Eliza o'Reilly v James O'Reilly

Day 4

The hearing of the case was resumed at eleven o’clock on Saturday, and Mr. Curran having concluded his address,

Mr. Sidney proceeded to reply, in a very able speech, on behalf of the petitioner.  He said the duty devolved upon him of addressing them upon the entire case, as it had been presented- and he would not be saying what he really thought if he did not give expression to the feelings of emotion which entered his mind on hearing the address of his learned and able friend, Mr. Curran - it would be, on his part, a want of candour to deny the effect produced by that speech.  He had made a most able argument, and he believed in saying that he was not stating what was novel or new in that part of the world.  No doubt he had carried the minds of the jury with him by the very great ability he had displayed; but, at the same time, feeling that emotion, he (Mr. Sidney) had sufficient confidence in the gentlemen whom he addressed to know that, as soon as the trifling effects of his learned friend’s address had passed away that they would carefully follow him through the details as he deemed it his duty to bring under their consideration the law and the bearings of the case in several aspects.

If an individual, passing by, dropped into the court by chance, got as far as the threshold, and listened to Mr. Curran, he would think he was listening to that gentleman defending a man on trial for his life, and if there was an adverse verdict that his neck would be swinging on the scaffold.  He had thrown his heart and soul into the case, and in his zeal he would wish them to believe that to find for in inquisition would be worse than the consignment of his client to the scaffold.  It had been said so more than once.  He, (Mr. Sidney) would ask them to disabuse their minds of that awful impression.  It was new to him to know that when Sovereign of the realm had instituted the constitutional right of authorising the highest legal tribunal in the land to throw its shield of protection over a man whom they believed to be incapable of protecting his rights - it was new to him to know that the exercise of that prerogative was to be turned into a species of oppression worse than if a man stood at the bar of that court on a capital charge.  He could only excuse it by the zeal of his learned friend, who admitted he had thrown his heart into the case, and, if he were carried away, he asked them to excuse him. That was the extent of his error; but it was an error to suppose that the inquisition had been directed with such an object, or that its result would produce such an effect.  It was not the law, and he was startled when he heard the respected head practitioner of the city propounding a doctrine so novel, that on one occasion the Master of the Rolls had given it as his deliberate opinion that a man was robbed and plundered once he was found a lunatic.  If the Master of the Rolls gave utterance to that judgement, there was then some peculiar case under consideration which called for it; but to give it as a general proposition that a man was robbed and plundered once the Court of Chancery was put in motion, would be giving effect to a libel as foul as it was malicious.  These doctrines were not propounded in the Court of Chancery.  The head of that court neither robbed nor plundered the persons over whom he had control.  It was his duty to discharge the trust solemnly reposed in him, and throw the shield of protection over every man whom the Almighty, in His wisdom, had thought fit to deprive of one of those essentials to enable him to protect himself from apoliation or the snares of the cunning and crafty who would take from him the substance he had earned by the sweat of his brow. -

That was the object of the commission, but it was not consign Mr. O’Reilly to be the future inmate of a lunatic asylum.  It was not to declare him a maniac, or dead, according to the civil laws, but to declare by the inquisition that he was readily imposed on, and indifferent and careless about his property so long as he obtained that which was his failing.  Those topics were put forward to create a prejudice in the case, but they were not law.  If they disregarded the obligations imposed upon them in the present case they would pervert the law, and neutralise one of the greatest safeguards of the liberty of the subject.  The learned counsel reviewed the case with great ability in a speech of close on three hours’ duration, and called upon the jury to find in favour of the inquisition.  If they did so they would never have cause to regret it, and no matter what might be their feelings, he asked them to disregard them, for their verdict would relieve Mr. O’Reilly from the unhappy position he was in.  By their verdict they would afford him the only chance of recovering that memory which was gone, and do what was best calculated to improve him.  Doing that they would do all his friends could wish, and, if they failed in that, he would say there was never a more calamitous misfortune than to cast Mr. O’Reilly forth on the world again to be scoffed and ridiculed.  He called upon them to do their duty and relieve him from the fangs of his enemy, and he would yet thank them. (At the conclusion of the learned counsel’s address there was loud applause in court.)

Mr. Commissioner Brady, in charging the jury, said that the law cast upon him the responsibility of addressing some observations to guide them in the application of the evidence which they had listened to with so much patience and anxious interest for many days.  From the close attention which they had bestowed upon the case he rejoiced that it would be necessary for him to trouble them with but few observations, and those directed more to the law of the case, and to the nature of their inquiry, rather than to any minute recapitulation of the evidence, which their memory, no doubt, retained as accurately as his notes could supply it to them.  It was right to explain exactly the nature of their inquiry, which an experience of no short period justified him in asserting to be as delicate and difficult a one as it ever had been his fortune to preside over.  A great many observations had been made as to the consequences of their verdict.  In one sense that was a consideration which they should exclude altogether from the jury box.  They, no doubt had been often told, by the judges of assize, that they had nothing whatever to do with what might be the consequences of their verdict; but yet on an inquiry such as the present one – fortunately, not very common in the County Meath, and one with which the jury had not much previous experience. - He thought it was not unbecoming in him to state what the laws were with respect to commissions of lunacy, and also what the practice was in the management of those who were found under them to be of unsound mind.

The commission which they had heard read directed them to inquire whether Mr. James O’Reilly was an idiot, lunatic, or person of unsound mind, so as to be incapable of managing his own affairs and when he became so.  With the consideration of the first two of this class of cases they might not trouble themselves.  An idiot was one born without understanding, and Mr. O’Reilly was plainly not a person of that class.  A lunatic was one labouring under delusions upon certain subjects, but upon all other matters was perfectly sane.  Mr. O’Reilly was not exactly a gentleman of that description.  The third class embraced those not comprised in the other two, and included unsoundness of mind in all its varieties, no matter from what cause, whether mental weakness, arising from old age, disease or whatever might be comprised under the term of unsoundness of mind in its widest sense.  It had been stated to them that the result of their finding Mr. O’Reilly to be a person of unsound mind would be to place him in a lunatic asylum, where he might rot, supported during life on whatever might be left of his property after the officers of the Court of Chancery had taken all they could get.  That was neither the law nor the practice.  They might have read that in the pages of romance and history, of the cruelties perpetrated in days gone by on persons in that unhappy condition, supposed to be under the protection of the law.  Those days have long since passed, and the practice at present was to devote the entire of the property of a person pronounced to be of unsound mind to his own support, unless he might have a wife or children dependant on him, who would naturally entitle to a share of his income.  Putting that consideration aside, the entire income of such a person was devoted to his support alone.  He was not necessarily placed in an asylum, but in a place best suited for the proper treatment of his malady, where he might speedily be restored to health.  There were abundant cases of persons found lunatic by commission who were placed under no personal restraint whatever.  He was aware of one case of a gentleman of family and position, who was pronounced by the verdict of a jury to be of unsound mind, and he was to be seen walking about the streets as uncontrolled as any other member of the community.  The simple effect of the finding was to protect his property, and place it beyond the reach of his own folly, or the contrivance of designing persons.  Furthermore, it was his duty to tell them, presiding there as commissioner, that from time to time a report was made to the Lord Chancellor of the mental and physical condition of persons of unsound min placed under the control of the court.  Such reports were made once, at least, every year, and oftener if necessary.  As soon as the Chancellor was satisfied that a person in that condition had recovered his mind, that moment all restraint imposed by the commission was withdrawn.  The commission was satisfied, the person was placed in possession of his property as free and unfettered as ever, and he was restored to the same freedom and liberty which he had enjoyed before the commission had issued.  It was right that their minds should be disabused of any impression that the effect their verdict would be to incarcerate Mr. O’Reilly for life, and deprive him beyond hope of the enjoyment of his property.  Such, he repeated, was not the fact.  The object of the commission was exclusively for the protection of the individual the subject of it; and it was absurd to imagine that the high authorities entrusted by the Sovereign with the care of those unable to protect themselves acted otherwise than with the merciful consideration of a parent for a child, and according to the best of their judgment for the benefit and advantage of persons placed in their unhappy condition.  Apart from these considerations, it was their duty, as he before remarked, to disregard the consequences of their verdict. They had bound themselves, by the sacred obligations of an oath, to decide whether, in their opinion, Mr. James O’ Reilly was a person of unsound mind, so as to be incapable of managing his own affairs.  They were not required to go beyond the limits of that oath and no consideration should be allowed to enter into the jury-box beyond what the obligations of the oath imposed.  He then came to the important question in the case – namely- what constituted unsoundness of mind so as to be incapable of managing his own affairs, what guide had they to follow the evidence which they had heard, what clue by which to trace it.  It had been correctly observed that no definition could be given in precise terms of unsoundness of mind.  All attempts at defining it should ultimately resolve themselves into the common understanding of mankind.  That was the reason why the law had wisely provided that the judges who were to determine upon unsoundness of mind should be neither lawyers nor doctors, but men of the world - of common sense and understanding.

The evidence given by medical men should not be taken as binding in a case, for they merely produced as scientific witnesses to depose to matters of skill.  Their opinion should not be followed one jot further than it was corroborated by the other facts in the case.  Although the law could give no actual definition of unsoundness of mind beyond what the common sense of the jury enabled them to form, yet a great deal had been written on the subject by men who had devoted much skill and attention to the subject, and had made it to a great extent the study of their lives.  He would read some of their observations on the subject, in order to give them something like a guide by which they might apply their understanding of the facts of the present case.  The learned commissioner then read an extract from a well known work on medical jurisprudence, which stated that derangement assumes a thousand different shades, as various as the shades of human character.  It existed in all imaginable varieties, from the frantic maniac to the person apparently rational on all subjects, and in all transactions save one; and whose disorder, though latently perverting the mind will not be called forth except under particular circumstances.  Commissions were issued for the protection of those who were labouring under that imbecility of mind not strictly insanity, but a state which called for as much protection as actual insanity.  If they were of the opinion Mr. O’Reilly was unable to act with proper and prudent management, and liable to be robbed, while labouring under an imbecility of mind, it was their duty to find a verdict which would place the Lord Chancellor in a position to exercise a control over him for the protection of his property.  The British Constitution regarded beyond all price the freedom of the subject, and before the highest authorities in the land could interpose for the protection of the property of an individual supposed to be of unsound mind, a jury of his countrymen should first have pronounced him to be incapable of managing his own affairs.  The law presumed every man to be of unsound mind until the contrary was proved.  The onus lay not upon Mr. O’Reilly of showing he was sane, but it lay upon those who asserted the contrary.  They should, therefore, commence their investigations by assuming his sanity, and come to a conclusion, not upon hearsay, but upon the evidence alone.  If insanity were established to their satisfaction, they would simply be discharging an act of mercy and charity, by protecting a helpless fellow-creature from the results of his own folly, or from the designs of wicked and dishonest persons.  It was right they should be aware that one of the peculiar phases of mental malady was, that the person labouring under it could assume the appearance of the sane, and baffle the most ingenious counsel to bring to light any trace of the disease.  There was a case on record where the celebrated Lord Erskine examined a gentleman for an entire day, who had indicted his brother for imprisoning him in a lunatic asylum.  Lord Erskine had no doubt of the insanity of the man, but not having a clue to it, the lunatic completely foiled him in any attempt to expose his infirmity.  The day was wasted in the examination, and the alleged lunatic appeared to judge and jury as the victim of the most wanton and barbarous oppression by his relatives.  At last a medical man came into court, and from him Lord Erskine ascertained that the very man whom he had been examining believed himself to be Lord and Saviour of mankind.  His Lordship affected to lament the indecency of his ignorant examination, when the lunatic said he would forgive him, and exclaimed with the utmost gravity, “I am the Christ.”  So the cause ended.  The learned commissioner, having cited several cases to the like effect, proceeded to read the evidence in detail, and comment on it as he proceeded.  In alluding to the drawing up of a will for Mr. O’Reilly, by his agent, at a time that gentleman stated he believed him to be of unsound mind, the learned commissioner condemned such practice on the part of professional men, although it might be considered to be perfectly harmless.  At the conclusion of a charge which lasted over three hours he finally reminded the jury that the proceeding was not to be instituted by one party against another, but directed by the sovereign as the protector of her subjects to examine into the state of mind of a gentleman supposed to be labouring under mental infirmity.  As a parting direction, he would tell them that they should, upon their oaths, find Mr. O’Reilly incapable of managing his own affairs, unless they were convinced to the contrary upon the evidence.

The jury then retired, and after a noisy deliberation of three hours, came into court and stated there was not the remotest chance of their agreeing to a verdict.  It was then after ten o’clock, and the court was densely crowded.

The Commissioner stated that the inquiry was of so very important a character that he did not feel justified in discharging them, and they should retire and re-consider their verdict.

The jury reluctantly retired, and at eleven o’clock again came into court, and stated they might as well be discharged as they could never agree.

The Commissioner said, under the circumstances he should discharge them.

The jury were accordingly discharged at eleven o’clock, after deliberating for four hours.

It appeared that ten of the jury were unanimously in favour of the sanity of Mr. O’Reilly, but two other gentlemen were unable to make up their minds on the point.

The commission, accordingly, is a dead letter, and Mr. O’Reilly is as free to act for himself as if there had been an unanimous verdict in his favour. The result appeared most gratifying to the persons in court.