HC Deb 06 April 1818 vol 37 cc1207-10
Mr. F. Douglas

said, that as he understood no opposition would be made to his motion for leave to bring in a bill to diminish the fees on Pardons under the Great Seal, he should make only a few observa- tions. The amount of the fees to be paid on all such pardons was much greater than those who had not taken the trouble to inquire into the subject could probably imagine. They amounted to 110l. on each pardon. It was obvious, that the great majority of those who received pardons, could not pay this expense, and the House might be curious to know how the difficulty had been got over. In fact, very few of those to whom mercy was extended, obtained this complete pardon, which alone could make them competent witnesses in a court of justice. There had been only twelve pardons during the last seven years; and he was convinced, that in consequence, great impediments had been thrown in the way of public justice. He could not better illustrate this than by stating the circumstance which first called his attention to the subject. In the district of Oxfordshire with which he was connected, some of the worst sort of crimes had been committed for some time with impunity, and there was at last a prospect of bringing the perpetrators to punishment by means of the evidence of a man who had formerly been convited of a felony. The act of the 31st of the king, which made persons who had been convicted of larcenies competent witnesses did not apply to felonies, and it was necessary to sue out the pardon under the great seal. The parties who conducted the prosecution were, however, astonished, when they found that the expense of this pardon would be 110l. in addition to the other heavy expenses which they were obliged to incur, and they were almost deterred from pursuing their object finally, they did proceed, and were thus subjected to a considerable burthen. The hon. member observed, that if there were any thing in the case or character of a person convicted which rendered it proper to extend to him the mercy of the Crown by the grant of a pardon, it was too much to say that such person should be compelled to pay the expense which at present attached to such a grant. To remove this evil was the object of the bill which he meant to bring forward. He did not think it proper to extend the provisions of the act of the 31 st of the king to felons, and therefore he felt the necessity of another course of proceeding, in order to guard against the mischief, on the one hand, of allowing the officers of the Crown to derive pecuniary benefit from the extension of the royal mercy; and on the other, to provide that persons should not be exempted from that mercy, merely because they had no pecuniary means. The hon. member concluded with moving, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill for diminishing the Expense of Pardons under the Great Seal."

The Attorney-General

said, that he did not mean to oppose the motion; but from what the hon. member had stated, he felt it necessary to submit a few observations. The patents for pardon, the object of which was to restore convicts to their civil rights, were patents under the great seal, which were, in fact, subject to no more expense than was incurred for all other patents under the same seal, and that expense was necessary for purposes easily to be explained. One part of this expense was required to reward the clerks in office, for their trouble in doing the business connected with those patents; another to pay the stamp duties imposed by the legislature. Those duties on each patent amounted in one office to 6l., and in another to 30l. The portion of the sum received for the warrant of pardon in the secretary of state's office was invested in what was called the Fee Fund, out of which the clerks engaged in this branch of the business of that office, and the law officers of the Crown, were rewarded for their trouble. There was also a part of the expense incurred for a patent paid into the privy seal office. But it should be understood, that the greater part, if not the whole of the expense stated by the hon. member independently of the stamp duties, was paid for duty actually done in the several offices to which he had alluded. The propriety of providing a remuneration for such trouble, or performance of duty, was, indeed, felt by the Crown itself; for whenever it was found absolutely necessary to pardon convicts, with a view to render them competent witnesses for promoting the ends of justice, the expense of such pardons was paid by the Crown itself. But where a pardon was granted from favour—he did not mean from improper favour, but through peculiar circumstances connected with the case or character of the individuals—it was proper, he submitted that the expense incurred by such pardon should be defrayed by that person, and that the clerks in the several offices should not be called upon to do business for nothing. For although those clerks might, in such cases, be said to have little else to transact than mere matters of form, requiring no talent, still their time was employed, and for such employment they were, in justice entitled to remuneration. It was known that some clerks in the secretary of state's office, as well as the clerk in the attorney-general's office, reckoned upon the fees resulting from patents as a part of their salaries for labour actually performed. Whatever might be done upon this subject, he thought that a distinction ought to be made with respect to pardons granted on patents obtained through special grace or favour. The hon. and learned gentleman concluded with observing, that the hon. mover had not been able to make out any case in which pardons were ever made a matter of traffic, or that a pardon was ever granted from any consideration of official emolument.

Leave was given to bring in the Bill.