he be treated better. In one letter, he demanded two wax candles per night to be paid for by the Prison Board, that he be allowed to meet whoever he wanted in the prison and send letters without censorship. He also wanted to walk in the debtor’s yard, stating: “I will not walk and prowl among Privies and Sculleries like a Dog as you have hitherto offered to me to do.”

Friends in the UK

He obviously had influential friends in the UK. In November 1844 – a couple of months after the libel case – his name appears again in Royal Court records. John Kandich, the Gaoler for Jersey’s prison, had received a letter from Westminster asking for Wilson to be sent to the UK forthwith under a writ of Habeas Corpus. A note of £5 was included to pay for the expenses of the journey. Kandich passed the correspondence and money on to the Royal Court, which denied the power of the UK courts to override its independent authority. The Gaoler was told to ignore the request.

Letters continued to be written and published in UK newspapers, saying that Englishmen were treated differently to locals by the Jersey authorities and that Wilson was being detained fraudulently. A further writ for him to be sent to England and for his case to be heard was received in February 1845. The authorities reluctantly submitted to sending him back, continuing to press for his return.

Wilson did return to Jersey in April when he was recommitted to the Prison having lost his case in front of the Queen’s Bench, with the Secretary of State of the Home Department, Sir James Graham, agreeing to his arrest. Unsurprisingly, Wilson didn’t go quietly, warning those who sought to take him back to the Island that if they did so unlawfully, “I will resist to death,” whilst grabbing a water jug which he looked to hit them with before the handle broke in his hand.

Wilson was finally liberated on 10 June 1845. The local authorities had held a long consultation about his case, with a number of people saying that they saw no end to the case. Rather than continue to rack up further expense, they decided it was better to let him walk free.

Initially, Wilson refused to leave and claimed that he was now exceedingly comfortable in his cell. However, he then set his mattress on fire, endangering the whole prison and he was forcibly removed, never to return.

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