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Conference (Lord Chief Justice)

Volume 155: debated on Wednesday 14 June 1922

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48.

asked the Prime Minister whether the Lord Chief Justice of England attended a committee of Ministers dealing with the Irish question; and, if so, why this departure from constitutional practice was made?

The Lord Chief Justice, who was a member of the Irish Conference and at that time His Majesty's Attorney-General, took a leading part in the constitutional discussions between British and Irish representatives at that Conference. When difficulties and differences of opinion arose upon the question whether the Draft Constitution was in harmony with the Treaty, it was thought convenient in the public interest, and not in the circumstances improper, that the Lord Chief Justice should resume his discussion upon this particular question. He took no part in any other and more general discussion, and no part in any decision of Ministers. The task undertaken by Lord Hewart can hardly be described as a departure from constitutional practice, inasmuch as no precedent is believed to exist for the occasion on which his assistance was requested. It is reasonable to suppose that his duty in this matter is now finally discharged.

I should not like to give that answer without saying, as one of His Majesty's Ministers, that we are under a great obligation to Lord Hewart for having consented to give us his assistance in this matter, as he was somewhat reluctant to do so.

The right hon. Gentleman is aware that I did not desire to make any attack on the Lord Chief Justice in asking my question.

Even with the qualifications and restrictions which the right hon. Gentleman has pointed out, does he not think that there are grave objections to a judge, who may have to decide judicially questions arising out of these very considerations, even appearing to be in consultation with Ministers on the matter?

Undoubtedly the position was one of some delicacy. I think Lord Hewart reluctantly resumed any part in the Conferences, and he was strictly limited within the sphere I have described. All I can say is that I believe Lord Hewart's intervention, his consent to give us that assistance, was as welcome to the other parties to the negotiations as to ourselves, and contributed signally to such success as was attained by the Conferences.