HC Deb 15 August 1878 vol 242 cc2038-40

said, he understood that it was intended to discharge the Order for going into Committee on this Bill; but before that was done, he wished to make a few remarks with reference to the Notice given by the hon. and learned Member for Taunton (Sir Henry James). It was understood that if the Bill were withdrawn, the Government would refer it to a Royal Commission. That was a course which he thought everybody highly approved. Speaking for himself, he did, and he hoped the Commission would be one whose recommendations might be confidently accepted. The codification of the Criminal Law not only embraced legal questions, but dealt with a number of questions which involved political principles of the highest importance— such as matters relating to religion— Sabbath observance, the law of conspiracy affecting labour, and many others. It was unnecessary for him to bear his testimony to the admirable work which his friend, Sir Fitzjames Stephen, had accomplished in the draft Bill before the House. Nobody respected that gentleman's ability, or rated it more highly than he did; but in a work of that character they must have the help of different minds; it must be looked at from various points of view, and not exclusively in a legal aspect. In the case of the Common Law Procedure Act, great benefit was gained from having distinguished laymen like Mr. Henley and Sir James Graham on the Commission. In the present instance, he would warn the Government that if they persisted in constituting a purely legal Commission, they would entirely fail in the object they had in view—namely, of inducing Parliament to accept that Bill without discussion, and they would next Session be as far as they were now from any chance of passing it.


also impressed upon the Government the absolute necessity of having a Commission large enough to necessary; for without that it would be represent every view, even lay views, if hopeless to pass any such measure as this. It was due to the working men of the country that the Bill had first been drawn up. They were in favour of getting the measure soon; but he was doubtful whether they would be satisfied with the Commission as it was proposed to be constituted.


also thought that the Commission ought to be wide enough to include men of different views. Instead of that, however, the Commission was to consist of two Judges and the author of the Code himself, Sir Fitzjames Stephen. The Judges would have to do with their judicial duties, and the author of the Code, instead of being a Member of the Commission and voting in reference to the Code, should have appeared as a witness before the Commission. If they wanted men to do useful work, they ought to pay them for it. The Commission ought to have the undivided attention of one or more persons experienced in the practice of the Criminal Law. With regard to the question of the Criminal Court of Appeal, it was proposed to take three Judges from the Common Law Courts to constitute that Court of Appeal. Now, the Judges of the Common Law Courts were already over-worked; and if they wanted a Court of Appeal, they ought to have Judges who had nothing to do but to hear appeals.


said, that Mr. Justice Barry was to be added to the Commission in addition to the other gentlemen mentioned. The observations which had been made by the hon. and learned Gentlemen in that discussion would receive due consideration; but as to Sir Fitzjames Stephen, whether he appeared as a witness before the Commission, or as a Member of it, his opinion would receive great attention. No doubt, the absence from the Commission of the Lord Chief Justice of England might have been observed. It might naturally have been thought that Sir Alexander Cockburn should have been at the head of the Commission; but it was found that the public duties which he had to discharge were inconsistent with the continuous work which this Commission would have to discharge, seeing that it would sit at the beginning of November and proceed de die in diem until its work was completed. The appropriate task of the Commission would be that of getting the Bill into "shipshape" order that it might be presentable to Parliament. The wide questions mentioned by the hon. and learned Gentleman would be properly discussed by Parliament. Parliament would be saved by the Commission from having a number of technical Amendments barring the progress of the Bill; but he did not see why Parliament should abrogate its functions with regard to the questions embraced by the Bill. He begged to move the discharge of the Order for going into Committee on the Bill.


said, that the Government would never succeed in carrying the Bill next Session, unless they considerably modified the Commission in the direction suggested by the hon. and learned Member for Oxford. He, therefore, hoped they would give effect to the suggestions that had been thrown out.

Motion agreed to.

Order for Committee read and discharged.

Bill withdrawn.