HL Deb 07 February 1842 vol 60 cc97-9
The Marquess of Clanricarde

, in pursuance of notice, rose to present a petition, and to put a question to the noble Duke respecting marriages solemnised by Presbyterian ministers between members of their own persuasion and Episcopalians. He observed that no Marriage Act had been passed in Ireland, as in this country since the year 1753. He had hoped that some general measure would have been introduced, but he had been disappointed. Unfortunately the Legislature not having stirred in the matter, the judicial authorities in Ireland had taken a new course, and had caused the greatest dismay, especially in the north of the sister kingdom, by declaring all marriages void which had been performed by Presbyterian ministers between Presbyterians and members of the Church of England. Hitherto such marriages had been considered legal, but in a recent case of bigamy the counsel for the prisoner had taken art objection to the legality of the first marriage, on the ground he had stated, and that objection having been referred to the judges, a majority had decided in favour of the objection. It would be presumptuous for him to say that the recent decision was bad law, but he might observe that it was directly in the teeth of what had been hitherto considered and ruled to be law. Only five years ago a man had been convicted at Carrickfergus of bigamy, in whose favour the same objection had been raised and over-ruled; the offender was accordingly transported, and was now suffering the sentence of the law. In cases that respected civil rights and questions of maintenance, marriages under similar circumstances had been held to be good. It had been stated publicly that Ministers were preparing a bill to remedy the immediate evil, and it would certainly be the height of iniquity to allow innocent parties who had been married under a misapprehension of the law to suffer for their mistake. He begged to ask, therefore, whether any bill was to be introduced, whether it would have a prospective as well as a retrospective effect, and whether it would affect the various religious denominations in Ireland? The petition he had to present was from members of the Presbyterian church residing in Dublin; but he knew that others of the same kind were on their way from the north of Ireland.

The Duke of Wellington

replied that her Majesty's Government intended immediately to introduce a bill to remedy the evils resulting from the late decision of the judges in Ireland. A further measure was also contemplated of a permanent kind, and directed against the present anomalous slate of the law in that country, but it required more consideration. When it had received the attention due to the subject, and was fully prepared, it would be brought forward in Parliament.

Lord Brougham

asked out of what case the recent decision had proceeded?

The Marquess of Clanricarde

answered that it had arisen out of the case of a man of the name of Smith, tried for bigamy.