HC Deb 19 February 1833 vol 15 cc955-73
Mr. Stanley

presented two Petitions from places in Ireland, praying for a revision of the Grand Jury System. The right hon. Gentleman then proceeded to bring forward his Motion on the subject of the Irish Grand Juries. In introducing that subject to the consideration of the House, he should occupy but a small portion of their time, as he had already called their attention to it, and had printed his Bills, in order that he might obtain from all those who were acquainted with the subject the benefit of their observations. The present system of Grand Jury presentments pressed most heavily on the industry of the people; there had been more complaints on that subject than on any other—there was, perhaps, none on which all classes of men were so united as to the evils to which it subjected the country; and yet the greatest difference of opinion existed with respect to the remedy to be proposed. Since the last time when the question was agitated in that House, he had done his utmost to become acquainted with the opinions of men of all political classes, in order to obtain information on the subject, but with no view whatever to bind them or himself to any particular opinion. He should not go into any great details in the statement he was about to make, for Irish Members were well acquainted with these details, and to give them now to the English Members for the first time would be useless; but as English Members required to have some statement of the duties of an Irish Grand Jury made to them, he would merely quote the substance of a Report made by a Committee on the subject. "The Grand Jury in Ireland, in addition to their criminal functions, had the whole administration of the civil affairs of the country intrusted to them. They fixed the salaries of public officers; they regulated prisons and houses of correction; they levied funds for the support of hospitals; they made and repaired roads and bridges, and they framed accounts of the expenses incurred in these matters. They had, in fact, not only to transact the business which was usually performed by an English Grand Jury, but they exercised, at the same time, many of the functions of the English Legislature. They determined what public works should be undertaken—what price should be paid for them, and who were the individuals that should undertake them, and be responsible for their completion. They settled the amount of the local taxation of the county, and, under their direction, it was levied from the actual occupiers of the land." The Report which he had just quoted showed the broad points of difference between the English and the Irish Grand Jury systems. The evils which flowed from that difference were, perhaps, obvious enough; but, at the same time, in looking at the remedy to be proposed, the House must bear in mind that the jurisdiction thus exercised was of a mixed nature, criminal and civil. The Grand Jury were summoned as they were in England; but, being summoned, they had imposed on them the duty, or rather possessed the power, of collecting, expending, and controlling the local taxation of Ireland, which amounted to a sum of 940,000l. a-year. But, out of that, there were some sums which, though levied by the Grand Jury, were not controlled by them in the expenditure. He alluded to what were well known in Ireland under the name of Compulsory Levies. In every investigation he had given to that part of the matter, he had been led to the conclusion, that the whole of the expenditure of money thus levied compulsorily by the Grand Jury should be put under their complete control. There was one other part over which they had at present a complete control, and for the expenditure of which he thought they should themselves be accountable. He did not know whether by law Grand Juries were re- sponsible; but every one in Ireland knew that, in fact, they were not so, and every Englishman was, perhaps, completely convinced of the same thing. He proposed that they should be made responsible. They exercised at present a control which was not subject to public opinion—their deliberations were carried on in private, and not under the eye of the public—their reasons for what they did were not made known—their presentments were in like manner secrets—and no check whatever could be placed upon them; they were able to divide themselves into individual committees, looking into each particular object which they wished to carry into effect, and the management of which was entirely intrusted to them by the Grand Jury, on account of their superior local knowledge. Without any intention of being corrupt, therefore, this necessarily led to corruption. It was impossible it should not be so. It was of the essence of the thing that it must. Again, the Grand Jury met in the Spring and Summer Assizes, to consider of the civil and criminal business of the county. They had but a limited period allowed them; so short, indeed, that it was impossible they could duly discharge all the important duties with which they were intrusted. He had never heard any charge of corruption against the Grand Jury in criminal cases. He had heard of it, with respect to civil matters, which, perhaps, might be excused, as it was impossible, considering the little time they had to look into each case, that they could give to each one a full deliberation. It was beyond doubt true, that, under the cover of the responsibility obtained by the sanction of the whole body on whom the odium, though not the benefit, of the corruption devolved, many very improper acts were actually perpetrated. What, then, were the points of his plan to obviate the evils, the existence of which he had thus sketched? In the first place, there was a want among the Grand Jury of that knowledge of practice necessary to expedite the details of business—in the next, there was a want of the effect of public opinion in checking the Grand Jury in the exercise of their rights—in the third place, there was a want of sufficient time for them to perform their multiplied functions—so that even with the best intentions it was very possible they might be sometimes wrong—and, in the last place, there was that objection to the system arising from that broad and palpable inducement to corruption created by the Grand Jury having the power, not only of appointing the execution of public works, and the amount of expense that should be incurred on their behalf, but of appointing the individuals who were to perform, and to whom all the advantage was to be given. An instance of the mode in which corruption was exercised, in consequence of these powers of the Grand Jury, might be given in the making of roads. A gentleman who wanted a road made on his estate, or who wanted employment for his labourers, would make a presentment—a committee would be appointed—he would get his own name, and perhaps that of a friend, put upon this committee, and he would thus have the management of the whole affair. He would then employ his own labourers—would pay them out of the funds levied upon the county, and by these means would enable them to pay him out of the salary they thus received from the county at large a rent which depended not on the profits of the holding itself, but on the amount of the money he was enabled to procure them, on account of labours in public works. This was one of the points to which particular attention ought to be directed. Two years ago he had brought in a bill to consolidate and amend the laws relating to Grand Juries in Ireland. The utility of such a work was known to all who were conversant with the real state of Ireland. He now proposed, first, to make the necessary alterations in the system, and then to consolidate the result of these alterations into one Act, and this he did on account of the difficulty of bringing, in the first instance, all the required enactments into one measure. This was, he was happy to say, no party question. It was simply one of a practical nature, and the House would have to say whether it was or was not possible, with advantage to the country, to separate the civil and criminal administration of the laws in the functions of the Grand Jury? He was not prepared to submit to the House a measure for taking out of the control of the Grand Jury, more than a certain degree of the powers they exercised in the civil jurisdiction of the country. To do more, would not, he thought, be beneficial; nor did ha believe that it would meet with the concurrence of the Irish Members. He felt that the civil business of the country must suffer from being mixed, as it now was, with the criminal. He should be glad if it were found practicable to introduce any provision by which a more general representation of the various parts of each county could be procured. This was a matter of extreme difficulty, in consequence of the very different circumstances of the counties of Ireland; but he had prepared a clause, making it mandatory upon the High Sheriff to put upon the panel some one juror from each of the Baronies of the County, and afterwards to fill up the remainder at his discretion. He wished thus to secure to each part of a county, an opportunity of stating its case. The next complaint against the present system was, the want of publicity; and he proposed to remedy the evil in a manner which he thought would be satisfactory, by providing at once that every presentment should be separately canvassed in open Court, before it was decided by the Grand Jury. Although it was not his intention to remove from the Grand Jury, the ultimate control over the expenditure of the county, he wished that they should be checked in the exercise of this jurisdiction. The 59th George 3rd was passed with this object, and without stopping to inquire in what degree it had or had not been effectual, he should repeal the provisions of that Statute, and propose to separate the consideration of presentments chargeable upon counties at large from those which related to particular districts. The Grand Jury of the county for this purpose, was to appoint a day on which a Special Sessions should be held of all the Magistrates of the county, without distinction of qualification. This change would approximate the system to that of England—a circumstance at all times desirable, and which he hoped hereafter to see carried to such an extent, that the practice of both England and Ireland would exactly conform. The Magistrates were to meet on the day fixed, and any presentments first authorised by them, should subsequently be submitted to the Grand Jury; but any presentment negatived at this Petty Sessions should not come before the Grand Jury at all. Thus the Grand Jury would have the power of negativing what had been affirmed, but could not affirm what had been negatived. The benefit of this change would of course depend much upon the credit due to the previous Court of Inquiry. And here he was about to suggest one of the most material improvements. One of the best proofs of the growing prosperity of Ireland was, that the farmers of that country were undoubtedly rising in the scale of society; they were obtaining a greater degree of intelligence and influence, and ought to possess a greater check over the public expenditure. He did not think it safe at present to introduce the principle of election: he thought it would lead to corruption, confusion, and irritation in the small circles to which it would necessarily be confined. He was not sure whether he had explained, that besides the Special Session to take into consideration, works chargeable upon the county at large, adjourned Sessions should be held in each barony or half barony, to consider the works, their expense, and expediency, for the particular district. In these Sessions, he would claim the authority and influence of the Irish farmers, and he thought that their local knowledge would peculiarly qualify them to sit as judges upon such subjects. He, therefore, proposed that the Grand Jury should fix upon a certain number of the highest rate payers—that half the names thus chosen should be drawn, and that they should sit with the Magistrates and aid in the preliminary decision. It would be seen that this was a considerable addition of power given to the class of farmers. The evils of irresponsibility in the disbursement of money were so clearly understood, that he need not expatiate upon them, and he proposed that from the Grand Jury the power should be taken away, of fixing who should perform the work on which they had decided. The question having been discussed at the Petty Sessions, and before the Grand Jury, and the nature of the work and the maximum of expenditure having been decided, there the functions of the Grand Jury ought to cease. A day ought then to be fixed, on which tenders should be made for the performance of the under-taking, and in every case, with very few and peculiar exceptions, the person furnishing the lowest tenders, on giving security, should have the contract. He (Mr. Stanley) had taken the liberty of circulating queries in order to ascertain the opinions of different persons well-informed on these and other matters connected with the subject, and a greater diversity of opinion he never recollected; but there was hardly a dissentient voice to the proposition, that the principle of tenders and contracts should be resorted to for public works of this kind. He believed that there was only one more material topic with which it was necessary to trouble the House. He should suggest the appointment in each county of an officer, whose duties would be important and responsible; he must be an engineer, and approved by the Board of Engineers, and his situation would be that of County Surveyor. He would be required to attend Grand Juries and Petty Sessions, to report on the expediency and probable cost of any undertaking; and perhaps no sums ought to be paid without the certificate of this responsible officer that the work had been properly performed. Further, he should be called upon to report to the Grand Jury, not only on contracts fulfilled, but on the progress of the public works in each county. From the appointment of such an officer, he (Mr. Stanley) anticipated the most beneficial results, while he believed, that the advantages would infinitely exceed the amount of his salary. He need not say, that this Surveyor must not be allowed to take any contract, or to have the slightest interest, direct or indirect, in any of the works he is appointed to superintend. Another point was of much importance, and the Committee to which he should submit the measure ought carefully to consider its details; it was, that a provision should be made that in all leases the expense of the County Cess should be thrown, not upon the tenant, but upon the landlord. The tenant ought, in all instances, to have the power of deducting it from the rent; and although landlords might find means to defeat this provision, inasmuch as Parliament could not control contracts of the kind between individuals, yet care ought to be taken that the tenant should be fully aware, at the time he entered into his engagement, of the maximum of burden he was taking upon himself. Inasmuch as the County Cess was fluctuating and uncertain, it ought not to be paid by the tenant, and such protection as legislative enactments could give, ought to be extended to him. It was but fair that the burden should be sustained by the party who was mainly instrumental in fixing the amount. The Baronial Sessions would have the power of deciding regarding gullets and baronial roads, and the contractors for the works ought, in all cases, to be paid in money, and not in goods, their accounts being always open to the inspection of the surveyor. When a part of the work had been satisfactorily performed, a part of the money to be paid for it ought to be advanced by the County Treasurer; and although Treasurers did not come exactly within the scope of the Bill, it was indispensable that the known abuses that prevailed should, as far as possible, be remedied. Therefore it was his wish to introduce a clause, enabling the Session to appoint a Committee instead of a County Treasurer, and to advance sums for work performed from a fund to be placed in the Bank for the purpose. Too large balances had often been left under the control of County Treasurers, and defaulters had been numerous. At the present moment it was their practice to employ the public money in their hands in discounting bills, and in other modes, by which they consulted their private advantage, not unfrequently to the public detriment. Another question was not unworthy the attention of Parliament, although he had not introduced a clause concerning it in the Bill, namely, whether it was not expedient to take the great mail-coach roads of Ireland out of the control of Grand Juries, and to invest the whole in some public board. He only threw this out for consideration, for, as he had stated, he was not prepared with any specific proposition, although some progress had been made toward this end in the Public Works' Bill of the year before last. He had now gone through the whole of the points he proposed to submit to the Committee. The alteration of the present system might not, perhaps, go so far as some hon. Gentlemen might desire; but he assured those who were anxious to go further, that his object had been to ascertain and reach that point on which the opinions of most men in Ireland coincided. He wished to introduce such amendments as were practicable, as well as desirable; and no man would deny, that what he had suggested would amount to great and substantial improvements. Perhaps the greatest gain of all would be in the complete publicity given to the proceedings of Grand Juries. If the House should think that what he had offered amounted to valuable and serviceable amendments of the present system, he should move for leave to bring in a Bill, and, in the proper stage, refer the whole subject to a Select Committee, in which he invited discussion, and should be prepared to meet every suggestion, and, as far as possible, reply to every objection. He should be extremely happy to obtain the concurrence and sanction of all whose local knowledge gave them the means of judging upon this important subject. He moved for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the Laws relating to Grand Juries in Ireland.

Mr. O'Connell

wished to make only a few brief observations; and first he would remark, that in his opinion the right hon. Gentleman had understated the evils of the present system. It possessed all the deleterious ingredients that could belong to it, and encouraged jobbing by rendering it safe. It ought not to be forgotten, also, that it operated exclusively upon the occupiers of the soil, and was now admitted on all hands to be a cruel practical grievance. Some estates had been purchased, and many freed from encumbrances, merely by the owners sitting upon Grand Juries; and it at last became a point of honour not to vote against any gentleman's presentment. The main point on which he (Mr. O'Connell) differed from the right hon. Gentleman, was on the non-separation of the criminal and civil jurisdiction of Grand Juries. He saw no reason why the criminal jurisdiction of Grand Juries should continue at all; it appeared to him nothing but an absurdity, for a prima facie case ought to be made out before the offender was sent to prison. He should be glad, therefore, to see a Bill brought in entirely to abolish that branch of the duties of Grand Juries. As to the civil jurisdiction, the object of the right hon. Gentleman was to obtain a representation on a Grand Jury of each part of a county; and it was certainly true that the principle of a Grand Jury should be a principle of representation. The Grand Jury possessed the power of taxation, and they exercised it to the extent of one million out of sixteen millions, which was the whole rental of Ireland. He (Mr. O'Connell) contended, therefore, that every rate-payer ought to have a voice in the election of the Grand Jurors; for the Sheriff was irresponsible, and had no interest in making a good selection. Two persons in every barony ought to be elected by the rate-payers to sit upon the Grand Jury of the county; and the right hon. Gentleman never would give satisfaction, until he introduced the principle of actual and virtual representation. He (Mr. O'Connell) protested against the universal admission of Magistrates to sit at Special Sessions, and objected to the qualification of only 300l. a year. Some of the details in the plan of the right hon. Gentleman he highly approved, but others he thought impracticable. It was idle to suppose, that he would gain anything by publicity, if, after providing for the open discussion of a question, he allowed the Grand Jury to retire, and in secret to decide. This was blowing hot and cold, and destroying the very principle professed to be established. These were matters that could be discussed in the Committee, as well as the futile attempt (for such he must with all respect call it) to throw upon landlords the payment of the County Cess. At best it could only be prospective, if it did any good; but he feared it would do much harm, by inducing the landlords of Ireland not to grant leases. He gave the right hon. Gentleman credit for many improvements of the Grand Jury Laws, and for the tone and temper in which he had brought them forward. Though differing from the right hon. Gentleman on some points, he still thought any attempt to improve the state of the Grand Jury Laws in Ireland deserved the favourable consideration of the House.

Mr. Lefroy

said, he rose to add his meed to the approbation bestowed by the hon. and learned Member on the tone and temper displayed by the right hon. Gentleman, the Secretary for Ireland, in introducing the present measure. He could not, however, avoid expressing his regret that the hon. and learned Gentleman, the member for Dublin, should have permitted himself to cast such unmerited imputations upon the Grand Jurors and High Sheriffs in Ireland; but he (Mr. Lefroy) could not suffer that respectable class of persons to He under the imputations thus cast upon them, without assuring the House that they were undeserved. The hon. and learned Gentleman stated, that Grand Jurors in Ireland had made fortunes by jobbing: a general charge of that nature was easily made; but it did appear to him that it would be more becoming, if the hon. and learned Member, in place of casting a general imputation upon an honourable and highly respectable class of persons, had instanced a particular case and thereby given an opportunity to the House of judging upon what foundation he rested his charge. He had had the honour of holding his Majesty's commission on circuit for a space of eight or nine years, and having, consequently, had great experience of the manner in which Grand Jurors discharged their duty, he had no hesitation in stating, that he never saw anything in their conduct that could warrant the hon. and learned Gentleman in preferring the charge against them which he had made. He agreed with the right hon. Secretary, that Grand Jurors had not time for the discharge of the duties imposed upon them, but he denied that the decisions to which, they came were influenced by partiality. Formerly, perhaps, such abuses might have existed; but, of late years, he emphatically denied that such imputations were warranted. With respect to the manner in which the High Sheriffs summoned the Grand Jurors, it was the invariable habit for the Sheriffs to summon gentlemen of the greatest wealth and respectability in the county. A certain number of these gentlemen were in each Grand Jury, but as new inhabitants came into the county, or as property fluctuated, new men were added to the panel. He would, therefore, assert, that never was a more groundless charge preferred against any body of men than that made by the hon. and learned Gentleman, the member for Dublin, against the High Sheriffs of Ireland. With respect to the proposal made by the hon. and learned Gentleman of doing away with the interference of Grand Jurors in criminal cases, he (Mr. Lefroy) trusted that so mischievous a novelty would not be listened to in that House. He was astonished to find the hon. and learned Gentleman, who talked so much of liberty, an advocate for doing away in criminal cases with so valuable a protection to the subject as rendering it imperative upon a prosecutor to make out a prima facie case before a person could be put on his trial. He (Mr. Lefroy) rejoiced to find that the right hon. Secretary for Ireland had not been led away by the fanciful speculations in which the hon. and learned member for Dublin had indulged, or disposed to introduce novelties at variance with our law, as well as at variance with common sense. Another novelty, which the hon. and learned Gentleman appeared anxious to have introduced, was with respect to presentments. If the plan proposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman were adopted, the discussion upon each presentment would equal an association debate, and would occupy so much time that the business of the assizes could not be proceeded with. With respect to one of the clauses proposed by the right hon. the Secretary for Ireland, namely, of giving a right to farmers to vote, he would beg leave to suggest that, when coupled with other provisions of the Bill, vesting such a power in the farmers would be extremely objectionable. If nothing could be presented by the Grand Jury but what had previously passed at special sessions, and the farmers, who would always constitute a majority at the sessions, were to have votes there, it would, in effect, place the power of taxation in the hands of the farmers. He thought it would be, also, well worthy of consideration to inquire, whether it would be wise to confine to the special sessions the exclusive right of originating presentments. As, however, the right hon. Gentleman had intimated his intention of sending the Bill before a Select Committee, that provision, as well as others which he (Mr. Lefroy) considered open to objection, could be fully discussed. With respect to that portion of the plan which proposed transferring the payment of the cess from the tenants to the landlords, he saw great difficulty in carrying it into execution. He did not know how existing leases were to be dealt with. If a difference were to be made between the holders of present and future leases, dissatisfaction would be sure to arise, for one portion of the tenantry would be placed on a different footing from the other. It would be difficult so to legislate, as to future leases, as to prevent the provisions of the Act being evaded, as had been done in respect to tithes. If baronial presentments were left m the hands of the farmers, he thought it an additional reason why that portion of the measure should be subject to revision. It must, he thought, be admitted, that unless the House could legislate effectually, it would be better to have the law as it stood, and not force persons to deal in a particular way on a particular subject. The consequence of the proposed measure would be, that it would be evaded by the griping landlord, while the fair and conscientious landlord would alone suffer under the hardship of the enactment. The hon. and learned Member concluded by stating, that the right hon. Secretary was entitled to the thanks of the Irish Members generally, for the fairness of his proposal.

Colonel Conolly

said, he felt most happy in joining his meed of praise to that already bestowed upon the right hon. Secretary, and to which he (Colonel Conolly) thought him so justly entitled. The right hon. Gentleman had not only bestowed great labour upon the measure, but had, with great consideration, consulted men of all parties where practical knowledge enabled them to enlighten his mind upon a subject of such vast importance. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would pardon him for the few observations he was about to make; but he (Colonel Conolly) must be permitted to deny the truth of the general imputation cast upon the conduct of the Grand Jurors of Ireland. The House, probably, was not aware that a great portion of the charges levied by Grand Juries in Ireland were of a compulsory nature, and that they were obliged to make presentments, without having a right of scrutiny; and yet the Grand Jurors were obliged to bear all the odium of the burthens laid upon the county, as if it were optional with them whether or no they should be imposed. As an old Grand Juror himself, be thought it incumbent upon him to vindicate himself, as well as those with whom he had had the happiness to act, from the imputation which had that night been cast upon the Grand Jurors of Ireland generally. It had been his fate, upon one occasion, to free the county which he had the honour of representing from an overcharge of 1,600l.; and he had invariably raised his voice against making a presentment for monies, without a scrutiny into the manner in which those monies were disbursed. The police establishment entailed a very heavy expense upon the counties. He did not, however, object to that expense. He thought the police a most admirable and efficient force, which mainly contributed to the preservation of life and property in Ireland. He regretted that a superannuated fund was not established for the purpose of rewarding those meritorious men. The system had been adopted in public offices, and might, he thought, be extended to the police with considerable advantage. With respect to the Lunatic Asylums, they also entailed a very heavy expense upon the county. He thought a very expensive system had been adopted with regard to them—more so, indeed, than the exigencies of the case demanded. The quantity of relief afforded was not proportioned to the charge with which the county was burthened. The right hon. Secretary, in the course of his speech, had not alluded in any way to the expenses entailed on the several counties by the payment of the salaries of public officers. He was ready to pay all public officers liberally, but he thought the stipends allowed to the treasurers and clerks of the Crown and Peace, in some counties, too large; and, except in the county of Cork, he could see no reason why the salary should be doubled. He thought the present salaries were more than equivalent to the duties performed—they were, in fact, increased one-half by a recent Act of Parliament. He concurred in the view taken by his hon. and learned friend, the member for the University of Dublin (Mr. Lefroy), in deprecating that part of the measure which gave the farmers concurrent power with the Magistrates. He had great respect for the farmers; but he thought it not advisable to place them on the same bench, and give them the same jurisdiction enjoyed by the Magistrates. He would give the farmers an opportunity of expressing their opinions with regard to the necessity of the works to be undertaken, but he would not render their decisions conclusive. If the farmers were to be the cess-payers, the thing might be otherwise, but he could not see the security or advantage to be derived by making it compulsory upon the landlords to pay, and leaving the tenants the power of imposing the tax. If the person imposing the tax were to pay it—if the occupier of the land were the person to pay the cess, then he (Colonel Conolly) would give him extensive powers in imposing it. But as the matter stood, he was confident the right hon. Secretary would see the necessity of altering his plan. Both branches of his proposition, he thought, could not, in justice, be suffered to exist—let it be either one way or the other, and he (Colonel Conolly) thought the measure would prove most salutary. There was another point connected with the criminal jurisdiction of Grand Juries to which he begged leave to refer. He thought much good would be effected, if the period for holding the assizes were more equally divided. He knew of an instance in one of the counties with which he was connected (Kildare), in which a man had been committed to prison shortly after the termination of one assize, and was kept in jail for nine months until the Judges again went circuit, when he was found to be innocent of the crime with which he was charged. If the Judges would go circuit towards the end of the long vacation, in place of at the commencement of it, the assizes would then be held regularly every six months—the convenience of the public would be consulted, and, as in the instance to which he had alluded, persons charged with crime would have an earlier opportunity of proving their innocence than they were afforded under the present system. There were various other points in the measure to which he wished to advert; but, as other opportunities would occur for his doing so, he should not trespass further upon the attention of the House at present. He could not, however, resume his seat without again expressing his general approbation of the measure, and of offering his personal thanks to the right hon. Secretary for introducing it.

Mr. Fergus O'Connor

wished also to add his approbation to the praise already offered to the right hon. Gentleman opposite for the great improvements which he intended to introduce, but he could not help feeling some regret, that the right hon. Gentleman had not confined himself to remedial measures. The hon. and learned Gentleman, the member for the University of Dublin, had objected to the measure as one of novelty; he confessed that, for his part, he could not regard the character of novelty which it bore as detracting in the slightest degree from its merits. There did not, and there could not, exist any sound reason why we should not improve the state of our law, even at the expense of introducing some novelty. He was sure there was little to complain of on the score of novelty in that Bill, when they had before them such a striking novelty as the presence of the hon. and learned Gentleman himself in a Reformed Parliament. As to the proposition itself of the right hon. Gentleman, it had for the most part his approbation.

Colonel Torrens

merely rose to offer the tribute of his humble approbation to the measure proposed by the right hon. Se- cretary for Ireland. While he gave that approbation, he begged leave to say, that he did not entirely concur in all the details, and would, at another time, state the parts to which he objected. The ancient Grand Jury system was vicious, and should be founded upon one of Representation. Persons who held official authority in their several districts should be elected by those who had a voice in the Legislature. The gallant Colonel, after remarking that the converting of small farms in Ireland into large ones would tend to depopulate that country, was proceeding to propound his principles of political economy, when

Lord Althorp

rose to order, and said, that as the hon. and gallant Member seemed to be travelling a little out of his way, he would find, perhaps, a more propitious time to make his objections to the parts of the measure that did not meet with his approbation.

Mr. Finn

meant to be extremely brief, and wondered that there could be any Gentlemen who were of opinion that Grand Juries were immaculate. He had heard some hon. Members say so that evening, and it was the first time he heard such an opinion given in any company. He gave the right hon. Secretary for Ireland great credit for his proposed measure, and he trusted that it would be gratefully received by all classes in Ireland.

Mr. John Browne

also thought, that the measure was one fraught with great benefit, and he begged to return his thanks to the right hon. Gentleman for proposing it.

Lord Clements

said, that though he had to return thanks for the measure proposed, he could not refrain from denouning the Grand Jury system as it had hitherto existed. He represented one of the smallest counties in Ireland (Leitrim), and he could say, that the roads of it were impassable, except in those parts of it where the Grand Jurors resided. There they were kept in such a high state of repair, that the county was not able to pay the expenses of them. He was aware that the right hon. Secretary might have proposed a more effective measure, but as the Bill would be a decided improvement, he would give it his support.

An Hon. Member

, whilst he admitted the necessity of improvement in the Grand Jury laws, could not go to the full extent with those who absolutely condemned the principle of Grand Jury assessments. He thought it would be a beneficial improvement if the Sheriff was bound to select persons from different baronies to serve on the Grand Juries, so that whenever a local improvement was proposed, it might be discussed, and either adopted or rejected by those personally acquainted with its utility.

Mr. Pryme

admitted that the proposed Bill would be an improvement upon a bad system; but, discussing a question of that kind, might they not consider whether the institution of Grand Juries—in relation to their criminal jurisdiction—were beneficial? In his opinion, their assistance was perfectly unnecessary in the administration of criminal justice; and it was with some satisfaction that he heard the hon. and learned member for the city of Dublin throw out the idea; which was immediately and earnestly opposed by the hon. member for the University of Dublin, simply upon the grounds of its being a "novelty;" as if every change was not, at first, of necessity a novelty. It was said that Grand Juries were a protection to the innocent, but there was another object to be obtained by the administration of criminal justice—the bringing the guilty to justice. He appealed to every one who knew anything of the operation of Grand Juries, whether bills of indictment, containing very strong proofs against the parties accused, had not been thrown out by these Juries? Their inquiries were conducted in private, by men who were not lawyers: the case was seldom, if ever, fully brought before them; witnesses were often unwilling to attend, and the Grand Jury had no power to compel them; and even if they did attend, they were not pressed to tell the truth, as they were before a Magistrate; and the consequence was, that in many instances, offenders who ought to be brought to trial were allowed to escape. He could mention instances within his own knowledge in which crimes had escaped punishment merely from the circumstance of the Grand Jury being unacquainted with the law. A recent instance of this kind was fresh in his memory. A bill was presented against a person for arson. It was proved that he was not actually present at the fire but that he was near enough to watch it. That, by law, was sufficient to render him, constructively, guilty of the crime. The Grand Jury, however, because he was ten yards off, and did not actually set fire to the stacks—ignored the bill. He was then admitted King's evidence; and a second bill was presented against his companions as accessaries, but when called upon, he refused to say anything, and all the parties were acquitted. This was not a singular instance. The Grand Jury, perhaps, might have been valuable in early times when little communication existed between the different portions of a county, and when the Magistrates performed very different functions from those which now devolved upon them—in those times Grand Juries might have been necessary; but, in the present day, they were wholly unnecessary; they were an encumbrance—an impediment in the way of justice. All the protection which Grand Juries afford to the innocent—all the advantage derived from a man's not being placed upon trial without sufficient ground—would be obtained by uniting two or three Magistrates together, and compelling them to make a preliminary inquiry. By such an arrangement the advantage of responsibility would be obtained. There was no process by which Grand Juries could compel the attendance of witnesses. The consequence was, that if any prejudice existed in any county, with respect to a particular transaction, persons would not come forward to give testimony, and a denial of justice was the result. For example, the outrage of 1819, commonly known by the name of the Manchester massacre was a state in point. The feelings of the Grand Jurors, to whom the indictments were preferred, were so hostile to those persons on whom these outrages had been committed, that every bill that was preferred against the yeomanry was ignored by them, and consequently the merits of that affair were never fairly brought before a Court of Justice. He hoped that the present Bill would prove beneficial to Ireland, although he could not help entertaining very considerable doubts on that head.

Mr. Maurice O'Connell

expressed the satisfaction he felt at the explanation given by the right hon. Secretary for Ireland with respect to this Bill, which met with his cordial approbation.

Mr. Fitzgerald

thought, that the measure of the right hon. Secretary for Ireland would give great satisfaction in that country, and that all the persons whose interests were likely to be affected by the Grand-Jury system would be more particularly pleased with it He had had many opportunities of acting on Grand Juries in Ireland for years. He was, therefore, well qualified to give an opinion relative to the present measure, which he thought would relieve persons who were in the situation of Grand Jurors there from a weight of responsibility which it was impossible for them to exercise with satisfaction to themselves or their countrymen. He admitted that there did exist some abuses in the present system of Grand Jurors, but he must claim for that particular body with which he was connected the merit of partaking in as small a degree as any other similar body in Ireland of the evils complained of. He admitted also that there was a necessity for applying some remedy to those abuses, and the present Bill, in his opinion, was calculated to do so, if as he felt confident it would be, it was fairly and properly treated in the Committee; at the same time he would beg to suggest that the qualification for the Magistracy ought to continue as it now was fixed at the Petty Sessions, and that the same qualification ought to be extended to Grand Jurors. He had ever entertained an opinion, that the cess-payer ought to have a voice in the election of those persons by whom the cess was levied, and this necessity had been partly met already by giving the landholders a voice in passing every presentment in the manner suggested by the right hon. Secretary for Ireland. He would not detain the House any further, but should reserve any future observations on this Bill for the period when it should be in Committee.

Leave given to bring in the Bill.