HC Deb 08 April 1859 vol 153 cc1549-55

On the motion for the adjournment of the House till Monday.


said, that he wished to put a question to the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer, in the absence of the noble Lord the Secretary for Ireland. Great excitement had been created in the county he represented in consequence of the conduct pursued by the officers of the Crown on the trial of Daniel Sullivan, who was charged with being a member of a secret and illegal society called the Phoenix, which resulted in the transportation of that person to ten years' penal servitude. He need not say that no man could be more anxious for the suppression of that society than he was, but the conduct of those who acted for the Crown deprived the verdict which had been obtained of all moral weight, because not a single Roman Catholic had been allowed to act on that jury. Eleven persons of the Roman Catholic religion had been called, and answered to their names, but they were set aside by the Crown. One of these was a magistrate, many of them were men of considerable property, and all of them were men of unimpeachable character. Yet apparently for no other reason than that they were Roman Catholics they were set aside. He regretted that he felt compelled to bring this subject before the House, but the Roman Catholics of the loyal county he had the honour to represent, and the Roman Catholics of Ireland felt that an insult had been offered to them in being considered unfit to act upon political juries. He wished to know whether the attention of the right hon. Gentleman had been called to the fact that at the late trial at Tralee of Daniel O'Sullivan, convicted of being a member of the Phœnix Society, the eleven Roman Catholic jurors (including a gentleman lately appointed a magistrate of the county) who were called and answered to their names were directed to "stand by" the Crown; and if so, whether such a course was adopted with the approval of the Government.


said he believed this question bad been brought forward for no other purpose than to influence the Irish elections. He believed it was necessary to adopt the course taken by the Attorney General on certain occasions. The Whig Government adopted that course on the trial of Mr. Daniel O'Connell, when they excluded Roman Catholics. He was sure they did so from a sense of duty and to obtain a fair trial and not from a wish to prejudice his chance of an acquittal. If a Conservative Government adopted a similar course he believed it was for the same reason.


said, that he could assure the noble Lord that no instructions had been given by Her Majesty's Government that on any trial Roman Catholics should be systematically excluded from the jury. He was not prepared to account for the circumstance to which the noble Lord alluded, because it was only that moment that by accident a letter on the subject, not very legibly written, had been placed in his hand. With respect to the question, however, which the noble Lord had placed on the notice paper, he could state most distinctly that no instructions had been given to the Crown officers to exclude Roman Catholics from juries in Ireland, nor would any conduct, prompted by the desire merely of excluding Roman Catholics, over meet with the approval of the Government. Indeed very recently there had been another trial at Tralee of this kind, and four Catholics were on the jury. There was also very recently a Riband trial at Mullingar, and several Roman Catholics were on the jury; as were also several Roman Catholics on the jury at a recent Riband trial at Belfast. He could only say, as far as the Government were concerned, it was not their wish or intention that there should be either in the matter of state trials or any other subject any difference made by the authorities between the various classes of Her Majesty's subjects in Ireland. With the permission of the House, he would conclude by reading an explanation of the circumstances referred to enclosed in the letter to which he had alluded. The setting aside of jurors is confided to the Crown solicitor; Sir M. Barrington, who is so well known, discharged his duty. His instructions were not to set aside on account of religion or politics, but only on personal grounds, when he was satisfied that the person objected to would not be likely to do justice, as between the Crown and the accused. The prisoner challenged twenty Protestants peremptorily. The Crown set aside sixteen, of whom six were Protestants. Mr. O'Connor, ('the gentleman referred to, he believed by the noble Lord') was set aside because he had been convicted and sentenced to fine and imprisonment for conspiracy, and Sir Matthew thought he would have failed in his duty if he had not set him aside. As to his being made a magistrate, the Chancellor knew nothing of him. He acts on the recommendation of the Lord Lieutenant of the county, who may not have known about the conviction, or may have thought it would not be of such consequence, as Sir M. Barrington was bound to consider it in discharging his duty to the Crown, in a case where the trial had already failed under such peculiar circumstances.


asked if the right hon. Gentleman could give the name of the writer.


replied, that the letter was an enclosure in a letter to the Attorney General for Ireland, and he could not state the name.


said, he heard with satisfaction the statement of the right hon. Gentleman that no instructions had been given by the Government to exclude Roman Catholics, as such, from juries on political trials. At the same time he could not but express his regret at the course which had been taken at the trial in question by the officers of the Crown. The gentleman whose name had been particularly referred to was made a magistrate on his recommendation, but the objection made to him did not at any rate apply to the other eight gentlemen, who were struck off for no other reason, as far as he was aware, but because they were Roman Catholics. He was sorry the statement made in the document just read by the right hon. Gentleman with regard to Mr. O'Connor was not more particular, for the matter referred to a transaction which took place thirty years ago, when that gentleman was a very young man, and got involved in an indiscreet scrape with regard to the tithe agitation. For the last twenty years, however, he (Mr. H. A. Herbert) had known this gentleman as a respectable member of society, as holding large agencies, and as excellent and honest a man as any one who held the commission of the peace in the county of Kerry. He did not think that the transaction of such a nature, occurring in the time of his youth and at a period of great political excitement, should be any reason for concluding that he would not discharge with impartiality the duties of a juryman. Men had been in high positions in this country who had been imprisoned for political offences, and he alluded to Sir Francis Burdett and to a noble Lord in the Other House, who once graced the benches of the House of Commons, who were both, he believed, committed to the Tower for political offences. As Lord-Lieutenant of the county of Kerry he was prepared to take upon himself the responsibility of recommending this gentleman as a person everyway qualified to discharge the duty of magistrate, and he did not think it wise that the circumstance to which he referred, and which happened thirty years ago, should be brought to bear against him at the present time. He believed that there had never been any person convicted on juster grounds than the person who had recently been tried at Tralee, although the jury was exclusively Protestant. He felt no sympathy with him, but at the same time it was most important that the people of Ireland should be convinced that persons in that country accused of crimes would have a fair trial.


said, he merely rose to add one word to what had been said by his right hon. Friend (Mr. H. A. Herbert). He had received an account of the trial at Tralee, and he could assure the House that he had the best possible information for stating that all the Roman Catholics who had been set aside by the officers of the Crown were, with one or two exceptions, gentlemen of substance, of social position, and of the highest respectability, and that they would have made most unexceptionable and intelligent jurors.


said, he was taken rather by surprise by the statement of the right hon. Gentleman. He knew nothing of what had occurred upon the trials at Belfast or Tralee, but he had received a letter, dated March 31, from Mr. John Rea, the solicitor to the defendants, which contradicted the statement made in the communication referred to by the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Mr. Rea said:— Our Riband case has been on all day, and will occupy to-morrow. I never hare witnessed a more flagrant attempt to pack a jury. The prisoners, being indicted for misdemeanour only, had no challenge, and yet the Crown Solicitor set aside, without assigning any cause, every Catholic who answered, with one exception, and that was only because he was mistaken for a Protestant, in consequence of his name (Henry Neeson), and his living not in Belfast, but in the country. A Presbyterian was struck off in error for a Catholic for the same cause, being called James M'Caldin. We are now being tried, therefore, by a jury of the Solicitor General's voters, and two supporters of Lord Hertford from Lisburn, the 'mistake' added. Really it is perfectly frightful. One of the Catholics struck off, Mr. W. Ross, is a millowner worth £50,000, and the others are all most respectable. He (Mr. M'Mahon) was glad to hear that the Chancellor of the Exchequer disapproved the system pursued in Ireland, and thought it would be well if the Government repressed with a firm and strong hand the bigoted and intemperate proceedings of their subordinates.


said, the statement made by the hon. and learned Gentleman differed materially from the information received by the Government from what they believed to be perfectly good authority. The hon. and learned Gentleman was informed that the prisoners had no challenge, whereas the Government were informed that they had objected to twenty jurors. [An hon. MEMBER: That was at Belfast.] Well, he thought there could be no advantage in discussing this matter until they knew something more about the facts. The question had been put in the absence of a right hon. and learned Gentleman (the Attorney General for Ireland) who was able to speak on the subject with authority, and who would, he hoped, be in his place on Monday, when the matter might be discussed in a much more satisfactory manner than at present.


said, that as he would not be able to be present at the discussion if it were renewed on Monday, he wished to say a few words on this important subject. The question really was whether they were to have a pure administration of justice in Ireland, and he thought hon. Gentlemen opposite were disposed to treat it too lightly. He thought the reply which had been given to the noble Lord by the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on the authority of the Attorney General for Ireland, was anything but satisfactory. At the last trial at Tralee every Roman Catholic juror who answered was without exception set aside on the part of the Crown, and the only explanation given was, that one gentleman who had recently been appointed a magistrate had been set aside because some thirty years ago he was engaged in one of the unfortunate occurrences arising out of what was then known as the "tithe warfare." In Ireland the prisoner was allowed a peremptory challenge of twenty jurors without assigning any cause, or as the old writers said, "merely of his dislike;" and it was his privilege and right, if he could, to get a jury that would acquit him; but the Crown ought to be actuated by a very different motive. The interest of the prosecutor was simply to ascertain the truth, and not to secure a conviction, and, although the Crown possessed the unlimited privilege of ordering jurors to stand by without assigning any cause, the power was one which ought to be very carefully exercised. In this case the charge against the Crown Officers was that every Roman Catholic who answered was ordered to stand by, and the misfortune was that, by such proceedings, suspicion had been thrown on the whole of the trials and they had given rise to a belief that justice was not purely administered, and that the object of the present Executive in Ireland was, not to ascertain the truth. He thought that feeling was wrong, but there was no doubt whatever that it prevailed. This subject was of too much importance to be trifled with. No one could more strongly condemn the offence which had been charged, or be more desirous that any secret confederation should be put down by the strong arm of the law, than himself; but it was of the utmost importance that the administration of justice should be beyond suspicion, and he must repeat that the course pursued by these representatives of the Crown in Ireland—whether by the Crown Solicitor, or by any of his employés, and whether with or without the authority of the Law Officers of the Crown—had led to great suspicion that the object had been, not to administer justice, not to ascertain the truth, but to procure a conviction. He had heard with pleasure, however, the statement of the right hon. Gentleman, and he felt certain that if the matter had been left in his hands, or in the hands of the Home Secretary, there would have been nothing to complain of. Nevertheless, he could only express his regret that from the moment a most unconstitutional proclamation had been issued the course pursued by the Executive in Ireland had been such as he had represented.