§ MR. BODKIN (Roscommon, N.)
I beg to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland whether his attention has been drawn to the admission by Sir Peter O'Brien, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, at the recent Kilkenny Assizes that the number of Serious offences has been reduced in that county by one-half, from 22 to 11, as compared with the corresponding period the previous year, and that the minor offences have also considerably decreased; whether his attention was also directed to the long and strongly-worded complaint, on the same occasion by the same learned Judge, against the method in which the official criminal Statistics are compiled, and the refusal of those responsible to include in the table of 102 outrages fires and other injuries to property which the police believe to have been accidental, or to have been perpetrated by the owners for the purpose of obtaining compensation from the Grand Juries out of the rates; whether these criminal statistics have been compiled in the same way and by the same persons for many years, certainly during the whole of the last Administration in which the learned Judge acted as Attorney General, and whether during that period there was any official or judicial complaint, either by the learned Judge himself or by his colleagues in the law room of the Castle or on the Bench, as to the method in which these statistics were compiled; and whether, in view of the fact that any alteration in the system which has existed so long would destroy the value of these statistics as a standard of comparison between one period and another, he will continue unaltered the system so long in operation?
§ MR. CARSON (Dublin University)
Before the right hon. Gentleman answers that question may I ask him, in reference to the same matter, whether the case which the Chief Justice alluded to as having been omitted was returned by the Grand Jury as a case of malicious, and not accidental, burning of hay on the farm of a man named Campion, and whether the Return was not in an altogether different form, as stated by the Chief Justice, to that laid before him at Clonmel, in which similar injuries to property appeared?
I must ask for notice of that question. I understand that the County Inspector made a mistake which he afterwards explained to the learned Judge.
I think the hon. Member will find he is mistaken. With regard to the question on the Paper, my attention has been drawn to the language of the learned Judge in his address to the Grand Jury at Kilkenny Assizes. It is quite true that his Lordship admitted there was a considerable reduction in the number of offences of all classes reported since the spring Assizes as compared with the corresponding period of last year. In answer to the second portion of the question, my attention has also been directed to the strongly-worded 103 complaint of the Judge with respect to Irish criminal statistics. I am not aware that the system of compiling those statistics has been commented upon either by this learned Judge or other Judges of Assize in any year before this. The learned Judge was mistaken in thinking that all doubtful cases are usually included in the Returns. The contrary has been the practice, as the Code reads—Care must be taken that no outrages, not recorded as such at headquarters, are included in the Return.The learned Judge seems to have overlooked the fact that these statistics are prepared primarily for the information of Parliament and of Her Majesty's Government. The Executive Government have hitherto used—and certainly so long as I am responsible for it will continue to use—its own discretion as to the principles on which those Returns are made up. With regard to the opinion of the Lord Chief Justice that doubtful cases should in future be included in the Returns, I need not do more than repeat the general objection I have so often presented to the House, and which I believe is equally entertained by the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition, that such a change would destroy any possibility of comparison between the present and past years. That seems in itself a good reason why we should not take the learned Judge's advice.
§ MR. CARSON
May I ask whether the Police Code does not direct that all outrages reported to the police shall be laid before the Judges of Assize when they come to the different counties? May I further ask the right hon. Gentleman if he will read to the House the words of what he calls the "Strongly-worded complaint of the Judge?" Was not that complaint a complaint that a particular outrage was kept back on the allegation that the man had himself set fire to the hay? And, if so, was not that as great an outrage as could be committed?
§ DR. COMMINS (Cork, S.E.)
Is there any such practice known in England as that of a Judge in charging a Grand Jury commenting on cases which do not appear in the calendar?
I think it is, as the hon. and learned Member indicates, 104 not the practice in England. It is undoubtedly true that an English Judge would not make an occasion of this kind an opportunity for criticising the actions of the Executive Government; and if he happened to be opposed in politics to the Executive Government, I am quite sure an English Judge would be doubly careful. It is undeniable that the Code says—and it has equally been the invariable practice—thatCare must be taken that none but outrages recorded as such at headquarters are included in the Return.I cannot say whether the hon. Member is correct as to the other quotations from the Police Code.
§ MR. CARSON
I can tell you I am. For what purpose does the Code direct outrages to be returned to the Judge unless for the purpose of drawing attention to them? and may I ask whether it is the practice in England under any Code to lay outrages before the Judge of Assize? May I also ask—[Cries of "Notice!"]—I am not going to be mobbed by hon. Members below the Gangway—may I ask whether the right hon. Gentleman can quote any case arising under the late Government whore an outrage found to be malicious by the Grand Jury was not included in the Return?
The House must see that the hon. and learned Member must know he is asking me a number of questions as to particulars which it is impossible for me to answer offhand.
If the hon. Member will be good enough to put these questions on the Paper, I will give him the best answer I can. As for the attack on the Judges, what I have done has been to give a simple account of the matter; and if that simple account conveys in itself an attack on the Judges, it is due to what they themselves have said.
I did not catch the remark of the hon. and learned Gentleman. I am told he used the words "cowardly attack." If he did they are out of Order, and he will, no doubt, withdraw them.
§ MR. CARSON
In deference to what you say, Sir, I do withdraw them. I 105 wish simply to add it was in consequence of my questions not being answered that I thought the remark justifiable.