HC Deb 22 February 1869 vol 194 cc162-4

inquired of the Home Secretary, What answer he had made to a memorial forwarded to him from the Justices of Berkshire containing the following curious statement:— That in the year 1831 one Richard Bonner was tried and convicted at Oxford, and sentenced to fourteen years' transportation; that at the Oxford Lent Assizes, in the year 1851, the said Richard Bonner was tried and convicted of highway robbery, and sentenced to transportation for life; that, in 1863, the same Richard Bonner was convicted at the borough of Reading, and sentenced to two years' imprisonment; that, at the expiration of such last mentioned term of imprisonment, the said Richard Bonner, having been previously officially reported as a license holder, was sent back to Millbank Prison, but, notwithstanding this, he was again (in 1868) convicted of crime in this county, and sentenced to six months' imprisonment, and again, at the expiration of that term, sent back to Millbank Prison. Your memorialists submit, that, independently of the social aspects of the case, it is a hardship upon the county of Berks that the convict in question should have been a burden upon it for the space of two years and six months after he had been sentenced to transportation for life as above set forth?


said, he would read the answer he had forwarded to the memorial; it was as follows:— The burden of maintaining a license-holding convict during his term of imprisonment for an offence committed while he is at large is imposed by the existing law upon the county in which his conviction took place. Unless sentences for life are to be absolutely, and under all circumstances, irremissible, the hardship of which the Justices complain must occasionally occur. Previously to 1864 the punishment of transportation or penal servitude for life was inflicted more frequently than at present, and the liberation of life-convicts on licenses, after twelve years' imprisonment, was not unusual. Since 1864 the sentences of life imprisonment have only been passed in the gravest cases, and by a regulation made by Sir George Grey in 1866 the minimum time at which each case could be considered, except under special circumstances, was twenty years. Each case would then be considered on its own merits. The case of Richard Bonner suggests a reasonable doubt whether a convict for life who while at large on license commits a fresh offence, thereby proving that he is unreclaimed and irreclaimable, ought ever to receive a second license. It was worthy consideration whether where a man on ticket of leave had been convicted of a subsequent offence it ought not to be in the power of the Judge to re-commit him at once to Millbank, or one of the Government convict prisons. But, as the public interest was very much alive to this subject, it might be well to explain why he considered that there might be special circumstances under which a person sentenced for life might have his sentence occasionally revised. A case which had occurred within the last few days would illustrate some of the difficulties under which a Home Secretary was placed. On the same day a petition reached him praying for remission of part of the sentence in the case of two persons who had been convicted for precisely the same offence, which was an attempt to murder. The attempt was deliberate, and in each case there was a narrow escape. The offenders were persons not previously criminal, but were moved to this violent action by jealousy. They were tried by different Judges, and one man, who had attempted to murder his wife, received a sentence of penal servitude for twenty years; the other, who had attempted to murder a man of whom he was jealous, was sentenced to imprisonment for life. With respect to the person who had been sentenced to twenty years, in the ordinary course of events, he would receive a license after fifteen years and four months, provided his conduct had been good. But, if that were so, it was quite clear that the other person, who had been committed for life for a similar offence, ought to have his case considered. It was obvious, therefore, that there must occasionally be circumstances which would induce a man of upright feeling, in the position which he had the honour to hold, to remit some portion of a sentence for life.