HC Deb 23 May 1862 vol 166 cc2111-3

said, he wished to call the attention of the Secretary of State for the Home Department to the punishment awarded in recent cases of personal violence. He would first refer to a case which occurred on the 29th April, in which a violent assault was committed upon a barman who was furiously attacked whilst humanely endeavouring to protect a helpless man. The police found him bleeding profusely, and he was for a great length of time unable to return to his service. The person who committed this assault was fined 10s., which was immediately paid. The next case he (Sir M. Peto) wished to mention was that of a savage attack upon a respectable young woman, who received a violent blow in the face, cutting it open, so that she bled continuously during the night and fainted several times. The assailant was sentenced to twenty-one days' hard labour. In the same week and at the same police court a person was sentenced to forty-two days' hard labour for breaking a shop window worth 25s., so that the punishment for breaking a pane of glass was twice that which was inflicted for nearly killing a young woman. On the 20th of May a man was convicted of stabbing a policeman, and was sentenced to a month's hard labour in prison. On the same day, at the Middlesex Sessions, a person was convicted of a violent assault on two policemen in the execution of their duty, and he was sentenced to nine months' imprisonment and hard labour. On the other hand, a person who was found guilty at the same sessions of obtaining eight shillings' worth of goods by false pretences was sentenced to three years' penal servitude. In most cases of violent assault he found that intoxication was pleaded as an excuse. In his opinion such a plea should never be admitted where the life of an individual was endangered. He trusted he had said enough to call for the interference of the right hon. Baronet the Secretary for the Home Department.


said, it was no doubt very desirable that adequate punishment should be dealt out in cases of violent assault. The particular cases to which his hon. Friend referred he knew nothing of, with the exception of two to which his attention had been specially called, and which had been adjudicated upon by the Lord Mayor of London. He did not think, after reading the reports which appeared in the newspapers, that there was anything to justify his interference, or in directing the attention of the Lord Mayor to them with a view to explanation. It would be wrong from merely reading a report in a newspaper to come to a conclusion that a judge had failed in his duty, who had not only heard the evidence, but had seen the witnesses give it, and had made up his mind upon the facts of the case as clearly proved before him. The law necessarily gave a discretion to the magistrates in awarding punishment, and he need hardly observe that the Secretary of State had no power of increasing that punishment. In case, however, of a punishment being too severe, it was in the prerogative of the Crown to mitigate it.