HC Deb 17 February 1830 vol 22 cc570-3
Mr. Secretary Peel

rose, in pursuance of his notice to move for leave to bring in a Bill—by which, however, he did not feel quite satisfied that the immediate object which he had in view would be gained—namely, a Bill to abolish all Fees heretofore payable by persons on their acquittal or other discharge from any criminal charge. In 1818, a Bill had passed that, and the other House of Parliament, the intention of the framers of which must certainly have been to abolish all such fees, for it enacted that no fee should be paid on the acquittal of any prisoner charged with felony or misdemeanour. The construction which had been put upon that Bill, however, was, that it was applicable only to persons retained in custody, tried and acquitted, and not to persons who were only held to bail, and afterwards tried and acquitted. The object of his Bill was to relieve all acquitted persons, whether they had been in custody or only held to bail, from the payment of fees upon acquittal. At present, a person so circumstanced was liable to pay 13s. 4d. to the Clerk of the Peace, 2s. to the Crier of the Court, and (which was the most extraordinary fee of all) 12s. to the Jury on every traverse. On grave consideration, however, it appeared to him that the Bill for which he was about to move would not go far enough. It would only relieve the person acquitted from the payment of fees, but he would still be subject to the payment of different fees for the formal processes of the Court. Among other charges there was drawing up the record, for which the person tried had to pay a shilling a folio; amounting in some cases, to five or six pounds, and in many to two or three; although, in numerous instances, no record whatever was drawn up. Since he had given notice of his Bill, the hon. Member for Cumberland had expressed his intention to move for the appointment of a Committee to inquire into the amount of fees receivable by Clerks of the Peace, and the authority on which those fees were demanded. He (Mr. Peel) highly approved of the proposition, and, if that Committee were appointed, he would not press his Bill upon the attention of the House until the result of its inquiries was known. He understood that last year it was a question with many country Gentlemen whether granting compensation for fees was desirable, very large sums having been demanded on that score. The Act of 1815, to which he had before alluded, provided compensation for the officers whose fees it took away, and subjected the county to the payment of that compensation. He confessed, however, that he did not sec the justice of rendering the county liable at all times; although, with respect to fees, he was certainly inclined to think that on the termination of all existing interests it might be advisable that they should cease. The whole subject was one of great importance, and as he understood the hon. Member for Cumberland would take an early opportunity of moving for the Committee to which he had alluded, he would merely now move for leave to bring in the Bill, but postpone any further proceeding on it until the Committee had inquired into the subject. The right hon. Gentleman accordingly moved for leave to bring in his Bill.

Sir T. Baring

expressed his satisfaction that it was intended to appoint a Committee to inquire into the amount and nature of the fees paid to Clerks of the Peace. In his opinion all officers of County Courts ought to be paid by salaries, and not by fees; and he was happy to find the right hon. Gentleman of the same opinion. He would take the opportunity of observing, that the Act which had been introduced by the right hon. Gentleman for compelling the county to pay prosecutors their expenses, though very good in principle, was not so in practice; and in some cases had increased the county rates so alarmingly, that it was a subject which ought to be considered by the proposed Committee.

Mr. Secretary Peel

said, he had abstained from giving an opinion as to whether all officers in those courts to which his Bill had reference should be paid by salary or by fees. All he asked was, whether, when an individual was discharged, he should be called on to pay for that which was not essential to his defence. He did not say that he meant to do away all fees and substitute a fixed salary. That was a point of grave importance and required much consideration.

Sir T. Baring

, in explanation, said that in many Courts the Clerk of the Peace disposed of his fees for a certain sum to a deputy, who, of course, extended their amount as much as he was able.

Mr. W. Smith

hoped, that before any compensation were granted for fees, their nature and amount would be strictly inquired into.

Sir James Graham

observed, that it was very desirable a system of uniformity should be established on the subject; and, therefore, that it required a general inquiry.

Mr. O'Connell

thought that all judicial fees ought to be abolished.

Leave was granted to bring in the Bill.