HC Deb 21 August 1835 vol 30 cc808-22
Mr. Hume

presented a Petition from bankers, merchants, and citizens of Dublin, signed by twenty thousand names, principally directed against the right hon. Recorder of Dublin, whom he saw in his place. The immediate occasion of the petition was an alleged speech by the Recorder, but that was only a minor topic of the petition. He considered it important because it was intimately connected with the administration of justice, which ought to be free from all party feeling, and he could not discharge his duty by the petitioners without bringing the principal parts of their complaint before the House. The petition was agreed to at a numerous and respectable meeting of the inhabitants of Dublin; he would not advert to the interruption which took place, but would leave that to others if they thought proper to notice it, but he hoped that the petition, and the charges it contained, which the petitioners were ready, if permitted, to prove at the Bar, would receive all the attention which its magnitude deserved. The petitioners first stated themselves to be anxious friends of every constitutional Reform in Church and State, and added an expression of their regret that others thought the institutions of the country sufficiently pure. They went on to assert, that the Recorder of Dublin in a late speech, recorded in all the newspapers of the day, used certain expressions of which no contradiction had been given until the subject was noticed in Parliament. He cared little what was said by individuals at meetings, and did not in general think such speeches fit subjects of observation in the House of Commons; but in this instance they were the words of a judge, and indicated a disposition to deprive men of that equal justice to which they were entitled. The right hon. Gentleman stated, that "the question of the Irish Church was one of life and death, and that the supporters of the ministers in their attacks on that church, were men restless in conduct, revolutionary in politics, and infidels in religion." He was instructed by the petitioners to say, that if the House complied with the prayer of the petition, and instituted an inquiry into the manner in which the right hon. Recorder had discharged his judicial functions, they could prove all that they advanced against him; and, among other things, that he had used the words attributed to him in the Report. On a former day the right hon. Member had designated his hon. Friend, the Member for Bridport (Mr. Warburton) and himself (Mr. Hume) as well-known infidels; but he had thought it beneath him to take notice of it. The petitioners, however adverted to it, because they felt, that if such opinions were entertained and acted upon by a judge, the consequences might be most disastrous. The petitioners maintained that the first duty of a judge was to be impartial—that he ought to belong to no political party—that it was repugnant to the due execution of his high functions, and that a political judge was an evil, whether an Orangeman or a Radical. He entirely concurred with the petitioners that such language as the Recorder had used showed a strong bias on his mind, which could not fail to influence his decisions, and therefore must excite distrust and alarm in all who were brought before him. The petitioners were house- holders and others who might be called upon to serve upon juries, and felt themselves especially aggrieved by the expressions of the Recorder, which had a tendency to impeach their fitness: if they were designated by the judge as infidels, and deserved the designation, of course they were disqualified for the duty the law imposed upon them. He appealed to the right hon. Gentleman himself—if he could for a moment suppose himself not a judge but a juror—what he would think and say of a judge who spoke of him as an infidel? As such conduct was wholly incompatible with the well-being of the community, the petitioners, anxious for the fair and pure administration of justice, prayed the House to institute an inquiry, and to place them in a situation where they, who were ready to devote their lives to the service of the State, might obtain equal justice. It would be for the Government to say, whether such a judge should longer continue to preside in any court. It was not his fault that the right hon. Gentleman was a Member of this House, for, wiihout meaning anything personal, he had endeavoured to introduce an Act to prevent all judges from sitting in Parliament. The House did not entertain the same opinion as himself, and he had yielded to the majority. He was right, and the majority was wrong, as had been the case upon other occasions. The learned Sergeant (Mr. Sergeant Jackson) smiled. The hon. and learned Gentleman was but a young Member; but, if he examined the proceedings of the House for the last two or three years, the hon. Member would find that there was much truth in what he had accidentally mentioned. The next point in the petition required serious attention, and he hoped that the noble Secretary for Ireland would attend to it. The petitioners were deeply aggrieved by the irregular and unsatisfactory manner in which the Recorder of Dublin performed his duties of judge, owing principally to his attendance in Parliament, where he acted as a poitical partizan. As long as the Recorder was allowed to sit in the House, the course of justice would be impeded in Ireland, and his Majesty's subjects would be deprived of that to which they were entiiled, namely, a speedy administration of justice. He contended that his Majesty's Ministers were to blame for allowing such a state of things to continue. The petition might fairly be considered as against them, for suffering the system to remain unaltered, although it nominally complained of the conduct of the right hon. and learned Recorder. The petition stated, that the predecessor of the right hon. Gentleman sat every week; but since he had become Recorder the system had been completely altered. Whether this was so or not, was comparatively unimportant; the question was, whether a gentleman acting as a judge, should be at liberty to absent himself from his judicial business for such long periods of time as the learned Recorder was known to do, for the purpose of attending in Parliament? This occasioned delays in the administration of justice, which were most unjustly and cruelly oppressive on innocent persons, while poor persons, who were not guilty, might be committed for trial, and have their morals vitiated by the contaminating associations to be met with in a gaol. If the right hon. Gentleman could divest himself of the feelings which must be engendered by the situation in which he was placed, and if he would consider the subject dispassionately, he (Mr. Hume) was satisfied, that the learned Recorder would entertain the same opinion as himself. The petition stated, that prisoners were remanded, unheard, from month to month, and civil business was constantly being postponed, in order that the Recorder might attend to his Parliamentary duties. It was the duty of the Government to see that no inconvenience arose from a judicial functionary having a seat in Parliament; and if any did occur, it was their bounden duty to apply a remedy. The petitioners also stated, that the learned Recorder was regarded as a political partisan, and that in consequence of this all confidence of the people in thy administration of justice was lost. They proceeded to observe, that all the Judges in Ireland, the Masters in Chancery, as well as other persons engaged in the administration of justice, including the Recorders of most of the corporate towns in Ireland, were excluded from Parliament. He would therefore ask the noble Lord, the Secretary for Ireland, whether a strong case had been made out to justify the exception of the Recorder of Dublin from the general rule? If the appointment of this officer rested with his Majesty's Ministers, he should say, that there was no excuse for their conduct; but it rested with the Corporation of Dublin—and such a Corporation! He recollected the character given of that Corporation by his hon. Friend, the Member for Dublin, as well as the description of it contained in the Report of the Municipal Commissioners, and he could not help feeling, that the members of such a body were most improper persons to have the selection of a Judge. The petitioners went on to say, that such a mode of election as existed with regard to this office, held out a strong temptation to men of reckless ambition to pander to party, and to promote the objects of their own personal aggrandizement. He did not mean to say, that that was the case with the Recorder. The right hon. Gentleman was a religious man, and he could not help reminding him of a passage in the Lord's Prayer, which the learned Recorder should bear in mind. It was, "Lead me not into temptation." ["Oh, oh!"] Did the learned Doctor deny the propriety of it? [Dr. Nicholl:—"Yes."] Persons had different tastes and were ready to make ample allowance for themselves, which they denied to others. It was the duty of his Majesty's Ministers to listen to the prayer of the petition, and to take some steps to remedy the evils complained of. The petition concluded with praying, that an Act might be passed to prevent any Recorder or other Judge from sitting in any future Parliament, and they suggested, that a Clause might be introduced into the Irish Municipal Corporations' Bill to this effect. He considered it to be his duty to present this petition, and he did so with great pleasure, as he fully concurred in the prayer of it. He agreed with the petitioners, that a Judge should not be placed in such a situation, that he must almost necessarily, have some political bias, and where such inducements existed as might almost unconsciously lead him away from the proper discharge of his duty. He was surprised how any Judge could take the oath which he had to take on his appointment, and afterwards follow a course of conduct which led him to the commission of acts which gave him no right to claim either the attention or respect of those to whom he had to administer justice. He trusted that the House would agree in the prayer of the petition, and allow the petitioners the opportunity of proving all the allegations contained in it.

Mr. Shaw

said, that considering his name had been used as a mere pretext for a political movement in Dublin, out of which the present petition had arisen, and making due allowance for the party motives which had actuated it, he had not much to complain of in the petition itself, but he did feel, and he thought the House would consider, that he had reason to complain of the manner in which the hon. Member had brought it forward. He had never been afforded the opportunity of even reading the petition. The hon. Member had withheld from him the usual courtesy of a private communication that he had received it, with an offer that he might see it, a courtesy which he had never known omitted between Members of that House under similar circumstances. He (Mr. Shaw) had not even heard the name of one of the petitioners who had signed it. No doubt the hon. Member had with great pomp and parade made a public announcement in that House of his intention to present a petition making charges against the Recorder of Dublin for certain acts of his, and that of course had taken its round of all the public papers. The same announcement was repeated last night, and the petition ostentatiously postponed, and he supposed that the admirers of the hon. Gentleman, who had been reading every morning for the last fortnight of the hon. Member's achievements in sending persons to Newgate, were fully anticipating as the news of to-morrow morning's breakfast table, that the hon. Member was to try his hand on him that night, particularly as he was guilty of the high crime and misdemeanor of belonging to that minority which differed in opinion with the mild, the merciful, and exceeding just majority which, for the last few weeks, had been administering the judicial functions of that House. The petition was described as that of "the bankers, merchants, and 20,000 citizens of Dublin." As he had already said, he had neither seen the petition nor the signatures, but he was informed, that it was signed by no banker, by few persons deserving the name of merchants, and that the numbers were made up in the following manner:—Copies of the petition were sent round for the last few Saturday nights to the pay-tables of the workmen and mechanics in most of the public-houses in Dublin, where those poor people were required to sign them, and that on the following Sunday they were placed on tables at all the chapel doors, where those same persons attended, and no person was allowed to enter who did not either sign or allow somebody else for him to sign the petition. This reminded him of a case he had mentioned to the House not long since, in which a petition had been presented from pretty nearly the same parties in Dublin by the noble Lord opposite (Lord John Russell), in reference to the Dublin Commission, and where it appeared by an affidavit sent him on the subject, that the mode of signing the petition, which had been displayed at some of the chapel-doors, was, that ten or twelve boys, varying from thirteen to sixteen years of age, signed with the same pen, commencing with the first and going down to the last, and then beginning with the first again—what boys at school called "one down and the other come on," as fast as they could, for about an hour's time—an easy means certainly, of multiplying signatures. But, after all, what was the mighty charge—the sum and substance of this long-promised petition? Why, that he had made a speech, all that was objectionable in which he had already denied—and that he was both Recorder of Dublin and a Member of that House. It amounted to little more; but even to some minor points of the petition he would presently advert; first, with respect to his speech, he thought it not very courteous in the hon. Member to have read again, as having been spoken by him, words which he had before declared in that House, he had never used. All rules of evidence had recently been discarded by the House, but the only species of proof they refused to receive was that which he believed had never been questioned when the House was differently constituted—he meant the word of a Gentleman. He had, immediately after the speech was questioned, referred to several Gentlemen who had been present, and they all concurred in his recollection of it; indeed, it was possible, it was absurd, to suppose that he could have said, "that all who differed from him were Infidels in religion and Revolutionists in politics;" what he did say was, "that those, who as a party were opposed to settled Government, and the existing institutions of the country, would at all times be joined by whatever was Infidel in religion and Revolutionary in politics." [Mr. Hume: "It is just the same thing."] Just the same thing said the hon. Member? Now, really he could not help the hon. Gentleman's obtuseness, if he thought so. It was strange logic, that it was the same thing to say, that all that party who were opposed to you in politics were Infidels in religion, and that all who were Infidels in religion would join that party; but to help the hon. Gentleman's reasoning faculties, he would put an example: the hon. Gentleman, perhaps, thought there was no such thing as an Infidel in religion; well, he would not say there was; but he would say, that if such a thing did exist in this country as an Infidel in religion, that person, he had no doubt, would be found on the same side in politics with the hon. Member for Middlesex. In the sentiment in question, that all that were desperate in fortune and character—Infidel in their religion, and Revolutionists in their politics—would naturally throw themselves into the scale of the Movement party; he did not claim the merit of originality; it was spoken and written a thousand times before he was born, he had often uttered it before, he entertained it still, and, with all due deference to the hon. Member for Middlesex, he begged to assure the hon. Member, that notwithstanding he had the fear of the hon. Member and his majority before his eyes, he would, whenever the occasion suggested it as proper, express the same sentiment again. He (Mr. Shaw) would not enter upon or argue the abstract principle of whether judicial and political functions should be united, he would content himself on that point by stating, that if the principle was once decided generally against such union in any case, whether the judicial officers were subordinate or superior, and was applied retrospectively as well as prospectively, he could claim no peculiar exemption from its operation. On the other hand, he did not deny that his constituents might have just cause to complain of his frequent necessary absence from that House. He had, however, given them full notice, that he should at all times consider his judicial duties paramount to all others; that they should never be made in the slightest degree subservient to Parliamentary convenience, or influenced by any other consideration, than how they could be performed most to the public advantage; and he defied any human being to bring the colour of a proof, that he had not faithfully and strictly redeemed that pledge. Indeed, he did not collect that the petitioners even charged him with the slightest corruption, partiality, or political leaning, in the discharge of his judicial functions, and there were not twelve of his fellow-citizens of Dublin—even including the petitioners, if they were but one week separated from agitators and trades' unions—to whom he would not willingly submit that question, and abide by their decision. The petitioners, however showed their great ignorance of the business of his court when they accused him of irregularity, for he must say, that while he deserved no credit for being regular, of all other charges he was the least liable to that of irregularity; as by reference to the almanack it would be found that twelve of his sittings were there appointed at fixed periods. Any one acquainted with the practice of his Court could, by reference to them, know when the moveable ones occurred, and all he could say was, that from the moment he was in Parliament to the present, he had never varied one of those sittings for a day or an hour, and not in one single instance had he acted by deputy. It was then complained that there was a delay of justice by the sittings not being more frequent. He was sorry to detain the House by a detail of matters as to his own Court, and personal to himself, but he trusted they would allow for the jealousy which he felt of the slightest imputation on that head—and he would state his facts from the Report of the late Corporation Commissioners. When he was appointed to the office of Recorder of Dublin, in the year 1828, he found the sittings had been at intervals of about a fortnight for certain stated days, when the Court was in the habit of adjourning without ever entirely clearing off its business, and that a very large arrear had accumulated. He believed that his esteemed predecessor was disposing of it as fast as he could, and meant to adopt the same principle as had been since established, but he did not live to accomplish it. He was occupied for two years in working down, with great labour, the business he found in arrear, and from that time the present practice had been in operation, a period of more than five years, during which there had not been one case, criminal or civil, in what could be called arrear for a single hour—and now if the House would bear with him—he would shortly state to them what was the new system he had adopted, after conference with many judicial persons, all the Officers of the Court—the very Magistracy who were alleged in the petition to have disapproved of it, having given it their full approbation. He opened his Court each quarter day, as fixed by Charter, occurring in January, and the three corresponding quarter months, April, July, and October, and on each of these occasions he sat consecutively from day to day, till every case, criminal and civil was disposed of. This occupied him each quarter for nearly a month uninterruptedly, at the beginning and end of which he tried prisoners, and made gaol delivery. He then at the end of that month, having about two months between that and the next quarter, divided that intermediate period, and fixed in the centre of it an adjourned sitting for the trial of prisoners, making three gaol deliveries each quarter, or twelve in the year, at as nearly as possible equal intervals; besides this, two of the superior Judges sat in the same Court and jurisdiction six times in the year for trial of prisoners, giving in the whole eighteen gaol deliveries—considerably more, he believed, than any other Criminal Court in the United Kingdom. Some persons might possibly think more frequent sittings preferable. He (Mr. Shaw), upon the best consideration, thought otherwise as regarded the general convenience of Jurors, witnesses, and all parties concerned. Some line must be drawn. The hon. Member talked of weekly sittings; it would be better at once to give Juries in the Magisterial offices, and let them try and finally dispose of the prisoners as they were apprehended; but he thought more frequent than monthly sittings not consistent with any tribunal in the nature of a superior Court. By the present system a month was the maximum, a fortnight the average period of imprisonment before trial, and he considered that a shorter period would be incompatible with regularity, and the due dispatch of business. He would put that question fairly to the consideration of any learned Gentleman in the House, whatever were his politics; if his opinion were wrong, he was willing to reconsider it; but whatever it might be on the best reflection, he felt bound to act upon it. He would trouble the House no further than to say, that so long as he held a judicial office, he trusted that he should enjoy the consciousness he heretofore had, that not an hour as to his sitting, a shade in his opinion, or a syllable in his judgment, had he ever been directed or influenced by a political consideration; and he could assure the hon. Member (Mr. Hume), that while his practice had been to abstain from every political society, and even to absent himself from any meeting that could, independently of those connected with his own elections, be properly termed political, yet that he could no longer continue in a political capacity as a Member of that House, than he could deliver his political sentiments on political topics, as he ever had done, with plainess,manliness, and independence. He made no objection to the reception of the petition; considering the party excitement under which it had been got up, he only wondered it was not more violent against him personally, and considering the means resorted to toprocuresignatures, his only surprise was that they were not more numerous.

Mr. O'Connell

said, that as the right hon. Gentleman had impugned the respectability of the persons who had signed the petition which had been presented by the hon. Member for Middlesex, he had looked at the signatures attached to it, and could undertake to say, that they were those of most respectable persons of all religious persuasions, most of whom—he had looked over four or five sheets—had given their places of residence. Amongst, the names were those of three persons, one a Protestant and two Roman Catholics, who came under the description of bankers, for they were Directors of the Dublin Bank. He was instructed to say, that if the House should institute an inquiry, the petitioners were prepared to verify the facts stated in the petition. Any measure which had for its object the exclusion of all judicial persons from Parliament should receive his support, but he would object to any partial application of the principle.

Mr. Ruthven

was decidedly opposed to the combination of the judicial and legislative functions. The man who acted political partisan in the Senate could not be capable of soberly, calmly, and dispassionately discharging judicial functions. The right hon. Recorder of Dublin had a voice in the making of laws which he was to administer afterwards.

Mr. Jackson

was sorry that the House was not in possession of the history of the getting up of this petition, which he believed was of a somewhat curious nature. The hon. Member for Middlesex had let fall some words which showed that the parties to the petition had something else in view besides the legitimate object of bringing a supposed grievance under the notice of the House. The hon. Member Stated that the petition had been published in all the newspapers in Dublin. Was that a decorous proceeding—was it respectful even to the House of Commons, to publish in that manner a petition which had not been presented? Such a proceeding could have been adopted only for the purpose of injuring the character of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, which, however, thank God, stood too high in public estimation both in Ireland and this country, to be seriously affected by the charges which evil-minded men might fabricate against him. The getting up of the petition was a discreditable proceeding—it was a disgraceful attempt to prejudice a political opponent. There was reason to suppose that the meeting at which the petition was agreed to was got up at the instigation of the hon. and learned Member for Dublin. If the Report contained in the paper which he held in his hand was true, Mr. Murphy, one of the hon. and learned Member's agents, stated at the meeting that he had received a letter from the hon. and learned Member, representing that the citizens of Dublin would be unworthy of protection if they did not hold a meeting on the subject of the Recorder of Dublin's conduct. The ground of the meeting was a speech alleged to have been made by the right hon. Gentleman, which he had over and over again disclaimed having uttered. What were the circumstances attending that meeting? He held in his hand a petition from a multitude of the citizens of Dublin, which he had been instructed to present to the House, and which stated that a number of respectable persons, who went to attend the meeting which was convened by public advertisement, were assaulted and cruelly wounded by a gang of coal porters, armed with bludgeons and daggers, who were hired for the purpose of driving away all persons who were supposed to be hostile to the objects of the meeting. He had also received communications from surgeons in Dublin, certi- fying that many of the person's who were attacked by the coal-porters were seriously wounded in various parts of their bodies. It was a petition thus got up and patronized by the very scum of society, which was represented to be the petition of the merchants, bankers, and respectable inhabitants of the city. It was said that there were respectable signatures attached to the petition; upon that point he could say nothing, because he had not seen the document; but he would venture to say, without fear of contradiction, that if free admission were allowed to any public meeting convened in Dublin to consider the right hon. Gentleman's conduct, the result would be totally different from that at which the meeting in question arrived. The right hon. Gentleman's conduct as a Judge was the theme of praise with everybody who had an opportunity of observing it. By unremitting industry he had cleared off all the arrears in his court, many of which had existed for thirteen years previously. He had practised in the right hon. Gentleman's court, and could, bear testimony to his impartiality, and such was the estimation in which his judicial conduct was held in Ireland, that he was sure it would be unanimously approved of by any twelve men selected from the class of persons capable of serving as jurors. A cry had been attempted to be raised against the right hon. Gentleman, on the ground that he delayed the trial of prisoners; but no person dared to come forward and found a specific charge upon that allegation. What did the petitioners state? That "they were informed" prisoners were unnecessarily detained in gaol before trial. Who informed them so? The fact was notoriously otherwise. It appeared to him that the whole proceeding was an unjust and ungenerous mode of injuring a Parliamentary opponent.

Mr. Harvey

said, that in justice to the hon. and learned Gentleman, it must be admitted that he conducted the business of the civil and criminal courts in Dublin in such a manner as to leave it to be wished that in the civil department, at least, his example was imitated. The evil complained of was in the system. All these inquiries tended to show that it was essential the two characters, the judicial and the political, should not be blended. He should attach no importance to the petition not being signed by the mer- chants and bankers of Dublin; but if 20,000 of the coaNporters and scum of the earth, alluded to by the hon, and learned Sergeant, had signed it, he should say that they were the very persons who had a right to complain, inasmuch as it was of great importance to them who presided over the criminal courts of justice. It was not your merchants who were arraigned at the criminal bar, nor your bankers; it was those men whose miseries engendered crime. He did not think the hon. and learned Gentleman was charged with delaying justice; but it was said that his attendance in the Court, and the discharge of his Parliamentary duties were incompatible. The right hon. Gentleman must feel, during his absence from the opposite benches, that one vote might have the greatest effect; then his station gave him importance in the Houses—he was a right hon. Member, and one of a powerful party. Conscious of all this, it was impossible to leave the House without feeling the greatest anxiety to return. Therefore, having taken his departure to attend to his judicial business in Ireland—having possessed himself of a place in the mail, and thrown himself into a steam-packet, and arrived in Dublin as hot as the steam itself, it might be imagined that he called for the calendar, not a little anxious to discover its length and see what could be deferred, frowned at the jury for their delay, and at last begged all the parties, for God's sake, to expedite the business, to allow him to return to London, and vote in the division which was to take place the day after to-morrow, otherwise he might lose the place of a Judge, or the benefit of making a speech. He hoped the rule would be applied generally of not allowing Recorders seats in Parliament. And if they were not to have Recorders in the House of Commons, he thought they ought not to have Law Judges in the House of Lords. Did not they find this, that all who had been, or who were now Judges, were the most troublesome of the politicians in the other House? He would in the same manner deal with the Bishops: let them be called on for their opinions only on matters connected with the Church. At a time when they might be required to consider in what mode they could most conveniently reform the House of Lords—one way being to increase the numbers, and swamp the majority by a liberal accession, and the other way being to decrease the numbers—it might be well worth their while to inquire whether the latter would not be a most effectual and a more convenient measure. His belief was, that if they got rid of all the Bishops and all the Law Lords, the gain to the popular party would be great numerically, and equal to what was necessary.

Sir Henry Hardinge

always considered it to be admitted among all shades of parties, whether Catholic or Protestant, Whig, Tory, or Radical, that the hon. and learned Member for Dublin University transacted the business of his Courts in such a manner as to be a model for every Judge in the country. He should regret that the principle of excluding Judges from Parliament were adopted, because it would deprive them of the advantage of the talents of the hon. and learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Dr. Lushington), who, on great questions of foreign policy, was universally admitted to be an eminent authority.

Mr. O'Connell

wished to observe, understanding that it had been stated by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite that he wrote to Dublin to induce the people to get up this petition, that the hon. and learned Gentleman was totally misinformed; he never wrote to Dublin on that subject. A meeting was in the first instance fixed to take place at the Corn-Exchange; that meeting was interrupted by a person of the name of John M'Crea, and a band of Orangemen, who obtained possession of the room two hours before the time when the meeting was appointed to be held. The consequence was, that the meeting could not be held on that occasion. He then certainly did write to a gentleman in Dublin to say, that he considered the party would be for ever disgraced if they allowed such ruffians to prevent them from holding their meeting.