HC Deb 27 February 1873 vol 214 cc1036-7

asked the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Whether his attention has been drawn to a report in a Dublin newspaper of incidents that occurred at the Clare Spring Assizes, showing the operation of the Juries Act of last Session; when the panel was called over, several jurors persisted in answering for others, and hardly knew their own names, others understood only the Irish language, and when the traversers were arraigned it was discovered that the foreman could neither read nor write; and, whether he has ascertained the truth of these statements; and, if so, whether he will propose a remedy for a condition of the law inconsistent with the due administration of justice?


I have caused inquiry to be made into this subject, and I find that the statements contained in the Question are substantially correct. At the Clare Assizes, the other day, when the panel was called over, the names of several jurors were answered to, though afterwards it turned out that these jurors were not present. In one instance, after the verdict was given, and it was necessary to sign the issue-paper, it was found that the foreman was unable to write, and the issue-paper had to be signed by the second on the list; and in one instance it was ascertained that a juror was acquainted with the Irish language only, and he consequently was not sworn. There has not yet been sufficient time to form a correct judgment with regard to the working of the Act. Very careful inquiries are being made during the present Assizes as to its operation; and, if necessary, steps will be taken without delay to amend the Act. I may mention that the Bill, when introduced by the Government, provided a much higher qualification for service on juries than was afterwards inserted. Between the introduction and the second reading of the Bill many suggestions, with a view to reduce the qualification, were proposed. These changes were made in both Houses, and at the request of various influential persons. For instance, on the suggestion of the Chamber of Commerce of the City of Dublin, and of many leading merchants, the qualification of special jurymen was reduced by one-half, and the same was done in other cases relating both to special and common jurors. It is quite possible, no doubt, that these changes may have been carried too far, and that the amount of qualification may require revision. If the experience of the present Assizes should show this to be the case, the change can be very promptly made. That some such revision of the Irish Act should be necessary need not excite surprise, when it is recollected that in England three Acts have been passed and four or five Committees appointed, within the course of a very few years, upon this very subject.