HC Deb 11 July 1831 vol 4 cc1059-65
Mr. O'Connell

wished to avail himself of the opportunity which that Motion afforded, of putting a question respecting the late and intended proceedings at Castle pollard. The people would not be satisfied by prosecutions which professed to be carried on by them, but really were carried on by the Attorney General. It became the more necessary that he should now call attention to this subject, as the Assize were approaching. He sincerely hoped that the Irish Government would pause before they resolved upon proceeding contrary to the wishes of the parties most injured. A memorial had been forwarded to the Castle, Dublin, on the part of the relatives of the deceased, praying for permission to be allowed themselves to prosecute. It was, to be sure, said, that they were to have an additional counsel to aid in the prosecutions, but that made no important difference; for a junior counsel so circumstanced, had nothing to do with the conduct of the cause—no power to call any witness—no right to be present at any consultation, and his connection with it afforded no security against the whole matter being mismanaged. Suppose a witness had been examined on a Coroner's Inquest, and gave direct evidence that murder had been committed, and it was afterwards discovered by the relatives of the party that the witness under some considerable influence, endeavoured to procure an acquittal for the prisoner, what could the Attorney General do in such a case as this? It would not be discovered by the solicitor of the Crown until the time arrived for the trial, that the witness had disqualified himself from giving evidence. In such a case, the witness might give quite contrary evidence before the Inquest and at the Trial: such a case might occur, the Attorney General might be quite innocent and the trial might be mismanaged even without his knowledge. Why should the Crown unnecessarily interfere, when the parties interested were desirous of prosecuting? There was no danger of a compromise; they could take no unfair advantage; the prisoners would have counsel, and the Judge would see every thing was properly conducted. Under such circumstances, he did most earnestly hope, that the relatives of the deceased might be permitted to conduct the prosecution. It was of the highest importance that the people should have confidence in the Government, and in the administration of justice. The Crown possessed formidable advantage. It had six or eight of the most able counsel to examine and cross-examine witnesses, and therefore could only terrify the party to whom it was opposed. It was the general character of the Irish people to be satisfied with the administration of justice, even when opposed to their own interests. This was demonstrated by the fact, that in all the riots and disturbances, the murder of witnesses that had taken place, there had been no instance of any injury to any prosecuting counsel or Crown Solicitor, and there was no individual more popular than he was. The only discontent exhibited was on account of their not being allowed to conduct the prosecution themselves. In the present case he knew the relations to be most respectable, and he trusted, for the peace of the country, they would be allowed to prosecute.

Lord Althorp

said, that Government was placed in circumstances of considerable difficulty in respect to this question. There were three courses open to them—either to prosecute on the part of the Government, without any assistance from the relatives of the deceased, or to leave the matter entirely in their hands, which was the course recommended by the hon. and learned Gentleman, or, pursuing the third course, of uniting with the parties in the business of the prosecution; and when the House remembered, that both the hon. and learned Gentlemen (the members for Kerry and for the University of Dublin) joined in censuring the conduct of Government, one for not pursuing the first course, and the other for not pursuing the second, that afforded some ground for assuming that Government had not acted unwisely in avoiding cither extreme, and adopting a moderate proceeding—that of giving assistance to the people. It was a mistake to suppose, that the additional counsel would be inefficient, for it was understood that he should be made acquainted with the whole conduct of the trial, with full power to complain whenever grounds for complaint presented themselves, and with full power to call any witnesses whom he might think proper, He thought, therefore, the opposition of the two hon. and learned Gentlemen was rather carried to an extreme on this occasion.

Mr. Lefroy

complained of the conduct of Government on this matter, which went to interfere with the administration of justice in Ireland, in a manner unknown in this country. He believed, if there was any prospect at all of putting an end to the party feeling that existed, it could only be done by administering justice in Ireland as it was administered in England. He regretted much, that every riot or exhibition of public or party feeling in Ireland should be made a subject of discussion in Parliament. He had hoped that the measure passed two years since, would have put an end to party distinctions and party feelings, and he was therefore sorry to observe, that the hon. and learned Gentleman, the member for Kerry should avail himself of opportunities such as that, to excite political agitation in that House. He defied the hon. and learned Gentleman to point out a single instance in which the present Attorney General for Ireland had ever taken a part in politics. He deplored the introduction of such questions in the way in which they had that, night been introduced. The prosecutions might be safely left to the present English and Irish Governments, without calling in the aid the learned Gentleman proposed. And when Gentlemen talked of promoting the administration of justice, how, he wished to ask, could the discussion in Parliament of a question which was to come before a Jury promote the fair administration of justice?

Mr. O'Connell

had not said, that the present Attorney General for Ireland had mixed himself up with party politics since his appointment to his present office, but before that he was a political partisan. It had been said that he was pre-judging the case. He certainly had called it a slaughter; and if the hon. and learned Gentleman thought that too harsh, he should be obliged to him for a gentler phrase in which to express the slaying of thirteen or fourteen Irishmen.

Mr. Hume

thought it natural that the relations of those persons who had been killed by the police (whether that killing was to be called a slaughter or not) should desire to see justice done: and nothing could be more natural than that inquiries should be made, whether it was the intention of Government to satisfy the feelings of the people, by allowing them to prosecute. Nothing could go further to appease party feeling in Ireland than the fair administration of justice. He thought that it was now a recognized principle, that the laws of Ireland and the administration of justice in Ireland should be assimilated to those of England. If so, why then should not the relations of those who were killed be allowed to carry on prosecutions, as in England, without the interference of the Attorney General.

Mr. Goulburn

said, that when he heard the hon. and learned member for Kerry tax the present Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Blackburn) with being a political partizan, and insinuated that his political bias might induce him to pervert the powers of his office in the administration of justice, he felt himself called upon to bear testimony to the honour and impartiality of that Gentleman, and to bear his testimony that such imputations were wholly unfounded. He said this from his personal knowledge of the character of the individual, and from the manner in which he had conducted himself in judicial situations of the most delicate character, which had called forth the approbation of all parties.

Mr. North

was convinced of the integrity and honourable conduct of Mr. Blackburn, and he knew that the course followed by that Gentleman in the present instance was the same as had been followed by former Attorney Generals on similar occasions.

Colonel Rochfort

complained of the conduct of a Roman Catholic Clergyman (the Rev. Mr. Burke), who, he said, did everything to inflame the passions of the people.

Mr. O'Connell

considered the charge against Mr. Burke to be an unfounded calumny.

Colonel Rochfort

had his information from the best authority.

The Attorney General

said, it seemed to be taken as a matter of course, that the practice about to be adopted was at variance with the practice pursued in similar cases in this country, but he begged to declare, that it was not unusual for Government counsel to be assisted by counsel for the relatives of the deceased. This course was pursued in several instances during the late Special Commissions. All Crown prosecutions were necessarily under the control of the Attorney General, but there was still no reason why he should not avail himself of the assistance of counsel employed by the relations of the persons slain. There was nothing in the course adopted by the Attorney General for Ireland different from that usually pursued in England, and he had taken the best advice, having consulted the highest legal authorities.

Mr. Maurice O'Connell

said, as the Ministers had determined to take what they styled a middle course, by allowing the counsel and agents of the friends of the injured parties to act in conjunction with the counsel for the Crown, and Crown Solicitor, he had one suggestion to make, and that bore reference to the necessity of conducting these "mixed" prosecutions in a manner different from that in which they had as yet been conducted in Ireland. He spoke from his own knowledge. In the course of his limited practice as a bar- rister, he had been employed on two occasions by the friends of the injured parties, as one of their counsel in cases of these "mixed" prosecutions. The affairs occurred in the county of Clare, in the summer of 1829. In one instance a peasant had been shot; in the other, one had been severely wounded; and the persons charged with the crimes were policemen. On both those occasions the counsel and agents for the friends of the injured parties were not allowed to challenge a single juror—not a solitary suggestion of their's was attended to. The result was, the appointing a jury, to use the mildest term, with a strong leaning to the prisoners—the acquittal of those prisoners—and the consequent discontent and dissatisfaction of the people at large. He had so much confidence in his Majesty's present Ministers as to induce him to hope, that this course would not now be pursued; and to give them the opportunity of declaring their intentions, he threw out these few observations.

Mr. Stanley

said, he thought it could be hardly necessary for him to state, that the Government had no other object in view than the fair and impartial administration of justice, to protect the innocent, and not to screen the guilty; and he could safely and truly say, that the Government would give every possible facility for the investigation of this business. The Attorney General for Ireland would, he was sure, do all that lay in his power to satisfy the demands of justice. He had, recently had in the county of Clare, a most difficult legal duty to perform; but he had performed that duty with so much fairness, with so much justice, and at the same time with so much liberality of spirit, that he had pleased and satisfied every body.

Mr. Perrin

could see no reason why the Attorney General should take a prosecution out of the hands of the relatives, who were willing, and who had the means to prosecute; it would tend to no good purpose for the Government to interfere. He knew that such interference had occasioned great discontent amongst the people. As they had the means of employing gentlemen who would conduct their cases in a satisfactory and impartial manner, they naturally preferred placing their cause in such hands, rather than in the hands of the Crown lawyers.

Mr. Hunt

rose to say a few words. He could not perceive why the Attorney Ge- neral interfered in those prosecutions, unless it were for the purpose of protecting certain parties. If it was the wish of the Government to save the Yeomanry, and if they thought that the people prosecuted those corps with too much avidity, why were not counsel sent down to defend them who had need of such protection, instead of forcing assistance upon those who did not wish for it?