HL Deb 08 May 1856 vol 142 cc178-81

presented a petition from Thomas Dunne one of the persons convicted for the murder of Miss Hinds, and now under sentence of death in the gaol of Cavan, Ireland, complaining that the Attorney General for Ireland has refused his fiat for the issuing of a writ of error to the Court of Queen's Bench, and praying for relief. The noble and learned Lord requested that the petition, upon which the life of the prisoner depended, might be read by the clerk, and said that he should be glad to hear the opinion of the Lord Chief Justice, whether the objection raised by the petition had any validity.

Petition read.

The Petition stated that one of the jurors originally sworn had, suhsequent to the opening statement of the counsel for the Crown, but before any evidence had been given, been taken ill, and had been discharged; and that another person had been sworn in his place, without the petitioner having been informed of his right of challenge; whereby he had suffered prejudice; and that the Attorney General for Ireland had refused to issue his fiat permitting a writ of error to be sued out.


said, that having been called upon by his noble and learned Friend he could not refuse to state the opinion he had formed on hearing the petition read, which was that no ground had been laid by the petitioner to call for their Lordships' interference. No writ of error could be brought without the fiat of the Attorney General; for if any person convicted of a crime could at his own pleasure stop the execution of the criminal law, an entire perversion of justice must be the consequence. The Attorney General was therefore vested with a discretionary power which bound him to refuse his fiat whenever the application for it was made to him, as appeared to him to have been the fact in this instance, without any colour or show of right, but merely to defeat the course of justice. He (Lord Campbell) would venture to say that no Attorney General ever existed, either in England or Ireland, who, if their appeared to be an arguable point, ever refused his fiat. There was no reason for supposing that any error had been committed in the conduct of the trial. Before any evidence was taken the usual intimation was given to the prisoner by the Clerk of Assize, that if he wished to challenge any one of the jury he might do so before they were sworn. One of the jurymen was taken ill and was replaced by another name from the panel before any of the witnesses had been called; and the prisoner who had the assistance of counsel, having been asked whether he had any objection to the person substituted, answered that he did not know him and took no exception to his serving. What, then, was the gravamen of the allegations of the petition? That the Clerk of Assize did not repeat the intimation that the prisoner had a right to challenge the jurors as they came to be sworn. The prisoner's counsel must have known what were the rights of their client in regard to the challenge, and as no objection was taken and the trial was allowed to proceed, there was no ground now for saying that the investigation was not impartially conducted. If the man had been acquitted he could not have been again put on his trial for the same offence. Having, however, been fully convicted, his complaint was wholly unfounded; and, if their Lordships consented to listen to it, they would set a very dangerous precedent.


said, that he not only concurred in the observations made by his noble Friend, but thought that even if the petition had stated a case for the Attorney General's fiat, it would be impossible for the House to interfere. Their Lordships had nothing before them to vouch for the truth of the statements in the petition. The law provided a course for a person convicted to bring his trial before a court of review, and if their Lordships listened to the prayer of this petition they would have petitions from all persons convicted praying that writs of error might be issued. He trusted their Lordships would not listen to the prayer of the petition.


entirely concurred in all that had been said by his noble and learned Friends, that no case had been made out for the interference of the House. There had been no denial of justice to the prisoner. A simple technical objection had been taken, over which that House had no jurisdiction. The prisoner made no objection to the fresh juryman, the trial proceeded, and was regularly conducted to an end, and it resulted in a conviction of the prisoner. Upon such a state of facts the House had no power whatever to interfere with the course of justice. The petition did not go against the finding in the present case, but for such an alteration of the law as would prevent a recurrence of what had taken place.


thought the Attorney General for Ireland had exercised a sound discretion. It was necessary that some such power as that of refusing a fiat should be lodged in the proper officer, else there would be a writ of error in every criminal case; but he thought that some of the powers of the Attorney General, in relation to civil plaints, should be taken away from him.


observed that after what had fallen from his noble and learned Friends, and after reading the petition with attention, he had come to the conclusion that the Attorney General for Ireland had exercised a sound discretion, and that the cause of the petitioner had suffered no injury at his hands. The petition, however, was of a serious and unusual character, and he (Lord Lyndhurst) had acted under a sense of duty in presenting it.

Petition to lie on the table.