HC Deb 23 June 1924 vol 175 cc6-8

asked the Under-Secretary of State for India whether he will direct the complete transcription of the recent judgment of Mr. Justice McCardie in the O'Dwyer-Nair case to be transmitted to the Government of India, and ask for an expression of their opinion on extra-judicial matters raised by him in the light of the Hunter Commission Report?


My Noble Friend will arrange for a transcript of the judgment in this case to be furnished to the Government of India, who will no doubt consider whether any observations thereon may appear to be called for.


asked the Prime Minister whether the Government will grant time for the discussion of the Motion standing in the name of the hon. Member for Bow and Bromley, dealing with the remarks of Mr. Justice MeCardie during a recent trial?—["To call attention to the following statement reported as having been made by Mr. Justice McCardie in the King's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice during the trial of the libel action brought by Sir Michael O'Dwyer, late Lieutenant-Governor of the Punjab, against Sir C. Sankaran Nair, formerly a member of the Executive Council of the Viceroy and Governor-General of India, namely: Speaking with full deliberation and knowing the whole of the evidence given in this case, I express my view that General Dyer, in the grave and exceptional circumstances, acted rightly, and, in my opinion, he was wrongly punished by the Secretary of State for India; and to move, That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty praying that he will cause the removal from the Bench of the High Court of Judicature in England of Mr. Justice McCardie, on the ground that he is unfitted to carry out the judicial duties attaching to his high office.")

The PRIME MINISTER (Mr. J. Ramsay MacDonald)

I have come to the conclusion that a discussion on this subject would only add to the harm that has been done in India by the words complained of. However unfortunate the words have been, they clearly do not constitute the kind of fault amounting to a moral delinquency which constitutionally justifies an Address as proposed. It ought in fairness to be borne in mind Chat the objectionable passage occurred, not in a considered written judgment, but in an oral charge to a jury delivered at the conclusion of a lengthened and somewhat heated trial, and the very form in which it was couched shows that the learned Judge was not informed as to what took place. As I have already stated, His Majesty's Government completely associates itself with the decision of the Government (not merely the Secretary of State) of the day. His Majesty's Government will always uphold the right of the judiciary to pass judgment, even on the Executive, if it thinks fit, but that being the right of the judiciary, it is all the more necessary that it should guard itself against pronouncements upon issues involving grave political consequences, which are not themselves being tried.


Having regard to the statement that the right hon. Gentleman has just made, and the undesirability of a Motion remaining on the Paper attacking a Judge, who is daily trying cases in the High Court, will he use his influence to have this Motion withdrawn?


No one need use any influence. I am perfectly satisfied with the statement made by the Prime Minister.


Were not the observations of the learned Judge made in consequence of evidence given before him on oath, and, therefore, were they not, in point of fact, of more value than statements made by other people who have not heard the evidence?


I had better not be drawn into a discussion. The importance of the point is this—and I think every Member of this House will recognise it—that evidence may have been laid regarding certain matters in this trial, but the main point and purpose of the trial did not concern itself with the obiter dicta which the learned Judge let fall in the course of charging the jury, and those words were calculated to have a very serious effect upon Indian public opinion, and for those reasons I have couched the answer in the way that I have done.

Lieut.-Colonel JAMES

Is it not a fact that the trial which was sought by Sir Michael O'Dwyer was in the main asked for in order to justify the action of his subordinates?


That does not arise.