HC Deb 10 July 1876 vol 230 cc1175-7

asked the Chief Secretary for Ireland, Whether the insertion of the names of the Serjeants at Law in the Commission of Assize is not such a matter of ordinary routine as not to confer any right, in case of the existence of a vacancy amongst the Judges, to be selected to go as Judge of Assize; whether the statement which has appeared in the Dublin newspapers, to the effect that Serjeant Armstrong has been appointed to go as Judge of Assize, is correct; if so, whether, at the time of the appointment of Serjeant Armstrong to go as Judge of Assize, the Irish Executive were aware that the Serjeant Armstrong referred to is the same individual as the "Richard Armstrong" whose name was returned by the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the existence of Corrupt Practices at Elections for the Borough of Sligo under Schedule D, as "guilty of bribery;" whether the said Commissioners further reported that "Serjeant Armstrong" had "expended £1,480 in bribery;" "that the number of voters so bribed amounted to 97; of these we have ascertained the names of 65, among whom the sum of £1,200 was distributed;" whether, in consequence of the said report, the borough of Sligo was disfranchised; and, whether, in view of the foregoing circumstances and the precedent in the Stonor case, Her Majesty's Government are still prepared to appoint, or, if appointed, to cancel the appointment of an individual reported and scheduled as "guilty of bribery," to the important judicial office of going Judge of Assize?


Any official action, Sir, in the nature of making or revoking an appointment such as that alluded to in the Question rests with the Lord Chancellor of Ireland rather than with myself, and his Lordship has, therefore, forwarded to me a statement in reply to the hon. Member, which, with the permission of the House, I will read— In Ireland there are three Queen's Serjeants, who are always darned in the ordinary Commissions for the Assizes together with the Judges. The Queen's Counsel are not named in these Commissions, and if one is sent as Judge, a special Commission is issued for the purpose. When a Judge does not go circuit the proper person to take his place is a Serjeant. If no Serjeant goes, a Queen's Counsel is sent. The first Serjeant is Serjeant Armstrong. The other two Serjeants are in Parliament, and could not go as Judges, both on Constitutional grounds and because the payment they would receive might vacate their seats. Serjeant Armstrong was, under a Royal Commission, issued in June, 1869, to inquire into the existence of corrupt practices in the borough of Sligo, found to have been guilty of corrupt practices at the previous election of 1865, when he was returned to Parliament for the borough of Sligo. The Act of Parliament under which the Commission was held—15 & 16 Vict. c. 57—being with a view to inquiry and not punishment, protects every person who, like Serjeant Armstrong, is examined before such a Commission and makes a full disclosure, and declares that he shall be freed from all penal actions, forfeitures, punishments, disabilities, and incapacities. Serjeant Armstrong was not disturbed in his office of Serjeant either by the Government of the day or any succeeding Government, and has been named in every succeeding Commission as one of the Judges. Nearly 11 years have elapsed since the election in connection with which the corrupt practices occurred, and the Chancellor considered that Serjeant Armstrong, who is of distinguished eminence in his Profession, and who ranks next after the Law Officers, should not be considered disqualified to discharge the duties of his office, and might, therefore, in fulfilment of one of them, preside in the absence of a Judge at the Assizes.