HL Deb 01 June 1869 vol 196 cc1092-6

On rising to ask my noble Friend the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government, during the present Session, to submit to Parliament any measure to provide for re-moving from municipal offices, to which magisterial functions are attached, persons who may have been guilty of misconduct? I need hardly say that I have been influenced by what has recently occurred with regard to the late Mayor of Cork. Your Lordships will remember that this person had so conducted himself as to lead to an almost universal conviction in this country that he could not be allowed to retain his office, and in virtue of it administer the law as a magistrate, without great public scandal; but the Government, sharing that general conviction, found there was no way of meeting the scandal except by bringing in a Bill for the removal of Mr. O'Sullivan from his office. Now. I am not sure that the passing of that Bill would not have been almost a greater evil than the confessedly great evil of allowing him to retain office. Bills of Pains and Penalties are in the highest degree objectionable. It is now above a century since any such measure has been passed by Parliament, and T should have been sorry to see so bad a precedent revived; for we all know that a measure of that kind, though passed for very strong reasons, is too apt to become a precedent, and that a bad precedent once established, it has a tendency to become more and more frequent, and to lead to very great abuse. For that reason I was of opinion that to have recourse to a Bill of Pains and Penalties was in the highest degree dangerous to the liberties of the country. Fortunately the Government were saved from the great misfortune of having either to submit a Bill of Pains and Penalties, or to allow the late Mayor of Cork to remain in office, by his most properly and judiciously resigning the; office which he held. Now, however, that the question is entirely disencumbered of all personal considerations, it appears to me to be desirable to consider whether some means should not be taken to prevent our being again placed in the position of having to choose between two such evils. There are several municipal offices the holding of which gives the right of acting as a magistrate, and those I believe are the only officers in the kingdom concerned in the administration of justice whom there is no recognized means of removing if guilty of misconduct. With regard to the highest judicial officers, the Judges of the land, an Address from both Houses of Parliament to the Crown affords a means of removing them; those who are put in the Commission of the Peace by the authority of the Crown can be removed by the same authority, if sufficient cause be shown; but those who become magistrates by election to municipal offices cannot be got rid of in either of those modes. The question may now be dealt with with perfect calmness and impartiality; and though an Address by both Houses of Parliament is far too cumbrous a machinery to be adopted—for it is not proper that the time of Parliament should be occupied with such matters—the Government may easily discover a plan which, without being open to abuse, would provide for the removal of magistrates guilty of grave misconduct.


I hope the noble Earl will not think it discourteous if I answer the Question which he has addressed to my noble Friend (the Secretary for the Colonies). It is impossible that such an event as that which has recently occurred should not have attracted the attention and consideration of the Government, and I am not sur- prised that the noble Earl should think it right to ask what are our intentions in the matter? Now, I believe that the old adage with reference to judicial administration is equally applicable to legislation—"Hard cases make bad law"—and a course of procedure founded on individual or even local instances of misconduct would be a system open to the same objection. It is not desirable to legislate upon the spur of any individual or local miscarriage which surpasses the usual limits for which the law has provided. I may cite an instance which will show that it is not desirable to act hastily in matters of this description. Some years ago, when the conspiracy of Orsini occurred, it was felt to be a gross abuse of the hospitality afforded by England to men of all countries, who are obliged from political causes to take refuge here, and there was a general feeling of indignation; the Government of the day shared in the general feeling, and their first suggestion was to bring a Bill intended to remedy the evil under the consideration of Parliament. It passed the first and second readings; but, after a very able address from a noble Earl (Earl Russell), the House of Commons thought it unadvisable to proceed with it, and to this day no measure has been passed on the subject. That was a case of individual, now take the case of local agitation. Only last night your Lordships were engaged in repealing Acts which wore passed on the spur of local agitation and local alarm, when a great deal of excitement existed with regard to political offences. They were Acts of a very serious character, and it was singular that they should have remained so long unrepealed. We were rather taunted by the noble and learned Lord (Lord Cairns) for having put them in execution on an emergency which had occurred, though on the whole we thought it desirable that they should be repealed. This shows the desirableness of taking time to consider questions of this sort; and. without pledging the Government to propose any legislation, I may state that the subject will be deliberately considered. It is not altogether so simple a matter as the noble Earl seems to suppose. The noble Earl has correctly stated that the difficulty exists only in the case of persons who become magistrates by virtue of their being elected to a municipal office. Well, there is the great Corporation of the City of London, who hare always had the right of electing its Aldermen, who thereupon become magistrates for life; and from the time of the Conquest downwards no occasion, as far as I am aware, has arisen for removing an Alderman for misconduct parallel to the case of the late Mayor of Cork. Under the Corporation Act, moreover, boroughs are entitled to elect mayors, who thereby become magistrates for their year of office and the ensuing year; and that Act has now been in force thirty-four years, and up to this recent case there has been no complaint of the working of the Act either in England or Ireland. This is, therefore, an individual and very exceptional case. We have to consider how far it would be desirable that these officers, elected by their fellow-townsmen, should be subject to control by the Crown, which control might create a not unreasonable jealousy on the part of the electors. A coroner, it is true, is subject to removal for misconduct; but that office is one of a peculiar character, and is distinct from the administration of justice, he being an officer of the Crown, though elected by the county. Under these circumstances the best course for the Government is to avoid hasty legislation, in consequence of one case of misconduct—for it would not be very acceptable to the various corporations that they should be dealt with in consequence of the misconduct of one eccentric individual—and to consider the matter maturely without reference to any individual.


begged to remind their Lordships that this was not the late Mayor of Cork's first offence, he having been removed from the Commission of the Peace for refusing, when accused of having subscribed to Fenian funds, to offer any explanation. He was afterwards elected Mayor of Cork, where he repeated and aggravated his offence; for an advertisement appeared daily in some of the Irish newspapers appealing for subscriptions to be administered by Mr. O'Sullivan, as treasurer of the fund for the benefit of the Fenian, prisoners. In this advertisement there was this passage— We would also remind those who look upon the proposed disendowment of the Established Church as a boon, that according to the statement of the present Premier they are indebted to the Fenian movement for that tardy measure of justice. For three months, during which Mr. O'Sullivan held the office of Mayor of Cork, the municipal business of that city was involved in the utmost confusion, and was conducted in the most improper manner; and since he had resigned that position he had been a party to this advertisement. What he particularly wished to press upon Her Majesty's Government was that language such as this was doing incalculable mischief in Ireland, and he wished to know whether they had disavowed the statements attributed to the Prime Minister. Mr. O'Sullivan had not been silent since his resignation. In a recent speech he had said— Let any man look to the meaning of Mr. Bright's speech on the Irish Church question delivered within the last fortnight. What is the meaning of that speech? It is this—that the land of Ireland is to be handed over to the people of the country. [Loud cries of 'Hear, hear,' and continued cheering,] When Ministers in England give forth that opinion would I, I ask you, be an honest man if I for one moment stood in the way of the party who say that Ireland must be governed according to Irish ideas, that the Catholic must be master in his own land, and that there must be in Ireland no denomination either of race or creed. People should not be allowed to put forward these statements as conveying the opinions of the Government unchecked. He might say that of all places in Ireland the City of Cork had the least reason for being disaffected. His conviction was that some power should be given to the Government to veto the election of certain persons to municipal offices, in order to prevent the chief cities of Ireland from being left to the mercy of any injudicious man who might happen to be appointed.

House adjourned at a quarter past Six o'clock, to Thursday next, half past Ten o'clock.