The Todd Brothers, 1917-18

From the Dublin Daily Express, 14 April 1916


Londonderry, Thursday

Following lively exchanges between his Honour Judge Todd, Recorder, Derry, and his brother, Dr Todd, Crown Solicitor, there was an extraordinary scene at Derry Quarter Sessions today, culminating in his Honour adjourning the case and stating that he would report the matter to a higher court.  The incident arose during the hearing of an action by the Derry County Council for damages for excessive traffic on a road, and his Honour complained that Dr Todd and Mr William Horner, the defending solicitors, were delaying the Court by introducing irrelevant material, and the exchanges between the Recorder and Dr Todd reached such a stage that Mr Horner asked that the case be adjourned until they would get a calmer atmosphere.

His Honour said there was not the slightest necessity, but he must rule the Court. 

Dr Todd insisted on his right to conduct the case as he considered right.

His Honour told him he had no right to keep the public waiting for a fortnight in order that he might air his eloquence.

Dr Todd proceeded to read a case where his Honour asked for the references and his Honour then said that he would adjourn the case till the next Sessions and take the advice of a higher court.

His Honour then made the following ruling – Adjourned till next sessions, the advocates for the defendants refusing to keep to the case or obey my rulings, persisting in prolonging the case by referring to irrelevant evidence and cases, the effect of which in a general way I know and agreed to read before giving judgment.

Dr Todd – I ask you to make a charge.

His Honour – I will make no charge.

Dr Todd – I suggest that you put this – the advocates for the defence persisting in putting heir cases to the best of their ability before the court (laughter)

His Honour – Sit down.  This will be a lesson to other advocates.

Dr Todd.  It won’t be a lesson to me.

His Honour – I have never heard such bad conduct on the part of an advocate, and I am ashamed of it.”

Judge Todd was called to the Bar in 1881 after taking the King’s Inns’ Scholarship.  After many years in practice as a barrister, he was appointed County Court Judge in 1909 and Recorder of Derry in 1912.

An article of 14 September 1912 in the Mid-Ulster Mail written at the time of his appointment as Recorder stated that during his time of office Judge Todd had revolutionised the court business with appeals dwindling to a minimum and, when taken, resulting in his being upheld in nearly every case unless when the evidence given before him had been supplemented in some vital respect of the appeal.

The same article stated that

Judge Todd labours under no delusions as to the weakness of human nature and he was a way of saying what he thinks – and saying it out loud.  The legal gentlemen may find it a little strange at first, as a greenhouse seedling does when exposed to the cold blast, but we feel sure that they will adjust themselves to their new environment in time.”

Judge Todd certainly had no difficulty in speaking his mind. In a case reported in the Northern Whig of 20 January 1911 Judge Todd complained about having been buttonholed by the plaintiff on the street about the case and stated that although that had not influenced him in his decision he would like to warn all and sundry that he would not tolerate being spoken to, or communicated with by any person relative to cases coming before the court.

And, according to the Freeman’s Journal of July 1914, when during the hearing of a civil bill in Coleraine Quarter Sessions, a witness, on being sworn, kissed the book, Judge Todd said:

People coming here, especially young people, still stick to the old habit of kissing the book.  When this is done by persons – perhaps some of them not as clean as they might be – it contributes to the spread of contagious disease. I hope that all whom it may concern will bear in mind that an Act of Parliament was specially passed to obviate the necessity for kissing he book.  All that is now necessary is that it should be held in the hand while repeating the oath.  Of course, people must tell the truth.  If they do not – whether or not they kiss the book – they are committing perjury, for which they will be prosecuted.”

An article in the Strabane Chronicle of 6 November 1909 initially expressed shock at the change in Judge Todd from advocate to judge, referencing

“the remarkable level of patience that he seems to have developed or that, perhaps more correctly, was always that part of that latent judicial personality that I at any rate did not know prior to his elevation to the bench.  No one would recognise the one time KC snapping at witnesses in cross-examination and cutting into incomplete answers with another testy question, in the judge who listened attentively to every word, examined closely every detail and weighed carefully every scrap of evidence… the judge that one often reads of but seldom meets, who preserves an even calm until both parties have said their say and then decides them without fear favour or affection.”

Like his brother, Judge Todd was also the holder of a doctorate, something which occasionally caused confusion from a postal point of view, At the Derry Quarter Sessions of January 1917 Dr Todd complained in open court about continually receiving delivery of post intended for the judge. There resulted the following interchange reported in the Northern Whig of 13 January 1917:

“His Honour – I think when you detected that the letter was not for you the courtesy of an ordinary gentleman should make you forward it to the person to whom it is directed without any statement in open court.

Dr Todd – I think the delivery of these letters to me is an intelligent appreciation of my merits.  I will send the letter up to you.”

By this stage the in-court battles of the Todd brothers had started to attract widespread interest and the Northern Whig of 13 October 1917 reported another ‘lively scene’ when, interrupted by his brother when asking a question in a workman’s compensation case, the judge replied:

‘Hold your tongue.  It is absolutely impossible to have a case conducted with you.’

The account goes on:

“Later, Dr Todd, quoting a decision in support of his argument, said that there was no decision overriding it.

His Honour – I will override it

Dr Todd – I will go to a higher Court

His Honour – You can go to the House of Lords if you like.

Dr odd – I will have justice done no matter what happens.

His Honour – Your client would, but not you, as far as I can see.

Dr Todd _ I am bound to fight his case as best I can and do what I think is right.

His Honour – You are not doing it in the best way.

Dr Todd – it depends on how your Honour looks at it.  I am entitled to fight my case and raise points and I will do it with or without your help.

His Honour – I will let you fight, as I always do.

Dr Todd You interrupt me improperly in every case.  I will continue to fight my case on proper grounds no matter who the judge is.

His Honour – It will depend on what the grounds are.

Dr Todd – I will not be put down.

His Honour – I know you well enough to know that you are not easily put down, but, on the other hand you will not put me down.

Dr Todd – I don’t wish to, but I wish to do justice to my client, and I will do it.  It is a too common fault of judge to interfere with advocates.”

It sounds as if, for once, Dr Todd, solicitor, had the last word!

Judge Todd retired in 1919 due to ill-health, and died shortly afterwards.  One of his last cases, reported in the Derry Journal of 10 January 1919, related to a girl who had lost two fingers of her right hand in the course of employment in a biscuit factory.   She was subsequently moved to the pastry section of the factory but left after allegedly being harassed by her manager who accused her of acting ‘the old soldier.’ Judge Todd found in favour of the girl, who he said had done perfectly right and had not been treated properly. 

Did Judge Todd ever make it up with his solicitor brother? Did they ever really fall out? Most importantly of all – who was the older and who the younger?

It would be interesting to know the answers to all of the above!

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Author: Ruth Cannon BL

Irish barrister sharing the history of the Four Courts, Dublin, Ireland, and other Irish courts.

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