HL Deb 11 May 1837 vol 38 cc796-8
The Earl of Roden

took the opportunity of having to present a petition, to call the attention of noble Lords opposite to a subject most deeply interesting to their Lordships, as it certainly had proved to be most painful to the individual who was most nearly connected with the matter. It was, he knew, irregular to allude to words made use of in a former debate; but when their Lordships considered the importance of the subject, he hoped that it would be looked on as a sufficient excuse. The noble Viscount at the head of his Majesty's Government had, on a former evening, made a statement which, when he explained the circumstances, would, he hoped, prove to the noble Viscount that he had been misinformed on the subject, and would draw from him an acknowledgment of the misstatement which he had made. The words, as far as he could remember them, used by the noble Viscount were these:—"With respect to the appointment of sheriffs by the going judge of assize, the Chief Baron deviated from the usual course, and sent in a list of names, which Government found to be very deficient." Such a charge against so inestimable an individual as Chief Baron Joy, appeared to him, who was long acquainted with the Chief Baron, who admired his virtues, and who considered him an ornament to that part of the empire, as a subject that ought to be inquired into, for the purpose of ascertaining the correctness of the statement and affirmation of the noble Viscount. He, therefore, had made an inquiry into the matter, and he had no doubt of the truth of the facts which he was about to state to their Lordships. He believed that the noble Viscount was totally misinformed with respect to the statement which he had made, and it would appear, that Chief Baron Joy did not depart from the course usually pursued on such occasions, and that he did not send in a list which was found by the Government to be deficient. The course pursued in the appointment of sheriffs had prevailed from the time that Sir Robert Peel was Chief Secretary, and the Chief Baron had adhered to it. Chief Baron Joy submitted to the Lord Chancellor a list of three most unexceptionable gentlemen to fill the office of High Sheriff—three gentlemen of the county of Louth. The noble Marquess had stated, that one of these gentlemen, Mr. Fortescue, was unwilling to serve. That, however, formed no good ground for setting him aside, and choosing in his place a person who was not recommended by the judge. He recollected when he himself was compelled to serve, and, therefore, unwillingness afforded no solid ground for exemption. The second gentleman, Mr. Bellingham, had a good ground of excuse, having served before. Then it was Said, that the third gentleman oh the list, Mr. Brabazon, was so young, that it Was impossible that he could be intrusted with so important an office as that of sheriff. Now, he knew that gentleman. He was some five or six-and-twenty years of age, and weighed twenty stone. Either one or the other of these gentlemen ought to have been made to serve, instead of the Government deviating from the regular line of proceeding, and appointing a person who was not recommended by the judge. The statement, therefore, of the noble Viscount, that the list sent in by the Chief Baron was deficient, appeared to him not to be well founded, because one of the two individuals whom he had named might have been made to stand, if Government had exercised its power. The circumstance had caused a strong feeling throughout Ireland; and, therefore, he felt it to be his duty to that House and to the public, to give the noble Viscount an opportunity of correcting his error.

Viscount Melbourne

said, if he had been aware that the noble Earl had meant to introduce the subject, he would have been prepared with the necessary information. He had not the slightest idea of wounding the feelings of the Chief Baron, but he was not aware that he had stated anything but facts. He should be most anxious to make an immediate acknowledgment of error, if he had committed any, but he was not aware that he had. What he had said was, that the Chief Baron had not pursued the course usually adopted by the judges. He believed the practice always was for the judge to inquire of the present sheriff what persons were proper to be recommended to fill the office of sheriff for the next year—not that he was bound by the information which he might receive, for he might still exercise his discretion; but—because it was wise and prudent for him to know who were considered to be the most eligible individuals. This the Chief Baron had not done on the occasion in question. In consequence the Chief Baron had returned three individuals, out of whom it was impossible to select a person to serve the office of sheriff. He had not said that the Government had superseded those three gentlemen because the Chief Baron omitted to ask the opinion of the former sheriff, but because he had returned individuals each of whom had a good excuse, or at least a reason, for being exempted.

The Earl of Wicklow

begged to tell the noble Viscount that he was in error, because the judge had not deviated from the customary rule in such cases, but the Government had thought proper to disregard the recommendation of the judge, and chose to appoint another person of their own selection.

Lord Fitzgerald

was glad that a conversation on this subject had arisen, because it had afforded the noble Viscount an opportunity of removing from the mind of Baron Joy an impression that the noble Viscount had intended to cast any censure upon him. The subject was certainly one of great importance, considering the nature of the office, and the duties of a sheriff. He could confirm the opinion of his noble Friend that no deviation from the usual practice had taken place, and that it had not been the custom of the judges to prefer the persons pointed out by the former sheriffs. It was clear that the judges could have no discretion if they were to be bound by the return of the former sheriffs. Nothing, however, could be more obvious than that if the Government were ready to release persons from serving the office, the list of the judge could be of little or no use.

Petition laid on the table.