HC Deb 25 July 1844 vol 76 cc1444-52

On the question that the Speaker do leave the Chair, for the House to go into a Committee on the Criminal Justice (Middlesex) Bill,

Mr. Mackinnon

said, that as a magistrate of Middlesex, he wished to say a few words on the Bill before the Speaker left the Chair. The principle of the Bill was not known in the administration of justice among the magistrates of England. It was to establish a court in which there was to be a chairman with a salary appointed by the Secretary of State for the Home Department. It was on account of the countenance which it gave to the principle of centralization that he felt an objection to the Bill. It enabled, he repeated, the Secretary of State for the Home Department not only to appoint a chairman, who had hitherto been appointed by the magistrates of Middlesex at large, but to award to that chairman a large pecuniary salary. The magistrates of Middlesex were about 200 in number. At a meeting of those magistrates the subject of this measure had been discussed; thirty-two had voted for it, and thirteen against it; but, how came those thirty-two magistrates to vote in favour of this measure? Because they were friends — boon companions of the chairman of the Middlesex Sessions It was not very likely that Gentlemen who were in constant communication with an individual, who sat with him at dinner every day, and had frequent intercourse with him, would oppose a measure which would give to that individual 1,000l. or 1,200l. a year. The right hon. Gentleman opposite wished to introduce a new system of prison discipline; and a sort of contract had been proposed, that if the Middlesex magistrates would devote so many thousand pounds to the purchase of a building to carry out that system, the Government would pay the Chairman of the Sesions from 800l. to 1,200l. a-year. A letter had been shown to him, from which it appeared that there was an understanding of this nature between the Government and the magistrates. He objected to the appointment of the Chairman being vested in the Crown; for the principle, if once adopted, might be carried out most extensively. Why, he would ask, did not the right hon. Baronet propose the appointment of another Judge in the Central Criminal Court? What would be the effect of this Bill? It would transfer the jurisdiction from the Westminster magistrates to the Justices at the Clerkenwell Sessions. He asked the House to consider what inconvenience would be occasioned by requiring prosecutors and witnesses to go from Westminster to Clerkenwell. Why did not the right hon. Gentleman propose the appointment of an additional judge at the Central Criminal Court, to whom this salary should be given. If the right hon. Baronet wished to oblige the Chairman of the Middlesex Sessions, he might give the appointment to that Gentleman, who was a barrister of long standing. Another objection he entertained to this Bill was, that it would exonerate the City of London from an enormous expense, which would be thrown upon the county of Middlesex. But he wished to point out another evil which would result from this Bill. If a Chairman was appointed by the Government he would be totally independent of the magistrates. Six or eight magistrates might sit with him, but the Chairman possessed only one vote. In consequence of his not being nominated by his brother magistrates they possessed no influence over him; he was as careless of their opinions as they were of his. The Chairman might, on a case before the Court, turn round and say to the magistrates near him, "I think the prisoner ought to have seven years' transportation." On the other hand, they might say, "No; we think six months' imprisonment would be a very adequate punishment." Let the House reflect upon the position in which the chairman—the judge—would, under such circumstances, be placed. If the Chairman was to be the judge, he ought to possess the power of passing sentence; but did he possess it? No; this power fisted with the magistrates sitting with him—a fluctuating body—six or eight of whom might come into court, while the same number might go out during the day, and the Chairman might find himself under the necessity of passing a sentence totally repugnant to his own feelings. On these grounds he thought it right to state his objections to the Bill.

Mr. W. Williams

said, this Bill, which was one of great importance, had been introduced at a late period of the Session, without a single word of explanation. It appeared to him that Bill was not required by any parties connected either with the county of Middlesex or the City of London. He objected to the measure, in the first place, because it entailed a serious charge upon the public. He wished to know why the Chairman of the Middlesex Quarter Sessions should have a salary paid out of the public taxes any more than the Chairman of any other Sessions. If it was necessary that functionary should have a salary at all, why not pay him out of the county rates, rather than out of taxes levied from the people generally? It was proposed by this Bill, without the least necessity for such a measure being shown, to abolish the Quarter Sessions for the City of Westminster. Those Sessions had hitherto been held in the centre of the City of Westminster, but it was now proposed to transfer the business to Clerkenwell, and that change would entail the utmost inconvenience upon the people of Westminster. But one great objection to this measure arose from the peculiar relations subsisting between the county of Middlesex and the City of London. By an ancient arrangement, the City of London, for certain considerations, had undertaken to pay the cost of all prisoners committed to the prison of Newgate before trial. Why, then, should the county of Middlesex have entailed upon it the additional expense of keeping such prisoners? Had there ever been any difficulty in conducting the proceedings at the Central Criminal Court? By the 4th and 5th William IV., that court might hold its Sessions at least twelve times a-year. Those Sessions might be held every fortnight, if it was so ordered by the Queen in Council, or they might be made perpetual; and the authorities of the City of London had always shown a willingness that a gaol delivery should take place whenever circumstances rendered such a measure necessary. But would the judge to be appointed under this Bill possess an additional power of trying prisoners? No: he would have no power which he did not already possess as Chairman of the Court of Quarter Sessions. As he understood the Bill, the paid judge to be appointed under it would have to perform precisely the same duties which were now performed by the Chairman of the Court of Quarter Sessions. But he believed that this measure was proposed in connexion with a costly experiment, now in course of trial by the right hon. Home Secretary; and he held in his hand a correspondence that had taken place between the corporation of London, the magistrates of Middlesex, and the department of the right hon. Baronet, by which it was distinctly made a condition that the magistrates, in order to procure for a gentleman the appointment of judge with a salary, should consent to the entire alteration of the present system. When this proposal was made, the authorities of London made an offer to Sir J. Graham to enlarge their prisons. They asked, indeed, for permission to purchase the site of the old Fleet Prison, in order to carry out this object. The corporation were referred by Sir J. Graham to Major Jebb; and they were informed, that unless they were prepared to purchase ground to the extent of five acres they could not carry out the new system. He could not comprehend how such an extent of ground could be required for this purpose. The right hon. Home Secretary said, that this was necessary in order to carry out the separate system; but it appeared from the correspondence between the right hon. Gentleman and the Middlesex magistrates, that the object was to carry out the solitary system as applicable to prisoners before trial. He hoped, however, that the magistrates would never sanction such a course. He was quite aware that the opposition offered to this Bill by the hon. Member for Lymington (Mr. Mackinnon) and himself would be fruitless, unless it could be shown that the City of London had refused to grant greater facilities for the trial of criminals than were now afforded, this Bill was not justifiable.

Mr. Wakley

said, no hon. Member of that House had more seriously castigated the Corporation of the City of London than the hon. Gentleman near him (Mr. W. Williams), and that hon. Member was well aware that the Grand Jury had made representations to the Corporation, complaining of the manner in which business was transacted in the Central Criminal Court, and of the accommodation afforded to prisoners in Newgate. His hon. Friend must know, that in the prison of Newgate, there was no classification; that the prisoners were huddled together in the most shameful manner; that they were crowded to such an extent that there were not beds for them to lie upon. Then what was the case with respect to the Westminster Bridewell? That immense gaol was nearly empty, and why? Because the magistrates for the City of Westminster were the only magistrates who had the power of committing to that gaol. But in the House of Correction there were sometimes 1,200 prisoners; and here there were no chance of classification. It appeared that in one year twelve warders were dismissed, ninety-three warders were punished, and 1,660 prisoners were punished for breaches of discipline resulting from the necessarily defective arrangements of the gaol, and the enormous number of prisoners confined there. He would put it to the House whether such a state of things ought to exist? Then, as to the New Prison—it scarcely afforded accommodation for one-half of the persons committed for trial. In that gaol, also, there was no classification; there was no arrangement of prisoners that could be at all satisfactory. He had no doubt it was well known to many hon. Members of that House that one of the modes of seporation practised in some prisons was to draw chalk lines upon the floors, and to forbid the prisoners to overstep them. Ought this state of things, he would ask, to continue? It appears, that at the Central Criminal Court, the cost of each trial was 2l. 10s., while at the Quarter Sessions the cost was only 20s.; so that by trials at the Quarter Sessions three-fifths of the expenses were saved. During the last year there were upwards of 1,000 committals to Newgate for thefts varying in amount from 2s. to 20s.; and in each of those cases the cost of prosecution was 2l. 10s. Some objection had been made to the payment of the Chairman of Quarter Sessions; but was it right, he would ask, that they should have an incompetent officer presiding in such a Court, and could they expect the services of a competent officer without payment? At the Easter Sessions, he believed the number of appeals at the Middlesex Sessions was ninety-three; and the last Sessions the number was eighty-seven, and many of them involved nice points of law. On one occasion it happened the Chairman could not attend, and he (Mr. Wakley) only wondered that the Chairman had attended half so often as he had, considering he was not paid. Well, what was to be done? The magistrates were obliged to go on, and they attempted to do so, but they got into a a horrid mess. They found it was impossible to proceed, and they postponed all the other appeals. He was informed also that there were about thirty traverse cases every Sessions. It was to be borne in mind that many of the appeals were from the decisions of police magistrates who were barristers; and were their decisions to be reviewed by persons who were almost wholly unacquainted with the law? The hon. and learned Member for Rochester (Mr. Bodkin) had authorised him to state that he would have given this Bill his most cordial and hearty support if he had been able to remain in town until the present time. He must add, that he had heard what were called the "evening sittings" of the Central Criminal Court spoken of as the greatest abomination in the neighbourhood in which it was held; and it was stated that the most abominable practices took place in the immediate vicinity of the Court during its sitting. He thanked the Government for introducing this Bill, and would give it his cordial support.

Sir J. Graham

said, he considered this subject as so important that he should be very sorry if this Bill did not become law during the present Session. He thought he could show a good reason why the Chairman should be paid a salary out of the public purse, but that was matter of detail to be considered in Committee. The hon. Member for Lymington had alluded to something like a contract between the Government and the Middlesex Magistrates as to this Bill, and said that if the Bill passed, a particular individual would be appointed Chairman. He could only say that he had entirely kept aloof from any such contract. The necessity for this Bill had been long admitted, and the dispute for many years had been who should have the right of appointment. The Middlesex Magistrates contended that the Crown should pay this officer, but that the right of nomination should be with them. The late Government, did not object to pay the salary out of the public purse, but contended that the Government being responsible to the public should have the appointment. He did not wish to enter into topics that had been already discussed; but he might say that he had the highest possible respect for the unpaid magistracy of this country, and thought they had rendered most valuable services to the public; but he thought the hon. Member for Lymington—he must excuse him for saying so—had not served their cause or raised them in public estimation either by his statements or by his example. The hon. Gentleman said he had a strong opinion against the measure; but on account of his regard for a certain individual, he would vote for it. The hon. Member for Finsbury has referred to the crowded state of Newgate gaol, and said it was not creditable to the City of London. This measure would afford an easy and cheap remedy for the evil, by the more speedy administration of justice. At present the Magistrates had power to commit to the Central Criminal Court or the Middlesex Quartet Sessions, but sent the prisoners generally—not, he thought, improperly—to the Central Criminal Court, on account of the state of the Middlesex gaol, and hence the crowded state of Newgate. That was a large gaol, but was greatly crowded. The Westminster gaol was a larger one, and had but few prisoners in it, whilst, the Middlesex gaol was very small. But this measure remedied these evils; it opened the Westminster gaol to the relief of Newgate. It gave the Middlesex Magistrates no new power, but enabled them to exercise their discretion in a new mode, so that in cases not of a heinous character they could commit, to the Quarter Sessions, to be presided over by a barrister of no less than fifteen years standing, and as there was to be a gaol delivery every fortnight, there would be a saving to the county-rates. In every respect it was an improved arrangement, to which no objection could be taken but the bugbear of that word "centralization." He had heard no other argument against it. He quite agreed with the hon. Member for Finsbury that the time had arrived when the evening sittings of the Central Criminal Court should be at an end. Whether they considered the position of the judge, jury, counsel, witnesses, those sittings were anything but conducive to the proper administration of justice. By lessening the amount of business at that Court the necessity for those evening sittings would be obviated. The hon. Member for Lymington had said that he (Sir J. Graham) had entered into a contract with the Magistrates on the subject of this Bill. Now, he must read to the House a letter which was sent by Mr. Phillips to Mr. Pownall on the 29th of June last, which would show that there was nothing of the kind. The letter was dated—

"Whitehall, 29th June.

"Sir—I am directed by Secretary Sir James Graham to acknowledge the receipt of your letter of the 22nd inst., and agreeably to your request, to transmit to you the enclosed draught of a Bill for the better Administration of Criminal Justice in Middlesex.

"In reply to your question, whether the Home Office will consider the alterations of the County Prisons on the principle of the plans of the Prison Inspectors, as indispensable to the introduction to Parliament of the proposed Bill, I am to inform you, Sir James Graham is of opinion that the partial alterations which might be made in the existing prisons would not effect the object, and that it can be obtained by no means short of the erection of a prison on the principles of construction recommended by the Inspectors.

"The building of such a prison would, however, by no means bind the Magistrates to any particular plan of separation, nor compel them to give their sanction to any arrangements incompatible with the rights, and unsuited to the circumstances, of the unconvicted. Should this desirable measure be carried into effect, it would be open to the Magistrates to define the nature of the discipline which they may consider most appropriate, in order that the prisoner before trial may be subjected to no privation or restraint not indispensable to his safe custody, the maintenance of order and his protection from vicious association. And having done so, they will submit, in the ordinary course of law, the approval of the Secretary of State, the rules which they may deem best adapted to the government of the gaol.

"Sir James Graham is also of opinion that there should be a definite understanding between the Secretary of State and the Magistrates, that effective arrangements should be made for the proper separation of prisoners before trial, previous to the introduction of the proposed Bill.

"I have the honour to be, Sir,

"Your Obedient Servant,


That letter being laid before the Magistrates, two of them only voted against giving their sanction to the arrangements contained in this Bill. He would not detain the House any longer, but really hoped they might be permitted to go into Committee and then discuss the details of the Bill.

House in Committee.

On Clause 7 being proposed, which provided for the payment of the salary of the Chairman.

Mr. Brotherton

moved to leave out the words "out of the Consolidated Fund of Great Britain and Ireland," for the purpose of introducing the words "the county rate."

Sir James Graham

said, if the Motion of the hon. Gentleman were agreed to it would defeat the whole Bill.

Mr. Brotherton

said he should be sorry to defeat the Bill, but he must persit in his Motion.

The Committee divided on the question that the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Clause:—Ayes 43; Noes 8: Majority 35.

List of the AYES.
Acland, Sir T. D. Knatchbull, rt. hn. Sir E.
Ainsworth, P. Lincoln, Earl of
Archdall, Capt. M. Martin, C. W.
Baring, hon. W. B. Masterman, J.
Blackburne, J. I. Nicholl, rt. hn. J.
Bouverie, hn. E. P. Packe, C. W.
Bruges, W. H. L. Palmer, G.
Clerk, Sir G. Peel, rt. hn. Sir R.
Cockburn, rt. hn. Sir G. Pringle, A.
Cripps, W. Rendlesham, Lord
Darby, G. Rushbrooke, Col.
Denison, E. B. Sibthorp, Col.
Escott, B. Smith, rt. hon. T. B. C.
Fremantle, rt. hn. Sir T. Somerset, Lord G.
Fuller, A. E. Spooner, R.
Gaskell, J. Milnes Sutton, hon. H. M.
Gladstone, rt. hn. W. E. Thesiger, Sir F.
Goulburne, rt. hn. H. Trench, Sir W. F.
Graham, rt. hn. Sir J. Wakley, T.
Hamilton, C. J. B. Yorke, H. R.
Hawes, B. TELLERS.
Herbert, hon. S. Young, J.
Jermyn, Earl Lennox, Lord A.
List of the NOES.
Aldam, W. Morris, D.
Collett, J. Wawn, J. T.
Duncan, G.
Greenaway, C. TELLERS
Henley, J. W. Brotherton, T.
Mitcalfe, H. Williams, W.

Clause agreed to.

House resumed. The Report to be received.

House adjourned at a quarter past twelve.