HC Deb 08 August 1855 vol 139 cc2017-20

Order read, for resuming adjourned debate on Question [6th August], "That the Clause (Appeal 7 & 8 Geo. IV. c. 29, s. 72) be now read a second time."

Question again proposed, "That the said Clause be now read a second time."

Debate resumed.

Question put, and negatived.


said, he should, in lieu of the clause that had just been negatived, move to substitute the following clause— And, for the discouragement of frivolous and vexatious informations and prosecutions under this Act, be it enacted, that it shall be lawful for any justices or court of petty sessions before whom any case under this Act is tried, to award costs to the defendant, with an allowance for his loss of time in case of acquittal, to be paid by the prosecutor; and also, if it shall appear to such justices or court that the charge was made from a malicious, vexatious, or frivolous motive, it shall be lawful for such justices or court to award to defendant such further sum of money, not exceeding 201., as to such justices or court shall seem fit, to be paid by such prosecutor as a compensation for the injury done, and in default of payment such costs and allowances and compensations may be levied by distress and sale of the prosecutor's goods.

Clause brought up, and read a first time.


said, he must oppose the clause, considering that it was most objectionable, and introducing a principle utterly unknown to the law of England.


said, he considered the tendency of such a clause would be to introduce an injurious element into the administration of the law, though he would admit that the question as to the propriety of compensating prisoners in cases of malicious or vexatious prosecutions was well worthy of consideration at some future period. He further thought that the principle on which the Bill itself was founded was bad; and that, although we were much indebted to the magistracy for the zealous and conscientious manner in which they discharged their duties, the country could scarcely have confidence in them as competent persons to be intrusted with summary jurisdiction in criminal cases.


said, he agreed to a certain extent that the Bill was an anomalous one; but considering the evil it was intended to meet, he was of opinion that it was a wise and judicious one. As to the clause proposed, he thought it would be of the greatest injury to the prisoner.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Clause be now read a second time," put, and negatived.


said, he should now move in Clause 3 to leave out, "or larceny as a clerk or servant, or embezzlement, or obtaining property by false pretences, or attempting to obtain property by false pretences." By the clause, as it at present stood, power was given to magistrates at petty sessions to adjudicate in cases for which at present the punishment was transportation for life, a power which the quarter sessions did not possess; and he thought they ought not to have the power in the cases to which his Amendment applied.


said, there was a large proportion of persons who at sessions and assizes pleaded guilty, and who might have done the same thing before the magistrates, and thus they underwent a long unnecessary imprisonment. He hoped the clause would be allowed to remain, though he could not help acknowledging that there were some inconveniences attending it. With regard to the Amendment, it often happened that though in law the offences of embezzlement, or larceny by a servant, or obtaining money under false pretences, were committed, yet the amounts might be very trifling, and it was well, therefore, that the magistrates in such cases should have summary jurisdiction.


said, he should support the Amendment. The clause was opposed to the general object of the Bill. Besides, magistrates were already empowered to try in cases of larceny to the amount of 5s., and why should they not be allowed to take a plea of guilty?


said, he was of opinion that the objections of the hon. and learned Member for Wexford (Mr. M 'Mahon) were to a certain extent well founded. In very clear and trifling cases he thought they ought not to subject the prisoner to a long imprisonment before trial, but they ought to give summary jurisdiction to the magistrates in such cases. But he thought the offence of embezzlement ought to be omitted from the clause. The case which was now occupying so much attention was, as he understood, a charge of embezzlement by bankers of securities. It was quite clear that was a case that ought not to be tried by a magistrate. Then, with regard to the next offence named—false pretences, the distinction was sometimes very fine, and he thought it better that that should be omitted. But he thought it desirable to retain the power in eases of larceny by servants, and also in cases of obtaining property from masters. Take the case of female servants. It often happened that a female servant was had up for having in her possession a small amount of property belonging to her master, and he had often thought it a cruel thing that there was no summary power in such cases, but that the girl was sent to prison, where she remained some time, before trial, and the consequence was that the poor girl was too generally ruined. He thought, if they allowed summary jurisdiction in such cases, they would do substantial justice, which was at they could accomplish; and, after all, in a matter of this nature, the consideration with him was, how they could attain the greatest amount of good with the least amount of evil.


said, he should be sorry to see the clause altogether struck out. If the punishment were limited to three months, it would prevent the Magistrates adjudicating in serious cases.


said, he trusted that the Government would consent to omit a clause which would only have the effect of placing the magistrates In an invidious position.

Amendment, by leave, withdraw.

Bill passed.