HC Deb 03 July 1823 vol 9 cc1429-32

The order of the day being read, the House resolved itself into a committee on the Conduct of Chief Baron O'Grady. After several resolutions of fact had been agreed to,

Mr. Spring Rice

proceeded to move a resolution, that the chief baron had changed the practice with reference to certain fees, by removing the payment of them from the time at which the decrees were pronounced, to the commencement of the suit; the consequence of which had been, that fees on 478 causes had been paid, in 134 of which causes, decrees had not been pronounced.

A short conversation ensued, in which the Solicitor-general, Mr. S. Rice, Mr. Wetherell, Mr. Canning, and Mr. R. Smith participated. Eventually, Mr. S. Rice agreed to leave out that part of the resolution which referred to the number of causes on which decrees had not been pronounced.

Mr. S. Rice

then said, that the resolutions now agreed to were resolutions of fact; but as the others were resolutions of inference, and as the right of a judge to increase his own emoluments at his own discretion had been denied, by entertaining the present question at all, he now only wished to have the resolutions already agreed to, inserted on the Journals; and he did not intend at present to urge any further measures relative to the conduct of the chief baron.

Mr. Hume

wished to know what course his hon. friend meant to pursue. It would be improper to leave these resolutions as a dead letter upon the Journals. At the same time, he thought this neither a case for an address, for a removal, or for an impeachment. What, then, were they to do? For his own part, although he was not prepared to justify the course taken by the chief baron, yet he was equally unprepared to proceed to any course of ulterior severity. If the chief judge of the Irish Common Pleas (who was upon this question of fees equally culpable) was not to be called to account for his conduct in such matters, with what justice could they proceed in a severe manner against chief baron O'Grady? He concluded by proposing a resolution declaratory of the course already taken by the House, and declining to proceed further, as the case now stood.

Mr. Hutchinson

strongly objected to the course pursued towards the chief baron. They ought not to imply criminality, where they had declined to adopt the only course which could put the subject upon a fair hearing, namely, enabling the individual accused to be heard fully in his defence.

Mr. Wetherell

concurred entirely in the impropriety of adopting a course which implied criminality, where no previous inculpation had been sufficiently established. If a man were attacked in a criminal court, the party prosecuting must proceed with the accusation. Why should parliament adopt a different course? Why should they agree to a series of resolutions which neither pledged the House, nor any individual member of it, to proceed one step further? The resolutions implied criminality; and he could not suffer them to be placed on the Journals, unless a distinct pledge was given that they would, without delay, be followed up. He could not consent to leave the business in the way which was now proposed. It placed the character and conduct of the chief baron in an equivocal light, even with reference to that House; but, out of it, amongst those who had no opportunity of considering the case, these resolutions must be viewed as criminating the chief baron.

Mr. Secretary Canning

was of opinion that those who opposed the present course of proceeding took the most effectual means of preventing their arrival at that which they stated to be their great object; namely, a plain decision of the case by the House of Commons. In his view of the question, the resolutions ought to be reported; and on that report every individual would have an opportunity of stating his opinion. He thought it was extremely proper, that the matter contained in the reports of the commissioners of inquiry, as well as in the reports of two committees of that House, should have been brought before a committee of the whole House; because the charges were inconsequence reduced to a clear and tangible shape. As the charges stood in the reports alluded to, they were so scattered and dispersed, that it was difficult to make a direct defence against them; but the resolutions brought the whole of the charges to one point, and the learned judge was thus enabled to shape his defence in a clear and intelligible way The whole course of the proceedings of that House was in favour of the line which had been pointed out to them by the hon. member for Limerick. But in delivering this opinion, he wished to guard himself against the impression of being pledged to any particular future course of proceeding. He should feel himself placed in the same situation, as if he had merely consented to allow any other measure to pass through a stage, reserving his right of objection for a future occasion.

Captain O'Grady

expressed his anxiety to have a vote on the subject then before parliament, convinced as he was, that that vote would be in perfect accordance with his own feelings. He did not blame those by whom this investigation had been instituted; but he had to complain that this was the third year during which the charge had been preferred; and he begged of gentlemen to look about them, and to ask of their own hearts, whether such a House as was now assembled was a fit one in which to decide this question? He should be sorry that the resolutions should be passed in so thin a House as that. Let the question be brought forward in a full House, and let the conduct of the chief baron be fairly investigated. He was convinced that if due consideration were given to the subject, by such a House as he had alluded to, every shadow of imputation would be removed from his character. It was most unfit that, year after year, imputations should be left hanging over the character of the chief baron of Ireland; and therefore he was anxious for investigation as to the plain question of guilty or not; guilty being perfectly assured that the verdict for the chief baron would be a triumphant one.

Mr. Lockhart

was of opinion, that when the House took up matters of this kind, they ought to proceed to their immediate determination. They were not upholding their character for justice, by entertaining the same charges year after year.

Mr. T. Wilson

said, if the resolutions were reported, that it would be necessary for the House to express some opinion upon them.

Mr. S. Rice

said, that he had not anxiously pressed on this inquiry; on the contrary, he bad, on more than one occasion, stated that he was ready to postpone it, if a wish to that effect were but breathed by gentlemen concerned in the question. No such wish had been expressed; and therefore he had found himself imperatively pressed to the performance of that duty, which public motives alone had induced him to undertake.

After a few words from Mr. Ricardo, the chairman said he thought it was too late to propose the resolution suggested by Mr. Hume, in concurrence with those which had been already voted. The resolutions were then reported to the House.