HC Deb 25 August 1887 vol 319 cc1818-20
MR. SEXTON (Belfast, W.)

asked the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, How many criminal cases were tried in Ireland at the Summer Assizes, and in how many of them the Judges disapproved of the action of the juries; and, whether any Assize Court was adjourned, or the trial of any case postponed, in consequence of the withholding of evidence, the absence of witnesses, the refusal of juries to convict in proper cases, or any other impediment to the due administration of justice?


(who replied) said: As Notice of this Question was only put down yesterday evening, I am not able to answer the first paragraph as to the number of cases in which, the Judges disapproved of the action of the jurors at the last Summer Assizes. I have, however, gleaned from the ordinary sources of information—namely, the newspapers— the following facts:—At Longford, in the case of a trial for homicide, there was an acquittal, on which Mr. Justice Murphy remarked strongly, saying the verdict was contrary to the evidence. Several cases were postponed on the application of the Crown in County Clare on the ground of the impossibility of a fair trial; and after several acquittals in the face of clear evidence in Kerry, Mr. Justice O'Brien, on the application of the Crown, postponed several cases, stating the jurors had not done their duty; that they had refused to convict in the clearest and most certain cases; and that, in his experience, no such example of unfaithfulness to duty had occurred on the part of jurors in any trial; and that it was well it should be understood so far as the machinery of justice was concerned for the protection of person and property and life in that county law was at an end.


Then the answer of the right and learned Gentleman amounts to this—that in the 32 counties of Ireland there was nothing of this kind except in those cases in Clare and Kerry, and one case in County Longford?


Those were all that I could get in time for the purpose of this answer; but it is quite likely that I will be able to give the hon. Gentleman a half-dozen others.


I wish to ask the Chief Secretary, in view of the pledge given some time ago in the House that specific details should be forthcoming with reference to this matter, whether, in the course of the debate this evening, he will lay before the House the specific cases that the Government have to produce?

MR. JOHNSTON (Belfast, S.)

And I should like to ask, will the right hon. Gentleman take means to ascertain how many of these cases are due to the action of the National League?


With reference to the case of Kerry, is the right hon. and learned Gentleman aware that in County Kerry at the Assizes, contrary to the ordinary practice in Ireland, the Crown did not exercise the right of "stand aside," or challenge; and that Mr. Adams, who represented several of the prisoners, said to the Crown Prosecutors, in the presence of the Judge in Court, that they rode for a fall, meaning thereby that they had ridden for the discredit of the jurors, by not excluding relations and connections, as it might be, of the persons accused?


I am aware that the Crown did not exercise the right of challenge, upon the ground that such challenge would be in operative, as all the jurors were practically of the same class. As regards the observations of my friend Mr. Adams, I am unable to say what he may have said in the discharge of his duty as the prisoner's counsel; but I am able to state—having read the paper this morning—that the learned Judge gave as his reason for acceding to the request of the Crown for a postponement that he had never seen such a disregard of duty on the part of jurors in any previous trial.


May I ask whether it was by any previous concert that this method of no challenge was adopted by the Crown in Kerry?


It is hardly necessary to state to the House that the word "concert" has no application to the action of the Crown. The Crown counsel acted on their discretion on the spot, and the subsequent observations of the Judge, in my opinion, demonstrate that they acted wisely.


I must press the Chief Secretary, in view of his pledge, will he be good enough to say whether the Government intend, in the forthcoming debate, to allege specific cases?


I have no details to give to the House—I gave no such pledge.