HL Deb 13 June 1861 vol 163 cc984-91

I wish to call the attention of the noble Earl on the cross benches (the Earl of Leitrim) to the subject of a notice of Motion which he has placed upon the paper, and which stands for this day week. My noble Friend the other evening, without any previous notice, made several remarks upon the conduct of Chief Justice Monahan in reference to certain proceedings at the last summer assizes for the county of Donegal. My noble Friend the Lord Chancellor instantly rose and protested in very strong terms against the course taken by my noble Friend in preferring accusations without notice, and, consequently, without the opportunity of an answer being given. The noble Earl then said he would place a notice upon the paper, which would enable us to discuss the whole question; and, in pursuance of that promise, he did put down the notice which now appears upon the paper—that he would move for the return of certain presentments. My noble Friend the Lord Chancellor immediately said that such a notice did not at all advance the matter, as it gave no intimation of the nature of the charges which were intended to be preferred. I then understood my noble Friend to say that he would shape his Motion in such a way as to satisfy the friends of the Chief Justice. My noble Friend did me the honour at the time to communicate to me the particular grounds upon which he should bring under our notice the conduct of Chief Justice Monahan. I immediately expressed my opinion that there hardly appeared to be sufficient grounds to warrant such a serious step, and I said that I thought that the conduct of Judges ought not to be arraigned unless there was some specific charge of corruption, partiality, or other gross misconduct, which all persons would admit to deserve serious reprehension. I have reflected on the matter since, and I find my first impression to be the correct one. I have been struck with the inconvenience of bringing forward complaints against a Judge without the existence of serious charges. To the Judge such a course would be prejudicial, for, even if he satisfactorily answers the complaint, still the fact of the charge having been raised will be remembered against him. It will also operate extremely prejudicially for the public interest, in the administration of justice, if every Judge is to be liable to censure in Parliament upon all occasions. Under these circumstances I have communicated my opinion to my noble Friend, and I hope that he will be good enough to listen to my recommendation and withdraw his Motion, which can be attended by no beneficial result, but which may prove very prejudicial for the public interest.


My Lords, no Member of this House is more desirous to support the authority of the judicial bench than I am; and it was with sincere pain that I made the observations which I did the other evening with respect to Chief Justice Monahan. I felt strongly that what had taken place had caused much uneasiness in the locality concerned, and I did not intend to comment on the circumstances more warmly than I thought absolutely necessary. The noble and learned Lord on the woolsack having complained that no notice had been given, so as to enable an answer to be prepared to my animadversions, my object in giving my Notice of Motion was to afford such an opportunity. I have, however, no desire to go on with any discussion which your Lordships may think would be prejudicial to the public interests, and I, therefore, feel great pleasure in adopting the suggestion of my noble and learned Friend.


Am I to understand that the noble Earl withdraws his charges? If he does so I am contented, and do not wish to say anything more on this subject. But, unless he withdraws his charges, I must request him to proceed and state them.


I cannot retract a single syllable of what I said. What the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack wishes me to do is quite impossible.


was understood to say that charges of this kind were not considered in Ireland to be of that serious character that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack took them to be. The wisest course would now be to allow it at once to drop.


I say that most serious charges were brought against Chief Justice Monahan; for if a Judge betrays his duty and makes himself a political partisan by delivering a party charge to the grand jury I think he is guilty of gross misconduct.


I think the observations with which my noble and learned Friend opened this discussion were in singular taste and discretion, and that my noble Friend on the cross bench followed those observations by gracefully withdrawing his notice of Motion. There the matter might have ended satisfactorily to all parties; and I must say I regret the remarks which have since fallen from the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack.


I cannot agree with the expressions of the noble Earl opposite. It seems to me that nothing can be more unsatisfactory than that a most serious charge should be incidentally thrown out against a Judge, and that, when objection is taken to going on with that charge without notice, notice of Motion should be given, and that then that notice should be withdrawn, unaccompanied by any withdrawal of the charge itself. I put myself in the position of Chief Justice Monahan. If I were accused of abusing my position as a Judge by delivering a partizan charge, and such an accusation were formally preferred against me in this House, I should desire either that my friends should have an opportunity of meeting it, or that it should be distinctly withdrawn. Therefore, I entirely concur with my noble and learned Friend on the woolsack that one of two courses, and one only, ought to be taken by the noble Lord on the cross bench. He ought either distinctly to say that there is no ground for any imputation on the conduct of Chief Justice Monahan, or else to state publicly in this House the ground on which he condemns that conduct, and so allow those to whom that learned Judge may trust his defence to answer the charge as best they can.


I am exceedingly sorry to see the noble Earl opposite so unwilling as he appears to be to permit oil to be thrown on the troubled waters. If I also were to place myself in the position of the learned Judge referred to I feel that I should be perfectly satisfied. Of course, the honour of every man must be in his own hands, and he must be the best judge of how it is to be vindicated. But I do not believe I am less particular on that point than other public men, and I have no hesitation in stating that I with very great regret heard the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack use the expression which he did after my noble Friend (the Earl of Leitrim) sat down. My noble Friend was ready to drop the subject, and willing to abandon the charges supposed to have been made. ["No!"] At all events, he said he would not bring them on before your Lordships. And when the noble Earl opposite throws out a taunt respecting accusations I must say I am not aware of any specific accusation having yet been laid upon your Lordships' Table. There was, indeed, a general expression of condemation of a learned Judge's conduct the other night, which I as much regretted to hear as any other of your Lordships; but there was not such a positive and particular charge made as to render it necessary that this House should carry this unfortunate matter further. When my noble and learned Friend (Lord Chelmsford), who is certainly as careful of the character of a Judge as any man, said what he did, and when the noble Earl on the cross bench stated that he would not proceed with or repeat the statements which he made the other evening, I am sorry that anybody possessing so much weight with your Lordships as the noble Earl opposite does, from his great ability and experience, should not have used his influence, as I have already said, to throw oil on the troubled waters.


My reason for rising was that the noble Earl on the cross bench distinctly stated that he did not retract a single word of what he had said. In my opinion a censure upon a Judge ought not to be lightly pronounced. If pronounced at all, it ought to be done upon grave occasions, and with due notice, so that there might be time to prepare an answer to it; and I cannot but think that under the circumstances a Judge is not placed in a right position if an accuser does not retract his charge as well as withdraw his notice of Motion.


As the matter now stands, these charges have been brought forward, but have not been abandoned by the noble Earl on the cross bench, who, in conformity with the desire of his noble and learned Friend (Lord Chelmsford), has merely consented not to proceed further with the subject. As put by the noble and learned Lord on the "Woolsack the case is perfectly just. But, as I perceive we are not likely to have any more upon this question, I feel bound to say that, although I have had no acquaintance whatever with Chief Justice Monahan, I know the sentiments entertained by the Bar generally towards him, and I am sure it is the universal feeling in Ireland that a more upright, more learned, or more impartial Judge never sat on the bench of that country.


I agree that the noble and learned Lord who introduced this subject to-night did so with the best possible taste. But he said that none but the gravest charges—for example, the charge of corruption—ought to be brought against the Judges in Parliament. Now, I understood the noble Earl on the cross bench to use the word "corrupt." ["No!"] Certainly, he stated that this Judge had said on the bench what he must have known not to be true. [The Earl of LEITRIM: No!] After the violent expressions in which the noble Earl had indulged it was not sufficient that he should now say he would not persevere with his charges. It was surely incumbent on him to express some regret for the language he had used.


I really did not hear the violent language ascribed to my noble Friend. At the time he was addressing your Lordships I was otherwise engaged. I did not understand that the noble Earl made any specific charge—certainly he made no serious charge—against Chief Justice Monahan. On that I formed the opinion which I expressed, and if your Lordships really think I was wrong in recommending my noble Friend to withdraw his Motion I am sure he will not consider himself bound by anything I have said. Indeed, after the discussion which has just taken place, I will not ask him to follow my advice on the subject, unless he feels that he is entirely justified in doing so.


I am sure no one can doubt the spirit in which the noble and learned Lord opposite advised the noble Earl on the cross bench to withdraw his notice; but I cannot help thinking that the suggestion the noble and learned Lord now makes is really the correct one; and upon the whole, unless the noble Earl is prepared to withdraw the charges he made against Chief Justice Monahan on a former occasion, it is most desirable for the character of this House and of an absent Judge that the noble Earl should persevere with his Motion, and bring forward the charge in order that the matter may be discussed and disposed of. It is all very well to talk of throwing oil on the troubled waters, as a noble Lord expressed it, or making things comfortable; but this is not a matter between two sides of the House, or between one noble Lord and another; it has reference to the character of an absent Judge, which is placed in the greatest jeopardy. The noble Earl denies that he used the word "corrupt," and that he ever said the Chief Justice had stated what was not true; but undoubtedly the purport of his charges was that he sitting on the bench had acted as a political partisan; and, as I conceive, a graver charge cannot be made against any Judge. How would that learned Judge stand if the Motion, in the present state of the matter, were not brought forward? The charge would remain. It would be said the noble Earl in his place in Parliament made a grave charge against a learned Judge; but on it being represented to him by the noble and learned Lord opposite that the charge was not sufficiently grave to be brought forward in that House he had withdrawn the Motion. It would be added that the noble Earl did not withdraw the charge, and the House had no opportunity of expressing their opinion upon it. I do hope, therefore, the noble Earl will take one of two courses—either entirely retract the charges he made or persevere with the Motion of which he gave notice.


I entirely concur in what has been stated by the noble Duke. The matter must somehow or other be brought before your Lordships; but I appeal to the noble Earl whether common fairness to Chief Justice Monahan does not require that he should shape his Motion in some other terms than those in which it now appears. In its present form it communicates nothing whatever which would enable the learned Judge through his noble and learned Friend on the "Woolsack or any other Peer to make his defence. Surely the notice ought to state distinctly with what the noble Earl charges the Chief Justice.


I am sorry, my Lords, to take up your time further on this matter, but this discussion ought not, in my opinion, to end without some expression in regard to Chief Justice Monahan coming from this side of the House. I can only say that from the position I held two years ago in Ireland I naturally came in contact with nearly all the Judges. I was frequently, both in society and on matters of business, brought into contact with Chief Justice Monahan; and I can assure your Lordships that there was no member on the judicial bench of whom I formed a higher opinion. I believe him to be a man of extremely high character and talent, and of the utmost impartiality.


I cannot agree to follow the counsel of the noble and learned Lord (Lord Cranworth), nor do I feel in the least called upon to do so. This matter is not without precedent, as has been asserted by the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. On the contrary, I find exactly similar charges were made some years ago in the other House of Parliament against an equally learned Judge—the late Baron Smith. Nay, more, I find the name of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack in the list of the majority on a division upon that occasion for an inquiry into that learned Judge's conduct.


I rise to order. There is at present no Question before the House. ["Oh, oh!"] That would be sufficient to stop this discussion from going on. But surely it will be expected by your Lordships that the noble Earl should not proceed to bring forward his charges without any notice whatsoever. I never complained in the slightest degree that he' should bring a charge against a learned Judge. It might be his duty to do so. My complaint was that, without retracting the charge against Chief Justice Monahan, he abandoned his intention of bringing it on for discussion.


I rise to order. When the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack calls my noble Friend to order he is not entitled to make a speech. My noble Friend was not bringing forward the charge against Chief Justice Monahan without notice; he was insinuating something against the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack and the Government with which he was connected on a former occasion.


I am entirely in the hands of the House. I am perfectly satisfied with the notice as it stands. I am not prepared to put on the paper a bill of indictment against Chief Justice Monahan. I will not do it. I am not, like some of my advisers, a learned Lord; I am a simple layman; at the same time I have as good a sense of propriety as any noble Lord in the House. I have had occasion to complain, perhaps to the great annoyance of your Lordships, of the manner in which the Government of Ireland is conducted. In presenting a petition from the county of Donegal, I, among other matters, animadverted on the conduct of the Chief Justice; but I did not say that he stated what he knew was untrue. I said what he stated was untrue and that he must have been misinformed; that he must have received, out of court, wrong information. What I complained of was that a Judge should get information on certain matters out of doors and act upon it.


I really think it most desirable that this matter should end here. The noble Earl, having expressed an opinion with regard to Chief Justice Monahan, gave notice of a Motion on the subject; he is willing to say no more about it, but cannot admit that it was an indiscreet charge. A very high opinion has been expressed of Chief Justice Monahan; and he may well rest satisfied with that expression of opinion on both sides of the House—quite as well as if the charge had been discussed; and as the noble Earl is willing not to carry the matter further I really think it should be allowed now to drop.


Whatever the noble Earl on the cross benches may say in words, of his refusing to retract what he before said, I consider that in substance and effect the charges against Chief Justice Monahan were withdrawn when the noble Earl consented to abandon his Motion.