HC Deb 11 May 1830 vol 24 cc545-51

Mr. O'Connell moved for a copy of the Coroner's Inquest upon the body of Daniel Naylan, for whose alleged murder in Miltown Malbay, county of Clare, on the 29th of June, 1829, a policeman, named William Ferguson, was tried and acquitted.

Mr. Doherty

said—Sir, in the absence of my noble friend, the Secretary for Ireland, I cannot permit this Motion to be put without offering a few observations. I am much surprised to see that the hon. and learned Gentleman should bring it forward as a matter of course, and that he should call upon the House for these documents without laying down the grounds upon which they should be granted.—This Motion, Sir, has come upon me without notice; I was altogether unprepared for it; still I must raise my voice against it, for it would tend to convert this House into a Court of Appeal, in all criminal cases, from the decision of Juries in Ireland, and consequently, if this is to be tolerated, there are no cases which might not, upon the simple motion of a Member, be brought up to this Court, as if it were to a Court of Review. Now my attention has been drawn to this by a notice I have seen upon the books of the House of Commons, stating that the hon. and learned Gentleman will move for the depositions of certain witnesses, and for a copy of the Judge's notes who tried the ease respecting which he moved, and several others. To me, Sir, this appears to be the most monstrous thing that was ever attempted. The hon. and learned Gentleman told us, that on no one evening—on no one moment would he be absent from his place, or from this House; but, Sir, there was a very important evening on which he was not only not in his place, but not in this House, and this, Sir, was the evening on which the hon. member for Mallow gave notice that he would move for certain papers respecting those persons who were tried for the Doneraile conspiracy. Now, Sir, to all who have lived in Ireland—to all who have observed what has taken place there for many months past, it must have been a matter of notoriety that this was a question to which the hon. and learned Gentleman stood pledged; and it was on occasion on which I fully and anxiously expected to meet the learned Gentleman face to face, because he had made the strongest allegations against my personal character (and highly as I do, and I trust ever shall, regard my personal character) because he had done that which affects me still more nearly, he had brought a charge against the pure administration of justice in Ireland. I had, therefore, a right to expect he would be in his place to bring my conduct, or, as he had threatened, to drag me before this House—I looked for him, but he was not to be found. Why is it, however, that I introduce this now? To tell the hon. Gentleman that if he had been present, he would have heard a discussion upon the propriety of moving for the notes of a Judge. And here, be it remarked, the objection was not made on the part of the Government, for it had nothing to fear and nothing to conceal; but it was objected to the proposition by an hon. friend of mine, and I cannot refrain from now expressing my surprise that such a proposition should be made by a lawyer of thirty years' standing; it was objected, Sir, by my hon. friend, that al- though cases so strong might occasionally arise as to induce the House to violate the principle, yet that there was no instance whatsoever in which a Judge's notes had been produced before us, and that such a proceeding could never be justified, except upon the strongest grounds. Now, this becomes personally interesting to me, and I will tell the House why it becomes so. I am not, Sir, in the habit of entertaining suspicions of the conduct of hon. Members of this House; but when I clearly see a man meditating a retreat, and if he at the same time happens to be a lawyer, applying to his object all the cunning and dexterity supposed peculiar to his profession, I curiously watch every stone he lays down to construct the bridge on which he intends to run away. But now, Sir, I have at length driven the hon. Member by my taunts, again and again repeated, to take something like a decided course. I have compelled him, for the first time, to take courage in this House, and he has told you—"I will bring forward my threatened Motion about the Doneraile Trials if the House will grant me these documents for which I ask; but if not, I will let the matter fall to the ground"—and then, after twenty-four hours' deliberation, what does he do? He moves for documents so contrary to all the principles and practice of conducting the business of this House, that, however anxious we may be to comply with his Motion, we cannot grant them without a violation of all those rules which should guide us as lawyers and Members of Parliament. Thus it will appear, the learned Gentleman has laid down two steps for his escape. He has given notice of a motion upon the subject; and he has told you he cannot go on without certain documents, which, if you grant not, his motion must fall to the ground. Now, Sir, his allegations depend upon facts that are public and published in documents which are before the House, and all of which I admit. The hon. and learned Gentleman has said, that I acted on information that I ought not to have followed, and that I allowed witnesses to swear to certain things which I knew to be false. Sir, I did hold a brief not containing things which it ought to have contained; and witnesses did swear things that I had no reason to expect. And, admitting this, I confidently appeal to the House, if it were likely that I should abuse the high office with which I had been intrusted for the purpose of producing the conviction of innocent men?—The learned Gentleman has declared that he has two distinct charges to make against me. First, that I have wielded the powers of my office for the protection of the guilty. The next and deeper charge is, that I, in concert with others, as honourable and high-minded gentlemen as ever belonged to the legal profession, formed a league to produce the conviction of innocent men, while even the conspirators were in possession of documents to prove the perjury of the witnesses we had to bring forward on the part of the Crown. These are the charges—and I admit the facts on which the hon. and learned Gentleman founds his allegations. I will not trouble him about documents; and more, I would suffer him, unheeded and unanswered, to make any assertions respecting me he pleased, if my own character alone were implicated. I would not trouble the House with any defence, for there is something here that tells me there is not a second Gentleman present who would believe it possible that I could be guilty of the conduct attributed to me by the hon. and learned Gentleman.—He has unsparingly brought charges against me in taverns—in the streets—before the rabble—before those amongst whom I go, not a volunteer, but as a delegate of the Lord-lieutenant, with important and sacred duties to perform, which, I trust, I do perform faithfully, fearlessly, and, also I trust, notwithstanding the assertion of the learned Gentleman, mercifully. They are duties in which I can be swayed by no personal feeling, actuated by no improper motives. This, I maintain, for the character of public men, is public property. And if such be the case in this country, it is far more so in Ireland, with respect to those who are connected with the administration of justice. And I further trust, that, whenever the learned Gentleman shall find courage to bring forward his Motion, I shall be able to prove the utter falsehood of his daily and ordinary slanders.

Mr. O'Connell

said, the Motion he brought forward referred to an occasion upon which one of the King's subjects lost his life; and, continued he, I should have been ready to explain all the circumstances connected with the case, as well as my object in submitting the Motion to the House, if the hon. and learned Gentleman had asked me a question on the subject, instead of indulging the House with a tragical display. If he had asked, I would have told him that I wanted this document to throw light upon the Constabulary bill; and I would have told him that, in this case, a policeman was allowed to remain in gaol for six weeks, although it was known to his corps he was guilty, and yet not one of them came forward to give evidence upon the Coroner's Inquest. Sir, I believe all the parties, thus guilty, remain unpunished up to this day. I do not impugn the verdict, for the man was rightly acquitted; but I object to the system under which such things can be; and I will not be deterred from doing my duty fearlessly by any man, however he may be supported. In saying fearlessly, I allude not to that species of courage which is recognized in a court of honour, and of which I know nothing. There is blood upon this hand—I regret it deeply—and he knows it. He knows that I have a vow in Heaven, else he would not have ventured to address me in such language, or to use those taunts, which in this House he has safely resorted to.—He knows it, and there is not one man in the circle of our acquaintance but knows it also, and knows at the very same time, that but for that vow he dare not address me as he has done [cries of Order from all parts of the House.] I retract. He has attacked me for not being present at the time when the member for Mallow made his motion. The accident which prevented me from being present was, that the House had sat until four o'clock in the morning, and in consequence, I was not here in time for the motion. Let the hon. Member take advantage of that absence, and use it to enhance his triumph as much as he can—let him triumph in his declaration that he was anxious to meet me face to face; but the member for Mallow will support me in the statement that his motion was not intended to be directed against the conduct of the hon. and learned Member. The hon. and learned Gentleman has made a speech in anticipation of the motion of to-morrow, and then he talks of a retreat. I should like to know who is retreating now? He who promises to bring forward his motion tomorrow, or he who wishes to anticipate it by a speech to-night? The hon. Member says that a Judge's notes have never been called for. I mean to call for them. They are not such sacred things as to be forbidden. The Chief Justice of the King's Bench sends his notes of a trial to the Barons of the Exchequer, when he tries a case out of their Court, and the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas sends his notes in the same manner to any other Court. They are, in fact, regular legal documents, fit for the inspection of any public assembly, as much as any documents whatever. I know of no reason why they should be refused. I mean to apply for these notes, because it shall not be said I am looking for particular parts of the case, and that I do not look for authentic documents. I care not whether they are granted or not, as far as the case is concerned. If they are granted, I shall get the most authentic documents; if not, I must be content with getting as good information as I can. I have felt it to be my duty to arraign the proceedings in the Doneraile conspiracy, and if I had thought that this House was at leisure to have before entertained the matter, I should have brought it forward at an earlier period. What should I have brought forward? That conduct which put the lives of fourteen farmers—every one of whom was innocent—into jeopardy The hon. and learned Gentleman is mistaken if he believes that I arraign his individual conduct at Cork, but I accuse him of such conduct here as appeared to be affording countenance and authority to the conduct of the Magistrates there. The question I intend to bring before the House is, how far the Counsel for the Crown have a right to be in possession of evidence, which they know will tarnish the character of a witness for the Crown, and not to make the Judge and the jury acquainted with the fact. They ought to be permitted to have that information, for a conviction is not that which the Crown ought to go for, but the discovery of innocence or guilt. It is my intention, therefore, to raise an important legal question. If the Magistrates were wrong,' they should be warned not to repeat such conduct; if they were legally right, the practice ought to be altered, and and such a plan put an end to. The hon. Member then detailed some parts of the case, stating that the Magistrates had spies in their pay, who knew of all the circumstances of the intended crime, and neither prevented its being committed nor warned the persons who were to be the victims, and yet these very Magistrates were afterwards allowed to put the lives of these persons in jeopardy. He said that he only wanted to get a fair insight into the whole affair, and those who countenanced the Magistrates would deserve censure, while those who had not done so would be exonerated. He then noticed the Borris-o'-Kane trials, and said that the conduct of the Magistrates in that affair had been just the reverse of what it had been in the other instance. It was impossible they could be right in both. He was able to prove the facts at the Bar, and would do so if he were not prevented. This was the sixth or seventh time he had been taunted on this matter; he had submitted cheerfully and readily to the taunts, but he was not the less firm in his determination to bring the whole matter under the consideration of the House. His object was, to bring before the House the evil of having a system of Police, in which the men were armed with deadly weapons, and where the least resistance to their authority, however capriciously exercised, must be attended with death. In this country the officers, being only armed with staves, gave those who resisted them a beating, and they were afterwards punished for their resistance in a legal way. The hon. Member, in conclusion, withdrew his Motion.

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