HC Deb 18 May 1858 vol 150 cc879-83

said, he rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill to repeal so much of the Act of the 10th year of King George IV., chap. 34, as related to conspiracies and solicitations to murder. It would be in the recollection of every hon. Member, that in February last the noble Lord the Member for Tiverton, then at the head of the Government, introduced a Bill to alter the law as regarded conspiracy to murder in this country and in Ireland. In the course of the debates which ensued on the introduction of that Bill, it was generally admitted that the law as now existing in Ireland required alteration, and the sections of the existing Act which he proposed to alter were formally repealed by that Bill. The law, instead of making, as at present in Ireland, conspiracy to murder a capital offence, was by the noble Lord's measure assimilated in both countries, making the offence a felony punishable by transportation. The principle of that Bill met with the approbation of the House, and therefore he thought he had some right to ask that so much of its provisions as mitigated the law in Ireland should now pass into a law. During the discussions on the noble Lord's Bill, the present Chancellor of Ireland spoke very decidedly in its favour, and particularly in respect to that part of it connected with Ireland. True that Bill was defeated on its second reading, but not on account of anything it contained in reference to the Irish law. Therefore, in support of the Bill he proposed to introduce, he claimed the votes of those who, on the second reading of the Bill of the noble Member for Tiverton, expressed their opinion that the law as it existed in England was sufficiently adequate for the offence. The noble Lord the Member for London then very truly observed that a mild code strictly enforced was a more effectual preventive of crime than a severe code enforced unequally. On that ground he considered that the punishment being lessened, the chance of escape for the criminal would be less. He had seen jurors disagree upon a case, with respect to which he believed that they would not have hesitated to bring in a verdict of guilty if the indictment, instead of being for murder, had been for some lighter offence; for on a capital charge, unless the proof was of the clearest and most distinct kind, jurors were unwilling to convict. Unless there was a moral certainty of bringing home the offence of murder to the party charged, it was much better to proceed on a milder accusation; and he was satisfied that if that course had been pursued, in the recent ease of Dr. Bernard, the jury would not have acquitted him. It was impossible to carry out the existing law in Ireland, and persons charged with capital offences of this nature bad considerable chance of escaping. He believed the subject was at present under the consideration of the Commissioners for the Revision of the Penal Code; but notwithstanding that circumstance, be had thought it right to bring forward the subject now, as no one could say when their report would be received. His wish was that the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Whiteside) would take the matter into his serious consideration, as he had no wish to take up the matter on his own responsibility, but would cheerfully leave it in the hands of the right hon. Gentleman to submit to the House a measure for assimilating the penal code in England and Ireland.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made and Question proposed,— That leave be given to bring in a Bill to repeal so much of the Act of the tenth year of king George the Fourth, chapter thirty-four, as relates to Conspiracies and Solicitations to Murder in Ireland.


said, if his hon. and learned Friend would be content with calling the attention of the House to this important question, he had no objection to promise that he would take the matter into his most serious consideration; but if his object were simply to repeal the law without proposing any substitute for the punishment, he must give the Motion his most decided opposition. The Act was passed so lately as the reign of George IV. to meet cases of a certain description—not those quoted by the right hon. Member for Ashton (Mr. M. Gibson) on a former occasion, when he drew a very important distinction between cases of conspiracy resting in intention, and cases of conspiracy that had been carried into execution. As for instance, there was a great distinction between three persons, who met together to consider about shooting the right hon. Gentleman, and the case of three persons who, by their conspiracy, actually got him shot. Now, the Act of Parliament was passed to meet cases of this last description. He might instance the case of a lady who was shot not long ago in Cavan, when returning to her own house, not by any persons whom she could have injured, but by persons who were said to have been hired for the purpose, and who were prosecuted by the late Attorney General and convicted of conspiracy to murder. He was happy to admit that solicitations to murder were every day becoming more rare in Ireland, and the changes which might take place in the law, would in consequence be naturally in that direction which would distinguish between conspiracy for murders that were carried into execution, and murders that were not, for he held that a great distinction was to be made between the two cases. But he never could consent to deal with a conspiracy to murder, where the murder actually took place, as a misdemeanor simply. If, therefore, the hon. and learned Gentleman would be content with having called the attention of the House to the subject, and with his (the Attorney General's) assurance that he would give the matter his most careful consideration, he thought that would be much better than any partial dealing with the subject.


said, as the hon. and learned Gentleman had alluded to him, he must say that he quite agreed in the remarks that fell from the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland. He did not see that any good was to be gained by attaching a severe punishment to conspiracy to murder where no murder had actually taken place. Not only might ignorant persons be easily entrapped into such a conspiracy, but designing persons might, by giving accounts of conversations that never took place, easily use it as a charge against others, who, though they were actually innocent, could bring no proof of their innocence. But in the case of actual murder, the case was altogether of another character. The whole subject was one of great importance, and certainly the law was in an unsatisfactory state. They had been told that in the case of Dr. Bernard, who had lately been quitted, and into whose case he did not wish the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary to enter on the present occasion, if he had been found guilty, the Judges would have taken the matter into consideration whether the law applied to his case. But it did seem hard that after the trial had taken place, after the evidence had been given, and after the prisoner had endured the anxiety of the trial, the Judges were, after all that, to meet and consider the case; and persons very learned in the law said it was probable they would have found that the statute did not apply to his case. Surely, if that were the case, the state of the law required consideration and amendment; and if that were the case in England, much more must it be so in Ireland, where the offence of conspiring to commit murder, even though the murder was not committed, was a capital offence. But, under the circumstances of the case, he hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman would not press his Motion.


said, he would recommend his hon. and learned Friend, after the promise of the Attorney General for Ireland that he would direct his attention to the subject, to withdraw the Motion.


remarked, that he thought his hon. and learned Friend the Member for King's County had very property called attention to the difference between the law of England and Ireland on this subject. He believed the law as it existed in Ireland was productive of great evils, and was far more severe than was necessary, and he would be glad to see it assimilated to the English law. He would, however, recommend his hon. and learned Friend to leave the question, which was one of a very difficult and complicated nature, in the hands of Her Majesty's Government.


said, his object in proposing the repeal of the Act of the 10th of George IV. was to place the crimes of conspiracy and solicitation to murder on the same footing in both countries, leaving it to the law officers of the Crown to propose a measure applying an adequate punishment to such crimes. He thought it was monstrous that by the existing law in Ireland persons who had engaged in conversations which might expose them to indictment for conspiracy to murder, although no murder was committed, and who might have repented the intention the next hour, should be liable to punishment for a capital offence. He believed that after public attention had been drawn to the subject, it was impossible such a law could be allowed to remain upon the statute book. He was, however, willing, under the circumstances, to withdraw his Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.