§ Viscount Melbourne
moved the Order of the Day for the House to go into a Committee on the Juries (Ireland) Bill.
§ The Duke of Wellington
observed, that the Bill went to make considerable alterations in the Irish Jury System, which might be of doubtful utility. Looking at what had lately taken place at Kilkenny, he thought the measure ought to be postponed.
§ Viscount Melbourne
saw no reason for the postponement. The measure had been long under consideration, and had been proposed to Parliament some years ago. There was nothing in the present circumstances of Ireland which made it unadvisable to pass the measure.
said, that the measure had been under consideration for some time, and the Judges had been consulted upon it. A copy of a similar Bill to the present was sent to him, when he was Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, for h is opinion. He had given it by stating, that, as the Bill was framed on the principle of a Bill which had been adopted in this country, at the suggestion of a right hon. Baronet (Sir Robert Peel), who stood so high in the estimation of all persons, in consequence of the Reform he had been the means of effecting in the Criminal-laws of the country he saw no objection to its being extended to Ireland: he thought none of the Judges objected to the principle of the Bill except one; but he had never heard the ground of his objection stated.
§ Lord Wynford
said, his objection to the present Bill was not founded upon the principle of altering the Criminal-law of Ireland, but that the present Bill altered the law of qualification; and having himself seen the operation of the law in this country, in that respect he certainly should object to the same principle being extended to Ireland. It had been said, that justice was well administered in Ireland; if that was the case, he was glad to hear it, because he had lately seen a case in which the Attorney General did not go on with 1249 some public prosecutions, because there was no chance that justice could be obtained. There was, however, one most striking objection to the adoption of this measure in Ireland, which was this—that a list of the names of those who were to serve on Juries, or those who were likely to be called on to serve as Jurymen, being returned on the panel, was to be stuck up in the Sheriff's Office, which was to be open to the inspection of everybody that might be disposed to look at it. He was afraid there were persons in Ireland who would be qualified to serve as Jurors under this Bill, who might not resist the dreadful influence which could be exerted over their feelings for the purpose of obtaining any verdict which those who exerted that influence might wish to have recorded. He was aware—and he spoke from the information of those who were more conversant with the subject than himself—that it was not desirable, that in all parts of England the names of the Jurors should be known; if that was so, there must be much greater objections to introduce the measure into Ireland, where they had a mode of dealing with Juries, which, thank God, was not known in this country. He did, therefore, trust, that the suggestion of the noble Duke would be attended to, and that delay might take place, for in the present state of Ireland, to pass the Bill might lead to the most dangerous consequences.
would wish, before making such an alteration in the law as this Bill would do, that the opinion of all the Judges in Ireland should be taken upon the subject. He had a great respect for the opinion of the noble and learned Lord (Lord Plunkett), but still in a matter of such importance, he should expect that the opinions of others would be laid before the House. Of course it must be the desire of Ministers to render their Bill as perfect as circumstances would permit, and there appeared to him several objections as to the formation of Juries to be empanelled under its provisions. He, therefore, must beg for some longer time, in order to ascertain the bearings of the subject particularly as the present was a time at which it was necessary to proceed with great caution in all measures connected with Ireland.
§ Viscount Melbourne
could but express his surprise at the very great opposition which had been made to this Bill, and he could not but think the noble Lord did 1250 not understand its objects. Everybody was aware, that a Bill was sometime ago introduced into the House for the consolidation of the Jury-law in England. It was thought by Government, that he would be advisable to adopt the same [...]ple with respect to the Jury-law of Ireland. When he (Viscount Melbourne) came into power, a Bill something like the present had been prepared by the right hon. Baronet who had preceded him in office. With respect to the opinion of the Judges, he (Viscount Melbourne) felt it his duty to state, that he did communicate with the Judges, and requested their opinion, not in an official manner, but for his own information, and that of the Government under which he acted. However much he might respect the opinion of those Judges, and however much he might think it necessary, on the part of the Government, when they made alterations in the law, to learn from those personages what the effect of those alterations would be, he did not think the House was responsible to those Judges as to the policy of adopting any principles. If he recollected rightly, one or two of those Judges did make very strong objections to the measure. However, some approved and some paid no attention to it at all. Since that, however, he believed alterations had been made in the Bill, which met some of the objections which had been urged by the learned Judges. He did not think that the arguments of the noble Baron were at all applicable to the present stage of the Bill, and he saw no reason founded upon them why the House should not go into the Committee, and by that means put the Bill in as good a shape as they possibly could. It might then be seen what parts there were objections to, and the validity of those objections might then be argued. He agreed with the noble Baron, that considering the present state of Ireland, it was not a time for rash and speculative legislation. He did not think, however, that the present measure was deserving of such a character. He could not conceive anything more likely to make a good impression on the minds of the people of that country than the introduction of a measure which was calculated to give them a favourable view of the impartiality of justice.
The Duke of Leinster
said, that every person acquainted with Ireland must be satisfied, that some measure altering the 1251 law with respect to Juries, was required. The manner in which they were sometimes formed was really disgraceful. He himself had witnessed a man seized upon by chance, on the officer finding he was one short of the number of a Jury, and almost forced into the box. He must, however, acknowledge, the man discharged the duty very creditably.
§ The Duke of Wellington
admitted, that a similar measure had been formerly under consideration, but the state of Ireland was now very different from what it then was, which made it advisable to pause before proceeding with the Bill.
§ Lord Tenterden
said, that an effect had followed from the English Bill which was not intended by the Legislature, and he hoped that sufficient care would be taken in the present case to prevent the recurrence of the same evil. The evil was this:—By that Bill it was enacted, that the Special Jury Lists should consist of esquires and merchants. But, from the ambiguity of these designations in the present day, it had occurred, that the lists were composed of a class of persons inferior to what was intended. He did not mean in saying this, to depreciate any class of society; but if it was the object of the measure to confine certain duties to certain classes, they should take care to give effect to their intentions.
The Earl of Roden
thought the arguments for delay irresistible; at the same time he would not disguise from the House, that, whenever the measure should be brought forward, it would be impossible to obtain justice in Ireland: and that the lives, property, and character, of individuals would be without protection from the law.
The Marquis of Westmeath
thought the present was an unfortunate time for introducing a measure of the kind into Ireland.
§ Earl Grey
said, if he could think that this Bill would add to the danger of agitation in Ireland, he certainly should not support it; but he could not imagine, that to improve the administration of justice would have that effect. The consideration which ought to engage their Lordships' attention, was, whether the measure which was proposed was the best that could be devised to effect that object. If there were any objections to the details of the Bill, they could be discussed in the Committee. If, when the Bill should have passed through the Committee, it should 1252 appear to require further consideration, he should not object to a proposition of that nature, nor, he believed, would his noble friend near him, if sufficient reasons were assigned for the delay. But as the opinions of the Judges had been taken on the subject, and as the objections now raised were of a political rather than a legal nature, he did not think that they formed sufficient grounds for interrupting the progress of the Bill, and he hoped it would be suffered to go through the Committee.
§ Their Lordships went into Committee on the Bill.
suggested, that when their Lordships should have discussed the Bill, so as to improve it as much as was in their power, it ought to be suffered to remain over for a year, that they might receive information from Ireland as to its probable efficiency. They were at present without the necessary information to enable them to legislate properly, and they had no proof that the Judges in Ireland had been consulted on the subject. He confessed, that he could not look without alarm upon the qualification of Jurors and their names being publicly exposed, which might produce intimidation, and prevent them from exercising their duties in a proper manner. Besides, it would exclude all persons who had not leases, unless they resided in the town where the Assizes were held; and many persons of great respectability, particularly Protestant shopkeepers, would thus be disqualified from serving on Juries, for it did so happen that it was not always in the most important towns in Ireland that the Assizes were held.
said, he should give the Bill his best support, as he was sure its provisions would operate beneficially in Ireland.
§ Viscount Melbourne
said, that if the noble Baron (Lord Ellenborough) had any objections to that part of the Bill to which he alluded, he had now the opportunity of moving an Amendment, as the House was in Committee.
The Earl of Wicklow
proposed an Amendment, extending the qualification to serve as Jurors to certain leaseholders, a portion of whose tenure might be expired.
had several verbal Amendments to propose, but he begged 1253 to press upon the House the necessity of giving a measure so important as this Bill, the most careful consideration. He would suggest, therefore, that it should be referred to a Committee up-stairs.
§ The Bill referred accordingly, and the House resumed.