HC Deb 10 December 1908 vol 198 cc755-7
MR. O'DOWD (Sligo, S.)

I beg to ask Mr. Attorney - General for Ireland whether he is aware that in the three cases of the Geevagh, County Sligo, traversers, tried at the Connaught Winter Assizes in Limerick, the Crown Solicitor for Sligo ordered sixty-six jurors to stand by, including a gentleman who is a Justice of the Peace and who has held the offices of High Sheriff and Mayor of the city; did the Crown Solicitor in these cases act under the instructions and with the sanction of the Attorney-General in challenging sixty-six jurors without cause; and will he inform the House whether, since his appointment to office, he has issued to Crown Solicitors any instructions in reference to the selection of juries in Crown cases, and, if so, what were his instructions.


The Crown Solicitor for the county of Sligo informs me that in the three cases referred to be ordered the number of jurors mentioned in the Question to stand by. His reason for so doing, as stated by my right hon. friend the Chief Secretary in a reply given by him on my behalf to a Question asked by the hon. Member for East Galway on the 7th instant, was that he had trustworthy information that an active canvass of the jurors had been made on behalf of the prisoners, and that persons had actually come from Sligo to Limerick for the purpose of influencing the jurors. The Crown Solicitor was bound to exclude from the jury all persons whom he had reason to believe were influenced by this improper practice, and who would, in his opinion, have been hindered thereby from giving an impartial verdict. I have no knowledge of the individuals ordered to stand by. This is a matter entirely for the Crown Solicitor, who acts on the best information he can procure irrespective of the position in life of the jurors challenged. I have given no special instructions as to ordering jurors to stand by at the present Assizes, but about two years ago I instructed all Crown Solicitors not to order any juror to stand aside on account of his religious or political opinions, and I have no reason to believe that these instructions have been in any way disregarded in the cases referred to in the Question.

MR. DILLON (Mayo, E.)

Will the right, hon. Gentleman explain in what respect these proceedings differ from the ancient practice of jury packing, which we understood had been abandoned by the present Government, and is he aware that on all previous occasions when complaint was made in this House of jury packing the Answer given was in the very words he has just used that nobody was ordered to stand aside on account of his political or religious opinion.


I always understood that the practice of jury packing as alleged in former times was that jurors were ordered to stand aside by reason of their religious or political views, and that jurors of one particular religious faith were empanelled. I never understood that hon. Members objected to jurors who had been canvassed being ordered to stand aside So long as I remain Attorney-General I shall not give instructions to abstain from challenging jurors in such cases.


What proof does the light hon. Gentleman allege he is prepared to give that these sixty-six jurors had been canvassed? Has he asked the Crown Solicitor for Sligo whether he acted upon proof in the matter?


As I have already stated, the matter was left entirely to the discretion of the Crown Solicitor, I cannot interfere in the details in each case.

MR. DELANY (Queen's County, Ossory)

Can the right hon. Gentleman state if the system prevails in this country of setting aside jurors in this wholesale manner?


I cannot the practice in this country.