HC Deb 12 July 1854 vol 135 cc116-21

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


said, he hoped that the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Whiteside) who had introduced the Bill would consent to its being withdrawn for the present Session. His hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General had taken the subject of the constitution of juries in Ireland into his consideration, and had already almost fully prepared a Bill upon that subject. If the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite would consent to withdraw his Bill, the Attorney General would bring in the measure to which he (Sir J. Young) had just referred at the commencement of next Session.


said, that the course which the right hon. Baronet proposed for his adoption was one of an extraordinary—perhaps, with the example of the Government before him, he should rather say of an ordinary—character. The right hon. Baronet and himself had been Members of a Committee which had been appointed to inquire into the prevalence of crime and outrage in Ireland, and before whom a great deal of very valuable testimony had been laid. That Committee had agreed to a Resolution to the effect that they had ascertained from the evidence which had been adduced that the present system of preparing the jury list in Ireland was radically wrong, and that the jurors' book should be made up of a list of all persons rated under the Poor Law valuation at a sum afterwards to be fixed. A second Resolution, to the effect that one and the same jury panel should answer in civil as well as criminal cases, had also been agreed to by the Committee. Now, that being the case, he could not understand why the right hon. Baronet, a Member of the Committee by whom these Resolutions had been framed, should en deavour to impede the progress of a Bill which aimed at the reform of a system which he knew to be radically defective. He could account for the course which the right hon. Baronet deemed it advisable to take only upon the supposition that the Government, having made no attempt themselves to remedy the evils of that system, were determined to obstruct the efforts of those who sought to amend the existing law. If the Attorney General had informed him before he introduced his Bill that it was the intention of the Government to deal with the question of the constitution of juries in Ireland he certainly should not have ventured to meddle with the subject. No such announcement, however, had been made upon the part of Her Majesty's Ministers, nor did he believe that they had at the time the slightest intention of taking the matter into consideration with a view to immediate legislation. Under those circumstances he had endeavoured to frame a measure, against whose provisions he had heard no valid objection urged, but which the right hon. Baronet now asked him to withdraw. In that measure he proposed to make the qualification for a juror dependent—not upon the choice of the sub-sheriff or the sub-sheriff's clerk—but upon the intelligence of the individual himself, and the amount of property which he possessed. The Attorney General for Ireland—of whom he should not speak as approving of the Bill—had told him that in his opinion a man possessed of a freehold to the value of from 20l. to 50l. ought to be eligible to serve on a jury; and he (Mr. Whiteside) had proposed that a man who was rated under the Poor Law at 30l. should be competent to act as a juryman in all cases, whether civil or criminal. Those who at present were selected to act as jurors in criminal cases were of a class inferior to those who served in civil cases, and he had deemed it to be advisable that the qualification should in both instances be the same. Such were some of the principal improvements which the Bill was intended to effect. It was extremely desirable that some alteration in the mode of empannelling juries in Ireland should speedily be made, and he must confess that he did not feel that confidence in the promise which the right hon. Baronet had made which would induce him to entertain any very sanguine expectation that Her Majesty's Ministers would deal immediately and effectively with that subject. He feared that the contemplated measure would be, like so many of its predecessors, an abortion. For his own part he could only say that he had done his duty, and it would rest with Her Majesty's Government to cast aside the Bill upon their own responsibility.


said, his right hon. Friend near him bad informed the House that it was the intention of the Government to introduce a Bill next Session for the purpose of amending the law relating to the qualifications of jurors in Ireland. To that intimation upon the part of his right hon. Friend the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite had replied in a tone which—when he considered the quarter from which it came—he felt to be in accordance with the hon. and learned Gentleman's ordinary mode of proceeding. The hon. and learned Gentleman had referred to the Report of the Committee upon crime and outrage in Ireland, and had called the attention of the House to a Resolution which bad been adopted by that Committee. The hon. and learned Gentleman had gone further, and had stated that he had framed his Bill in accordance with the terms of that Resolution. Now he (Mr. Keogh), too, had had the honour of sitting upon the Committee in question, and he felt himself compelled to state that the provisions of the hon. and learned Gentleman's Bill were drawn up in direct contradiction to the Resolution of that Committee. That Resolution was to the effect that the names of the jurors should be taken from the rate list as kept under the operation of the Poor Law, and not, as the Bill of the hon. and learned Gentleman proposed, from the list of Parliamentary voters. The hon. and learned Gentleman was well aware that there existed the greatest distinction between the two lists, and that the number upon the Parliamentary voters' list bore only the proportion of one to seven to the number upon the list of rated occupiers. The hon. and learned Gentleman must be also aware that, under the operation of his Bill, any man might disqualify himself from serving upon a jury by not paying his rates within a particular day, and thus disqualifying himself from being placed upon the list of Parliamentary voters. He was perfectly ready to admit that the law required amendment, but he felt persuaded that the Bill of the hon. and learned Gentleman was not one by which that object could be effected. Such was the opinion of the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, Baron Lefroy, an able and impartial judge, and one who could not be supposed to have any political bias in favour of the present Administration. That learned Judge had, in a letter to his right hon. Friend near him (Sir J. Young), protested, in the most distinct terms, against the enactment of the measure under the notice of the House. The hon. and learned Gentleman had also stated that he had had some communication with the Attorney General for Ireland upon the subject of his Bill, and he (Mr. Keogh) could not understand why his learned friend's name had been introduced, unless it were for the purpose of showing that he entertained opinions favourable to the measure.


said, he had not at all meant to lead the House to suppose that the Attorney General for Ireland approved of the Bill.


said, he wished to call the attention of the House to a communication which he had received from his learned friend upon the subject. In that communication his learned friend stated, that in his opinion cases would frequently arise for which there was no clause whatever in the Bill to provide. He also added that there was at the moment at which he wrote a cause pending in the Court of Queen's Bench, which it was supposed the 43rd section of the Bill would meet, but he could only say that that section was a disgrace to our legislation, and could only lead to eternal litigation. On referring to Hansard, he found that a similar provision had been strenuously opposed by the Duke of Wellington. But the members of the legal profession in Ireland were not the only persons opposed to the passing of the Bill under their consideration. He had received a communication from the secretary of the Chamber of Commerce in Dublin, conveying a Resolution which had been passed by that body, and which was to the effect that, if the Bill were to pass into law, it would be productive of great public inconvenience. It had also been condemned by the Corporation of the city of Dublin, and by the sheriffs of the counties of Leitrim and Kilkenny. When the hon. and learned Gentleman introduced his Bill, he (Mr. Keogh) had stated that in his opinion no measure could with safety be passed upon the subject with which it proposed to deal until the necessary returns had been obtained from the Poor Law Board. Those returns had not yet been published, but they were in progress, and would, he hoped, soon be laid upon the table of the House. If the hon. and learned Gentleman should then withdraw his Bill, he would only be acting in conformity with the opinions expressed on the matter to which it related by the Chamber of Commerce of Dublin, by the Corporation of Dublin, and by the Chief Justice of the Court of Queen's Bench in Ireland, by the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, and by the Attorney General for Ireland; and when the Government recommended the adoption of the same course, the hon. and learned Gentleman had no right to charge them with any unfair or factious opposition to this measure, and still less had he any right to say that, although they had stated that it had been their intention to have introduced a Bill upon that subject, they, in reality, had entertained no such intention.


said, he must express his decided disapproval of the Bill. It would reduce to a most unreasonable and inconvenient extent the number of persons liable to be placed on the jury lists in Ireland.


said, that considering there was not sufficient time to discuss the measure in the present Session, he should move an Amendment to postpone the second reading to that day three months. The whole machinery of drawing juries in Ireland required remodelling, in order to assimilate it to the system that prevailed in this country.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House will, upon this day three months, resolve itself into the said Committee," instead thereof.


said, he wished that a measure should be introduced upon the subject, which would extend to the whole of the United Kingdom.


said, he thought his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Enniskillen (Mr. Whiteside) was rather hardly dealt with in the matter. On the occasion of the second reading of the Bill, the hon. and learned Gentlemen the Attorney General for England and the Solicitor General for Ireland had expressed their approval of its object and of its main provisions, and yet the Government turned round upon his hon. and learned Friend in the course of the progress of the measure, for the purpose of preventing him from proceeding with it. It appeared to him (Mr. Napier) that his hon. and learned Friend ought to be allowed to complete the work which he had so honourably and successfully begun, and that it ought not to be taken out of his hands by the Government.


said, he must beg to state that, on the second reading of the Bill, he told the hon. and learned Gentleman that it was not his intention to support the measure, and since that time he had received several communications from parties, assigning reasons why the Bill should not pass in its present shape.


said, he had no recollection of any such statements having been made on the second reading as the right hon. Gentleman bad just mentioned.


said, he thought that sufficient reason for the withdrawal of the Bill was to be found in the fact that the country had not had an opportunity of pronouncing upon it. He thought that this was a question which ought to be left to the Government, and that the public had a right to complain that neither the present nor the late Government had taken any step to carry out the recommendations of the Committee on this subject.


said, he would suggest that, in any measure to be brought in by Government for the reformation of the jury system in Ireland, its provisions should not be confined to mere nisi prius juries, but should be extended to grand juries, the grand jury system in Ireland requiring as much reformation as the other branch.


said, that the late Government had made considerable progress in the preparation of a Bill to deal with that subject. They could not have brought forward a measure founded on the Report of the Committee which had inquired into the question during the Session in which they had been in office, as that Report had not been produced until the beginning of the mouth of June, and as the Session had been brought to a close in the beginning of the month of July.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and negatived.

Words added:—Main Question, as amended, put, and agreed to. Bill put off for three months.

The House adjourned at two minutes before Six o'clock.