HC Deb 20 May 1825 vol 13 cc798-801

On the order of the day being read,

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, that before the House went into the committee, he wished briefly to restate the principal objects of the Bill. The first object was, to consolidate the several statutes, about sixty in number, which were now in force, for regulating and determining the qualifications of jurors serving at Assizes. These, which were spread over the Statute book, it was proposed to bring into one act, and also about twenty statutes on the subject of empanelling juries. Another object was, to extend very considerably the number of those who might be called upon to administer the law as jurors. A vast number who were not considered qualified as the law now stood, but who were really qualified by property, would be included. Thus all persons being leaseholders of property to the amount of 20l. for 21 years, would be considered qualified to act as jurors, instead of confining the qualifications, as at present, to those who had a freehold of 51. a-year. Another object was, to remedy the inconvenience found in some cases, in which a challenge would hold good to the array, because there was not a knight among the number. This he thought a very useless, and it was often found a very inconvenient, enactment; he therefore proposed to repeal it. It was also intended to repeal that part of the present law which required, in many cases, that so many jurors should be returned- from the same Hundred. He thought that justice was more likely to he administered with strict impartiality where men were chosen of different parts, than where they were selected from one particular district. But, the most important feature of the bill would be the regulation with respect to special jurors. It would henceforth be required, that in all cases where the Crown was either a real or a nominal plaintiff, the special jurors should be selected by ballot. In all criminal proceedings tried by special juries, the same regulations would be observed; but in civil cases where a consent in writing on both sides (which written consent should be afterwards received as evidence of the agreement between the parties), it would be allowed to select special juries, in the same manner as at present; but in criminal cases, the appointment of special juries by ballot would be imperative. These, he considered, would be important public advantages arising from the bill; for it was of the utmost consequence that a feeling of perfect security and confidence in the trial by jury should be established in the country.

Mr. Scarlett

said, he should not do justice to his feelings if he did not offer the tribute of his sincere applause to the right hon. gentleman for the introduction of this most useful measure. It was of the utmost importance that the trial by jury should be made as perfect as possible. One of the greatest blessings resulting from the free constitution of this country was, that the people had, as jurors, the administration of the laws in their own hands, and were thus, in a great degree, the distributors of the punishment with which the infraction of those laws were visited. It would be very difficult for a private individual to carry a bill of this importance through the House, and therefore it became a liberal government to take it up. For the manner in which the arduous task had been undertaken by the right hon. gentleman, and the great labour and assiduity which he had evinced in bringing it to perfection, he thought too much praise could not be given. He could not say what its effects might be in every case, but certainly he anticipated very beneficial results from its enactment, and he would most readily contribute his best support to it in every way in his power.

Mr. Secretary Peel

observed, that he felt great pleasure at the manner in which this measure had been received by the House. He had to acknowledge the cordiality with which it was met by honourable members on both sides, without any reference to party feelings. The alteration proposed would, he felt persuaded, be productive of good effects to the country. There were, besides those to which the bill related, other points connected with the administration of justice, which he thought would bear to be calmly inquired into; and with the encouragement he had already received, he hoped at no distant period to bring them under the consideration of parliament.

Mr. Brougham ,

after enumerating the objects of the bill, observed, that that part which went to alter the present mode of selecting special juries, more particularly in Crown cases, was most important, and would produce the best results; for, let the selection be made with the most scrupulous impartiality, it would still leave a suspicion not favourable to the due administration of justice. No matter who was the officer who might select, it would be looked upon, in some degree, as a selection under some influence. Of the present excellent individual who so worthily filled the situation of Master of the Crown-office, Mr. Lushington, no man who knew him could ever harbour a suspicion of the slightest improper bias in the discharge of his duty; but still the selection by any public officer would not give such satisfaction as that proposed by the bill. Indeed, when this subject was first mooted about three years ago, the Master of the Crown-office had declared, that whatever benefit the proposed alteration might give to the country, there was no person to whom it would afford more sincere satisfaction than to himself. He hoped that the passing of this bill would be a useful lesson to those who were so wedded to things as they were as to be alarmed at the mention of any change.

The Bill was then committed.