HC Deb 26 March 1855 vol 137 cc1164-8

Order for Second Reading read.


in moving the second reading of this Bill, said, that its object was to extend the power of summary conviction possessed by magistrates to cases of petty larceny not exceeding 10s. in value.


said, he had great doubts as to the principle of this Bill, which would transfer the trial of one-half the criminals who now came before the Judges at assizes and quarter sessions to magistrates in petty sessions. If that principle were once acceded to, on what ground could they refuse to go still further, and give to magistrates summary jurisdiction over all cases of simple larceny without exception? A proposal had been made by the hon. Member for Berkshire (Mr. R. Palmer) to enable magistrates to deal in this manner with all larcenies to the value of from 1s. to 2s. 6d., and although that plan proceeded, like this Bill, on the principle of fixing a pecuniary limit, it would yet be found practically to apply to a totally different class of criminals. He could not conceive a worse system than the existing one, but he thought that some better scheme than the present Bill might be devised for the more frequent delivery of gaols, without infringing on that great safeguard of our liberties—the trial by jury.


said, he felt no objection to the second reading of the Bill, for, before Christmas, he had given notice of his intention to introduce a measure founded on the same principle, which would not, however, have gone so far as to include cases where the value stolen was 10s., but would have been confined to those cases which were usually designated by the Judges as trivial and trumpery. The evil of the present system was very great, for a man might be confined before trial for three months for some such trifling offence as stealing a couple of turnips—a longer detention than would be awarded for the crime he had committed. The expense to which counties were put for these trifling cases was proportionally enormous; and he mentioned a case of a man who had stolen two gallons of beans, and though the prisoner pleaded guilty, the costs of the prosecution amounted to 16l. 1s. 8d.


said, he thought that the Bill would require a good deal of attention in Committee. There was, he considered, one great and palpable defect in it, namely, that the jurisdiction was confined to simple larceny, and did not extend to the case of a young vagabond picking a man's pocket of his handkerchief, because that was stealing from the person.


said, he should support the Bill. He found that in seventeen cases the united value of the articles stolen amounted to 17s.d., and the expenses of prosecution to 150l. He wished that in trivial cases, and under peculiar circumstances, some power were given to the tribunals of dealing out justice short of sending a man to prison, by which act a stain was left on his name for life.

Bill read 2°.

The House adjourned at half after One o'clock.