HC Deb 06 May 1830 vol 24 cc484-93

The Chancellor of the Exchequer moved that the Order of the Day for the House resolving itself into a Committee on matters connected with the Admiralty Court, (Ireland) be read.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that he had been intrusted with a Petition from Sir Jonah Barrington, praying that he might be heard at the bar. That Petition containing some extraneous matter, he had thought it his fluty to send it back to Sir Jonah, in order that it might be amended. He had since received a communication from Sir Jonah, stating that he was seriously indisposed; and one of Sir Jonah's family was, he believed, in attendance, to certify that fact. He thought it his duty to state these matters to the House before going into a committee on this subject.

Lord F. L. Gower

said, that he had received a similar communication; but from the importance of the subject and the absence of the certificate of a physician, he thought it incumbent on the House not to delay going into committee. At the same time he should wish to be guided, not by his own view, but by the sense of the House.

The House went into a committee.

Lord F. L. Gower

said, that in bringing this subject before the Committee, he should first refer them to two documents which had long been in the hands of hon. Members. Those documents contained the facts of the case, and the grounds of the proposition he was about to submit to them,—a proposition respecting the purity of the administration of justice, which, highly to the credit of the country, had hitherto been unassailed. The first of these documents was the Eighteenth Report of the Commission for Judicial Inquiry into the various Courts of Justice in Ireland, which report regarded the Admiralty Court of that country. That report of the commissioners had, upon a motion of his, been referred to a Select Committee of the House, and the report of that Committee was the second document to which he referred. He need hardly say, that the duty he had performed on this occasion was not a pleasant one: nor need he remind the Committee that, fortunately for the character of the country, he had no precedents by which he could frame his proceedings. He would begin by detailing, as briefly as he could, the facts which appeared in these documents respecting the conduct of Sir Jonah Barrington. The noble Lord then entered into a detail of the cases in which the alleged malversation took place (the leading particulars of which will be found in the subjoined Resolutions). Referring to the conduct of Mr. Pineau, the registrar of the court, who had paid the money by the order of Sir Jonah, the noble Lord observed, that though he did not see how he could rescue his character from the imputation of having assented to orders which he must have known were wrong, and which he ought, in the first instance, to have set at defiance, yet it was but justice to him to state that he had since done as much as he could to redeem his error, by making proper disclosures, and by carefully abstaining from all equivocation in giving his evidence. The noble Lord in conclusion observed, that the most unpleasant part of his duty remained—that of stating the course which he thought ought to be taken with respect to the conduct of this individual. He would read to the Committee the resolutions he meant to propose, and if they should be adopted and reported to the House, it would be for the House to take what course it should deem proper. The noble Lord then read the following Resolutions:— 1. Resolved—That, in consequence of an Address from the House of Commons, his late Majesty was graciously pleased to issue a Commission under the Great Seal, for examining the salaries, duties, and emoluments of the several officers, clerks, and ministers of justice, within that part of the United Kingdom called Ireland, and that the commissioners so appointed have laid before Parliament eighteen several Reports, the eighteenth of which relates to the High Court of Admiralty in Ireland. That, on the faith of such reports, divers acts of the Legislature have been passed, and are now in force. 2. That the office of Judge of the High Court of Admiralty in Ireland is an office of dignity and importance, on the impartial and uncorrupt execution of which the honour of the Crown and the protection of the rights and interests of many, both of his Majesty's subjects and of Foreigners, engaged in maritime pursuits, greatly depend. 3. That, by Letters Patent under the Great Seal of Ireland, bearing date the twenty-third of May, 1797, Doctor Barrington, now Sir Jonah Barrington, was appointed to the said office of Judge of the High Court of Admiralty in Ireland, with power to depute and surrogate in his place one or more deputy or deputies, as often as he should think fit. 4. That it is stated in the aforesaid eighteenth report that statements were made to the commissioners upon oath, and confirmed by documents produced to the said commissioners, by which it appeared that, in two several derelict cases, which were adjudicated in the said High Court of Admiralty, the Judge who then presided, the aforesaid Sir Jonah Barring-ton, had appropriated to his own use certain portions of the proceeds. 5. That it is stated in the aforesaid eighteenth report that it appeared, from the oral and documentary evidence before the commissioners, in the first of these cases, 'the Nancy derelict,' that Sir Jonah Barrington appropriated to his own use, out of the proceeds, 482l. 8s. 8d. and 200l. making together 682l. 8s. 8d., and never repaid any part of either, and that the Registrar is a loser in that cause to the amount of 546l. 11s. 4d., including poundage. 6. That it is stated in the aforesaid eighteenth report, that, in the second of those cases, that of the 'Redstrand derelict,' on the 12th of January, 1810, the sum of 200l. was paid by the Marshal into the registry, on account of the proceeds in this cause; and on the same day Sir Jonah Barrington, by an order in his own hand-writing, which was produced to the commissioners, directed the Registrar to lodge that sum to his (the Judge's) credit in the bank of Sir William Gleadow Newcomen, which he (the Registrar) accordingly did. That, subsequently, a Petition having been presented to the Court by Mr. Henry Pyne Masters, one of the salvagers, Sir Jonah wrote an order at the foot of it, bearing date May 29, 1810, directing the Registrar to pay to the petitioner a sum of 40l.; and, at the same time, he wrote a note to Mr. Masters, requesting that he would not present the order for two months, at the close of which period Sir Jonah left Ireland, and never since returned. That Mr. Masters after a considerable time (upwards of four years), finding that he could not get his money, prepared a memorial addressed to the Lord Lieutenant, stating the circumstances, and complaining of the conduct of the Judge; and, going to the Registrar, he demanded payment of his money, otherwise he would immediately present the memorial which he held in his hand. That the Registrar, anxious, as he states, to screen the Judge, on the 8th day of July, 1814, paid Mr. Masters the money out of his own pocket, and produced to the Commissioners his receipt, and a letter of acknowledgment from Mr. Masters for his good conduct in the transaction. That under somewhat similar circumstances, the Registrar paid a further sum of 9l. 12s. 9d. to Mr. John Wycherly, another salvor, who came to Dublin to endeavour to get his money; so that, including his own fees in the cause, amounting to 15l., and his poundage on the nett proceeds, amounting to 7l. 10s.; the Registrar states that there is actually due to him in this cause 72l. 2s. 9d., and, further, that as the sum of 200l. was never repaid by the Judge, the loss of the balance between that sum and the sum of 72l. 2s. 9d. fell upon the unpaid salvagers. 7. That it is stated, in the aforesaid eighteenth report, that Sir Jonah Barrington having represented his inability to attempt a journey to Ireland, an extract from the minutes of the proceedings of the Commissioners was transmitted to him, containing everything, at that lime deposed to, by which his character might be affected. That, subsequently, sundry communications were received from him, which, with the several letters, addressed to him by the Commissioners in reply, are printed in the appendix to the aforesaid report. That assertions of general denial contained in these and subsequent letters, are the only contradiction or explanation of the foregoing facts, given by Sir Jonah to the Commissioners, which contradiction would have had much weight with the Commissioners had the alleged facts been supported only by the parole testimony of the officer who stated them, but that when the Commissioners found the hand-writing of Sir Jonah Barrington himself supporting the statement of the witness, they could not avoid giving credit to his (the witness's) evidence. That the Commissioners resumed the examination of the Registrar, and that the said Registrar, though aware that the Commissioners had been in communication with Sir Jonah Barrington, who might, if he swore falsely, have suggested means of contradicting him, persisted in his former evidence, and furnished other documents tending to confirm his testi- mony, which he had subsequently found. 8. That the said eighteenth report of the Commissioners, so founded on evidence taken on oath, and on documents, together with the depositions forwarded to the Commissioners by Sir Jonah Barring-ton, and other papers connected with the conduct of Sir Jonah Barrington, in the discharge of his judicial functions, was, by order of the House, referred to a Select Committee, in the last Session of Parliament. 9. That the Select Committee so appointed, did take into consideration the matters so referred to them, and that Sir Jonah Harrington, having, in a letter to the Chief Secretary of the Lord Lieutenant, expressed his wish to come over to this country to be examined, whenever a Committee should be appointed to consider the report of the Commissioners, the Committee did afford him that opportunity of meeting allegations which so seriously affected his character. 10. That the Committee, after full investigation of the whole subject submitted to their inquiry, and after examination of witnesses, and of documentary evidence, came to a report, which has been laid on the Table of this Mouse; from which report it appears, that on the whole, the Commission were of opinion that Sir Jonah Harrington, as Judge of the High Court of Admiralty in Ireland, did, in the years 1805 and 1806, under colour of his official authority, apply to his own use two sums, amounting to 500l. 9s. 2d. out of the proceeds of the derelict ship Nancy, then lodged in the hands of the Registrar of that Court; and that he did in the year 1810, in a similar manner, apply to his own use the sum of 200l. out of the proceeds of the Redstrand derelict. That it appears to this Committee that the opinion so expressed in the aforesaid report of the Select Committee, is fully warranted by the evidence, and is entitled to the concurrence of this Committee. That it is, therefore, the opinion of this Committee, that Sir Jonah Barring-ton has been guilty of serious malversation in the discharge of his office of Judge of the High Court of Admiralty, and that it is unfit and would be of bad example, that he should continue to hold the said office.

The Resolutions were then put seriatim from the Chair.

After the first three had been agreed to,

Mr. D. W. Harvey

suggested, that as Sir J. Barrington had expressed an inten- tion of presenting a petition to the House, praying to be heard by counsel against those Resolutions, which he had up to this moment been prevented from doing by illness, it might be better to have the resolutions printed, and to postpone the discussion on them for a short time to give him the opportunity he desired.

Lord F. L. Gower

said, he could not object to the Resolutions being printed.

Mr. C. Wynn

said, Sir Jonah Barrington had already had one opportunity of explaining his conduct. The only question was if the House would afford him another?

Lord F. L. Gower

would beg to read a letter dated April 27, which he had written in answer to one from Sir J. Barrington, containing the wish to be examined by counsel or at the bar of the House. His Lordship's letter stated, that he had nothing to add to the announcement he had already made respecting the course he intended to pursue in his motion that stood for Thursday. He suggested, that if Sir Jonah Barrington was anxious to be heard at the bar of the House, the proper course for him to pursue would be to present a petition to that effect. He mentioned this to put the House in possession of the fact.

Mr. O'Connell

said, he had been intrusted with a Petition from Sir Jonah Harrington upon this subject, but it contained so much extraneous matter, that he had declined presenting it, and had sent it back to have it abbreviated and revised; but this Sir Jonah was, from illness, incapable of doing. He stated this positively, having seen the certificate of the medical men in attendance. The question accordingly seemed to him to be, whether this should be considered a sufficient reason for delaying the vote upon these Resolutions?

Sir J. Newpor

t said, that after the Resolutions had been passed through the Committee, and had been printed, it would be time enough to hear Sir Jonah's defence, which might be upon bringing up the Report.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

thought that if a proper opportunity for defence had not been afforded by the Select Committee, Sir Jonah would be entitled to any reasonable indulgence before the Resolutions were passed, but as he had already had ample opportunity, he apprehended the best course would be to let the Resolutions pass now, and when they should have been reported and printed, it would then be time to consider whether he should have any, and what further time for defence allowed.

Mr. R. Gordon

rose to express his surprise at the easy manner in which the evidence had been suffered to pass off. He was astonished that no indignation had been expressed. He did not wish to press hard upon Sir Jonah Barrington, but he wished to call the attention of the House to the system that prevailed in Ireland, which permitted a Judge to appropriate the public money without immediate detection. Much had been said about the Judge, but he had heard nothing about Pineau, the King's evidence, who was, according to his own confession, guilty of most unjustifiable conduct. Here the hon. Member read a passage from this person's evidence, in which he stated that he had marked on an order, in large letters, 482l. for the service of his Majesty, meaning thereby for the use of the Judge, and that those large letters were used ironically, as it were, since there was nobody in Court who was not aware of their true meaning. He also declared that he was in the habit of keeping money of suitors in the Court, sometimes in his own house, and sometimes at his private banker's, but he never in any case lodged it as official money. Mr. Pineau, now said, this ought not to be done; but the light never broke in upon him until he had quarrelled with his superior, who gave him by no means a good character, as he declared he was a forsworn man, and not to be believed upon his oath.

Mr. S. Rice

thought the hon. Member had generalized too much in attacking the whole judicial system of a nation on account of a particular act of delinquency. He considered the House would carry the feeling of the country much more with it by deliberating calmly, and deciding fairly, than by indulging in the exaggerations of the hon. Gentleman. He contended that the proper course to pursue was, to punish the particular offender, and not to deprive themselves of the right of so doing by arraigning the entire system.

Mr. R. Gordon

complained of the tone assumed by the hon. Member, who seemed to think that nobody but Irish Members had a right to touch upon Irish abuses. If, however, he fancied that British Members of Parliament were to be thus put down when they rose to express their conscientious opinions, he would be much mistaken. He denied that he had been guilty of any exaggeration, having simply referred to the Report. He was sure that he had said nothing that did not deserve the support of the House, and he had trusted that that support would not be denied him.

Mr. S. Rice

did not object to British Members interfering with Irish business, indeed he was always glad to have the assistance of Gentlemen in any discussions on Ireland who were not biassed by local prejudices. All he objected to the hon. Member was, that he drew a general conclusion from an individual instance. He did not complain of his observations as unparliamentary, but illogical.

The Attorney General

, in reply to those Gentlemen who had complained of the Government not having proceeded earlier and more seriously with the investigation, said, that the delinquencies could not be known till they were discovered, which was at a comparatively late period. The committee which then investigated the business made a report in very just terms, and if the evidence had not been confirmed by Sir Jonah Barrington's own admissions, it would not have been strong enough to proceed on; hence it had been decided to bring the matter before Parliament. Sir Jonah Barrington had been informed of that intention, and he had ample time to have petitioned if he had chosen. He was sure that every Member would be glad if that Judge could disprove the charge. The anxiety was, that he might be acquitted, not condemned; and all the Members would be glad if Sir Jonah, by coming forward, would relieve them from their painful situation.

Lord F. L. Gower

stated, in reply to the hon. member for Cricklade, who had accused him, as he thought, of not having indulged in declamation, that it was his imperative duty on such an occasion not to do so. If he had discovered these charges—if he had to explain them for the first time to the House, he should have thought himself bound to go more at length into the subject; but in the present case he was not justified in adding asperity to the charge. The Report from which he derived his principle knowledge of the business had been some time printed, and was in the hands of all the Members, who might, therefore, be supposed to have already formed their opinions on the conduct of Sir Jonah Barrington.

The Resolutions agreed to, and the Report to be brought up on Monday next.

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