RUSSELL, Sir Charles, Q.C. M.P. The Irish Case Stated by Sir Charles Russell, Q.C., M.P., in opening the Defence of the Irish Party before the Judicial Commission on the “Times” Charges.
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Reprinted from ‘The Freeman’s Journal’. Dublin, The Freeman’s Journal, 1889. pp. 140 (double column). Green cloth, titled in gilt. Previous owner’s signature on titlepage. A very good copy. Extremely rare.
COPAC locates 3 copies only.
Russell, Charles (1832-1900), Baron Russell of Killowen, lord chief justice of England and Wales, was born in Newry, County Down, one of six children of Arthur Russell, owner of a brewery in Newry, and Margaret Russell (née Mullan). The family was comfortably off. While Charles was still a child, they moved to Killowen on the shores of Carlingford Lough. The Russells were a well known catholic family in
County Down: Arthur Russell’s brother, Dr Charles Russell, was the president of Maynooth College and a close friend of Cardinal Newman. Arthur Russell died relatively young, in 1845. There followed in the years 1888-9 the episode in Russell’s life for which he is perhaps still best remembered. This began with the publication in The Times of a series of articles entitled ‘Parnellism and crime’, intended to demonstrate a link between the Irish leader, his principal colleagues, and various outrages. Among the documents relied on in the articles to advance this thesis were letters alleged to have been written by Parnell which condoned, in part at least, the Phoenix Park murders. A special commission consisting solely of judges was appointed by the government to investigate the claims made in the articles, and Russell accepted the brief on behalf of Parnell and the other Irish politicians accused of complicity in such activities by the authors of the articles. Russell’s cross-examination of Richard Pigott, the journalist who had supplied The Times with the letters, destroyed his credibility and exposed him as having forged the letters himself; Pigott fled to Madrid before his evidence was completed and committed suicide, having left a written confession that he had fabricated the letters.
Part of The Times’ case was left in ruins, and Russell spent nine days in a closing address to the commission in which he urged the judges to have regard to the long history of agrarian unrest in Ireland. However, when the report of the commission appeared, while it inevitably confirmed that the letters had indeed been forged, it also concluded that Parnell and his colleagues had had links to various criminal activities that accompanied the land war. There were some who were critical of Russell’s conduct of their defence before the commission: they charged him with having concentrated on the discrediting of Pigott – a task which, given the material at his disposal, could have been easily accomplished by any competent advocate – while neglecting the other aspects of the articles which were potentially damaging to the Irish party. Some fuel was added to these criticisms by the fact that Russell had a general retainer from The Times. Although he had informed his clients that he required to be released from it in order to appear for the Irish leaders, he conspicuously refrained from crossexamining the editor of the newspaper, leaving that important assignment to his junior, Herbert Asquith, the future prime minister. However, it is undoubtedly true that Russell’s cross-examination of Pigott became part of legal folklore in much the same manner as that other famous forensic duel from the same period, also involving two Irish protagonists, Edward Carson’s destruction of Oscar Wilde during the trial for criminal libel of the Marquess of Queensberry
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