Attorney General v O'Ryan and Boyd

CourtHigh Court
Judgment Date01 January 1946
Date01 January 1946

High Court.

Attorney-General v. O'Ryan and Boyd.

Contempt of Court - Proceedings in Circuit Court - Abusive letter sent to Circuit Court Judge subsequently to termination of proceedings - Letter reflecting on Circuit Court Judge both in his judicial capacity and personally - Letter read by writer at meeting of County Council - Resolution by County Council condemning Circuit Court Judge - Proceedings of County Council reported. in newspaper - Letter published in newspaper - Scandalising the Court - Motion to attach writer of letter and editor of newspaper - Jurisdiction of High Court - Newspaper Libel and Registration Act, 1881 (44 & 45 Vict., c. 60), s. 2 - Law of Libel (Amendment) Act, 1888 (51 & 52 Vict., c. 64),s. 4 - Constitution of 1937, Art. 34, s. 3, sub-s. 1.

Motion to make absolute a conditional order of attachment made against the two defendants, Michael O'Ryan and David C. Boyd.

The conditional order, which was granted by Davitt J. on 5th April, 1945, ordered that "an order of attachment do issue against Michael O'Ryan in the title hereof named to answer his contempt in (a) scandalising the Court, (b) publishing words calculated to impede and interfere with the administration of justice, 1, by publishing in or about the 9th February, 1945, to His Honour Judge Sealy concerning His Honour Judge Sealy as a Judge of the Circuit Court, a letter, dated 7th February, 1945, addressed from Knockalisheen, Ballymacarbery, and signed by the said Michael O'Ryan, containing certain slanderous words of and concerning His Honour Judge Sealy as a Judge of the Circuit Court; 2, by publishing at a meeting of the Waterford County Council, held in the Courthouse, Dungarvan, in the County of Waterford on or about the 19th February, 1945, the contents of a letter purporting to have been written by the said Michael O'Ryan and addressed to His Honour Judge Sealy as a Judge of the Circuit Court; and 3, by subsequently circulating stencilled copies of the said letter.

And that an order of attachment do issue against the said David Culbert Boyd to answer his contempt in (a) scandalising the Court and (b) publishing words calculated to impede and interfere with the administration of justice by passing for publication and causing to be printed and published in columns 1 and 2, page 1, in the issue of the 24th February, 1945, of the Waterford Standard newspaper, certain scandalous words purporting to have been used by one, Michael O'Ryan, at a meeting of the Waterford County Council in the Courthouse, Dungarvan, in the County of Waterford, on the 19th February, 1945, of and concerning His Honour Judge Sealy as a Judge of the Circuit Court."

The facts of the case were as follows:—

On the 5th February, 1945, five farmers were charged before Judge Sealy at Waterford, with riot, assault and unlawful wounding. The charges arose out of an agrarian dispute. The accused pleaded guilty to riot and counsel for the Attorney-General accepted these pleas and a nolle prosequi was entered in respect of the other charges. The Judge imposed sentences varying from six months' imprisonment to one month's imprisonment on the accused. Before the accused were sentenced, counsel on their behalf addressed the Judge and read a letter which had been written by the Right Rev. Dean Byrne, D.D., P.P., V.G., Clonmel, to the State Solicitor for County Waterford, in which Dean Byrne stated that he would be greatly perturbed if Court proceedings resulted in any notable punishment of the accused and that he would most respectfully submit for consideration that the law proceedings should, in the interest of the peace of the district, take the most lenient course that might be possible. Counsel for the accused added that this letter and another letter from another clergyman which he (counsel) had previously read, indicated sufficiently the circumstances which lay outside the depositions. There was grave danger, counsel said, that if the accused were sent to jail, intense feeling would be aroused in the whole district and the whole thing would be drawn out interminably, but he hesitated to suggest what course the Judge should take. The Judge asked counsel if Dean Byrne expected that men who behaved in this manner and attacked a single man outside his own church should get no punishment? Counsel replied that the clergy were entitled to take a view that would not perhaps be accepted in law, that there was now peace in the district and that Dean Byrne was anxious that it should be preserved even at the cost of allowing persons who deserved punishment, to escape it.

On the 7th February, 1945, the defendant, O'Ryan, wrote the following letter to Judge Sealy:—




"7th February, 1945.

My Lord,

As an humble member of the Catholic community of the diocese of Waterford and Lismore, I take exception to your taunt and sneer at the Most Venerable Dean Byrne, P.P. of Sts. Peter's and Paul's Church, Clonmel, from your exalted? perch on the Bench of the Court in Waterford last Monday, 5th inst.—that he thought and expected that crime perpetrated outside his church should be exonerated. I fling that taunt back into the face of the worthy representative of the seed and breed of Cromwell. You, Sir, were foisted on the judicial Bench at a time when legal ability was not the qualification best fitting to lead to it. To the foreign, hostile administration of that time there were better qualifications evidently well known to your Lordship. I well remember, in the Spring of 1917, when acting as advocate for Lord Ashtown in a claim for compensation for the burning of his wood, you stated that perhaps it was done to celebrate the anniversary of Easter Week, 1916, although all in the district knew that the burning was accidental. The late Judge, Sergeant Ronan, presiding, indignantly protested against your insinuation, and compelled you to withdraw it. Your suggestion offended his impartial judicial mind. But evidently you had other motives. An adventurous lawyer takes the long view. Evidently the echo of your words reached Dublin Castle, of infamous memory. At any rate you were elevated to the Bench by the Lord French—cum Hamar-Greenwood regime to administer 'true British Amelioration' in Ireland. You remember how the I.R.A. chased you off the Bench at Clonmel. Notwithstanding all that you were tolerated and retained by an Executive Irish Government predominantly national and Catholic. And your return for all that was to taunt the second highest dignitary in the Diocese of Waterford and Lismore that he would condone crime which was committed outside his church. You are as poor at marshalling your facts as you were mediocre at law. It was not outside Dean Byrne's church that the regretted affair took place, but at Nire church, some fourteen miles away. But you would overlook all this to give us a display of Righteous Wrathful Puritanism, symbolic of the virtues of Henry the Eighth and the chaste? Virgin Queen. I wonder if, instead of coming from Dean Byrne, the letter came from the local lodge of, the Grand Orient and embossed with the Square and Compass how would it be treated by Your Lordship? I know personally that Dean Byrne did not approve or condone the incident in question. He condemned it in no undoubtful terms. But as peace has been restored to the district he would purchase the continuation of that peace even though the price to be paid would be the forgiving of offences against the law of the land. That is the teaching of the Divine and Eternal Church in which Dean Byrne is an outstanding ornament. Your ilk and breed in this country are the inheritors of lands, castles and wealth secured by the brute laws of robbery, spoliation and confiscation of the property of Catholic Ireland. Would your Lordship wish to have them judged by the law of 'a tooth for a tooth,' or by the charitable laws of God's Church as represented by Dean Byrne?

I had intended answering you personally in Court, but I had other and more pressing calls. My actions would doubtless have incurred your puritanical wrath and made me suffer for contempt of Court. To those who know me, this would mean little to me. I would defy your best or worst. My words would then reach the public. Now they will not. You can say with truth that my action is an innocent, private letter. The press will not, cannot, publish it...

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4 cases
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    • Ireland
    • Supreme Court
    • 24 June 1971
    ...Ad. & E. 1. 20 [1928] I.R. 308. 21 [1967] I.R. 147. 22 (1925) 267 U.S. 87. 23 [1945] I.R. 183. 24 [1930] I.R. 163. 25 [1947] I.R. 213. 26 [1946] I.R. 70. 27 [1970] Ch. 28 (1881) 103 U.S. 168. 29 (1957) 354 U.S. 178. 30 [1970] I.R. 317. 31 [1965] I.R. 217. 32 [1965] I.R. 411. 33 (1969) 395 U......
  • Attorney General v Connolly
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    • 27 January 1947
    ......And this Court, overruling an argument to the contrary, decided that it had that power in Attorney-General v. O'Ryan and Boyd (4) . The Constitution (Art. 34, s. 3, 1)—reproducing the plan of Art. 64 of the former Constitution—invests this Court with full original ......
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    • Ireland
    • Supreme Court
    • 24 July 1973
    ...3. 2 (1888) 21 Q.B.D. 236. 3 [1962] 2 Q.B. 637. 4 [1970] 1 Ch. 128. 5 [1928] I.R. 308. 6 (1933) 69 I.L.T.R. 115. 7 [1938] I.R. 485. 8 [1946] I.R. 70. 9 [1947] I.R. 213. 10 [1971] I.R. 217. 11 [1931] L.J. Ir. 27. 12 [1971] I.R. 13 [1971] I.R. 217. 14 [1928] I.R. 308. 15 [1947] I.R. 213. 16 (......
3 books & journal articles
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    • Ireland
    • Irish Judicial Studies Journal Nbr. 1-20, January 2020
    • 1 January 2020
    ...167. 72 ibid 194. 73 Jeremiah Newman, Studies in Political Morality (Scepter 1962) 444. However, see Attorney General v O’Ryan and Boyd [1946] IR 70 for an example of Gavan Duffy J resisting clerical interference in the legal process. [2020] Irish Judicial Studies Journal Vol 4(1) 18 George......
  • Independence, accountability and the irish judiciary
    • Ireland
    • Irish Judicial Studies Journal Nbr. 1-8, January 2008
    • 1 January 2008
    ...where a defamatory statement is made, _____________________________________________________ 63The Attorney General v. O’Ryan and Boyd [1946] I.R. 70. 64 The State (Director of Public Prosecutions) v. Walsh [1981] I.R. 412, at 421. 65 Law Reform Commission Report on Contempt of Court, (Dubli......
  • Criticising judges in Ireland
    • Ireland
    • Irish Judicial Studies Journal Nbr. 1-2, January 2002
    • 1 January 2002
    ...has been a refusal of defence applications for a trial by jury under the Constitution, a strong 16 Attorney General v. O’Ryan and Boyd [1946] I.R. 70. 2001] Criticising Judges in Ireland commitment to preserve the existing jurisdiction, lengthy, closely-argued judgments separately delivered......

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