HC Deb 04 February 1819 vol 39 cc293-6
Mr. M. A. Taylor

said, it would not be necessary for him to detain the house more than a single moment. The subject had been several times before the house; it had been fully discussed last session; and there was now, he believed, no gentleman, who would object to the northern counties being placed on the same footing with the other counties, as to the administration of justice. He was fortunate that the subject had been long under discussion; he was fortunate, too, that it had received the concurrence of his majesty's ministers who were in progress with arrangements for carrying the measure into execution. After the report of the committee of the 28th of March should have been read, he would more, "That an humble Address be presented to his majesty, to represent to his royal highness the Prince Regent, that the house, having taken into their consideration the Report of the Select Committee on the administration of Justice on the Northern Circuit, humbly request that his Royal Highness will be graciously pleased to adopt such measures as shall give to the Counties of Westmorland, Cumberland, Durham and Northumberland, and the town and county of Newcastle-upon-Tyne, the benefit of a General Gaol Delivery, and a Commission of Assize and Nisi Prius, twice in each year; and to assure his Royal Highness that this house will make good any expense attending the same."

The Solicitor General

stated, that the subject had been some time under the consideration of his majesty's government. In the report of the committee, no specific mode by which the advantage could be obtained, was pointed out. He could only assure the house, that the subject was now under the consideration of his majesty's government, and that an arrangement was in contemplation which would, he believed, give general satisfaction.

Mr. Denman

said, that he could not refrain from expressing his surprise, that so long after the subject had been discussed in that house and out of that house, after men connected with the law, and unconnected with it, had given a decided opinion, it should be announced to that house, that the subject was now under the consideration of ministers. Last session the subject had been fully discussed in that house, four northern grand juries had expressed their strong conviction on the subject; surely the public had a right to expect that ministers would, in consequence, have had something ready before this. He was very happy to give his support to the motion of his hon. friend, and he hoped that it would be carried into effect, without injuring the general administration of justice, by multiplying the number of judges, which he should consider a great evil. [Hear!] The increase of the number of puisne judges in Westminster-hall would promote neither the independence of the bar, nor the service of the public. During the whole of last term the two most important courts in Westminster-hall had each a judge's place vacant. It had been known long before term commenced, that neither of the chief justices could attend, yet no steps had been taken to supply the vacancy, so little urgency did there appear in keeping up the present number of judges. These observations he had thought it proper to press upon the consideration of the house, since no plan had yet been mentioned. In the intended arrangement, he hoped relief would be extended to other counties. In the midland circuit there were now more than a hundred prisoners waiting for a gaol delivery; a great number of prisoners would, of course, be yet committed before the assizes. This calculation did not include Warwick, where alone there were usually at this time of the year tw6 hundred prisoners. Here, then, were four hundred prisoners to be tried by a single judge. It was manifest, then, that evils of this kind called loudly for a remedy, in the northern and Midland counties. Considering, too, the state of the gaols all over the country, it was a dreadful evil to have them so much crowded. He trusted that a remedy would be effectually applied before the next summer assizes.

Lord Castlereagh

rebutted the charge of supineness, which had been made against the administration. The remedy for the evil complained of was not so easily found as had been asserted. In proof of this, he should mention that two great authorities had differed upon it, the hon. and learned mover, and the hon. and learned gentleman, who had made this charge against the government. The hon. and learned mover had given it as his opinion, that the remedy was to be effected by increasing the number of the judges, but the hon. and learned gentleman who spoke last had thought nothing more fatal than such a step. The real difficulty was so to distribute the time of the judges, overwhelmed as they were with business, as to enable them to perform this additional duty. As the house seemed disposed to receive the motion with unanimity, he should not trouble it with farther remarks.

Mr. M. A. Taylor

said, that if he was aware that the state of the general administration of justice was to have been discussed, he should have made some observations on the subject, but he thought it hardly necessary, on the present occasion, as the only question was, as to the northern counties, which were in a worse state than the rest of the kingdom.

Mr. N. Calvert

observed, that a more equal division of the year between the assizes was highly desirable, as the assizes now took place at the end of three months and of nine. When it was considered that there were only three months between the Lent and Summer assizes, while there were nine months between the Summer and Lent assizes, justice could not be said to be equally administered.

The motion was then agreed to.