HC Deb 21 February 1871 vol 204 cc658-61

rose to call attention to the recent nomination of High Sheriffs for the counties of Westmeath and Louth. A short time ago the appointments of High Sheriff for the counties in Ireland were made, and among those appointments were those of two or three gentlemen who had no property of any description in Ireland, and, so far as he was advised, no qualification to serve in the office of Sheriff for any county in Ireland. It had, for some time past, been the practice for the Government of Ireland to appoint gentlemen to the office of High Sheriff of a county without any reference to their possessing any land or other qualification in Ireland. A relative of his own, who did not possess an acre of land in Ireland, and who had no residence in that county, and who, in fact, had never resided in Ireland, was recently nominated to the office of High Sheriff for the county of Westmeath. His relative requested to be excused from serving; but he was informed by an officer of the Irish Government that it was necessary he should take upon himself that office. Believing that it was his duty to serve his Sovereign in that capacity, he had taken the oaths as Sheriff; but before undertaking the responsibilities of High Sheriff of Westmeath, which was not altogether in a satisfactory state, and in which it was not improbable that there might be a capital conviction during his term of office, he was anxious to ascertain whether the acts he might perform as High Sheriff of Westmeath would be legal. The 14 Charles II., c. 21, contained the following section:— And it is hereby further provided and ordained that no person shall be assigned to be Sheriff of any county within this realm except such as have land within the said county sufficient to answer the King and his people. He (Mr. Monk) had the authority of a learned Queen's Counsel for saying that his hon. relative was not duly qualified to hold the office of High Sheriff, and that all his acts done in that capacity would be illegal. Since he had entered the House he was informed by his hon. Friend the Member for East Kent (Mr. Milles) that having been pricked for the office of High Sheriff of that county, as the eldest son of a Peer, though possessing no land or property of any description in the county, he had instructed his legal advisers to protest against his nomination to the office, and it was ruled by the Judges that the appointment was invalid, and it was consequently cancelled.


, in seconding the Motion, said, that a relative of his had been pricked for the office of High Sheriff of Donegal, who resided in a house lent him by his father, and neither the house nor the land which surrounded it ever would be his own.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That there be laid before this House, a Copy of the Correspondence that has taken place between the gentlemen nominated to be High Sheriffs for the counties of Westmeath and Louth and Her Majesty's Government."—(Mr. Monk.)


said, the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk) had been very impatient and somewhat unreasonable in bringing the matter before the House. He had only that evening received from Ireland the correspondence alluded to, expressing a doubt as to the legality of the appointment, and requesting that he would submit the point to the Law Officers of the Crown for their opinion. That he had already done, and it was quite impossible that he could obtain their opinion in two or three hours. Everything had been done that the gentlemen in question asked to be done, and he was perfectly satisfied with the course the Government proposed to adopt. He believed the practice in Ireland was very different from that in England, and that gentlemen there who had no property in the county had been called upon to serve, and had done so. At all events, the initiative was not taken by the Executive, but by the Judges. The Judges prepared a list, which they submitted to the Executive, and all the Executive did was to take the first names on the list and nominate them. Now, if the practice was illegal, it was one that had been initiated and sanctioned by the Judges of the land; but if it were found to be wrong, the practice would be discontinued, and means would be taken to relieve those who had this year been so appointed. As to the production of the correspondence, he begged to call attention to the fact that the Motion was made entirely without Notice. He would look into the correspondence, and see whether the whole or any part of it could be produced; but, on the part of the Government, he must decline to produce a correspondence which he had not had an opportunity of considering.


said, as he had been so pointedly alluded to he should say a word in explanation. He thought when the question was put to him—and he still thought—that it would be an improper thing for him, in answer to a Question in this House, to review the decision of the Judges; if the Law Officers of the Crown, when the question had been considered by them, were of opinion that the gentlemen in question had been improperly appointed, the Government would take means to remedy whatever had been wrongly done, and to appoint others to the offices. He did not, however, anticipate that any such conclusion would be come to.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.