HC Deb 29 November 1888 vol 331 cc529-57



, Member for the Borough of Northampton, rose in his place, and asked leave to move the Adjournment of the House, for the purpose of discussing a definite matter of urgent public importance—namely, the continued indefinite imprisonment of Thomas Moroney for a criminal offence—namely, (the Contempt of Court), to the actual serious injury of his health, and possible peril of his life; but the pleasure of the House not having been signified,


called on those Members who supported the Motion to rise in their places, and not less than 40 Members having accordingly risen:—


said, he quite agreed that the Government should not be asked to interfere with criminal proceedings except for very good cause. But he contended that such cause did not exist here, and asked the attention of hon. Members, because their adverse judgment might be a sentence of death to this unfortunate man, and he begged them not to depend on the usual sources of information at the end of a debate, but to hear the matter themselves. On the 14th of January, 1887, Thomas Moroney was summoned to show cause why he should not be adjudicated a bankrupt, and on that account was sworn and examined, and answered the questions put to him to the satisfaction of the presiding judge, and was then made bankrupt on the 28th of January. At the first sitting under that bankruptcy Moroney was put into the box to be sworn; but he refused to be sworn and examined. His advocate then stated the grounds of his refusal as follows:—That he was in no real sense of the word a bankrupt, and that he had been made a bankrupt in his capacity of shopkeeper by reason of a debt due in his capacity of tenant-farmer. He stated that the action brought against him in this Court was a vile and infamous attempt to crush him as a tenant-farmer and shopkeeper, and therefore he refused to be examined and sworn. Now he (Mr. Bradlaugh) was not going to justify Mr. Moroney's refusal to be sworn and examined; he admitted that legally the man was wrong, but Moroney claimed that he was morally right, and on this he should venture to suggest that at least Moroney might honestly think so. Proceedings were taken against Moroney to recover a sum of £85, which represented one year's rent, including the hanging gale, of 20 acres of land. At that time, and also when the petition for adjudication in bankruptcy was presented, Moroney had on his land and in his shop goods and chattels far exceeding the whole amount of the landlord's claim; and he suggested to the House that the object of the proceedings was not to recover the debt due to the petitioning creditor and to secure the proper distribution of Moroney's assets, but to obtain information as to other tenants, neither debtors or creditors of the bankrupt, but who happened to owe rent with which Mr. Moroney was unconnected. The intent, he contended, was to use Moroney as an informer against his co-tenants as to what disposition they might have made of any of their means, which the landlord desired to trace and recover. He contended that the House ought not to make itself a party to an offensive proceeding of this kind. The endeavour to examine Moroney was really an endeavour to examine into the Plan of Campaign. But the taking part in the Plan of Campaign was alleged by the Government to be an offence under the Coercion Act, 1887, and therefore an inquiry might have been held before a magistrate under the special powers given by the first section of that Act; and if Moroney so examined had refused to answer he undoubtedly might have been imprisoned, but for how long? This House had decided by incorporating in the Coercion Act Section 13 of the Petty Sessions Ireland Act, 1851, that the whole imprisonment for refusing to answer should not exceed one month. So that in an inquiry into a murder, the refractory witness could only be imprisoned for one month. If Moroney had been brought up under the Crimes Act and had refused to answer questions, the sentence could not have exceeded one month; but the unfortunate man had already been in prison for 23 months, and might stay there for his whole life, for refusing to answer questions in the bankruptcy proceedings—questions which, he submitted, ought to have been put under the Crimes Act. He was not asking the Executive to interfere between a plaintiff and defendant, but in a criminal ease. The man, for the legal crime of refusing to answer, had been punished in excess already, and the indefiniteness of the punishment had shaken his mind and imperilled his health. If the hon. and learned Attorney General (Sir Richard Webster) doubted his statement that contempt of Court was a criminal offence, he could quote authorities to support his contention. In re Pollard (5 Moore's Privy Council Cases, N. S. 111) the judgment was distinct that contempt of court was a criminal offence. He might say that, in a judgment of a recent date, delivered by Mr. Justice Mathew, and reported in 21 Q.B.D., 238, the Judge said— It should be borne in mind that a contempt of Court is a criminal offence. He quite admitted that Moroney was legally wrong, but he claimed that the man was morally right in refusing to turn informer against the poor tenants of the O'Grady estate. He was a tenant on an estate where, in his judgment, the rents were unfair, and he united with tenants poorer and less able than himself to make any defence for the purpose of procuring a reduction of rent. The adjudications of the Land Courts had upheld his view as to the unfair rent. He was made bankrupt to extort from him information as to the combination; he refused to give it. The fact that he did not make away with his goods, and that his business had been ruined by the proceedings taken against him, was evidence of his honesty. He must, of course, take the consequences of bankruptcy, and for not obeying the order of the Court he ought to be punished; but the sentence should have been a definite one, and not disproportionate to the offence committed. Mr. Justice Mathew had laid it down that where an act done was due to a mistaken view of the rights of the offender, the punishment, where punishment was deemed necessary, should be for a definite period, and should not be too severe. Now, in the present case the punishment was for an indefinite period, and was far too severe. The Returns laid on the Table of the House showed that this man's mind had already suffered from the nearly two years' imprisonment and the uncertainty as to when release would come. Thomas Moroney's bodily and mental health had been shaken, as the hon. Member for South Cork (Dr. Kenny) would tell the House on his responsibility as a medical man. His health—his mental health—was giving way, which meant that he was being driven to insanity; and those who were governing in Ireland must very seriously consider their responsibility as to the ultimate effect the imprisonment might have upon him. Mr. Justice Mathew said that a commitment until the offender consented to give evidence would not, in his judgment, be a proper order to make; and, further, that it would not be right for a Judge sitting in a Criminal Court, and compelled to sentence a prisoner, to direct that the imprisonment should continue until some condition, however reasonable that condition might be, should be complied with; the prisoner, when he had undergone his imprisonment, being entitled to an unconditional release. Moreover, an Irish Judge had also said that committal for contempt ought neither to be indefinite nor too severe. A former Member of the House (Mr. Edward Dwyer Gray), in a trial for murder, committed what the Court held to be a gross contempt, and he was fined and sentenced to three months' imprisonment by Mr. Justice Lawson, one of the Judges of the Supreme Court in Ireland. On a gentleman like Mr. Gray three months' imprisonment pressed heavily; his health was soon somewhat affected by confinement. He never apologized, never purged his contempt, never made any submission; but Mr. Justice Lawson—with that real generosity which went with justice in this country, and which it was to be hoped would go with the administration of the law in Ireland also before very long—released Mr. Gray at the end of six weeks. Were the Government more considerate to the strong than to the weak? [Cries of "No."] It looked as if they were. He would appeal to the sense of humanity on behalf of a man whom he alleged to be in a condition in which he required the treatment of an asylum rather than that of a prison, where he was being driven daily more and more into a state of madness. He thought it would be admitted that he had some justification for interrupting the ordinary deliberations of the House with that Motion; and he called upon hon. Gentlemen opposite, who would have to answer to their constituents for their action towards the Irish people, not to refuse the appeal which he now made on behalf of a man who, whatever his legal offence, certainly did not deserve a sentence of death, and still less of slow and lingering death by mental torture.

DR. KENNY (Cork, S.)

said, he rose with pleasure—if he could use the word pleasure in such a connection—to second the Motion. He would try to imitate the hon. Gentleman the Mover of the Motion in the moderation of his language, but if he were to follow the inclination of his own breast, his language would not be very moderate. He had occasion to visit his friend—and he was proud to call Moroney his friend—on several occasions. He did not attempt to make a medical examination of him, for he had no authority to do so, but he could not shut his eyes to patent facts which came under his observation. He saw Moroney six months ago, and visited him again a fortnight since, and he was shocked to see the change in his appearance. In the interval he showed unmistakable signs of physical suffering from the confinement. His excitability of temperament and demeanour indicated that he was in the gravest danger, and that he might pass that line—which was not so broad, and which might be easily overstepped—between the full possession of mental faculties and that unfortunate condition worse than death. He would go so far as to say he defied any Board, medical or otherwise, to find Mr. Moroney an insane man in any sense of the word; but he equally defied them to say that he was not in a condition in which that unfortunate mental condition might not supervene. Mr. Moroney was under the impression that he was being subjected to a system of official persecution of an irritating character, which could not fail to produce disastrous results to his mental condition. Moreover, they had two Returns lately presented before the House in which his health was referred to by the medical officer of the prison as "mentally unsatisfactory." He know that the Report had given Mr. Moronoy so much pain that he now refused to receive and accept the ministrations of the medical officer of the prison. He (Dr. Kenny) deeply regretted—as he regretted having to say elsewhere—to have to say in that House he was compelled to find grave fault with Dr. Carte, the medical officer of the prison, that on seeing Mr. Moroney's condition to be unsatisfactory he did not urge upon the Executive, as was his duty as a man and physician, the immediate liberation of this unfortunate man. He more deeply regretted still that the medical officer had not reported to the proper authorities and compelled them to grant such relaxations of the present rule in Moroney's case as would tend to counteract the evil effects of this long imprisonment. It was clear from the prison rules that the Visiting Committee—es-specially if asked by the medical officer—would have the power to grant an extension of the time allowed for exercise to any prisoner who was a first-class misdemeanant, as Moroney was. The medical officer, however, had not thought well to do so. This poor gentleman's (Moroney's) exercise for 22 months had been confined to two hours per diem. To a man who had been used to a constant outdoor existence, as Moroney had, the mere idea of confinement was irksome and irritating in the extreme. Not alone had the medical officer not asked them to extend the time of exercise in this case, but he had allowed this to go on. Under ordinary circumstances, Moroney was allowed two hours' exercise a-day, one in the forenoon and one in the afternoon; but the prison officials had reversed the whole of that condition, and they gave him exercise when they pleased. If he (Dr. Kenny) called in to see him for the quarter of an hour allowed, that was illegally subtracted from Moroney's exercise, and was refused to be made good to him. He did not want to say there was official persecution, but Moroney was under that impression, and he (Dr. Kenny) would mention two circumstances. The medical officer's report made Moroney to be in a mentally unsatisfactory condition—what was the meaning of that? It meant that he was, to a certain extent, irresponsible for his acts. By the law, if offenders were held to be so irresponsible, they were not put in a position where they might do those acts again, but care was taken they should not do injury to others. Acting on that idea, the Governor removed the cord from Moroney's window under the idea, according to Dr. Carte's report, that he might not injure himself. But while the prison officials took that view on one side, they did not hesitate to sentence him to bread and water and deprivation of privileges on the other side. No more grossly inconsistent treatment or course of action could be adopted by any responsible Body. On that day fortnight, when he visited him, he (Dr. Kenny) was rudely assailed by a warder rejoicing in the name of James Carey, who made a statement that he (Dr. Kenny) was medically examining Moroney, which was a thing he had not the slightest intention of doing. After that visit a report was made by the warder that Moroney had used abusive language to him, and he was summoned before the Visiting Justices the next week. He did not know how that meeting came to be held, but three members of the Visiting Committee had informed him they got no notice whatever that such investigation was to be made. Moroney was sentenced to seven days' deprivation of privileges—meaning, exercise, &c.—and condemned to 48 hours' bread and water for addressing the warder as a tyrant. Moroney did not use the expression in his presence, but on the day of his visit the warder was so rude towards him (Dr. Kenny) that Moroney became exceedingly irritated by it, and no one could blame him for it. The Visiting Justices, however, afraid of their own action, suspended that sentence in order to allow them to get an answer from the Prisons Board. When the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour) came to reply to that debate he asked the right hon. Gentleman to give no quibbling answer such as that they had no power to deal with Judge Boyd. Judge Boyd was a creature of the Executive. They made and they could unmake him. Did they mean to say that a hint from the Government would not produce a relaxation of the sentence? Judge Boyd pronounced this sentence to aid them in their course of policy. He prostituted the seat of Justice to carry out the policy of the Government. Why not ask him to undo an act which brought shame upon them?

MR. T. W. RUSSELL (Tyrone, S.)

I rise to a point of Order. Is it in Order for a Member of this House to state regarding one of the Judges of the Superior Courts in Ireland, that he has prostituted the seat of Justice to assist the Government to carry out their policy?


On the Question of Order, Sir, I desire to ask is not the salary of a Judge annually voted by this House; and, cannot, therefore, his conduct properly be brought under our consideration?


said, the term "Prostitute the seat of Justice" was clearly an improper and un-Parliamentary expression, and he asked the hon. Member to withdraw it.

An hon. MEMBER

Free speech!


Order, order!


said, if he had used any un-Parliamentary expression he withdrew it. He desired to know why Moroney's assets were not realized and applied to the discharge of any debts which might be justly due from him. In conclusion, he begged to second the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this House do now adjourn."—(Mr. Bradlaugh.)


said, there was one phrase which dropped constantly from both speakers in this debate, but principally from the hon. Member who moved the Adjournment of the House, and it would imply that, in his opinion, the Government were responsible for what had occurred. That was not the view which was taken by the Government. The hon. Member alleged that Mr. Moroney was treated differently from the late Mr. Dwyer Gray, and asked how that difference of treatment was to be accounted for unless the Government were prepared to adopt harsh measures against the weak and not against the strong. He was unable to perceive in what part of the Executive Government the hon. Member had found the slightest colour for a charge of that kind. On the other hand, he had heard the opposite allegation constantly urged against the Government. It had been constantly said that the Government proceeded against Members of Parliament in excessive numbers, and that they did not hesitate to take action against the leaders of a certain section of public opinion in Ireland. That was inconsistent with the charge of meanness and cowardice now brought against the Government. Both hon. Gentlemen had referred to Moroney's treatment in prison. He had all the privileges of a first-class misdemeanant, and if he had been illegally deprived of them he had his remedy at law. In point of fact, Moroney had been treated like all other misdemeanants. In the course of his imprisonment of about 22 months he had been punished by an alteration of diet on three days only, and even the most delicate constitution would not yield to that. He would not deny that he may have suffered from the term of his imprisonment, but not by the severity of his punishment. The hon. Member said the Government were responsible for what had occurred. He had consulted the two legal advisers of the Government on that Bench, and also the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary (Mr. Matthews), and they were of opinion that if this case had occurred in England there would be no power in the Executive, under any circumstances, to interfere in any manner with the imprisonment of a person confined under the circumstances which attended the imprisonment of Mr. Moroney; so that if there were an inequality in this case as between England and Ireland, the inequality, like most inequalities connected with prison treatment, was in favour of Irish prisons. He did not, however, commit himself to any proposition upon that point. If it were in the power of the Lord Lieutenant to deal with this case on adequate medical grounds being shown, of course any medical report would receive exactly the same weight in the case of Thomas Moroney as in the case of any other prisoner in Ireland. With regard to the circumstances in which this imprisonment originally took place, the hon. Member for Northampton dwelt upon the circumstances of the O'Grady estate. He did not propose to go at length into that subject, which was not germane to the present discussion; but it was only fair to state that the allegation that The O'Grady made no concessions to his tenants was totally without foundation. The rental of the estate was £2,142 in 1845, and it was £1,616 at the present time. After the passing of the Act of 1881 an independent valuer was appointed, and under his advice the rent was reduced to £1,616. Moreover, The O'Grady had in bad years made a further reduction of 15 per cent on judicial and of 25 per cent on other rents. The rents thus reduced and doubly reduced were cheerfully paid by the tenants till the Plan of Campaign was started on the estate. Moroney, he was informed, was one of the trustees under the Plan.


said, he had no personal knowledge on the subject, but he was authorized to contradict the statement that Moroney was a trustee.


said, whether Moroney was a trustee or not, or even one of the leaders, was not perhaps very material to the question before the House, The facts which affected the case were that he was adjudged a bankrupt, and was brought before the Bankruptcy Court. When before the Court he refused to take the oath required by law to be taken when a bankrupt was asked to declare his assets. And what was the ground of his refusal to take the oath? Those whose only information came from the hon. Member for Northampton would be led to believe that Moroney refused to take the oath because improper questions were going to be asked him, which, upon his part, it would be a breach of faith if he answered them completely. Nothing of the sort. The ground put forward by his solicitor for the refusal was that the bankruptcy was not a valid nor a proper bankruptcy. But the case was carried before the Court of Appeal, which decided that Moroney had been legally and properly adjudicated a bankrupt. Under what circumstances did Moroney refuse to take the oath? Everybody who read the proceedings would be persuaded that even if Moroney had not been committed for an actual refusal to do that which the law said he should do, he nevertheless ought to have been committed for the specific offence of improper behaviour in Court. The account of the proceedings was very interesting. Judge Boyd requested the bankrupt to take the oath, but he declined to do so.

MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)

Read it consecutively; read it all.


said, among other incidents in the trial he observed that Moroney stood up in the witness-box and, holding out his hands, quoted a stanza of patriotic poetry. [Cries of "Read it."] No; hon. members who wished to read it could read it for themselves. There were doubtless occasions when it was proper to read patriotic poetry, but to do so in a Court of Justice as a response to a request to take an oath was neither respectful to the Judge nor conducive to the proper conduct of legal proceedings. He admitted, however, that if that had been the only offence the Judge would have been very ill-advised to inflict any serious term of inprisonment. That brought him to the fundamental distinction between the case of Moroney and every other case which had been quoted, which had been wholly lost sight of in the speeches of the Mover and Seconder. Mr. Justice Mathew—not Matthews, as the hon. Member improperly pronounced it—had been quoted. He would read a passage from his judgment. [The right hon. Gentleman then looked for the passage among his papers, but without success.] He would not interrupt the course of his argument by looking for a passage which no doubt would be quoted later in the debate, and which was not really material to the case, because it would be noted that other Judges besides Mr. Justice Mathew had been of the same opinion. The one case relied upon by the hon. Member for Northampton was the case of a woman named Davis, who insisted upon taking and retaking forcible possession of certain premises. The Court, in order to protect the person to whom these premises belonged, committed the woman Davis for contempt, and they continued to commit her from time to time, because she absolutely declined to give any undertaking that she would refrain from repeating the offence. A period arrived at which the Court ceased to continue the committal, and it was on the fact that the Court refused to continue the commitment that the hon. Member for Northampton based his contention. Now, what were the words in which the Lord Chief Justice of England assented to this woman being no longer committed for contempt? Were they words which bore out the contention of the hon. Member for Northampton that there was a limit, and ought to be a limit, after which committal for contempt should cease? He would read to the House what the Lord Chief Justice said— I assent to the proposed order—that is for release—and I do so distinctly on the ground that it is assented to on behalf of the plaintiff in the action as affording him adequate protection. When the Court has given its decision, and the person against whom the Court has decided defies the Court, ignores its decision, and persists in persecuting the person complaining, however reluctant the Court may he, it has, in my opinion, no choice but to enforce its judgment by the imprisonment of the contumacious person. It was, therefore, as clear as daylight, from the charge given by the Lord Chief Justice of England, that had it rested simply with the Court—had the Court simply to consider the fact that they were defied by a continuous course of action—they would not have let the woman Davis out; and it was solely because the plaintiff agreed to allow this woman to be lot out that the Lord Chief Justice assented to that course being taken.


That is not the charge, but the judgment.


said, he had not the same wide experience as the hon. Gentleman, and it was possible that he had made a slip. But it would be sufficient if he accurately and clearly gave the substance. Now, the fundamental distinction which lay at the bottom of all these judgments for contempt of Court had been stated by the Judges over and over again. If there were a continuous defiance of a Court of Law, which it was in the power of the prisoner at any moment to cease making, so long as the defiance lasted the imprisonment lasted. To go back to the case of Moroney, it was not a question of 20 months' imprisonment for refusing to take the oath at the time he was first brought to the Court, but he had been put in prison until he purged his contempt by taking the oath which it was in his power to take at any moment. Whether, therefore, Judge Boyd was well or ill advised, whether the Lord Chief Justice, who endorsed the doctrine on which Judge Boyd acted, was right or wrong, was not his business. It was clear that the case of a prisoner who might get out directly he chose to obey the law was wholly different from that of a man committed to prison for a long and indefinite term for an offence which he has committed and cannot go back upon. In the first case it was merely a method of securing obedience to the law; in the other it was the exercise of the punitive power of the Judge. He would say no more on that particular point, because it was perfectly clear that the whole argument of the hon. Member for Northampton fell to the ground if once the distinction were grasped between the punitive action of the Judge and the action to which he referred. He had explained to the House that, in the opinion of those best qualified to advise, in England there would be no power in the Government to interfere at all. He had also stated that if law and precedent were different in Ireland, if there were a power in the Lord Lieutenant to deal with a prisoner in these circumstances as he would deal with a prisoner in other circumstances, the release of the prisoner would be ordered. Leaving, therefore, the specific case of Moroney, he would ask the House to bear in mind one or two general considerations which ought not to be absent from their minds in voting on this question. The House ought to enter on discussions of this kind with the utmost circumspection and caution. As he understood the Motion, those who voted for it would interpret it as a reflection upon the conduct of the Judge in his ordinary duty. [Cries of "No!"] It was capable of no other interpretation whatever. Now, the constitutional method—and he believed the only constitutional method—of dealing with the conduct of Judges was by a Resolution of both Houses of Parliament. That had some effect; nothing short of that had any effect. Suppose this Motion, instead of being for the Adjournment of the House, was a specific. Resolution condemning the action of Judge Boyd. Why, Judge Boyd would be bound to regard it as so much waste paper. If ever that House were to control the action of the Judges on the Bench, there was an end to the independent administration of justice in England. But the case was even stronger than he had put it. They were asked to vote, not for a Resolution condemning the action of Judge Boyd, but for a Resolution that the House should adjourn, a very different proposition, which each man was capable of interpreting in his own way. This was a good illustration of the extreme inconvenience of this mode of raising a question. An hon. Member might vote for this Motion because he objected to Judge Boyd or to the Chief Secretary. Others might vote for it because they would like to see the House adjourned. The Motion was so drawn that it was capable of being voted for from very different reasons. It was also capable of being voted against for many reasons. He did not believe that there was anybody on that side of the House who thought there was any impropriety in the action of the Government, nor did he think that anybody on that side of the House desired to interfere with judicial procedure. Still any hon. Member might vote against the Motion because he did not wish to stop the business of the House. This showed the inconvenience of attacking the Executive Government by Motions for Adjournment, which, if carried, the country would be at a loss to interpret. But he had a stronger reason for requesting the House not to vote for this Motion. The Motion was not really a reflection upon the Executive at all, but upon Judge Boyd. But Judge Boyd would not be injured if the Motion were carried, but the House itself. The House would pass a Resolution which, in the opinion of the Mover, would be a condemnation of the Judge.


said, he intended it to reflect upon the Executive.


said, from the speech of the hon. Gentleman, anybody would suppose it to be a Motion against the Judge. But the Judge would treat, and would be bound to treat, the Resolution, if carried, with absolute contempt; and the House of Commons could get nothing but discredit and dishonour by a Resolution of this kind attacking the Judicial Bench. He hoped, therefore, that the House would hesitate before it committed itself to a course which before now had brought discredit upon its promoters and in the future might bring discredit upon it again. So far as the Executive was concerned, he could only repeat that if it were a question in which the Executive had the power which they possessed in the case of ordinary prisoners, they would exercise that power, if, after a medical investigation, it was proved that the prisoner's health was suffering from the confinement.


said, he wished to explain that he had not said one solitary word against the Judge. He certainly had not intended to, and his impression was that he had not done so.


said, he wished to say a few words on the subject. He would not, in the course of the arguments which he intended to address to the House, make any attack upon the Judge or the Executive Government in Ireland, He must say the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary misrepresented the scope and the object of the Motion, which did not complain expressly or impliedly of the Judge. There was no stigma cast on Mr. Justice Boyd by this Motion. They were resorting to the ordinary expedient of moving the Adjournment of the House to discuss a matter of definite and urgent importance—namely, the long continued imprisonment of the man Moroney under circumstances which had caused serious peril to his health, and might endanger his life. Therefore, those who voted for this Motion might relieve themselves from all notion that in supporting it they were casting a stigma either on the conduct of the Executive or the Judge. The right hon. Gentleman, while he said that he did not propose to discuss the facts of the case, had nevertheless given his version of the case. He agreed to a certain extent that the facts were not directly germane to the question, but as they had been referred to, and in a way which did not fit in certainly with the account of the facts which he had seen stated, and apparently authentically stated, he should like to remind the House what those facts were. The man Moroney was one of a number of tenants upon the O'Grady estate. He combined with the other tenants to demand an abatement of rent, which the landlord considered unreasonable. Landlords generally did consider such demands unreasonable. ["Oh, oh!"] Well, the tenants made the demand, and it might be that their demand was unreasonable. He did not know, and he should not stop to consider the matter. Moroney, being a man of means and position, took a foremost part in the matter. He owed a certain amount of rent, and being a foremost man, his landlord proceeded to take action against him to recover one year's rent, including the ordinary hanging gale, and he did that for the obvious purpose of striking at the combination of which Moroney was one of the leading men. Now Moroney was not in any proper sense a bankrupt or insolvent, and he left upon his farm sufficient property to answer for the amount of rent under process. But, notwithstanding these facts, his landlord proceeded to make him a bankrupt with the purpose—and he understood that it was avowed—of using the machinery of the Court of Bankruptcy not merely to get at the facts as regarded that particular man, but at the facts relating to the action of the other tenants, and Moroney, for that reason and on that ground, refused to be sworn. He should assume that Judge Boyd in the Bankruptcy Court was justified in requiring the witness to be sworn, and he should assume that Moroney committed contempt of Court in refusing to be sworn. He should not suggest one word of blame against Judge Boyd; but it must not be assumed, on the other hand, that he endorsed his course of action. What he did he was authorized to do, but was not compelled to do by the Irish Statute under which he acted. He might have committed Moroney for a definite period, and then again called upon him to be sworn. He should say, in the first place, this—that it was against modern precedent, it was against the tendency of recent changes in the law and recent expressions of judicial opinion, to commit any man for a contempt of Court to prison for an indefinite period. Moroney by his single act committed a contempt of Court, and for nothing more and nothing less Judge Boyd was justified in punishing him. He should cite distinguished authority of living Judges, and also the opinion of one of the greatest jurists who had adorned the Bench, Mr. Justice Wills. Let him just remind the House of the history of this subject. This old law of committal by Courts of Justice for contempt was an anomaly in our law, and was not consistent in the wide way in which it was exercised with modern notions about the limited jurisdiction and the responsibility of Judges. There were undoubtedly days, Dot so long ago either, when in the case of contempt which concerned the rights of private individuals the Court of Chancery treated as contempt and the Court punished private injury done to the prejudice of a litigant. There were scandalous cases which would not be tolerated in the present day—cases of long years of imprisonment—but the law had altered that. There was the Act of 1869—he meant the Debtors Act—which limited the period of imprisonment in such cases to 12 months, and in the case of County Court Judges there was a further restriction of the power, blow stood judicial authority upon the point? As the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) had pointed out, the decision of Mr. Justice Mathew was not seriously impugned by Lord Coleridge, and Mr. Justice Mathew said— The commitment until the defendant consents to give evidence would not, in my judgment, he a proper order to make. He (Sir Charles Russell) wanted to know what was this unless it be that very thing. How long was this wretched man to be kept in prison? He had already been very close upon two years in gaol. Was he to be kept there two years more or five years more? Was there no Statute of Limitations? High as was the authority of Mr. Justice Mathew, he would cite an authority higher than his. He thought if hon. Gentlemen had been aware of the opinion of Mr. Justice Wills they would hardly have allowed the right hon. Gentleman to make that very wild statement of their views. He would refer to the case of Fernandez, which came for review before the Court presided over by Chief Justice Earle. The case was on all fours with the present one, and Mr. Justice Wills pointed out, as also Chief Justice Earle, that the only remedy was an appeal to the Crown in the nature of an appeal for mercy. This proceeding was in the nature of an appeal for mercy; and, as they all knew, the action of the Crown meant the initiative and action of the Executive In the case just referred to, he was reminded that the committal was six months only. He admitted that it had not been the custom of the Executive to interfere with commitments for contempt which consisted in disobebience to orders in matters concerning private property—as, for instance, the return of money or the execution of deeds of conveyance; but he did not admit that in such cases the Executive had not the right to interfere, because it had been laid down upon the highest authority, adopted again and again by the Judges, that contempt of Court was nothing less than crime, punishable by fine or imprisonment. In the cases of the class he referred to, the Executive had, he maintained, the absolute right to interfere, although he admitted they would only be justified in interfering in extreme cases. Was it to be said that when there was a criminal in gaol under the care and guardianship of the Crown, that there was any limitation of the power of the Crown to open the prison doors and set him free? His argument was that contempt was a crime, and that it was treated as a crime, and it followed that the Crown, by the exercise of its prerogative, to which there was no limitation, could open the prison doors to any person so charged. He did not want in any way to weaken the appeal which was made to the House to put pressure upon the Executive, and he had not said a word to suggest that originally the Executive was in any way responsible. There was in this case no continuing necessity for the purpose of public justice or for the assertion of any private right that Moroney should now be examined. Now that the attention of the Executive had been called to the case; now that it was clear that this man's health was injured and that his life might be endangered; when it was reported that the balance of his reason was disturbed, he affirmed that the Executive might well listen to the appeal that was made to them. It needed no voice from the grave to tell them that if the Executive would but express the faintest opinion—after consulting Judge Boyd, which he did not think was necessary, although it might be courteous—that this man had suffered enough; that his punishment had been totted to the last figure; and that there was no reason why he should be imprisoned until he was finally bereft of reason, there would be no difficulty in effecting his release from prison.


said, he wished to add, by way of explanation, that he believed, rightly or wrongly, the Executive had not the power to deal with the length of this man's imprisonment; it was open to doubt whether they could release him as they could an ordinary prisoner; but he had stated, and he would repeat, that if they had the power it should be exercised.


said, that his hon. and learned Friend (Sir Charles Russell) in his opening remarks disclaimed any intention of attacking Judge Boyd, but, in spite of the disclaimer of his hon. and learned Friend, his observations amounted to an attack upon Judge Boyd for having pronounced a wrong sentence. He would, however, meet his hon. and learned Friend on his own ground. He was sorry that his hon. and learned Friend had not quoted Mr. Justice Wills at length, for in the case of Fernandez, Mr. Justice Wills simply referred to the fact that there might be an appeal to the Crown in a case of a punitive sentence; and no single authority had been cited to show that the Executive could interfere to release a man who was in prison in circumstances similar to those of Moroney. It was possible that in Ireland in such a case the Executive might have power to interfere with a man's imprisonment on account of the condition of his health; but in England, unless a Judge who had made an order of commitment, made an order of discharge, no Executive officer had any power to order the release of a man imprisoned as Moroney was. If an attempt were made to release Moroney by writ of habeas corpus or any other process, the production by the gaoler of the order of the Judge committing the man to prison would be a conclusive answer to any such attempt. Neither the Home Secretary nor any other person had the slightest right to make an order of discharge. The analogy from the Debtors Act failed altogether.


said he had quoted it as an instance of the tendency of modern legislation.


said that it was no instance. But how did the matter stand? This was an attack on the Judge or on the Executive. The imprisonment of this man was ordered under the section of the Statute, and the conditions of imprisonment and of release were clearly defined by the Statute. It said— If any person shall refuse to be sworn, or shall refuse to answer any lawful question put by the Court, or shall not fully answer such question, it shall be lawful to the Court by warrant to commit such person to such prison as such Court shall think fit, there to remain without bail until he or she shall submit himself or herself to such Court to be sworn and full answers make to the satisfaction of such Court to all such lawful questions. The sentence in this case was not a punitive sentence. The man was committed to prison only until he purged his contempt, and he had in his own hands the power to unlock the prison door. The Act relating to imprisonment for debt had no bearing whatever upon proceedings in bankruptcy or imprisonment for contempt. No one could assert that the Government had anything to do, directly or indirectly, with the length of the sentence. And, indeed, it depended upon the prisoner himself even more than the learned Judge. The hon. and learned Member for South Hackney could not, and did not, suggest that the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary had anything to do with the sentence, or that the Government had anything to do with lengthening it; nor did he suggest that Judge Boyd was wrong in sending this man to prison for contempt. Neither the Government nor the learned Judge had anything to do with the length of the sentence. The Judge merely acted in accordance with the Statute, and it would be a lamentable thing for this country if it were supposed that the Executive could interfere with the Judges and cut down their sentences. No one could assert it to be desirable that the Executive should interfere, directly or indirectly, with sentences of this kind. If this man's health required his release, that was a matter which ought to be carefully considered; but this Motion could only be taken either as an attempt to undermine the authority of the Judge, whose conduct could not justly be impeached, or to insinuate misconduct on the part of the Executive, which had nothing to do with the matter.

MR. HALDANE (Haddington)

said, the right hon. and learned Attorney General had absolutely and entirely missed the point of the Motion made on the Opposition side of the House. They did not attack the conduct of any Judge. What they asserted and insisted on was that there was something wrong in the state of the law that allowed this man to be kept in prison, and that it was the duty of the Government to take such steps as should remedy what they conceived to be a great injustice. It was said that no Resolution of this House could bring about the release of this man. He subscribed to the principle that Judges should be left independent of any Resolutions of the House of Commons. But if the Government assented to this Motion it would be an intimation that they would be favourable to a Bill being introduced for this man's release. There were two ways in which it was possible for the Government to give effect to the wish of the House in this matter. In the first place, if it was true—and it had been shown beyond all question that it was true—that contempt of Court was a criminal offence, then it seemed to him that the clemency of the Crown in the form of a pardon might be well extended to the man Moroney. Why should the Executive not interfere in this matter? A pardon from the Crown would in all probability release the man from prison. If the Government submitted to the House a Bill for an alteration of the law for the purpose of releasing Moroney, it would certainly receive every support from that side of the House. If this man had been tried at the Old Bailey for contempt of Court he would have been sentenced at the most to 12 months' imprisonment. Yet in this case, where the offence was a small one, Moroney was imprisoned for an indefinite period. The law on the subject of contempt of Court required amendment, and in 1883 Lord Selborne introduced a measure with this object. Mr. Justice Mathew, in the recent case of Mrs. Davies, pointed out that it was against the policy of the law that a person should be kept in prison indefinitely for contempt of Court. This was a criminal offence which a Judge had power to deal with summarily, but which was also triable by indictment, and since if tried by indictment the person guilty of contempt would be sentenced to a definite and moderate term of imprisonment, it was not right that he should, under the summary process, be kept in prison indefinitely. He thought the time had come when some restriction ought to be put on the power of Judges who might be irritated with the conduct of some person brought before him, and who might order that person to be imprisoned for an indefinite period. If contempt of Court was an offence against the law, it ought to be tried in the ordinary way. They made no attack on the conduct of any Judge of the land. They simply asked the Government to assist them in amending the law in the shortest possible manner, or to exercise the clemency of the Crown by releasing this prisoner.

SIR HENRY JAMES (Bury, Lancashire)

said, that if the object of those who made the Motion were to effect an alteration in the law, that purpose would not be carried out immediately by adjourning the House. He was glad to hear from his hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Hackney (Sir Charles Russell) that there was no suggestion that there had been any error or fault in the Judge who had made the order of commitment. It must be assumed that the order had been well made; for there was a remedy for the subject who had been committed by a wrong order by writ of habeas corpus. He would ask the House to consider the case, supposing it were one of a fraudulent bankrupt who had no honourable motives. Suppose the Court knew that he had large property somewhere, about which he would give no information. What course was the Court to take? The Court was bound to toll him that he must give an account of his property; or that if he refused to obey the Court, he should remain in prison until he did—a thing which could be done at any moment. Therefore the case must be assumed, whatever the motives of the man in refusing to answer the question, to be a defiance of the law, and hon. Members should take care that through their dealings with the action of a Court of Justice the law should not be set at defiance. His hon. and learned Friend had pointed to the fact that the man Moroney had remained in prison 22 months. But he need not have remained 22 hours, because he could at any time obey the order of the Court and cease to set it at defiance. He was not prepared on the moment to express a confident opinion on the question whether the Executive had the right to recommend the Crown in this case to remit the sentence. He did not know how a sentence could be remitted which was for the purpose of asserting that a man should do a certain thing, and that when he had done it he should be free from custody. But if the sentence were for a positive period, then there would be powers within the Executive to remit the sentence. As to the remitting of a sentence that was not positive, they were on very delicate ground. If it were declared that the Crown had such power, the Court would be prevented from carrying out its decree that a specific performance should be carried into effect; and that was a condition in which the Executive and Parliament ought to be very careful how they interfered. If it were true that there was any ground for the suggestion that the man was bereft of reason—that this conduct resulted, not from contumacy, but from gross eccentricities of character, it was a matter which ought to be considered to the fullest extent.


I have promised that we will carefully consider this matter, and we have been doing so for days.


said, he would suggest to the Government that the most generous consideration should be given to such arguments. By so doing no one would be condemned; the original sentence would not be pronounced wrong or the Executive unduly dilatory.

MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)

said, that with any of the propositions of the right hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down he would not quarrel. The Chief Secretary for Ireland had stated that the Executive were under no responsibility or liability in this matter, and that, therefore, the Motion must be an attack upon the learned Judge. He (Mr. T. M. Healy) thought it a most remarkable thing that the Chief Secretary, who was unable to answer any of the questions as to Moroney's health, was, at the same time, fully armed to answer the hon. Member for Northampton (Mr. Bradlaugh) on the details of the O'Grady estate.


I am well acquainted with the details of the Plan of Campaign estates. Moroney's case has been under the consideration of the Lords Justices for the past six days.


asked why, if that were so, an answer had not been given to the Question of his hon. Friend. He held in his hand the Return of Prisoners for Contempt of Court, dated April 13, 1888, and in that he found the case of Thomas Moroney referred to in the following words:—"Physical condition good; mental condition indifferent." This was eight months ago, and the Government had been in possession of the doctor's report all that time. From the Chief Secretary's reference to the man's behaviour in Court, it was evident that he had been aware of his eccentricities from the first. In prison precautions were taken against the possibility of Moroney committing suicide, and he had been deprived of those things to which a sane prisoner was entitled; and, while they did this, they punished him, as if he were a sane man for a breach of prison discipline. Where the responsibility of the Executive began was, that they had received the doctor's report and had done nothing for eight months afterwards. He had visited the man a fortnight ago, and he hardly knew him; his hair was grey, and his features and frame emaciated. It had been stated that the man when in custody could at any time have purged his contempt. But no attempt had been made to take him before the Court; he had had no opportunity of purging his contempt; but for the Motion brought forward he might have rotted in prison. What could Moroney do? Notice would have to be given to the Court, not by anyone friendly to Moroney, but by the petitioning creditors. He would make no observation on the conduct of the Judge. He would admit that the Judge had no other option than to commit Moroney in the first instance. But there were other landlords besides The O'Grady who had tried bankruptcy proceedings; they were tried by Mr. Brooke on the Coolgreany estate. Moroney had cattle and stock on his farms enough to satisfy the landlord's claim five times over; and the landlord could have seized them, but he would not. That showed that this bankruptcy proceeding was a bogus and sham proceeding. Moroney did not owe a shilling to any man in the world except his landlord. When a Judge was aware that proceedings were taken in his Court—not for a genuine purpose of bankruptcy, but for the purpose of subjecting a man to a kind of inquisition, he should not favour such a course. What was the action of the other bankruptcy Judge—Judge Millar—when a man named M'Carthy and others were committed? They had not been in gaol more than two or three months when Judge Millar ordered their release, and Judge Millar was as good a Conservative as Judge Boyd. Therefore, if any attack was made upon Judge Boyd, it was made by the action of his official colleague. The House, then, should not treat this matter as if it was dealing with the case of an ordinary bankrupt. They ought to deal with it as from the start—an abuse of the process of the Court, and, for Ms (Mr. T. M. Healy's) part, he declared that if he were in Moroney's place—and certainly he would have no desire to commit a contempt of the Court over which Judge Boyd presided—he would do exactly the same thing. If proceedings were levelled against him for the purpose of making him betray his comrades, the poorer men with whom he had been working, when he had plenty of means to meet the claim, it would have been a point of honour with him to face the consequences. Nobody, and especially a member of the Executive or a member of the Judiciary, could be ignorant of what was the mind of Parliament on this matter. In the Session of 1883 a Bill was brought into the House of Lords, and passed without a Division, limiting the term of punishment for contempt to imprisonment for three months. Moroney had received more than seven times that punishment, which Lord Selborne, who was the father of the Act he referred to, thought was sufficient. That Bill of Lord Selborne's had no doubt been introduced with the concurrence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury, whose treatment, he must say, of questions connected with Ireland had always contrasted favourably with that of his Colleagues. With regard to the power of the Executive to interfere, it should be remembered that the Bankruptcy Judge was not a Judge of the Superior Court. His salary was voted by that House year after year. Here they had a statutory tribunal, and the position was wholly different from the case of a Judge of the Superior Court. It was an inhuman thing that with this Report on Moroney's health staring them in the face no action had been taken on it for eight months. He wished to tell the Government that that report had had one important and unhappy effect, and that was an effect upon Moroney himself. It would have been a more humane thing if Dr. Carte, instead of baldly and nakedly putting the statement he had done in the Blue Book about Moroney's health, had made a confidential statement to the Government. Which of them in the course of 23 months' confinement, and brooding over this brutal statement that the mental condition was unsatisfactory, would not be affected by it? Even if the man's head was indifferent at the time, Dr. Carte, instead of baldly stating it in the Blue Book, should have communicated it long before to the Government. He charged Dr. Carte with a very grave dereliction in this matter. Either he made a prior Report to the Government or he did not. If he did not make a prior Return, but waited for this Return, then he said Dr. Carte misconceived his duty; but if he did make a report to the Government then the Government had knowledge of Moroney's health, and were equally responsible. Therefore, instead of saying that Motion was an attack on the Government, he regarded it as a Motion directed to the Executive, and that they should punish a man whom they themselves declared was in a mental condition which was unsatisfactory—that they should punish him on bread and water, and treat him as a man in full possession of his mental faculties, was a gross misuse of their powers. If this had been the case of an Englishman or a fraudulent bankrupt he would have been released long ago. It was because this was a political imprisonment that this man was detained. If it were the case of a twopence-half-penny bankrupt, or of some landlord who would not pay his debt, the man would long since have been released under a report of this kind, and it was a shame and a scandal that with the report staring them in the face for the last eight months, they continued inflicting punishment on this man when his health was indifferent, and that, instead of giving him additional time for exercise they should have arraigned him, as they did the other day, before three magistrates, and sentenced him to a further period of bread and water. He declared it was a monstrous thing, and would not have happened in any other country, and would only be done in Ireland for political purposes. He contended this was a Motion directed against the Executive, against the prison officials, and against the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary; and it could have no other aim or object. The prison rules were being construed against this unfortunate man. He (Mr. T. M. Healy) visited him the other day, and asked him upon what grounds he had been put on bread and water. Before Moroney could reply the Governor interfered, saying that he would not allow him to be asked anything with regard to the sentence, the Court which passed it, or the grounds of such sentence. He (Mr. T. M. Healy) brought the prison rules, and asked the Governor to be good enough to refer him to any rule which forbade such; but he refused to do so, saying he declined to be cross-examined. "I decline," he said, "to give you any information. I am acting upon my instructions." He (Mr. T. M. Healy) told the Governor he should persist in asking this question; and he again put the query to Moroney, who was at once trundled out of the visitors' room. He denounced such a course of procedure as being contrary to the prison rules. The Governor was bound to act on the rules. If he acted on private instructions or private letters, such as the right hon. Gentleman was going to address to the Land Purchase Commissioners—if he was going to act on Executive communications—he was grossly neglecting and betraying his duty. What was the power resident in the Governor to prevent this first-class misdemeanant being asked with regard to his treatment in prison? What was the power to prevent Moroney from having the visits of his friends, to which he was entitled? Why was that visit cut short when a question was being asked on the matter, which was not prohibited by the prison rules He declared that the prison rules were being broken in regard to this man. The Government regarded him as a political prisoner, and they treated him accordingly. They could show him nothing in the prison rules which entitled them to violate the Statute regarding this man, which enabled him to have a visit for a certain period each day. Now, they said if this man was in ill health they would have it inquired into; but they would only say that when the Adjournment of the House was moved. And when they attacked the hon. Member for Northampton for moving the Adjournment, he would ask them what other opportunity had they of calling attention to the matter? Finally, let him tell the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary that in his days of nature—in the days when he sat below the Gangway on the other side of the House—he was not slow to use such a method himself—he had moved the Adjournment of the House about the Kilmainham Treaty. Now, however, hon. Members were guilty of a criminal act in moving the Adjournment because prisoners were not released.

MR. HENRY H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)

said, he must protest against the Constitutional position laid down by the Attorney General (Sir Richard Webster) and the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bury (Sir Henry James), who applied to all persons exercising judicial authority in this country the great Constitutional privileges conferred on the Judges of the Supreme Court since the time of the Revolution of 1688—namely, absolute irresponsibility to Parliament and to the Executive. In the case of a Judge of the Bankruptcy Court, a Stipendiary Magistrate, or others of an inferior class, it was unnecessary to move by means of an Address to the Crown in order to remove their authority.


said that the Irish Bankruptcy Act constituting this Court provided for a Judge's removal by an Address to the Throne from both Houses of Parliament.


said that this was not his point. The test was that if the salary of the Judge was paid out of the Consolidated Fund Parliament had no right to interfere; but it had a right to review the conduct of any officer of the Crown whose stipend was voted in Committee of that House; and before he knew of the Motion which had been made he intended himself to move in Committee a reduction of the salary of Judge Boyd. He also protested against the doctrine that the Crown had no right to interfere in a sentence of that kind. This was the crux of the case. Admitting the propriety and legality of the question put and the impropriety and illegality of the refusal to answer it, he submitted to the House that Moroney had been sufficiently punished by 23 months' imprisonment, and that it was now the duty of the Executive Government to interfere. The doctrine of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Bury was that if the Government were satisfied that they had power in the event of that man's health being imperilled, they should interfere. The condition as to his health should be rejected altogether. The Attorney General had laid it down positively that the Crown had no power to interfere, and that contention had met with the approval of the right hon. and learned Member for Bury. But the opinion of Mr. Justice Wills, which had already been referred to, was in opposition to that view, and it had been approved of by Chief Justice Earle in the same case. He said, "We are not a Court of Appeal from the Court of Assize. If the party is dissatisfied, or thinks he is aggrieved, he may apply to the Sovereign, and the Sovereign may give him redress." Hon. Members on that side of the House were appealing to the Sovereign through the Irish Executive to exercise the prerogative of mercy. He should go into the Lobby on that ground alone, and he trusted that hon. Members on both sides of the House would do so likewise, under the firm conviction that this man had suffered sufficiently.


said, his right hon. Friend had entirely misunderstood him. He had endeavoured to express to the House his view that where the punishment was a fixed term and punitive, the judgment of Mr. Justice Wills and Chief Justice Earle was correct, and the Crown had the power of interference; his doubt was whether, in the absence of any precedent to that effect, where the judgment was merely in order that a thing should be done, and where the moment the thing was done the man was released, the same power existed as in the case of a punitive sentence.

Question put.

The House divided:—Ayes 159; Noes 195: Majority 36.—(Div. List, No. 316.)

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