HC Deb 10 March 1887 vol 311 cc1745-8
MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)

asked the First Lord of the Treasury, If his attention has been drawn to the fact that it is proposed to place the two Orangemen accused of the murder of Corporal Hughes, of the West Surrey Regiment, and Head Constable Gardiner, of the Royal Irish Constabulary, and the wounding of a second policeman, during the Belfast riots, upon trial before a Belfast jury in a few days; is he aware that three juries, principally composed of Protestants and Orangemen, at County Tyrone Winter Assizes, have already refused to find the prisoners guilty; has his attention been drawn to the language of Judge Lawson, on the first trial of the elder Walker, as reported in the Orange organ, The Daily Express, as follows:— Addressing the jury, his Lordship said that the case was abundantly proved, and, after briefly reminding them of the evidence, said that the facts of the case could not lead anyone to doubt that the prisoner's was the hand that fired the fatal shot. There was no possibility of reducing the case to one of manslaughter. They were bound to find him guilty of murder. At one o'clock the jury retired. At half-past 2 the jury returned into Court, and the foreman stated that they could not agree. Mr. Justice Lawson.—You are bound by your oath to find a verdict, and there is no question in the case or doubt at all. You will stay in there until you do find a verdict. You are bound to take the law from me. The fact has been proved before you, and there is no alternative but the one. The Foreman.—The jury are unanimous that they will not find a verdict of guilty on this indictment. Mr. Justice Lawson.—You must retire, gentlemen. Several jurors said it would be quite useless for them to go back. Mr. Justice Lawson.—You must go back; and I will keep you there until you do find a verdict. That is all I can say; that, notwithstanding these admonitions, the jury refused to find a verdict; that, thereupon, a second trial was ordered, but the jury again disagreed; that Judge Lawson then said— They must have wilfully made up their minds to disagree, and added— I told you if you believed the man fired the shot you should find him guilty, and you can't do anything else; that, in spite of the evidence and the Judge's directions, they persisted in disagreeing, and were discharged; that Judge Lawson declared their conduct "highly discreditable," and added— The juror who would violate his oath, under circumstances such as surround this case, is a man I look upon as second in guilt only to the man whose case he has been investigating; that the younger Walker was then placed on trial, on the same evidence, and with, the same result; that the Judge refused to take a verdict of manslaughter, but the jury refused to find anything else, and were discharged, and, as these prisoners are now to be tried in the town where the riots occurred, can he say what steps are being taken to prevent a further miscarriage of justice in Belfast, where jurors largely belong to the Orange Society, and nearly all are of the same party as the prisoners; and, will he direct the Irish Law Officers to order a postponement of the trials, if the Government intend to ask Parliament for powers for changing the venue, so that the accused may be tried in some district where the influence of the Orange Society will not be paramount?


Before my right hon. Friend answers this Question, may I ask him whether he can inform the House if either of these two Walkers belongs to the Orange organization?

THE FIRST LORD (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)

I have no information with regard to the Question of my hon. and gallant Friend. In answer to the Question of the hon. and learned Gentleman, I have to say that the allegations contained in it are, I am informed, in part accurate and in part inaccurate; but while the prosecutions are pending I must decline to make any statement on matters which might affect the trial of the accused. The Law Officers have no power to postpone the trial of persons in custody without an order of the Court; and, when a case is in other respects ready for trial, such an order would not be made unless some grounds were shown that the case would not be fairly and impartially tried if then proceeded with. Experience has shown that very serious cases arising out of party riots in Belfast have been hitherto fairly and justly tried in the County of Antrim; and there is, therefore, no ground on which an application to postpone these trials could be based. If, during the progress of the Assizes, there seems reason for forming any other conclusion, the proper action will be taken by the Crown.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware of the fact that the juries in this case were willing to bring in a verdict of manslaughter, which was refused by the Judge, and can he give any guarantee that a similar course will be taken at the approaching trial?


The hon. and learned Gentleman is pretty well aware I have no personal knowledge of these matters at all.

MR. P. O'BRIEN (Monaghan, N.)

Will the right hon. Gentleman see that in this case the jury is not packed as in the case of Girvan?


Order, order!