HC Deb 25 March 1834 vol 22 cc616-23
Sir Samuel Whalley

begged to call the attention of the House to a Petition from the vestry of St. Pancras, remonstrating against giving a large salary to the holder of what had been hitherto an honorary office. The county-rates of Middlesex had, in the course of the last few years increased from 35,000l. to 75,000l. The county was also burthened with a debt of a quarter of a million; and, therefore, seeing the large increase of the county-rates, the Petitioners had the very laudable desire to economise the expenditure of that fund, and they were opposed to so large a salary. The Bill had been approved of by a majority of six Magistrates, only seventeen having voted for it, and eleven against it. Six Magistrates, from motives of delicacy towards the hon. and learned Chairman, declined to vote at all, and, therefore, he (Sir Samuel Whalley) was justified in inferring, that had they voted, it would have been against the Bill, and it would then have been left solely to the vote of the hon. and learned Chairman in support of his own salary. The office of Chairman to the Middlesex sessions was formerly an honorary one. No gentleman who had hitherto held that office had required any emolument for discharging those duties which all were desirous to fill. The large amount of salary proposed was objected to; because the duty which devolved upon the Chairman of the Middlesex Magistrates compared to the duties performed by the Magistrates of the police offices, was trifling, and the latter received only 800l. per annum, while it was proposed to give the gentleman to whom the petition referred 1,200l. He hoped, that the House would not sanction such a monstrous proposition, the sole reason assigned for which was, that the duty devolving upon the Chairman of the Middlesex sessions had very greatly increased of late years. But the House should be aware that that increase had been the act of the Magistrates themselves, and would continue only a short time, as an arrangement was in contemplation by which those duties would be considerably lessened, and the Chairman of the Middlesex sessions would have no greater duty to perform than the Chairman of the Quarter Sessions of any other county. When no salary was attached to the office of Chairman to any other county, he thought no distinction should be made in the case of the county of Middlesex. If the Chairman were to receive a salary, that salary ought to come out of the Consolidated Fund, instead of the county-rates. He had the pleasure of seeing many hon. Members of that House who discharged the very important duties of Magistrates in their respective counties, and he would leave the matter in their hands. He moved, that the petition do lie on the Table.

Mr. Byng

said, he applied for the introduction of this Bill, not that he thought it might be useful for the county of Middlesex to have a Chairman with a salary, but because he found the Magistrates were divided into four different parties as to who should be the fittest person to fill the office.

Mr. Hughes Hughes

said, that as he had appeared to be the party introducing this Bill, whereas he was known uniformly to have opposed its introduction at the meetings of the magistracy, he was anxious to state, that it was matter of accident, and owing to his having, in the absence, and at the request of the hon. member for Middlesex, brought up the report of the Committee to which the Petition for the Bill was referred. He held himself, nevertheless, at full liberty to oppose the Bill in its future stages.

Mr. Rotch

said, this Petition was merely a Petition against giving the present Chairman of the Middlesex Sessions 1,200l. a-year, and as far as that went, and the observations upon that point, he should have been willing to let them pass sub silentio. But when he found the hon. Member for Mary-le-bone making observations which were entirely at variance with facts, he was bound to make some reply to them. The Bill before the House was not a Bill to give the Chairman of the Middlesex Sessions any salary at all, but merely to enable the Magistrates to do so at any future time if they thought proper. He was sorry to say many similar statements had been propagated to deceive the people of Mary-le-bone. The hon. Gentleman conceived the office of Chairman of the Sessions to be so honourable, and requiring so little attention and labour, that he was really quite astonished, that after it had been held by gentlemen of independent fortune, who performed the duties gratuitously, any one should come forward and claim a salary. Why, up to the very period when he (Mr. Rotch) was elected Chairman, a salary was paid Mr. Const of 750l. a-year, and that gentleman only tried 200 cases in a year. What was the difference? He (Mr. Rotch) had tried no less than 1,570 cases, disposed of 100 appeals, and sat 125 days in court, besides county days. If hon. Members would look at the return laid before the House, they would find that the Manchester Sessions occupied only fifty-seven days, and the Surrey Sessions but fifty-five days, and at Manchester there were no appeals heard. There were gentlemen who, for the purpose of deceiving others, or through ignorance, affirmed that the business was multiplied for the express purpose of claiming a salary. The fact was, all the orders for the new arrangement were passed before the death of Mr. Marriott, who immediately preceded him; for the moment the office was given up by Mr. Const, it was discovered that twice as much was paid for trying prisoners at the Old Bailey as at Clerkenwell, and an order was issued by the Secretary of State for an alteration. Now, what was the result, of which this parish complained? There had been an actual saving of 2,116l. to the county in the space of nine months; and if all the cases had been tried at Clerkenwell, which had been ordered, he did not hesitate to say, that there would have been a saving of 4,000l. He could net then conceive what reason the parish of Mary-le-bone had to complain. It had been said, that the Middlesex Sessions house was a rendezvous for Magistrates; but he assured the House he had sat there the whole day with only one Magistrate at his elbow. The hon. Member had stated, that the vote in favour of the Bill was carried by a majority of six Magistrates only, and that he knew six others who were not present, but who would have voted against it. He came into the county of Middlesex an utter stranger, and did not know three Magis- trates in the commission of the peace, and the general body only knew him as Chairman of the Sessions, so that personal favour was quite out of the question, and was it to be supposed that at meetings where thousands of the public money were voted away, there would be anything like a trifling attendance? On the contrary, there were generally from thirty to forty Magistrates present. It was his (Mr. Rotch's) opinion, that the Bill should not be pressed upon the House. He was asked for his vote, and gave one to the effect, that as his Majesty's Government had been preparing some measure, the Bill should not be urged before the House. A majority was against that opinion, however, and it was accordingly brought forward. As regarded his exertions in his situation of Chairman, he consulted nothing but the good of the county—he sacrificed his profession, but he could not be expected to do so without remuneration. During the last twelve months he had saved that county such a sum as 5,731l. The county-rates were lightened, and were more easily collected. He could tell the inhabitants of St. Pancras, and Mary-le-bone, that the courts of the City of London rendered their taxes heavy. Let the expenses be considered in both courts in particular, the fees of Mr. Pope, and all the fees that were levied at the Old Bailey. He would state one example. One particular fee was 3l. 5s. at the Old Bailey, while the same fee was 1l. 12s. in Middlesex. The Chairman of Middlesex should in his opinion, be remunerated for his time and trouble.

Colonel Wood

did not think, that the Chairman of the Middlesex Sessions was entitled to a salary; at least if a salary were given, let it be given by Government, and let Government have the nomination also of that Chairman. There was a great number of police Magistrates who could take the Chair, who already received payment from the public, and could do the duty. The number of cases was greatly augmented at the Middlesex Sessions. In 1832, there were but 213 cases, and in 1833, there were 1,281. Above 1,000 cases were taken from the Old Bailey, where there was a Judge to try them. There was no reason for sending such an additional number of cases to the Sessions from the Old Bailey, but that they could be tried at less expense at the former than at the latter.

Colonel Evans

should feel it his duty to give the Bill all the opposition in his power. He, for one, did not complain that the Magistrates did not try enough of cases, but that they tried too many. Capital punishments were now very much diminished, and the maximum of punishment most generally awarded in the superior Criminal Courts was fourteen years' transportation. Now the hon. Gentleman could not deny that that punishment had been frequently given at Clerkenwell. The hon. and learned Gentleman took great credit to himself for the 1,500 trials which had taken place under his direction during the last year; but he would beg to ask him, did he include in that number the 100 persons who were illegally convicted at what was called the "Mistake Sessions." Ten of those persons were even now in prison, suffering, as he would fearlessly call it, false imprisonment. He was sorry he did not see the Under-Secretary for the Home Department in his place, for it was absolutely necessary that those persons should be tried anew or discharged. One case that exemplified the absurdity of the present plan more than enough was that of a person named Palmer, who was tried for receiving stolen goods, well knowing them to have been stolen. He was convicted, and sentenced to fourteen years' transportation. The principal concerned in the transaction was tried before a Judge of the land, and it was there decided that he was "not guilty;" so that there was the strange anomaly of the receiver of the goods found guilty at the Sessions, while it was decided, in a Superior Court, that the principal was not guilty, and, of course, that the goods had not been stolen. Those were strong facts against the Bill, and were also strong in favour of the whole business being taken before the regular tribunals. The hon. Gentleman had candidly stated, that his predecessor, who had filled the chair with much ability, and was greatly respected, had a salary of 750l. a-year, but he did not give any reason why that salary should be raised to 1,200l. He was of opinion, that the Government ought to have the appointment of the Chairman, and also be saddled with the paying of his salary.

Mr. Estcourt

said, that the House ought to be on its guard, and not be led away by the fact of that being a private Bill. He always understood, that the duties of the Magistracy were performed gratuitously, and that with great advantage to the country. Though that was the first time the question had been broached in that House, he had seen many publications upon the subject of paying a salary to the Chairman of these Sessions, who was to be elected by his brother Magistrates. But in his opinion that would be the worst plan the House could adopt, for even now they did not meet to elect the Chairman without feelings of party which would be greatly strengthened if a salary were attached to the office. In point of principle the objected to it, as he considered it would he attended with great danger if established. The petitioners should be heard by Counsel at the Bar against the Bill, for the case was one of very great importance. There was now an inquiry going on into the County-rates generally, and, in the very teeth of that, let them not add to the burthens of one county such a large sum, without giving the parties interested an opportunity of being heard against it.

Mr. Cobbett

expressed his astonishment that any Gentleman would propose that the whole country should be taxed to pay a Magistrate for the county of Middlesex. What right had the county of Wilts or the county of Dorset to pay the salary of a Middlesex Magistrate? He was against the payment of even police Magistrates. The county of Middlesex drew towards it all the wealth of every other country, and then taxed every other county to keep it in a state of peace. He should certainly give his opposition to the Bill.

Mr. Wilks

said, that the sentiments contained in the petition were the sentiments of the county generally. The hon. member of Oldham stated, that Middlesex collected all the wealth of the country, but it should be recollected also what a vast quantity of pauperism and crime resorted to it. The operation of the County-rates in that county was most ruinous; in Bethnal-green, and many other districts, the rates could not be collected, notwithstanding all the efforts that were made. It would excite no surprise when it was proposed to add 1,200l. a-year to that which was already so overwhelming, that the people should interpose, and resist a measure like that.

Mr. O'Connell

, as belonging to the profession of the law said, there was no principle more clear than this, viz., that no Magistrate should be paid a salary by those under whose control he was; the use of a Barrister as Chairman was, that this opinion and assistance might be taken and respected, but that respect would be much lessened if he was subject to the control of his bro- ther Magistrates. If the proposition to elect a Chairmen every six months were adopted, it might happen that, from partizanship, or any other motive, they would refuse to re-elect the former Chairman. He was of opinion, that the judicial system ought to be supported by Government, and that Government should be mode responsible for the proper administration of justice. He hoped this discussion would have another tendency—namely, that it would lead to the appointment of Courts of Local Jurisdiction, and thereby afford to the public immediate, summary, and cheap justice. He did not wish for such a scheme as that which was proposed last year by the Lord Chancellor, because it was composed of such complicated machinery that it could not work, and it would require half a century before an opinion could be formed upon the operation of its details. He would advise a return to the common-law practice of County Courts, which should be perpetually sitting tool disposing of business. He hoped the Government would take up the system of local jurisdiction, and put down the system by which the local Magistrates had the power to appoint a Chairman, and withdrawing that appointment when they thought proper. He hoped that the Bill would be withdrawn. He was sorry, that the hon. Member (Mr. Rotch) had thought it necessary to advocate the Bill at all, as it went to give himself a salary.

Mr. Rotch

wished to reply to some observations which had fallen from the hon. and gallant member for Westminster (Colonel Evans). That hon. and gallant Member had asked if he (Mr. Rotch) hall included in his 1,500 cases the 100 and odd that had been illegally tried. In reply, he had to state, that he included only thirty-six in that number—those being the only ones tried by him, and only twenty-five of them were left in custody after their illegal trial. He was left solely to his own discretion respecting them, and he discharged them. With the other eleven that had been left session after session, he had nothing whatever to do after the sentence of transportation, for they were handed over to the Secretary of State. As to the trials, they were illegal from the adoption of a practice which he tried to do away with, but was out-voted, and, therefore, he entirely wiped his hands of them. That practice was introduced by his predecessor, Mr. Const, and he had nothing to do with it. With regard to the case of Palmer, he knew that a great deal of ridicule had been heaped upon him respecting it. He was on that occasion assisted by a learned Serjeant, who had often been and was now sitting on the Circuit for one of the Judges of the land, and trying cases of the greatest importance. He (Mr. Rotch) had been of opinion that no case was made out against Palmer, but that learned Serjeant was of a contrary opinion, and won him over to that opinion.

Mr. Hughes Hughes

begged to assure the House that, although he had introduced the Bill by accident, he would not move its Second Reading by accident.

The Petition to lie on the Table.

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