HC Deb 25 May 1830 vol 24 cc1075-83

Lord F. L. Gower, brought up the report of the committee appointed to draw up an Address to his Majesty for the removal of Sir Jonah Barrington from the office of Judge of the High Court of Admiralty in Ireland.

The Address was read as follows:—

Most Gracious Sovereign:—We your Majesty's most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Commons, in Parliament assembled, beg leave humbly to represent to your Majesty, that the office of Judge of the High Court of Admiralty in Ireland is an office of dignity and importance, on the impartial and incorrupt execution of which the honour of the Crown, and the protection of the rights and interests of many, both of your Majesty's subjects, and of foreigners engaged in maritime pursuits greatly depend. That by Letters Patent under the Great Seal of Ireland, bearing date the 23rd 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. That it appears to your faithful subjects that Sir Jonah Barrington, as Judge of the High Court of Admiralty in Ireland, did in the years 1805 and 1816, 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 your faithful subjects, that Sir Jonah Barrington has been thereby 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. We therefore humbly pray your Majesty, that your Majesty will be pleased to remove Sir Jonah Barrington from the office which he holds, of Judge of the High Court of Admiralty in Ireland.

On the question "That this Address be read the second time,"

Mr. D. W. Harvey

addressed the House in behalf of Sir Jonah Barrington, whose case he described as one of very considerable hardship and severity. The hon. Member read several letters from Mr. Lamb (now Lord Melbourne) to Sir Jonah Barrington to shew that Mr. Lamb, when Secretary of Ireland, knew of the testimony which could be adduced against Sir Jonah. The first letter, he said, he would read was as follows, and was dated

Whitehall, March 12th, 1828. Sir,—I beg leave to acknowledge your letters of the 2nd and 7th, with the enclosures contained in the latter; and, having read and attentively considered the whole of these documents, I still remain of opinion, that no explanation could be given which would prevent the House of Commons from instituting an inquiry into the causes of the absence of a Judge, for many years, from the country in which his judicial duties are to be performed. That shewed that Mr. Lamb was perfectly cognizant of Sir Jonah Barrington's situation. The letter proceeded— It appears to me, that independent of the general principle which must govern all such cases, there arises upon the face of all the public documents connected with the Admiralty Court of Ireland a strong presumption, that the Legislature contemplated the personal discharge of the duties of the office by the Judge, although the instrument of his appointment has provided for the case of his occasional and necessary absence, by giving the power of nominating a deputy in such contingencies. Actuated by the same feeling which dictated my first communication, I will explicitly state the course which the Government feels itself called upon to pursue. The remedy for the alleged grievance, arising from the con- tinued absence of the Judge, cannot be had, according to law, without the intervention of both Houses of Parliament. The complaint having been made to the House of Commons, the Government cannot interpose its authority or influence for the purpose of resisting a full inquiry into all the circumstances of the case. Such an inquiry, as far as it relates personally to yourself, and not to the practice and proceedings of the Court into which it may possibly be necessary to institute an investigation, might probably be rendered unnecessary by your resignation of your office; and it is my impression that if I were enabled to pronounce your voluntary retirement, no further proceedings would be adopted, at least no further proceedings with reference to inquiry into the past. The whole letter shewed that Mr. Lamb entertained some opinion of Sir Jonah's irregularities, but the reply of Sir Jonah was not that of a man conscious of guilt. He offered to retire from the office, the duties of which he was not filling, provided Mr. Lamb would state, as the organ of the Irish government, that he did not retire from fear of the investigation. Sir Jonah applied even for a larger pension than usual, and to that application Mr. Lamb made the following answer on March 25th. I am desirous of explaining myself at once, in such a manner as to leave no possible room either for present or future misapprehension. In case of your retirement from your office, I can have no objection to submit to his Majesty's Ministers any memorial which you may think proper to present; but I must be distinctly understood as not, by becoming the instrument of such communication, giving the slightest countenance or encouragement to any claim whatever, nor can I hold out the least hope or expectation that any allowance will be granted in addition to that pension which is assigned to the Judge of the Court of Admiralty upon his retirement, by 40 Geo. 3rd c. 69, s. 2. Was that the letter, he would ask, which ought to have been written to Sir Jonah if he were the guilty man he has been described to be. It might be said, perhaps, that Mr. Lamb was then not acquainted with all the facts of the case; but he would read a letter, dated Whitehall, May 6th 1828, after Mr. Lamb certainly was acquainted with all the evidence which could be produced against Sir Jonah. Sir,—I beg leave to acknowledge your letters of the 25th ult. and 3rd instant; and in compliance with your request, I have directed the returns made from the Court of Admiralty in Ireland to be forwarded to you, according to your directions, at the British Consul's at Calais. I can assure you that when, in consequence of your repeated communications to me to that effect, I announced to the House of Commons your intention of resigning your situation, I distinctly stated that such intention had proceeded entirely from yourself, and that it had been formed by you upon the most honourable motives, and in compliance solely with a sense of public duty. Here it was distinctly stated, that Mr. Lamb had described Sir Jonah, publicly described him, in the House of Commons, as retiring from the most honourable motives. All these letters, the hon. Member contended, clearly proved that Mr. Lamb had negociated with Sir Jonah Barrington for the retirement of the latter on the usual pension; Mr. Lamb implying always that on this condition all proceedings against Sir Jonah should be dropped. Mr. Lamb must at that time have been aware of Mr. Pineau's evidence; and he could not therefore help considering the present proceedings as putting Sir Jonah on his trial a second time. With respect to Sir Jonah having been so long absent from the country, the learned Judge said, he had a right to absent himself, if he pleased, because his patent allowed him to appoint a deputy. This view he could support by authority of a learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Doherty), now Solicitor General for Ireland. The hon. Member then read the following letter from Mr. Doherty to Sir Jonah Barrington, which he characterised as doing great honour to the learned Gentleman. My Dear Sir Jonah:—By a letter which I have just received from John Carroll, I find that he has had the pleasure of seeing you and Lady Barrington, and I can with truth assure you it has made me happy to hear you are both well. I recollect with gratitude the kindness I at all times experienced from you here, and the hospitality with which you were so good as to receive me in France. Carroll mentions that he had some conversation with you on the subject of your office in this country, but I am not able to collect from his letter precisely what passed; it is therefore that I am induced to trouble you, to request that you will have (he kindness to write to me, and freely, confidentially, and without reserve, let me know your views and wishes on that subject. You are of course aware how your court is now situated from the death of Jameson and the illness of Mabaffy. As to your resigning the office, I take it for granted that that is out of the question, the retiring pension (400l. per annum) bearing so small a proportion to the full salary, and so far as I am concerned, it would, I feel, be impossible for me, directly or indirectly, to hold out any inducement to you further than this, that if, under circumstances, there should be any difficulty in obtaining the retirement, I think it probable that there is not any person who could more readily obviate that. Carroll mentions something of your wish to obtain a consulship, but he does not say where, and I much fear that that situation could not be easily obtained. Now, with respect to becoming your deputy, I should willingly do so, provided you fell inclined to allow a remuneration sufficient to counterbalance the loss sustained by ceasing to practise in the court (which would be to me as great as it could be to any practitioner) and also a remuneration for undertaking the labours of the office, I am aware that heretofore you have procured a deputy on moderate terms, and it is not impossible that you may do so again; but I fairly apprize you, that, circumstanced as I am, I could not diligently devote my time to the efficient discharge of those important duties without an adequate remuneration; and I believe I may feel warranted in saying that I should be likely to afford satisfaction to the practitioners, and to the Government. Although the learned Gentleman who wrote the letter was not at the time Solicitor General, yet his appointment to that office could not, he presumed, have altered the learned Gentleman's view of Sir Jonah's right to appoint a deputy. Under these circumstances, Mr. Lamb having known of Sir Jonah Barrington's conduct, and having consented to his retiring, and it being clear that he might appoint a deputy, he thought they ought not to agree to an address which must fix an indelible stain and disgrace upon the innocent descendants of this infirm, decrepit, and dying man. He did not deny that doing so was consistent with stern justice, but Sir Jonah Barrington's age gave him a claim on the consideration of the House, and if it agreed to the address it would most assuredly be thought to act with harshness and severity towards an infirm old man.

Lord F. L. Gower

could not see very clearly what he had to do with the conduct of his predecessor in office, even if the hon. member for Colchester had made out any case against that predecessor. But the hon. Member had made out no case against Lord Melbourne. Instead of it being true that Lord Melbourne had been conversant with the evidence of Mr. Pineau, the fact was directly the reverse. Part of Mr. Pineau's evidence had, indeed, been taken in March 1828: but that was a very unimportant part, relating merely to fees and to the practice of the court. It was not until the month of May that that part of Mr. Pineau's evi- dence was taken by which Sir Jonah Barrington's dealings with the money of the suitors was established, and the most important parts of Mr. Pineau's evidence were not taken until Lord Melbourne had left office. He would not waste the time of the House with going through the whole of the hon. Member's statement. He thought the House would, after this, see the utter fallacy of that statement. As to the argument respecting Sir Jonah Barrington's patent, it might be a very good one, if he (Lord F. L. Gower) had made the absence of Sir Jonah from the country any part of the ground on which he preferred these charges against that judge. But he had not. He thought the letter of his learned friend,—a private and confidential letter, be it remembered,—which had been produced, contained nothing which was not creditable to his learned friend, who at the time he wrote it was not in office. He was totally at a loss to discover, in the speech of the hon. member for Colchester, any single reason for taking up any more of the time of the House in discussing this question.

Sir J. Newport

could not understand why a private and confidential letter, written from one friend to another, should have been dragged forward on this occasion. He wished to state, that inquiry originated in consequence of representations made by the mercantile interest of Cork, as to the mode of conducting business in the Admiralty Court. Certainly, in the investigation which ensued, it had been established that Sir Jonah Barrington had made an improper use of the suitors' money, and after that fact it was impossible for the Government to proceed otherwise than it had done.

Mr. O'Connell

thought, nothing could be more unjust than to attribute any thing improper to the noble Lord, who had conducted this business. This was not—how could it be, or how could any one say it was—a party question, or that party feelings were in any way mixed up in it? All that could be said upon it, and it did not lie in Sir Jonah Barrington's mouth to say it, was, that the proceedings had been carried on too slowly and with too much lenity. Allow him, as a member of the Irish bar, to protest against the production of that confidential letter which had been read by the hon. member for Colchester. He agreed that the contents of that letter were creditable to the hon. and learned Gentleman who wrote it; but why had it been produced? Did it prove any thing with regard to this case? No, it did not. He had read the reports of the commissioners and the select committee. If he had found any thing in them creditable to Sir Jonah Barrington, he should have been glad to have brought it forward, but he had found nothing. He heartily pitied, but he could not vindicate him.

Mr. D. W. Harvey, in explanation, said, that if he admitted to the noble Lord that Mr. Lamb had not been aware of Mr. Pineau's evidence, then the ground on which Mr. Lamb urged Sir Jonah Barrington to resign must have been the absence of the latter, which was now admitted to be no ground at all. With respect to the letter of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, he bad told both that hon. Gentleman and the hon. member for Clare, that he had the letter and meant to read it; neither of them objected, and he thought, therefore, that the hon. member for Clare had gone somewhat out of his way to protest, after it was too late, against the production of such a document. He had only produced the letter for the purpose of showing that Sir Jonah Barrington was not singular in thinking that he had a right to appoint a deputy, and he had no intention of hurting the feelings of any one by the production of it.

Mr. Doherty

could assure the hon. Member that he did not object to the production of that letter. When Gentlemen considered the distressing situation of the individual in whose possession the letter was, how could any one object to the production of it, if that individual fancied it could do him any good? When he first joined the profession, Sir Jonah Barrington was at the head of his circuit. Sir Jonah had always treated him with a degree of kindness and friendship which he could not forget—which made him rejoice that he was not called upon to take any very active part in these distressing, but, he must add, just and necessary proceedings.

On the question that the Address be agreed to,

Mr. D. W. Harvey

said, he had a Petition to present from Sir Jonah Barrington. It expressed the petitioner's regret that his counsel at the Bar should have confined himself, in his speech to constitutional grounds; and prayed that he might be allowed to offer evidence at the bar. The Speaker decided that the petition could not be received till the question before the House was disposed of.

Address agreed to; Lord F. L. Gower to carry the same to the Lords, and to desire their concurrence therein at a conference.

Mr. D. W. Harvey

said, he had a question to put to the right hon. Gentleman (Sir R. Peel) opposite. An address for the removal of Sir Jonah Barrington had been agreed to, and a noble Lord was now on his way to the other House to request the concurrence of their Lordships to it. Suppose both Houses sanctioned the address, then the Crown would have, on deliberation, to determine whether the request contained in the address should be granted. The question, therefore, which he had to ask, and he asked it merely for information, arose out of the very delicate matter which had last night been communicated to the House. Would his Majesty exercise the royal consideration with respect to this address; or was it intended that the persons who were to be appointed in consequence of the message of last night, should exercise the royal deliberation as well as the performance of the mechanical office of signing public documents?

Sir R. Peel

said, that the hon. Member appeared to him to mistake altogether the object of the message of last night. His Majesty was perfectly capable of exercising discretion and deliberation, and the message of last night merely stated that bodily indisposition made it inconvenient and painful for his Majesty to sign with his own hand those public instruments which required his sign manual. No Minister would presume to attach his Majesty's signature to any document upon which the pleasure of the Crown had not been taken; much less to an instrument for the removal of a Judge. His Majesty's pleasure would be taken upon this, as it was taken upon every other case; for he had the satisfaction of assuring the House, that his Majesty was at that moment as competent to exercise his mental faculties as he had ever been at any other period of his life.

Mr. D. W. Harvey

presented the Petition from Sir Jonah Barrington; read and to be printed.

Lord F. L. Gower

reported, in answer to the message to the Lords, desiring a conference with their Lordships respecting the address agreed to by the House for the removal of Sir Jonah Barrington from his office as Judge of the Admiralty Court in Ireland, that their Lordships had agreed to the conference, and were then ready to meet the Commons.

A committee was appointed to manage the conference: and to consist of the Members appointed to draw up the address for the removal of Sir Jonah Barrington, with other Members.

After a lapse of twenty minutes,

Lord F. L. Gower

reported, that the committee had had a conference with their Lordships; and had delivered the Address agreed to by the House, which their Lordships promised to take into consideration.

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