HC Deb 14 December 1908 vol 198 cc1269-70

I beg to ask Mr. Attorney-General for Ireland whether, in the empanelling of juries in Ireland, the right of unlimited challenge without cause assigned may be exercised by Crown Solicitors as they think fit; whether the present administration of the law in regard to trial by jury in Ireland differs from its administration under his predecessors in office; and, if so, will he inform the House in what particulars the difference consists.


The answer to the first part of the Question is in the negative. Strict rules are laid down for Crown Solicitors to follow in ordering jurors to stand aside. The chief grounds upon which they are authorised to challenge are: (1) Affinity to the person on trial; (2) partiality; (3) bodily or mental infirmity; and (4) in cases of peculiar local excitement in any particular town or district, residence in the immediate neighbourhood. As regards the latter part of the Question, I do not like even to appear to criticise the action of my predecessors in office, but I understand that complaints were made, formerly, that jurors were ordered to stand aside, not for these or similar reasons only, but also by reason of their religious or political views, and that in consequence it frequently happened that Catholic peasants were put upon their trial before juries composed exclusively of persons who were Protestants in religion and Unionists in politics, and who might not unreasonably be supposed to be prejudiced against them. I cannot, of course, say whether these complaints were well-founded or not, but I have taken every possible precaution against any such practice being followed since I have been in office, and I have issued strict injunctions to all Crown Solicitors not to order any juror to stand aside by reason of his religious or political views. The first charge that has been made against a Crown Solicitor since I have been in office of exercising the power of standing by improperly is that now made against the Crown Solicitor for Sligo, and in consequence of it I have made such inquiries as I could as to the religious and political views of the jurors empanelled in the three cases referred to by the hon. Member on Thursday last and to-day. I find that of thirty-six jurors in all sworn to try these cases, twenty were Roman Catholics, twelve were Protestants two were Jews, and there are two whose religion is unknown. As to their political views I am unable to obtain such definite information, but my informant, who has lived in Limerick all his life, and has made careful inquiries, tells me that so far as he can ascertain the great majority of them were Nationalists. It appears to me that these facts completely exculpate the Crown Solicitor for Sligo from any charge of unfairness in empanelling the juries.

MR. JOHN O'CONNOR (Kildare, N.)

Was the Crown Solicitor in this case resident at Limerick or Sligo? Does the right hon. Gentleman believe that the Crown challenge in this case was based on a just exception, and does he think that a jury empanelled in this manner, and presided over by a partial political Judge, could give a fair trial?


That is an irregular Question, and notice should have been given of it.