HL Deb 29 April 1842 vol 62 cc1234-7
The Marquess of Normanby

said, that a few days ago he had given notice of a question which he intended to put to his noble Friend at the head of the Government of Ireland, and in so doing it was his intention to occupy only so much of their Lordships' time as would be sufficient to put them in possession of the facts of the case. He could assure their Lordships, that he had no wish to press hardly against an individual, but he acted solely from a sense of duty. It would be in the recollection of many of their Lordships, that a motion was last year made relative to the trial of. certain parties who were charged with firing at a magistrate (Mr. Biddulph), and the jury not being able to agree, they were discharged. The conduct of the jury had been impugned as not having been a fair one, or fairly chosen; but he had the authority of the Solicitor-general of Ireland, who conducted the prosecution, for stating that the jury was a fair one, and fairly chosen. In the month of July another jury was impannelled to try the same parties, but that jury was discharged in consequence of one of their number having fallen ill, and the prisoners, though the offence charged was a capital one, were admitted to bail. He had read the account of the third trial in two newspapers of opposite political principles, and he would say, of important trials, that they were generally given with great fairness, without reference to any political opinions. In the third trial (in which the accused were acquitted) it was extracted from Mr. Biddulph himself, in a cross-examination, that he had between the first and second trial endeavoured by his agent or steward, to persuade the accused parties to fly from justice, It appeared in the reports to which he referred, that the agent of Mr. Biddulph went to the father of one of the accused, and tried to persuade him to induce him and the others to abscond. The father then asked him what would become of the bail in that case? when the man said, that very likely the Government would not press them. Now, if this statement Were correct, if it was true that a magistrate, whose duty it was to assist in the due administration of justice, had counselled and persuaded a course by which the ends of justice would be defeated, he thought that a sense of justice should have induced the Government to notice it. It might be that Mr. Biddulph had been actuated by humane motives, but he should have, at all events, been called upon for some explanation of his conduct. Suppose the parties had been influenced by Mr. Biddulph's advice and fled from justice, would not the fact be made a ground of imputation on the first jury, who could not agree as to their verdict? He avowed that he was much surprised at finding that no Member of the Government of Ireland knew anything about this case, though it had obtained great notoriety by being published in many of the Irish papers. He thought, that at the close of each assizes the Crown solicitors sent a confidential report of the chief trials, which were forwarded to the Attorney-general, by whom they were brought under the consideration of the Government, if that were thought necessary. That had been the practice—and if that excellent practice had been adhered to, his noble Friend at the head of the Government in Ireland would have been made acquainted with the fact long before now, and, no doubt, would have taken that course which it called for.

Earl De Grey

said, that when his noble Friend first mentioned the circumstance to him, he said what was the simple fact— that he knew nothing about it; though his noble Friend had said, that he had admitted that there was remissness somewhere with respect to it.

The Marquess of Normanby:

My noble Friend will allow me to set him right. I did not say that he had admitted remissness somewhere, but that I had said there must be remissness somewhere. It was a mistake in the report in one of the papers. Other papers gave it as he said it.

Earl De Grey

had read it in one paper as he now mentioned it. He did not think he should have noticed the case at all if it had not been made the subject of unfair, unjust, and unfounded comments elsewhere. His noble Friend must know, that persons in high and important offices have something else to do besides reading newspapers, and therefore it could not be a matter of surprise that the reports of the trial in question should have escaped his notice, though published in some of those papers. It was the practice for the Crown prosecutors to send to the Attorney-General at the close of the assizes a report of the chief trials, and he called the attention of Government to any of them which he thought deserved notice. As the same Gentleman who now held those offices had held them before he went to Ireland, he presumed that the same practice was still continued. He should have thought, that if the judge presiding in an assize court saw anything wrong in the conduct of a magistrate connected with the discharge of his public duty, he would not hesitate to notice it in such terms as the case required; and certainly, if such a case as his noble Friend had represented had come under the notice of Lord Chief Justice Pennefather, than whom a more able and impartial judge did not exist, he thought it would not have been suffered to pass without some notice or some representation to the Government; but no report had since been made by that learned judge. It was true that the learned judge had been very ill since the assizes, but no report or remonstrance or memorial of any kind had been sent to the Government on the subject from any person. With respect to Mr. Biddulph, he knew nothing of him or of his political principles one way or the other. If he had acted wrong the matter was now in right hands, and would soon be set to rights. He had expected some communication from Dublin on the subject by that morning's post, but it had not arrived. He had heard that Chief justice Pennefather had since sent a report to the Lord Chancellor, as one of the Lords Justices, but as yet he was not in possession of the details. Another public officer, by whom some notice of the case might have been taken, was the Lord-lieutenant of the county, as he was at the head of the magistracy in his county, and the very able, intelligent, and impartial gentleman who held that office was not one likely to pass over such a circumstance if it had been brought under his cognizance. However, he had recently directed that a statement of the whole circumstance, as it occurred, should be prepared and forwarded to him. It was a matter of indifference to him personally, whether Mr. Biddulph should be able to explain the case satisfactorily. He would do what the justice of the case required with out reference to any other consideration.

The Marquess of Normanby

said, that after the statement made by his noble Friend, he would not press the matter further at present. As his noble Friend had sent for full information on the case, he would wait until that information should be before the House.

Earl Fortescue

said, that such a case as that stated by his noble Friend the noble Marquess near him ought not to have escaped the notice of Government, particularly after the publicity which it had obtained through the newspaper press. It would be in the recollection of some noble Lords that imputations had been cast on the Solicitor-general for Ireland for not having got a verdict in the first trial, but after a fair and impartial charge from the Chief Justice, the jury acquitted the accused on the third trial. It was in the course of his cross-examination on this trial that it was wrung from Mr. Biddulph that he had advised the accused to fly from justice. If this case should turn out to be as it was represented, he hoped that it would not pass over without the particular notice of the Government of Ireland.

Subject at an end.

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