HC Deb 24 July 1845 vol 82 cc1074-7

On the Order of the day being read that the House go into Committee on this Bill,

Mr. B. Escott

said, that all that was sought by this Bill was to prevent an accused party from being put to the necessity of buying the right of pleading, and the right of trial, by the payment of exorbitant fees. He believed that the law, as it at present stood, was sufficient to protect parties accused, if they were only aware of their right. But it was the practice in many quarters to refuse the plea of not guilty to an individual charged with a misdemeanor, unless he paid the fee demanded, and to send him back again and bring him up at a subsequent Sessions, until at last the fee was extorted, or the individual was allowed to take his trial because he was utterly unable to pay. In thirty-two counties of England and Wales this practice had already been abolished, and it appeared that it was only in twenty counties that it was still permitted to exist. He wanted that to be declared by the House to be the law, and that, throughout the whole country, the same practice should be carried into operation, as was already carried out in the majority of the counties. They never could get justice done in this matter until they decided that no payment was to be demanded from any person charged with a crime, but the penalty which the court which tried him had a right to impose as a punishment for the offence, or as damages to the party aggrieved. Why, he would ask, should this Bill be opposed? It was simply a measure of common justice to a person charged with crime. Money was at the root of much of the opposition which this Bill met with in the country. Under the present system, the fees formed a convenient mode, except to the party that paid them, of paying certain officers of certain courts. He trusted that after the large majority by which the Bill passed its second reading, it would be allowed to proceed in Committee, when, if any suggestions were made which would facilitate its practical working, he would be happy to give them every consideration. The course of criminal justice should be free from so foul a stain as that which now disgraced it; and until it were free from such stain, neither would the laws nor their administrators be, as they should be, respected.

Sir J. Graham

said, that his hon. and learned Friend referred to the majority by which the second reading of the Bill was carried. He had voted with that majority; but so voted in order that the Bill might go into Committee, without pledging himself to its support in its present shape. His hon. and learned Friend went into Committee, resolved to maintain the Bill in its present form, including exemption from fees on conviction as well as on acquittal. He was opposed to all useless legislation, and his hon. and learned Friend had stated that the exaction of the fees was at present illegal. He doubted the soundness of this law, especially as regarded persons charged with misdemeanors out on bail; these were obliged to pay fees, and, so far, he was willing to amend the law. To that limited extent he was prepared to go, but not as far as the Bill went. In his view, every person convicted ought to be compelled to pay at least part of the expenses.

Lord J. Manners

was in favour of going into the Committee, in order to make the Bill as unobjectionable and useful as possible.

Mr. Palmer

expressed his concurrence with the hon. Member for Winchester, as regarded fees on acquittal, but several charges ought not to be looked upon as fees.

Dr. Bowring

agreed with the hon. Member for Winchester, inasmuch as no fees ought to be charged either upon conviction or acquittal.

Mr. Darby

was disposed to get rid of the Bill altogether, rather than include in it all the provisions it now contained. All the costs allowed by 7 and 8 George IV. were injudiciously abolished by this measure. He moved that the House should resolve itself into a Committee on this day three months.

Sir J. Graham

gave notice that he would to morrow (this day) move for leave to bring in a Bill to abolish fees on plead- ing and acquittal in criminal cases, if this measure were rejected.

Mr. B. Escott

agreed to the proposition of the Home Secretary.

Amendment withdrawn.

Order for Committee discharged. Bill withdrawn.