Page images

A great improvement was made in 1835 in the prosecution of offences at Quarter Sessions. It was formerly not the practice to prosecute in these courts on the part of the Crown, unless in very special cases directed by the Attorney-General. In 1835 sessional Crown solicitors were appointed to conduct the prosecutions in every case.* The appointment of these solicitors secured the effective prosecution of a very large class of cases, chiefly assaults, arising out of riots at fairs and other assemblies of the people, which were formerly prosecuted by the parties themselves, or, as was much more frequently the case, were compromised before trial, and not brought to justice at all. The effect of the change was, in some parts of the country, at once very remarkable.

The Crown prosecutions at the assizes were simultaneously greatly extended. This extension had been begun under former Governments. Previously to 1821 the Crown prosecuted only in cases of an insurrectionary nature. The worst description of homicides, and even of murders from private causes, burglaries, robberies, &c., were left to the prosecution of the injured parties themselves; and, in consequence, the prosecutions often failed from the neglect of proper preparations.

At the same time that the Crown prosecutions were extended, arrangements were devised for making them more effectual. Those arrangements are thus referred to in Mr Drummond's evidence before the Roden Committee:

“I may be permitted to advert to an arrangement which

* This was an imitation of the Scotch system of ProcuratorsFiscal, which was well known to Mr Drummond. We shall see presently that an imitation of the Scotch system on a larger scale was of his suggestion.

Lord Normanby directed among those other arrangements I have already described, and from which very considerable benefit is expected as regards the suppression of outrages. The plan in question is one for rendering Crown prosecutions more effectual. Lord Normanby's attention was directed to this important subject soon after he became Lord Lieutenant, and it appeared to him that considerable improvements night be made in the manner of conducting these prosecutions, both at assizes and quarter sessions. A measure, begun with this view before he left Ireland, has subsequently been completed, and has received the sanction of his successor. From this measure great benefit is expected; it will secure the immediate attention of the Crown solicitor and Crown counsel to every case as it arises; and it is expected that cases will be got up much more completely than they now are, and that the consequence will be a larger proportion of convictions. The proposed measure regards the conduct of both the civil business and the criminal business, but the latter more especially. It is now completed, and is about to be submitted to the Treasury.

“ Did this suggest itself after Lord Normanby went to Dublin ?

“ Yes.

“ About what period; in 1835?

“ It was talked of in 1835, and was postponed in consequence of the necessity of preparing the Constabulary Act and other legislative measures.

“ Did you suggest it?

“ I, of course, brought under the notice of the Lord Lieutenant certain defects in the present system which fell under my cognisance."

There was another change made which had a most beneficial effect on the administration of justice. Prior to 1835 it had been the practice of the Crown to set aside, from the list of persons appointed by the Sheriff to try causes, all who were Roman Catholics, or of “liberal opinions." They were challenged or

put by,” according to legal phraseology, and not allowed to sit as jurors when called. This was done in virtue of an assumed right of peremptory challenge in the Crown, which, however, it appears, did not belong to it otherwise than through usage. The effects of the practice, whether it was legal or not, were highly prejudicial. The people were never satisfied of the impartiality of the tribunals. It enabled the friends of a convict to excite a sympathy in his favour, no matter how properly he might have been convicted; for they would point to some gentleman who had been challenged by the Crown, and prevented serving on the jury, and say, that if it had been a fair casé such a gentleman would not have been put off the jury. The abandonment of this practice was one, and not the least, of the good consequences of the new regime. It was initiated in 1835 by Mr Perrin, who had previously for years discountenanced the practice; it was carried on and completed by O’Loghlen and his successors in the Attorney-Generalship-no doubt, in consultation with, if not under the directions of, the Government. Full instructions on the subject, issued by Mr Brady when Attorney-General, have been acted on ever since.* The effects of this change, of course, extended beyond the sphere of the administration of justice. “Throughout the island,” says Miss Martineau, “the Protestants, who had always regarded their neighbours of another faith as idolaters and rebels, saw with amazement and horror that they were trusted to try the accused, to administer the laws, and transact the business of society, as if they hated the Pope and cursed the Jesuits." +

An important change was also made, in 1836, in the law respecting Petty Sessions. A return was ordered to be furnished quarterly, showing the number of Petty Sessions held, how they were attended, and what business was transacted. The Government was thus put in possession of information as to the proceedings in all the Petty Sessions in the kingdom, and could see where they were well attended and where they failed. Where the magistrates failed to attend to their duties, the failure was at once known, and the attention of the Lord Lieutenant of the county instantly drawn to it by the Government. The Lord Lieutenants of the counties generally responded to the call of Government, and, with one exception, undertook to see to the regular attendance of the magistrates.

* See App. No. III. + "History of the Peace," vol. ii. p. 285.

These changes were accompanied by sharp measures for compelling the attendance of jurors, witnesses, and parties bound over to prosecute. “ There is a general feeling,” says Mr Drummond,“ against a person who gives evidence in a court of justice in Ireland. The name of an informer or prosecutor exposes him to general odium-in some instances even to personal risk. Under the old system, the defaulter was fined, but the fine could not be levied at the time. It was levied under a process issuing from the Court of Exchequer. The defaulter apprehended on this process lay in prison till the next assize. Under the new system, the judge fixes the fine and hands at once a warrant to a constable to apprehend and bring in the defaulter.”

These changes were accompanied by legislative remedies for some evils which were fertile causes of disorder. Both the evils below referred to were remedied in 1835.

“Formerly each judgment creditor had the power of 'distraining for the amount of his debt. This power was most vexatious, and led to frequent breaches of the peace. Each creditor had, without reference to what had been previously paid by the tenant, the power to distrain for his debt; so that it frequently happened that the unfortunate tenant had two or three times over to pay the amount of his rent. [The holder of a small portion of potato ground, having paid his rent to the man of whom he hired it, not being the landlord, but a tenant, might be called upon, as the actual occupier, to pay his rent over again to the landlord ; and this as many times as there were intermediate tenants between himself and the owner of the land.] The natural consequence was, he resisted; and that led to breaches of the peace. The improvement introduced was, that a Receiver was appointed by the Court, who received the amount and paid it among the creditors. There was another important change which tended to prevent breaches of the peace. This was the granting to the Civil Bill Court a power to substitute service of process, as it was called, i.e., on the party making a representation that the service has been opposed, the barrister may direct the posting the notice on some conspicuous place, which shall be deemed good service. This prevented collisions between process servers and the parties—of old a fertile source of disturbances."*

The effect of all these improvements appeared in the diminution of crime. The criminal statistics adduced by Mr Drummond before the Roden Committee established three propositions. First, that there had been a diminution in the amount of aggravated crime, while the total amount of crime of all sorts brought to justice was as great as ever ; secondly, that there had been an increase of committals, in proportion to offences, consequent upon the superior vigilance of the police; and thirdly, an increase of convictions in proportion to com

* Mr Drummond's Evidence before the Roden Committee. The merit of procuring the substitution of service of process belongs to a lay association established in Dublin in the end of 1835 for the purpose of helping the clergy. The change had its origin in the difficulties of the tithe collection.

« PreviousContinue »