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Declaratory Act 1720

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Declaratory Act 1720

The Dependency of Ireland on Great Britain Act 1719 (6. Geo. I, c. 5) was an Act of Parliament of the Parliament of Great Britain passed in 1719. Prompted by a fairly routine lawsuit, it was aimed at resolving the long dispute between the British and the Irish House of Lords as to which was the final court of appeal from Irish Courts. As the "Sixth of George 1" the Act became a symbol of the subservience of the Parliament of Ireland and its repeal was long an aim of Irish statesmen, finally achieved in 1782.

Background

In 1709 the Court of Exchequer (Ireland) heard a suit between Maurice Annesley and his cousin Hester Sherlock over possession of certain lands at Naas, County Kildare. They found in Annesley's favour; Mrs. Sherlock appealed to the Irish House of Lords which upheld her appeal. Annesley then invoked the long- disputed jurisdiction of the British House, which pronounced in his favour. The Exchequer duly complied with the decree of the British House, but Mrs. Sherlock appealed again to the Irish House, which ordered the Barons of the Exchequer to comply with its own decree and when they refused, imprisoned them for contempt. A trivial lawsuit had turned into a Constitutional crisis, and it was perhaps understandable that the British Parliament decided to finally resolve the matter.

Passage

The bill had its second reading in the Commons on March 4, 1719, where it was chiefly opposed on the grounds that it appeared to have no purpose beyond increasing the power of the House of Lords. Other objections included an argument that the preamble and the enacting section of the bill were contradictory, and that Ireland had historically had an independent judiciary. It was supported by Joseph Jekyll and Philip Yorke, and carried 140 votes to 83. It was then passed on March 26.[1]

Provisions

Section I of the Act noted that the Irish House of Lords had recently "assumed to themselves a Power and Jurisdiction to examine, correct and amend" judgements of the Irish courts, which it held to be illegal. As such, it declared that the Kingdom of Ireland was subordinate to and dependent upon the British crown, and that the King, with the advice and consent of the Parliament of Great Britain, had "full power and authority to make laws and statutes of sufficient validity to bind the Kingdom and people of Ireland". Section II declared that the House of Lords of Ireland had no jurisdiction to judge, affirm or reverse any judgement, sentence or decree made in any court within the Kingdom of Ireland, and that all proceedings before the House upon any such matter was declared to be null and void to all intents and purposes whatsoever.[2]

Aftermath

The Irish House was understandably infuriated by the curtailment of its powers, and the Barons of the Exchequer, though soon released from custody, were subject to intense vilification. While some that thought the Irish House had brought about the crisis by its own high-handed behaviour, the "Sixth of George1" remained a source of grievance for decades.The Act was repealed in its entirety by the Repeal of Act for Securing Dependence of Ireland Act 1782.[2]

References

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