HL Deb 21 February 1833 vol 15 cc1023-5
The Earl of Shaftesbury

brought up the Report of the Committee on the Coercive Bill for Ireland. Many of the Amendments made in the Committee were agreed to.

Earl Grey

moved that a proviso be inserted at the end of one of the clauses, to the effect, that counsel for the prisoners before the courts-martial should have the right to examine and cross-examine witnesses as in courts of law. He thought this a most important security to the prisoner, and he was also of opinion that it would tend much to shorten the time occupied in the trials. At present, the prisoner had the right to put any question his counsel thought proper, but it had to be put in writing before the President.

Lord Ellenborough

said, as he understood the object of the clause originally agreed to in the Committee, it was, that the courts by which offences under the Act were to be tried, should be constituted similarly to courts-martial, and, consequently, that the prisoner's counsel should not cross-examine the witnesses. He did not say that mode was preferable; but if their Lordships agreed to the present Amendment, he did not see how they could consider these courts at all in the light of courts-martial.

The Duke of Cumberland

said, that a Serjeant-at-law was to preside at those trials as a Judge-advocate, for the very purpose of putting questions. Through him all questions were put, and the noble Earl's Amendment would have the effect of changing the very nature of courts-martial.

Earl Grey

admitted, that such was the case, but said, the illustrious Duke did not take into consideration the circumstance that the prisoner, on all these occasions, was allowed counsel—the only difference would be, that instead of questions being put by the counsel through the prisoner, and again through the court, they would be put direct, by which much loss of time would be avoided.

Lord Beresford

said, the Judge-advocate presided much in the character of a prosecutor, and it was desirable that the prisoner, on his side, should have something to balance this circumstance.

The Earl of Harrowby

said, that as courts-martial were at present instituted, all questions on the part of the prisoner must be put through the Judge-advocate or the Court, in order to give the Judge Advocate the opportunity of cross-examining on the part of the Crown. If counsel were to cross-examine, it would greatly vary from the usual practice. If they intended to have courts-martial, they should be courts-martial.

The Lord Chancellor

admitted, that the Judge-advocate presided partly as prosecutor, partly as intercessor for the prisoner; but the noble Earl should remember that there was a prosecutor besides; and there was nothing to prevent the prosecutor from employing counsel, and of course those counsel would have the same facilities as the counsel for the prisoner. It would be a considerable saving of time; at present the counsel sat behind the prisoner, and all the questions which his ingenuity could suggest were put through him. Nay, it not unfrequently happened—he would not say it was done by experienced barristers, but still, it not unfrequently happened that advocates were on this account induced to put questions which they might not be disposed to put in their own persons. It would, therefore, tend much to abbreviate the length of proceedings.

Lord Wynford

said, he should support the Amendment. The jurisdiction of the courts contemplated by the Bill differed from the ordinary jurisdiction of courts-martial, inasmuch as it extended to civil cases. The prisoners, therefore, ought to have the same advantages as in the civil courts. He was convinced, also, that it would abridge the length of the proceedings.

Lord Beresford

remarked, that the proceedings of courts-martial were written, and not oral.

Lord Ellenborough

had great doubts whether the noble Earl's Amendment would prove an advantage to the prisoner. It would be extremely difficult to take down in writing cross-examination.

Amendment agreed to.

Several verbal Amendments were agreed to.

Earl Grey

moved the insertion of a clause to the following effect:—"Be it enacted, that from and after the passing of this Act, no person shall make, or aid, or assist in making, any light, fire, bonfire, flash, blaze, or other signal; or by smoke or firing, fireworks, firing of guns or other fire-arms, or by the blowing of horns, or by the ringing of church, chapel, or other bells; or by any other contrivance or device, give any notice, signal, or intimation to any person or persons engaged in illegal combinations or assemblies against the provisions of this Act: and that no person shall make or assist in making any such signals, or any other signals, to call persons to assemble together, or to act in concert together, for any purpose not warranted by law, or which is prohibited by this Act, or to assemble in any unusual numbers to endanger the public peace: and if any person shall, contrary to the Act, make any such signals or notice, such person shall be guilty of a misdemeanor; and every such offence so committed in any district proclaimed in pursuance of the provisions of the Act, shall be cognizable by court-martial; and if not committed in any such district, shall be tried and punished according to the course of the common law." The latter part of the clause was added in consequence of a suggestion made by a noble Lord, that signals were often made in a county adjoining the proclaimed district.

The Earl of Harrowby

thought the clause preferable to his own. He would suggest, that signals were, in many cases, made to give notice of the march of troops, and he thought that ought to be included.

The Clause and other Amendments agreed to.

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