HC Deb 15 March 1894 vol 22 cc323-5

On behalf of the hon. Member for South Tyrone, I beg to ask the Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland whether he can state the number of cases of crime reported by the police to the Judge of Assize in County Clare at the recent Spring Assizes, held at Ennis, the number of persons made amenable thereat, and the result of the trials of the said persons; and the number of Clare prisoners tried at the Winter Assizes, held at Cork, and the results of the trials of the said persons under the change of venue involved in the Winter Assize Act?


The total number of cases reported by the police to the Judge at the last Spring Assizes for Clare was 118, which included all cases that occurred in the county since the Summer Assizes of 1893. The number of bills found by the Grand Jury was seven, resulting in three pleas of guilty, one conviction, and three disagreements of juries. The number of persons returned for trial from Clare to the Winter Assizes, held at Cork, was 30, resulting in seven convictions, eight pleas of guilty, five acquittals, and seven disagreements of juries. In the remaining three cases a nolle prosequi was entered in one, and in two the defendants were discharged on their own recognizances to come up for trial when called upon. I may observe that Mr. Justice O'Brien, in his remarks at the Clare Spring Assizes regarding the number of cases in which persons were made amenable, fell into the blunder of ignoring the Winter Assizes. The list of cases furnished to the Judge covered the period from the Summer Assizes, 1893, to Spring Assizes, 1894—in all 118 cases. Seven persons had been returned for trial to the Spring Assizes, with the results already stated by me; but there were 11 other Clare cases for trial at the Cork Winter Assizes, in which there were seven convictions, so that, instead of there being only four cases in which persons were made amenable—that is to say, one conviction and three pleas of guilty—there were in the period referred to by the Judge 15 cases in all sent for trial and eight convictions.


Can the right hon. Gentleman tell me how it is that Mr. Justice O'Brien always goes the Minister Assizes; also has his attention been called to the fact that this Judge's observations at the Spring Assizes in County Clare were exactly the same as in the Charge which he made at Cork Assizes in 1886, when a Home Rule Government was in power, including the statement that "the waters had not yet subsided," and other literary gems of that description? Further, has his attention been called to the strong censure passed by Justice Gibson on his learned brother with regard to his sentences?


I am unable to say how it happens that Mr. Justice O'Brien always goes the Munster Circuit, the arrangements made being irrespective of any action of the Executive Government. I confess I read this learned Judge's Charge with some amazement, because the impression which the Judge, travelling, I think, entirely out of his province, attempts to convey on the relative state of order in Clare is entirely unsupported by the opinion of the Local Police Authorities, and I prefer to believe the Local Police Authorities.


In how many of the 118 cases reported in County Clare were convictions obtained from Clare juries?


I do not carry all the figures in my head.


Was there one case?

[No answer was given.]


As it is suggested from the Bench and otherwise that the state of things could be improved by resort to the machinery of coercion, I wish to ask the right hon. Gentleman whether it is not the fact that, not only in Clare but throughout Ireland during the period of the Crimes Act of 1887, the proportion of persons made amenable to the total number of crimes committed was always extremely minute?


Yes, speaking more particularly in regard to Clare, and unless my recollection deceives me—and I do not think it does—the same applies to Ireland generally, the proportion of persons made amenable for crimes committed in Clare during the operation of the Criminal Law and Procedure (Amendment) Act was not largely in excess of those which they now succeed in obtaining.


Do not the statistics of crime in Clare compare favourably with those when the Coercion Act was in operation?


Were not the observations of Mr. Justice O'Brien based on the Returns of the police furnished at the Assizes?


I cannot undertake to say what was the precise foundation on which the learned Judge based his observations.