13 MAY 1882, Page 7


THOUGH there are blun,ders in the new Irish Protection Bill which we deplore, and hope to see removed, it is not very easy to understand the attitude of the Irish Party in relation to that Bill, unless, indeed, the passion which it appears to excite be in some degree deliberately overstrained, in order to render it the easier for them to acquiesce, without obstructive discussion, in provisions which they know that they have not the power, and to some extent, perhaps, have not the will, to prevent. But except in relation to the Press clauses and to the preventive part of the Bill, there is nothing which the most hearty English Liberal has not been fully prepared to expect, and even to advocate, as the proper and just equivalent for the present much more objectionable Act which .allows persons only suspected of crime to be detained without trial, on the mere warrant of the Lord-Lieutenant. Under the new measure, these most objectionable powers will, at all events, disappear, and we regard it as the chief merit of that measure that no such power of detaining or imprisoning on suspicion is contained in it.

Let us, however, first specify the faults of the Bill. We must protest entirely against what seems the very absurd clause on the subject of the Press. Press offences are never urgently dangerous, never of a kind to demand arbitrary interference with the natural course of justice. If the Press incites to violence, let the Press be prosecuted for inciting to violence ; and if there be a difficulty about getting conviction, let the Lord-Lieutenant have power to get such cases tried, as he is to have power to get other cases tried, where juries may be intimidated. Nothing can be sillier than to set the whole Press of Ireland against the measure of the Government, for the sake of powers of confiscation which have never yet proved to be of real service to any Government in the world. This proposal seems to us a decided- blot in the Bill. We sincerely hope that it may not pass the House of Commons.

In the next place, so far as we can judge from Sir William Harcourt's statement, the preventive powers which it is in- tended to confide to the Police are probably much too wide and dangerous. Of this it is impossible to judge accu- rately without seeing the measure in print, with all its details ; but we, at least, would never consent to give the police power to arrest and detain an unarmed man, without masks or other such evidence of unlawful intentions on his person, simply because he happened to be found out at night, and the police did not choose to be satisfied with the account he might give of himself. We do not say that the Government propose to give the police any such power, but Sir William Harcourt's language is wide enough to cover it. It seems to us clear that there should be evidence of unlawful intention, to be found either on the person or in the acts of such nightly marauders. We have no objection at all to give the police power to arrest persons found lurking about premises where they have no lawful business, or persons anywhere carry- ing either arms without a licence or the apparatus for disguising themselves ; but unless under suspicious circum- stances which any honest man could easily avoid, we protest entirely against subjecting Irishmen, whether after nightfall or before it, to arbitrary arrest. Sir William Harcourt speaks as if all persons found "prowling about at night," who can give " no account of themselves,"—i.e., of course, no account of themselves which the police and justices of the peace regard as satisfactory,—are to be guilty of an offence under this Act. If that be so, it exceeds very considerably the reason and justice of the case, and will do infinitely more to irritate Ireland than to pacify it. We must remember that the Irish Police are necessarily in a sore and angry state of mind. They

are often the objects of violent popular hatred, and they live constantly in fear of assault and murder. Who can expect such persons to be very nice in judging the reasons which a person wandering about at night may give for his movements ? Who can expect Irish Magistrates, who live in a state of terror, to be very delicate in criticising the vigilance of the police, to whom they trust for their own safety ? We should object entirely to give this power of arrest and punishment for the mere offence of walking at night without being able to satisfy the police that you were harm- less, unless there be strong confirmatory evidence, such as lurking about particular premises, or the possession of arms or disguises, to justify the arrest. We must not soothe Ireland with one hand, and irritate her with the other. Nor can any irritation be greater than a power of arbitrary arrest and pun- ishment for such an exercise of liberty as a walk after nightfall.

We do not object to the power of searching for arms and masks and other instruments of intimidation in proclaimed districts, so long as it is to be exercised only on the authority of the Lord-Lieutenant's warrant,—which ought to include a distinct specification of the houses to be searched,— assuming, of course, that the police may be prosecuted for any insult, incivility, or act of mischief which goes at all beyond the necessary conditions of the search. But we do hold that these so-called " preventive clauses " will require the most careful scrutiny and limitation, if they are not to produce the very feeling of disaffection which the remedial measures are intended to remove. It is in this direction that we should recommend all English well-wishers of Ireland to canvass most anxiously the measure of the Government, and amend it in any particular in which dangerously arbitrary powers are conferred on a police already much too military in its instincts and traditions.

But in spite of these necessary qualifications, we should have been simply amazed at the outbreak of the Irish Members on Thursday night, were it not that we suspect some desire to prepare, by a rather overacted indignation, for less obstruc- tive criticism than their constituents might otherwise expect. So far as regards the most important section of the Bill, the proposal to remit to judges, who are to be the judges as well of fact as of law, the trial of the graver crimes, and the remission 'of the less serious offences to the judgment of two stipendiary magistrates sitting together, we see nothing which the wiser and better opinion of Ireland, no less than of Eng- land, has not for some time earnestly demanded. If the Court of First Instance be properly constituted,—be constituted, that is, of Judges whom all Irishmen recognise as so far in reasonable sympathy with Irish aspirations, that no one would even be inclined to suspect them of punishing a man for his political bias, this part of the new measure can have no operation except for good. Irishmen, no less than Englishmen, must wish to see the recent saturnalia of crime at an end ; and it will never be at an end till those who suffer are con- vinced that if they give their evidence honestly, it will pro- duce its due effect in procuring the punishment of the ruffians who assailed them.

The great merit of this Bill is that, though it is a measure for punishing crime and for preventing crime, it does not pro- pose to punish any one at all for being merely suspected of crime,—unless, indeed, it should really be intended to make an Irishman's innocent walk after nightfall, and without suspicious incidents which any respectable man might easily avoid, an offence,—which it is not and ought not to be, and must not, we think, be allowed to bel Of that provision, however,—a comparatively trivial one except for the irritation it would create,—we cannot properly judge till we see the Bill in print. For every substantial crime, this measure does provide a fair, and so far as the circumstances 'of Ireland permit, the fairest conceivable trial, and we do not know how it could do more. In justice to the victims of crime, since juries will not convict even on the best evidence, some means of convicting on good evidence ought at once to be provided ; and this Bill seems to us to grant the best possible securities against a conviction without evidence. The concurrence of all the three Judges in the Court of First In- stance is a most valuable security against unjust conviction. The attendance of two stipendiary magistrates in all cases of summary proceedings under this Act is a most essential security for the justice of the smaller sentences. Indeed, in a country where juries are so frequently intimidated, we do not see that better securities for justice could be provided. If some of the preventive clauses need safeguards which the Government have not yet provided, we are sure that such safe- guards will be provided by the Liberal party in the House of

Commons. In the meantime, this is not a Coercion Bill, not a Bill for taking away liberty without proving crime. It is a Bill for punishing crimes, which have recently gone unpunished in thousands of cases, and, in a less degree, for detecting the intention to commit crime. And in a country situated as Ireland is, though the latter purpose needs the most careful precautions, no efficient Government could refuse to amend the machinery for securing both ends. If this Bill is carried, with such omissions and safeguards as we have suggested, the machinery of the Coercion Act now in existence may, we trust, be silently dropped for ever, though its legal powers do not expire for the next four months.