HC Deb 06 March 1828 vol 18 cc985-7
Mr. Dugdale

presented a petition from the magistrates for the county of Warwick, assembled at the quarter-sessions, stating the great increase of crime in that county, and praying that the House would take the subject into their most serious consideration, and apply such a remedy as its importance demanded. The hon. gentleman observed, that great anxiety existed throughout the county with reference to this subject. The greatest increase was of juvenile offenders. About ten years ago, the magistrates established an asylum in the county of Warwick, for receiving juvenile offenders after conviction, which had been attended at the time with the most beneficial effects. Of late years, however, crime had increased in the county with alarming rapidity. At the late quarter-sessions, of one hundred and fifty-two prisoners convicted, seventy-five, or eighty, were boys under fifteen years of age. It was impossible, of course, to receive so many into an asylum which was maintained by private contributions. A pamphlet had lately been published by a magistrate of the county, sir E. Wilmot, in which, for the purpose of preventing the evils which resulted from the commitment of mere boys to gaol, he recommended that, in certain cases, the magistrates should have the power of summary conviction. Such was also the opinion of many other respectable magistrates. Certain it was, that notwithstanding every effort that had been made, and after every allowance for an increasing population, crime had of late increased in an alarming degree. He trusted that this petition would be referred to the committee now sitting to consider the causes of the increase of crime.

Mr. Lawley

looked upon the evil as one of great magnitude, and mainly attributable to the existing state of the law. Boys were brought before the magistrate, charged with various offences; and under the circumstances, the magistrate had no alternative, but was constrained to commit them to gaol. In gaol, therefore, they might remain for three months before the time of their trial should arrive; and such was the demoralizing effect of prison association, that a boy so committed would inevitably come out of gaol ten thousand times worse than he went in.

Mr. Littleton

said, he knew nothing more afflicting than to see so many poor children brought to the bar at every assizes. In the county which he represented the increase of crime, and especially among youth, was most alarming. In 1825, there were eighteen children under fifteen years of age convicted in Staffordshire; in 1826, there were thirty-two; in 1827, forty. In 1825, there were eighty-seven young men, between fifteen and twenty years of age, convicted in the same county; in 1826, there were a hundred and thirty-seven; and in 1827, a hundred and sixty-four. This was really a most horrible evil. He believed that many of the magistrates were inclined to think that it would be advisable to give the power of summary conviction in certain cases. The bias of his mind was strongly in favour of such a measure.

Sir T. Lethbridge

entirely concurred in the extent of the evil, and the necessity for some remedy.

Sir J. Wrottesley

was of opinion that the existence of this youthful immorality could not be justly attributed to a want of employment for the children of the poorer classes, as it prevailed in the agricultural counties, where work, was to be had in abundance. He thought it might with more propriety be referred to the too great prevalence of criminal prosecutions. By late returns it appeared that out of ninety thousand commitments, thirty thousand got a discharge without trial, as the bills were ignored by the grand jury. This he could not but believe to be the result of the recent act which permitted prosecutors their expenses, as it naturally tended to increase frivolous prosecutions. After the initiation into all kinds of turpitude, which a gaol was so calculated to effect, it was not a matter of surprise that depravity should extensively prevail throughout the country.

Mr. Portman

thought that separate jurisdictions were injurious; and that there should be no commitments except by two or three magistrates acting together. As to the great increase in the number of juvenile offenders, he did not believe that it originated so much from boys being worse than they were formerly, but from the fact, that for offences, in reference to which it was now the usage to commit the offenders, those offenders were in former times soundly whipped by the individuals against whom they committed the offences, but who were now afraid to take that course, lest an action should be brought against them for an assault.

Referred to the committee on the Increase of Crime.