HC Deb 29 April 1869 vol 195 cc1852-3

said, he would beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether his atten has been called to the different opinions as to the state of the Law recently expressed by the Middlesex Magistrates, and by the Police Magistrate, Mr. Knox, on the subject of "Night Houses in the Metropolis;" and, if so, whether he is prepared to introduce any measure to render the Law clearer and more definite on this point?


Sir, The difference of opinion between Sir William Bodkin on the one hand, and Mr. Knox and the police magistrates generally on the other, is not so much on the question of law as on the amount of evidence necessary to justify a conviction under the Refreshment Houses Act. That Act imposes certain penalties on persons licensed to keep refreshment houses who shall "knowingly suffer prostitutes, thieves, or drunken and disorderly persons to assemble at or continue on their premises." The Court of Queen's Bench held that the mere assemblage of prostitutes for no immoral purpose was not within the Act. They might be there for the purpose of obtaining refreshment. Mr. Justice Blackburn, in the ruling judgment on this subject said— I do not think that the mere fact that the persons happen to be prostitutes or thieves would cause their meeting to be un assembling of prostitutes and thieves within the Act. It may be well that a number of thieves and prostitutes may meet, and yet they may not assemble as thieves or prostitutes; but as soon as it is shown that they meet in the capacity of prostitutes or thieves, to the knowledge of the keeper of the house, then the case comes within the provisions of the Act. It is not necessary that prostitution or some act of thieving should be shown to have been actually planned on the premises; but if the assembling is a sort of thieves' club, or the house used as a house of call for prostitutes to meet men, that is sufficient to bring the keeper of the house under the provisions of the Act. In this opinion Mr. Knox and Sir William Bodkin agree; they differ as to the amount and nature of the evidence necessary to prove the immoral purpose of the assemblage. Mr. Knox thinks that the presence of several known prostitutes in a night-house in the Haymarket for half-an-hour continuously in the company of men, between midnight and one o'clock, was sufficient evidence that they were there for the purposes of their miserable calling. Sir William Bodkin thinks these circumstances not inconsistent with their being there for purposes of refreshment, and demands more positive proof of immoral intention. I may add that I have received a letter from Mr. Serjeant Payne, informing me that two appeals on the same point will be heard to-morrow at the Sessions House, Westminster. It would be well to await the result of those decisions. Should they coincide with that of Sir William Bodkin, it will be necessary to consider whether it is possible so to amend the Act as to facilitate uniformity of decision, and give effect to its obvious intention.