HC Deb 27 September 1831 vol 7 cc675-8
Mr. O'Connell

rose to submit the motion of which he had given notice, for the production of any correspondence which took place between Baron Pennefather and the Irish Government on the subject of the conviction and sentence of John Leary, at the late Special Commission at Cork. The hon. and learned Gentleman stated, that Leary, who was a small farmer, was accused, with three or four others of a conspiracy to murder. He was tried separately, and found guilty and sentenced to death, without any hope being held out of any mitigation of his sentence. On the next day one of the conspirators was tried on the same evidence, but the Jury could not come to an agreement as to the verdict, and were at length discharged without giving any. The two others were afterwards tried, and though the Jury were, he might say, selected by Government, there having been no less than forty-seven Jurors challenged by the Crown before the twelve were sworn, they acquitted them without leaving the box. The prisoner about whom the Jury could not agree was tried at the following assizes and also acquitted. On this Leary was respited, and at length his sentence was commuted to transportation for life, though the Judge before whom he was tried had made two or three communications to Government on his behalf. Now it appeared to him that this prisoner's case was extremely hard. His alleged fellow conspirators were all acquitted by the breaking down of the chief witness against them. Had that event taken place on the trial of Leary, he also would have been acquitted. Or had he had the good luck to be tried second or third, he would now be at home with his family instead of being under sentence of transportation for life and sent to New South Wales. What he contended was, that if the Government believed the evidence against the man sufficient, they ought not to have mitigated his sentence; but if they did not believe it, he was entitled to a full acquittal from all punishment. In order to let the House see what was the opinion of the Judge who tried him as to his case, he now moved for the production of the correspondence between that learned Judge and the Irish Government on the subject.

Mr. Callaghan

seconded the Motion.

Mr. Stanley

said, that this was not the first time this subject had been brought forward by the hon. and learned Member, though now for a very different object from the former occasion. On that occasion he had moved for the production of the Judge's notes of the trial, which the House refused, on the same ground on which he (Mr. Stanley) now objected to this Motion—that the House was not the proper place for the introduction of such a question, as a sort of Court of Appeal from the decision of a Court of Justice. The breaking down of the chief witness against Leary and the others was not from any contradiction in his testimony, but from the mention of a fact—an important one, he admitted—which he had omitted to state in his original depositions, and which did not come out till after the trial of Leary; but a most respectable Jury afterwards convicted two men on the testimony of the same witness.

Mr. O'Connell

said, the men who were thus convicted were not for the same offence of which Leary was accused. They were accused of firing at a Magistrate in his carriage, with intent to kill him, and the fact was put beyond doubt. The charge against Leary was quite a different thing.

Lord Althorp

objected to the Motion. He thought it would be a dangerous precedent that the communications of Judges respecting the case of prisoners should be submitted to Parliament.

Sir Charles Wetherell

also objected to the Motion, on the same grounds as the noble Lord. The communications of Judges as to any case before them must be founded on their notes, and the same objections would lie to the production of those communications as to the production of the notes themselves.

Mr. Jephson

would have felt satisfied if the Government had undertaken to investigate this affair; but, as the case stood, he must support the Motion.

Mr. Crampton

objected to the disclosure of confidential communications, and contended, that even if the House were to agree to the production of the papers called for, the object of the Mover would not be obtained.

Mr. Callaghan

supported the Motion. The objections made to it were altogether of a technical nature.

Mr. Henry Grattan

maintained that the papers moved for were of a public and not a private nature.

Mr. Daniel Whittle Harvey

concurred in the observations which had been made respecting the general inconvenience of making that House a place of appeal from a Court of Justice; but he thought that a case like the present, in which so many attestations of innocence had been made, formed an exception to the general rule.

Mr. Hume

supported the Motion.

Mr. Stanley

said, that those hon. Members who spoke in favour of the Motion, proceeded on two assumptions,—that John Leary was innocent, and that no investigation had been made into his case. Now the fact was, that the late Government went into a full investigation of his case, and came to the conclusion that that person was guilty. Whether his own opinion on this matter coincided in every particular with that of the late Government he would not say, but he thought the present mode of proceeding improper. After what had occurred he should certainly again investigate the papers, and if he could come at any additional facts, he should feel it his duty to take the opinions of the law officers of the Crown upon them.

Mr. O'Connell

thought, that after the promise made by the Secretary for Ireland to investigate the case, there was no use in pressing the subject. The hon. and learned Gentleman withdrew his Motion.