HC Deb 06 July 1859 vol 154 cc771-3

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving the second reading of this Bill, said, the measure was exactly identical with one that had been read a second time last year, with this exception, that he had omitted from the present Bill all the clauses which had been made grounds of objection on the previous occasion. He believed the principle of the measure was approved by the country, and after all that had passed, he was certainly surprised to learn that the Government were now about to oppose it; and as he had only forty minutes left before the adjournment, and could not hope to gain anything by postponing the second reading, he would take the division at once. It might be said this measure was unnecessary, because the Government intended to consolidate the whole of the criminal law. The consolidation of the criminal law had been talked of now for nearly thirty years and yet nothing had been done. The main object of this Bill was to secure to a person who was prosecuted for an offence involving his life, his liberty, and his property, the same right of having the sentence pronounced against him reviewed, which he now enjoyed if he were sued civilly for the sum of sixpence. In the present state of the law, if a person charged with a criminal offence had not the good luck to move the indictment before trial into the Queen's Bench, he was at the mercy of the first Judge and jury before whom he might be brought. His only remedy was an appeal to the Home-office; but there was a manifest impropriety in sending a man to beg a pardon from a Secretary of State when he ought to get redress in open court. What his Bill proposed was to empower the Court of Queen's Bench to grant a new trial after a verdict as well as before it, and he trusted that so moderate and beneficial a measure would receive the sanction of the House. The principle had been approved of by the Criminal Law Commission, and in 1844 Sir Fitzroy Kelly introduced a similar Bill. The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."


said, that the question involved in the second reading of this Bill was not simply whether, under proper guards, an appeal upon questions of fact should be allowed, but whether the procedure in criminal cases should be assimilated in omnibus to that in civil causes, and such a proposition he felt bound to oppose. At present the criminal law was administered with a careful regard to the interests of the accused; but he was afraid that the reverse would be the case if the law were altered as proposed. The effect of permitting prisoners to appeal upon such grounds as the alleged inadmissibility of evidence or misdirection on the part of the Judge, would be to impede the execution of sentences; for if a rich man were convicted he could carry the case from Court to Court, (and by the Bill a rule nisi was to operate as a stay of execution), whilst the poor man was practically excluded from its operation. He maintained that adequate means existed at present for correcting erroneous verdicts, and that no failure of justice could be proved under the law as it now stood which would warrant such a change as that proposed. To allow an appeal in cases where the presiding Judge thought the verdict was against the evidence or otherwise unsatisfactory, would at least be an intelligible proposition; but nothing could be more injurious to the due administration of criminal justice, than to permit a prisoner to move the Court of Queen's Bench for a now trial upon any ground whatever, however trivial or technical. If such a right were granted ex debito justitiœ to defendants it could not fairly be refused to the Crown, and where, then, would be that fundamental principle in English jurisprudence, that a person once acquitted by the verdict of twelve men could not be tried again for the same offence? For these and other reasons, which at that hour it was impossible to advert to, he felt bound to oppose the second reading of this Bill.

It being now a Quarter to Six o'clock, Mr. BOWYER moved that the debate be adjourned.

Debate adjourned till To-morrow.

House adjourned at ten minutes before Six o'clock.