HC Deb 16 November 1852 vol 123 cc201-5

Sir, as one of the representatives of the county where this sad event took place, I deem it a duty I owe not only to my constituents, but to the wives, children, and relatives of the unfortunate men who were slain at Six-mile Bridge, to move "for a Report of the evidence given before the coroner's inquest, held at Six-mile Bridge, in the county of Clare, in July last." I do so particularly at this moment, when I observe it is the intention of both the Attorney General and Solicitor General of Ireland to endeavour to quash the verdict of the jury, which verdict was one of wilful murder against a magistrate, and against eight soldiers who fired upon the people without receiving orders to do so, or without the Riot Act being read, and thus causing the bloody and untimely death of six of Her Majesty's subjects on the spot, and one who died subsequently of the wounds he received. This attempt on the part of the Attorney General and Solicitor General of Ireland to quash the verdict of the coroner's jury, has, I fear, an ulterior object, which is, that when the bill of indictment against the magistrate and the eight soldiers, for their trial at the next assizes of the county, is presented, it will render such presentment void, and thereby destroy the only hope of consolation left to those bereaved families, that the perpetrators of so fatal an act should be brought before the courts of justice, to answer the charge ordered against them by the coroner's jury—that of wilful murder. I understand that the plea set forth by the Attorney General and Solicitor General of Ireland, to quash the verdict, is, that the persons of the soldiers who fired the shots at Six-mile Bridge, on the 22nd of July last, were not sufficiently identified. This attempt, I must say, is a most severe and unjust reflection upon a jury, composed of men among the most respectable in the county, and who, regardless of every inconvenience they were put to in a small village, as to the accommodation, delayed their verdict till they had heard all the evidence, and the learned arguments of the counsel on both sides for nearly one fortnight. The next point of argument to which I wish to call the attention of the House is as to what business the soldiers had to be present in any shape or way at an election? The election law is clear and precise on this matter. Roger's election law on interfering at elections, says— 'From the first establishment of a standing army the jealousy of the House of Commons has been directed to prevent any military interference at elections, or overawing them by their presence. Thus the House of Commons resolved that all elections of any knight or shire, or burgess, to serve in Parliament be made without interruption or molestation by any commander, governor, officer, or soldier.'—17th November, 1645, 4 Journ, 316. Again, 24th, Journ. 37, 22nd December, 1741: 'That the presence of a regular body of soldiers at on election of Members to serve in Parliament is a high infringement of the liberties of the subject, a manifest violation of the freedom of elections, and an open defiance of the laws and constitution of the Kingdom.' This resolution was passed in consequence of the proceedings at the Westminster election in 1741, The Westminster justices were Ordered into custody and reprimanded by Speaker Onslow, for unnecessarily calling in the military. The concluding part of his address was as follows:— What you have done is against one of the most essential parts of the law of this Kingdom. Had any real necessity been shown for it? There might be fears—there might be some danger—but did you try the strength of the law to dispel those fears and remove those dangers? Did you make use of those powers the law invested you with, as civil magistrates, for the preservation of the public peace? No; you deserted all that, and wantonly, and I hope inadvertently, resorted to that force, the most unnatural of all others, in all respects, to that cause and business you were then attending, and for the freedom of which every Briton Ought to be ready to suffer anything. See also debate on this subject, April 3, 1827, on the occasion of calling out the military at Carlisle. The whole of the proceedings of the Government in this most calamitous event have been most extraordinary, and might well cause the excitement which did prevail during the last elections in Ireland. But let me ask what raised those excitements? The illegal acts of the Government, infringing on the liberties of the subject, a manifest violation of the freedom of elections, by employing soldiers for the purpose of overawing them, in direct opposition to the law and constitution of this country. Finally, I must draw a contrast as to the manner the Government pursue in this country (England) and in Ireland, in the instance I now submit to the House. Here are a magistrate and eight soldiers, against whom a verdict of wilful murder is given by a coroner's jury. They are imprisoned to answer for so very serious a charge at the next assizes; but what do the Government legal authorities in Ireland? Bail is taken, and the magistrate and the eight soldiers are liberated. Now, mark the different line of conduct pursued here in a similar case. Two foreigners are imprisoned for being implicated in a fatal duel; their counsel makes an appeal for their being liberated on bail, and an instance is brought forward of bail being granted on similar events. What said the Chief Justice of England?— He was firmly of opinion that if a person of the highest eminence was found guilty of murder by a jury, no tribunal of the country would liberate him without trial. Now, Sir, all I ask—all I pray for—is, that a trial may be granted to have this melancholy event thoroughly investigated. It is due to the people of Ireland—it is due to the bereaved families of the unfortunate men who were so inhumanly shot; and, above all, it is due to justice. I therefore move for the report of the evidence given before the Coroner's inquest, held at Six- mile Bridge, in the county of Clare, in July last.


Sir, there will be no objection to lay the evidence in this case on the table of the House when the proper time arrives; but at present the proceedings are under the consideration of the Court of Queen's Bench, and that Court has not yet given its decision. But judgment will probably be pronounced in a few days, and then the evidence can be furnished. With regard, however, to the observations of the hon. and gallant Member upon the conduct of the Government, I may be permitted to say that the Government had nothing to do with the calling out of the military. They were called out, as is usual, on the requisition of a magistrate of the county, who has shared in the fate of the soldiers, and who, by this very respectable Coroner's jury, has been declared guilty of wilful murder. Sir, before the proceedings of the inquest were laid before me, the soldiers had been committed to the gaol of the county on the Coroner's warrant, and the depositions then came up and were laid before me in the usual course; for whenever any person has been committed on a capital charge the course is to lay the papers before the Attorney General, in order to see whether he makes any objection on the part of the Crown to the parties being admitted to bail. The Crown does not interfere further than this. Whenever parties apply to the Court of Queen's Bench in these matters, the Court is always greatly influenced by the circumstance whether the Law Officers of the Crown have given or refused their assent to the motion to admit to bail. On receiving the depositions I felt it to be my duty not to lose a single moment in applying myself to them, and I read them twice over—an occupation which took me eight hours. I read them through before I went to bed, and I read them again the next morning, and having considered them, I felt it to be my duty to state my opinion that these parties should be admitted to bail. Judge Crampton, after hearing counsel for the next of kin of the persons killed, himself considered the depositions; and he, in pursuance of the authority vested in him as a Judge of the Queen's Bench, made an order admitting the parties to bail—a course for which he had, and has, my full concurrence. I may state, with reference to the case having been brought before the Court of Queen's Bench, that that Court was the Supreme Coroner of the Kingdom, and had the su- perintendence of all the Coroners throughout the country. The course I took met the entire concurrence of my colleague, the Solicitor General, who argued the case in the Queen's Bench in my absence; and as the case is now pending, of course it would be highly improper for me to offer one word of comment, one way or the other. With regard to a bill of indictment, I may observe that seldom is the course, even supposing there was no objection to the Coroner's inquisition, to proceed upon that. With hardly one exception, the practice is to send up a bill of indictment, and not act on the Coroners' inquisition; for experience has invariably shown that Coroners' inquisitions obstruct rather than promote the ends of public justice. But whether the inquisition be quashed or not, that will not interfere with a bill of indictment being sent up, and a proceeding is now pending against a newspaper, in which the very question of the hon. and gallant Baronet will be settled. It is to be tried in the sittings after term, and the subject is likely to receive in the Court of Queen's Bench, and before a jury in the city of Dublin, a very full investigation. Throughout those proceedings I have endeavoured, and I shall continue to endeavour, to do my duty; and whilst I am resolved to bring to justice all who have violated the law, and against whom I can procure evidence, I am equally resolved to afford the shelter of the law and constitution to those who have, as I believe, discharged faithfully a most invidious duty under the most harassing and oppressive circumstances. When judgment has been pronounced, the evidence shall be laid on the table.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.