HL Deb 08 June 1888 vol 326 cc1501-8

asked her Majesty's Government, Whether there was any objection to lay upon the Table of the House copies of the summons and of the indictment or information on which Mr. Thomas Condon, M.P., was recently sentenced to one month's imprisonment, together with any copies which might exist of the passage or passages in his speech which were the subject of the indictment, or information of any evidence which was given upon his trial, and of the judgment; also whether her Majesty's Government were aware, or could inform the House, whether the judgment was founded on any previous decision of any competent Court? His attention was drawn to the proceedings in this case as they were reported in the newspapers, but he would not state what impression the newspaper reports pro- duced on his mind, because he knew by experience that newspaper reports of legal cases were very often necessarily, and very often when they need not be, inaccurate. The case was an important one, and he had taken care to put the Question in such a form that it should not interfere with any proceedings that might be pending. Whether it was intended to draw attention to it in the other House he knew not. He simply asked for information, because he knew perfectly well that if he said anything on the case in the present state of his information he would invite at the hands of the Government the very proper answer that he had interfered in a matter about which his information was perfectly unreliable. He did not think that he would be justified—and he did not intend doing so—in expressing any opinion on the case whatever. He would only say, as regards the last portion of his Question, that he took it for granted that the proceedings—though it did not appear on the Paper, because he had taken it for granted—were taken under the Crimes Act, and he supposed under Section 2 of that Act. He did not know whether that was so or not, but he took the liberty of assuming it; and what he meant by the last portion of his Question was, he wished to know whether the noble and learned Lord opposite (the Lord Chancellor of Ireland), or any other noble Lord, could inform him whether there had been any previous decision on that section or not?


said, he had considered the Question placed upon the Paper by the noble and learned Lord with all the care and attention which was due to one holding so high a position as the noble and learned Lord in the House and in the Legal Profession. He gathered from the few observations which the noble and learned Lord had made that his attention was called to this case by some statement in the newspapers, and that his desire was to obtain information, the giving of which would not interfere with the course of justice. If the noble and learned Lord had lived in Ireland, or had been in the habit of reading Irish newspapers even at irregular periods, he would have been tolerably familiar with every aspect of this case, and he would know that all the points upon which he desired infor- mation, and that every matter having the slightest connection with this case had been mentioned at length and fully reported in the Press. He said frankly that all the information which he had to give on the subject was only what any person could have made himself acquainted with through the ordinary channels of information. On the 2nd of April, 1888, a meeting was held at Mitchelstown at which Mr. Condon took an active part and made a speech; and it was in reference to a portion of that speech, which was held to amount to an incitement to persons to commit a breach of the law, that the sentence of one month's imprisonment was inflicted. As their Lordships would recollect, a police constable named Leahy was very seriously and dangerously maimed and wounded in the riot at Mitchelstown last autumn, where this meeting had been held, on the 2nd of April, and the Grand Jury of the county of Cork at the last Spring Assizes, under the Grand Jury Act passed in the reign of William IV., awarded to Constable Leahy for those injuries that he had sustained the sum of £1,000. In accordance with the ordinary requirements of the law that was fiated in the usual way by the Judge of Assize afterwards at the Spring Assizes at Cork. On the 2nd of April that meeting was held, and the Attorney General for Ireland, whose business it was to consider those matters, arrived, not unreasonably, at the conclusion that the meeting was an unlawful meeting, that it was held to support the Plan of Campaign, and also to induce the ratepayers not to pay the tax for the compensation awarded to Constable Leahy by the Grand Jury and upheld at the Spring Assizes. At the meeting held on April 2, Mr. Condon made a speech in which he said— You have heard from Mr. O'Brien and Mr. Healy that a tax of £1,000 is being levied off the barony for his unconstitutional conduct in being the first to lead the baton party that broke through your meeting on the 9th of September last. I hope the men of the barony of Condons and Clongibbons will do in the future as they have done in the past—namely, organize themselves to make the collection of that tax as difficult and expensive for these landlords and for the taxgatherers. All this may be illegal. I do not know whether it is or not, and, furthermore, do not care. It is quite possible that you will have policemen out in a day or two, but I will ask you to feed yourselves your families before you part with this money for Constable Leahy. It is one of the most infamous acts that was ever perpetrated by a Grand Jury. It was not out of love for Leahy, but it was poor revenge for the triumph that you had over them and their class on the Kingston property; not that one shilling will come out of their own pockets. If you contrast their action in the Grand Jury room in Cork with their action in the country you can see the motive that actuates the Grand Jury of the County of Cork in levying this infamous tax. I hope that you will send back a message to the Grand Jury of Cork that by the time this tax is collected it will cost them ten times more than the original tax levied. I have not the slightest doubt but that you will make the collection of this tax impossible, and that before a few months they will have reason to remember it. This is no time to be mealy-mouthed in speaking on these subjects. The Attorney General for Ireland and the Executive Government could not, consistently with their duty, allow those words to pass unnoticed. They had to discharge their duty; and they directed that Mr. Condon should be prosecuted for those words and for his action at that meeting. The charges preferred against Mr. Condon were four in number—namely— That the defendant did take part in a criminal conspiracy to induce certain persons not to fulfil their legal obligations, to wit, to pay a certain tax, to wit, county cess or grand jury cess, in respect of a certain presentment of the Grand Jury of the County of Cork, made at last Spring Assizes for said county, whereby a sum of £1,000 was presented to be raised off the barony of Condons and Clongibbons, in said county, in pursuance of Section 106, 6 and 7 Will. IV., c. 116, for the maiming of one Constable James Leahy at Mitchelstown, in said barony. 2. That defendant did at same time and place incite certain persons to unlawfully take part in a criminal conspiracy to induce certain other persons not to fulfil their legal obligations, to wit, to pay a certain tax, to wit, county cess or grand jury cess, in respect of said presentment hereinbefore mentioned. 3. And also that defendant did at same time and place aforesaid take part in an unlawful assembly. 4. And also that defendant at same time and place aforesaid being a district, to wit, within the barony of Condons and Clongibbons, in said County of Cork, and specified by an Order of the Lord Lieutenant in Council dated the 17th of September, 1887, made in pursuance of the Criminal Law and Procedure (Ireland) Act, 1887, by which Order the association named and described as the Irish National League in said district was suppressed, and which order was, after a special Proclamation in pursuance of the said Act, made by the Lord Lieutenant by and with the advice of the Privy Council, did knowingly take part in a meeting of the said association. The case came on at Mitchelstown before the tribunal constituted under the recent Act and presided over by Mr. Irwin, gentleman of character, experience, and knowledge. Mr. Deasy, a Member of Parliament, and also a member of the Bar, represented Mr. Condon, and he asked that the hearing of the charge against his client for taking part in a criminal conspiracy to induce certain persons not to fulfil their legal obligations in regard to payment of the tax for providing the compensation awarded to Constable Leahy should be adjourned until after the decision of the Queen's Bench Division in Ireland had been given upon the legality of the presentment of the Grand Jury of the County of Cork, that presentment having been removed upon certiorari to the Court of Queen's Bench in Dublin. The counsel for the Crown, Mr. Ronan, who represented the Attorney General, a lawyer of great experience and ability, in order to prevent all possibility of complaint that the defendant was unfairly treated, assented to the proposed adjournment until the Court of Queen's Bench had given its judgment on the legality of the presentment. The Queen's Bench Division afterwards gave judgment, upholding the legality of the presentment, and the liability of the ratepayers to pay the rate out of which Constable Leahy was to receive compensation was clear and manifest. The case against Mr. Condon then came on at Mitchelstown before Mr. Irwin and his colleague. The defence made by counsel for the defendant appeared to be that the words which Mr. Condon had spoken at the meeting only suggested and recommended that the people should not pay the tax until they knew what the action of the Court of Queen's Bench would be, and whether it would affirm the presentment, or set it aside as being illegal. The case was heard fully, and Mr. Irwin gave judgment against Mr. Condon. In passing sentence, Mr. Irwin was reported by The Freeman's Journal of May 22 to have said— There were two charges against the defendant, the evidence with regard to which they already heard, and they had only to pronounce judgment. The first was that the defendant did at Mitchelstown on the 2nd of April last take part in a criminal conspiracy to induce certain other persons, being ratepayers and cesspayers in the barony of Condons and Clongibbons, not to fulfil their legal obligations to pay a certain tax assessed at last Spring Assizes by the Grand Jury, when a sum of £1,000 as awarded to Constable Leahy to be levied off the barony of Condons and Clongibbons. In that charge they would make no rule. The next charge was one of inciting certain persons to take part in a criminal conspiracy to induce the ratepayers of the barony not to fulfil their legal obligations. Now, it appeared from the evidence which was laid before them that at the last Assizes of Cork, all the necessary preliminaries having been gone through, the presiding Judge, Mr. Justice Gibson, fiated the presentment to Constable Leahy for the most serious injuries he received while in the execution of his duties in Mitchelstown in September last. Now, that fiat or decree of the Judge imposed upon the ratepayers of that barony of Condons and Clongibbons the strict legal obligation of paying that tax. No doubt it was open to the ratepayers to seek relief from that tax by appealing, if they thought fit, to some Superior Court. There would be nothing wrong and certainly nothing criminal in that. But they had searched and searched in Mr. Condon's speech on that occasion for any remark or expression that would go to show that he had in his mind the idea, of inducing the ratepayers to appeal to a Court of Law. If they had found any such expression in his speech they should have dismissed the charge. Mr. Condon told the people to organize themselves to make the collection of that tax difficult and as expensive as possible to the landlord and taxgatherer. Again, he said he had not the slightest doubt that they would make the collection of the tax impossible, and before a few months they would have reason to remember it. There was not one word in his speech about the Court of Queen's Bench or any other Court. They then came to consider what was the real and obvious meaning and construction to be put upon these words. Evidently they were uttered to encourage and induce the ratepayers to enter into combination so as materially to induce one and another not to fulfil their legal obligations in respect to this tax. Resistance to the payment of public taxes was perhaps the very next thing to rebellion. They had considered the matter very carefully, and they thought that they would be discharging a public duty in sentencing the defendant to one calendar month's imprisonment without hard labour. That was the case to which the noble and learned Lord opposite had called attention, and about which he had asked for information. He had endeavoured to confine his observations to the circumstances which had led to that sentence, to the charge upon which it passed, to the speech upon which that charge rested, and to the judgment which the Court had pronounced in the case. He apprehended that the noble and learned Lord had not suggested that the charge on which Mr. Condon was convicted was not a clear and manifest offence, and he thought there was no possibility of question in reference to that matter. It was an offence so obvious and so patent that the laws of no country could exist if words recommending that taxes and rates should not be paid were allowed to pass without notice, and if such language was not to be punishable the laws of no country would be able to keep civil society together. The advice of Mr. Condon had, unfortunately, been taken, and efforts were being made to make the collection of that tax, as Mr. Condon had advised, as difficult as possible. He would not refer to that matter further than to say that if noble Lords looked at the Irish Press they would at once see that the advice was being acted on. Placards had been posted within the last few days actually quoting portions of the speech just read, showing the danger of using such language and the necessity of bringing those persons who employed it to the test of legal examination before properly constituted tribunals like those which existed in the present case. He thought that every fact he had stated had appeared in the public Press. The facts were well known, but as the noble and learned Lord had put the Question on the Paper, he thought it only right and becoming to give this information, at more length, perhaps, than some of their Lordships might think right or necessary, and give all the information which the noble and learned Lord appeared to desire. He did not think, however, that it would be expedient to lay Papers on the Table. He had not much experience of that House, but he did not believe it was in accordance with precedent that he should do so; he believed it might be a precedent which would lead to very mischievous results, because to lay such Papers on the Table would be making their Lordships' House and the other House of Parliament a sort of irregular Court of Appeal in a matter which would be decided by debate, and not according to the canons which regulated and controlled the actions of Courts which had to consider such cases on appeal. If, however, there was any point in reference to which the noble and learned Lord desired any further information, he would endeavour to supplement what he had already stated. He had endeavoured to avoid the language of prejudice and comment in stating the facts as fully and as clearly as he could, and he trusted that he had given all the information which could reasonably be desired.


said, he thought that the noble and learned Lord had given ample reasons for not laying. Papers on the Table, because he had laid before their Lordships all the information bearing on the case. He took exception, however, to the closing observations of the noble and learned Lord. He could not at all admit that in all such cases as this it would be improper to have Papers produced. Their Lordships had to bear in mind that the cases in which such Papers were asked for were cases in which the Government had created a special tribunal to try them under certain conditions. He therefore could not imagine that in all the circumstances it would be improper that tribunals so constituted should be subject to review by their Lordships' House or by the other House of Parliament, if they were deemed to have exceeded their legal functions. He merely rose to make that remark by way of protest.


said, he did not say that it would never be proper to present Papers in such cases. "Never" was a very big word. It would certainly not be expedient on the present occasion to produce the Papers. The noble and learned Lord who asked the Question did not question the legality of the action of the tribunal in this case. At the hearing before the Resident Magistrates, they were not asked to state a case, and it was not sought to be questioned that the charges disclosed a legal offence.


said, that the Motion of the noble and learned Lord appeared to him very like "maintenance." It had always been the endeavour of the noble and learned Lord's last Predecessor but two, when at the Bar and on the Bench, to make an appeal to law rare, and to put a speedy end to litigation; and under the exceptional state of the law in Ireland, he thought it unbecoming of any Judge to ask for that which might hinder reconciliation and keep up discord, and he was sure that his noble and learned and lamented Predecessor would rather have cut off his right hand than sign such a Notice as that on the Minutes of this House.