I rise to oppose the Second Reading of this Bill. Its Title shows clearly that it refers to a number of diverse matters, and I would first draw the attention of the House to the manner in which the provisions for the protection of jurors are sandwiched in between other provisions which, in my opinion, make fundamental changes in the criminal law of this country, and which in other countries could not be introduced, much less passed by the Assembly, unless there was a fairly unanimous feeling with regard to the principle of such provisions and a unanimous public opinion behind it. If there is anything that must convince one that the introduction of the question of the majority verdict into this measure is entirely wrong, unsound and unnecessary, it is the manner in which the Minister for Justice treated that question in his opening statement.
The Minister's Department, I understand, have been discussing the question of reforming the jury system for a considerable period. They were, I believe, discussing the question whether they could not reduce juries to six in number, and were discussing various other alternatives as against the present system. It seems to me that if the Minister's Department have been discussing this matter, and if they have consulted legal opinion, as I am sure they have, the Minister should at least let the House know what the legal opinion thinks of this question of the majority verdict. I know that legal authorities say that a good deal can be said for the principle of majority verdict; but I also know that in countries like the United States of America and England the unanimous verdict of the jury in a murder case, for example, is necessary. Before this House takes such a far-reaching step as to change that procedure, and give nine out of twelve members of a jury the right to send a prisoner to his doom, they ought, I submit, to have very full, very detailed, and very substantial arguments produced in favour of that course. I say that, because if there is one thing more than another about this Bill that should convince us that it is an important matter, and a matter of serious import to the country, it is that cases tried under it will be very important. They will either be murder cases, treason cases, or felony cases, and in all these very serious cases, where the life of the accused is in danger, where there is any danger of a false verdict leading to the wrongful execution of the prisoner, the English law was extremely careful to maintain every possible safeguard. Here we are changing the procedure, and, as the Minister for Justice says, we are changing it because the Executive Council have considered that it should be so.
If we are advancing at all in the Free State, and if we are having the law and peaceful conditions, established and also if we are looking to the tourist traffic and for money to be invested here, we ought, at least, have reached a position where the Minister for Justice, in introducing a measure which vitally affects the lives and liberties of the citizens, should be able to give a more definite statement of what the Executive Council have in mind, and of the reasons that led them to this course, instead of simply saying: "We have considered it; that is the be-all and end-all." That might have been all right, as I have said here before, when the Cumann na nGaedheal Party were in undisputed authority in this House, when they could afford to jibe and jeer at the late Leader of the Labour Party and his supporters when he endeavoured to draw a rein upon their panicky legislation. Now, however, the conditions are different, and if the Ministry adopted the attitude that I mentioned a moment ago, of saying that there are stable conditions here, that there is security for life and property, that there is full liberty and protection for everybody, and that peaceful conditions reign, then I submit that that is a very definite and solid reason for voting against this Bill.
The Ministry, whatever the legal arguments in favour of a majority verdict may have been, were, however, not content to introduce that principle of amending the jury system in a measure. They sandwiched in many other provisions for dealing with political or semi-political cases, or cases that, at any rate, a large number of Deputies on these benches consider come under those categories. If in addition to that principle of introducing the majority verdict you add the question of secrecy, the secrecy under which all these proceedings are now to be carried on, you will see that instead of widening down from precedent to precedent we are going back steadily. I submit that the reason that we are going back in this matter— instead of going forward and extending popular liberties, restricting them—is that there is a certain attitude of mind in the Ministry and, I do not deny it, in other parties perhaps, which is chiefly prevalent in the ideas, utterances and policies of the Ministry but which is not reflected in public opinion down the country. That attitude of mind could be fairly summed up in the remark of the Minister for Defence last night that the axiom, "A man is innocent until he is proved guilty," should not hold in these cases. Why should it not hold in these cases? Is it sufficient at this hour of the day, in this Free State and in the conditions that now prevail, that we are going to pass a measure of this kind because the Minister says: "The State is in danger. Therefore, abolish the law, abolish the right of citizens, and do away with the principle that a man is innocent until he is proved guilty and substitute instead"—for that is what it would come to—"the principle that a man is guilty unless he can succeed in proving himself innocent?"
Formerly it was sufficient that one juror could secure the re-trial of an accused person. That was a very valuable right, and when I am told that the lives of the Dublin jurors are in danger I am sorry for it. Like every other member of my Party, I condemn the attacks on jurors. I believe that, instead of furthering the cause which some people may think they are intended to advance, they are only impeding that cause. I will, however, also say this, that in regard to Dublin juries you cannot, as was said in this House before, let the knife drop at a particular point and say to the Irish people: "You had a certain point of view before the 6th December, 1921, and after that you are to have an entirely different view."
You cannot make people change their minds by Acts of Parliament. People will have their own ideas of fair play and justice no matter what you may say here, and if the people feel that it is the will of the Executive and not fair play, justice and full liberty for the citizen that is being implemented in legislation here, you will not get the support of the people, and your last state will be worse than your first. If we have a young State which we are anxious to build up, and through which we are anxious, in due course, to reach the full aspirations of the people, I submit that during that precarious opening period, we ought to be extremely careful that any steps we take in these matters have the sanction of tradition behind them. We ought not, at any rate, to have the sanction simply of the old British tradition here. I am looking at it from as fair-minded a point of view as it is possible for me, and I cannot believe, when the Executive decides, as undoubtedly it will decide under this Bill, in spite of all the powers it gives it, to change all this type of case to Dublin City for trial by a jury, that the people can have any other feeling than that the Government desires to have a certain atmosphere here and a certain point of view, represented wholly or, as far as possible, in the juries. If we want the jury system to last, instead of confining it to a certain area and ringing it round with these restrictions and these so-called protections, we ought to try—and the co-operation of all sincere members of the House would be given—to spread the jury system so that it would not be necessary to take any prisoner, no matter what charge he was to be tried upon, out of his own area into what has been called a strange land where he has no information, where the State had full power and information at its disposal and certain privileges on its side that the unfortunate prisoner cannot have.
That leads me to the question of the rights of the prisoner in the Bill. You have, as Deputy Lemass pointed out yesterday evening, taken away one of the fundamental rights of the prisoner, and you have given no reason for it, when you have placed in this Bill the principle that a majority verdict will rule. The other safeguard that the prisoner had in these serious cases, where his life was perhaps in the balance, was that he should know the names of the jurors. If he is not to know the names, of what avail is that safeguard which English law gave him, though in a restricted form in this country, and in a still more restricted form by the Juries Act of 1927, and which we now seek to abolish, in fact if not in the letter of the law—the right of challenging the jury? How can a prisoner challenge a jury when he knows nothing about them, if he is not allowed to have any information except the colour of the juror's hair, as has been suggested, or the colour of the clothes he wears, or some other fact that comes under his notice? Before the House subscribes to that principle I would ask Deputies to consider whether it would not be better, as Deputies on the opposite side have suggested, to abolish the jury system altogether and to set up some other system, some system of real court-martial, as Deputy O'Higgins says, some special tribunal for special crimes, so that a real Star Chamber could be set up in this country, with the Minister for Justice as Grand Inquisitor and Deputy O'Higgins as Grand Torturer in charge of the rack, to put those special prisoners who had been arrested for special crimes into that Star Chamber and keep them as far as possible separate from the ordinary administration of the law.
By bringing in this complicated and unworkable measure you are simply heading straight for a complete dislocation of your legal machinery. You are also heading straight for the position that, instead of giving jurors confidence, instead of giving them the feeling that you are going to protect them, and that they will be henceforward absolutely safe, you are trying to put them into the position that they are going to be definite partisans of the Government Party in any political case that comes along. You are not going to give them an opportunity to escape from that position. You are going to take jurors, whether they like it or not, whether they agree with the law or not, whether they know that the confidence of the people is behind it or not, and force them, because that is what it amounts to, to bring in verdicts in accordance with the conditions that the Executive Council are now laying down. I submit that they can proceed in due course to the complete abolition of the jury system itself, because if the Government can come along on the flimsy pretext they have adduced in this case to destroy the jury system to the extent to which they now propose to destroy it, they can come along to abolish the whole system later on on some other pretext. It would be much better, as Deputies have suggested, if the jury system were left alone and if some other method, if method be necessary, were adopted, if the Government had some sort of Star Chamber method by which, I gathered from the statement of the Minister for Defence last night, he would like to try some ladies. It would be much better simply to go back to that Star Chamber method instead of upsetting the whole jury system in this country.
The prisoner under the Bill before us is to have his right to know who the jurors are taken away from him. That is, in my opinion, an absolute right, a right which no party in power in this House has the right to take away, if the party in opposition do not agree with it in principle. If the party in opposition, who may, at some future date, be called upon to carry out these provisions or to repeal them, do not support the principle of such legislation, some day or other the question will come up again. That will mean that the whole ground, and goodness knows what that might include, will have to be gone over again. The 1927 Act gave the accused, at any rate, the right to challenge for cause. The challenge which an accused person had under British law must be compared with the slight privilege that the Irish prisoner now has.
The accused person under English law had the right to challenge the whole array of the jury. That was a principle that English law recognised, and that was a safeguard imposed on a tyrannical or unscrupulous Executive. It was called upon in the case of the trial of Daniel O'Connell, and in later times I believe that the late Governor-General of the Irish Free State used that weapon, or at least, threatened to use it—the weapon of challenging the whole array of the jury in cases where he felt that the full legal machinery and the full resources of the Government were being exercised unscrupulously against the accused person. That was done away with, and in addition to that, the right that English law also gave accused persons in this country, in cases of treason or felony, the right of peremptory challenging without any cause, but simply on account of the gravity of the offence, was done away with under the 1927 Juries Act. The 1927 Juries Act should have been the last word with regard to interference with the rights of the accused person, because you took away the challenge of the array and the challenge without cause. You left the challenge with cause, and what does that mean? It means that before this Bill was introduced the prisoner had the right of challenging six persons. And what was the right of the State? The State had, and still will have, the right to challenge any number of persons to stand by, and in an ordinary civil case, I believe, in the Courts it has been known that the State has challenged twenty jurors to stand by. What will happen in a political case where the accused person will be charged with murder if feeling is strong in the country on the matter, and if there is ground for believing that it can be regarded as a political issue? If the State challenged twenty jurors to stand aside in an ordinary civil case they may challenge hundreds in that case if they do not think that this Bill gives them such complete right over the liberty of the accused person, and gives them such power to determine the issue in advance, that it will be quite unnecessary to exercise the stand-by which they have exercised to the fullest extent up to the present.
Now, how is the prisoner going to exercise this right that you are going to leave him of challenging six persons whose names he does not know? How is he going to exercise the right which I say the Irish people want for every person, the right which they had under English law and which you now want to take away, to challenge every juror whom he may reasonably charge with bias in the case? If he does not know the juror how is he to know whether he is biased or not? Let the Minister for Justice answer that question and if he answers it satisfactorily, and if he can get the Irish people behind him, very well, but I say that the Irish people want in the law the safeguards British law gave the accused person and that if, in a particular sense, you are abolishing the unanimous verdict, you must and ought to leave the prisoner the only other safeguard he has when his life is in the balance, and that is the safeguard of challenging jurors for bias. You are taking away that right and you are leaving the State the right to challenge as many jurors as they wish. You are giving the right to the State to change the trial to a venue where the prisoner, as I said before, will be in a strange land. You are giving the State the right to get the fullest possible information about the jurors and to make up its mind about them, and you are taking these things away from the accused person. I submit that is not law, that the Irish people will not accept it as law and that it is not in accord with the spirit of justice and fair play here.