§ Order for Second Reading read.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL,
in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that he should not enter upon its provisions at any great length, as the subject had already been frequently under the consideration of the House. By the Common Law Procedure Act of 1854, and still more by the Acts of 1862 and 1870, great alterations had been made in the law relating to juries, so that it had become extremely difficult of late years to find out what were the liabilities of particular persons with respect to serving on juries, and still more difficult to administer satisfactorily a law which had fallen into such a state of confusion. There could be no doubt that the defects of the jury law had resulted in the general deterioration of the character of juries, and that juries had not for the last 10 or 20 years secured for themselves that respect which those who wished to stand up for 548 trial by jury desired they should command. This was the more to be regretted because under the Act of George IV. the subject was perfectly plain. The eulogy pronounced on the system of trial by jury by Blackstone might be somewhat over-painted, but he did not know that he should be disposed to differ very much from it in principle. It was as follows:—Trial by jury ever has been and I trust ever will be looked upon as the glory of the English law. I may venture to affirm that it has, under Providence, secured the great liberties of this nation for a long succession of ages; and therefore, the celebrated French writer (Montesquieu) who concludes that because Rome, Sparta, and Carthage lost their liberties, therefore those of England in time must perish, should have recollected that Rome, Sparta, and Carthage at the time when their liberties were lost, were strangers to trial by jury. Great as this eulogium may seem, it is no more than this admirable institution, when traced to its principles, will be found in sober reason to deserve.…. It is therefore a duty which every man owes to his country, his friends, his posterity, and himself to maintain to the utmost of his power this valuable institution in all its rights, to restore it to its ancient dignity if at all impaired, to amend it wherever it is defective, and, above all, to guard with the most jealous circumspection against the introduction of new and arbitrary methods of trial, which under a variety of plausible pretences may in time imperceptibly undermine this best preservative of English liberty."—[Book iii., ch. 23.]He did not think that Blackstone's view differed from that which any man who looked into the subject would have. There were, however, many more modern authorities in support of the system of trial by jury. In the complicated and artificial system under which we lived many indirect as well as direct advantages flowed from this method of trial which deserved attention. Thus it was of great benefit to the community that the public should take an actual part in the administration of justice, and he should be sorry if the Courts of Law ever fell into the hands of merely professional men. He believed there was no better education in the best and truest sense of the word than that which was derived from taking part in the administration of justice as jurymen, and while he had the highest respect for Her Majesty's Judges, he thought that juries might sometimes act as a check upon less perfect Judges. A Judge, no doubt, had obtained in this country a position of dignity and independence; but he did not thereby at once 549 become an inspired and infallible person, and a learned and able Judge once remarked to him that one effect of the interposition of juries was to compel him to give reasons for his judgment, and those reasons must be such as would be intelligible to 12 ordinary men. The institution was therefore very well worth preserving, and his object throughout this Bill had been to maintain the principle of trial by jury, and simply to improve the details of the present system, to raise the qualifications of jurors, to do away as far as he could with the unfair personal incidence of the present law, which pressed with great hardship upon particular classes of the people, to bring about an entirely impartial administration of the law, and to put an end to the inconvenient practices, and he might say corruption, which now existed in the administration of the law, as far as regarded bringing the jurors into Court. This latter was an abuse which was patent to all accustomed to deal with the subject, and was one which cried aloud for a remedy, and for which he trusted it would be found that the system which he proposed to establish would afford a practical and effectual remedy. The whole question had been carefully investigated last year by the Select Committee which had been appointed to consider the Bill which last year he had introduced, and which Committee had consisted of 16 or 17 influential and experienced Members of that House, whose opinion would doubtless have the greatest weight with hon. Members. Among them was the late Attorney General for Ireland, whose loss to the House he was sure both sides equally regretted. The present Bill was verbatim et literatim in the form in which that Committee had left it. He had not thought it becoming in him on his own authority to alter any decision which that Committee had arrived at after due discussion, and often by large majorities. But although he had not presumed to introduce alterations in the Bill itself as it had left the Select Committee, still he should feel bound to take the sense of the House upon two points to which he should presently refer, on which he differed from the opinion which had been arrived at by the Committee, and which he should try to induce the House to reverse. The Bill proposed to reduce the number of jurors to seven in all 550 cases with a single exception. The principle of reduction in the number of the jurors was unanimously agreed to—the number was, as might be expected, a subject of considerable discussion—and the number seven was arrived at as a compromise, and as being on the whole a convenient number. In his opinion it was exceedingly important that the number of jurors should be reduced. Of course there was no principle in the question of the number, and there was nothing particularly magic in the number 12 as constituting a jury. That number, as far as he knew, did not obtain in other countries besides our own, neither did it obtain in all parts of England, nor in the largest, most prosperous, and most important of our colonies. Again, in the County Courts, a jury of five decided questions of considerable importance which formerly could be decided by a jury of 12 only, and he believed decided them with perfect satisfaction; and those who knew our law knew that the number of 12 was not the creation of statute, nor proceeded from any particular wisdom, but had been arrived at almost as a matter of chance; and though it had had a long spell of authority in this country, still there was no more reason for the number 12 than any other. 15 had been for a great many years the number of the jury in criminal cases in Scotland. His great object in framing this Bill for the amendment of the jury law had been to obtain the maximum of public advantage with the minimum of private inconvenience. It must be borne in mind in considering this subject that it was not so much the serving upon juries that was the great cause of complaint—it was that the jurors were compelled, day after day, to keep on kicking their heels in a Court of Law without even being eventually required to serve. Of course a margin of jurors beyond the number actually required to serve must be provided, in order that when a jury was locked up, or jurors were taken ill, others might be ready to take their places. But if the number of persons required to form a jury wore to be reduced to seven, the amount of unnecessary inconvenience which would be saved to those summoned would be amazing. Now, the two important subjects on which he respectfully ventured to differ from the decision of the Select Committee were— 551 first, the composition of an ordinary jury; and, next, the question of unanimity. The Select Committee resisted his proposition that there should be a definite proportion of more highly educated and of what he might call less educated men on each jury—a matter he had very much at heart. He very much regretted the decision of the Committee. He told the Committee he could not accept it as a final decision, and that he would endeavour to reverse it. And he would tell the House why. The presence of special jurors upon every trial was a thing that had been recommended by the highest possible authority—by the Common Law Commissioners and by the Judicature Commission. The Common Law Commissioners of 1850 in their second Report, dated the 30th of April, 1853, said—On every trial there should be an admixture of jurymen of the class from which the special juries are now taken. This is, indeed, now the law, though in practice the names of persons qualified to be special jurors are not placed on the common jury panel. There is every reason why jurors of the higher class should assist in the administration of justice to the same extent as those who constitute the common juries. We think the higher class of jurors should bring the assistance of their more cultivated minds and superior intelligence to the decision of cases which, although they may not admit of the additional expense attendant under the present system on having a special jury, may not be the less important to the parties whose interests are involved. At the same time it should be understood that we do not propose to abolish the right which now exists of having a special jury as at present appointed. What we recommend is that the general jury panel should be made up indiscriminately from all persons qualified to serve on either jury.The same Commissioners in their third Report, made in 1860, said—We think it right to avail ourselves of this opportunity to invite renewed attention to our former observations respecting the constitution of juries. More especially we would urge the consideration of that part of our recommendations which relates to securing the attendance on common juries of the class of persons who now serve exclusively on special juries, with a view to the improvement of the former by the admixture of persons of higher education and intelligence. We are strongly persuaded that a very great improvement would by this means be effected in the constitution of juries; and as we do not propose to do away with the right of parties to resort to a special jury, or to deprive special jurors, when serving as such, of the additional remuneration which they are in the habit of receiving, we can see no ground why the liability of such persons to serve on common juries which already exists in law, though it is 552 not required in practice, should not be enforced.The Judicature Commissioners in their first Report, made in 1869, quote the above passages, and state their "entire concurrence" with the views expressed. So that the recommendation that in common juries there should be an element of intelligence and education came supported by as good authority as the legal profession could furnish. He was, therefore, only recommending what had been repeatedly enforced on the House. Now, so far from the principle or practice of adopting all such measures as might be necessary for providing a competent jury for "every trial" being either new or unknown to law or custom, or to the theory of trial by jury, it would be found that throughout English history from the earliest times down to at least as late as the reign of Elizabeth, the Sheriff, in all cases of the slightest importance, was directed to do what was in fact his duty in all cases, by returning a "good" jury—an expression which implied that there were to be jurymen who were educated and intelligent and above the common run of jurymen. Of late years the whole law relating to juries has been allowed to fall into utter confusion, which had been aggravated by the conduct of the Sheriffs, who substituted, when they thought it expedient, practices of their own for their legal duties. One consequence of all this irregularity had been that trial by jury had to some extent declined in estimation through the abuse, for it was nothing else, of making up common juries exclusively of common jurors, and of common jurors, moreover, drawn from a lower class of the community than that from which they used to be taken in former times. The assertion was scarcely too broad that trial by common jurors only was unconstitutional, and had never at any time been contemplated by the law. The Commissioners, therefore, whose Reports have been quoted, could scarcely do otherwise than recommend that jurors should be summoned under some system which would render certain the presence of some special jurors on "every trial." How, then, was it to be done? The Bill provided that it should be done haphazard—that the jury roll should be made out indiscriminately from jurors of both sorts, special and common. It would be found, 553 however, that the plan which they suggested for securing that object would clearly fail to carry their recommendation into any real effect. The common jurors were the overwhelming majority in the largest number of places in England. In some places it was not so, especially in the City of London, where the common jurors and the special jurors were almost equal in number. An indiscriminate system would work unfairly and improperly in both of those cases. In the larger number of cases, where the overwhelming majority were common jurors, of course the great majority of ordinary jurors would have no special jurors on them whatever if the jurors were taken at haphazard. In the few cases where the balance was nearly equal there was a waste of jury power, because they had an equal number of common and special jurors, which they did not want. They wanted a due proportion. He would give the House two or three curious details to show how the haphazard system would work. At the time when the Judicature Commission reported, the proportion in Sussex was this:—Common jurors, 7,303; special jurors, 197. In Kent the common jurors were 15,600, and the special jurors, 400. In Lancashire the common jurors were 42,550, and the special 1,400. In the parish of Marylebone the common jurors were 3,680, and the special 300. In St. Pancras the common jurors were 6,628, and the special 50. In Paddington the common jurors were 3,390, and the special 220. In Gloucestershire the common jurors were 6,754, and the special 250. Now anyone who considered these figures would see that his case was made out. These figures were taken from the evidence of official witnesses given before Lord Enfield's Committee. They were not chosen as in any way exhibiting more strongly than was the case in other places the disproportion in the numbers of the two classes of jurors: they were given because they were the only figures of the kind accessible to him. It was impossible to suppose that where the proportions were these you could get by indiscriminate selection the presence of educated men on every jury. Juries were twofold. There were criminal juries and there were civil juries. It was desired that satisfaction should be given in each case. Now, if juries were selected by chance, they might 554 have a prisoner of the upper sort tried exclusively by a jury of the lower sort, and a prisoner of the lower class tried exclusively by a jury of the upper class, and in either instance the administration of the law was not likely to command confidence. Take a civil jury. You might have persons of one class adjudicated by persons exclusively, or almost exclusively, of another class, and class-feeling would influence the result. Now, what he desired to secure was, that an ordinary jury should be an ordinary jury. If there was upon each jury a definite proportion of the one class and the other, and if men knew beforehand the sort, they could say whether or not they were content with it, or whether they would prefer a special jury. The main objection to this provision of the Bill was, that it would operate unfairly, not as regards the attendance of jurymen, because everybody was to servo and nobody was to serve twice, but by introducing class prejudices into the jury box. Now, to that he would reply that the very men who had urged that objection—and a very shadowy objection it was—had themselves expressly desired that to which they seemed to be opposed. They had all said—"Secure for us, if you can, the presence of men of education." When, however, it was admitted that it was right to secure the presence of men of education upon common juries, did not that mean that it was well to secure some men who were superior to the rest? He doubted whether there was any real substance in the objection. In the first place, it was a pure matter of theory. There was no other authority than that of the Select Committee in support of it, and high authority and experience were on the other side. For the last two years in Middlesex, and he also believed in London, many special jurors had served indiscriminately, and he had not heard of any class feelings or class prejudices having been begotten in the jury in consequence. Moreover, it was part of the proposition which he made in this Bill, that invidious distinctions in point of description should be removed from the jury list. Whereas, at present, some men ranked as bankers, merchants, esquires, yeomen, or otherwise; in future the only distinction between them would be that which was the result of higher or lower rating. Men below a certain rating would be marked 555 C in the jury list; those above a certain amount of rating would have S set against their names—there being but one list, although there would be two qualifications. To this proposal he thought there could be no exception. Moreover, the new law, like most other laws, would be administered by sensible men, who would take care that the lists would be properly composed. It was to be remembered that a great many men who now ranked as special jurors were men engaged in trades or other callings, who would hereafter only be placed among the class of special jurors, because, from the amount of their rating, they might be taken presumably to be persons of a higher education. Supposing, however, the charge made against this provision of the Bill to have some foundation, what did the charge come to except that, in cases where there was a class feeling, the matter which gave rise to the class feeling should not be decided by one class alone? He was always glad, if possible, to appeal to authority, and upon points of practical wisdom it was well to be able to appeal to the authority of our Scotch fellow-subjects. For a great many years, then, the principle he was now proposing to adopt in England had been adopted in Scotland in criminal cases; and since the Jury (Scotland) Act was passed it had been adopted in civil cases also. Out of 15 jurymen in criminal cases in Scotland, 10 were common and five special jurymen; and it had been stated on the authority of the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Gordon) in this House that the arrangement had given general satisfaction. The 31 & 32 Vict. c. 100, provided that in civil cases there should be 12 jurymen—eight common and four special jurymen. He stood, therefore, upon authority, both in this country and in Scotland. The Scotch, therefore, who were a shrewd and peculiarly sensible people, did not object to the principle which was embodied in the present Bill. At best the objection was a theoretical one; it was not formidable even if it were true, and there was a weight of authority and of practical experience directly the other way. Another point on which he should ask the House to reconsider the decision of the Select Committee was as to the unanimity of the jury. He admitted that the question was one which increased in difficulty in proportion as they 556 diminished the number of the jurors; but, with every respect for "the wisdom of our ancestors," he must call the existing law in this respect somewhat barbarian. He could not see why they should insist that every one of the 12 or of the seven should be of the same opinion. Why should one pertinacious, wrong-headed, cantankerous man be able to veto the reasonable conclusion of any number of persons? He did not want to specify what number of persons should constitute a majority on a jury, for he had no definite opinion as to what the majority which should bind the rest of the jurors should be; but, whatever number was adopted, he trusted the House would no longer insist upon unanimity in verdicts. He had preserved the old number of 12 jurymen in cases of treason, treason-felony, and murder, and proposed that in those cases the jury should be unanimous. If asked why he had done this, he must say that he did not know that he could give any good logical, and perhaps not even any sensible reason for it, such as would stand the test of argument. He had done it from a deep-rooted feeling—superstition, if you liked to call it so—for the profound, immeasurable sanctity of human life, and because death, when carried into execution, was the only sentence which could not be reversed—the only mistake you could not atone for. He had not thought it right that human life should be taken more easily than before, and therefore the concurrence of 12 men would be required as heretofore. While strenuously maintaining the justice of capital punishment, he desired to fence life in the English law with every security. If the House would examine the Bill it would be found to contain within itself the whole law upon the subject on which it treated. Our legislation had been subjected to well-founded reproaches as to its obscurity and difficulty, one cause being that when the law was altered the alteration did not speak for itself, and you had to refer back to former statutes to find what the law was. The result was that lawyers only could say what the law was, and even very few lawyers could speak on this point with certainty. The present Bill would show absolutely and completely what a man's liabilities were as to juries, and would do so, he hoped, with clearness and precision. In this 557 way only could these subjects be properly dealt with and the Statute-book made reasonable and intelligible. It would be absurd to suppose that he could undertake alone the preparation of a Bill like this—referring to a subject which was not very attractive in itself—which was full of out-of-the-way detail and learning, which did not come across the path of the ordinary practising barrister. He thought it right, therefore, to state that he had had the advantage of the aid of a gentleman who united to great intelligence and ability a peculiar and almost unique acquaintance with this head of the law—Mr. Erle, Associate in the Court of Common Pleas, and also of Mr. H. Pollock, Associate in the Court of Exchequer. He did not mention the names of those gentlemen in order to evade responsibility. The Bill was still his, and he was prepared to bear the burden of the faults and errors contained within it; but if there were any merits in the scheme it was only right that they should be credited to the persons to whom they belonged.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Attorney General.)
MR. STAVELEY HILL
moved that the Debate be now adjourned. No doubt the Bill was before the House last Session, but it was at once referred to a Select Committee, and it came back in a very different form from that in which it left the House. This happened at a very late period of the Session, and therefore hon. Members did not upon that occasion look into the Bill. The subject was one in which he took a deep interest, but he had not had an opportunity of seeing the present Bill until it came down from the Vote Office at about 10 minutes to 5 that day; and therefore he could be pardoned for not having studied its provisions. He did not think, therefore, that he should be doing an unusual thing in moving the Adjournment of the Debate in order that they might have time to consider the matter.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Staveley Hill.)
§ MR. M. CHAMBERS
said, he could not for the life of him see any good reason for reducing the number of men now composing a jury from 12 to seven. He thought 558 they ought at once to protest against the number of 12 being interfered with. It was true tradition told of seven wise men, and common report attached something mystical to the number. It was curious enough, but every person who had mixed in society had observed that there was a sort of mystery with reference to the number seven. It was imagined by some to be a lucky, and by others an unlucky number; but at the risk of being regarded as an antiquated person, he objected to a reduction of the number of a jury from 12, lest we might eventually come to the abolition of trial by jury altogether. And why should charges of treason and murder be tried by 12, when other felonies, misdemeanours, and civil cases were to be tried by seven? The grand object to be sought in the administration of justice was complete satisfaction on the part of the public and an absence of any suspicion of compromise. If the jury of seven were at first divided and afterwards agreed, the inevitable consequence would be that the public would believe the majority of four had induced the minority of three to forego their opinion. He thought also that it was highly important that in civil cases there should still be a jury of 12, for those cases were often of enormous importance, and their results sometimes ruinous, to the parties concerned. He could not deny that inconvenience resulted from time to time, owing to the non-attendance of jurors, but that state of things could be remedied by a stricter exercise of existing powers to enforce their attendance. The common jurymen, who were miserably underpaid, attended in tolerable numbers. Special jurymen, on the other hand, stayed away just as they liked; were often loud in their complaints if they attended for one or two days without being called; and when they acted they received their guinea. For his part, he thought that special jurors, from the social position they occupied, ought not to demand a guinea for trying a. case, but ought to perform that public duty without hope of receiving payment. [A laugh.] That might seem a strange proposition, but it should be remembered that if they discharged that duty towards others they would find it done for themselves also when they were engaged in causes. His chief object in rising was to protest against the pro- 559 posed diminution in the number of jurors, because he was afraid that if the number was reduced as proposed, it would be the first step towards the abolition of trial by jury. It was the fashion sometimes to sneer at that tribunal; but those who did so forgot how well it had worked and the benefits it had conferred on the community. If they were now to act upon the principle of the Attorney General, and diminish that number from 12 to seven, they might soon find it reduced from seven to five, and from five to three, and, finally, they would have causes tried by a single juryman. Instead of having trial by jury, they would have substituted for it trial by one Judge. He believed that common jurymen would be strongly opposed to the proposed composite arrangement and as to the numbers attending, he thought a sufficient number might be obtained without any substantial inconvenience. He objected to any alteration in the number of the jury with which the minds of Englishmen had been for so many centuries familiar. With great respect to the Judicial Bench, he could not help saying, before he sat down, that he had observed that Judges were gradually acquiring greater power over the minds of juries than they ought to possess or exercise, and this fact gave rise to what was frequently said that the Judge could lead the jury just as he liked. Juries were bound to take the law from the Bench, but of the facts of a case they were the sole judges. He hoped before they came to the consideration of the clauses in Committee, hon. Members would give what he might call a patriotic attention to the principal proposal of the Bill, and that they would not consent to a reduction in the number constituting a jury simply for the sake of the despicable consideration of convenience.
§ MR. JAMES
said, he concurred with his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General that the present unsatisfactory state of the jury system rendered it desirable and necessary that some re-arrangement of it should be made during the present Session. But while he hoped that the Bill would be read a second time there were some provisions in it which required much consideration, and in respect of which full opportuniy for consideration and inquiry ought to be afforded. The prin- 560 cipal matter to which attention would doubtless be directed, and to which it was impossible not to attach great importance, was the proposal to alter the constitution of a jury by reducing the number from 12 to seven. In the Select Committee of last year that proposal was carried by a very narrow majority. He (Mr. James) was among the minority, and his hon. and learned Friend was aware that it was intimated the opinion of the House would be taken by the minority before the important alteration in question was agreed to. No Notice had, however, been given that the provision would be discussed on that occasion, but his hon. and learned Friend was aware that in Committee a division would be taken on the subject. Many hon. Members would doubtless be anxious to know why the change was proposed, and his hon. and learned Friend, if he desired to effect it, must show that the alteration was required, and would, if carried out, be likely to work well. He wished to say that not being confident in his own opinion, he had taken some trouble to ascertain the views and feelings of his brethren at the Bar, who were likely to be able to judge of the change, on the subject. He had obtained the signature to a paper handed round without comment of most of those who took a conspicuous part as advocates at Westminster Hall, and he felt bound to say that their opinion was almost unanimous against the proposed change. They thought it was not desirable in civil eases that the number of jurors should be reduced from 12 to seven. In face of these facts, he hoped that ample time would be given for the consideration of the Bill in Committee. His hon. and learned Friend had referred to one other topic—namely, that of composite juries—a subject which was not sought to be dealt with in the Bill. That subject, too, had been fully considered by the Select Committee; and while they resolved that the number constituting a jury should be seven, they were opposed, as he was, to its being a composite jury. If they had a composite jury they might have four special jurors to be paid a guinea each, or four common jurors whose ordinary fee was 2s. each, and the chances were that the verdict would not express the mind of all the jurors, but would be the hasty decision of the majority, and probably in the end most 561 unsatisfactory. On this point his hon. and learned Friend stood almost alone in the Committee, and his reason for touching on it, although it formed no part of his Bill, was perhaps to foreshadow the argument he would eventually bring forward with a view to show that the Committee had arrived at an erroneous conclusion. Whilst everyone wished to see a Bill of some kind carried, he certainly thought that a discussion on the particular clauses contained in this one ought to be postponed so as to give hon. Members time for consideration.
MR. ALDERMAN W. LAWRENCE
observed that the hon. and learned Attorney General, in advocating a change in the jury system, had failed to make out any case for his proposed reduction in the number constituting a jury. Before he could justify such a measure he should have shown that under the existing system jurors had failed in their duties, or that they had delivered improper verdicts. There had been occasional miscarriages of justice, but there was no evidence to prove that such would not have been the case had the juries consisted of seven instead of 12 persons. It was true there was no magic in the number 12, but there was this reason for a continuance of that number—that it had existed and had-worked well for a long series of years. It was said that the present system involved great inconvenience to jurors; but he maintained that there was an argument of much greater weight on the other side, and that was the confidence which the people felt both in Judges and juries; and he thought it infinitely more important than any supposed inconvenience of that number that the confidence of the people in the administration of the law should be carefully preserved; therefore the hon. and learned Gentleman would do well to pause before making any change which might shake that confidence. Then as to the suggested admixture of the jurors—knowing the feeling of the great body of the people—he was quite sure that they would deprecate this attempt to influence the one class of jurors by associating with it what was supposed to be a superior or better educated class. That would be, indeed, the introduction into the jury-box of the caste system for the purpose of effecting an undue influence, and would be looked upon by the 562 people of this country with very little favour. The amount of rates paid by individuals was no criterion whatever of the superiority or better education of one class over another, and as to the proposal of accepting the verdict of a majority, it appeared to him to be better to abolish juries altogether than to allow a man to be convicted of an offence by the voice of a simple majority. The hon. and learned Gentleman spoke as if it was a thing not to be expected that 12 men should be of one mind. That might be the case with respect to a question of doctrine or philosophy, but there was nothing so unlikely in expecting that 12 men could be brought to say, after hearing the evidence, whether one man had or had not injured or robbed another. The Bill provided that the number seven might in cases of illness or absence be reduced, and that the Judge might direct that the trial should go on with five jurors, except in cases of murder and treason. But it ought not to be permitted that important cases, involving charges of libel or conspiracy for instance, should be decided by the majority of a jury of five persons. He held that it would be unwise to try to carry out a doubtful improvement at the risk of shaking the confidence of the people in trial by jury.
said, he had for many years endeavoured to call attention to this subject, and he had himself brought in a Bill with a view to remedy the serious grievances under which the people of this country laboured. But, feeling that the undertaking was too much for any private Member, in the February of last year he moved that the whole measure should be dealt with by the Government in a large and comprehensive measure. He was bound to say that the Attorney General at once acceded to that proposition, and he rose now chiefly for the purpose of thanking the hon. and learned Gentleman for the prompt and full performance of his promise and for the measure which he had introduced. He did not purpose to discuss the merits of the question on the Motion for the Adjournment of the Debate, but he would suggest to his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Coventry (Mr. Staveley Hill) that this was an exceptional case, and that the Bill had been stated to be in the main a copy of the Bill of last Session which 563 was discussed before the Select Committee, which was printed and in the hands of hon. Members before the Long Vacation. Would it not be sufficient for his hon. and learned Friend's purpose that the Bill, if now read a second time, should not be taken in Committee until after Easter? That would give sufficient time for its consideration. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General did not assent; but he should remember that many hon. Members who took a great interest in the measure, and who would like to have an opportunity of discussing the different clauses, would of necessity be absent between this and Easter.
MR. GATHORNE HARDY
was bound to say, in defence of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Coventry (Mr. Staveley Hill), that the hon. and learned Attorney General, he thought, had taken a course which he would find a bad precedent to be followed. If they were to accept this measure at once, because a similar one had been in their hands at the end of the previous Session, they might find themselves placed in a position of some difficulty. He was further reminded by the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Mr. H. James) that the Attorney General had dwelt at some length on one particular point which was not in his Bill at all. Nevertheless, he thought that the House might assent to its second reading now, upon the understanding that ample time should be afforded them for the consideration of its provisions before they were asked to go into Committee upon it. He would, therefore, unite in the request of the last speaker, that his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Coventry should withdraw his Amendment. It was clear that there really was no opposition to the second reading of the Bill, but only to details of it, and therefore he hoped that his hon. Friend would withdraw his Motion. A good deal had been said upon the subject not only of special, but of ordinary jurors. It had always appeared to him while in practice at the Bar, and since in his small judicial capacity at Quarter Sessions, that there was a class of persons who were never tried by their peers—he referred to the labouring class—and that it would be well, if possible, to introduce working men into juries. He knew that the question was a very puzzling one; 564 and it seemed to him that though it would be, of course, impossible to throw the jury lists altogether open, it would be desirable that a proportion of members of the labouring classes should be found on them. He merely threw it out now, however, as a suggestion for the consideration of his hon. and learned Friend.
§ MR. GREGORY
said, he concurred in the appeal to the hon. and learned Gentleman to withdraw the Amendment, but at the same time he thought that, as the clauses of the Bill were numerous and the subject an important one, it was desirable that a tolerably long interval should be given for the consideration of it, although he was aware that it embodied the recommendations of the Select Committee of last year. He quite agreed with the Attorney General as to the non-necessity of requiring unanimity in a jury.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
was in this matter in the hands of the House, and would never for a moment think of pressing on the second reading if there was any real desire that the debate should be adjourned. It was evident, however, that that was not the case, and he trusted that his hon. and learned Friend who had moved the Amendment would feel that in the discussion which had taken place the object he had bad in view had been attained. The Bill was, no doubt, complicated in its details, and the demand for time for its consideration was only reasonable. He would therefore put down the Committee for Thursday next, with the distinct understanding that it would not come on on that evening. By that time he would probably be able to fix a time which would be convenient to hon. Members.
MR. STAVELEY HILL
would at once accept the, hon. and learned Gentleman's proposal, and withdraw his Amendment.
§ Motion, "That the Debate be now adjourned," by leave, withdrawn.
§ Original Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Thursday.