HC Deb 22 February 1867 vol 185 cc898-903

Clause 1 (Recited Act further continued until 1st June, 1867).

MR. BAGWELL moved to add after Clause 1, the following:— That all prisoners in confinement at present under the warrant of tire Lord Lieutenant by virtue of the power of the first recited Act, or who shall hereafter be arrested and committed to prison in pursuance of the same or of this Act, shall be deemed in all respects untried prisoners, and shall be treated as regards diet, clothing, exercise, and communication with friends, in the manner prescribed for actual prisoners in the several prison Acts now in force in Ireland. It was true that considerable care had been taken of the persons arrested under the Act, but there had been cases of very great hardship. In Mountjoy Prison those prisoners were confined in separate cells; they were never taken out for exercise, and did not see the light of Heaven from one week's end to the other. He complained that there was no provision made by law to prevent persons taken up—as most of the prisoners had been taken up—on suspicion only, of being so treated. The admirable statement of the Secretary of Ireland of the number released and of the number in custody showed that the great majority had been arrested on suspicion only. He had no sympathy with these men, but he objected to the violation of a great principle of British law.


seconded the Motion, which involved a most important principle of Constitutional law—namely, that no man should be punished until he had been convicted of an offence. This was a principle which, though acknowledged in theory, was not sufficiently carried out in practice in this country, and certainly not in Ireland, where he trusted it would now be carried out.


said, he was afraid that in agreeing to the second reading of this Bill the House had consented to a departure from the principles of the British Constitution, and he was sorry that it had been his duty to ask them to do so. The Government had already done what his hon. Friend by his clause sought to have done. The strictest rule had been laid down with respect to the treatment of those prisoners. That rule was simply this—that they were to be treated in every respect as untried prisoners. And that rule was in every respect carried out. It was utterly impossible to keep them in Mountjoy Prison in association. In the best managed prisons—such as the one at Belfast, for instance—every untried prisoner was kept in separate confinement. This rule was carried out as far as possible in all gaols conducted on the new system, in order to keep the unconvicted from being contaminated by criminals. Formerly, the great blot on our prison maagement was the system of day rooms, which made our prisons colleges of crime, owing to young offenders being brought into constant contact with hardened felons. To keep the prisoners separate in Mountjoy Prison was necessary for the purposes of discipline. It was also indispensable for their safe keeping. He was sorry to say there was reason to believe that many of the persons arrested and sent there under the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act were violent and bad characters; and it would be highly dangerous to allow them to associate in a body. They were, however, allowed to wear their own clothes and to receive food which was bought and paid for by their friends outside. They were visited daily by the chaplain and by the warder, and were allowed books. Beyond separate confinement they were placed under no restraint. As insinuations had been thrown out respecting the treatment of those prisoners, the late Government directed their attention to the matter as far back as last March, and at that time Captain Barlow reported— I was present at the male prison, Mountjoy, when—saw several of the untried prisoners. When leaving the prison,—informed me that F. L., whom he states to be a very intelligent man, had spoken very highly of the kindness with which he was treated.—added the treatment of the prisoners was very satisfactory to him. That was last year; but Mr. Murray, the Director, reported to-day— I have read every letter written by or addressed to the untried prisoners at Mountjoy Convict Prison, and I have never made any complaint of the treatment except in a few cases, in which association was wished for. In fact, the prisoners have repeatedly written to their friends, expressing great satisfaction at the-treatment and the food.—very lately told me that he had every reason to be satisfied with the treatment of the prisoners. The prisoners, when leaving the gaol, have invariably thanked the Governor for the kindness extended to them, and at the same time expressions of thanks have been addressed to me. If the House wished it he could read extracts from letters written by prisoners themselves, which bore out those statements, and which showed that every indulgence, consistent with discipline and safety, had been extended to them. He had that day carefully examined all the Prison Acts, and found that they contained no provisions with respect to the treatment of untried prisoners, so that this was entirely a matter of regulation. He could only say that it was not the wish of the Government that these persons should be subjected to hardship or unnecessary severity; and that if any instance of the kind were brought to his knowledge, he would not fail to inquire closely into it.


The hon. Member for Clonmel should press the Motion to a division, which he deserves great credit for bringing forward and so ably advocating, unless the Government consented to its adoption. The Chief Secretary said there was no necessity for it, as the prisoners under the law, as it then stood, would be treated as untried. No doubt they were entitled to be so treated; but judging by what occurred in several cases he would cite in reference to Fenian "suspects," he believed it was very necessary to impress the subordinates of the Government with the fact that they would not be justified in treating men not only unconvicted, but even uncharged with any crime, as if they were guilty. If the Irish Executive could themselves see their intentions carried out, he would have no apprehensions that persons arrested under the Lord Lieutenant's warrant would be treated in an unexceptionally severe manner; but when the prisoners fell into the hands of underlings, who might be over-zealous in the cause of law and order, he much feared that restrictions and even severities might be inflicted neither justified by law or necessity, or contemplated by the Government. The late Administration, he believed, was just as well disposed to act right as the present one in the matter, and yet things were done in their name, and with perfect impunity, by their own officers, in reference to prisoners arrested under the Act the House was now asked to renew, as illegal, unjustifiable, and, he might add, as cruel as anything stated to have occurred in Austrian or Neapolitan prisons, about which the late leader of the House discoursed so very feelingly and eloquently. Now, he did not want the House to take his ipse dixit for all this; he would prove it by official Returns, and by the admissions of the Irish Executive. From these documents, it would appear that the treatment that "suspects" had been subjected to in Borne places was most unjustifiable. He would confine himself to the instances of Waterford, Limerick, and Cork, in all of which places it was proved to the House, by official documents and other testimony equally good, that men suspected of Fenianism were, until the matter was exposed in the House, treated worse than if they were convicted of heinous crimes. At "Waterford the stipendiary magistrate, outstepping his duty (and when the prisoners had legally passed out of his control), directed certain restrictions to be placed on them, contrary to law and local regulations, which directions, with equal impropriety, were carried into effect by the local inspector. He would read a few extracts from the Return, which, he was sure, would quite delight the hon. Member for Dungannon (Major Knox), who, in his speech of yesterday, appeared so anxious that no leniency should be shown even to those who were only suspected. Hang first and try afterwards appeared to be the rule which many in that House and out of it would apply to anyone charged with Fenianism before any proof was given of their guilt. On the 20th of February, 1866, the local inspector at Waterford wrote to the Inspectors General of Prisons— Under these circumstances the Governor has applied to me to know whether prisoners committed under the Suspension of the Habeas Corpus Act for no definite period, and awaiting Her Majesty's pleasure, should be treated as convicted prisoners, that is, given the gaol allowance of food and the gaol clothing. The Governor and myself would feel much more easy if these prisoners were treated as convicted men, when such instances as quoted above could not take place. The Inspectors General replied, 21st of February, that the prisoners ought to be treated as untried, such being the opinion of the Law Adviser of the Crown. The local inspector, however, in the face of this, preferred, as appears from the following, to obey the behests of the stipendiary magistrate:—

"Waterford Gaol, March 12,1866.

"In reply to your letter of yesterday's date, giving cover to a notice of Motion of Mr. Blake's regarding the treatment of certain prisoners confined in the Waterford Gaol, I have the honour to state that the only restrictions to which the prisoners arrested under the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act are subjected, different from those of ordinary prisoners, are in the following instances:—No intercourse with visitors outside. No interviews with legal advisers. Specifications to the above effect were given to the local inspector and Governor by the resident magistrate, Mr. Goold, and have been enforced."

Mr. Goold, the stipendiary, it would appear by the inspector's letter, reigned paramount for some weeks, his directions being adopted in preference to Acts of Parliament, the opinion of the Law Adviser of the Crown, and the advice of the Inspectors General of Prisons. The following speaks for itself:—

"Waterford Gaol, 14th March, 1866.

"Since the committal to the gaol of Waterford of the prisoners (sixteen in number), arrested under the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act, no visitors or legal advisers have been allowed to see them, though they have frequently applied for the indulgence, the resident magistrate, Mr. Goold, having directed the Governor and myself that no intercourse should be permitted between these prisoners and their relatives or friends outside."

This state of things went on until the 19th of March, he (Mr. Blake) having in the meantime called for Returns, and given notice of his intention to bring the matter before the House. On the 19th of March the Board of Superintendence, for the first time, thought it well to consider the matter and do their duty by taking the matter out of the hands of the stipendiary magistrate and local inspector, and directed that the prisoners should be treated in a legal manner. Mr. Blake detailed at some length the restrictions to which the Waterford prisons were subjected, and stated that when he first brought the matter before the House, that the Attorney General challenged the accuracy of his statements; but, to his credit, granted him Returns to enable him to vindicate them, which, when produced, he had to admit that the stipendiary magistrate had not done right, and yet he believed the conduct of that official had been otherwise passed over. The hon. Member having given an example in the treatment of a baker arrested under the Lord Lieutenant's warrant, in a town near Waterford, said these things had happened, and there was no guarantee that they would not happen again. Every precaution ought to be taken to prevent such outrages on law and propriety, and in no way this better suggested itself than to place on the face of the Bill, then about to pass, the record of the House, that untried men should not he deprived of the rights which still remained to them, though the constitution was suspended as regarded their personal liberty. He appealed strongly to the Government to allow the Amendment of the hon. Member for Clonmel to pass. It gave those who might be arrested not one privilege more than they now possessed, but it reaffirmed an important principle, and might have the effect of saving unfortunate men from the hardships which might be inflicted on them by over-zealous fools or petty tyrants, who would, if the clause were inserted, be unable to plead ignorance or necessity as an excuse for oppressing those having the misfortune of being placed in their power.


suggested that under the Prison Act there were two classes of prisoners—those committed for trial and those who were convicted. Now the prisoners committed under the Lord Lieutenant's warrant did not belong to either of these classes. The late Government intimated that they ought to be treated as untried prisoners, and ought not to be subject to any discipline except what was necessary for their safety. It struck him that if the latter part of the clause were left out after "untried prisoners," that would leave the action of the local gaols unfettered.

After a few words from Major KNOX and Mr. O'BEIRNE,


said, he understood the prisoners at Waterford were treated as untried prisoners.


denied that this was the case. They were subjected to restrictions in regard to exercise, to communicating with their legal advisers, seeing their friends, and the supply of books.


said, in that case the officers of the prison had acted illegally, and were guilty of a breach of the law. If his hon. Friend would agree to stop at the words "untried prisoners," and insert the words "so long as they are in confinement" after the word "deemed," he had no objection to the clause.

Clause, as amended, added to the Bill.

Bill reported; as amended, considered; read the third time, and passed.