HC Deb 05 February 1818 vol 37 cc159-61
Mr. M. A. Taylor

rose to call the attention of the House to a subject which he had much at heart, and which was of great importance to the public, as being connected with the administration of justice. It was his intention to bring the discussion before the House, in order that some remedy might be devised to meet a very great grievance. He knew that a committee on courts of justice had been regularly appointed from session to session; and in ancient times they were active efficient committees, but now they were known to exist but by their votes. Such was not the case when this committee was originally instituted: they were then actively in motion, and had they pursued their labours with the same impulse, much good would ere now have resulted to the country. Well aware as he was, of the serious grievances which existed in this department, he was determined that his exertions should not be wanting in bringing forward this important subject from time to time, till some practical remedy was devised. It was well known, that the northen circuit extended to the counties of Westmorland, Cumberland, Durham, and Northumberland, only once a year. These districts comprehended a very populous and extensive tract, and the serious inconveniencies attending such a practice it was not easy to describe. Many representations had been made upon the state of the evil, and he felt much surprised that the judges never communicated the sentiments of the gentlemen of the assize. He had himself known several instances of persons who had lain many months in gaol, and were at length actually cleared by a jury of their country. Suppose a person should happen to be committed a fortnight after the assize, upon a charge of murder, and that he afterwards be found guilty only of homicide: by the present state of that part of the country, he suffers a confinement of thirteen months before he is brought to trial; while the severest punishment allowed by law for manslaughter is only twelve months. From this it would appear, that the subject loudly demanded the attention of the House. The great population and extensive traffic of these parts gave additional importance to this subject. The county of Durham contained, besides Durham itself, Monk-wearmouth, Shields, and other towns which, in population, and industry, might vie with any of the more favoured districts, with perhaps the exception of Manchester alone: yet these extensive districts had, by the present state of things, a gaol-delivery only once in every year. Scotland had its circuit court twice every year regularly; besides tin's, the lords of justiciary, in cases where persons had been too long in gaol, had the power at any time during the interval between the circuits, to bring the proceedings before them at Edinburgh: but the counties alluded to, though much more populous than the most busy part of Scotland, had their assizes only once a year. The stated and regular dispensation of justice was essential to a free country, more especially so of criminal justice. The object of his motion was to obtain a return of the calendar of prisoners, stating the number of cases for forty years back, in order that the House might be aware of the necessity of some remedy for this growing evil, and that there might be a clear agreement as to the points to be remedied. He said, that within his own recollection there were several instances which placed the necessity of some remedy in a strong light. He knew a case where a person had lain in gaol for nine months, and when at last brought to trial, he was immediately acquitted of the crime for which he had been committed. When the necessary papers were produced, it was his intention to state the mode of remedy which occurred to him; and if the House should entertain the motion, he should afterwards move for a committee to consider the subject and report thereon. He should then let the subject lie over for some time, till the judges should have the opportunity of considering whether any improvements could be suggested. At all events, he was determined he would not lose sight of his object, but to persevere, year after year, till some improvement was accomplished. He should, therefore, move, "That there be laid before this House, Copies of the Calendar of the Prisoners committed for trial at the assizes in the counties of Westmorland, Cumberland, Northumberland, and Durham, and the town and county of Newcastle upon Tyne, commencing in the year 1780, and ending with the year 1817; specifying the dates of the respective commitments, and also the liberate of the said prisoners as settled by the judge of assize and general gaol-delivery." Also, "List of the causes during the said period as set down in the marshal's Paper, and delivered by him to the associate, distinguishing the special from the common jury causes; and also a List of the Remanets at each assize."—Ordered.