HC Deb 24 May 1887 vol 315 cc1055-61
MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)

said, he quite sympathized with the claims of the National teachers, as put forward by his hon. Friends; but what he now rose for was to call the attention of the House to the difference in the constitution of the Court of Appeal in Ireland and in England. In England he understood the practice to be that a Lord Chancellor never sat in the Court of Appeal except to hear some interlocutory matter, or unless a Judge happened to be sick or absent from any cause whatever. So far as he could gather from the Judiciary Act, the constitution of the English and Irish Courts of Appeal were of a similar character. In England practically no political question came before the Court. At any rate, it was extremely rare for anything of a Party nature to come before the Court, and yet the English Lord Chancellor never sat in the Court of Appeal. If the English Lord Chancellor, who was always a political official and a Member of the Cabinet, was so scrupulous as to avoid the duties of the English Court of Appeal, what should be the feeling of the Irish Lord Chancellor in the matter, considering that they not only had political cases but agrarian cases—cases between landlord and tenant—coming before the Court of Appeal in Ireland Never within the present generation at least was an Irish Lord Chancellor, before the present one, an active politician and a Member of the Cabinet. Lord Ashbourne fought the case of the landlords during the debates on the Land Act of 1881 in that House with an ability that no one who witnessed the fight could mistake, and he saved millions of money to the landlords by his resistance to reform and changes in the Bill. He (Mr. T. M. Healy) did not object to Mr. Gibson's well-deserved promotion as Lord Ashbourne to the House of Lords and to a seat in the Cabinet; but, he asked, was it just or fair that Lord Ashbourne, after taking an active part in opposing the Land Act, should sit in the Court of Appeal and decide questions arising under that Act? Lord Ashbourne showed a proper sense of the incongruity of his position as a politician and a Judge in the registration appeals in 1885 when he declined to sit in the Court of Appeal, and why he did not act in a similar manner in regard to other cases in which Party feeling also rose was very strange. Take the case of Father Keller. Everybody knew that the arrest of Father Keller was dictated by political bias. The Official Assignee was forced by order to go on with the proceedings against him. A question arose upon habeas corpus as to whether the warrant of arrest was valid or not. That case agitated the entire population of Ireland, and if there ever was a case in which a political official of the Government should not have sat it was this case. It would have been much more fair and orderly if Lord Ashbourne had refrained from sitting in the Court of Appeal to hear the case. He was one of five members of the Court four of whom decided one way, while he decided the other. He did not say that his Lordship's law was not of the most perfect and classic character; but he thought he would better have preserved the respect and confidence of the people of Ireland for the Court of Appeal if he had not formed a member of that Court. The Lord Chancellor of Ireland had quite sufficient to attend to if he attended to minors and lunatics. He trusted, therefore, that he would in future follow the example of the English Lord Chancellor. He was very glad to hear the First Lord of the Treasury express his satisfaction at the release of the Rev. Bell Cox, an English clergyman. Now, he did not know what the Rev. Bell Cox was imprisoned for; but he was, at any rate, a convicted prisoner, convicted by a competent authority. Father Keller was not a convicted prisoner. He was not convicted for anything derogatory to religious practices, and he was merely committed by the Irish Bankruptcy Court for contempt, and now it turned out that the Irish Bankruptcy Court had no right to commit the rev. gentleman, and that the whole proceedings were illegal and bad from first to last. If so, all the previous matters depending upon that warrant, including the order given to charge the people at Youghal, resulting in the murder of O'Hanlon, were also illegally done by the Government. The Government, while they supplied tin bayonets to the soldiers who went to Egypt to fight the foes of England, always took care to supply the Irish police with the best cutlery. A Coroner's jury had returned a verdict of wilful murder against the policeman who had killed O'Hanlon and the officer who had given the order to charge. They heard a great deal about law and order, and respect for competent tribunals; but what had happened in this case? The officers of the Constabulary had refused to answer any question as to who had been guilty of this terrible crime, and the Government had backed them up. The Attorney General for Ireland was very strong upon the subject of contempt of Court, but this was in itself a case of contempt of the Coroner's Court. The Government refused even to prosecute Constable Ward and Mr. Somerville, who in the eyes of the law were murderers; they had been retired for a short time upon full pay, and then sent back to the Constabulary. It was not improbable that these men would get promotion, as Town Inspector Cameron and Town Inspector Carr had been promoted after they had rendered themselves obnoxious to the people. Was it likely that the people of Ireland could respect law and order when they saw that the Government itself paid no respect to law and order? The Government acted similarly in the case of District Inspector Milling, who had bludgeoned the people in Cork; and though a Bench of Magistrates returned that Inspector for trial the Government refused to prosecute. [Laughter.] Hon. Members opposite were accustomed to laugh when they heard that the heads of Irish Members were broken by the police.


rose to a point of Order, and asked whether the hon. and learned Member's remarks were relevant, because they appeared to him to be nonsense?


There can be no point of Order with regard to irrelevancy upon a Motion for the adjournment of the debate.


I think I caught the word "nonsense." I do not know, Mr. Speaker, whether that word is in Order; if so, it will greatly enlarge the Parliamentary vocabulary.


I understood the hon. Member (Mr. Atkinson) to rise to Order when the hon. and learned Member was speaking of hon. Members opposite in a manner that was certainly unusual in this House, and rather, I thought, deficient in the ordinary Parliamentary courtesies, and I thought he was going to refer to that part of the hon. and learned Member's remarks; but he did use the expression that the hon. and learned Member was speaking nonsense, which in itself was not a courteous expression; but I interpreted it to refer to irrelevancy, and said that it was not on a point of Order, as we are on a Question of adjournment.


I will withdraw the word "nonsense," and will say that the remarks of the hon. and learned Member were "irrelevant."


said, he was quite indifferent to what the hon. Member or any of his Party might think of his remarks. With regard to the cases of police who had been convicted of illegal conduct, if the Government did not choose to prosecute them, he did not, at all events, see why they should promote them.

THE ATTORNEY GENERAL for IRELAND (Mr. Holmes) (Dublin University)

said, that as the hon. Member who had referred to the case of the Barbavilla prisoners had not introduced anything new into the discussion, he could only refer him to what he had said in reply to him on former occasions. The hon. and learned Member who last spoke began by referring to the constitution of the Court of Appeal in Ireland. He could only say that the Court of Appeal in Ireland was constituted according to the Judicature Act of 1877; and for a very considerable period before that the Court of Chancery Appeal was constituted with the Lord Chancellor as one of its constituted members. The hon. and learned Member said that in Ireland the Lord Chancellor sat in the Court of Appeal, while in England he did not do so. It would be impossible, without a much larger staff, to manage the Court of Appeal unless the Lord Chancellor was a member of it; and it was on that basis that its constitution under the Act of 1877 was drawn out. It did not appear to be an extraordinary thing, when that Act was passed, that the Lord Chancellor should be placed at the head of the Court of Appeal. They had in the Court of Appeal in Ireland Lord Chancellors drawn from both sides of the House. They had two very distinguished and teen politicians from the Liberal side of the House—Lord O'Hagan and the late Mr. Hugh Law. In the same way, Lord Ashbourne had always acted as his Predecessors had done in presiding in that Court; and, as he gathered from the hon. and learned Member, he did not impute to Lord Ashbourne partiality in the mode in which he administered justice. At present the English Lord Chancellor did not sit in the Court of Appeal. For many years he had done so; but by reason of the appellate jurisdiction of the House of Lords his time was fully occupied, and t had been for many years not usual for him to do so, and why? Because he was presiding in the very highest Court of the Realm. If the case of Father Keller was brought to the House of Lords the Lord Chancellor would preside at the hearing. The hon. and learned Member then referred to the arrest of Father Keller, and asked why the Government should not make some inquiry into the circumstances connected with it, and make that inquiry with the view of seeing that some compensation should be given. What occurred in that case occurred very frequently in the various Courts, the only difference being that it was a rev. gentleman in that case, while in other cases the person committed would not be in Holy Orders. The Court of Bankruptcy made an order that had the effect of sending this rev. gentleman to prison. It came by appeal before the Queen's Bench, and that Court decided that the order was right; and it then came before the Court of Appeal, and that Court, by a majority of four Judges to one, decided that the order was wrong. The hon. and learned Member also refered to the case of an English clergyman, who was released by the Superior Courts. He (Mr. Holmes) was not aware that any demand for inquiry or compensation was made in that case, which was a precisely similar case to that of Father Keller.


No; he was convicted in that case.


wished further to point out that the Court of Appeal held that Father Keller should be released by reason of the warrant not being valid. They all admitted that the facts of the case as they transpired in the Bankruptcy Court were sufficient to justify the Judge in making the order to commit him to prison, but they held that the mode in which he made that order was bad. The point had been a technical one; although a proper order could have been made, as a matter of fact it had not been made. With reference to the proceedings at Youghal, in which a man, unfortunately, lost his life, it must be remembered that there was considerable excitement in Youghal; and at the time the police charged with their bayonets Father Keller was not arrested at all. It took place early in the morning after the lives of the police had been placed in danger. Although the stabbing of the man was an unfortunate circumstance, he denied that it was a criminal act. The matter was investigated before the Coroner's jury, and it was not a fact that Constabulary witnesses refused to answer any question, because it appeared from the depositions that all the questions asked were answered. He read the depositions most carefully, and beyond all doubt, any officer would be justified in ordering the charge. The man Ward would have been dismissed from the force if he had not carried it out, and the officer (Sub-Inspector Somerville) would have been guilty of a dereliction of duty if he had not ordered it. Having read the depositions he advised that no prosecution should be brought, as he had advised in the case of eight policemen who had, also, been found guilty of wilful murder by a Coroner's jury in Belfast. He was informed that according to the practice in England there was no precedent for a man being put on his trial on a Coroner's inquisition. He believed he would not be justified in the performance of his duty by directing a trial against those men in Youghal or against those men in Belfast. [Mr. T. M. HEALY: What happened?] The matter did not belong to his Department, but he heard the Chief Secretary for Ireland stating, in answer to a Question, that Sub-Inspector Somerville and Constable Ward were still in the force, and he did not see why they should not be. Then, in regard to the case of Sub-Inspector Milling, he was bound to clear the streets of Cork owing to the collection of a crowd in the streets at that late hour. And he did clear the streets, as the police would do under ordinary circumstances. Although the hon. Member for Mid Cork (Dr. Tanner) was knocked down, that was done in the ordinary course of clearing the streets, and on reading the depositions in that case he did what he had done again and again in other cases—directed that the Crown should not prosecute. These were the facts the hon. and learned Member had referred to. He had no knowledge that he was going to bring them forward, except what he said with respect to the Court of Appeal last night; but he had the facts in his recollection, and was, therefore, able to answer the questions which he had raised.