HC Deb 15 August 1876 vol 231 cc1231-4

in moving for a Copy of the Letter of Resignation of the late Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, Ireland, said, his intention in making that Motion was to call the attention of the Chief Secretary for Ireland to the fact that a vacancy had been created in the Court by the elevation of Chief Justice Morris to the Chief Justiceship, and that that vacancy had not been filled up. It was not his intention to go into the general question of the reduction of the number of Judges in Ireland, which, he believed, was contemplated by the Judicature Bill, and was urged by certain parties. He would only say he was himself opposed to that; but if it was to take place, he certainly considered that it was not in the Court of Common Pleas that this reduction should be made. He thought so because it was that Court that had the trial of Election Petitions, and that for that reason it should have its full complement of Judges. This was not a matter of mere speculation. Immediately after the last Election a Petition was lodged against the return of his hon. Friend (Dr. O'Leary) for the borough of Drogheda. The Judge who tried the Petition thought the case so important that he reserved it for the Court of Common Pleas to determine how far the irregularities alleged to have taken place in the mode of conducting the Ballot vitiated the return. The Court of Common Pleas was divided on the question. Chief Justice Monahan and Mr. Justice Morris were of opinion that they did not vitiate the election, and Mr. Justice Lawson and Mr. Justice Keogh thought they did. The Court being thus equally divided, the question was left to Mr. Justice Barry, who originally heard the case, and he, after reviewing the whole proceeding, decided that his hon. Friend (Dr. O'Leary) was properly elected. Had, however, the Court of Common Pleas been constituted as it was at present, with three Judges, the majority would have carried the point against the third Judge, and his hon. Friend now sitting for the borough he represented, and proposed sitting for it, would have been unseated. He thought the recom- mendation made last year on this subject would be acted upon, and that the vacancy should be filled up.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That there be laid before this House, a Copy of the Letter of Resignation of the late Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, Ireland."—(Mr. Butt.)


said, this was hardly a matter upon which he could give the hon. and learned Gentleman any definite reply, as the appointment of the Judges in Ireland rested not with himself, but with Her Majesty, acting on the advice of the Government. He did not precisely gather from the remarks of the hon. and learned Gentleman what his point was; but he thought his object in calling attention to the subject was to obtain a promise from the Government that the vacancy would not be allowed to continue beyond a certain period. The circumstances of the case would be fresh in the recollection of the House. By the Irish Judicature Bill it was proposed to deal with the number of Judges in Ireland. They had hoped that that measure would have become law this Session. That, unfortunately, had not been the case, and perhaps the hon. and learned Gentleman could explain as well as anybody else why the Bill had not passed? However, though that good fortune had not attended it this year, he hoped it would next year. The hon. and learned Member in calling attention to the matter referred to the duty imposed on the Court of Common Pleas of trying Election Petitions. That was undoubtedly a duty in addition to the ordinary work of the Court, and one which it might be called upon to perform at any period of the year; but it was obvious that that duty was one of comparatively less importance at the present time than it would be if there was any early prospect of a General Election. He confessed that he failed to see from the circumstances to which the hon. and learned Gentleman had called attention any special reason for filling up the vacancy immediately. Although the Court was not up to its full strength it was composed of most able and most fearless men. Their ability, indeed, was such as to entitle them in an eminent degree to the confidence of the Irish public, and he believed the general opinion of them in Ireland would be that they were among the most competent members of the Irish judicial bench. He quite admitted that, owing to the failure of the passing of the Bill to which he had referred, it was unfortunate that the Court must remain for some time longer shorn of its full strength. He only trusted that hon. Members now representing Irish constituencies would be fortunate enough to retain their seats during the autumn and the winter, and that the Court would thus be not called upon to perform any extra work of the kind they had been considering. He trusted they might be able early next Session to give to the subject the attention which its importance merited, so that the present anomaly might not be continued too long.


Am I to understand from the statement of the right hon. Baronet that it is the intention of the Government to keep the Judgeship vacant until next Session?


I believe, so far as I know, that is the intention.


said, he believed the general opinion entertained in Ireland with regard to the Judges was very different from that which had been expressed by the right hon. Baronet. On the contrary, it was notorious that, from whatever circumstances, many of the Judges were utterly without the confidence of the general bulk of the population. He referred in particular to Mr. Justice Keogh and Mr. Justice Lawson, the distrust in whom arose from the very circumstances they had been discussing—namely, the trial of Election Petitions. For those Judges, not content with pronouncing their judgments, entered into tirades against those they had decided against, tirades involving large social and religious questions, and they had thereby stripped themselves of the confidence of the people of Ireland.


shared most fully in the opinion expressed by the hon. Member for Galway as to the statement made by the Chief Secretary for Ireland. It surprised him very much that a statesman generally so discreet should have made an assertion so rash and incon- siderate. The Judges referred to were able, certainly, and fearless, if audacity could be properly so termed. At the last Election he had the honour of being elected for two places, and he estimated that honour still more because, according to the Constitution, one Petition only could be tried, and he was sure that if his election came before Mr. Justice Lawson, no matter what the evidence might be, he (Mr. Callan) would be unseated.


rose to Order. It was not usual, nor was it desirable, that hon. Members should discuss matters in which they were personally concerned. The hon. Member for Dundalk was personally concerned in this matter, and his case had been properly investigated.


I was not interested, and there was no case tried.