HC Deb 16 May 1878 vol 240 cc38-40

rose to call attention to the inconvenience arising from holding the Assizes for the Northern Counties at Manchester. The effect of the arrangements which previously existed was, he said, that many men committed for trial were detained in gaol for a number of months; and it was to obviate this that additional Assizes were instituted. The result was that prisoners, who would otherwise have been tried at Newcastle, Carlisle, and Lancaster, were now sent to Manchester, and the arrangement occasioned great inconvenience. Owing to the distance from their homes prisoners, on their discharge from prison, and those who were found not guilty, had great difficulty in getting back, and were, consequently, especially in the case of those who were youthful, exposed to great temptation. Then there was another and inevitable evil connected with the system. A man who was being tried near home could get witnesses on his behalf who would spare half-a-day or a day to give testimony in his favour; but it was difficult, if not impossible, to get men, especially of the working class, to travel from Carlisle to Manchester for that purpose. An additional Assize in each of the Northern county towns would meet the difficulty, and enable justice to be carried out with much greater certainty. Another point for consideration in connection with this matter was, that if a man were tried for a murder committed in a county where murder was a rare crime, or happened only once in three or four years, it was not likely that he would receive the same consideration from the jury if he was tried in a county, in every Assize calendar of which there were four or five murders put down for trial, as he would have if tried in the county where murders were rare. On that ground, it was undesirable to take men long distances from the scene of their offences to take their trial. He hoped the Government would see their way to adopting his suggestion.


said, the House had decided that prisoners should not practically be kept longer in custody before their trial than three months, and it had therefore been found necessary to hold the Assizes four times in the year. It was thought necessary, under the new arrangements, to try the experiment as to how far the grouping of counties could be carried out. He was quite willing to admit that this grouping had been carried out, in some instances, too extensively. He did not think it fair that prisoners from Carlisle should be taken all the way to Manchester for trial. And, as far as that was concerned, his hon. Friend might rest assured that it should not happen again. The question of grouping counties, and the making of the best arrangements for the holding of criminal Assizes, was at present under the serious consideration of himself, the Lord Chancellor, and many of the Judges; and, as they had not yet arrived at a definite conclusion, he hoped the House would excuse him if he did not go further into the consideration of the question.


contended that the convenience of localities should be fully considered in any fresh arrangements that might be made, and that too much consideration should not be given to the convenience of Judges in any re-arrangement of the Circuits.


was glad that attention had been drawn to so important a subject. He could corroborate all that the hon. Member for Cumberland (Mr. Percy Wyndham) had said; and he hoped the Government would be able to deal with the question in a satisfactory manner.


thought the whole plan of holding Assizes for the trial of criminal cases only should be revised. He saw no reason why the trial of civil causes should not be combined with the trial of criminal cases at all the Assizes. He hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary would seriously consider the point, and that before long there would be one uniform system applicable to the trial of all cases alike.


said, that in common with those who took an interest in Legal Procedure, he felt great satisfaction at having heard the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary, that the re-organization of the Circuits, for the despatch of the criminal business of the country, was under the serious consideration of the Government. He was sure that that statement would be received with no less satisfaction outside the House. He (Sir Eardley Wilmot) had last Session brought forward the subject of the inadequacy of existing arrangements for the despatch of civil business in the Provincial districts, especially at Manchester and Liverpool, at both of which places he knew that much dissatisfaction was felt. He hoped, therefore, that while providing greater facilities for the trial of prisoners throughout the country, Her Majesty's Government would also see the necessity of improving the administration of civil business, and meeting the obvious requirements of the public in that respect. He had submitted to the House, on the occasion to which he had alluded, a Memorial from the inhabitants of Manchester, by which it appeared that, in consequence of the limited number of days allotted to the trial of causes at Manchester, and owing to the Commission day at Liverpool coming immediately after that of that town, the civil business at Manchester was frequently hurried over, and important actions either withdrawn or referred at the last moment, to the great detriment and expense of the suitors, who complained that their matters were very imperfectly transacted. Whether the remedy for this should be more time given to the Assizes, or more Judicial strength, it was not for him to say. He had not had the good fortune to hear the able and eloquent speech of the hon. and learned Attorney General on a former evening, when introducing his measure for the amendment of the Criminal Law; but, from the report he had read in the papers, he was sure that the Bill about to be introduced by the Government would give general satisfaction, and he could not help saying that no more important measure had been proposed during the present Session. His right hon. Friend the Home Secretary could not do better than accompany the Bill establishing a Criminal Code by an improvement and re-construction of the existing very imperfect arrangements for the trial of causes, both criminal and civil.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.