HC Deb 07 March 1844 vol 73 cc603-6
Mr. Pakington

rose to bring forward the Motion on the periods for holding Quarter Sessions in cities and boroughs, of which he had given notice. There were two clauses in the Municipal Reform Act to which he was desirous of calling the attention of the House. The 105th and the 106th sections of that Act gave to the Recorders of boroughs and others power to cause the Sessions to be adjourned without restriction. The circumstance to which he wished to call the attention of the House was the power of adjournment exercised by Recorders. He felt it his duty to rest his Motion on the manner in which that power had been exercised by the Gentleman who held the situation of Recorder for the city of Worcester. He felt satisfaction in the knowledge that the Recorder for Worcester had placed his case in the hands of the hon. Gentleman opposite. He would state to that hon. Gentleman that he had no wish to make a charge against the Recorder for Worcester, but he was bound to state what was necessary for the support of his case. That learned Gentleman had exercised the power he possessed of adjourning the Quarter Sessions without consideration or reflection. He said so, though he had understood in other respects that that Gentleman had discharged his duties as Recorder with ability and discretion. The first case of adjournment to which he would allude occurred at the Easter Sessions of 1838. That Sessions had been fixed for the 2nd of April; the usual notices were given, and these were not in any manner reversed. That continued till the last day, and on that day, when the Jury were assembled and prepared to proceed to business, the Mayor announced that it was not the Recorder's intention to hold the Sessions on that day. There were two prisoners in gaol on the 2nd of April whose trial was thus postponed till the 14th of May, and they were then acquitted. If they had been tried on the 2nd of April, their punishment would not have exceeded six weeks. He acquitted the Recorder of any bad intention, but he could not conceive greater injustice. The next case to which he would refer was with regard to the Sessions of Midsummer, 1842. The 27th of May was the day appointed for holding the Sessions, but on that day the Court was informed that the Recorder could not attend until the 27th of June. There were then eight prisoners in gaol, of whom two were subsequently acquitted, and three condemned to something like a month's imprisonment. The third case occurred last Michaelmas, when the Sessions were fixed for the 16th of October; and, when all the parties who had anything to do at them were prepared, it was found that the Recorder could not attend, and the Sessions were adjourned to the 31st of that month. This was an inconvenience to which the suitors in that Court ought not to be subjected. He knew it was said, that the learned Recorder had other public duties to attend to at the Sudbury Commission, but he would contend that his duties as a Judge administering the law were paramount to all others, and should have precedence. The hon. Member mentioned two other cases in which adjournments took place, but they were not distinctly heard in the gallery; but such cases of adjournments to suit the convenience of Recorders were not, he said, confined to Wor- cester. There were many other towns and boroughs in which they were not of unfrequent occurrence, and it was on that ground that he considered some general Measure necessary on the subject, for he thought some restriction should be placed on this arbitrary and irresponsible power, It was of serious consequence that poor persons who had business at these Sessions should not be subjected to unnecessary, and therefore arbitrary delays, and this applied with still greater force to persons brought before them for trial. The hon. Member concluded by moving for "leave to bring in a Bill to regulate the periods for holding Quarter Sessions in cities and boroughs."

Mr. Hawes

should feel it his duty to oppose the Bill, as it was intended as a general measure applying to all cities arid boroughs. With respect to the charges brought against his learned Friend, the Recorder of Worcester, he would say, that in the course of seven years, up to 1844, there had been only three adjournments. The first was occasioned by the fact, that the appointment of the learned Gentleman had not been completed on the day fixed for holding the Sessions, so that it was impossible he could hold them on that day. On the second occasion there was only one prisoner to try, and he was out on bail, so that he felt justified in adjourning the Court. On the third occasion he was delayed by the fact that the Sudbury Commission, on which he was engaged, had occupied a longer time than was expected. If the hon. Member (Mr. Pakington) would bind down Recorders to hold their Sessions on fixed days, he must be content to have one of two alternatives—he must either have legal advice at those Sessions of inferior, character, or he must pay high salaries to men of superior abilities, to make it worth their while to attend on any fixed days. Under such circumstances, he thought it would be much the better course to leave the appointment of the time for Sessions in towns to the Recorders. He did not think the case stated by the hon. Member sufficient to justify his Motion for so sweeping a Measure as that with which he had concluded.

Sir J. Graham

admitted, that under the Municipal Act the power of adjourning Sessions was quite unlimited, and that the power of appointing Sessions was also left unrestricted, and it was desirable to limit those powers to a considerable ex- tent. He was most anxious that the administration of criminal justice should be prompt and at stated periods; still it was of primary importance that this jurisprudence should be exercised by competent Judges before an independent Bar. Reserving himself on questions of detail, he was quite prepared to assent to the introduction of the Bill.—Leave given.