Daisy Hopkins and the Spinning House Case – ruling from the Lord Chief Justice. 1891.

Summary: The case of Daisy Hopkins – a seventeen year old girl who was thrown into Cambridge University’s private jail – The Spinning House – caused uproar in Cambridge. Did Cambridge University have powers to detain people who were not members of the university? In particular women they thought were sex workers?

The full judgement is from the British Newspaper Archive here. which I have transcribed.

TL/DR: The Vice Chancellor was forced to release Daisy Hopkins because (if I had read this right) they had not gone through due process and didn’t lay charges before Miss Hopkins. The political fallout of this case was huge for town and gown, as the Home Secretary demanded the Mayor of Cambridge and the Vice Chancellor of Cambridge University negotiate who should have what powers in Cambridge, in order that a bill be tabled before Parliament to enact that agreement. This was enacted as the University of Cambridge and Corporation Act 1894.

911218 Daisy Hopkins full legal judgement Lord Chief Justice 1891

“Our telegraphic service last week contained brief reference to the Spinning House case, which came before the Lord Chief Justice and Mr. Justice Smith on a rule nisi which had been obtained calling upon the Vice-Chancellor of University and the keeper of the Spinning House, or House of Correction, to show cause why Daisy Hopkins should not be brought up order that might be discharged from custody.

There was also a rule for a certiorari to quash the proceedings before the Vice-Chancellor’s Court.

The Attorney- General Mr. Cohen. Q.C., and Mr. Robinson appeared on behalf of the Vice- Chancellor to show cause; and Mr. Poland, Q.C., and Dr. Cooper supported the rule.

The Lord Chief Justice, in giving judgment, said:

“This is case which in one sense is a case of importance, because the jurisdiction which has been attacked is a very important one, and the person whose action has been questioned is a person of high dignity in one of the great Universities of the country, and the matter enters into the discipline which everybody would desire to see maintained in a place of education such as University of Cambridge ; but in another point of view it is really of very little consequence; and thankful, in view of the judgment are about to pronounce, that it is of little consequence, because the question itself but question of a few days’ imprisonment the applicant.

“After the full discussion there has been of the main difficulty that has been raised, and giving the University authorities credit for their good sense in desiring to keep the forms well as the substance of the law. it perfectly clear to mind that this particular form will never be used again, and therefore the actual importance of the in itself is reduced to something very small. But the same time it has given rise to important questions of principle; and although the actual decision, I have said, is comparatively unimportant itself and to the person concerned, yet it does trench upon grave questions, and must decided upon principles which are of large and general and important application.

“Now there are two applications before us, to bring up the body of Daisy Hopkins being imprisoned in the Spinning House at Cambridge without legal authority; and, secondly, bring up, for the purpose of quashing, all the proceedings which took place the Vice-Chancellor’s Court at Cambridge prior to the imprisonment of Daisy Hopkins upon the order of the Vice-Chancellor. These two matters most kept separate and distinct; and I will endeavour to keep them separate and distinct, because it might that should think it right to issue the certiorari to quash the proceedings, and yet it might be that the Vice-Chancellor, or the authorities Cambridge, might have a perfectly good answer to make in the way of return to the habeas corpus. Therefore the two questions are not the same and must be carefully distinguished.

“Now I desire, before I go into the particular matters of the case, to say in the strongest way that not only am I of opinion that this jurisdiction of the Vice-Chancellor is most important to kept up (every sensible man, whether bad beard of the circumstances of the case no, would with in saying that) but I would desire to not only upon tho statement of Mr Poland which was perfectly fair and impartial as far could be, but also noon the fuller hearing which have had to-day—if it of the least consequence to that distinguished person, that the Vice-Chancellor appears to me to have been actuated simply by desire todo duty, to have done his duty, as he understood it, thoroughly well, and, as far as the substance the case is concerned, to have nothing to which anybody could take possibly take exception. He had the person before him charged, as he understood, with gross breach of the discipline.—the just moral discipline, of the University.

“The matter was heard him at full length, and arrived at conclusion which anyone who has read these depositions must. I think, concur with him in arriving at, and exercised the power which understood that possessed perfectly legitimate and merciful manner.

“Therefore, to the proceedings in themselves of the authorities of the University, if is of the least consequence to them, I can only they have my entire approbation. No fair person I think can question them in any respect. It is another matter, however, when you come to consider the conduct of a person of very high character, who has acted without the slightest atom of bad faith or unworthy feeling from beginning to end, when such person is clothed with great authority, clothed with exceptional authority. clothed with powers with which very few other people are clothed, and so clothed with very good reason,—it different matter when come to consider whether he has or has not kept within the strict legal limits which the Charters and Statutes of the University imposed upon him; and all the more is necessary, it seems to me, if the authority is high, the character is unspotted, and the jurisdiction large, to see that the conditions precedent to its exercise, and the miss which govern the exercise of such jurisdiction, are strictly adhered to.

“Now, in this case have to consider the latter point,—giving ample credit to the University authorities for the manner in which they have proceeded, have they or have they not kept within the letter the law: and although, as I have said, the letter the law is In this particular case of no great importance, yet the letter of the law may sometimes be the substance of the law. And in considering the acts of authority which is clothed with unlimited power, as far as I read the Statutes, to imprisonment, it is important that that authority should know what are the principles of law on which that jurisdiction so large, and possibly so onerous, must be exercised.

“Here a person brought before the Vice-Chancellor in a Court partly created Charter, and partly created Statute of Queen Elizabeth, which Statute I assume from the statement of facts in the case Kemp v. Neville by Chief Justice Erie (which no doubt was most carefully and accurately done) is very little more than an echo of the words of the Charter of Queen Elizabeth. Therefore one may look to the words of the Charter, cited in the case of Kemp v. Neville, as showing the limits within which the authority of the Vice-Chancellor to be exercised.

“Now, sitting in this Court created Charter and by Statute, he has to administer disciplinary jurisdiction, and person is brought before him as having violated that disciplinary jurisdiction and as having subjected herself to unlimited fine and imprisonment. She is charged before him in the only document that is before with having walked with member of the University; she convicted without any alteration being made in that charge. She is I should rather convicted upon the charge open the charge sheet. She is then sent to the Spinning House, which I understand is in fact the jail of the University of Cambridge, and is ordered to imprisoned there for fourteen days under order of the Vice-Chancellor, which recites in the way that she had been brought before him and had been charged with walking with member of the University, and having heard what she had to allege her defence he says I adjudge the charge to be true.”

“The charge Is set out in toe warrant which is sent the keeper of the Spinning House. Now the Attorney General said, as it would be expected he would say, that such charge, which is charge of no offence known to the law, was not the charge tried, and nobody would suppose that person simply walking with member of the University, who might be that member’s mother or sister or wife friend, was guilty an offence against the law which would the Vice-Chancellor in imprisoning her; but he said, and he said no doubt with truth, that that was not the charge which the Vice-Chancellor supposed he trying, that was not the which the Proctor supposed he was preferring, and probably they have not expressly said what they meant.

“The Attorney General said it was a matter of great probability that everybody connected with the case, from the beginning to the end of it, knew that the charge so stated and so limited was not the real question that was being tried before the Vice- Chancellor. Farther, as my learned brother has observed more than once the course of the argument, the depositions shew [sic], the course of the trial shews [sic], that not this shadowy and perfectly innocent matter was being enquired into, but a far graver charge. ••••

“That was the substance the thing which was charged against her, and which was being tried before the Vice-Chancellor. Well, speaking for myself and I for everybody who heard this case, or who has the least interest it, I have no doubt that what the Attorney-General says is true. But then, unfortunately, the Vice- Chancellor has told that this form of words was not accident. He did not desire to correct it: and therein had acted as a gentleman would expected to act, and a men of his character would expected to act. He says that this form of words not used by accident, and that he does not desire to correct it all, but that it has been for long time used in the proceedings of the Vice-Chancellor’s Court to mean a great deal more than the words express – that the words have been used— I was going to say time out of mind, that would not he correct perhaps, because the Charter is only from the of Queen Elizabeth—but for great length of time the words have been used to import that such person as this was person suspected of evil. ••••

“All I can say that that does not appear to me (and I will explain why in moment) to be argument or contention open to too Vice-Chancellor. It is natural enough, aster the individual gentleman is concerned, that finding a state of things which nobody understands and everybody has proceeded upon, should not make any alteration, and should go on as other Vice Chancellors have gone on before him—quite natural. But when the point is raised, and when the question is finally put to us—will that do obliged to answer (reluctantly in this case because the substance and manta of this case are entirely with the Vice-Chancellor) in the negative. .

“Now I freely admit the cases are overwhelming to shew [sic] that if a person whois brought before magistrates of any competent authority, and is charged competent authority with something which that authority is competent try, and which it is within the jurisdiction of that authority, is tried for that which is is within the jurisdiction of that authority to try, and is convicted by that authority than how he gets there, and on what particular charge  he gets there, is immaterial so long as there is jurisdiction to try the charge and so long as the person who is tried is charged with the offence for which is convicted or for which he tried. That established by beyond all doubt.

“It ie established several cases, but it is enough to cite one. That legal position seems to be established beyond all doubt by the case of Reg v. Hughes, which I cite, not because I was party it, but because it was a decision of ten Judges, and therefore it is difficult to get a decision of greater authority ; and there are other cases to the same effect.

“It is well established, and therefore this case if there had ever been charge which brought the applicant within the jurisdiction of the Vice Chancellor, and his court, there would have been perfectly good answer capable of made the Vice-Chancellor or the Keeper of the Spinning House at Cambridge to the habeas corpus. It may be that there would not be the same answer to the certiorari ; but that would become immaterial, because if those proceedings were quashed, the Record, as well known, can be drawn up at any time.

“The answer to the habeas corpus might have been drawn up on a Record which, could have truly stated what I have already mentioned, would have been to mind complete answer to the habeas corpus. It may be that the  Attorney-General would be wrong upon the certiorari, and yet the real substance of the matter would right if that answer could be truly made to the Writ of habeas corpus. But I do not think that answer can be truly made.

“Now for that purpose we must look for a moment only at the words of the Charter.  The Charter gives power to the Chancellor, Masters and Scholars of the University of Cambridge from time to time, and so on, to make scrutiny when they think right in the aforesaid town of Cambridge and its suburbs “de et pro omnibus el publicis mulieribus pronubis vagabundis et aliis personis de malo suspectis” and so onThose held reas scu suspectas de malo. they may punish by fine and imprisonment. Those are the words therefore to be considered, as it appears to me; and to justify the proceedings of the Vice-Chancellor it is necessary that the person must have been charged within these words in the Charter as being at all events a person rea scu suspecta de malo [person suspected of doing bad things] or she must be charged with having been there and with having done what she did for some particular purpose. It appears to me that unless that appears somewhere, and in the substance or in fact is charged against the person before the Vice Chancellor at Cambridge, the Vice-Chancellor cannot proceed.

“Here what the Vice Chancellor says about that is that he did not choose – ‘we have for years and years not chosen to adhere to the words of the Charter. They are often immaterial; they are many of them surplusage; and sooner than write out, every time we have to give a decision, all or a great part of these words of the Charter we have been accustomed to use a comprehensive phrase which to our minds includes all the rest of the conditions precedent that the Charter lays down.’

“I have not laboured to say that this is a complete answer as far as their individual character is concerned. Nobody can possibly find any fault with what they have done; but it is another thing when their jurisdiction is in question, and when, however high and honourable may have been their motives, the question is have they acted within well ascertained principles of law. It is the case of Kemp vs Neville shews [sic]  that they have. I think not. The case of Kemp vs Neville decided by Judges of the highest authority, and with whom I entirely concur, it is to be observed, proceeded first of all upon a totally different state of legal incident.

“It was an action for false imprisonment. It was an action against the Vice Chancellor for having done that which he had no right to do, and in doing so he had broken the law, and damages were sought to be recovered against him for breach of that law. The point to be decided was whether the Vice Chancellor at Cambridge under this Charter and the Statute of Elizabeth had or had not by his action transgressed the law so as to make him liable to an action for false imprisonment. The Court held, and, if I may presume to say so, perfectly rightly held, that he had not made himself liable to an action for false imprisonment, and that upon many grounds; that he had acted as a Judge; that he had acted within his judicial authority;  that he had acted perfectly bondfide; that the Record, if it had been drawn up, would have shewn [sic] that at any rate he was perfectly capable of making a Record which would have been absolutely justified to him.

“Therefore the Court very properly held that no action would lie against him. It is true that the judgement in the case (a most instructive one) deals with a number of other points; but the real point in the case was whether the second plea was made out. The second plea set out the Charter to which I have referred, and stated that it was validated by an Act of Queen Elizabeth, and said that the Vice Chancellor had acted to the best of his ability within the authority given to him by that statute. And the Court and everyone was of opinion


that he had done so ; and that was answer to the action In that case. In several of the cases are cited by the Chief Justice in the course of judgement it appears that complete defence to an action for false imprisonment and complete return to writ habeas corpus are by no means convertible terms; because in both of two cases which are referred to in which actions were brought, in the one ease successfully and in the other case not successfully, there had been habeas corpus, and in both either was resisted and ineffectually resisted, or was not resisted at all. Nothing therefore shew [sic] more clearly that the question of habeas corpus and the question of defence action for false imprisonment raise very different considerations indeed.

“Now was there ever here a charge made which would justify the action of the Vice-Chancellor? I think there never was. For good reasons perhaps, the Vice-Chancellors of Cambridge University for long time past have abstained from stating in terms cases of this sort what would necessary to give them jurisdiction; they have gone on without doing so, and nobody had ever looked into the matter, and people have been content with the judgments I daresay. Nobody has thought worth his or her while to look into It; but at last, as very often happens, the point taken, and when the point taken the Court most decide according to principles of law.

“The principle of law is that if a person is before tribunal and accused of an offence within its jurisdiction then it may act. The question to considered not whether the words are words which the tribunal has been in the habit using to bring persons within its jurisdiction, but whether the words in their primary and unstrained sense bring the matter within their jurisdiction. I think these do not, and I think that throughout the ease, from one end of the cam to the other, no distinct and definite charge different from the charge which was made in the papers was ever presented to the applicant. If that had been so, if she had been told,

‘Remember, you are not being tried for this thing; this is a form used ; you are being tried for something very different; you are tried because being a person of very suspicions character you were guilty very suspicious conduct; that is what you are bring tried for—not for walking with gentleman the University, but for something that we have been in the habit of expressing in that way, but which very different indeed from what meant the words which we have already used’

“if she had been told that, the matter would have been different. I think that the Vice-Chancellor cannot do that: I think that the High Court could not do that; I do not think Court in England, any Court of Quarter Sessions, or any court however high and distinguished could do that. They could not use form words which did not give jurisdiction, and yet give themselves jurisdiction saying,

“Oh we meant them in sense which would give jurisdiction, and they are words which we have for long time used, and which understood to give us jurisdiction.”

“Upon that ground (a technical one it true), ground which of very little importance in this particular case, but a ground which I cannot think is unimportant or unworthy of grave argument and grave consideration itself, because there may in which form is substance, and where the essence of justice resides in the forms in which justice administered, I am of opinion that both them rules must made absolute.

“Mr. Justice A. L. Smith: If in administering what I believe to be the law of this country, should discharge this rule, I certainly should do so, because the point upon which think it should made absolute small point.

“The technical point which I am about to name has nothing whatever to do with the real merits of this case. The duty of the Vice- Chancellor in my judgment has been admirably performed in this case, but inasmuch as I have decide upon a jurisdiction of Criminal Court, of a Court of Record with large powers of fine and imprisonment, I not feel myself at liberty to (if I may use the word) document those authorities that hare been brought before by Mr. Poland.

“Now I wish to state what my view of the case, first saying that I agree with every word that has fallen from my Lord the manner in which the Vice-Chancellor this base has exercised bis jurisdiction and the powers which he had to exercise. The real substance of this ease this:

Is this woman Daisy Hopkins in lawful custody or not?

“That the real point that have to decide; and the first point taken is that she is unlawful custody, because the warrant of commitment upon the face of it shows offence, how that point teems to to answered: because was held in Kemp vs Neville that the Vice-Chancellor’s Court being a Court of Record, there was necessity for warrant of commitment all, but that the Vice-Chancellor, sedeute euria, oral command, without any warrant made at the tune, could commit person charged before him to jail. And if this case had rested there, in my judgment it would have been good answer for the jailer to say

“the Vice- Chancellor ordered me to detain this woman for fourteen days in the Spinning House, which is a legal jail for the Vice-Chancellor’s Court at Cambridge.”

“Therefore that point evaporates as regards the illegality of the warrant. Then Mr. Poland raises another point; and it this point which I cannot get over. He says the charge which would authorise the Vice-Chancellor saying to his jailer “Keep that woman for fourteen days” must charge which had power to adjudicate upon; and, says Mr. Poland, this being criminal jurisdiction exercised the Vice-Chancellor, the Vice-Chancellor no one, nor can any person exercising criminal jurisdiction in this country try anyone, unless they first charge the person and give the person charged the opportunity pleading to the charge upon which he to be tried. There is no doubt that this is the Criminal law of this kingdom.

Now come to the question of fact : was any charge made in this case by the Vice-Chancellor to this woman which he had jurisdiction to try? Speaking for himself had no doubt the woman was tried upon a grave charge, and that was understood. But then comes this technicality: was she ever charged de facto for with that particular charge?

Now that is the sole technical point in this case which I cannot get over. The Attorney-General stated, and in judgment he stated truly, that the real point for our consideration was, “Could the Vice-Chancellor make a good return to the mandamus if it goes ”; and he says that the Record might be drawn any time. It can, and I think the Vice-Chancellor was quite right in not drawing the Record im praesenti, but fearing for after consideration if proper ; probably will never draw it up, because it ls matter of the smallest importance to the view of the judgment this Court to this particular case.

“Now if he could have made return which was true in fact, I would not have granted this habeas, but it comes back to the same thing.

• • • • Inasmuch the authorities bind me to this, that in exercising criminal jurisdiction there must be a charge made, and the charge pleaded to, upon which the person is convicted, in my judgment that charge has never been made in this case • • • •

Therefore upon that small point, and upon that small point alone, I think think this habeas and certiorari must go.

The Attorney General: We shall act upon the rule

Mr Poland: The Order will be for the discharge out of custody. As to the costs, my Lord

The Lord Chief Justice: There are no costs. I should not give them if there were any allowable, but at all events there are none.”

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