§ (Mr. Denman, Mr. Locke Kinq)
§ Order for Committee read.
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 1 (Interpretation of "court of justice" and "presiding judge" in recited Act).
§ MR. DENMAN
said, that this clause was, in fact, the Bill itself. The object was to set right an oversight in the Act of last Session. It had been discovered that the Act, which was intended to apply to all courts and tribunals, would not apply to the examination of wit- 1418 nesses before an arbitrator, and the Bill was intended to remedy that defect. There were also, as in the Court of Chancery, very eminent gentlemen whose business it was to take down evidence upon oath or affirmation, and to report that evidence, and there was no reason why these functionaries should not have the powers contemplated by the Bill, He would, therefore, propose to add at the end of the clause—Or to take and return evidence for the consideration of any Court or persons having by law or consent of parties authority to hear, receive, and examine evidence.
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ Clause, as amended, agreed to.
§ Remaining clauses agreed to.
§ MR. PEASE
moved, after Clause 1, to insert the following clause:—(One oath or affirmation for witnesses called more than once in same day to be sufficient.—Form thereof.)If any person shall have to be called to give evidence in the same court more than once in any one day, it shall be lawful for the presiding judge to order that the words 'in this and in all other cases which shall be heard before the court this day, and in which I shall be called upon to give evidence,' shall be prefixed to the said form of affirmation or to the customary form of oath or affirmation; and that, in such event, such witness shall not be again affirmed or sworn during such day, but shall be deemed and taken to have been affirmed or sworn in every such case in which he may have given evidence during that day.
§ DR. BALL
said, he must object to the clause. Any saving of time that might be effected by the proposal would be more than counterbalanced by other considerations. It would be an universal enactment, and should be applied irrespective of the number of cases in regard to which the same person might be accidentally called upon as a witness in the course of the same day. The phraseology of the clause would cast a doubt upon what was the universal practice of the courts in respect to the examination of witnesses. For instance, if a case lasted three or four days or was prolonged for weeks, like the Wicklow Peerage case, doubts would arise whether the oath taken in the first instance bound the witness. He was not at all favourable to innovations on usages which had grown out of public convenience and been sanctioned by the wisdom of those who had administered the law for centuries.
said, he also must object to the clause. It would not be pos- 1419 sible for the Judge or presiding officer always to know whether the Tom Smith who was called in the evening was the same Tom Smith who had taken the oath in the morning. He was at a loss to know how it would work, and the saving of time would be very little.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, he concurred in the objections that had been urged by the right hon. Gentlemen opposite. It was an entirely new principle to swear a man for a day, and he feared it would be found to be an extremely inconvenient innovation. He hoped his hon. Friend (Mr. Pease) would not press the clause.
MR. STAVELEY HILL
said, that the clause would add to the difficulty which any person who had to do with indictments for perjury must have found in proving that a man had been sworn.
§ MR. R. N. FOWLER
said, hon. and learned Gentlemen had spoken as if the object of his hon. Friend opposite was merely to save time. Now, though his hon. Friend had incidentally mentioned this as an argument, his object was a much higher and more important, one, to vindicate the very solemn character of an oath. Anyone who had attended magistrates' meetings and quarter sessions and seen the gabbling way in which an oath was administered must have felt what a want of solemnity there was. If his hon. Friend should divide he would go into the Lobby with him, as he highly concurred with him.
§ MR. DENMAN
said, he had no objection to the clause; but it would not come so well into the Bill before the Committee as into one for preventing unnecessary oaths. If his hon. Friend should wish to bring in a Bill of that kind he would be happy to assist him.
§ Clause, by leave, withdrawn.
§ House resumed.
§ Bill reported; as amended, to be considered To-morrow.