HC Deb 09 March 1915 vol 70 cc1311-3

The prosecutor in Ireland for any offence under this Act shall be a person of whose legal knowledge the Attorney-General shall be satisfied.—[Mr. T. M. Healy.]

Proposed Clause brought up, and read the first time.


I beg to move. "That the Clause be read a second time."

The Attorney-General stated the other day that in all important prosecutions of this kind he was present or was represented. Under those circumstances no improper questions would be asked of the accused person. But when these trials are held in remote parts of Ireland, without the assistance of a legal prosecutor, unfortunate results sometimes arise. I will give one instance, but I will not say where it occurred, in order to avoid making any reflection on the tribunal, because, in my opinion, the tribunal carried out its functions on the whole most admirably. A man was charged under the Defence of the Realm Act with having used certain language on the 1st February. What question does the House suppose the prosecutor put to him when he was examined in his own defence? The man was charged with using certain language on the 1st February, and he was asked, "Did the police search your house on the 19th November? I suggest that, as in these cases in England you have the great advantage of the Attorney-General directing the prosecution, so in Ireland it is very desirable that the prosecution should be taken charge of by some legal person. As to the language of the new Clause, there is a precedent for it in the Coercion Act, 1887, where the two resident magistrates have to be persons of whose legal knowledge the Lord Lieutenant is satisfied. Without saying that the person appointed should be a barrister or a solicitor, I think he should, at any rate, have some slight acquaintance with our jurisprudence. Under these circumstances I hope the Attorney-General will see his way to give the accused person additional protection, either of solicitors or of those of the higher legal branch.


I beg to second the Motion.


The hon. and learned Gentleman proposes to add to the Bill a new Clause providing that the prosecutor in Ireland for any offence under this Act shall be a person of whose legal knowledge the Attorney-General shall be satisfied. I am not quite certain whether the Attorney-General referred to is the Attorney-General for England or the Attorney-General for Ireland, but that is a detail that can be decided afterwards. The reason for the suggestion of the hon. and learned Gentleman is a reason which within limits everybody will sympathise with. Of course, if a really serious charge is being brought against a man who himself is not subject to military or naval discipline, but who is a private citizen, exposed to a charge before a Military Court because of the exigencies of war, it is perfectly clear that that charge ought to be presented in the fairest and most skilful way, and that the person should be given every fair opportunity to defend himself or to be defended. As a matter of principle nobody disputes that for one single moment. On the other hand, I think we must remember that there are, at any rate, some cases—I think most cases—of charges under the Defence of the Realm Regulations which are by no means serious cases. It is an offence under the Defence of the Realm Act not to shut down a particular light at a particular moment, to disregard regulations about a particular road, and to fail to observe any of a code of rules. Most of these cases are dealt with summarily, in a way with which we are quite familiar in cases of comparatively trifling offences.

Though my natural temptation is all in favour of making quite certain that the person is one with whose legal knowledge I am entirely satisfied, I really think it would be going too far if we insisted by Statute that in every case there must be a provision of this sort. The thing must be met by administrative direction and regulation. I am very grateful to my hon. and learned Friend for having called attention to this matter, because I will make it my business at once to communicate both with the military authorities and with the legal authorities in Ireland, in order that administrative arrangements may be made which will secure that in serious cases that which he has pointed out is needed in the sister island. The thing may be perfectly right, but I hope the House will not think this the occasion for adding this Clause to the Bill. I hope also that the hon. and learned Gentleman will agree with me that, if we do want a precedent in this matter, we should find a better precedent than that of the Coercion Act of 1887.


I will not press my Amendment after the promise of the right hon. and learned Gentleman. But I certainly think, in the speech he has made, he has omitted to consider the fact that very many felonies are dealt with in the Defence of the Realm Act. While, as he has said, small matters are dealt with, there are also large matters—at least, as regards felonies. I think it would be a monstrous thing that any man should be prosecuted for a felony by a gentleman who has no legal experience whatever and who might only have joined the Army the day before yesterday. Therefore, while I accept the suggestion of the right hon. and learned Gentleman and will withdraw my Amendment, I hope, when he communicates with the Irish Office, he will also communicate with the Treasury.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.