HC Deb 28 July 1890 vol 347 cc1066-9

In reference to the notice of Motion which has been given by the hon. Member for East Mayo (Mr. Dillon), I wish to read the following letter which I have received from Mr. Justice Harrison: —

"Newtown Park House, Blackrock, County

Dublin, July 26.

"Sir,—I observe in the report of yesterday's proceedings in the House of Commons that Mr. Dillon gave notice of a Motion impugning my conduct and the language of the charge recently delivered by me at the Galway Assizes. Of the terms of that notice I am not as yet aware, but, whatever be its character, I have no reason to shrink from Parliamentary inquiry into this or any other action of mine as a Judge of the High Court in Ireland. The meaning in which I used the words to which exception has been taken—a meaning which I believe was placed upon them by those who heard them—has been fully explained in my letter to you of the 23rd inst. To this explanation I can add nothing. It is to me a matter of deep regret that an error, even though it be only an error in language, should lay my observations open to a construction which assuredly was as remote from my thoughts when I spoke as it is in contradiction to every principle of law which for almost 22 years I have endeavoured to lay down from the Bench. I think I may say with confidence that no member, either of the Bench or Bar, would for a moment entertain the idea that I had directly or indirectly advocated the use of illegal methods for the redress of private wrongs, however intolerable those wrongs might be, and if among the general public there be (as I think there are not) any who hold a contrary opinion, I trust this letter, which I authorise you to use in any manner which you think right, may dissipate an impression not less unjust to me than injurious to the administration of justice.

"I remain, Sir,

"Your obedient servant,



I think the opportunity is favourable for asking the leader of the House when I shall be able to bring forward my Motion on this important subject. I may mention that the construction which I put on the learned Judge's charge has been put upon it by several newspapers in Ireland which advise that it should be carried out by the people of Eastern Galway.

MR. W. E. GLADSTONE (Edinburgh, Mid Lothian)

While thinking that the question should come most appropriately from my hon. Friend, in the absence of any one else, I shall be glad to put the question to the right hon. Gentleman.


I am exceedingly sorry to be compelled to refuse anything in the shape of a request from the right hon. Gentleman, who has had such great experience in the practice of this House. I do not think I should be doing justice to the House or to the learned Judge if I were to afford the opportunity which the hon. Member now desires after the full and complete explanation which has been given. I have referred to precedents, and I find that a Motion was made in 1834 impugning the conduct of Mr. Baron Smith, and a Committee was granted; but immediately after it was granted Sir R. Peel rose in his place in the House, and moved to rescind the Motion on the ground that— To appoint a Committee was evading the law, which required an Address from both Houses of Parliament to authorise the removal of a Judge; because if that Judge were a man of honour, and if the House implied the slightest censure against him, his own sense of propriety would tell him that he could no longer remain effective as a Judge."—(Mansard, Third Series, vol. xxi., p. 745.) I am of opinion, and I say it with' great respect to the hon. Gentleman and the right hon. Gentleman, that the learned Judge has given a full explanation, and that if a Committee were appointed, as the hon. Gentleman desires, to inquire into the conduct of the learned Judge, and into the step which should be taken by this House, those consequences must follow which Sir R. Peel indicated in 1834. I cannot think it possible that the House would appoint or entertain the Motion of the hon. Gentleman, after the full and complete explanation which has been given. I think, therefore, I must ask the hon. Gentleman, if he desires to persevere, to find for himself an opportunity at a later period of the Session, as I should not feel justified in interrupting the business of the House.


I am astonished at the answer of the right hon. Gentleman, who has made a reply of a very argumentative character. In my opinion, and in that of many others, the learned Judge has given no explanation whatever. On the contrary, the learned Judge has accepted the language imputed to him, and has simply said that the interpretation put upon it is not that which I have put upon it in this House, and which is put upon it also by the great mass of the Irish people. I think I have an indefeasible claim to bring this question to a discussion. The right hon. Gentleman has quoted the opinion of Sir R. Peel, but he forgot to quote the opinion of Lord Althorp, of Lord J. Russell, of Lord Palmerston, and of the Irish Secretary, Mr. Littleton, on the other side. Under these circumstances, and with these precedents, I am entitled to ask the right hon. Gentleman to reconsider his decision. The right hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well that it is impossible for us to bring this question to an issue without the cooperation of the Government, and that a refusal to grant me the permission, without which I cannot bring the subject to a discussion, amounts to an inducement to Irish Judges of that character to use what language they choose.


Allow me to point out, in supporting this appeal for re-consideration, that there is this additional reason for it: that since the question was addressed to the right hon. Gentleman he has not merely refused the application, but he has made a speech in which he has given, as he thinks, conclusive reasons against it. That is a position in which any fair-minded person would not leave the question.


I did not make any speech, but I thought it only courteous to the hon. Gentleman and to the right hon. Gentleman to give some explanation. The House is in possession of the whole of the facts which by any possibility could be elicited.

* MR. LEVESON-GOWER, (Stoke-upon-Trent)

who was received with loud and repeated cries of "Order," asked to be allowed to point out that the learned Judge had himself admitted that he had used the language, and courted an inquiry.