In a time following the great revolution, it was taken by some occupying ministerial roles that powers typically reserved for the King and courts, were equally applicable to his immediate servants, including the right to issue warrant against those deemed offensive to the Crown, and that might seek to usurp its position through libellous acts.
Hence, when a number of gentlemen formed a ‘newspaper’, they were eventually seen to be acting with defamatory intent, when after the publication of certain articles, a warrant for the seizure of the original works was issued by the Earl of Halifax, who was acting Secretary of State.
The officers despatched were told to include the presence of a police constable; however, they chose to act alone and used force to enter the claimant’s home, before causing significant damage to his property when searching for the relevant documentation; while the second part of the warrant required that they brought the claimant and his papers before the Earl himself, so that they could be examined and the author held to account.
For clarity, prior to the revolution there had been many abuses of power by those so appointed; and so, the reemergence of the rule of common law had sought to prevent these flagrant ignorances in favour of equity and the rights of the citizens of the state.
Yet, when the claimant sought relief for the damages caused, it was argued by the defendants that the Secretary of State reserved the right to execute warrants in the interest of the Crown; and that the defendants were beyond reproach when acting under the rights contained within the Constables Protection Act 1750.
Brought before the court, it became clear that despite statute conferring certain protections against those undertaking certain duties under the instruction of the Crown, there was no evidence to support either the Secretary of State or the officers assigned, until it could be proven that the former was legally entitled to issue warrants.
It was also evident that no police constable had accompanied the defendants as was requested, and that the evidence gathered was then presented to an employee of the Earl and not the issuer himself, who held no powers of delegation in such circumstances.
To further add insult to injury, it was also apparent that the man accused was not even responsible for the libellous comments; and so, the whole affair constituted nothing more than trespass and criminal damage.
Having closely evaluated the limitations imposed upon the Secretary of State, it was agreed by the presiding Chief Justice that at no point in time had it been assumed that the post included magisterial or advisory rights other than to act within matters of high treason, which supported their service as protectors of the public and the state.
This translated that the Earl had acted well beyond his remit, and that any warrant was now void and unenforceable at law.
Hence, with due consideration for the first point it followed that the officers had been acting under illegality, and were therefore guilty of trespass and breaking and entering, and so award was granted in favour of the claimant, while reminding the court that:
“[O]ur law holds the property of every man so sacred, that no man can set his foot upon his neighbour’s close without his leave; if he does he is a trespasser, though he does no damage at all; if he will tread upon his neighbour’s ground he must justify it by law.”