HL Deb 18 March 1859 vol 153 cc305-8

rose to put a question to the noble Lord the President of the Board of Trade, who, he understood, had been in communication with the Lord Chancellor of Ireland as to a certain circular letter which had been sent to the Lords-Lieutenant of counties, upon the last paragraph of which, in particular, he wished to have the opinion of the Government. It would appear that the Lord Chancellor, feeling that some revision was necessary, asked the Lord-Lieutenant of each county for such information as he could supply. The letter set forth the Lord Chancellor's belief that some of the magistracy whose names were on the lists or rolls of the various counties were no longer in existence, though their decease had not become known to the Clerk of the Hanaper; that some had ceased to reside in the counties of which they were magistrates; some had ceased to possess any qualification in the county, and had no local connection with it which would justify their continuance in the commission others might have become disqualified by acceptance of subordinate situations incompatible with their holding the magisterial office. The letter concluded thus:— "Other instances of equal force may perhaps occur to your Lordships, in respect to which you may think such revision desirable, and which you will be good enough to notice in your reply to this communication." It was to this latter paragraph he wished to call attention. He did not wish to trouble their Lordships at any length, but it was plain this latter paragraph opened a very wide door. It had created some sort of uneasiness on the part of the magistracy of Ireland. He (the Marquess of Londonderry) had had several communications addressed to him, asking him in what particular sense this communication of the Lord Chancellor was to be taken. He supposed that, remembering what had taken place under the last Lord Chancellor of Ireland, it was felt the more desirable that some clear explanation should be come to. Some men, no doubt, sought and obtained the commission of the peace, in order to have J. P. attached to their name; some in order to be connected with local boards, boards of guardians, &c. — boards with which they were peculiarly connected, but having no real position in the county, and not attending to the general county business. If that Were the view of the Lord Chancellor, he entirely concurred in it; and he would ask his noble Friend if he would be kind enough to state what the Lord Chancellor of Ireland had declared to be the meaning of this latter paragraph in his circular letter?


said, there had been no revision of the list since Lord Normanby's time, and since then the country had passed through many changes, which rendered a revision of the list necessary. The best answer to the Question of the noble Marquess would be to read a letter from the Lord Chancellor of Ireland, in which he explained the motives which had induced him to issue this circular:— In the appointment of magistrates I look to the lieutenant of the county as in duty bound to see that each district is sufficiently supplied with suitable magistrates, and that he should recommend such persons as, from their social position, intelligence, and character, are the most likely to give confidence to the people in the administration of justice. I think, therefore, the lieutenant of each county should cordially co-operate with the Chancellor in securing for the people the best description of magistrates, and should with that view furnish such information and give such suggestions as may seem to be conducive to this object. Of course, they may be confidential, if the lieutenant of the county so wishes, or so far as he expresses a wish. I do not think the Chancellor or the lieutenant of the county should be dissuaded from his duty by any apprehension of displeasing persons who would be considered by both as unfit to be magistrates. I simply wished to have from each lieutenant the best information and the most judicious suggestions he could furnish; and, as this seems to me to be the most constitutional mode of proceeding, I will consider that every name which is retained on the list is approved by the lieutenant of the county — at least, not disapproved by him—so far as he can be enabled to form his own independent opinion. I do not see why either the lieutenant or the Chancellor should shrink from such responsibility as properly belongs to each respectively. Their duty is one for the public good, and must be discharged —as I conceive—'without fear, favour, or affection.' I am resolved so to act so far as I am concerned, and each lieutenant of a county must judge for himself how he will act in this matter.


thought the noble Earl was mistaken in saying there had been no revision of the list of magistrates since 1837. In the west of Ireland, at least, in consequence of the great changes which had taken place in the ownership of property, many of the Lords-Lieutenant of counties had been directed to revise the lists of magistrates. No objection, of course, could be taken to the letter of the Lord Chancellor, except, perhaps, that it did not go far enough, He himself had made frequent suggestions to the Irish Government on this matter, which undoubtedly was involved in very great difficulty. Too much responsibility was thrown on the Lords-Lieutenant. A great number of gentlemen were put on the list who thought they had a claim, and who, when the point was put to them, professed that their only desire wa9 to perform the duties of the offices; but after a year or two it would be found that they neglected entirely the administration of justice, and confined themselves to the duties of the Board of Guardians, of which they were ex officio members. It was difficult for the Lords-Lieutenant to interfere to remedy such an evil—the task, indeed, would be perfectly odious. There were many instances in which it was to be wished that the magistrates were more consistent in their neglect, for on looking at the returns of petty sessions it would be seen that for eight or nine weeks scarcely any magistrates would attend, and then there would be a sudden influx when some matter of personal or local interest was coming on. The Lords-Lieutenant should be restricted in their selection by more stringent rules as to qualification. He thought the Government ought to consider the purposes for which the appointment of magistrates was necessary, how many should be on the roll, and particularly in what cases stipendiary magistrates should be appointed.


said, that when he read the letter of the Lord Chancellor some days ago, it appeared to him not open to objection. When he was Chancellor of Ireland he required lieutenants and deputy lieutenants of counties recommending gentlemen for appointment to the magistracy to fill up columns in which were stated the grounds on which the recommendation was put forward.


said, that his noble Friend who originated the conversation made no objection to the Lord Chancellor's letter, but merely asked for an explanation of the last paragraph. In giving that explanation the noble Earl the President of the Board of Trade read a second letter, from which it appeared that the Lord Chancellor intended to hold the Lords-Lieutenant of counties responsible for the maintenance in the commission of the peace of every magistrate whose name they did not propose to expunge. It would impose a very invidious duty on the Lords-Lieutenant, because there might be many magistrates in the commission whom they would not recommend, and yet not be pre- pared to advise their removal—not to recommend and to strike off were very different things.

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