HC Deb 04 March 1834 vol 21 cc1054-7
Mr. O'Connell

had obtained leave more than twelve months ago to bring in a Bill to amend the law of Juries in Ireland. That measure had two objects—one related to the original jury panel or grand panel, an institution which he proposed to have changed into a jury-book. This proposition included Special Juries, and all cases of disputed property between man and man, and of material injuries to the person. The practice in Ireland was for the Sheriff to return the grand panel, which was supposed to contain the names of all the freeholders of the county, and from this panel the officer of the court struck the Jury at his discretion. Such was the state of the law in England previous to the 6th of George 4th, and in Ireland until last year. As he bad before stated, his object was to change the grand panel into a jury-book, and to introduce the principle of the ballot in the selection of the Jury, as established by the 6th of George 4th in England. That object was attempted to be accomplished or superseded by the bill brought into the House of Lords by the Lord Chancellor for Ireland last year. The noble Lord brought in a bill to convert the grand panel into a jury-book, and to regulate the selection of Special Juries, which were no longer to be struck by the officer, but to be chosen by ballot. The bill went no further; but he did not mean to cavil at it, especially as it had not yet received a fair trial. His present measure was quite distinct from the noble Lord's bill, and included the second object of his former proposition. It related to all criminal cases above misdemeanors, to felonies of every description; and it included all cases which were tried by common, as distinguished from Special Juries. He wished to amend that part of the law which had been left untouched by the noble Lord. All he desired was, to introduce, in the selection of common Juries, the principle of ballot, as established by the 6th of George 4th. According to the law at present, the Sheriff returned sixty persons, from whom the twelve to try were to be balloted for. The principle of ballot was partially established; he wanted to extend it to common Juries, and to criminal as well as civil cases. He wished to have the sixty persons on the common jury-list selected by ballot, in the same manner as the forty-eight Special Jurors were at present. In the selection of the sixty, the grossest partiality frequently occurred in Ireland, as an instance of which he might state that within the last three days, he had received a letter from a young gentleman, a member of the Munster bar, who informed him that in the county of Cork, of the sixty record jurors (he believed there were two or three relays of them) only three were Roman Catholics. Let the House remember that the Juries so named had to try all cases of crime and of property in which Special Juries were not resorted to; and, therefore, the most strict impartiality was necessary for the peace and satisfaction of the country. What he asked for was leave to lay his plan for the Amendment of the present bad system before the House and the country. Let it not be said, that the application of the ballot to the choice of Special Jurymen was not an argument for its application to the choice of common Juries. Special Juries were composed of men of superior intelligence, and they were originally called Grand Juries; and if it was held desirable with respect to them, in order to secure impartiality, to have recourse to the ballot, how much more desirable must it be in the case of common Juries, in which the Jurors were supposed to be less informed and more liable to prejudice? With respect to the mode of naming Criminal Juries, now pursued in Ireland, no one who had not practised in the Irish Criminal Courts could conceive the agony a Counsel even of the slightest feeling suffered in preparing a defence. The Sheriff returned any number of names he pleased, and the Crown set aside as many as it pleased, so that the Crown had in fact the power of naming the Jury. Since Edward 1st, the Crown had not the right of challenge, but the Judges had in effect repealed that law, as they had done many others. The Judges did not allow to the Crown the right of challenge; but they persuaded the Crown to set aside as many names as it pleased, and the panel could never become exhausted as long as there was a freeholder in the county, because the Sheriff had the power of still supplying. He proposed to substitute this plan:—The Judge of the Assize to name, in an order to the Sheriff, the number of the panel—at present the order was given, but no number named, so that the Sheriff returned as many as he pleased—and the panel so made, the ballot to be employed in striking the Jury. That done, he would give to the Crown the same right of peremptory challenge (twenty) as the accused at present had. He would allow, however, of no setting aside, nor one advantage to one party that was not possessed by the other. The hon. Member concluded by moving for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the laws in Ireland relating to Juries.

Mr. Littleton

felt it his duty to oppose the Motion of the hon. and learned Gentleman, whose wish was to introduce into Ireland a practice which was not at present legal. At least, if such were the law, he was convinced it was not the custom. The hon. Gentleman wished to introduce into Ireland a practice totally different from what existed in England, and one which he thought would be extremely objectionable. There was not a topic of the learned Member's speech which he had not introduced in his discussion upon the Jury Bill in the last Session. Only six months had elapsed since that Bill had been passed, and before the experience of one Circuit had been obtained, the hon. and learned Member proposed to introduce a new system. He agreed with the hon. and learned Gentleman as to the benefits of a snore equal introduction of Roman Catholics upon Juries; and that principle had been fully recognized by the House, and no person could be more enamoured of it than he was. He could not say, that there was that impartiality in the selection of Juries in Ireland which he could wish to prevail; but he thought it unadviseable to alter the law, which had been passed by that House only six months ago, alter the fullest deliberation.

Mr. O'Connell

would not press his Motion to a division, if the right hon. Gentleman were opposed to it. He had the misfortune, however, to be totally misunderstood, for his present Motion had no connexion whatever with the Bill of last Session, which had related only to Special Jury cases, whereas his proposition was confined solely to those cases that could not be tried by Special Juries. He would withdraw his Motion.

Lord Althorp

said, that his right hon. friend, the Secretary for Ireland, had not had time given him to consider the proposition of the hon. and learned Member. His right hon. friend now understood that the proposition was to make the Jury Law of Ireland like that of England; but he thought it at least desirable to wait until it was seen how the last Act had operated. He believed, that the principle of the English Jury Law applied to Ireland as far as it was at present possible to apply it. When a fair trial had been given to the Bill of last Session, he was not prepared to say, that much of what had fallen from the hon. and learned Member might not have his approbation. From want of technical knowledge as a lawyer he was not able to give a decided opinion; but he was inclined to think, from what had fallen from his right hon. friend, that, under the present circumstances, it was not desirable to concur in the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.