§ MR. CLAY
said, he rose to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether his attention has been directed to the sentence of ten years' penal servitude passed at the Middlesex Sessions on a man named White, for an act which, if an offence at all, appears to have been at most an attempt at a larceny; and whether also he has noticed unusual severity in the sentences passed not unfrequently at the Middlesex Sessions; and whether Mr. Payne's tenure of office was quamdiu se bene gesserit?
§ SIR GEORGE GREY
Sir, my attention was called to this case by The Times newspaper of Saturday last. Immediately afterwards I received a letter from Mr. Payne, Deputy Assistant Judge of the Middlesex Sessions, stating the facts of the case as they appeared on the trial. The prisoner White was charged before him with stealing a roll of cloth, and from the evidence it appeared that he was acting in concert with another man who was not apprehended, and with a woman who was apprehended. Mr. Payne was of opinion that the verdict of the jury was fully justified by the evidence, and in passing his sentence he took into account the fact that the prisoner had been convicted in May, 1859, of a robbery of plate, and had been sentenced to five years' penal servitude. He had at that time been several times previously in custody and twice convicted of robbery. Under those circumstances, Mr. Payne, acting in exercise of the discretion vested in him by law, passed a sentence of ten years' penal servitude upon him. That sentence was subsequently respited until the next Sessions, in order that inquiries might be made as to the truth of the alle- 1062 gations made by the prisoner, of his having been persecuted by the police since his discharge from the sentence of penal servitude, and also as to his character and mode of gaining his living during that interval. In the meantime I had, before receiving Mr. Payne's letter, directed the same inquiries to be made, and the result has satisfied me that, as far as I can judge, the allegations of the prisoner are wholly without foundation. It appeared the prisoner was not known to the constable who apprehended him, and it was not known to the police of the division in which he resided that he had been previously sentenced to penal servitude. Nor was there the slightest foundation for the statement that the prisoner's brother had been discharged from his employment in consequence of the interference of the police, for his employer stated on inquiry, that he had discharged the prisoner's brother in consequence of gross misconduct. The result of the inquiry into the prisoner's conduct since his discharge from penal servitude has shown, what was not known to Mr. Payne at the time he sentenced him, that in November last, six months after his discharge, he was apprehended together with his brother on a charge of being found on private premises at Paddington at two o'clock in the morning for an unlawful purpose, and sentenced at the Marylebone Police Court to three months' imprisonment. In answer to the question, whether I have noticed any unusual severity in the sentences passed at the Middlesex Sessions I have to say, that I have not noticed any unusual severity in those sentences. It will be in the recollection of the House that frequent complaints have been made in this House of the lenity of the sentences passed at Assizes and Quarter Sessions, especially upon habitual offenders. No one can doubt that this man was an habitual offender. As to the tenure of Mr. Payne's office, I have to state that he holds no permanent office. Under the provisions of the Act of Parliament, Mr. Payne is appointed from Sessions to Sessions by Mr. Bodkin, as his deputy. The appointment was originally approved by the Secretary of State. I am bound to state that Mr. Payne informs me that he has filled that office for six years, and that during that time he has tried between 3,000 and 4,000, or 4,000 and 5,000 prisoners—I forget which. I am not aware that any just ground of complaint has ever been established against him.