HC Deb 06 April 1870 vol 200 cc1419-22

(Mr. Denman, Mr. Cross, Mr. Hibbert.)


Order for Second Reading read.


in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that it had been suggested to him, by an experienced clerk of magistrates, that it was very undesirable in certain cases to send young prisoners to gaol and so contaminate them; but, still, the magistrates; had no power and no option but to commit them to prison for a short period. It was, therefore, suggested that in the case of summary convictions under 18 & 19 Vict. c. 126, it would be desirable to give magistrates a power similar to that which they possessed under 24 & 25 Vict. c. 96. That Act dealt with larcenies, and in it was a clause, the 108th, which provided that in cases of first conviction for trifling offences under the Act the justices should have the power to discharge the offender upon his making satisfaction to the party aggrieved. That power he proposed to extend to other cases of larceny under the value of 5s. Suppose a lad of twelve or thirteen was charged with stealing an egg, and that the case was clear, he wanted not to have the magistrate bound to send the boy to prison, but to be enabled to discharge him upon his parents paying the damages and costs, and undertaking, for instance, to give him a whipping. Justices would be glad to have that power, and he believed it would be exercised with kindness and discretion. He begged to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Denman.)


said, he was sorry he could not agree to the Motion. In the first place, his hon. and learned Friend would find that the Bill was not necessary to effect the object he had in view. If his hon. and learned Friend would read 19 & 20 Vict. c. 126, he would find at the end of the 1st clause these words:— Provided, also, that if upon the hearing of the charge such justices shall be of opinion that there are circumstances in the case which render it inexpedient to inflict any punishment, they shall have power to dismiss the person charged without proceeding to a conviction. This provision would amply meet any of the cases of hardship to which his hon. and learned Friend had called attention. The Bill would, to say the least of it, introduce an extremely objectionable principle applied in one or two cases to certain classes of misdemeanours, such as mali- cious injury to property. [Mr. DENMAN: And stealing dogs.] Yes, stealing dogs and offences of that kind, which were met by a provision that the justice should suddenly change his character from an administrator of the criminal law to a civil; Judge, and should proceed to assess damages. That was an exceedingly questionable and dangerous principle, and had his attention at the time of the passing of those Acts been called to that principle he should certainly have opposed its introduction, as he now opposed its extension to felonies where the sum was less than 5s. [Mr. DENMAN: Larcenies.] He accepted the correction. The principle of the Bill would apply to a large class of pickpockets and to a considerable number of cases of robbery, and he, for one, could not consent to that. In fact, the Bill in plain terms would sanction the composition of felonies. It would actually enable magistrates to commit crime. The distinction the law had already drawn between crimes which were offences against the public and mere trespass, which implied injuries to individuals, was a distinction that ought to be preserved. He doubted very much whether the principle of the Bill was less mischievous; because, as the hon. and learned Gentleman contended, it would apply to juvenile offenders. This class of criminals might be punished in many instances effectually by short imprisonments—say of a day, or until the rising of the court—but to go further, and discharge every one who stole half-a-crown would produce anything but a beneficial effect upon the minds of young criminals, and the example on the part of magistrates would be exceedingly injurious if they were to give the opportunity of freeing those offenders from imprisonment on their friends paying a certain sum of money. It appeared to him that this Bill of his hon. and learned Friend was a step backwards towards the good old times when any crime whatever might be atoned for by a money payment. It was not at all unlikely that the next step would be to extend the measure to cases of £5, and then to extend the principle to certain cases of manslaughter, and to cases of misadventure to be settled by a criminal Judge, but in the character of a civil Judge deciding the question between the parties. He could not, therefore, consent to the second reading.


said, he looked upon the measure as a dangerous innovation, and on that ground he should oppose the Motion. It had always been considered one of the highest crimes known to the law to assist a person to escape from the penalty of felony. A pickpocket, under this Bill, might go to Manchester, where he was not known, pick pockets to the value of less than 5s., and plead it was a first offence. He might then go to Birmingham and do the same, and so pass on from town to town.


said, if the Bill passed it would be impossible to prosecute any man who had compounded felony. He thought the object of the hon. and learned Gentleman was fully met by the provisions of the clause to which the Attorney General had referred, and, therefore, the Bill was not required.


said, he should also oppose the Motion. It was desirable, for the sake of the offender himself as well as of others, to keep alive the sense of infamy attached to the commission of larceny; and for that purpose, those who were guilty of that offence should have to submit to the disgrace of going to gaol. No doubt mercy towards young offenders was a very laudable feeling; but the object of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Denman) in that respect might be met by magistrates inflicting a very trifling punishment. They might sentence a young offender to a single night's imprisonment, and direct the gaoler that he was not to be mixed with the other prisoners.


said, the discussion had tended to make him doubt whether the clauses analogous to the provisions of that Bill contained in the Act of 24 & 25 Vict, to which he had referred, were themselves quite consistent with principle. He had been led to understand that the powers the Bill proposed to give would be found very useful to magistrates; but the statement of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Sir. Henley), to the effect that he had never experienced any real want of those powers as a magistrate, was deserving of much weight. He would not press the second reading of the Bill.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill withdrawn.