HC Deb 12 March 1851 vol 114 cc1293-7

Order for Second Reading read.


said, he thought that local and county expenditure should be considered more comprehensively than it had hitherto been. The late Sir Robert Peel had introduced a proposition for saddling the Consolidated Fund with all the expenses of prosecutions. He (Lord Ebrington) would suggest that they should recast a little the allowances made out of the Consolidated Fund, in order in some measure to alleviate the pressure of county taxation, for since the magistrates had obtained local control in regard to prosecutions the expenses had greatly increased. There ought to be a check put upon the expenditure, and this he (Lord Ebrington) thought could be done by leaving a portion of the expenses to be borne by the counties, the Treasury affording relief on some other points to the county funds. If the late Sir Robert Peel, who knew little, if anything, of county business, had allowed a portion of the money to the relief of other kinds of local taxation, instead of devoting it all to the expenses incurred in the prosecution of prisoners, he would not only have equally relieved the county funds, but would have effected the desirable object of keeping down the expense of prosecutions. He thought this question should be referred to the same Committee which had had the county rates under consideration, so that the subject of local taxation in this respect might be more comprehensively treated.


said, that in the county he represented there had been every attempt to economise the public money, the same as if the expenses of prosecutions had been still a charge on the county. At the same time, it could not be denied that the expenses of prosecutions at quarter-sessions were much less than those at assizes, and he thought the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary would do a great deal of good if he assimilated the latter with the former.


said, it would be a considerable saving to the country if the payment of officers were made by salaries and not by fees.


wished to know if the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary intended to make the costs of the prosecution and maintenance of criminals fall equally on all respective localities in the country. The right hon. Baronet was aware that at present the expense of most counties for criminal prosecutions was repaid out of the Consolidated Fund, but he was also aware that there were some exceptions to the general rule, which he trusted would be met by a clause being put into this Bill. By the measure brought forward by the late Sir Robert Peel, the prosecution of felons was provided for out of the Consolidated Fund. This indulgence, however, was not extended to the city of London, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, or the town of Ripon. He therefore suggested that these places should be put on the same footing with other districts. He might mention that before the year 1846 the city of London had paid its quota of criminal charges, but since then it had not only paid its own expenses, but had been paying, through the Consolidated Fund of the country, a very large amount towards the charges of other districts. In fact, they were, in the city of London, maintaining a portion of the criminals of Yorkshire, Lancashire, and other parts of the kingdom.


was surprised to hear the statement of the noble Lord the Member for Plymouth, as to the great increase of expenditure since 1846. It must be remembered that in 1847 and 1848 there had been a great increase in the number of criminals, and he did not think that rateably with that number there had been any increase at all in the expenses of prosecutions. He should be sorry, in the present depressed state of the farmers, to see any attempt made to take from them the little advantage they now enjoyed by those expenses being charged on the Consolidated Fund. As to the proposition of the noble Lord to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, he did not think any advantage would be gained, for the clauses appeared to be very carefully drawn, as might be expected in a Government measure. The putting of the sessions and assizes upon a uniform footing, would, he had no doubt, tend to lessen the expenses; and he knew that the Judges of assize had expressed great readiness to attend to any suggestions for lowering the scale of charges. If they were, however, to lay down a uniform rule, which was to be at all times binding, it might inflict hardship on parties; for expenses in attending assizes on the part of witnesses and others, were often greater than at the sessions. Lodgings were not unfrequently higher, and there were also other items which were more. He knew that this was the case in several counties, though it might not perhaps hold true everywhere.


explained that he did not propose to take away the present advantage from the farmers, nor did he deny their depressed condition; what he wished was, that the money should go as far as possible.


trusted that the Bill would effect the desirable object of imposing a check on all unnecessary county expenditure.


advocated the appointment of salaried prosecutors, as the best method of discouraging unnecessary prosecutions. Where there was such a host of attorneys conducting prosecutions, the expenses could not be otherwise than large.


submitted that it would be better, in all cases where clerks were paid by fees, that it should be by an uniform scale. At present some very strange appoinments of clerks were made by the lords lieutenant of counties. He knew a case in the north of England where the lord lieutenant appointed his own nephew to be clerk of the peace, and that gentleman received 2,000l. a year, but never went near the quarter-sessions, and, in fact, served the office by deputy. He thought, also, that there should be a clause in this Bill to compel county officers to send in to the Home Office every year a return of the county expenses.


said, that when Lord Althorp had thrown the expenses of prosecutions on the Consolidated Fund, he (Mr. Hume) had ventured to state that these expenses would go on rapidly increasing, because there had been no proper check imposed. The system which had been pursued of paying the public money for prosecutions was wrong in principle; for if the public paid for prosecutions, the expenses ought to be controlled by a public officer, such as the Secretary of State. From the evidence of Mr. Sadler, the constable of Stockport, it appeared that there existed no check or control over these expenses, and he found that on one occasion there had been twenty-three attorneys employed in the prosecution of forty criminals. They ought to have public prosecutors the same as existed in Scotland. In Scotland there were responsible officers, who inquired into the merits of cases before they went to trial, who saw what evidence there was, and ascertained whether convictions were likely to follow, and thus all unnecessary prosecutions were avoided. He would have the right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary consider whether provision should not be made for the appointment of public prosecutors. He (Mr. Hume) was of opinion that all officers connected with the criminal jurisprudence of the country should be paid by salaries and not by fees, for he conceived that no fee whatever should be imposed upon any of Her Majesty's subjects who were seeking the redress of grievances.


said, that the reason of so many attorneys being employed was, that the magistrates' clerks conceived it but fair to divide the briefs, and so long as the present system lasted, such a distribution of favours might be desirable. It showed, at the least, that the clerks acted with some degree of impartiality.


said, that when the change had been made in 1846, it had appeared desirable to place some efficient check upon the expenditure. The subject had been under consideration from time to time, and he could assure the House that the Government had been exceedingly desirous to effect so desirable an object. He had stated when he brought forward the Bill that he had called for returns from the various counties and boroughs, of the average expense of prosecutions at assizes and sessions. The result was, that, making every fair allowance for the varying circumstances of counties, the difference in the average amounts for prosecutions was so great that there existed no approach to uniformity. With reference to what had fallen from the hon. Member for Oxford-shire, he had to remark that Judges of assize and magistrates in quarter-sessions were constrained to certify the accounts whether they were just or not. It was with the view to remedy these evils that the first and second clauses had been framed. The clause referring to clerks prevented them from acting as attorneys in cases committed by the magistrates to whom they officiated as clerks. The hon. Member for North Cheshire had recommended the abolition of fees altogether, and the substitution of salaries. This suggestion he (Sir G. Grey) would take into consideration. The expenses of assizes had been alluded to by several hon. Members. He had much pleasure in observing that within the last year or two about twenty thousand pounds had been saved at the Yorkshire assizes. Some arrangement had been entered into by the Judges and the grand jury whereby the cases were taken according to an understood system of rotation, and the whole of the witnesses were not brought up at the commencement of the assizes, but were only present on those days when the respective cases for which they were summoned were expected to come on. He hoped that this system would be adopted to a considerable extent. The country, he begged to say, was much indebted to those gentlemen who acted on the grand juries for the willingness they displayed to facilitate the administration of justice. He assured hon. Members that a satisfactory arrangement would be made as far as possible upon all points involved.

Bill read 2°, and committed for Wednesday next.