HC Deb 08 April 1875 vol 223 cc493-5

As the hon. Member for Stoke (Dr. Kenealy)—[Laughter]—perhaps I may be permitted to explain that on a former occasion, when I intended to put this Question, also in his absence, I found myself on being called upon to read it not equal to the task; and I therefore postponed the Question until this day. [Cries of "Read, read."]


Does the hon. Gentleman propose to put the Question?


I do so; but perhaps I may be allowed a word of explanation. [Cries of "Read"and "Order."] The hon. Member for Stoke is a young Member, and possibly being ignorant of the practice of the House, is not here to put the Question himself. I not having communicated to him what took place on a former occasion—["Read, read"]—may have led to this misapprehension. This remark, I think, is due in justice to him, as the reason why he is not here to put the Question himself. I beg, therefore, on his behalf, to ask the First Lord of the Treasury, Whether his attention has been called to the two following cases of alleged interference by Judges at the present Assizes with the province and independence of Juries:— 1. Extract from the "Dublin Daily Express" he of what took place at Limerick Assizes on he March 6th, before Mr. Justice Lawson, at the he trial and acquittal of two men charged with he homicide:— After an hour's deliberation the jury returned into court. The foreman handed down the issue paper. The Clerk of the Crown: Gentlemen, have you agreed to your verdict? Foreman: We have, my lord. Clerk of the Crown: And you say the prisoner is not guilty. (Sensation in court.) His Lordship: Gentlemen, is that your verdict? A Juror: It is, my lord. His Lordship: Is it possible, after hearing the evidence of the various witnesses examined, that you can arrive at such a verdict? Foreman: We have done our best, my lord. His Lordship asked counsel upon each side if they had anything to suggest. Sir Colman O'Loghlen, Q.C.: Well, my lord, the only suggestion I would venture to make to your lordship is that, the jury having agreed to the verdict, may now be discharged. His Lordship: Very well, Sir Colman. I must, however, observe that in the whole course of my experience I never witnessed a more wilful and distinct violation of an oath than has been illustrated by the jury in this case. It is beyond anything I could have imagined or believed. This is strong language for me to use, but feel that in the discharge of my duty, sitting here as a judge, I am bound to use it. Subsequently, Mr. De Moleyns appeared in court, and, addressing his lordship, said: My lord, in con-sequence of the extraordinary verdict of the jury, and the observations which your lordship has felt bound to make, I beg that your lordship will postpone further action in the case until Monday, in order to afford the law officers of the Crown an opportunity of consulting upon the subject. His Lordship: Certainly. The prisoner was then removed in custody, and the jury were discharged. 2. "A man having been tried and acquitted he at Brighton Assizes on the 18th of March, the he Lord Chief Justice Cockburn, the presiding he judge, immediately directed another jury to be he sworn, and, addressing the prisoner, told him he ought to consider himself very fortunate, for he did not believe twelve other human beings he could be found, except the jurors in the box, he who would have returned the verdict they had he done upon the evidence before them; and, whether it is his intention to introduce any measure which shall have for its object the better maintenance of the rights of jurymen to deliver verdicts according to their conscience, to the best of their ability, without censure from the Bench?


Mr. Speaker, the hon. Gentleman has made an appeal to me whether it is my intention to introduce any measures which shall have for their object the control of Judges in reference to conduct similar to that which he has detailed. I do not know why the appeal is made to me. It is not their business, happily, for the Ministers of the Crown to exercise jurisdiction over the Judges. If a Judge does anything to lose the confidence of the public, it is the privilege of Parliament to address the Crown to remove him from the Bench. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman should not have made his appeal to me; but, of course, I do not shrink from that appeal. I should be as unwilling as any Member of this House to interfere with the free expression of opinion on the part of the Judges as I should be to interfere with the free expression of opinion by the jury in delivering their verdict. There may be occasions on which the exercise of that freedom of opinion on the part of the Judges is for the public welfare. In civil cases it is often—perhaps not often, but occasionally—that the verdict of the jury is refused by Judges, and they are asked to re-consider it. In criminal cases, again, a jury may be so stupid or factious that a Judge may rightly and conscientiously believe that he is only doing his duty in expressing his opinion on the conduct of the jury. I hope—indeed, I feel sure—that no person in this House estimates more highly the institution of trial by jury than myself. I know its value, how much it conduces to the security of property and person, and not merely the freedom of the subject, but the liberties of the country. But I do not believe that juries are infallible; and from what I have observed of the sayings and doings of the hon. Member for Stoke, who originated this Question, and the hon. Member for Peterborough, who has adopted it, I believe that is an opinion which in some degree they share with me. I beg the House to observe that this Question has been felicitously introduced to-day in the absence of the hon. Member for Stoke, by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Peterborough who has just presented a Petition calling on the Crown to appoint a Royal Commission to impugn the verdict of a jury.