§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. AGLIONBY
, in moving the second 1299 reading of this Bill, said that he had only recently heard that the measure would be received with any opposition, and he hoped that such opposition would be able to be removed by some slight alteration in the clauses. One objection was, that the Bill was not stringent enough, and another objection was, that it was too stringent, so, perhaps, it might be possible to steer clear of both of these objections by taking some middle course. With respect to the 9th clause, relative to clerks to justices in petty sessions not practising in their own courts, he begged to state that he meant no disrespect to those gentlemen in any way. The object of the Bill was, by allowing prisoners accused of minor offences to plead "Guilty" and receive their sentences at petty sessions in open court, to spare prosecutors and their witnesses the trouble and expense of attending at the assizes, and to rescue youthful offenders from the contamination to which they were exposed in the weeks and mouths which they were not unfrequently obliged to pass in gaol between their committal and their trial. All the objections which had been made to the Bill could, he thought, be dealt with in Committee, and he hoped, therefore, that the House would now give its assent to the second reading.
Motion made and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."
§ MR. COBBETT
said he thought that, so far from the Bill being calculated to lessen the expenses of criminal prosecutions, it was very likely considerably to increase them. He quite agreed that the object of the Bill was a praiseworthy one, but he thought it might be carried into effect nearly as well under the existing law as by the Bill of the hon. Member. Great injustice, he believed, would be done to persons thus suddenly called on to plead before the magistrates, and, while the Bill would not shorten the time which youthful offenders would have to pass in gaol, it would have the effect of giving great offenders lesser punishments than they ought to receive. All that numerous class of offenders who, having been convicted once or twice before, stood in great dread of being sentenced to transportation or penal punishment, would be almost encouraged by this Bill to the commission of small offences during that season of the year when they could get no employment, knowing that if they pleaded "Guilty" before the magistrates, they would only be 1300 punished by a slight imprisonment. Then, again nothing was more frequent than for mistakes to be made by justices and clerks of the peace in the offence for which they committed men; committals were often made out for larceny when the real offence was embezzlement or obtaining money under false pretences, and what an unpleasant position a Judge would be placed in who found himself called on to sentence a man for an offence to which he had pleaded "Guilty," but which he had never committed. Another objection he entertained against the Bill was, that, as a prisoner after having pleaded had a right to retract his plea, it would be improper to compel a Judge to hold a man to the plea put in before the justices. The Bill would have the effect of giving facilities to crafty offenders of obtaining smaller punishments than their offences deserved. He agreed that it was desirable to have a mode of shortening the duration of punishment awarded to prisoners desirous of pleading "Guilty" to offences of a minor description, but the magistrates already possessed greater powers than they generally exercised in that respect. Upon the grounds he had already stated, he begged to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.
Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "Upon this day six months."
§ MR. ATHERTON
said he should oppose the Bill on the ground that the Legislature would be dealing with the subject without due regard to the proper administration of justice. Although economy was a matter to which every attention should be paid, the fair and satisfactory administration of justice was an object of far greater importance than the saving of a few pounds. If the Bill were agreed to, there would be a danger of effecting a saving of expense to prosecutors at the risk of having haphazard sentences.
§ MR. J. G. PHILLIMORE
hoped the House would agree to the second reading of this Bill, which was intended to remedy a great and serious evil.
§ VISCOUNT PALMERSTON
said, the Bill of the hon. Member professed to deal with that which required a remedy. There might be imperfections in the Bill, but they were capable, he considered, of being remedied in Committee. He therefore recommended the House to give the Bill a second reading.
§ MR. M'MAHON
thought that a great deal of injustice would be perpetrated under the Bill for the sake of saving money.
§ MR. HENLEY
said, he doubted whether the Bill would work, and whether it would be accompanied by such a saving of expense as the hon. Member (Mr. Aglionby) seemed to suppose.
§ MR. ROBERT PALMER
said, as a chairman of quarter sessions, he had received numerous complaints of the number of cases sent to trial under the present system, and was glad to find that the hon. Gentleman (Mr. Aglionby) had introduced a Bill which proceeded in the right direction. He did not altogether approve of all its provisions, but he thought such amendments might be made in Committee as would remove the objections which he entertained.
§ MR. AGLIONBY
, in reply, said, the feeling was generally in favour of amending the Bill. He had listened with great attention to the various arguments, and he should endeavour, as far as he could, to meet the views of parties, while at the same time he hoped the most efficient parts of the Bill might be retained.
§ MR. CRAUFURD
said, the improvement suggested in the present measure had been tried with great success in Scotland.
Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
The House divided:—Ayes 59; Noes 9: Majority 50.
Main Question put, and agreed to. Bill read 2°.
The House adjourned at a quarter after One o'clock.