HC Deb 03 July 1834 vol 24 cc1097-9

On the motion of Mr. Ewart, the House went into Committee on the Prisoners' Counsel Bill.

The first and second Clauses were agreed to.

On the third Clause being put, which enacts, that in all cases where prisoners shall be unable to employ Counsel by reason of poverty, Counsel shall be assigned to them by the Court,

Lord Howick

expressed a hope, that the Clause would be withdrawn. He knew that a strong feeling was entertained against it.

Mr. Roebuck

objected to the clause being withdrawn, as it involved one of the most important principles of the Bill.

Mr. Aglionby

admitted, that the clause was suggested by the best feelings of humanity, but was afraid that to carry it into effect would be impracticable. If Counsel were assigned to every prisoner for every offence, however trivial, that came before the Court, there were so many young Barristers who would take that opportunity to make long speeches to the Court, that the sittings would extend from one quarter sessions to the other, and no business would be got through. Legislation on this subject was unnecessary, as the Judge already possessed the power of assigning Counsel to a prisoner, and he never knew of an instance of any Counsel refusing to perform the duty assigned to him by the Judge. The present clause was therefore superfluous, and he hoped the hon. Member would consent to withdraw it.

Mr. O'Connell

opposed the clause, because he was unwiling to increase the patronage of the Bench, over that possessed by the Bar. He knew in theory this clause diminished the patronage of the Judge, but it did not in practice. The Judge would still have the power to appoint the Counsel, and he would tell the House how that power had been exercised in Ireland. He had known a Judge go the same circuit twelve successive assizes, merely because he had sons or brothers, or nephews, who practised on that circuit. He did not allude to a Judge whose conduct had come under the consideration of that House. The clause would increase this evil, and therefore he should vote against it.

Mr. Hardy

was of opinion the clause as it stood would be much better out of the Bill.

Mr. Roebuck

said, the injustice that would result from withdrawing the clause was this—that the man who had a guinea in his pocket would be able to avail himself of the benefit of Counsel, while the poor man without a farthing in the world might be condemned, from his inability to procure Counsel.

The Committee divided on the Clause. Ayes 33; Noes 25—Majority, 8.

The Clause was agreed to, as was Clause 4.

Mr. O'Dwyer

said, it was now the proper time to propose the insertion of the clause of which he had given notice—"That from and after the passing of this Act, every prisoner to be tried shall be entitled to a fair copy of the depositions sworn against him on which the indictment has been grounded, on payment of a fee to the Clerk of the Peace of the district in which the trial may take place of 6d. a-folio."

Mr. Benett

objected to the clause. depositions were taken in the presence of the prisoner by the present law, and therefore such a provision was unnecessary.

Mr. O'Connell

was glad to hear that such was the case in England. He could assure the House the practice was diametrically opposite in Ireland, for there the prisoner knew nothing of the charge to be brought against him but the short abstract contained in the commitment, and it not unfrequently happened, that depositions taken on a subsequent charge were exhibited against him.

Mr. O'Dwyer

withdrew the Clause.

The House resumed.