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Of Election Petitions.

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In the latter part of the reign of Elizabetu, and the be- Election

petitions. ginning of that of James I. the House of Commons made the first attempts to assert the exclusive right of determining the merits of controverted Elections of their own members. In the first parliament of James, a Committee of privileges and returns was appointed almost immediately after the disputed return of Sir Francis Goodwin, which the clerk of the crown refused to receive on the ground of Goodwin's outlawry.

To this Committee was referred every trial of the merits of an Election, which was not heard at the bar of the House; and it afterwards became the practice, at the commencement of a session of parliament, to appoint a Committee of this nature, until the present system of trial by Select Committees was introduced.

The 10th of Geo 3, c. 16, was the first of a succession of statutes, by which the present judicature for the trial of controverted Elections is arranged and established.

This judicature consists of a Committee chosen by ballot from the House, according to certain forms prescribed in these statutes, in order to try all petitions upon Election matters, and report their decision to the House.

The subject may be divided into the following chapters

1st. The different sorts of petitions, and those who may subscribe them.

2nd. The time and manner of presenting them.

3rd. The proceedings of the House in the selection of the Committee.

4th. The proceedings of the Committee in the trial of the petition, and

5th. Their report to the House,

Of the different sorts of Petitions, and those who may

present them.

Election petitions.

There are six different sorts of petitions referred to a Select Committee. Ist. Against the Election. 2nd. Against the return.(“) 3rd. Complaining that no return has been made; or, 4th, that an insufficient return has been made.(6) 5th. To oppose the right of Election, or of appointing returning officers, determined by a Select Committee, and reported to the House. 6th. To defend such right.(C) The four first may be subscribed by any person claiming to have had a right to vote at the Election, or to have been returned, or alleging himself to have been a candidate; and if it be a Scotch Election, by any person claiming to have had a right to vote at the Election of a delegate or commissioner ; (d) the two last may be subscribed by all persons.(e) But though every person claiming a right to vote may petition the House, yet care should be taken that no voter, whose evidence is wanted on the trial, be a subscribing party, since no party to a petition can be a witness in support of it.

There is also another kind of petition which may be addressed to the House by one claiming a right to vote, but is not referred to a Committee, viz. to be admitted as a party in the room of the sitting member, or one returned upon a double return, who declines defending his Election or return, or is prevented doing so, by death, advancement to the peerage, or his seat being declared vacant.(f)

The words of the statute,(6) descriptive of the petitioners, have received a liberal construction, and petitions have been received from persons calling themselves“ freeholders of the county,” from which appellation it could not be strictly inferred that they had, as the act requires,

right to vote at the Election,” since they might have become freeholders between the time of the Election and petition.


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() 10 G. 3, c. 16.
(6) 25 G.3, c. 84, s. 10.
(9) 28 G.3, c. 52. ss. 26. 29.
(d) Ibid. s. 1.

© Ibid. ss. 26. 29.
(Ibid. s. 3.
(5) Ibid. s. 1,

*This question arose on a renewed petition for Middle- Petitioners. sex, presented Nov. 1803, and in 1804 a motion made to discharge it, as not being within the statute, was negatived after a debate, and the same point has been decided in the same way by Select Committees. Thus the words in the statute “ claiming to have had a right to vote at the Election to which the same (viz. the petition) shall relate," were satisfied by the following descriptions in the petitions, “

a freeholder of the county of Caermarthen.”, “ Persons having a right to vote at the Election of bur

gesses, &c.”(b) No elector, however, can petition against him for whom he voted at the Election.(C)

But with respect to the grounds of complaint set forth in the statutes which authorize the different petitions, the words of the legislature have been as strictly adhered to as possible, and various attempts to enlarge them defeated.

It was in consequence of a strict adherence to the letter of the statute 10 G. 3, c. 16. 11 G. 3 c. 42, that the 25 G. 3, c. 84, was passed to enlarge the grounds of the right of petitioning

Mr. Fox petitioned, in May 1784, against a special return of the high bailiff of Westminster, which set forth the names of the three candidates, the state of the poll, that a scrutiny had been demanded, which was proceeding, but made no return of any member; the House ordered this petition to be withdrawn, as not within the description of one complaining “ of an undue Election or return of a mem“ ber to serve in Parliament.(d)

If a petition presented to the House is not taken into consideration during the same session, a renewed petition, petitions, which must contain no new allegation, nor be signed by other parties than those who signed the first,(C) should be presented the next, and every subsequent session till it is disposed of, within fourteen days from the commencement of the session. Though the petition should only be signed by those who signed the first, yet it need not be signed by all.(5) If a petition against the right, &c. is not renewed within the fourteen days, the judgment of the Committee on the question will be conclusive on that place in


) 1 Peck, 289. 6) Boston. Ibid. 435. © Herefordshire. Ibid. 210. <d) Wesminster, 40 Jour. i Peck. Ietroduc. xix.

( 3 Doug. Pref. ix.
(1) 28 G. 3, c. 52, s. 5. 34 G. 3, c. 83.
(6) Midhurst, 2 Peck, 146, n.

all subsequent Elections. And all renewed petitions delivered in together, will be read in the order in which they were directed for consideration in the last session.

Irregularity in the renewed petition may be taken advantage of before the Committee, though it has passed the notice of the House. (a)

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Presenting petitions.

The petition is presented to the House by a member, and by an order of the House passed at the beginning of every session ; petitions against undue Elections or returns, upon the omission of a return, or an insufficient one, must be presented within fourteen days from the order, or within fourteen days after a new return shall be brought in. (6)

And all petitions respecting Irish returns must be presented within fourteen days after the return be brought into the crown office in England, or must be lodged in the office of the clerk of the Crown in Ireland within fourteen days after the return is brought in. (°)

Petitions against the report of a Select Committee upon the right of Election, or of chusing returning officers, must be presented within six calendar months after the day on which the report is made, or fourteen days after the commencement of the next session of parliament and the time of limitation begins to run from the first report made by the Committee. (d)

Two reports upon the right of Election to the same effect were made by different committees within six months of each other, the House refused to receive a petition presented after the time limited from the first report, but within the time from the second. (C)

When the last day of the fortnight limited by the order of the House expires during a recess, petitions against

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(©) Honiton, 3 Lud. 143.

(6) Journ. 23 Nov. 1802. xxvii.

(d) 53 G. 3, c. 71, s. 15. See 28 G. 3, c. 52, s. 26.

Votes, 8 January, 1812.

1 Peck, xxviii.

undue Elections and returns have in several instances been received by the House on the first day of its next sitting. (a) No case has yet occurred with respect to other petitions, for the same equitable enlargement of the time. Where, however, the time expires during the sitting of the House, it invariably refuses to infringe upon the general rule. (6)

Of the Recognizance.


No proceedings will be had upon any petition, except Recognisuch as relate to the right of Election, or of chusing a returning officer, (“) unless the petitioner within fourteen days after the petition is presented, or within such further time as the House may limit, enter into two recognizances; one in two hundred pounds with two sureties, to appear before the House at the time fixed, and before the Select Committee, and to renew the petition every session until a Select Committee shall be appointed, or the petition withdrawn by permission ; (d) the second in a thousand pounds, with two sureties in five hundred each for the payment of costs, expenses and fees due to witnesses for the petitioner, to the officers of the House, or to the opposite party in case the petitioner fails to appear before the House at the time fixed for considering his petition, or it be withdrawn by permission of the House, or reported frivolous or vexatious.()

The names of the sureties in this recognizance must be delivered in writing to the clerk of the House eight days before it is entered into; and if not entered into the petition will be discharged. (C)

The time, however, for entering into these recognizances may be enlarged once upon sufficient matter properly verified to the House, for a number of days not exceeding thirty.

The recognizances are entered into before the Speaker, who appoints two examiners to ascertain the sufficiency of the sureties. (8)

) 1 Doug. 83, n. o. 1 Peck, xxviii.

(0) 1 Doug. 84. 1 Peck, xxviii. and the cases there cited.

28 G, 3, c. 52, s. 32. 53 G. 3, €. 71, s. 14.

(d) 28 G. 3. c. 52, s. 5.
( 53 G. 3, c. 71, s. 3.

(1) Ibid. s. 4. Dumfries Journals. Dec. 1790.

(%) 28 G. 3, c. 52, s. 6.

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