HL Deb 07 June 1858 vol 150 cc1587-91

arose to move pursuant to notice, to lay on the table certain articles of charge against Mr. William M'Dermott, Assistant Barrister for the county of Kerry, with the view to their being referred to a Committee of the Whole House. The noble Earl was under- stood to say, that it had always been a matter of just pride that justice was administered throughout the United Kingdom with an impartiality that was unrivalled in any other part of the world. One of the reasons of this, no doubt, was that the Judges were not removeable at the pleasure of the Crown, but held their offices during good behaviour, and could only be removed on an Address to the Crown by both Houses. In the first instance the Irish assistant barristers did not hold their offices during good behaviour; but in 1831 the office had become so important that it was thought desirable to put those magistrates in the same position with regard to the tenure of their offices as that of the Judges of the superior courts. When a gentleman holding the office of assistant barrister so conducted himself as to bring the administration of justice into contempt, the only course was to bring the articles of charge against him under the consideration of Parliament, and to move an Address to the Crown praying that he might be removed from his office. Originally the assistant barristers had only to render legal assistance to the courts of quarter sessions in Ireland, but were not necessarily chairmen of those sessions. They were now, however, by law, and had been for some years, chairmen of the quarter sessions, and of course were called upon to preside over the whole criminal business which came before those tribunals. They had also a jurisdiction in certain civil cases. Besides, the whole of the appeals against the poor rate valuations were decided by them. They were also the judges in all appeals relating to drainage and fishery questions, and had a certain amount of jurisdiction in insolvency matters. They likewise presided over the courts of registration of Parliamentary voters. The gentleman whose case he had now to bring under their Lordships' consideration had been assistant barrister of the county of Kerry since 1840. Circumstances in connection with this gentleman had since occurred which made it necessary for him on the present occasion to ask their Lordships to take a particular course with reference to his position as assistant barrister. Not long ago Mr. M'Dermott's name was brought unpleasantly before the public in connection with all imputation of his having sold an office at his disposal as assistant barrister, and of afterwards breaking his word to the purchaser and conferring the appointment upon another person. A memorial, signed by thirty-two magistrates of the county of Kerry, was presented to the late Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. H. A. Herbert) who was lord lieutenant of the county), complaining of the conduct of Mr. M'Dermott, and stating that it was impossible for them to continue to sit on the same bench with him at quarter sessions, of which he was chairman. There were several charges preferred against Mr. M'Dermott in the Petition: and these charges afforded the ground on which he asked the House to take the course of instituting inquiry; and if the charges should be substantiated they could not resist the conclusion that the gentleman in question was not fit for the office he held, and that it was necessary for the public interests that he should be removed from it. These were some of the charges in the petition:—That in 1853 Mr. M'Dermott became an insolvent debtor; and, though he swore to the truth of his schedule, he wilfully omitted the names of a considerable number of his creditors; that on an order being made for his discharge be promised to set apart £500 a year out of his salary for the payment of his debts, an engagement which he eventually broke; that an application was then made to the court for a conditional order for an attachment against him; that a process server of Mr. M'Dermott's own court served him with the order; but he induced the process server not to swear to the service, so that he might evade the order. These facts were embodied in an affidavit by the attorney acting in the matter, and the court made the original order absolute. That was in 1856; in the early part of the following year he was arrested, while presiding over his court at Listowel; but the officer consented not to remove him, but watched him in court, while he proceeded with the business. That disgraceful scene lasted for two days, and on the third day, Sunday, the officer removed Mr. Dermott to the gaol of the county over which he presided. It appeared also that Mr. M'Dermott was in the constant habit of borrowing money of officers and practitioners of this court, which of course gave rise to suspicion as to the impartiality of his judgment in cases where one party was represented by an attorney to whom he was indebted for loans of money. The most serious charge, however, remained. There was an officer attached to the court called an "interpreter," whose duty it was to translate the evidence of witnesses who gave their testimony in Irish. In 1850 that office became vacant, and it was charged that Mr. M'Dermott promised it to a man named Galavan, who gave him £37; but in spite of that promise the office was ultimately given to another person. Those facts came out some time after upon Galavan's insolvency; for be filed his schedule in Mr. M'Dermott's court, and in that schedule he put down this sum of £37 as having been paid to Mr. M'Dermott himself. Mr. M'Dermott did not deny having had the money, though he denied it was the price of an office. Galavan, however, asserted not only that he had taken the money for the office, but that he had broken the engagement and given the office to another person. There was also another charge against Mr. M'Dermott that he had sold another office for £20. He now thought he had stated enough to show their Lordships that he was justified in laying on their Lordships' table articles of charge against Mr. M'Dermott and in moving that they be referred to a Committee of moving Whole House; and also for the further motion to be made hereafter for an address to the Crown for the removal of Mr. M'Dermott from his office. The noble Earl concluded by moving, That the said articles of charge be referred to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday, the 21st of June next, to examine witnesses and to report thereon to the House; and that William M'Dermott Esq., have leave to appear personally and by Counsel before the said Committee.


said, it must cause great pain to all who desired purity in the administration of justice to hear such charges brought against a judicial officer; but he thought the noble Earl was well advised in taking this step. He took the opportunity of remarking that the style of assistant barrister, in his opinion, was a misnomer, and led people to undervalue the importance of the officer, just as County Court Judges in this country were improperly called Judges of Small Debts Courts. He thought it would be a great advantage if one of the functions of assistant barristers in Ireland was extended to County Court Judges here—namely, the duty of presiding as chairman of quarter sessions.


thought that by his observation the noble and learned Lord was doing an injustice to the magistrates of England; for it seemed to imply that their duties were imperfectly performed at present.


said, it was by no means his intention to cast any aspersions upon the magistracy of this country. He simply meant to observe that they would in many instances be glad to have the assistance of professional men in the discharge of their important duties.


thought it would not be decorous on his part to anticipate the conclusion at which the Committee for which the noble Lord opposite had moved might arrive. He might, however, state that he had heard sfficient of the antecedent circumstances connected with the Motion to induce him unreservedly to subscribe to the propriety of the course which the noble Earl deemed it to be his duty to take.


deemed it some what doubtful whether the Committee ought to be called upon to inquire into those charges embraced in the Motion which were of an indictable nature—such, for instance, as the charge of perjury, and that of the sale of an office. It would, he thought, be expedient to omit those charges, more especially as there were others which afforded sufficient grounds for the course which the noble Earl desired to pursue.

Motion agreed to. Articles of Charge against William M'Dermott, Esquire, Assistant Barrister for the County of Kerry, alleged by the Viscount Hutchinson, in his Place; laid upon the Table, and Ordered to be printed; and a Copy Ordered to be furnished to Mr. M'Dermott. ResolvedThat the said Articles of Charge be referred to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday the 21st Instant, to examine Witnesses, and to report thereon to the House; and that William M'Dermott, Esquire, have Leave to appear personally and by Counsel before the said Committee.