HC Deb 24 October 1916 vol 86 cc917-9

asked the Prime Minister whether he has read the admission of the Law Officers in Ireland that no civil authority had been consulted by the military in Ireland last May on the legality of trying persons not subject to military law by field general courts-martial held in camera in capital cases until Courts had been, for the first time, so held, and some persons not subject to military law executed and other such persons sent to penal servitude in pursuance of their sentences, and that the Law Officers then informed the military authority that the responsibility for their procedure rested with the courts-martial, having regard to the facts that, without the fiat of any civil Court, judge, or Law Officer, persons not subject to military law have been executed and other such persons sent to penal servitude under this new procedure not warranted by any law, but only by a regulation which has never been judicially reviewed, and that its victims are now, powerless to have it so reviewed; whether he can cite the authority of any competent civil Court for assuming the existence in field general courts-martial of a power to try in capital cases in camera persons not subject to military law, or for assuming that a field general courts-martial has, without statutory authority, inherent power to exclude the public from such trials; in the absence of both law and authority of any competent civil Court for the procedure in question, whether he will take immediate steps to obtain a decision of a competent civil Court on the legality or illegality of trying civilians in capital cases by field general courts-martial held in camera, in order that Parliament may deal with the matter without delay; and when the Government intend to introduce a Bill to indemnify those responsible for the procedure in question in Ireland last May?

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. Asquith)

I circulated an answer to this question with the OFFICIAL REPORT of Thursday last.


The question to which the answer refers me is substantially different from this. The first clause of this question has never appeared on the Paper before, and I now ask the Prime Minister if he will be good enough to answer it?


I must refer the hon. Member to the answer I have circulated.


If this case arose in England, involving, as it does, fifteen murders and 130 cases of penal servitude by illegal courts-martial, would the right hon. Gentleman dare to evade it?

55. Mr. DILLON

asked the Prime Minister whether he will now direct that the proceedings of the Irish courts-martial shall be published?


Yes, Sir, I will arrange for this to be done.


asked the Prime Minister whether his attention has been directed to the fact that on the 11th May, 1916, he informed the House of Commons that Thomas Kent had been most properly executed at Fermoy for murder; whether he is aware that since that date at the hearing of a case before the Assize Court in Cork, a certificate of the finding of the court-martial was produced, and that it was a certificate that he was convicted of high treason; and whether any explanation is now forthcoming as to how it happened that this House and the public were misinformed and misled?


I do not think the point raised by my hon. Friend is one of substance. As I stated in answer to a question on the 4th July, Kent was executed for taking part in an armed rebellion. The murder of Constable Rowe was one of the acts of rebellion proved against Kent, and my statement of 11th May does not conflict with this fact.


Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the act of rebellion consisted in protecting his mother from soldiers firing at her?


Did not the police go to the home at 2 o'clock in the morning, although the same police had met him at a fair in the neighbourhood the same day, were they not armed and without a war want or any lawful authority, is it not the case that at the court-martial there was no evidence whatever of Kent having fired a shot, and that no such charge was made against him?


I cannot answer that question.