HC Deb 17 April 1877 vol 233 cc1375-8

in moving for leave to bring in a Bill to amend the Law relating to the Summary Jurisdiction of Magistrates, observed that the general tendency of all such legislation in later years had been more lenient than the older statutes. One of the objects of the present measure was to enable magistrates to deal practically much more than they now did with all cases, and to give them power to mitigate the punishments of offenders in cases where the law at present said they should undergo a certain minimum amount of punishment. He also proposed to do away with certain hardships which now existed under the Small Penalties Act, and also to authorize justices to do by law what many of them now did without having the law on their side—namely, to order that any pecuniary penalty they inflicted might be paid by instalments. He provided, further, that, in regard to very small fines, say, not exceeding 5s., the fine should carry with it all its costs. To Courts of Summary Jurisdiction power had been given to estreat recognizances, as in the Metropolitan Police Courts. He now came to the clauses which dealt with the Juvenile Offenders Act. There was no doubt that Act had been of great use. But the Criminal Justices Act, which practically ran in almost parallel lines with it, had a great many parts which were different from the Juvenile Offenders Act; and if the two Acts were read together, it was hard to say why one should be passed in one form and the other in another. He proposed to repeal both these Acts, and to introduce a clause in this Bill which would make a great difference in the administration of criminal justice. He should avoid sending a child of tender years to gaol. He should not take away the power, if it was thought right to exercise it, of sending a child for trial to the assizes or sessions; but he wished the House to give Courts of Petty Session the power, in case of children under 12, except in case of homicide, not to send a child for trial at all, but to deal with him summarily. If they thought it right they might imprison the child with or without hard labour for a month; and if the child was a male he might receive six strokes with a birch rod. In the case of another class of juvenile offenders where the offences were of such a nature as simple larceny, stealing from the person, embezzlement by clerk or servant, he would give the same powers of summary jurisdiction to the magistrates, increasing the strokes of the rod, however, from 6 to 12. In certain specified cases where adults were concerned he would proceed on the same lines. The magistrates in many cases had large powers, and in some could imprison for six months, and in others for a year. He proposed in all cases where more than three months could be inflicted to give the prisoner the right to say he would be tried by a jury. As to certain fines which at present ought to find their way into the Exchequer, but very often did not, he would make them over to the local authorities, who would probably look sharply after them. It would be necessary to have certain rules laid down for carrying out the procedure under the Bill, and he proposed that the Lord Chancellor should be authorized to lay them down. He would also give the right of appeal to quarter sessions when a person was liable to be imprisoned for a certain time. There were a great many other provisions in the Bill, but at that late hour ho would not at that stage go into them. Hon. Members would see that there were many evils and inequalities to be dealt with. He did not pretend that the Bill would remedy them all; but he trusted that it would be regarded as a step in the right direction. He begged to move for leave to bring in the Bill.


said, it seemed to him desirable, in cases where the assizes wore not to come on for months after prisoners were committed, that the necessity for keeping them all that time in prison should be avoided as far as possible. There were many cases wherein the expenses of prosecution of prisoners for violence or otherwise were thrown upon the injured party. In cases of children under 12 years of age he often found great difficulty, and he preferred discharging them to sending them to prison. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman would introduce some clause into the Bill to deal with such young children in a different and more considerate manner.


said, he would consider the suggestion.

Motion agreed to.

Bill to amend the Law relating to the Summary Jurisdiction of Magistrates, ordered to be brought in by Mr. Secretary CROSS, Mr. SOLICITOR GENERAL, and Sir HENRY SELWINIBBETSON.

Bill presented, and read the first time [Bill 137.]