R v Shipley (1784): The Dean of St Asaph's Case
Philip Handler, Henry Mares and Ian Williams (Eds), 'Landmark Cases in Criminal Law' (Hart 2017)
24 Pages Posted: 10 Aug 2018
Date Written: May 4, 2017
In 1784, William Shipley, the Dean of St Asaph (and the son of St Asaph’s radical bishop Jonathan Shipley), was prosecuted for republishing a controversial political pamphlet. William Jones, the pamphlet’s author, was surprised to find a prosecution for the publication of an abstract work of political philosophy was even possible; and it may have been this, combined with the fact Jones was respectable enough to have been recently elevated to the colonial Bench, which resulted in the Treasury’s refusal to pay the costs of the prosecution. While an English jury was eventually persuaded to convict Shipley ‘of publishing’ the pamphlet, he was subsequently discharged by the judges of King’s Bench, owing to the fact that under the prevailing doctrine of seditious libel a guilty verdict was understood as a de facto special verdict, leaving legal questions (including whether a particular pamphlet was actually seditious) to a later judicial determination. This case is primarily famous because of the challenge it posed to this established doctrine, highlighting the fact this strange form of verdict was, in Lobban’s words, an ‘unworkable stretching of the law’, and because it ultimately led to the passage in 1792 of legislation condemning the practice as contrary to the common law.
Keywords: Juries, Jury Verdicts, Seditious Libel, Legal History
JEL Classification: K14
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation