HC Deb 09 July 1823 vol 9 cc1506-11

On the order of the day, for resuming the adjourned debate on Mr. Scarlett's motion, "That it is stated in the Fifth Report of the Commissioners, that it is not their province to discuss 'how far, or within what limits, the judges of the superior courts of law are authorised to establish new or increased fees for their own services;' 'but that it will be seen, from the table subjoined (to their report), that a discretion of this nature has, in fact, been exercised to a considerable extent at some period or periods within the last one hundred years; and that, during the time of the present chief justice of the Common Pleas, such ad exercise of judicial authority appears to have occurred in three instances'"

Mr. Goulburn moved, as an amendment, that all the words after the word "years," be left out. Some discussion took place between Mr. Rice and Mr. Scarlett; after which the question was put, and the amendment carried. On the question, as amended, being put front the chair,

Mr. S. Rice

said, that certainly the mode proposed by his learned friend (Mr. Scarlett) was the most convenient and expeditious way of getting rid of the question altogether; and he would leave, it to those who advised such a course, and who were willing that judges should, exercise the power which was censured by the commissioners in their report, to take the whole responsibility of the proceeding on themselves. He should move, as an amendment to the resolution of his learned friend, to add thereto the following words; "but that it is not stated in the aforesaid fifth report, that such in creases of fees had taken place at the sole discretion of a judicial officer for his own emolument."

Mr. Scarlett

opposed the amendment, on the ground that it went to add a sting to the resolution, which the circumstances of the case did not justify.

The Solicitor General

argued, that the amendment was not in unison with the facts stated in the report.

Mr. R. Smith

said, he could neither approve, of the original motion nor the amendment. The former contained a fallacious apology for the chief baron; the latter implied a censure. Both the one and the other was a departure from the express understanding of the House, which was that no opinion should be expressed on the case at present. He felt himself incompetent to decide on the question, either one way or the other He could not, on looking at the report, and at the chief baron's defence, declare him to be innocent; but it was impossible S r him to pronounce an opinion on the subject, on almost the last day of the session, and without sufficient information. The case ought to rest until the ensuing session.

Captain O'Grady

defended the conduct of the chief baron, who, he contended, had made out a good case, both with reference to law and usage. He might, undoubtedly, have been mistaken in his view off the subject; but it did not therefore follow, that he was culpable and corrupt. He (captain O'G.) was most anxious, that the decision of the House should be come to in the present session.

Mr. Secretary Peel

could see no benefit that was likely to accrue from postponing the question to another session. If it were, put off for six months, would they, in 1824—when their recollection of the facts would be weakened, and when they would hot be able to command a more numerous attendance of members than at present—be in a better situation for deciding, than they were at present? If this practice of regulating fees were an improper one, it, would be better to bring in a bill for as abolition, than harass and condemn an individual, by keeping a series of criminatory resolutions suspended over his head.

Sir H. Parnell

said, that as it was distinctly understood that the investigation was to be renewed next session, he had taken no part in it. For the same reason, he could not support the present resolution. He should oppose any thing that looked like a decision on the charges; and would refrain from offering an opinion on them.

Lord A. Hamilton

understood that no resolution but of facts was to he, placed on their Journals; and that circumstance had kept many members away, who would otherwise have been present. It was, he admitted, most irksome, that a judge should have charges hanging over him, while he was exercising his judicial functions. But, whose fault was that? The fault of the gentlemen opposite. The delay came entirely from the other side of the House. He would ask those gentlemen who wished to set the question at rest now, whether a decision, adopted at such a period of the session, and in such a House, could carry any weight with it?

Mr. Hutchinson

said, he had all along declared that he was ready to go on with this inquiry, provided the House would come to the plain proposition of acquittal or condemnation. His hon. friend (Mr. S. Rice) had, however, pursued a course which appeared to him to be most unfair to the Irish public and to the chief baron. He had importuned the House, until he had caused to be entered on the Journals a series of what he called resolutions of fact, but which contained matter of crimination. He was of opinion, that the question should be put an end to now; because he did not believe his hon. friend had any intention of bringing it forward next session. If he meant to institute any ulterior proceeding, let him erase those resolutions, which did not advance his purpose one jot. He believed the chief baron to be innocent. If the question were to be considered, it would be found full of difficulty; and in the end he was sure they would have to acquit the chief baron altogether. At all events, if they discovered an error of judgment in his conduct, he was convinced they would acquit him of corrupt motives. He could, not, therefore, consent that those resolutions, which were of a criminatory character, should be suffered to hang over the head of the chief baron.

Mr. Wynn

thought its would be better to pass the two resolutions now before them in the first place; and afterwards to proceed to the third.

Mr. S. Rice

having withdraw his amendment, the resolution was agreed to.

Mr. Scarlett

then observed, that, after a mature consideration of the subject, he had prepared certain resolutions which he had intended to move by way of amendment on the original resolutions. After what had passed, however, he would content himself with moving one of them, only; namely, "That this House, under all the circumstances above stated, does not deem it necessary to adopt any further proceeding in the case of the chief baron O'Grady."

Mr. Wynn

felt himself compelled to oppose this resolution. The question here was, whether a person who had taken improper and unwarrantable fees, assuming that that could be proved, ought to be continued in the high situation which he occupied in the judicial administration of the country? Now, when such a question was to be decided, it was surely imperative on the House to institute a strict inquiry. The integrity of a judge, like the chastity of a woman, or the courage of a Soldier, was a matter of that delicate nature, that it ought to be above all suspicion; and this being the case, it made no difference to the importance or the necessity of the inquiry, whether the excess in the fees charged by the chief baron was confined to so many pence or so many pounds. The right hon. gentleman then adverted to the reports of the commissioners of inquiry, and animadverted on the conduct therein imputed to the chief baron; to which charges that judge had not hitherto offered such a defence as ought to preclude the House from adopting some ulterior proceeding.

Mr. Alderman Bridges

was decidedly for immediate investigation. He thought further delay in every respect inexpedient and improper.

Captain O'Grady

said, the fact was, that the chief baron's defence, as contained in his second letter, was founded on matters contained in a report which had not been published when his first letter was written. It would be a little too hard if the House should concur with the learned member for Peterborough in making it matter of imputation against the chief baron, that he had, in the hurry of his first letter, misnamed a document, by terming that a decree which was in fact an exemplification. It was not, therefore, a new defence which was contained in his second letter; but a defence on new matters, as alleged in the report made subsequently to his former letter.

Mr. Hume

expressed his unwillingness, after the letters of the chief baron, to support the original resolutions; which he had at first felt himself inclined to advocate.

Mr. Wetherell

was of opinion, that the House should come to some conclusion this session on the subject before them; and, looking to the painful situation in which further delay must leave the character of the chief baron, and seeing no case made out, he would support the resolution proposed by his hon. friend.

Mr. R. Martin

defended the chief baron, and expressed his intention of supporting the resolution.

Mr. Hudson Gurney

, in order to ground the resolution proposed by the learned all the resolution after the word "That," in order to add the words, "the receipt of Fees by Judges in the Courts of Common Law and the Exchequer has been recently abolished by Law."

This amendment was immediately agreed to. After which, Mr. Scarlett's resolution "That this House, under all the circumstances above stated, does not deem it necessary to adopt any farther proceedings in the case of the chief baron O'Grady," being put,

Mr. J. Williams

said, he could by no means support the resolution of his hon. and learned friend.

Mr. Goulburn

contended, that no case of criminality or corruption had been made out against the chief baron, though his conduct might not have been quite so well advised as could have been wished.

Mr. Canning

, after briefly reviewing the proceedings which had been taken upon the reports in the House, admitted that he found it difficult to remove his own responsibility, in having been chiefly instrumental to persuading the hon. member for Limerick to adopt resolutions of fact merely, and not to embody anything in them which was only matter of opinion. He knew nothing of the chief baron. Nothing had ever occurred to induce him to turn his thoughts towards that personage. But his impression of the importance of the charge and the nature of the proof, had been weakened at every step of their progress. He could not concur in any vote tending to censure; nor could the House, he thought, assent to any resolution which could be made the ground of an address to the Crown for his removal, or of an accusation by way of impeachment.

Mr. Hutchinson

concurred in the opinion of the right hon. secretary, that the chief baron could not be inculpated by any thing which had come under the observation of the committee.

Mr. S. Rice

felt satisfied that, however the House might decide, the labours of the committee would not be lost to the public.

The House divided: For Mr. Scarlett's resolution 38. Against it 16. Majority 22.

List of the Minority.
Brougham, H. Palmer, C. F.
Baillie, col. Parnell, sir H.
Barry, rt. hon. J. M. Taylor, M. A.
Canning, rt. hon. G. Wynn, C. W.
Ferbes, C. Wigram, W.
Gordon, R. Williams, J.
Griffiths, J. TELLERS.
Lamb, hon. G. Smith (Lincoln) R.
Money, W. T. Rice, T. S.
Morland, sir S. B.