HC Deb 28 July 1836 vol 35 cc612-3
Mr. Ewart

brought up the Report of the Select Committee, to whom had been referred the drawing up the reasons for dissenting to the Lords' amendments, by which the last word was not given to the prisoner's counsel.

The Report having been read at the Table,

Sir Eardley Wilmot

said, he perfectly agreed to the Report which had just been presented by the hon. Member for Liverpool, which advocated the principle that the prisoner should always have the last word; but he would beg leave to submit to the House, whether or not the Lords' amendment after all, practically, would not have the same effect. The practice of the bar was (and there were those in the House who could contradict him if he were in error) never to make a speech in reply in the case of prosecutions. In ninety-five cases out of 100 the prisoner had the last word, and, with respect to the other five, it was competent to the Judge to allow counsel for the prisoner to reply. It did appear to him, that in ninety-five cases out of 100 the evidence given on the part of the defence was simply and only as to character.

The Attorney-General

begged to state that he regretted exceedingly there should exist any difference of opinion on this important measure. He most sincerely deprecated this Bill being lost by any collision with the House of Lords. The question at issue was, whether the prisoner should have the last word. Now why should they endanger the Bill? In ninety-nine cases out of 100 the prisoner would still continue to have the last word if the Bill were altered in the way proposed by the Lords; because, except the witnesses to character, there was scarcely ever a witness called for the prisoner; but, though it was not the law of the land, still a discretion was vested in the Judge. The Judge had the power of saying whether the prisoner should have the last word, therefore this was a matter of practice only. At present no prisoner could have a counsel in cases of misdemeanour or felony to open his case for him. But what would be the consequences of throwing out this Bill (for such must be the result of a difference with the House of Lords)? Why that for one year at least, all prisoners would be deprived of the great advantage of having a counsel; an advantage which this Bill secured to them. If a man accused of felony were imbecile, or dumb, under the existing law, he would not have a counsel. Therefore the House would do well to be more considerate, and to reflect how much they would gain by the adoption of the Bill in its present shape; and how much they would risk by dissenting from the amendment of the Lords. He entreated the House to acquiesce in the amendments of the Lords, though he did not approve of them.

Mr. Ewart

said, if they adopted the amendment of the Lords, the prosecutor's counsel would have two speeches to one on the part of the prisoner. They offered a compromise to the House of Lords—they had raised several objections; let them go to a conference with the Lords, and let that House bear the onus of rejecting the proposed amendment upon their amendment.

Report to lie on the Table.