§ THE EARL OF MAYO rose to call the attention of His Majesty's Government to the position of certain magistrates in Ireland, namely, Mr. Eugene O'Sullivan, Justice of the Peace for the County of Kerry, and Mr. John Sweeny, Justice of the Peace for the County of Donegal—
- 1. The relation to the conviction of these magistrates in a Court of Law.
- 2. Their still retaining the office of Justice of the Peace; and to move for Papers.
§ The noble Earl said: My Lords, on March 14 last I drew the attention of the House to the conviction of certain magistrates in Ireland and to their still retaining the office of Justice of the Peace. On that occasion I placed the names of four magistrates on the Paper, and in respect of two of them the noble Lord (Lord Ashby St. Ledgers) who spoke on behalf of the Irish Office said that sufficient notice of the Question had not been given, and therefore he could not make any statement then in regard to those two magistrates. I think there has now been sufficient notice given, and therefore I will proceed to deal with the two cases mentioned in my Notice to-day.
The first case is that of Mr. Eugene O'Sullivan. He was returned as Member of Parliament for East Kerry, but this election was followed by an election petition, there being charges of corrupt and illegal practices said to have been committed at that election. The Judges who tried the case found that corrupt practices were proved to have been committed with the knowledge and consent of the said Eugene O'Sullivan, and that the nature of such corrupt practices was —
undue influence and intimidation exercised in order to induce voters to vote for the said Eugene O'Sullivan or to refrain from voting for the petitioner, John Murphy.
The election was declared void, and, curiously enough, shortly after that Mr. Eugene O'Sullivan was made a Justice of the Peace for the county of Kerry. But there was something further. Mr. Justice Kenny, who with Mr. Justice Madden tried the East Kerry election petition case, said in delivering judgment—
The Firies district a quarter of a century ago was the scene of a terrible crime. It is hard to credit any decent law-abiding person identifying
himself with that terrible outrage, yet we find the respondent (Eugene O'Sullivan) delivering a speech of a very shocking character in connection with moonlighting in the Firies district.
And Mr. Justice Madden said that of the speech of Mr. Eugene O'Sullivan and the sentiments that prompted it there could be only one opinion amongst those who had any respect for the law or any regard for the good fame of the county of Kerry. I believe that Mr. Eugene O'Sullivan is still a Justice of the Peace.
The Statute with regard to this question seems to be quite clear. It was quoted in the debate on March 14 by the noble Earl, Lord Desart. What it says is this—
if a candidate is reported for treating or undue influence he is subject to the same incapacities as if at the date of the report he had been convicted on indictment of corrupt practice.
And another section runs—
A person convicted on indictment of corrupt practice shall for seven years not be capable of holding any public or judicial office, and if he holds any such office the office shall be vacated.
In the interpretation clause a judicial office includes a Justice of the Peace. I think it is little short of a scandal, first of all that this man should have been made a Justice of the Peace after having been found guilty of corrupt practices, and then that the authorities, with that Statute before them, should have allowed him to continue on the Commission of the Peace.
§ I will now take the case of Mr. John Sweeny, of Burton Port, County Donegal. Mr. Sweeny is a public-house keeper. In 1899 he was convicted of selling methylated spirits without a licence, and in 1905 he was convicted of keeping his public-house open during prohibited hours. And then he was made a Justice of the Peace!But even after that he was fined£50for the illegal sale of intoxicating liquors at his unlicensed hotel in Burton Port, but the fine was reduced by the magistrates to£12 10s., with a recommendation by the Bench—this is a little habit they have in Ireland—that the amount be further reduced to 10s. He did this again in the same year and was fined in the same way; and last August he was again fined for selling watered rum. Now when you buy rum you like to get it neat and to add water yourself, but this gentleman charged the full price for rum having watered it first of all. That is Mr. John Sweeny's record, 840 and I ask any respectable person. Is it right that a man should remain a magistrate who had been convicted of two offences before he was made a Justice of the Peace and then goes on in this way, finishing up with selling watered rum? In my opinion it is perfectly disgraceful and scandalous and I hope I shall have some sort of satisfactory answer from the Government on the subject.
§ To show your Lordships how very slack the authorities are in this matter I may mention that Mr. Gilhooly, M.P., was removed from the Commission of the Peace for a speech which he delivered on the occasion of the trial and conviction of a number of persons for participating in the riots of Bantry on August 14, 1910; but he was subsequently chosen as chairman of the local district council, and thereupon became an ex officio Justice of the Peace. A great many people have speculated very much as to what would be the action of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland on that matter. Here was a man who was removed from the Commission of the Peace for making a speech with regard to riots but who afterwards became an ex officio magistrate, and no notice whatever was taken. I put that case in by way of parenthesis to show how very slack, to say the least of it, the authorities in Ireland are with regard to Justices of the Peace.
The noble Lord, Lord Ashby St. Ledgers, in replying to me on the previous occasion when I called attention to this matter, said, referring to the debate the previous day on the subject of the Congested Districts Board and Mr. Fitzgibbon, M.P.—
The Motion of the noble Earl is another instance, of which we had an example yesterday, of the drastic and disciplinary action which noble Lords opposite are always urging the Government of Ireland to adopt towards people who happen to be their political opponents.
I really do not care a pin whether these men are Nationalists or Unionists. It is a perfect disgrace to the country that they should be retained as Justices of the Peace. These men are placed in responsible positions, in many cases in out-of-the-way districts, and it is the greatest possible evil to a country when there is not respect for the magistracy. There was no political motive whatever in my mind in raising this question. But is it any palliation of the non-action of His Majesty's Government to say that I am making
political capital out of it? I venture to say that if Justices of the Peace were to do this sort of thing in England the noble and learned Earl now on the Woolsack would have them off the Commission of the Peace at once and without any hesitation. There is no political question involved at all. It is a question of maintaining decent benches of magistrates and carrying out the law in a proper and respectable manner. I await with the greatest interest the answer which the noble Lord opposite will give. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That there be laid before the House the findings of the Court in the East Kerry Election Petition and the Judges' statement relating thereto, and the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown with reference to the retention by Mr. Eugene O'Sullivan of the office of Justice of the Peace.—(The Earl of Mayo.)
§ LORD ASHBY ST. LEDGERS
My Lords, the noble Earl has to-day brought forward the two names which I asked him to defer when he raised this question on March 14 because he had not given me sufficient notice to enable me to go into the merits of those cases, and I am obliged to hint for having deferred them until to-day. The noble Earl has told your Lordships what he knows about these two gentlemen. Some of the things he has told you are accurate; others, perhaps are not quite so accurate. But before going into the individual cases I would like to make a protest against the attempt he has made to-day and made before to set up something of what I may call a cumulative case against these and other individuals. I submit, and I hope the House will agree with me, that there is a broad distinction between offences committed prior to an individual being elevated to the Bench and those committed after his appointment. Noble Lords laugh, but I think they are laughing a little too soon.
I would remind the House that there are in Ireland, apart from the official and resident magistrates who do not come within the scope of this discussion, two classes of magistrates. There are the ordinary magistrates, appointed by the Lord Chancellor either as the result of his own selection or, more frequently, I believe, on the recommendation of some responsible person like the Lieutenant of a county, and there is also another 842 class of magistrates—namely, ex officio magistrates who owe their position on the Bench to the Local Government Act of 1898 which was passed by noble Lords opposite. As far as this second class is concerned, it was held by Lord Ashbourne, when he was Lord Chancellor, and it has been held by his successors, that the Lord Chancellor was precluded from taking into consideration any act of commission or omission on the part of any gentleman previously to the attainment of that position. When we discussed this subject before the Easter recess Lord Ashbourne was in his place, and I asked him whether he remembered the case of Mr. Kelly, an Irish magistrate. I do not know what Mr. Kelly had done, but he was the subject of a Question in another place in the year 1905, when Mr. Walter Long was Chief Secretary for Ireland. In reply, Mr, Long said—I have referred this Question to the Lord Chancellor, whose observations are as follows: Mr. Kelly became a magistrate under the provisions of the Local Government Act without the need of any previous sanction or approval from the Lord Chancellor, and he only thereon became amenable to the jurisdiction of the word Chancellor under the enactment which places him in the same position as other Irish magistrates with regard to conduct after he became a magistrate. But this power does not authorise the Lord Chancellor to inquire into speeches made several months before his election.That was the attitude taken up by Lord Ashbourne when he was Lord Chancellor. It is, if I may venture to say so with great respect, an absolutely unanswerable position, and it is one which has been followed by successive Lord Chancellors. Therefore when noble Lords opposite laughed when I said there was a broad and important distinction to be drawn between acts committed before and acts committed after gentlemen came upon the Bench in Ireland I think they had forgotten that this ex officio class of magistrates existed. Certainly the noble Earl, Lord Mayo, seems to have forgotten it, for he said, alluding to the case of Mr. O'Sullivan, that after that gentleman had made certain inflammatory speeches he was made a magistrate. He was not made a magistrate. He became a magistrate by virtue of the Act of 1898. And I go further and say that, even as regards ordinary magistrates, charges and convictions previously to their becoming magistrates ought not to weigh unduly with the Lord Chancellor when he is called upon to consider the gravity of any particular 843 offence or charge that may be brought against an individual since his appointment. If that is so, and I believe it is, a great part, if not the major part, of the noble Earl's indictment against these people falls to the ground. In the case of Mr. O'Sullivan the violent speeches to which the noble Earl alluded were made years before this gentleman ever came upon the Bench.
§ LORD ASHBY ST. LEDGERS
I am coming to that. Let me emphasise again that Mr. O'Sullivan was not appointed by the Lord Chancellor. The noble Earl spoke as if the Lord Chancellor had elected him and put him on the Bench. He became a Justice of the Peace by reason of his election as chairman of the Killarney Urban District Council. I am pretty sure, if it had been a question of appointing him, that the speeches to which reference has been made would have been taken into consideration and he would not have been appointed. Then there is the question of the election petition. The noble Earl has quoted the Statute, and he feels quite certain in his own mind that under the terms of the Statute Mr. Eugene O'Sullivan ought to be removed from the Bench. But here he comes into conflict with the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown. When Mr. O'Sullivan became a magistrate as I have described by ex officio process, the attention of the Lord Chancellor was called to the matter of the election petition, and he had to decide whether the conviction was such as would deprive this gentleman of his position.
It is a very long technical story. I do not know whether the House would like me to give it to them in full, or whether your Lordships would be content if I summarise it by saying that the Law Officers of the Crown advised that as Mr. O'Sullivan had not been reported to have been personally guilty of corrupt practices under Section 4 of the Act of 1883 he had not become subject to the incapacities imposed by Section 6, one of which is incapacity to hold a judicial office, which includes the office of Justice of the Peace. That being so, the Lord Chancellor of Ireland did not consider that it was his duty to remove Mr. O'Sullivan, and I doubt very much whether, in view of this 844 opinion of the Law Officers, he would have been right in doing so. That is the case of Mr. O'Sullivan.
I pass to the case of Mr. John Sweeny. Mr. Sweeny is not an ex officio magistrate. He was appointed by the Lord Chancellor in 1908 upon the recommendation of the Duke of Abercorn, who apparently did not make sufficiently careful and exhaustive inquiries into Mr. Sweeny's previous career before he took upon himself the step of recommending his name to the Lord Chancellor. Anyhow, Mr. Sweeny was appointed on the recommendation of the Duke of Abercorn. I may say that the Lord Chancellor was not aware that Mr. Sweeny was the owner of licensed premises. He was recommended to him as a hotel keeper, and he was not aware, as a matter of fact, that he was the owner of licensed premises, not that that would necessarily have been an insuperable bar to his appointment. Since then it is true that Mr. Sweeny has been convicted of two offences in connection with his unlicensed hotel. It appears that one of the Revenue officers stopped at Mr. Sweeny's hotel, and, being a zealous gentleman and wishing to probe into the practice which obtained in this unlicensed house, called for whisky and beer, but, contrary to the practice adopted in unlicensed hotels, he was not called upon at the time for the money with which to procure the drink from outside and the cost was included in his bill. For that Mr. Sweeny was fined the nominal sum of 10s. The Lord Chancellor, however, regarded this as only a technical breach of the law, because if the revenue officer had been called upon to put down his shilling at the time he called for the drink there would have been no breach of the law; and after considering the circumstances and having regard to the decision of the magistrates the late Lord Chancellor came to the conclusion that no action on his part was necessary. The second case was one of selling spirits below proof. Here, again, it was held that although Mr. Sweeny was legally responsible he was not personally connected with this offence, and there was no proof that he had any cognisance of it. That was the police report on the subject. It occurred at a public house of his at a place where he did not reside, and there was no evidence that Mr. Sweeny was the offender. He might have been, indeed, the person sinned against. The wholesale dealer might have supplied him with the 845 rum watered, There was certainly no evidence that Mr. Sweeny was aware that he was selling spirit below proof. Again in view of that fact the Lord Chancellor did not think it necessary to interfere.
These two cases form part of a batch of five which were originally submitted to this House by the noble Earl. I think we may feel that we have reached the limit of delinquencies which the zeal and industry of the noble Earl has been able to unearth. These five cases represent the sum total of the alleged unsatisfactory condition of the Irish Benches which deprives them of that respect to which the noble Earl rightly attaches importance. What are they? In two cases the gentlemen had already been removed before the noble Earl drew attention to them. Then there is the case of Mr. O'Sullivan, who was not liable under the Act to be deprived of his office. Only two cases remain—that of Mr. Scott, who was fined 1s. for being intoxicated, and Mr. Sweeny, who has been guilty of two offences of a technical character. On the last occasion on which we discussed this subject the noble Marquess the Leader of the Opposition took the opportunity to base upon it, as far as I could gather, a general charge against the reliability and respectability of the Irish Benches. I have not the noble Marquess's words, but I think the substance of his observations was that many of the local Benches are at the present moment recruited in such a manner that nothing but a denial of justice can be expected from them in a certain class of eases.
If the Irish Benches are unsatisfactory, the most unsatisfactory elements are the ex officio magistrates who come upon the Bench by virtue of the Act of 1898 passed by a Conservative Government. However good your recruiting for the rest of the Bench may be, it is always liable to be very largely diluted by the ex officio magistrates who come upon it in the way I have described. For instance, there is the case of. Mr. Gilhooly, M.P., who was rightly deprived of his position on the Bench, but who reappears as an ex officio magistrate. But who is responsible for that? Not His Majesty's Government, not the Irish Administration, but noble Lords opposite and their colleagues in another place who passed the Act of 1898. In so far as the honour and the reputation of the Irish 846 Benches are compromised by these gentlemen, if any one is responsible for it it is the Party opposite. I do not know whether the noble Marquess will go further into that question to-day, but if he does I am sure he will bear in mind the distinction which does exist and should be emphasised between magistrates appointed by the Lord Chancellor and magistrates who come to the Bench in an ex officio capacity hope that we have now got to the bottom of the serious and disquieting charges which the noble Earl makes against the Irish Benches.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
My Lords the noble Lord who has just addressed the House was good enough to refer to some observations which I made in this place on the 14th of last month, and he seemed to be under the impression that the complaint which I then undoubtedly did make was founded upon somewhat imperfect knowledge limited to some half-a-dozen cases in which acts more or less improper had been committed by individual magistrates sitting on the Irish local Benches. But if the noble Lord had been good enough to refer to the report of what I then said he would have observed that, far from resting myself merely upon half-a-dozen individual cases of that kind, I really based my argument upon quotations from language used by two learned Judges and one right rev. Prelate in Ireland. The two learned Judges—Judge Todd and Judge Craig—both spoke in the strongest language, and in general language not limited to any particular cases, of the conduct of some of these Irish Benches. Judge Todd said—It made him ashamed that some gentlemen, after the evidence which had been sworn before them, should act contrary to it.That is a pretty severe and sweeping condemnation of a Bench. Judge Craig said—It was a disgrace to the administration of justice, and if the people who appointed such magistrates could only see them, they would be ashamed of themselves.Similar remarks were made by the right rev. Prelate whom I quoted.
The noble Lord begged me to keep in mind the distinction between offences committed by these persons before and after their appointment as magistrates. I do not want in the least to rake up the old records of every gentleman who succeeds in finding his place on an Irish Bench of 847 magistrates, but I do say this, that when the record of a particular individual before his appointment is anything but a clean record, it becomes necessary to look with somewhat critical eye on his conduct after he has obtained a seat on the Bench, and in the case of certainly two of the persons referred to by Lord Mayo he was able to say that their conduct both before and after their appointment to the Bench had been of a kind which in the judgment of most people would render them very unfit indeed to administer justice. In particular there is the case of Mr. Sweeny, who was twice convicted before and twice after his appointment to the Bench. The noble Lord seemed to be under the impression that this gentleman was an ex officio magistrate.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
In his case the story is a perfectly clear and simple one. There were two convictions before his appointment, of which I suppose the Lord Lieutenant was not aware, and there have been two convictions since. The fact that these two earlier convictions preceded the two which took place subsequently to his appointment seems to me to show the later offences should not have been condoned, and that the retention of Mr. Sweeny as an administrator of justice is not for the public interest. But I do not want to pass again in review these different cases. What I do wish to impress upon the House is that enough has been established to show that some inquiry into this question of the conduct of the Irish local magistrates is really necessary. We have had an inquiry dealing with the question of the magistracy in this country, and, as the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack knows, the question arose whether that inquiry should be extended to Ireland or not. The Prime Minister was interrogated on this point in the House of Commons, and when asked whether he would include Ireland in the inquiry, he said—No, sir, I think not. The Royal Commission announced by the Lord Chancellor is intended to deal with the question of the appointment of magistrates in England, Scotland, and Wales …When the inquiry has been concluded the Government will be glad to consider whether a similar inquiry should be held in the case of Ireland, where, I may add, the conditions differ somewhat from those in Great Britain.848 Our point is that the time has come when that inquiry, of which a prospect was held out by the Prime Minister, might very well be instituted. The same point was referred to in the Report of the Royal Commission, in which the Commissioners stated, differing apparently somewhat from the Prime Minister, that the terms of their Commission would have enabled them to deal with the appointment of justices in Ireland. They added, however, that—It was called to our attention that the Prime Minister had stated in the House of Commons that the inquiry was not intended to include Ireland, which might be dealt with by an independent and further inquiry.Surely such an inquiry would not be a very unreasonable one to make. The noble and learned Earl will, I hope, permit me to quote one sentence from his own evidence before the Royal Commission—The office of Justice of the Peace is one of great importance. It is necessary that Justices of the Peace should be men of independence, integrity, of good repute and good sense. It is not a question of social rank. What is required is that there should be general confidence in their capacity and impartiality and a personal respect for them on the part of those among whom they live.I really would ask the noble and learned Earl, who has listened to these discussions, whether it is possible to believe that those who will attend these local Courts and who will have to go to these local Courts for justice can possibly entertain a feeling of general confidence in their capacity and impartiality and a personal respect for them so long as gentlemen of the type of Mr. Sweeny, Mr. O'Sullivan Mr. Scott, and Mr. Gilhooly are allowed to retain their places on the Bench. The matter is really one which demands further investigation, and I hope it will receive such investigation at the hands of His Majesty's Government.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I have very few words to say in answer to the appeal made to me by the noble Marquess. I quite agree that your object is to get on the Bench men who will be respected and whose decisions in judicial matters will be looked up to. I can assure your Lordships, from the experience of six years, that with the innumerable personal jealousies and constant difficulties that arise in connection with it, the duty is an extremely difficult one to discharge by any one who holds the office of Lord Chancellor in this country or in Ireland. All that can be done is to exercise the best discretion possible in the selection of 849 magistrates. It is still more difficult, sometimes to deal with cases of dismissal, because you are not always sure of your facts; and any one who has, as I have, to consider the question whether a man ought to continue a Justice of the Peace, especially where he has been elected by a public body to a position which makes him an ex officio magistrate and has not been nominated by the Lord Chancellor, has a very difficult task. He must be careful before he inflicts an irreparable stigma or disgrace upon a man whose offence may perhaps he inconsiderable. All I will say further on this subject is that I wholly decline to express any opinion as to the propriety of the conduct of the Lord Chancellor of Ireland. I have no doubt that he has fully considered the facts. I cannot know or believe that I am in possession of all the facts that were laid before him, and it would be ungenerous and wrong in me to express in this case, especially in his absence, any criticism of his action in so delicate and difficult a matter.
THE EARL OF MAYO
I ended my speech with a Motion for Papers. I should like to know if we might have printed the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown with regard to the case of Mr. Eugene O'Sullivan. I was not quite clear as to what Lord Ashby St. Ledgers said upon this, and I should like to ask whether he means to say that the Lord Chancellor cannot remove an ex officio magistrate no matter what he may have done.
§ LORD ASHBY ST. LEDGERS
The view taken by successive Lord Chancellors of Ireland is that the Lord Chancellor cannot take into consideration anything which had been done by a man before he became an ex officio magistrate. Anything that the ex officio magistrate may do afterwards, of course, comes within the Lord Chancellor's purview. That was laid down by Lord Ashbourne in 1905, and it has been followed ever since. I really do not know what other course is open to the Lord Chancellor. The Act which creates these ex officio Justices of the Peace must have contemplated that in ninny cases the personal record of the individual would not bear investigation. Noble Lords opposite must have contemplated that when they passed the Act, and presumably it was the intention of Parliament that whatever the previous record of these gentlemen was they were to sit on the Bench.
THE EARL OF MAYO
The noble Lord said the Papers were very long and he gave us in his speech a summary of them. Might we have them printed, together with the opinions of the Law Officers of the Crown?
§ LORD ASHBY ST. LEDGERS
It is not usual to print the opinions of the Law Officers of the Crown, but I will consider that point.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LANSDOWNE
I wish the noble Lord would explain one point which arises out of what he said a moment ago. I think he said that the Law Officers believed that the Lord Chancellor could not take into account anything done by an ex officio magistrate before he became an ex officio magistrate. Take the case of Mr. Gilhooly. He was au ex officio magistrate, and was removed from the Bench for having made a speech at Bantry in August, 1910. Is it the view of the Government that in a case of that kind the Lord Chancellor is precluded from taking into consideration other acts committed by the same person before his appointment to the magistracy?
§ VISCOUNT MORLEY
My Lords, it has been my fortune, unhappily, to have had more to do with the appointment of Irish magistrates than I think any other member of your Lordships' House, and I frankly admit that it is not that portion of the public duties which have been committed to me to which I look back with the liveliest satisfaction or pleasure, and I am sure that noble Lords opposite who had the same duty to perform of nominating magistrates to the Irish Benches are equally removed from any feeling of complacency on the matter. But I would point out to the noble Marquess that when I became Chief Secretary for the second time in 1892 it was necessary, if you wanted to present to the mind of Irishmen a desire on the part of the Government to have impartial and fair Benches, to make a large number of appointments to redress the amazing inequality which existed at that moment on the Irish Benches. How were they manned? It would be a bitter story to describe to the House how those Irish Benches were manned before we came into office in 1892. It was no more than common justice and common decency required that we should make a large number of appointments. If we had had 851 a wider choice, if the social conditions of Ireland had given us material for a wider choice, those appointments might have been different from what they were. I understand that my own humble name is associated with many of those magistrates who are obnoxious to some of the friends of the noble Marquess. That may be. But from the inquiries which I have been able to make during the intervening years I feel that on the whole justice has been as well and as impartially administered by the renovated Benches as it was under the old régime.
As to the noble Marquess's request for an inquiry, it may be right to have an inquiry into the question of magistrates in England, Scotland, and Wales, but in Ireland, where the social conditions are so uncertain and in many respects unsatisfactory, I for one would deprecate the appointment of any Commission or tribunal the object of which would be to rip open a number of circumstances in Ireland which it would be better to leave alone. It is no gain to a country in the condition of Ireland to set a roving inquiry on foot upon a matter so delicate and involving so many dangerous indirect issues as the administration of justice. I hope, therefore, that the noble Marquess will not persevere in his request for an inquiry. I do not think it would be expedient; it would serve no good purpose, and it might produce a great deal of mischief.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to, and ordered accordingly.