Thursday 1 December 2016

Fifty Years of Belfast Life (1866-1916) part 22



I hope I am not boring my readers with these reminiscences. Sometimes I think I am; but from the remarks and letters of many of them, and from the circulation of "The Witness," which is increasing every week, I have a hope that I am not. I know they want order and symmetry. It may be that I attach more importance to incidents that left impressions on my memory than many might think they deserve. Never having kept notes or preserved old documents or papers, I am dependent on what, I fear, is a feeble and fugitive memory; and I write from week to week as incidents or names occur to me without any prearranged plan. This must be my excuse for the looseness of matter and manner that characterises them.

Before I dispose of the police court, I cannot refrain from making a reference to the Resident Magistrates who succeeded Messrs. O'Donnell and Orme; and with all of whom I had an intimate personal acquaintance. And here I may say that during my connection with the court and since I have formed the opinion that in Belfast all the magisterial work should be done by paid magistrates, as in Dublin, to say nothing of cities in England and Scotland. I hear complaints now about the failure of justice in many cases from the partisanship of magistrates. But when I first formed the opinion there was no question in my mind or experience of partisanship. What led me to form the opinion was, as I have said, the inequality of treatment by different magistrates, inequality in the form of fines. For a similar offence one magistrate would impose a light fine and another a heavy fine; some would give imprisonment without the option of a fine, and others would give the option of a fine.

It may be said that there is inequality even among paid magistrates and judges; and to a certain extent that is true; but, on the whole, I am satisfied that justice would be more fairly and equitably and equally administered by paid rather than unpaid magistrates. We all know the complaints not only in Belfast, but all over the country at the present time; and I am quite sure that in large numbers and classes of cases the complaints are justified.

The Resident Magistrate who succeeded Mr. Orme was Mr. Clifford Lloyd, who may be said to have made history in many parts of Ireland, as well as in Belfast. He brought a new atmosphere into the courts, an atmosphere of decision and vigour and prompt and rapid administration of justice. The rhetoric of the solicitors, and several of them were masters of rhetoric, was suppressed, or at any rate limited, and they were confined to the law and to the facts. John Rea once tried to restore the ancient order, and raved and raged with all his old virulence and all his old irrelevances. When he persisted after warnings in his old courses, Mr. Lloyd committed him at once jail, and from his decision there was no appeal and no change. The man who had mastered the Court found that he had a master, and he troubled Mr. Clifford Lloyd no more. I have been told that at times afterwards Rea would go down to the court and harangue the crowd before the magistrates took their seats on the bench; but when someone would whisper "Here's fiord Lloyd," he would gather up his papers and steal away.

Mr. Lloyd suffered, I think, from some from of spinal disease; but he was a man of such courage and strength of will that he would allow nothing to interfere with duties; and I have seen him going to court when he could do little more than crawl, and one of the old clerks told me that he has seen him doing duty when had to be almost carried to the bench. As strength of will, force of character, a high sense of public duty were his characteristics, I mention this as an illustration of what I would describe as the mastery of his mind over his body.

On the Bench Mr. Lloyd was, indeed, a terror to evildoers. Certainly many of the sentences he passed startled many of the old offenders, and frightened would-be offenders. He had had a military training; if I remember aright he had the rank of colonel when he took up his duties here, and this may have given him a stronger sense of duty, order, and discipline than men not so trained. In many cases, and especially in bad cases, his sentences certainly were severe, and those who came under his lash were bound to remember him. On one occasion after he had distinguished himself not only in Belfast, but in connection with some disturbances, I was having some food in a restaurant on a Friday afternoon. The only other at the table was a comfortable looking countryman. At the time Mr. Lloyd's name was on the tapis in connection with something, and we naturally entered into conversation on the subject. My co-diner denounced him in all the moods and tenses, and I think described him as a brute. I ventured to remark that I thought Mr. Lloyd was a very fair magistrate, and I did not think anyone could complain of him except one who had received his magisterial attention. My companion, who was sitting at the off-side of a large table, thereupon got up, seized a knife, and made as if coming round to attack me. Whether anyone came or whether the man calmed down, I could not say, but I know that I carried away no scars and I remember no attack.

I am afraid it was a case of striking deeper than I knew, an accidental weakness of mine that got me into trouble more than once. A few years ago during the Home Rule excitement I was sitting one night in the smoking room of a London hotel at which I was stopping. There were two or three gentlemen talking at a table near me. One of them, who seemed got up after the caricatures of Abraham Lincoln, with lantern jaws, a goatee, and a very dark and stubby beard of some days' growth. With an accent that suggested either three weeks or three generations' residence in God's own country, and in a loud voice he was decrying England in the most coarse and virulent terms, vulgar and offensive in tone and character. I listened as long as my patience could hold out, but at last I felt impelled to interfere. "Excuse me," I said, "it has been one of the privileges of my life to know many Americans; but I never heard an American talk as you talk except an American who came from Galway."

"Do you mean to insult me, sir?" fiercely cried the man. "I do not," said I; "but I could not help hearing what you said, and it was so different from anything that I have ever heard from Americans, I could help saying what I did." And I repeated it. "I won't stay here to be insulted," exclaimed the very angry man, and he rose left the room. After he had gone one of the gentlemen said, "I am afraid you struck deeper than you knew, because before you came in he told us that he had come from Galway."

To return to Mr. Lloyd. He certainly left his mark on the police courts and on the violaters of law and order. No doubt in some cases his sentences erred, if they did err, on the side of severity; there were those who thought severity was his badge. But I will say this for him, that it was just and fair. If there was a doubt or attendant circumstances that justified leniency, he gave the culprit the benefit of the doubt or of the circumstance. But I admit that where a case was a bad one his hand came down very severely, at least in comparison to the class of sentences that I had been accustomed to. He was not severe on first offenders, and if prisoners brought before him for drink would promise to bring him a temperance pledge he would let them off when they brought the pledge; but if they did not the police were after him or her the next day. And then there was no leniency.

There was one thing said about him by his detractors, and that was that he preferred the evidence of the police before that of a civilian. There may have been some truth in that; and it may be possible that the police might colour their evidence as well as civilians. I do not think, however, there was as much truth in the statement as was alleged. But I will say this for him, that I believe he upheld the police so far as insisting upon punishing attacks on the police when in the execution of their duty when he was satisfied that they had been so attacked. There was, however, a point that I sometimes discussed with Mr. Lloyd. I had a idea that in some cases at least of drunkenness in which arrests were made that the people might have been given in charge to friends or taken home, instead of being taken to the cells. Men and women who might have been sent quietly home, and who would have gone, when arrested turned on the police, and a simple charge of drunkenness ended in a charge of assaulting the police. That, perhaps, was not, and is not, an orthodox view, but I had seen some cases in London where that was done. I told him once of what I had seen in that capital on one occasion. I happened to be there on a Whit Monday, and I asked a journalistic friend who had placed himself at my disposal to take me to some place where I could see a Whit Monday crowd. He took me to Greenwich, where I saw a London crowd with a vengeance. The streets were crowded, and there was no little bickering and shouting, and even fighting, among the crowds; but I did not see a single arrest made. In fact, I do not think I saw a dozen policemen, during the day.

In one case I saw a regular rowdy fight between two roughs, and a great crowd gathered. One or two very substantial and very jolly looking policemen watched the fight for a time as if to see fair play. When one of them thought the smaller was getting the worst of it he quietly ambled in, and, seizing a man with each hand, shook them separated them, took one of them some distance away, and did not let him return, and the other man walked away in a different direction. The policeman laughed, the crowd laughed, and in a few minutes normal conditions were resumed. I did not see a single arrest made while I remained.

I mentioned the incident on my return to Mr. Lloyd, and said that I was afraid if a similar incident had taken place in Belfast there might have been half-a-dozen arrests before it was all over. However, Mr. Lloyd did not seem to like that free and easy police system; but he added that while it might do for England, he was afraid it would not do for Ireland, as the people were more excitable and less disposed to respect order or the police.

I will mention one story that Mr. Lloyd used to tell himself with great gusto. He was very severe on jarveys that hurried over crossings at cross streets, and had become the terror to those who did as to other evildoers. On one occasion he hired a car to catch a train, and he had not much time to spare. The jarvey crawled like a snail over these crossings. Mr. Lloyd got impatient, and asked the driver to hurry or he would miss his train. The man, of course, knew who his fare was, and he said, "I cannot go any quicker, for there is an old tyrant called Lloyd, who would be heavily down on me if I did." Mr. Lloyd, however, caught his train, and afterwards delighted to tell the story at his own expense, for he had a sense of humour as well as a sense of rigid justice.

To be continued...

From The Witness, 1st December 1916.

The "Man in the Street" was the pen name of Alexander McMonagle, editor and manager of The Witness and Ulster Echo.

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