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State of the Law on Controverted Elections - Election Committees

Question of Opening the Irish Registry Mr. C. Buller's Bill for the Purpose of Amending the System--Mr. O'Connell's SchemeMr. Buller's Bill Read à Second Time - - Course Pursued by Lord John Russell with respect to Election Petitions - Spotliswoode Fund - Mr. W. S. O'Brien's Petition-Sir Francis Burdett- Mr. Blewill's Resolutions - Speaker's Threat to Resign in consequence of the Disorderly Conduct of the House Debate on Mr. W. S. O'Brien's Molion to Refer his Petition to a Select Committee

- Mr. Harvey's Amendment-Sir W. Follell - The Attorney General— Mr. O ConnellSir F. Burdelt Lord John Russell Sir R. Peel's Defence of Sir F. Burdell-Lord Maidstone's Motion against Mr. O'Connell Lord John Russell's Notice of Motion Against the Bishop of ExeterDebates and Successive Divisions on Lord Maidstone's Motion-Mr. O'Connell Reprimanded by the Speaker- Mr. Poulter's AffairMr. Poulter Appears at the Bar-Sir R. Peel's Plan for Amending the Election Committees-- Freemen and Parliamentary Elector's Bill Mr. 7. Duncombe's Amendment— Bill passes the Commons, and is Lost in the House of Lords-Freemen's Relief Bill-Mr. Grote's Molion for the Ballot-Course taken by Government --- Remarks on the Division-Rejection of Mr. Slaney's Bill for the Protection of Voters-Opinions of Lord Melbourne, the Duke of Wellington, and Lord Brougham on the Ballol-Parliamentary Qualification Bill. THE necessity of considerable version of justice, has become a a

alteration in the mode of matter of notoriety, proclaimed trying controverted elections under by members of parliament in their the Grenville act has been for places, and denounced in the most some time generally recognized. unmeasured language by It is indeed due to the character public prints. The inherent inand influence of the House of competency of these ill-constituted Commons, no less than to the tribunals, arising, as it does, from country, that a procedure should the necessary ignorance and partibe discontinued, in which, the per- ality of the members composing

them, has been materially aggra- hand, should the revising barrister vated by the confusion in which reject the claim, his decision is certain obscure clauses of the re- open to the revision of a jury on a form bill have left the law of elec- point of value, and of the judges of tions, and which it only requires a assize on any other ground. The few declaratory enactments to re- question, therefore, is, whether the medy. Much, too, is assignable admission of voters to the registry to the nicely balanced state of par. by the barrister ought to be deemed ties, which both renders every absolutely conclusive of their right, vote of the greatest importance, or whether the registry may and lends fresh activity to political be opened by the committee, passions. The abuse complained either partially or entirely, as the of, has been of late rapidly pro- case may require, with a view to gressive, and has now reached its an inquiry into the disputed qualiheight. Indeed it would not be fications. easy to speak with exaggeration of a As early as the 21st of Novemsystem, under which a gentleman ber, 1837, Mr. C. Buller, who had learns to consider it to be his duty been chairman of a committee to to vote for his party on every issue, which the consideration of the whether of law or of fact: so, that system of election committees had in the words of a legal writer on been confided, obtained leave to the subject, “ The decisions of bring in a bill similar in its provievery man upon oath, in a matter sions to one which had been in the involving much subtle disquisition, hands of members in the preceding and diversity of opinion, is abso- session, though it had never come lutely predetermined according to under discussion. This bill, in its his political creed."

original shape, provided, that three The famous question of opening assessors, barristers of seven years' the Irish registries, for instance, standing should be appointed by turns entirely upon the construc- the Speaker to act as chairmen of tion of certain acts of parliament, election committees for the sesyet, being a mere point of law, it sion only, and as a court of appeal has been distorted into an affair of from the revising barristers on party, in which the conservatives matters of law. Afterwards, while maintain the affirmative, and their the bill was in progress through antagonists the negative, side. The committee, it was thought better, grounds of controversy on this sub- that the first assessors should be ject, are shortly, as follows. By named in the act itself, and the futhe Irish election law, the regis- ture appointments be placed at the tering barrister is bound to investi- disposal of the Speaker, subject to gate every claim to vote, whether the confirmation of the House. objected to or not. Should he These functionaries were to hold deem the claimant entitled, he office till dismissed by the Crown supplies him with a certificate to upon the address of the House, and that effect, and such certificate is were to receive 2,5001. per anconclusive of the right of voting, num for their services. nor does any appeal lie against On the same day, Mr. O'Conthis determination, when favoura- nell informed the House, that he ble to the voter. On the other likewise had devised a plan which he was anxious to submit to its amine the conflicting decisions of consideration, and, accordingly, the former committees, and lay down learned gentleman obtained leave general rules of law and practice to bring in a bill for a similar pur- which should finally be affirmed pose. Mr. O'Connell's scheme by a declaratory act. With a view would transfer the main part of to a fuller consideration of the subthe jurisdiction now exercised by ject, he moved that the second the House, to the Court of Queen's reading be postponed till the 12th Bench. It provided, that the of May. Speaker was, in the first instance, Mr. Williams Wynn approved to name a committee of five, who, of the establishment of such a court when they had considered the case, of appeal as was proposed by the made by the petition, and had heard present bill, nor did he object to counsel on both sides, should define the scheme of assessors, though he the points at issue between the felt a difficulty as to the mode of parties and report them to the their appointment. He declared House. The Speaker should then solemnly that he believed the imrefer the matter by his warrant to putations cast upon the members of the Court of Queen's Bench, and election committees to be most un. the issue be tried before the chief founded. justice, a special jury, and the five Mr. O'Connell, having intipersons composing the before- mated his intention of abandoning named committee. The decision his own bill, said it was notorious of the jury would determine the that, when a committee was to be right to the seat.

ballotted for, there was a canvass It is possible that, if the House on each side, and that the decision could be brought to part with a might be predicted as soon as the jurisdiction, which at present it ex- result of the ballot was known. ercises so much to the prejudice of He cited the case of Carlow, where all parties concerned, the principle three different committees had of Mr. O'Connell's plan might be come to three different decisions on adopted with success. But the the question of opening the regisHouse of Commons has evinced no ter. The first settled that the resuch disposition. And Sir R. Peel, gister should not be opened-eleven though, in the first instance, he hon. members, on their oaths, came seemed, at least, not unfavourable to to that decision. On another comthe project of stripping that assem- mittee, eleven hon. members debly of its constitutional right of de- cided on their oaths that the same ciding upon election petitions, register should be opened. It was found it expedient to assimilate his then thought that the possible difviews to the prevailing opinion. ferences between the committees

Mr. Buller's bill came on for the were exhausted--but noma third second reading on the 27th of No- committee decided that the register vember. Lord Stanley, in oppo- should be opened partially. There sing it, remarked that he thought was no man, he was sure, who the fault was less in the tribunal heard him, who was not convinced, than in the law, and suggested the that a worse species of tribunal appointment of a committee, con- than an election committee there sisting of men of the greatest emi- could not be. nence among them, who might ex- Lord John ; Russell recom

any such


mended that the bill should be that he did not find that the numread a second time, thinking it ber of election petitions, in the at least provided some remedy for present year, was such as to warthe evils complained of. The al. rant any extraordinary measure in leged mal-practices of committees regard to them. He did not perwere, he thought, rather assigna- ceive that there was “ ble to the ignorance than to the great cluster of petitions of any one corruption of members. Where a particular kind," as to make it clear man was well-informed on the dif- that they were the result of mere ferent questions, he would be combination to present them, withwithheld by the fear of committing out the existence of any reasonable perjury, from giving a wrong de- ground of complaint. In 1831, cision. The house divided, when there were fifty-seven petitions ; there appeared a majority of after the dissolution in 1832, there 214 to 160 for the second reading. were forty-nine; in 1835, there

On the 23rd. of November, were forty-two; and in the preLord John Russell, in reply to an sent year, up to the present time, enquiry from Lord Stanley, as to they did not exceed sixty-seven. whether he intended, as was ru

On the 6th of December Mr. moured, to defer to take the elec. William Smith O'Brien, one of tion petitions into consideration, the members for the county of Liuntil after an alteration in the law merick, presented a petition-himon the subject should be effected ? self being the petitioner remarked, that it was impossible plaining of the Spottiswoode subfor him then to say, that, before scription, as directed against freethe expiration of fourteen days, dom of election in Ireland. It there might not appear, in certain likewise alleged that a member of quarters, such an intention to set the House, Sir Francis Burdett, aside a great number of obviously had compromised himself by subfair and legal elections, as might scribing to the fund and becoming amount to a perversion and abuse a party, where he might be called of the existing law. And he in- on to serve as a judge. The motimated that if that case could be tion that this petition be printed plainly made out, the subject would led to a lively debate, in which Sir afford matter of grave deliberation Francis Burdett defended himself for the House.

with great spirit. On a division Lord John Russell was here al- there appeared, ayes 234 ; noes 203; luding to the petitions which, it majority for the printing 31. was expected, would emanate from Mr. Blewitt, (member for the the Spottiswoode fund-the origin borough of Monmouth), then moand object of which are noticed in ved, according to notice, certain our preceding volume,* and which resolutions, declaring the Spottisformed a topic of subsequent dis- woode fund to be a breach of pricussion, to which we are about to vilege, and an offence at law; and advert.

proposing to refer the subject to a On a subsequent day, however, committee of privileges. The hon. (December the 6th.) he admitted Gentleman, however, found it ex

pedient to withdraw the whole of his

resolutions, though not before the • Page 387.

House had contrived to compromise

its character for decorum by some petition fund," to which each very tumultuous proceedings on Irish “liberal” member should concertain points of order arising out tribute 501, Mr. O'Connell offering of the discussion. The nature of to head the list with a subscription these may be appreciated from of 3001. for himself and three sons, what fell from the Speaker, on the all at that time in parliament. following evening, After com- The Attorney. General was of menting

in a tune of temperate re- opinion that the subscription buke on the insubordination of the amounted to what, in law is called House on the previous night, he “ maintenance," which consists in proceeded to say, that he could only an interference by money, or other give the House the assurance, which aid, to forward a suit wherein the he did most solemnly, that if he contributor has no interest. And again saw a similar indication, he he cited a decision of Lord Chanshould think the time had come cellor Rosslyn's, which certainly which, had he followed the dic- strongly countenanced his propositates of his own judgment, and tion, But in effect, the law regardhis own desires, would have occur. ing maintenance is all but obsored before, when he ought to re- lete; and the learned attorney's lieve himself from the duties which objection was, besides, of too techthen devolved upon him.

nical a nature to be appreciated by On the same evening (the 7th, the House, or the public. of December) a long debate ensued In general, those who censured upon Mr. W. S. O'Brien's motion, the subscription were driven to to refer his petition on the Spottis. found their accusations on the gewoode affair to a select committee. nerality of its aim. "A single Towards the closc of the discussion, offence, a single act,” said Mr. Mr. Harvey moved, as an amenda O'Connell

, “ might not be illegal, ment, that a select committee be but when that act was spread over appointed to consider the means by a wide surface and made to assume which the expenses of contested the shape of a combination," it and controverted elections might became conspiracy and a crime. be diminished.

On the other hand, it was conSir W. Follett, perhaps, dis, tended, that honest men might posed of Sir Francis Burdett's share fairly combine to promote the of the question, when he shewed law, since men of another dethat the practice of subscribing to scription had conspired to deelection petitions, whether strictly feat it. There was already an defensible or not, was too common unprincipled combination to keep on all sides of the house to be pro- men out of parliament who ought perly the subject of imputation to be there, and to introduce others against any individual member. who, but for intimidation, would Among other instances, he remind- never have been seen within its ed the House, that in the preceding walls. With respect to the A. April, when there was no imme. torney-General's doctrine of main. diate election in prospect, and when tenance, Sir Francis Burdett rethere could be no consideration of minded the House, that it was a the merits of the several petitions, common thing throughout England Mr. O'Connell proposed in Dublin for honest persons to combine to "An anti-Tory petition and anti- enforce the infliction of public

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