§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
THE MARQUESS OF WESTMEATH
, in moving the second reading of this Bill, explained that its object was first, to allow the verdict of three-fourths of a jury to be taken in cases of high treason, murder, petty treason, sedition, or any other felony or misdemeanor; and secondly, to give the Attorney General the power to order a new trial where there had been a disagreement of the jury, and to change the venue 1596 in those cases. On the last circuit in Ireland there was one continued and entire failure on the part of the Crown Prosecutors to carry out the law. In one instance eleven of the jury were unanimous in convicting, but one man kept them for twenty-eight hours, declaring that he would never convict any one of an offence against the British law. The Bill recited that—Recent instances of the failure of justice in Ireland have occurred through the disagreement of juries in cases where the evidence appeared to be of a conclusive character to establish the guilt of the accused,and that it is therefore,Evident that the existing law of trial by jury is insufficient and inadequate to protect life or property in Ireland.Some such amendment of the law as he proposed was absolutely necessary in a country where a person might openly avow that he would not act upon his oath, and judge according to the evidence; where men were so reckless of the obligations of an oath, and where public rejoicings took place in some instances at the failure of justice in the case of prisoners whose guilt could hardly be doubted.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Marquess of Westmeath.)
§ EARL GRANVILLE
thought that their Lordships would hardly be prepared in a thin House to pass a Bill introducing such an important change in the law. The proposal to dispense with the unanimity of juries, if good for Ireland, was equally good for England.
§ LORD KINGSDOWN
said, he approved that part of the Bill which proposed to allow a majority of the jury to give a verdict, and he would therefore vote with the noble Marquess if he divided the House.
THE EARL OF DONOUGHMORE
said, he could not support the first part of the Bill for altering the jury system; but he thought the second part, providing for a change of venue, well deserved the attention of the Government. At present a failure of justice was of no unfrequent occurrence through the want of such a provision. In one instance, in Donegal, a man had been tried three times for a capital offence; but such was the terror that existed that it was impossible to secure a conviction, and the man received a public ovation. Now if, after the first disagreement of the jury, there had been a power to change the venue to Dublin, a fair trial would probably have been secured and justice would 1597 have been done. In England this power existed, and had been exercised in the case of Palmer; and it would prove a beneficial power in Ireland. At the assizes in Belfast the other day there were a number of cases brought forward by the Crown, but party spirit ran very high in the place, and the convictions against both sides were very few. There would have been a much better chance of justice being done if the Law Officers had the power of removing the trials to places' in which a more calm and dispassionate attention would be given to the evidence.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
said, the statute under which the venue was changed in the case of Palmer's trial enabled such a change to be made for the purpose of avoiding delay, and he was under the impression that that statute applied to Ireland also. If it were the case that the same power did not exist in Ireland, it would be a very proper subject of consideration whether a measure should not be framed with the object of remedying the defect.
§ LORD CHELMSFORD
did not think that any such power of changing the venue existed in Ireland, and he agreed with his noble Friend behind him (the Earl of Donoughmore) that it was desirable that the power should be extended to that part of the United Kingdom. It would be very objectionable, however, to give that power to the Law Officers; it should be given to a Court of Law, which should have the right to determine in each case.
THE EARL OF BELMORE
said, the power did exist in Ireland, and he himself remembered an instance of its application in the county of Monaghan.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
said, the matter should be taken into consideration, but suggested that the present Bill should be withdrawn.
THE MARQUESS OF WESTMEATH
said, upon that assurance of the Lord Chancellor, he would not press the Bill.
§ Motion (by Leave of the House) withdrawn.
§ Then the Bill (by Leave of the House) withdrawn.