HC Deb 02 March 1818 vol 37 cc690-3
Mr. Bennet,

in pursuance of the notice he had given, rose to move for leave to bring in a bill to repeal and amend various acts of parliament relative to statutable rewards on the conviction of offenders. Those gentlemen in the House who belonged entirely to the profession of the law, being better acquainted with these matters than he was, might be supposed better qualified for the task he had undertaken than he could be; but having been a member of the committee appointed to inquire into the state of the police of the metropolis, and having lately passed a considerable portion of his time in inquiries into subjects of this nature, and feeling, in common with a great number of individuals, that some measure like that which he intended to propose, was indispensably necessary, he was induced to trouble the House with a bill to repeal and amend the law respecting statutable rewards. The reports of the committee alluded to, and the evidence connected with them, having so long been before the House, it would not be necessary for him to take up their time, by entering into any long detail on the subject. He should confine himself to stating merely the principal reasons which induced him to bring the matter of statutable rewards, on conviction, at present before the House. In the first place, there could be nothing more objectionable than the effect which this system of rewards had, of training up offenders in all the gradations of crime, from the first offence of the criminal, till he arrived at the last stage, when a reward could be obtained for his conviction. Every person must see, that a punishment, however slight, if certain, was much more efficacious for the repression of offences, than more severe punishments, which, it was known, were seldom inflicted. There could be no question, however, that a number of juvenile offenders were permitted to roam at large, and to proceed from one stage in crime to another, till they were, as it was technically called, "worth their weight"—that was, 40l. sterling. The shocking practices to which these rewards led, and which had been detailed by many magistrates and others connected with the police of the metropolis, might be seen in the minutes of the evidence taken by the committee; and for an elucidation of some of them, he would refer move particularly to the evidence of Mr. Shelton, clerk of the arraigns. On this subject there was surely enough to warrant the interference of the House. It was stated in evidence, that, on trials, the first question frequently put to police officers and witnesses was, what they would gain by the conviction? and by this means persons, of whose guilt there could be no doubt, were frequently, from the difficulty of obtaining witnesses, acquitted; because witnesses felt their characters assailed by the sort of questions which were put to them, and because this blood-money hung like a stone about their necks. Another reason for remedying the § system was, that it led to conspiracies for procuring people to commit crimes, to obtain the reward for their conviction. The public attention had lately been powerfully called to the subject of such conspiracies; and an investigation respecting one, was at this very time on foot. But this was not the first time of persons lending themselves to the purpose of entrapping men into the commission of offences, for the sake of obtaining the reward for their conviction. As early as 1756, several persons were convicted of having been concerned in conspiracies of this nature; one of those persons, of the name of M'Daniel, acknowledged that seventy persons had been convicted at different times on evidence furnished by him. On one occasion a man voluntarily submitted to be robbed. The judges thought force necessary to constitute a robbery. Three persons concerned in this business were tried for a conspiracy, but they were so roughly handled by the populace, that one of them was killed outright, and another died soon afterwards. Unfortunately these were not solitary instances. In the year 1772, about twenty persons were the victims of such machinations. The conspiracies which were discovered about a year ago, were well known to the House. The case which lately happened to be discovered in Newgate, was one in which the execution of the sentence of the law had been most properly suspended. He did not mean to say, that in this case the conspiracy was as clearly made out as in the case of the poor men who were convicted on the evidence of Brock, Pelham, and Power; but there was a well-founded suspicion that Kelly and Spicer were the victims of the same system. How many others might have fallen victims to these contrivances it was impossible to say, but the general persuasion was, that the instances had been but too numerous. He was convinced he was not exaggerating when he said, that it had been a long-established practice in this country, for individuals, day after day, and year after year, to stimulate others to the commission of crime, for the purpose of putting money in their pockets by their conviction. It was his intention to propose, that what were technically called Tyburn-tickets, should be continued, and that the reward of 40l. should still be paid to the executors of any persons killed in the pursuit of highwaymen, or the executors of persons killed in discharging their duty in seizing of criminals, on whose conviction the reward was payable. But instead of the rewards on conviction, payable by the 4th, 6th, and 10th of William and Mary, the 5th of queen Anne, and the 14th and 15th of George 2nd, he intended to propose, that there should be assigned money for the expenses of prosecuting, and bringing forward witnesses, in all cases of felony whatever, whether a conviction did or did not take place, at the discretion of the judges. He thought this expense ought not to be thrown on individuals, when it appeared that there was a reasonable ground made out for prosecution. It was not his intention to trouble the House farther at present. He trusted he had made out a case sufficient to show, that the system of giving what was termed blood-money, against which there was one general feeling throughout the country, was an evil which loudly called for a remedy. The hon. gentleman concluded with moving for leave to bring in a bill to repeal and amend certain acts of parliament relative to the giving statutable rewards on the conviction of offenders.

Leave was given to bring in the bill.