HC Deb 30 January 1878 vol 237 cc657-88

Order for Second Reading read.


in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that as the measure was before the House last Session, he would avoid repeating again what he said on the previous occasion, and he contended that the burden of proof that the measure ought not to be sanctioned by the House rested with its opponents. It was for them to show that in the administration of justice there should be a rule contrary to what common sense and the practice of ordinary life would prima facie sanction; and that the Criminal Law should be an exception to the general law as to the admission of the parties themselves to give evidence in the interests of truth. The Preamble of the Bill recited that it was expedient for the better administration of justice that, in criminal cases, both as regarded the conviction of offenders and the acquittal of the innocent, the accused and their wives or husbands should be permitted to give evidence. The rule that prisoners should not be examined originated in the tyrannical conduct of the Judges at the time of the Revolution. As the reason had disappeared, and as he believed for ever, the rule ought also to vanish. The change he now proposed would tend to the surer conviction of the guilty, while it would afford a greater chance of escape to the innocent. He did not suppose there was a Member of the House who would not wish, if he were charged with a criminal offence, to have the opportunity of giving evidence. The only objection to the change proposed by this Bill was that there were evils which would counter-balance the advantages of allowing prisoners to be examined. He had found from conversation with men of high position and repute that there were persons in this country who seemed to think that it was rather right that a certain number of chances should be given to a man to escape. A great number of people looked upon the administration of justice as a game based on certain rules, and spoke as if it would be unfair to modify these rules to the disadvantage of one of the parties to the game. That was not a reasonable view. He considered the certainty of punishment as far more important and efficacious than its severity. The escape of the guilty was a great encouragement to the criminal class. He believed that nothing would tend more to ensure the conviction of the guilty than to examine them. It was a blot on any system of justice when many offenders escaped. Judex damnatur cum nocens absolvitur. Many persons objected to the foreign proceeding of examining prisoners being introduced into this country, as they knew that sometimes the Judges on the Continent put the prisoners through a system of torture; but he would ask whether it was possible, with such a Bar and Bench as existed in this country, there was any danger of the Continental system of bullying being introduced. The Judges would act as moderators, and would prevent any excesses taking place. Even since last Session cases had occurred which showed the practical grievance which this Bill would remedy. Among others was that case of rape which was tried at the Liverpool Assizes, and in which three men were sentenced to various terms of penal servitude. Owing to the chance that two of the men were defended by counsel, a memorial with reference to their case was sent to the Home Office. Three other men were in consequence charged at the following Assizes, and the three convicts were brought up to give evidence. The result of their evidence, agreeing as it did in all respects, as pointed out by the presiding Judge, was to convince the Court that no crime had been committed at all, and the three men, who were under sentence of penal servitude, had since received a free pardon. It had been urged against the Bill that the majority of persons brought into Court charged with offences were of a low moral condition, and would be likely to give lying evidence merely from the habit of lying, that thereby the jury would be prejudiced against them, and that thus prisoners would often be "found guilty" of offences which they had not committed. To that argument his answer was, that he would not sacrifice the interests of the innocent to the moral defects of some of them, and that under the present system the statement made by a prisoner at the time of his arrest was laid before the jury. In cases of complicated commercial fraud, in which several persons were implicated, the only way to ascertain the full truth would be by examining the prisoners. The principle which this Bill would establish in this country had been incorporated in the new Code of India, which had been described as English law with all the nonsense taken out. New Zealand had adopted it, so had the United States of America; and the answer to inquiries made as to its operation in those States was that in all of them except one, which did not speak very decidedly, it gave satisfaction to all the Chief Justices and Attorneys General, and did not inflict hardship or injustice on any prisoner. He believed that in this country, whenever there were ample means and ample time, the administration of justice was nearly perfect; but he did not think so well of the trial of the ordinary cases at Assizes and Sessions. An undefended prisoner was now virtually questioned at the trial by the evidence given against him, and yet was forbidden to answer in the only way which his low education usually permitted; but was perplexed and baffled by being called upon to lay the foundation for a skilled address to the jury by questions which he was told to put to the witnesses, but which invariably took the form of statements in which he was constantly being checked by the Court. It was often a most unsatisfactory scene. What he asked the House to do now was to affirm the principle of the Bill—namely, that a man accused of a crime should himself, by his own evidence, in answer to the evidence produced by the prosecution, be able to show that he was perfectly innocent, and be prepared to prove it by submitting to a cross-examination. The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by moving that the Bill be read a second time.

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


in moving, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, said, that he did so, not so much for the purpose of opposing the Bill as for eliciting a full discussion of the measure. It was one of the greatest importance, and had not, as it seemed to him, been sufficiently considered either by the House or the public. He should regret extremely if Members of the Bar who held seats in that House and were practically concerned in the administration of justice allowed a measure of this kind to pass sub silentio. His objections to the Bill were by no means strong. The subject was one to which he had given much and anxious consideration. At first sight it did seem unreasonable and unfair that a prisoner charged at the bar of a Criminal Court should have his mouth closed and not be able to tell his own story. There was a general senti- ment—and he did not ignore sentiment— that no man should be allowed to convict himself out of his own mouth. But he did not press that sentiment as an argument against the Bill. His own opinion was rather in the direction of the opinion of his hon. and learned Friend. But he viewed this matter as a practical question. What would be the practical effect of a measure of this kind on the administration of justice? His hon. and learned Friend said that the adoption of his Bill would secure the conviction of a larger number of guilty persons; while, on the other hand, a larger number of innocent persons would be acquitted under it. He (Mr. Serjeant Simon) believed that under it a larger number of guilty persons would be convicted; but he entirely dissented from the opinion that a larger number of innocent people would be acquitted. No doubt if an innocent man were charged with an offence, he would desire to have an opportunity of telling his own story. But where they found one innocent person of strong nerve and will, ready to speak the whole truth, conscious of innocence, how many persons who were entirely innocent would be able in that position to undergo such an ordeal, and to undergo a searching cross-examination? Those who knew much of our Courts could say that few witnesses ever could give a clear and succinct account of what they knew without bias; or who, having told a story without bias, could undergo a searching cross-examination. Take the case of an accused person, ignorant of the rules of law, being cross-examined by counsel skilled in his art, the odds would be immeasurably against the accused and in favour of the prosecution. Where you would find one intelligent person who had the power of facing the difficulties of a cross-examination you would find 20 others, equally moral, equally innocent, utterly incapable of such an encounter; and although it might be that no man ought to be a victim from a state of the law which some deplored, yet in his opinion it would be far worse for the accused, and they would be placed in much greater danger if the law were altered in the way proposed by this Bill. Then what would be the effect of the change in the law upon the demoralized class? He thought that the policy which had been pursued during the last 20 years or more was one most calculated to do good—namely, to punish offenders, not for the mere sake of punishment, but to reform them, and to redeem them from their bad habits. To throw the class of habitual offenders into the category of hopeless criminals would be unwise and cruel. The tendency of this measure, he feared, would have that effect. The great majority of persons charged with crime were of this class. They were too poor to employ counsel, and even after stating their case and going through the test of cross-examination, who was to re-examine them to clear up points which had arisen on cross-examination? Such a re-examination was one of the most delicate and difficult offices of an advocate, requiring the greatest discretion. Poor ignorant persons who were put upon their trial had not intelligence enough to conduct their own cases. They would be placed at great disadvantage under a law which would practically compel them to give evidence; they would be cross-examined by skilled counsel for the prosecution, and they would not be able to clear up difficulties which had been raised against them in the course of cross-examination. Why should the large mass of prisoners, very many of whom were innocent of the offences imputed to them, be placed in a position of such peril? It might be said that the Judge was entitled to put any question in order to clear up points, and his hon. and learned Friend had referred to the system adopted in the French Courts. But God forbid that our Courts should ever present such a spectacle as was often seen in the French tribunals! If there was one thing that Englishmen were more proud of than another, it was the serene aspect of our Courts and impartiality displayed by the Judicial Bench of this country. Yet he did not think that even an English Judge would be wholly free from the taint which sullied the administration of justice in some other countries if the present Bill became law. "The ermine which clothed the Judge clothed also the frailties of mortal man." If there was to be a sharp encounter of wits between the Bench and perhaps some guilty rascal in the dock, in process of time they might find the Judge turned into an advocate for the prosecution and the adversary of the prisoner. That would shake public confidence in the adminis- tration of justice, and impair the reverence now felt for our Judges. So far he had spoken of the Superior Courts, but the argument was even stronger against the Bill if they turned to the inferior tribunals. He had known some Chairmen of Quarter Sessions who, although they might not be trained lawyers, were yet admirable magistrates. But for one man like the right hon. Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) —whoso retirement from that House they all so much regretted—who was so well qualified to guide the judgment of the Bench, how many were there of a different description? He had heard of a case in which a prisoner on his trial at County Sessions, when asked what he could say for himself, blurted out that he was as innocent as a child unborn, whereupon the Chairman—a gentleman of high character—said to the prisoner —"Why, your face is enough to hang you." That was considered a very good joke by the youngsters of the Bar; but it was considered in a very different light by the older barristers. He did not say that such scenes as that occurred frequently; but if by any possibility such a thing could occur in an English Court of Justice at present, great care was necessary before changing the law so as to place the prisoner at the mercy of a partial or incompetent Judge. He might be told that his argument went to the abolition of Judges who had not received a legal training and did not possess judicial impartiality. He admitted that; but he maintained that the evil would be considerably increased if they put into the hands of magistrates, or Chairmen of Sessions the additional power which that Bill would give them. The 6th section of the Bill said it should be optional with the prisoner to tender himself as a witness, and the 10th section said that the neglect or refusal of any prisoner or defendant to give evidence should not create any presumption against him, and also that no adverse comment should be made at the trial on such neglect or refusal. Such a provision must be wholly nugatory, for the moment they gave a prisoner power to tender himself as a witness he would be practically bound to do so; and, if he refused, they could not exclude adverse comment. Moreover, even if there were no such comment made, the jury would know that the prisoner might have tendered himself, but had not done it, and they would be influenced accordingly. The Bill virtually reversed the just and wise principle of our law that every man must be taken to be innocent until he was proved guilty, and it shifted the onus of proof from the accuser to the accused. It sought, in fact, to place in the same category two totally distinct classes of persons, whose positions could not be assimilated, and to treat a prisoner in the dock as an ordinary witness. If a prisoner was to be a witness, he must be liable to the penalties of perjury; and if he were a timid or nervous man and made a slip in his statements, he might expose himself to another prosecution. In fact, the provision amounted to this—that every prisoner would be bound to accuse himself under the penalty of condign punishment. Again, what would be the effect on a prisoner who refused to answer a particular question because his answer might subject him to another charge? Why, his chance of acquittal would he entirely gone, and there would be an end to his case. He (Mr. Serjeant Simon) did not think our present system was perfect, or that there were not instances in which it would be an advantage to be able to question the prisoner; but cases of that sort would be better provided for by a rehearing or appeal before a properly constituted tribunal, having larger powers than were now given in ordinary cases of appeal. The practical operation of the Bill would be, instead of putting the prisoner at an advantage, to put him at great disadvantage; for he would not only have to prove his innocence, but if he did not accuse himself where he was guilty he would be punished for that refusal. The safeguards which the measure was intended to throw around accused persons were no safeguards at all, but rather the reverse. The hon. and learned Gentleman concluded by moving his Amendment.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Serjeant Simon.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


in opposing the second reading, said, that the whole question put to the House was one affecting the interests of the public at large in every mode and shape, and not one to be dealt with by professional men only. It intimately concerned the principles on which our Criminal Law was at present administered; and if this Bill was passed it would make a total revolution in the administration of our law. Although he had had considerable experience in the practice of the Criminal Law, it would be presumptuous in him, knowing how many eminent authorities were in favour of a system of that sort, to say it would be wrong that a prisoner in some circumstances and under certain restrictions should be examined. The boast of Englishmen was that the prosecutor had to prove the guilt of the prisoner, and that the prisoner was not called upon to prove his innocence. If the Bill was made law the direct result of its application would be to call upon the prisoner, not quite, but almost in as many terms, to prove his innocence before the jury could acquit him of the charge. The 10th section of the Bill said that the refusal of a prisoner to give evidence should not create a presumption against him; but the jury were the persons who would have to draw the inference that might be drawn from such a circumstance; and how, by any clause it might pass, could the House possibly control the feelings of an English jury, often a very capricious body indeed? Moreover, the question of such a presumption was rather a metaphysical one; but if the accused did not, or could not, answer a question that was put to him, and the question was in doubt, the prisoner would probably go on his trial with a presumption against him. He was at a loss to understand what were the advantages to be derived from that Bill, and whether its object was to obtain more convictions of the guilty or more acquittals of the innocent. The Liverpool case which had been referred to by the hon. and learned Member for Poole might have occurred under that Bill. He could not quite concur in what had fallen from the hon. and learned Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Serjeant Simon) as to the perils of cross-examination. His own experience was that where a witness was the witness of truth— as in the case of a child or a young person —the evidence so given was the most difficult to shake on cross-examination. He would suggest in no unfriendly spirit to the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Ashley) that, having brought this question before the House, he should allow it to be dealt with, not by a fragmentary measure such as that under discussion, but in a larger and more complete way, after a Commission or some other competent body had been instituted to examine it in all its bearings, and hear the conflicting opinions which might be held upon it by those who were well qualified to speak on such a matter. As for the proposal to admit the evidence of husbands and wives, it was one in favour of which there was a great deal to be said. It was strange, to say the least of it, that a man's mistress might be admitted to give evidence in his favour while his wife could not; and if the part of the Bill dealing with that anomaly had stood alone, he should probably have felt inclined to support it. That was a very large and important question, however, and he hoped to see it dealt with in a more satisfactory manner than that now proposed. All things being considered, he did not think the Bill, in its present shape, was worthy the acceptance of the House.


said, that it had been maintained that to permit a prisoner to offer himself for examination would be contrary to the interest of the prisoner and would not be favourable in many cases to an innocent man on his trial. It would be remembered by the House that at one time a prisoner indicted for felony was not allowed to have the benefit of counsel except for the purpose of cross-examination. His counsel was not allowed to address the jury in his defence. The argument then advanced was that if the prisoner's counsel was allowed to address the jury on his behalf the trial would be a contention between the counsel for the prisoner and the counsel for the prosecution; and that in many cases prisoners were not able to secure the services of very able or experienced counsel, as very often their defence fell into the hands of young men, while the prosecution was generally entrusted to more experienced persons. Moreover, they said the Judge would be put in this position—that in summing up the case he would have to refute many things advanced on behalf of the prisoner, and that, therefore, the pri- soner would not be in such an advantageous position as if he left his case in the hands of the Judge. Parliament, however, overruled these objections, and at present counsel for the prisoner were allowed to address the jury, while none of the dreadful consequences to prisoners which had been prognosticated had arisen. For his own part, he should deeply deplore the adoption in this country of the French system of examining prisoners; but, at the same time, he believed that the cause of truth would be promoted by allowing the prisoner to tell his own story. However uneducated or nervous he might be, an innocent man could hardly fail to impress the jury favourably with his plain, unvarnished tale. The Bill did not propose that he should be presumed to be guilty unless he defended himself; it only enabled him, if he thought fit, to call an additional witness in his own favour—namely, himself. No doubt a prisoner's refusing to tell his own story would be prima facie evidence against him; but if he had an honest reason for his refusal—such as over-nervousness or mental prostration—it could be stated and would have due weight with the jury. In the present state of the law there was always the possibility of an innocent man being convicted; and he thought, therefore, it would be a clear advantage to have the prisoner's evidence. Who could doubt that in the Penge case, for instance, if the prisoners had been allowed to come forward as witnesses, the truth would have been much more clearly elicited? There were many points in that case which were not cleared up, and which could only have been cleared up by the prisoners themselves. The principle which prevailed in civil law—namely, to admit as much evidence as possible, seemed to him a sound one for civil and criminal cases alike. If a defendant could be examined in a civil case, why should not a prisoner be examined in a criminal case, the object being exactly the same in both cases—namely, the ascertainment of truth. The hon. and learned Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Serjeant Simon) might have used the same arguments against allowing a defendant to be subpoenaed in a civil case as he had urged against the Bill; because a civil case might be quite as serious, and perhaps even more serious, to a defendant than a criminal one. The House was well acquainted with such cases as that of a man who, having been convicted of some crime, afterwards indicted the principal witness against him for perjury, and obtained a verdict against him, thus making it obvious that if he had been originally heard in his own defence he would have been acquitted. As to the clause in the Bill with, regard to the examination of husband and wife, he would merely observe that as the law stood the well-known murderer Push would in all probability have escaped scot-free had he happened to have married the woman who was the chief witness against him, and the ends of justice would have been defeated. The real principle in both civil and criminal law was that the Judge and Jury should have before them all the evidence bearing upon the question which they had to decide, and any law which prevented that was objectionable, inasmuch as it placed a barrier in the way of the ascertainment of truth.


said, he agreed on many points with the author of the Bill, but he thought it was open to several objections. The object of the Criminal Law should be to secure the maximum of convictions of the guilty with the minimum of peril to the innocent. He agreed with his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Ashley) that by allowing prisoners to give evidence a greater number of convictions would be obtained; but that advantage would be dearly bought if it increased the peril of the innocent. No doubt there were cases where an innocent man would be able to establish his innocence if he were allowed to tell his own story; but he feared there were many cases where the right or liability of the accused to be called as a witness would be anything but serviceable to him, even although he was innocent. Many a man, who, if he told a plain unvarnished tale, would clearly show that he was not guilty of the crime imputed to him, would be tempted to lie in order to make his case better, and the detection of the lie would create an impression exceedingly adverse to him in the minds of the jury. The temptation to men of a low moral nature, who formed the majority of persons tried for criminal offences, to say what was false would be enormous; and on that ground he doubted whether, on the whole, the right of the prisoner to be examined would be for the advantage of the innocent. At the same time, he doubted whether you had any right to deny the innocent who would tell the truth, that which would be an advantage to them, because it might be a disadvantage to those who would yield to the temptation to speak falsely. He admitted that it was a serious question whether the advantages of this Bill outweighed the disadvantages; but he thought the question was not yet ripe for decision, and that there were great difficulties in the way of settling it as now proposed. He did not profess to have arrived at a very clear decision on the subject, and he had the less hesitation in making this admission because Sir James Stephen, whose opinion was entitled to the greatest weight, and who had at one time written strongly against prisoners being allowed to give evidence, now acknowledged that he had come to the opposite conclusion, though he thought the examination should not be made as proposed by the Bill, but through the medium of the Judge. To a man defended by counsel, or an educated man, it would, he believed, be of great service that he should be able to tell his own story; but it was only a fraction of prisoners who were able to secure legal assistance, and the rest would have no means of having their attention called to those facts which really told against them. If they were to be examined, somebody must put the necessary questions to them, and who, he should like to know, was to perform that duty? [Sir GEORGE BOWYER: The Judge.] If that were to be so, the House would be giving its sanction to something very different from anything contained in the provisions of the Bill— the judicial interrogation of the prisoner —a proposal for which there was much, he admitted, to be said, especially in the case of trials at Quarter Sessions and at the Assizes. There was, however, the objection to the general adoption of such a proposal that public feeling with respect to it might change, especially if any tendency were shown towards the introduction into this country of the torture of the Continental system of examination from the Bench. The change was one, therefore, which required, he thought, very serious consideration be- fore it could receive the sanction of the House. It also appeared to him, although he was altogether in favour of enabling prisoners to make a statement in their own defence, that it was not desirable they should be examined on oath, because most men who stood in that position would be sure to lie; it would come to be considered by the jury a matter of course that they would do so, and in that way the sense of the validity of an oath would come to be gradually weakened, while nothing would be gained by its administration in such cases. He made these few observations rather with the view of pointing out the difficulties of the subject than in any spirit of opposition to the Bill; because he thought it expedient that some means should be found of giving a prisoner the opportunity of explaining away the charge against him if he could. He felt, however, at the same time, that the whole subject ought to be considered by a Committee of that House or a Royal Commission, which would have an opportunity of hearing the views of those who had had the greatest experience, and, entertaining that opinion, he would suggest to his hon. and learned Friend below him that he should withdraw his Bill if he could obtain a reference of the subject to a Select Committee.


observed that as the debate had been hitherto confined to legal Members, he should claim, as a non-legal Member, to say a few words, He regretted that the hon. and learned Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Serjeant Simon) had commented unfavourably on the Quarter Sessions. If the jurisdiction of Quarter Sessions was to be attacked, let it be done upon worthy grounds, and not upon old stories like those quoted by Mr. Willes in The Nineteenth Century, or because on some particular occasion a foolish Chairman made a foolish remark. Were there no foolish Judges, and did no foolish remarks ever fall from the Bench? With regard to the proposals of the Bill, if it were once laid down that a prisoner might present himself for examination, he must always do so, or he would create a strong presumption against himself. The hon. and learned Member who introduced the Bill wished to throw the onus probandi on its opponents; but surely when they were asked to effect a grave and vital revolution in the law of the land those who proposed the change were bound to show the necessity for it. They had, however, entirely failed to show that any great number of innocent persons were convicted and punished under the present system; and he, for one, was not disposed to add to the torture which an unhappy prisoner now suffered by inflicting upon him the additional torture of cross-examination. Last autumn he had the opportunity of discussing this question with a distinguished Frenchman who held the office of Procureur de la Riepublique. That official said to him—"I was always impressed with your principle of English procedure that no endeavour should be made to interrogate or cross-examine prisoners. Indeed, I once determined to put this principle in practice myself, and at the next trial in which I was engaged I abstained from exercising my undoubted right of cross-examining the accused. But the prisoner addressed me in indignant terms. 'What have I done, Monsieur le Procureur,' he exclaimed, 'that I should be left thus without being cross-examined; I feel it is an insult to me.'" There was one clause which would, no doubt, be an improvement of the present law— that which allowed a wife to give evidence for her husband, or a husband for his wife—but that was not sufficient to justify the House in adopting a measure so objectionable in other respects, and which, if passed, would be a serious misfortune to the country. There had not been shown a sufficient balance of good as against the balance of evil which would be produced by the change to justify the House in consenting to it, and he should therefore most unhesitatingly give his vote against the second reading.


said, that he should be sorry that a great question of this kind, affecting the general administration of justice, should degenerate into a wrangle, as it seemed likely to do, between the hon. and learned Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Serjeant Simon) and the hon. Member for Mid Somerset (Mr. Paget) as to the respective merits of those who presided in Her Majesty's Superior Courts, and those who presided at Quarter Sessions. The hon. and learned Serjeant had cast a ludicrous air about his speech, in which he had praised the "divine impartiality of our Judges," while he aspersed the manner in which Chairmen of Quarter Sessions sometimes performed their judicial duties. On the other hand, the hon. Member (Mr. Paget) had said that there were foolish Judges who made foolish speeches, and did foolish things, while he passed loud encomiums upon the Quarter Sessions.


No; I do not wish to be misunderstood. I asked the hon. and learned Member opposite (Mr. Serjeant Simon) if in his experience he had never heard of a Judge making a foolish remark from the Bench?


thought the hon. Member had said there had been Judges who were fools, but whether he had said so or not they were all aware that there had been. He (Dr. Kenealy) did not pretend to say who was right in this controversy; it was within the knowledge of all that there were what was called, "hanging Judges," while there were unquestionably honest and able Chairmen of Quarter Sessions. On the other hand, there were some Judges of pure integrity, while there wore Chairmen who thought it their especial duty to convict all who came before them. These dissensions upon this delicate matter were, however, rather beside the present question; and he was sorry that such a controversy, which did not reflect lustre upon either side, should have sprung up. Passing from this, he owned that at first he was rather against the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Poole; but further and deeper consideration had satisfied him that the Bill was a valuable one. He therefore hoped that the hon. and learned Member would not withdraw it, as he had been advised by the hon. and learned Member for Cambridgeshire (Mr. Rodwell), in the rather doubtful expectation that the present Law Advisers of the Government would introduce what had been called "a great measure." That was an expectation in which he (Dr. Kenealy) did not indulge. He advised him, therefore, to press the measure on. A good deal had been said of the existence of a sentiment in this country that no man should be called upon to accuse himself. That was a sentiment praiseworthy at the time when it originated, but it was wholly inapplicable to present circumstances. In ancient days, when men were hanged for the most trifling offences—for larcenies of goods above 5s. in value—it was well that great jealousy should prevail in dealing with criminals; but now the penalty of death was not inflicted even for crimes of great magnitude, and we might fairly enlarge that antiquated maxim. The object of all legislation was to repress crime, to punish the guilty, and to protect the innocent. But criminals as such did not deserve the sympathy that had been too often wasted upon them. It had been said that some writer in a magazine had stated that if this Bill were to become law, criminals would tell so many falsehoods in their defences of themselves that the jury would be prejudiced against even the innocent accused. That did not speak very highly for juries; but he did not adopt such a theory. He was convinced that all innocent persons would gladly avail themselves of the chance of being examined and even cross-examined. The consciousness of their innocence would support them; and he saw no probability of their being overwhelmed by nervousness, or that they would lose their self-possession; but, on the contrary, he thought that the language and demeanour of the innocent would carry conviction to the hearts of the jurors, and that wrongfully accused persons would escape. It had been asked, if the prisoner had no counsel, who was to reexamine; and it had been rightly answered, "the Judge." He did not believe that Judges, who were as highly paid as they were extravagantly praised, would shrink from this duty; and when the hon. and learned Member for Durham (Mr. Herschell) said that if the witness gave the Judge a curt answer which might probably turn the laugh against him, the Judge would lose his temper, and be in antagonism to the prisoner, it proved, at all events, that the hon. and learned Member did not agree with the hon. and learned Serjeant in his rather wild notions on "the divine impartiality of our Judges." He was surprised and sorry that a learned jurist like the hon. Baronet the Member for Wexford (Sir George Bowyer) should join in the parrot-cry against the Continental system of interrogating the accused. There were as good lawyers on the Continent as among ourselves; and they found no fault with the system, nor did the public generally. He believed that justice was quite as purely administered in France as here; and if abuses occasionally existed, he asked under what earthly system abuses could not be found? Interrogation frequently succeeded in eliciting the truth, and bringing home punishment to the guilty, who might otherwise have escaped; but he never yet heard that questioning had brought an innocent person to condemnation. It had been said that innocent persons might be induced to tell a false story in the hope of getting off. To this he answered, what was that to them? If a man resorted to falsehood let him suffer the penalty of his vice or his folly; but do not let them refuse to legislate because perhaps some falsehood-speaking man might endeavour to deceive the Court and fail. In conclusion, he hoped that the hon. and learned Member would not reject the advice which he respectfully offered to him, which was to press on his Bill to the second reading, and then refer it to the Select Committee, who might examine the various objections that had been taken to it in course of the debate.


supported the second reading of the Bill. No doubt the Bill would make a considerable change in the administration of the Criminal Law; but, in his opinion, that change would be beneficial. The great object of the administration of Criminal Law was to secure the punishment of the guilty as well as to prevent the conviction of the innocent, and from both points of view this change would be a great improvement. When it was first proposed to allow the parties in a suit to give evidence, the alteration was resisted because it would lead to perjury; but the principle had now been in operation for many years, and no one suggested that it should be abolished. In recent times various disabilities of witnesses had been removed, and each successive change, although vehemently opposed at first, had proved beneficial. It was now proposed to proceed one step further, and to allow prisoners in criminal cases to tender themselves as witnesses on their own behalf. He could not see that any danger was to be apprehended from taking that step. As regarded the guilty, he supposed hardly anyone would contend that this measure would not be advantageous, as it would often clear up doubts in cases of mystery and difficulty which the examination of the prisoner would make plain. As regarded the innocent, it was certain in many cases that if the accused could be examined, the real facts proving his innocence would be much more readily elicited. A difficulty, it was true, arose as to the mode in which the examination should be conducted, and from the fear that entangling and ensnaring questions might be put. The French system was as bad as could be, because there the Judge put himself into the position of prosecutor; but he had no fear that that would be the case in this country. There was one reason in particular which induced him to support the Bill. It was that the name of his right hon. and learned Friend the Recorder of London (Mr. Russell Gurney) was upon the back of it. The Recorder of London, of whose resignation they had all heard with the greatest regret, had had more experience in criminal trials than any man in England; and it was quite certain he would never have put his name on the back of the Bill unless he was sure that the change proposed would be safe and beneficial.


said, the question was, were they prepared to adopt the Continental system of examining prisoners with all its consequences? The law as to the examination of prisoners must either be left in its present state, or they must be prepared to go to the extent of making prisoners not only capable of giving evidence for themselves, but compellable to give evidence against themselves. At present a prisoner who was not defended by counsel might make any statement he pleased, and if a jury did not believe it, they would not be induced to place more reliance upon it by the circumstance that it was made on oath. Even when counsel was engaged for the defence, there was nothing at the present moment to prevent a Judge permitting a prisoner making a statement of the facts either before or after his counsel had addressed the jury. And there was no rule of law which prevented a Judge from saying to a prisoner—"Such and such circumstances appear to tell against you; do you wish to give any explanation on those points?" The reason this was not done was probably because it was thought better not to interfere with a prisoner in any way. In various States of the American Union the change now proposed had been already introduced, and the result had not been very favourable. The Chief Justice of the Court of Appeal in the State of New York said, in answer to a question officially addressed to him on the subject— The change has not given very great satisfaction; at least, there is a great difference of opinion as regards its justice and result. It will not, however, I think, be repealed. Again, the Chief Justice of New Jersey replied, to a question on this subject— The system with respect to the elucidation of truth has worked well. It leads, however, to so much perjury that it is generally thought the testimony should be received without any religious sanction. He was prepared, however, to extend the Law of Evidence Amendment Act of last Session to all offences which might be made the subject of civil actions—such as libel, nuisances, and common assaults —and to make prisoners and their wives competent witnesses for and against themselves, and each other in such cases; but it appeared to him that the present Bill went a great deal too far, and he was unable, therefore, to give it his support.


said, he quite admitted that the Bill would introduce a considerable change into our mode of procedure; but he denied that it would introduce any change into the principle on which our Courts of Justice now acted. The great object, on all criminal proceedings, was the ascertainment of truth; and every step towards the ascertainment of truth was a gain to the innocent, and a loss to the guilty. It was on that principle he supported the Bill. He did not do so mainly for the purpose of securing the conviction of the guilty. In the course of his experience he had met with instances in which innocent persons had been exposed to danger because they were not capable of giving evidence on their own behalf. Cases had frequently been sent to him from the Home Office, where, after the conviction of the prisoner, statements had been made by the prisoner or his wife which he confessed caused him great difficulty as to the advice he should give the Home Secretary. They were important statements, which, if they could have been established at the trial, would have caused the acquittal of the prisoner; but no opportunity was afforded of bringing them forward at the trial, and of ascer- taining how far they were supported or contradicted by independent evidence, and there was no opportunity of sifting the value of the statements by means of cross-examination. He remembered two cases in which, after the prisoners were brought up for judgment, doubts had arisen in his own mind; and, in consequence of inquiries, in which he was assisted by the City magistrates, having confirmed the prisoners' statements, he felt it his duty to apply to the Home Secretary for a remission of the sentence. In one of these cases the principal witness against the prisoner was afterwards tried for perjury, and convicted; and yet at the first trial the prisoner had no opportunity of contradicting the witness and showing that he swore falsely. He had long felt the mischief of the present state of the law; but he knew that there was great difficulty as to a remedy. He would not say a prejudice, but a righteous feeling of indignation existed in this country at the way in which proceedings were sometimes conducted abroad; and there was difficulty in getting a hearing for the question as to whether a prisoner should be allowed to be examined; but if English Judges deserved one-tenth the credit which had been given to them by the hon. and learned Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Serjeant Simon), there was no fear of their being dragged into such conflicts as sometimes occurred in the French Criminal Courts. The hon. and learned Member for Dewsbury did not see the application of the cases cited by the Mover of the second reading. Could he not? What did he think of the case of the three men in Liverpool who were convicted of an offence? They were afterwards, when they had become convicts, examined as witnesses, and both Judge and Jury came to the conclusion that no such offence as that of which they had been convicted had been committed. They could not be heard on their own trial, and were only restored to competency when brought from a convict prison in the convict dress. Did not that, in some degree, bear upon the subject the House had to deal with? When they called to mind the Penge case, in which one of the four prisoners, after having been found guilty, was discharged as innocent, it was enough, with many other cases that had occurred, to make them doubt the efficiency of the present system, and to see whether some means could not be devised by which it might be improved. In this case the evidence of the innocent prisoner was excluded, although it might have been most important for the exculpation of the other prisoners. There was a class of cases in which there could be no evidence but that of a policeman and the accused; and why should the evidence of a policeman be admitted and that of the accused excluded? In a case of alleged fraud— say by a joint-stock company—there might be either a civil suit for the recovery of deposits or an indictment for conspiracy; and the defendants might exonerate themselves by their own evidence in a civil action, while the exclusion of their evidence on a criminal trial might involve their conviction and ruin. Such a possibility showed the great necessity for some change. In one case tried a few months ago a very strong prima facie case was made out against the defendants, which probably would have led to a conviction in a criminal proceeding; but which, mainly by the evidence of the defendants in the civil action, was shown to be capable of complete explanation. He felt strongly upon this subject: it had been a burden upon his mind for some time. The clay was over when it would be a matter of personal interest to him; but he trusted he should see the day when no jury would be called upon to decide on the fate of a fellow-man until all the means of ascertaining the truth had been exhausted, and they should be able to decide on the guilt or innocence of the accused. Fear not to let in upon them the full light of day. Walking in the light their steps would be firm and their course secure. It was only in the twilight, or when a portion of the light was artificially excluded, that their stops wore likely to be faltering, and their course doubtful and uncertain.


in supporting the Bill, said, he considered he was not only expressing the regret of the legal Profession, but of the public generally, at hearing that the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Russell Gurney) was about to withdraw from the Bench, and that so judicially constituted a mind would not continue to exorcise its functions in a sphere for which it was so suited, as shown by the present debate. He (Sir Henry James) believed the time would come when this debate would be quoted as a striking illustration of the tenacity with which lawyers clung, not only to the principles of law, but to the forms under which it was administered in bygone times. When the Law of Evidence was amended in 1851, in the direction of allowing parties to a suit to become their own witnesses, they were warned in the same manner, and the same dangers were predicted as were now predicted. They were told of the position timid witnesses and inexperienced witnesses would be placed in, and of Judges coming in conflict with the witnesses, and refusing justice; and yet was there one then present who would not be appalled if he were told that the parties on both sides to a civil suit could not be examined? He would take another example of how they had advanced in the direction of allowing every man to be heard before he was condemned. There was the procedure under a comparatively new Court—the Divorce Court. A short time ago it was impossible to examine a co-respondent, but the sense of injury became so great that it was necessary to make a change in the law. Might he ask hon. Gentlemen who opposed the second reading of this Bill if their objections to its provisions did not apply in an equal degree to the examination of witnesses in the Divorce Court? If co-respondents there declined to go into the box, their guilt was held to be established, and was justly established; but if they were not guilty, could there be any greater injustice than saying to them—"You are innocent, you can clear yourself if you are allowed to speak; but the law says it would not be just for you to have an opportunity of clearing yourself, and, therefore, you cannot be heard?" If what had occurred in the Divorce Court tended to clear the innocent, did not that example, which so closely approached the subject under discussion, show them what would be the effect of passing the measure? There they had women as witnesses in a public Court where their name and susceptibilities were most affected. When the experiment was successful there, how could it be said that it would fail in another Court? The right hon. and learned Member opposite had touched upon one point upon which he (Sir Henry James) would also like to remark. Most cases of misdemeanour closely approached to cases that might be brought forward in another Court. What would the defendant say in the Civil Court if he could not make an answer to any charge preferred against him? In the Civil Court he would be allowed to speak, but in the Criminal Court, he would be denied that opportunity. The Bill would promote the chief interests of the public in the administration of justice, regarding which there were two objects, which must be borne in view—first, the object that the innocent should be acquitted; and secondly, the object that the guilty should be convicted. Happily the spirit of our law had been that the first object should take higher precedence than the second. It was held that sacrifices should be made by the public in order that abundance of precautions should be taken that the innocent man should be acquitted; but in their case to acquit the innocent they often acquitted the guilty, and often, too, caused the innocent to be convicted. Could they, then, object to so alter their procedure as to render more certain the acquittal of the innocent, and the conviction of the guilty? He could not conceive any more natural desire on the part of an innocent man, than that he should stand face to face with his accusers—not with his tongue tied, for there could be no greater injustice to him than to compel him to be silent. Why should he not be allowed to speak when he stood in peril of life, liberty, and property? There could be no benefit to the innocent man in forbidding him to speak, and in considering this point they must separate in their minds the innocent from the guilty; if they did not, he could understand their imagining they injured a man by allowing him to speak. They must divide also the class with an advocate from the class who had none. In the first case, a statement was made which was true, he would say, but which required explanation. The counsel could not make the explanation, but the prisoner, if allowed to be examined, could make the explanation which would clear up the matter. A witness stated a bare fact, and the prisoner said to his counsel, that is untrue. What position was the counsel in? He could only ask the Judge and the jury to believe that the witness had committed perjury. The person who knew the statement to he untrue was unable in person, and in the presence of the jury to say so. An objection—he might almost say the only objection—raised to the Bill, was that if they allowed prisoners to be examined they would be baited both by Judge and counsel. He did not believe there was anything in the objection, for at the present day, as things were, it would be fatal to his case if a counsel endeavoured to exercise his power of cross-examination unduly, as juries always protected prisoners, especially if they were ignorant. Why was it to be said that when a prisoner was to be allowed to speak frankly, the Judges would go from all their former impartiality and become unjust? No doubt the Judge would remain what he was said to be now, the prisoner's counsel, and we should not change our ideas of justice and admit any presumption adverse to the accused. A man who was innocent would be able to speak with that earnestness which would carry conviction. Why, then, should they be unjust and deny him the right he should have of being heard? It was said that a man placed in such a position as that of being criminally charged would be sure to tell untruths to clear himself. If he did so, the man who would speak the truth, and who would be benefited by doing so was not to be sacrificed for the sake of those who would not; and, of course, the objection applied equally to plaintiffs and defendants, to respondents and co-respondents. Let those who told untruths bear the penalty, the same as witnesses did in other Courts; but it was the duty of the tribunal to discriminate between what was true and what was untrue, and to give the accused the benefit of all ascertainable truth. He considered that the Bill was a most important one, and as he hoped it might tend to remedy what at present was an admitted injustice, he should vote for the second reading.


said, that something had been said about the great advantage which had been reaped in the Divorce Court by allowing certain persons to give evidence on their own behalf. However that might be, he was bound to say that, rightly or wrongly, he had heard much to the contrary, and he knew that there was throughout the country a very strong feeling that, in that particular Court, a considerable amount of perjury took place—a circumstance not very improbable when it was remembered what kind of inquiries took place there; and he feared that there could be little doubt that this so-called privilege, in whatever Court it might be exercised, might lead to the same result. Indeed, it was by no means necessary to resort to Westminster Hall to see something of this in operation nearly every day. Some few years back a Statute empowered the putative father of an illegitimate child to be placed in the witness box, in reference to the inquiry affecting him; he was, in other words, enabled to give evidence on his own behalf. Almost any one of the magistrates sitting around him, or on the opposite benches, would scarcely wonder at the assertion he (Mr. Wheelhouse) was now prepared to make, that if they heard 50 cases of that kind in the twelvemonth, and the alleged putative father was sworn on his own behalf, it was far more than an even chance that perjury would not be the result in pretty nearly one-half of them. In all such cases the temptation to speak falsely was almost overwhelmingly powerful, and the consequence was precisely that which they might reasonably anticipate. Besides, the very fact of such a charge super induced upon the mind of almost everybody, naturally, its own inherent probabilities; and thus the witness was always in danger from the very moment he entered the box of being disbelieved. As to the propriety of evidence being given by the husband or the wife, he apprehended there could not be two opinions. It was only just, fair, and reasonable, that the husband on the wife's behalf, or the wife on that of the husband, should be in a position to give evidence; but, even in such case, there must not be any compulsion; but it was a totally different question, a totally different inquiry, and a branch of the subject wholly distinct, as to how far it was desirable to put the accused himself into the box. With all due deference to those who had spoken, or written on the other side of that question, he could not do otherwise than incline to the belief that an accused, when placed in the dock, would resort to every means, whether right or wrong, that human nature could suggest, to clear himself of the guilt alleged against him; and, in the vast majority of cases, he was also quite prepared to think that if a prisoner refused to give evidence on his own behalf, it would be asked by jurors and Judges, as well as by the people generally—-"Why don't you put the prisoner into the box?" The answer would never satisfy the public, and scarcely ever a jury either, though to a practising lawyer the reason was palpable enough—namely, whether the witness were to speak truthfully or the reverse, they knew perfectly well that there was a prejudice against him, which, in the outset even, it was almost impossible to be overcome, and which, if the poor unfortunate wretch—for in such case he would indeed be so—were to be found tripping, in the slightest degree, his case, however really good it might be, would be instantly, and most probably, irreparably damaged. Again, the several speakers had treated this Bill as being confined to practice at Assizes and Quarter [Sessions; but, on looking over it, he scarcely saw anything to lead to that conclusion; and if it were intended to allow the practice of such examinations to be also conducted on like principles in Courts of Petty Sessions or before magistrates—and he could not see how any distinction could reasonably be made in this respect—he felt the evil would be greatly aggravated and intensified. It had been said that great good had been effected, in civil causes, by allowing plaintiffs and defendants to testify on their own behalf, but the analogy was by no means the same in criminal cases. In the one instance, it might be that it was merely a few pounds at stake on the one side or on the other; but where a man felt himself to be giving evidence, with the pressure of prison-walls around him and with "gyves upon his wrists" mentally if not physically, the case was of an entirely different complexion. Was it desirable to let a Bill of this kind override and upturn the practice of our Courts which had now been for centuries the same? If it were, surely it ought to be undertaken on the responsibility of the Government, and should form part of some great legal code for which the Law Officers of the Crown should be answerable as a whole.


in supporting the Bill, said, he had a few observations to make from a layman's view of the question. He did not speak, however, without experience, and over and over again he had heard prisoners say after conviction—"Oh, if his Honour had only heard me!" It had been said that under the present system innocent men would be less liable to conviction; but he would confine himself to showing what might take place in another direction, and the House had heard of it previously. At the trial of the Fenian prisoners at Manchester, for the occurrence by which Sergeant Brett lost his life, four men were capitally convicted, each upon the same evidence, and the Judge had no doubt as to their guilt. He was the present Lord Justice Blackburn. The reporters at that trial were so convinced of the innocence of one of these men that they originated the movement on behalf of him, Maguire, a marine, for an application to the Home Secretary. The result was that, to the satisfaction of the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for War (Mr. Gathorne Hardy), who was at that time Home Secretary, the man was declared absolutely innocent of the crime for which he with the others was convicted. Yet upon the same evidence the other three men were hanged, and it was impossible to convince anybody who knew the circumstances in Ireland that one of the men so executed was not innocent. He had talked and reasoned with men all over Ireland on this subject, and he found that the invariable opinion was "they hanged an innocent man; the innocence of one they discovered and they let him off." The moral effect of this on the minds of the people of Ireland was very great. The effect of these convictions was disastrous, and explained why the Irish had no confidence in the administration of justice. That was a very serious statement to make, but they could not make the Irish people think differently. One man was let off, they said, upon the same evidence as that on which three others were executed. This was a deplorable state of things, for which a remedy ought to be found, and it would be partly met by allowing a prisoner to state his case. Believing that, he heartily gave the Bill his support.


said, that hon. Gentlemen who had spoken had spoken as if there were no doubt in the matter, and as if the side they took must be the correct one; but he felt that the subject was an exceedingly difficult one, and he had great hesitation in making up his mind as to whether it was politic to make the change proposed by the Bill. The hon. and learned. Gentleman who laid the matter before the House assumed that there was an inherent virtue in the Bill which rendered it incumbent upon those who opposed it to show that it was a bad Bill; and, on the other hand, those who opposed it thought it was incumbent on those who supported it to prove it to be a good one. One hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Serjeant Simon) said that at first he did entertain some doubts, but he rose not to oppose the Bill with energy and with vigour, but to promote discussion. He, however, went on growing in energy and vigour, and when he sat down it was difficult to imagine, if his speech was only to promote discussion, what sort of a speech he would make if he intended to oppose the Bill. There were difficulties in the way of adopting the measure before the House on which he desired to make a remark or two, although he did not wish to treat it in an unfriendly spirit. The measure did not, on the face of it, propose to subject a prisoner to interrogation. He could quite understand anyone, after considerable experience in the administration of justice, coming to the conclusion that it would be a desirable thing for the purpose of detecting guilt more easily than it was now detected to subject prisoners to interrogation. In such a measure as that proposed the difficulty which struck him was this— he thought, perhaps, they might secure convictions more easily—they would secure, perhaps, a greater number of convictions than now; but he doubted very much whether they would not do it at the expense of inflicting considerable injustice on innocent people. They must not forget the case of a person unjustly accused, and if they adopted a system of interrogation they would place such a person at a great disadvantage. Persons who were unjustly accused were, generally speaking, persons of bad character, and it rarely happened that a man of bad character had brought against him a false accusation. But what would be the position of a man of a bad cha- racter falsely and unjustly accused? Let them suppose that somebody had his pocket picked in the market-place and that a man who was known to be a thief stood near the person who was robbed. This man might be arrested though innocent. In that case, if they allowed the accused person to be tried, under the present system, he would probably escape; but if they were to allow him to be cross-examined, he might be cross-examined in a score of ways, and it would be shown that he was a man with no employment and that he associated with improper characters. Under the present system, the prosecution was bound to make out the guilt of the prisoner by direct or circumstantial evidence, or both, in so clear and perfect a manner that no reasonable suggestion of his innocence could prevail against the evidence. But there was another difficulty. It might be made to appear that if they adopted the system of interrogating prisoners, they would weaken the confidence the public had in the administration of justice. Whatever might be the feeling that existed in Ireland, certainly in this country there was a most perfect confidence in the proper administration of justice, and this confidence was shared in by the prisoners themselves, and seemed to him to be one of the glories of the present system. Might they not shake that confidence if they altered the system which at present existed? The belief now was, not that innocent people were never convicted, but that innocent people were rarely convicted, and people might think that innocent people would be more frequently convicted than at present. If that would be the result, it would be disastrous. He did not say that it would be the result, but he said it might be the result, and therefore they had to consider the Bill with great care. He did not intend to offer any serious opposition to the measure, but there was one feature to which he wished to direct special attention, and it was this-—the Bill not only provided for the examination of criminals in the case of indictable offences, but it provided for the examination of prisoners in all cases punishable by summary conviction, if they were so inclined. He doubted whether the system set up in the Bill would work well, and whether it would not afford a means of escape to clever rogues. If prisoners were to be cross-examined, the cross-examination must be conducted under a tribunal which would secure that perfect fairness would be done to the prisoner. That would be so, no doubt, in the Superior Courts and in the Courts of Quarter Sessions, but he doubted if it would be always so in the Court of Petty Sessions. In that Court the cross-examination of the prisoners would very likely be conducted by a policeman; and he would ask hon. Gentlemen, would that be fair, would it be a seemly proceeding? If not the policeman, then the duty would fall on the magistrates; and it seemed to him a most undesirable thing that the tribunal which was to judge a man should conduct the cross-examination. Under the proposed circumstances, the sacredness of an oath would be brought almost into contempt. If a man accused of a crime was allowed to attempt to clear himself on oath and was then convicted, he would be liable to a further prosecution for perjury. He did not think this would be a wise thing to do. Having made these observations in a direction against the Bill, and having carefully considered the matter since the hon. and learned Member for Poole introduced his Bill last Session, he did think there was a great deal to be said in favour of some measure of allowing prisoners in certain cases and conditions to give evidence, and in certain cases, and under certain conditions, to subject them to interrogation. He should not suggest that they should give evidence on oath, or be subject to interrogation when under oath; but he thought a measure might be framed which would obviate the objections that might fairly be urged against the present system. Notwithstanding some sneers which had been uttered against the Law Officers of the Crown—a sneer which had not even the advantage of giving offence—he had to say it was the intention of the Government and the Law Officers of the Crown to introduce a measure on the subject of the Criminal Law, with a code of criminal procedure in indictable offences as part of it, and it was proposed to introduce into the code of procedure some clauses which would have the effect of carrying out to a great extent the desires of the hon. and learned Member for Poole, and of those who shared his views. These clauses would be considered as carefully as was possible. He need not mention their exact nature—indeed that had not been decided; but if they were introduced and were effectual, to the hon. and learned Member would the credit be due to a large extent of having secured their introduction into this measure. He did not intend to oppose the second reading of the Bill, but he hoped the hon. and learned Member would consent to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, and let the Select Committee investigate the subject thoroughly. He thought the result would be that the Select Committee might be able to make an extremely valuable Report, which could be utilized by the Government when they brought in their measure,


said, he knew a principle of such importance as was contained in the Bill could not be adopted at once, and he would gladly accept the offer of the hon. and learned Attorney General. As the Bill was to be referred to a Committee, he would not take up the time of the House by answering the objections which had been urged to some of its provisions. He would only remark, with reference to the clause which forbade any presumption against the prisoner who declined to go into the box, that it was merely intended to guard against any legal presumption and against any comments being made on the abstention of the prisoner. There was no notion of attempting to prevent mere inference on the part of the jury, which inference would, in 999 cases out of 1,000, be the truth.


said, he was disposed to withdraw his Amendment. [Cries of "Divide!"]

Question put.

The House divided: —Ayes 185; Noes 76: Majority 109.—(Div. List, No. 7.)

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed to a Select Committee.