HC Deb 05 December 1837 vol 39 cc609-10

Mr. James Gibson moved for leave to bring in a Bill to allow all Dissenters from the Established Church in Ireland, known by the name of Presbyterian Protestants, to make oath in all cases in courts of justice, and other places where an oath is required, by swearing with uplifted hand. In bringing forward this motion, he said, that his object was to allow the Presbyterians in Ireland to take oaths in the same manner that they did in Scotland. There were, he remarked, various denominations of Presbyterians in Ireland—the Presbyterians of the Synod, Seceders, Covenanters, and Remonstrants; and all these parties he meant to include in his Bill. In 1782 the Seceders had obtained an Act from the Irish Parliament, by which they were permitted, in civil cases, to swear with uplifted hands. This, however advantageous to that sect, was injurious to others, because it interfered with the common law, which permitted each to swear in that manner which was most binding upon his conscience. He referred to the minutes of the general synod held in Ireland in 1836, to show that the matter which he sought to remedy was felt by the Presbyterians to be a very great hardship upon them. He had several cases to show how it operated; but one, he thought, was sufficient—it was a case which occurred at the sessions in Belfast, where Dr. Cooke was brought forward as a witness against his own servant, accused of petty larceny; and because Dr. Cooke refused laying his hand on the gospels, and kissing the Testament, his evidence was not taken. At the assizes Dr. Cooke presented himself before the Chief Baron of the Court of Exchequer, and demanded that he might take the oath according to the form prescribed by the Church of Scotland. This was refused, and the Chief Baron referred the point to the twelve judges, who decided that the oath could not be taken in the manner he wished, and by this means a person who might have been guilty was not punished. This, then, he submitted to the House, was a state of the law which required revision. The common law of England allowed every man to be sworn in the way which was most stringent upon his conscience. Mahometans, Jews, Bramins, all were allowed to be sworn according to their peculiar creeds, and yet Presbyterians were not allowed to be sworn according to the mode of adjuration that would be most binding upon their consciences. He concluded by moving for leave to bring in the Bill.

Sir R. Bateson

, in seconding the motion, said he was sure that no opposition would be offered to the Bill by any hon. Member on the same side of the House as himself.

Motion agreed to.