HC Deb 14 March 1879 vol 244 cc966-95

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."—(Mr. Secretary Cross.)


in rising to move that the House should go into Committee on the Bill that day six months, said, he objected to the Bill because it was a piece of masked legislation, and because there was no means of knowing whether it would pledge Par- liament to an annual expenditure of £5,000 or £100,000 per annum, inasmuch as it left the patronage in the hands of the Attorney General, who was to make as many appointments as he pleased, and fix the salaries of the several officers, subject to the approval of the Home Secretary sanctioned by the Treasury. There was a great diversity of opinion with respect to the appointment of a Public Prosecutor; and although he had heard many of the Judges express an opinion in favour of it, he had to confess that, for his own part, he was not strongly in favour of it. Now, this Bill proposed that the Solicitor for Public Prosecutions should appoint officers all over the country to obey the behests of the Attorney General. All Treasury prosecutions partook more or less of jobbery, and always cost too much. The case of the Welsh fasting girl cost the country many thousands of pounds, but it was only an ordinary case, and could have been disposed of for £50. The Bill must be taken as it stood, and not as it was described on its introduction; and, in his opinion, it was far too dangerous to be allowed to pass. It gave unknown and unlimited powers, and invited Parliament to legislate in the dark. It was masked legislation, which might involve the country in a great expenditure. He moved, therefore, that the House should go into Committee on this Bill that day six months.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House will, upon this day six months, resolve itself into the said Committee,"—(Mr. Benjamin Williams,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


complained that there was nothing in the Bill either to define its scope or to prevent its being used to an almost illimitable extent. He highly approved of the establishment of Public Prosecutors; but if such a reform were to be adopted it should be in a straightforward way. He desired to know whether the Bill was intended to inaugurate a great system of Public Prosecutors, or was merely limited to assisting Treasury prosecutions. He should much have preferred that the Government had adopted a system similar to that under which the Procurators Fiscal in Scotland were appointed and performed their duties.


asked for some further explanations as to the object and scope of the measure.


supported the Motion on the ground that the Bill would enable the Attorney General, with the assistance of the Home Office, to appoint prosecuting officials in any number all over the country, without any limitation as to expense. The words of the Bill were of the vaguest description; whereas the powers proposed to be given by the measure ought to be strictly defined.


supported the Bill on the ground that it was intended to remove defects which were constantly complained of by those who had to administer the law. It would meet cases that every now and then arose in which great difficulty was experienced in putting the law in motion, and it would not at all interfere with private prosecutions. In his opinion, many of the dangers anticipated by hon. Members would never be realized.


also supported the Bill. It was of great importance that there should be some one beyond the mere private individual to prosecute. Under the present system, some of the very worst forms of crime habitually went unpunished. This was especially true in cases of commercial fraud, in which those who had suffered most were often the least inclined to undertake the prosecution.


said, that the legislation proposed by the Bill was perfectly plain and clear, and in no way merited the condemnation which had been passed on it by the hon. Member for Glasgow (Mr. Anderson). He (Mr. Bulwer) saw no want of definition in the scope of the Bill. It was intended to apply to the whole of England. It could not be denied that some such measure was necessary. Any proposal for reform in this direction must, of necessity, involve expense. There were many cases in which the need was felt of a Public Prosecutor, and particularly in commercial cases; and the machinery of the existing law, as far as he knew, could not compel a man to prosecute and give evidence fully and unreservedly before the magistrates. There was also a class of offences in which a large number of persons conspired to commit extensive frauds, and, by means of "long firms," succeeded in doing so in many parts of the country at one and the same time. The duty of prosecuting such criminals was so onerous that no private person could be expected to undertake it; and the present machinery for a public prosecution was both cumbersome and expensive.


said, he hoped that if the House determined to establish a great system of Public Prosecutors it would, at least, do so with its eyes open. If the Bill became law, a large number of local legal officers would be required; and he did not know whether the Home Secretary would view with complacency the cost of the proposed change. He thought, before the Government asked the House to pass the Bill, a careful estimate should be laid before them of the anticipated cost, together with materials to enable them to judge whether the estimate was likely to be exceeded.


said, he hoped the House would not refuse to go into Committee on the Bill. For the last 15 or 20 years there had been a general demand for a Public Prosecutor. He would supplement the cases mentioned by the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Mr. Bulwer) by adding to them offences under the Bankruptcy Laws, in which the person most interested was often the least inclined to prosecute. The expense of introducing the new system would be rather formidable; but it would be justified by the results, which, if the precedent of Scotland could be relied on, promised to be highly satisfactory.


said, he did not think that there could be two opinions as to the importance of this measure; it was a question that had come before the House again and again, and hardly a year passed without the attention of the public being called to the matter. No doubt, the question was one in which the public took a strong interest; but it was also undoubted that the question was surrounded with difficulties. Many attempts had been made to deal with the matter; but those efforts had been frustrated, by reason of its always having been attempted not to make use of the present system of prosecution so far as it extended, but to introduce an entirely new system, by which the whole of the prosecutions throughout the country would be carried on by the Government and by a Public Prosecutor. Against such a scheme, whether right or wrong, a host of opponents were raised. All those who conducted prosecutions at the present time, and all those interested in the present mode of conducting prosecutions, became at once opponents of any attempt to wipe away the existing system. The great difficulty hitherto found in dealing with this subject had arisen, in some measure, from confounding two matters which might perfectly well be kept distinct. He believed that there was the greatest possible want in this country of a Public Prosecutor—it was felt every day; but, on the other hand, he must, for his part, frankly confess that the mode in which by far the greater number of prosecutions that went on throughout the country were conducted, was eminently satisfactory. It had been because those who had hitherto attempted to deal with this subject had not recognised this fact, and because they thought that if it were necessary to appoint a Public Prosecutor, or Prosecutors, it was also necessary to revolutionize the existing system, that the difficulty had arisen in dealing with the question at all. The distinction should be kept in view, between the existence of a Public Prosecutor, whose duty it should be, either by himself or by his subordinates, to see that prosecutions were carried on to their legitimate results, or, when necessary, to institute and carry on the machinery of a prosecution, and the placing of all prosecutions in the country in the hands of Government Prosecutors. In his opinion, those who now conducted the majority of prosecutions throughout the country did it admirably well, and there was no necessity for superseding them; but the necessity that did exist was to appoint some one whose business it should be generally to supervise those matters. He trusted that in the scheme which was now laid before the House this course would be adopted; and though he quite agreed with what had been said as to the terms of the Bill being extremely vague, yet still he believed that the Bill neither gave authority—nor was it intended by its promoters to do so—to substitute a Public Prosecutor for the persons who now conducted the prosecutions throughout the country, and to impose in all cases a Government organization and Government prosecutors. If the latter were the case, it would, as had been observed, cause a vastly increased expenditure, without corresponding profit to the public. But it would be a distinct advantage to the public to have a Public Officer who would be responsible for public prosecutions, and to whom all those who now conducted them would be amenable. Such an Officer should have a general supervision and control, with the view of seeing that the duties the various persons now prosecuting had to perform were properly carried out. There ought also to be a Public Official whose duty it should be to see that prosecutions were instituted where necessary, and where, at the present time, it was no one's duty to undertake them, and by means of which failure to prosecute many criminals at present escaped. It was monstrous that a private individual who had suffered great loss should be bound to waste further time and money in prosecuting the individual who injured him. He would not leave it to private persons to commence prosecutions, as now, for the purpose of collecting their debts, and then let the offenders go free. It was well known that in some towns the Police Court was used for debt-collecting purposes, and prosecutions were instituted, not with the object of being carried to a successful result, but merely for the purpose of putting the screw on to get payment of money which the parties prosecuted were civilly bound to pay. He thought the greatest possible mischief resulted from such a state of things as this, and from the civil liability to pay being confounded with the criminal responsibility for offence. Moreover, the failure to keep these two things distinct, he believed, contributed to the growing commercial immorality of the country. If once the Criminal Courts were permitted to be used for the purpose of collecting debts, the sharp distinction between the liability to pay money and to suffer for a wrong done was not brought home to people's minds. In any scheme of public prosecutions, the Public Prosecutor should have a voice whenever a private prosecutor set the law in motion. His belief was that this could be done without any great expense, because in most cases prosecutions would still be conducted as now. What was wanted was some Public Official in London, and two or three in certain districts, whose duty it should be to supervise prosecutions, and in cases of special difficulty give assistance to those who now prosecuted, and in some special cases to carry on the prosecution. But it should be the exception, rather than the rule, that prosecutions should be carried on by the Public Prosecutor. If the system he had suggested were adopted, he believed that there would be a better regulated system than the present indefinite one, by which the Treasury took up prosecutions at will; and that great good would be effected by allowing a Public Prosecutor either to give assistance to those whose duty it was to conduct them as they ought to be conducted, or to institute them himself if necessary. This should be the general scheme; but it was desirable that they should now ask for same explanation of a more definite character as to the design of Her Majesty's Government in the present measure. From the vagueness of the Bill, it was impossible to ascertain whether the views he had suggested were to be the guide; and it was difficult to see to what extent such very indefinite powers as the Bill granted might be carried. The matter was one which, however, required very careful consideration. He rejoiced that the Government had taken up the subject, and he hoped that the matter would be brought to a satisfactory conclusion. It was a crying shame that the matter had not been taken up long ago. It was, above all things, necessary that they should have proper investigation and proceed carefully; and be did not think that they should be asked at the present time to carry the Bill through Committee.


It is right I should state the views of the Government with respect to this Bill. In the first place, I must express my most unqualified assent to all the observations that have fallen from the hon. and learned Member for Durham (Mr. Herschell). But I want to say, with regard to what fell from the noble Lord (Lord Frederick Cavendish), that we have not proceeded with this matter in a hurry. If there ever was one single subject brought before the House, with which the House has not proceeded ill a hurry, it is the question of a Public Prosecutor, because we have had measures without end brought before us during the last 10 or 15 years on the matter. We have had a Royal Commission and a Committee appointed, and we have had every possible investigation that could be suggested in order to enable us to come to a conclusion. We have the example of a Public Prosecutor in Scotland and in Ireland, and the practical method in which they deal with the matter is perfectly well known. The investigations of the Committee, and the inquiries of the Judicature Commission and their Report, and the number of Bills that have been presented, have furnished the House with full opportunities of coming to a conclusion in the matter. Let me state to the House what my views upon this subject are. I do not think it is understood that, in this instance, my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General is himself the Public Prosecutor under the existing state of things. But various inconvenient anomalies now exist. If there now is a case which is supposed to be an important one, an application is made to the Secretary of State to take it up as a Government prosecution, and, if it is decided to do so, an order is at once made to consult the Solicitor to the Treasury; and at the present moment there are a number of prosecutions that, either by law or practice, the Secretary of State may require the Treasury Solicitor to take up. The Attorney General is, therefore, practically a Public Prosecutor. When this question came before the Judicature Commission, the present Lord Chief Justice made a most elaborate Report upon the subject, and he took up a line extremely in favour of the appointment of a Public Prosecutor, about which, as an abstract question, there cannot be two opinions in this House. But the Lord Chief Justice also took up the notion that every act which the law constitutes a crime is, as such, an offence, not against the individual injured, but against the community or State. I do not deny that. When, therefore, an offence has been committed, a prosecution should, in the opinion of the Lord Chief Justice, be instituted, not by the individual, but on behalf of the State by its own Officer, or, in other words, by a Public Prosecutor. If I am allowed, I will read to the House a few sentences from the Report of the Judicature Commission— It should be the duty of the police, as soon as a crime is known to have been committed, or a person suspected of a crime has been apprehended, to report the same to the local Public Prosecutor, and it should be made incumbent on the magistrate's clerk to transmit the depositions so soon as taken to that Officer, with any remarks which the case may appear to them to call for. A slight addition to the salaries of these clerks would compensate them for this new duty. It should not only be competent to the Public Prosecutor, but made incumbent upon him to intervene in the conduct of the case at any moment that the circumstances may seem to him to require it. In every case which proceeds to trial, it should be his duty to look through the depositions and to see that the proofs are complete before the case comes into Court. If further evidence should appear to be required, it should be his duty to take the necessary steps for procuring it if possible. It should be his business to prepare the brief and instruct counsel—in short, to do all that the attorney employed by a private prosecutor now does. It should be his duty to attend at all Assizes and Sessions held within his district, and to conduct the prosecutions on such occasions. That is a complete scheme of public prosecutions by a Public Prosecutor, and it is a scheme to effectuate which several Bills have already been prepared; but I am bound to say that I cannot recommend the House to face the expense of carrying such a scheme into practice. I look upon that as an extreme view—as a perfect scheme; but I am not prepared to take the responsibility of asking the House to adopt the expense which would be incurred by it, and I do not think that the results would be equal to the expenditure. I take a different view of the matter. Admitting that all these crimes are offences against the State—and I most frankly and entirely agree with every word that fell from the hon. and learned Member for Durham (Mr. Herschell) as to the absolute necessity of keeping a broad distinction between crime and debt—I am bound to say, looking at the administration of the criminal law of this country—and in that I also entirely agree with the hon. and learned Member—that, in the vast majority of cases, the present system works quite well enough for all practical occasions. I do not propose, therefore, in the scheme which I have laid before the House, to interfere in the ordinary and usual run of criminal prosecutions, either at Quarter Sessions or with the Petty Cases at the Assizes; but if this scheme is carried into effect, I believe that, without interfering with the machinery at present existing, the general tone and conduct of these cases will be raised, and that the standard of the conduct of cases throughout the country will be equalized. In some parts of the country prosecutions are better conducted than in others; and I believe that I shall establish a system which will raise those which are not so well carried on to the standard of those places where they are satisfactorily conducted. The probable result will be that in 99 cases out of 100, or in 999 cases out of 1,000, it will not be found necessary to interfere with the prosecutions as now conducted. The scheme which we now propose on behalf of the Government is this—that there should be a central Public Prosecutor in London. Some hon. Members have rather run away with the word "Solicitor," as if he were a person undertaking the ordinary duties of a solicitor. This is a mistake—the "Crown" Officer would be a better word. He should be a lawyer, with a fair salary equivalent—I do not like to bind myself to any sum at the present moment—but, perhaps, equivalent to that of an Under Secretary of State. He would be a permanent Officer, and therefore absolutely free from political bias. He would be under the Attorney General, who is, according to law, at the head of all public prosecutions in this country; and he would have under him a staff of officers to assist him in London, and also assistance in the country at different places. The hon. and learned Member for Durham is quite right in saying that we do not want a great number of persons; but if there were one or two attached to each Circuit in the country, that would be amply sufficient to perform the duties. By that means, I believe you would, in the course of a very short time, make a vast improvement in the administration of the criminal law in England. The duties that would have to be performed by this Crown Officer are contained in the second section of the Bill— It shall be the duty of the Solicitor for Public Prosecutions, under the superintendence of the Attorney General, to institute, undertake, or carry on such criminal proceedings (whether in the Court for Crown Cases Reserved, before sessions of Oyer and Terminer, before magistrates, or otherwise), and to give such advice and assistance to chief officers of police, clerks to justices, and other persons, whether officers or not, concerned in any criminal proceeding respecting the conduct of that proceeding, as may he for the time being prescribed by regulations under this Act, or may be directed in a special case by the Attorney General. So that all those persons who are appointed to the different positions will always be at the service either of the magistrates, or the police, or of a private prosecutor; and they would be in a position to assist, by their advice and direction, everybody who is concerned in the administration of the criminal law of this country. Of course, in all such cases, if there occurred an occasion when the prosecution ought to be taken up by the Government, then they would act on behalf of the Government in conducting the prosecutions. I do not mean to interfere with a very excellent Officer, the Solicitor for the Treasury, who is a gentleman of very considerable ability, and a most useful functionary. I believe that the person who would act as the Public Prosecutor would not act as a solicitor at all in the ordinary conduct of cases, or in getting them up. He would employ the Solicitor for the Treasury in any case where there was necessity for a public prosecution by the Government. I do not know that I need say more than this at the present moment. I think I have shown that, on the one hand, it is the wish of the Government not to go into any extravagant expenses, nor to take prosecutions into the hands of the Government in the way which was suggested by the Lord Chief Justice. I think I have expressed my opinion that the wisest course to adopt at the present moment is only to take up prosecutions when it is absolutely necessary, in cases of remarkable fraud, or where otherwise a failure- of justice would occur, and also in every case where prosecutions would be put an end to collusively. We must begin in this matter in some way tentatively; and I do not see that it would be wise to begin, as suggested some years ago, by confining the operation of the measure to the Central Criminal Court. I do not think it right that the country should be precluded from sharing in the benefit of the expenditure, as they would be if the operation of the measure were confined to the Central Criminal Court. If the Public Official in London, under the Attorney General, and the assistants in the country, guided by the rules laid down by the Attorney General and by the Secretary of State, gained the supervision over all prosecutions, a vast improvement in the administration of criminal justice throughout the country will be effected. They would be able to interfere in cases of fraud where there is no one to prosecute, and the system of prosecution throughout the country would be brought to the same standard. Upon the second reading of this Bill I am aware that there was no discussion of its principle, for the principle was practically admitted, and it only becomes a question of how it is to be carried out. I do not gather at the present moment that there is any objection to the principle of the Bill. Some hon. Members seem to be of opinion that it goes too far, and some seem to think that it does not go far enough; but even the hon. Member (Mr. B. Williams) who moved the rejection of the Bill only thought that what it effected should be more clearly defined. I think, after what I have said, that it will be seen that the details of the measure will be under the control of the House to make the matter more definite; and I hope that the House will be willing to consent to Mr. Speaker leaving the Chair, in order that we may go into Committee upon the Bill. I have no wish to press the measure into Committee to-night, as I am desirous that the measure shall receive the most careful consideration; and all the suggestions made to me I will meet in the fairest possible spirit. If Mr. Speaker is allowed to leave the Chair, I am willing at once to report Progress in Committee, in order to give hon. Members an opportunity of considering Amendments they may desire to propose, which shall receive the best attention of the Government.


I think it somewhat extraordinary that the discussion on this Bill should take place upon the Motion to go into Committee rather than upon the second reading. I am one of the projectors of the idea of a Public Prosecutor, and, indeed, I was Chairman of the Committee upon the Public Prosecutors Bill. Somehow or other that Bill broke down, and I believe really by reason that it was opposed by the most formidable body, except the Licensed Victuallers, in the country—for everybody knows that they exercise an influence over hon. Members of this House, which is not equalled by anyone excepting Licensed Victuallers—I mean Solicitors. I think the Home Secretary has made a very good speech; but I do not see his speech in the Bill. He said he was going to do this, and he was not going to do that; but the Bill does not correspond with his speech at all. There is nothing whatever in the Bill but an enormous scheme of patronage under the Attorney General, and a centralization of the patronage throughout the country in his hands. So long as the present Home Secretary holds his Office, no doubt the line which he lays down in his speech will be adhered to; but in the three clauses of the Bill there is no limit, either in hundreds or thousands, to the number of officers who may be appointed. When you pass a Statute the thing goes out of your power, and you give the Executive Government of the day the powers contained in the Act. In the measure which I had the honour to recommend we avoided, what I think is one of the most growing evils in this country, the centralization of patronage in the hands of the Executive Government. We provided that the appointments under the Bill should be kept in the various counties. It is the great vice of the present Bill, that it gives the Home Secretary and the Attorney General an amount of patronage to which there is no limit. You may have an Attorney General appointing numbers of officers all over the country; and although the right hon. Gentleman may toll us that he does not mean to appoint beyond a certain limit, yet we have no safeguard as to what will be done hereafter. We know what pressure is brought to bear upon the Government to appoint an officer at a certain salary; and it is a very bad thing, indeed, in the administration of justice, that patronage should be so vested. So far as I know, this is the first Bill I have seen in which the amount of patronage to be placed in the hands of the Government was practically unlimited. But there is another objection to the Bill. Either this Bill is a good thing to pass, or it is not. I myself have been in favour of a more extended scheme of public prosecution; and I think that the evidence given before the Committee over which I had the honour to preside is overwhelming that there is in this country a very extensive system of compromising prosecutions. If that be so—and it is not in London alone, it is the same throughout the country, and, perhaps, more in the Provinces than here—I do not see how the Bill is going to prevent it. I cannot see what authority either the Solicitor for public prosecutions, or his assistants, will have to compel prosecutions. It is the duty of the Public Prosecutor to institute, undertake, and carry on all such criminal proceedings as may be prescribed by the regulations under the Act, or may be directed by the Attorney General; but, in the case of prosecutions undertaken by a private prosecutor, there is no power in the Bill to compel the prosecution to be continued. The Public Prosecutor, perhaps, might interfere and undertake a case; but I do not see anything to bring him into operation. Supposing a man, after instituting a prosecution—and the thing is actually done—compromises it, how is the Attorney General to know anything about it, or how is the Solicitor for prosecutions, or anyone else, to be made aware of it? That is a fault; and so long as you leave the matter in the hands of private prosecutors, so long will things continue in this state. Nor is it clear how, unless the Public Prosecutor is to have charge of all proceedings from the commencement until the end, he is to know what goes on. I should like to know, that there may be no misapprehension, if I am wrong, if it is within the scheme of this Bill to interfere in such cases; and, if so, how they are to be dealt with by the Public Prosecutor? Having been for many years interested in this subject, I do not believe that you will have a satisfactory administration of justice unless you have something like a Procurator Fiscal, as exists in Scotland, who is responsible for all prosecutions. I agree with what has been said as to there being no limit to the number of persons who maybe appointed by the Government—it maybe 20, or 100, or 500—and the Treasury may or may not control those appointments according to the opinion and exigencies of the Government for the time being. I hope, before the Bill is passed into law, there may be something introduced into it by which it may not become an enormous system of centralization of patronage in the hands of the Attorney General—a system which, as we all know, has a tendency to degenerate into jobbery.


The view which has been apparently taken by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt) is, that you should have a system of public prosecutions throughout the country, and that all those prosecutions should be undertaken by a Public Prosecutor. No doubt the theory of the scheme which my hon. and learned Friend would establish is a very admirable one, and it is a scheme which recommends itself as being theoretically perfect. But, in the first place, it would be an enormous and, to a great extent, a useless expenditure, and then, again, it would be an entire revolution of the present system, and an interference with the arrangements which have been made, and a system which, in the main, works well. There has been, undoubtedly, at different times in this country a great cry raised for the establishment of a Public Prosecutor, not because prosecutions are not properly conducted, but because there are many cases of crime which are committed which are not brought to light, and where people are under the impression that a thorough investigation has not taken place; or, where a thorough and complete investigation having become possible, there has been no one to undertake the prosecution, and to make use of the materials to bring the criminal to justice. There are many offences which at the present time, are not dealt with as they ought to be—many offences which ought, in the interest of the community, to be prosecuted, and especially offences under the Bankruptcy Act. More particularly, in the case of offences against the Bankruptcy Act, it is desirable that the offenders should be brought to justice, for nothing more disastrous to the interests of society can be conceived than that such offenders should escape; but, unfortunately, the persons suffering do not usually move in the matter. There are also commercial frauds, in such offences as have been described by the hon. and learned Member for Ipswich (Mr. Bulwer), and it is most desirable that all these offences should be investigated, and that the perpetrators of them should be brought to justice. That cannot be well done under the present system, and therefore another reason arises why there is such a desire on the part of the public that there should be a Public Prosecutor to take the matter up. As the hon. and learned Member for Durham (Mr. Herschell) has pointed out in his very able speech, there is a necessity for a Public Prosecutor in such cases to take up prosecutions on behalf of the community without interference with the system under which prosecutions at present are conducted, because, as a rule, the present system works remarkably well. Prosecutions go on before the magistrates, and are undertaken by the police, and then go to Quarter Sessions or Assizes, and are directed by the magistrates' clerks or solicitors in the various localities. No one complains of the conduct of public prosecutions as a rule; but there is a great need for some Public Authority to be constituted to have supervision over all prosecutions, and to have a right to institute prosecutions when it should be deemed proper. There should be a Staff in London, and two or three Deputies upon each Circuit; and they should have the right to intervene at any moment in the conduct of a prosecution, and take it out of the hands of a private prosecutor, and make it a public prosecution. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford says he has read the Bill, and does not see in it any provision enabling a Public Prosecutor, when appointed, to act in a prosecution undertaken by a private individual and to take it out of his hands.


said, that his objection was, that cases of collusion would not come to the knowledge of the Public Prosecutor.


The objection which I have stated is one of those put forward by my hon. and learned Friend. I understood him to say there was nothing in this Bill which gave information how a Public Prosecutor could intervene. But if there is any foundation in the complaint which he now puts forward, I think it can be easily remedied, when the Bill goes into Committee, by the insertion of a few words to make it quite clear that the Public Prosecutor shall be at liberty to intervene whenever he thinks proper, and take the prosecution out of the hands of a private prosecutor. Then, he says that a great evil exists at present by reason of prosecutions being instituted and then collusively compromised. I quite agree that this is a very great evil; but I do not know it is the greatest evil that we have to deplore. Still, it is a very serious matter, and I think my hon. and learned Friend is perfectly right in complaining of it. Then he says, perhaps fairly enough, how are you to know—how is the Public Prosecutor in London to know—how are the Deputies in the Provinces to know—that this collusion has taken place? Well, they may not know it; they can only know it by keeping a sharp look out, and by getting information from the various magistrates, and various magistrates' clerks, as to all prosecutions that are instituted. People ascertain these things in ordinary cases by resorting to the usual sources of information; and in this particular case of a Public Prosecutor, he or his Deputy would have a right to require either the magistrates or their clerks to furnish every information and give him every assistance. And if there is the slightest idea that a prosecution that has been instituted is likely to be improperly compromised, the Public Prosecutor will be informed of it by the magistrates or their clerks, and will be enabled to intervene. I do not see, therefore, that there is any great difficulty in the matter. There is another evil, to which my hon. and learned Friend did not so distinctly point. It is this—that in some of our greatest commercial centres prosecutions are often instituted by individuals for the purpose of obtaining remedies for what are really civil grievances. In London, especially, I believe prosecutions are instituted for the purpose of extorting concessions from people which they would not otherwise make—in fact, for the purpose of extorting money. Now, as the case at present stands, it is very difficult to check these prosecutions; but when the Public Prosecutor is appointed, if complaint is made to him that a prosecution is wrongfully brought, he will look into the facts, and, if he deems it right, intervene to stop the wrong that is being done. There is one further point which my hon. and learned Friend has taken to which I will allude. He thinks that the centralization of patronage in the Secretary of State and in myself is very objectionable. If a Public Prosecutor is to be appointed, he must be appointed by some one; and I do not know that there is any very great ob- jection to vest the appointment in the Secretary of State. I do not know that the Secretary of State is likely to exercise that power improperly, nor do I think that there is any great objection to joining with him the Attorney General. But if the Secretary of State and the Attorney General are not to make these appointments, who is? It has been suggested that the appointment should be made by a Town Council, or by the Local Boards throughout the country; but will not greater evils arise from the local authorities and the municipalities having this patronage, than from its being given to the officers of the Government? But my hon. and learned Friend (Sir William Harcourt) need not be so alarmed, for, of course, this measure is only to be tentative. Nor is it possible, in a Bill of this character, to make everything very definite or exact, or to describe with great minuteness every provision that will be made; but I think that every explanation as to what is intended to be done has been given by my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. If it is necessary to limit the number of appointments to be made under the Bill, it will be very easy to do so when the Bill goes into Committee. Nothing can be more easy than for hon. Members to propose a clause limiting the number of these appointments—such as that there shall only be two or three officers appointed in each district or circuit.


said, that without entering into the details of the Bill, he desired to express his gratification that the measure had been introduced. It had been long wished for; and although it might not go entirely on the lines that were wished by some, still it was an attempt to obviate some great imperfections of the system that now existed, and to introduce a system that would supply the deficiencies. He accepted the measure as a step in the right direction, and trusted it would be beneficial to the country. In his opinion, much crime that was now committed, especially in commercial circles, would not be committed if the administration of justice and punishment were pretty certain. It was owing to the great chance of escaping prosecution that gave a disposition to many commercial delinquents to commit the offences which they now did. They relied at present upon those whom they robbed not caring to spend more money and time in instituting prosecutions against them. He believed criminals of that class would feel, if this measure were carried, that their chance of punishment was much greater, and, their fear of punishment being much more complete, the offences would diminish in number.


said, that the speeches in the early part of the debate seemed to favour the appointment of a Public Prosecutor to undertake all the criminal business of the country. He was considerably relieved when the hon. and learned Member for Durham (Mr. Herschell) made the excellent observations he did; and after the explanation of the Home Secretary, he did not feel that there was much danger of what he dreaded coming to pass. Still, there were some passages in the speech of the right hon. Gentleman which caused him some misgiving, because he spoke of this being a tentative measure, and of the appointments being limited to those of provisional Prosecutors in various parts of the country, and referred to them as limited only in the first instance. That would give the impression that although the country was now proceeding in a very sober, quiet way, yet that, perhaps, the pace might be accelerated, and at a future day the nation might be launched into a complete system of public prosecution throughout the country under the control of the Government. It had been urged that this would be a very great expense, and undoubtedly it would be. Not only would the expenditure be unnecessary, but he thought it was to be condemned from a more important point of view. He felt that there was nothing which could be more prejudicial to the English character than to imitate the example of various foreign countries, and teach people to look to Government for everything. If people would not look after their own property, it was not right that they should be able to ask the Government to do it for them. It was, no doubt, one of the evils of the present system that people would not take the trouble to prosecute in cases where they had been defrauded; but if people were taught to rely on the Government, they would do, as occasionally happened, in consequence of our excellent police system—not lock their doors or bar their windows. By the establishment of a Public Prosecutor, people would not take the trouble to conduct their own prosecutions, but would ask Government to step in and conduct them for them; and, in his opinion, that would be a great disadvantage and blow to the English character. In the reliance of people upon themselves, and not upon the Government, the English differed from Continental nations—a great system of bureaucracy was foreign to them. He hoped that when the House went into Committee upon the Bill such limitations might be put into it as would prevent any chance of our drifting into a huge scheme of public prosecutions. He would say one word with regard to what had fallen from the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt). The hon. and learned Gentleman spoke of the evils resulting from prosecutions being compromised. His (Mr. Floyer's) experience had been in the country; but it had been of long standing. Certainly, he did not remember any case where a compromise had been made which might be considered improper. If such instances did occur, he did not think that any system of public prosecutions would prevent them. With respect to commercial frauds he had no experience, and, perhaps, with regard to them, a Public Prosecutor might prove useful. As limited by the Attorney General, he thought a Public Prosecutor would be a useful functionary; but he should deplore greatly any scheme of public prosecution which would take out of the hands of individuals the conduct of their own cases, and lead people to place that reliance on the Government which they now had in themselves.


It is a pity that the Government should have brought on so important a Bill as this on a Friday night at this hour. Many objections which might be urged to going into Committee on this Bill now have already been brought forward in the course of debate, and I will not further allude to them. I wish, however, to draw the attention of the House to the fact that Public Prosecutors exist at the present time in Scotland and Ireland. In Ireland the system works exceedingly well. But the Bill is not founded upon either of these systems, and it con- tains everything which a Bill introduced into this House ought not to have in it. It is the vaguest, crudest document that was ever introduced into Parliament, dealing with such an important subject as this. It enables the Government to appoint a Solicitor for public prosecutions, and afterwards to appoint any number of assistants and other officers. The disadvantages resulting from that have already been pointed out by the hon. and learned Member for Oxford (Sir William Harcourt). The other provisions in the Bill are simply such as must naturally be adopted if the system is to be worked at all; but it is not until we come to the 6th clause that the great objection to legislation of this character becomes apparent. In order to make this Bill fit for becoming a workable Act, the 6th clause enables the Attorney General and the Home Secretary really to make an Act of Parliament. The Attorney General, with the Secretary of State, may, from time to time, make, rescind, vary, and add to regulations for carrying the Act into effect. The draft of such regulations as are approved by the Secretary of State are to be laid before both Houses of Parliament, and are not to be finally approved until they have remained 40 days upon the Table during the sitting of Parliament. Anyone, however, who has been in the habit of attending this House knows what that means; it means simply that no discussion will be possible, and no effectual objections to regulations laid upon the Table of the House in that manner can be made. This is just what will occur in the case of the pro-sent Act. I look upon the Bill as simply vesting in the Secretary of State, and centralizing in London, all the prosecutions of the country. I will elaborate the argument, if necessary. If we have Public Prosecutors at all, I think we ought to have the number of Public Prosecutors or officers defined in the Bill. The mode, also, in which the system is to be worked ought to be carefully defined. Further, in my opinion, the appointment of these Prosecutors, if not made entirely by the Corporations and by the Local Boards in the country, should, at any rate, be in some degree approved of by them. We have some experience in London of public prosecutions. The Corporation of the City of London undertakes public prosecutions, and directs its own officers to prosecute any case within their control and jurisdiction. Now, however, we are to have a Minister of Justice, who will be termed a Solicitor, and who is to perform the duties devolving upon the Attorney General. In course of time, this officer will grow into a most powerful functionary. Every prosecution, great or small, will have to be referred to this personage, to be called the Solicitor for Prosecutions, and we shall have people living in London under the supervision of this officer. I object to such an officer being instituted in this country, unless we have some means of getting at him in Parliament. If you have a State Prosecutor at all, the head of the system ought to be the Attorney General himself, so that you may have an opportunity of making inquiries, and securing a responsible officer to deal with in this House. The hon. and learned Member for Durham (Mr. Herschell) seemed to me to make a very extraordinary speech. He said he did not wish to interfere with the present system of prosecutions, but to supplement them by giving Government assistance. In what cases, then, will prosecutions be conducted by the public? It is not in cases of small felonies, or in that of persons who have been run over, or suffered some bodily harm by felonious acts, that there will be a subsidy, and the prosecution taken up. In such cases people are put to enormous inconvenience and expense in carrying the law into effect, and I do not see that the Bill makes any provision to meet those cases. The hon. and learned Member apparently thinks that people will continue to prosecute cases when there is a Public Prosecutor, upon whom the duty of prosecuting devolves. In Ireland the police take up prosecutions before the magistrates, and there is in every county a Crown Solicitor, who is appointed by the Government, and whose appointment vests a great deal of patronage in the Government in power. With a Crown Prosecutor, from the nature of the case the responsibility is not placed upon the individual; but in Ireland the number of these Crown Prosecutors is limited by the Act under which they are appointed, and the provisions of it are very stringent. To bring forward such a measure as the present, which requires the most careful consideration, and commits us to the adoption of an elaborate system, and to push it forward on a Friday evening, at this hour—especially when, in the 6th clause, the Attorney General and the Home Secretary are, in fact, enabled to make an Act of Parliament—is not the proper course to take. This is a system of legislation against which I protest. I can only account for it on the ground that, there being a strong desire for a Public Prosecutor expressed by many hon. Gentlemen in this House, the Government, at the last moment, has determined to bring in a Bill of some kind, and have brought in this Bill. I do not at all agree with some of my hon. Friends, who seem to think that everybody should be protected in speculations into which they may enter by holding the terror of the law over the persons who commit some trifling breach of commercial law? The prosecutions for commercial offences ought, in my opinion, to be exceedingly infrequent when undertaken by the Government. We have a favourable specimen in Scotland, recently before us, in the case of the Directors of the City of Glasgow Bank. There is another case in this country, where the Government insisted upon prosecuting; but why, I could never understand. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of London (Mr. Lowe) seemed to get it into his mind that, above all things, it was necessary that this great scandal in the Tichborne case should be prosecuted, and the country has been put to unheard-of expense in so doing. The exact sum of money spent in that prosecution we have never been able to get at; but I believe it amounted to £100,000. For these reasons, I trust we shall not go into Committee on this Bill, and that the question will be dealt with much more fully. Moreover, there are a great many hon. Gentlemen who wish to take part in this discussion who are not now present, thinking that it would not come on. I beg to move the adjournment of the debate.


said, he thought the conduct of the Government, in bringing on so important a Bill when many hon. Members were necessarily absent, was to be deprecated. The Bill practically gave the Home Secretary the power to make such a system as he pleased; and within the four corners of the Bill there was no limit to the number of Public Prosecutors that might be appointed throughout the country. The Home Secretary had, indeed, explained that it was not his intention to appoint many of these Crown Prosecutors. But, although that might not be the intention of the Home Secretary at the present moment, yet he might change his mind, or some other right hon. Gentleman, at a future day, holding his Office, might do precisely as he pleased in the matter. The system of public prosecution in Ireland had been adverted to; and he presumed that the system of Crown Prosecutors in Ireland was adopted because of the indisposition in individuals, for reasons into which he need not enter, to come forward and prosecute offences. But private individuals in England did not have the same reason for being indisposed to prosecute, and therefore there was not the same reason for the Bill. At the present moment the Home Secretary and the Solicitor for the Treasury had the power that the Home Secretary now desired to obtain, and any prosecution could be entered into by the Crown against any offender whom it was desired to prosecute. It was said to be desirable to set an example to private individuals of the mode in which prosecutions should be conducted, by means of having Crown Prosecutors in certain districts; but it was perfectly within the power of the Solicitor for the Treasury to do all that at the present time. Therefore, he felt that it was unreasonable, at a quarter past 1 in the morning, to ask the House to go into Committee on a Bill which only gave the Home Secretary the power which the Solicitor for the Treasury already had. In conclusion, he begged to second the Motion of the hon. Member for Galway.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Debate be now adjourned."—(Mr. Mitchell Henry.)


observed, that the hon. Members who had moved the adjournment had informed them that in their parts of the country there was a system of public prosecution which worked well. Under these circumstances, he should have thought that they would have been the most disposed to facilitate the progress of this Bill. He must confess that he was not quite satisfied that the result of a system of public prosecutions would not be that persons who now felt bound to prosecute would not feel themselves relieved. As there were many hon. Members who took an interest in this subject not present then, he thought it would be fair if Her Majesty's Government would give them an assurance that at a subsequent stage of the Bill there would be a full opportunity of discussing it. Such an opportunity would arise on the Motion for the third reading. If Her Majesty's Government would not give such an assurance, he thought the debate should be adjourned; otherwise, he would ask the hon. Member for Galway to withdraw his Motion.


did not see why, if the system of public prosecutions had been successful in Ireland, it should not be pursued in England. He thought a distinction was too often made between offences against property and attacks upon the person—much more consideration being given to the former than to the latter class of offences. As regarded the question of patronage, he quite agreed with the hon. Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry). It was a great advantage of the system in Ireland that, as no prosecution could be instituted by any individual without the cognizance of the first Law Officer of the Crown, the prosecution of people was not made a vehicle for obtaining other ends. He would not vote for this Bill, except he saw that there was some mode by which persons could be prevented from using the power of instituting prosecutions for purposes of their own. For his own part, he viewed with disfavour the proposition to make local attorneys the Public Prosecutors. What would happen in happy England if some lawyer—he did not care whether he was Whig or Tory—were entrusted with the discretion of instituting, or refusing to institute, a prosecution? Why, it would be often said that his action was induced by his political leaning—for men of this class were usually the political agents also in country districts. And that such an idea could get abroad he thought would be lamentable. The first consideration was that justice should be respected; and he entirely agreed in the view that the Committee should be postponed, and that the House should have an opportunity of considering the matter, and of framing Amendments, in order that an irre- sponsible solicitor might not be appointed to direct prosecutions in this country without power over them being vested in the first Law Officer of the Crown.


wished to say that the hon. Baronet had entirely mistaken the purport of the Bill, in supposing that it placed in the hands of solicitors in various parts of the country the power of instituting proceedings. The object of the Government was to leave prosecutions in the hands of the persons who now conducted them, but to see that there were persons who should take charge of them, and generally to exercise that check over prosecutions which he understood the hon. Baronet wished so much to see. Therefore, he hoped he would not oppose the Bill. With reference to the number of officers to be appointed, it was in the power of any hon. Member to put down an Amendment that the number of such officers on each Circuit should not exceed two.


hoped that the Motion for the adjournment of the debate would not be pressed, for it seemed to him that there was a substantial agreement in the views of the speakers on both sides of the House. It was only a question of detail; and, for his part, he freely accepted the promise of the Home Secretary, that he would give a reasonable time for them to consider the Bill and propose Amendments. That promise, he trusted, would be taken on this side of the House as sufficient, and they would allow the Bill to go into Committee on that occasion. In respect of what had been said as to the objects of the present Bill, he thought the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary should put in writing the scheme he sketched out in his speech, and put it into the Bill by way of amendment. Unless that were done, there was no guarantee, if the Bill were allowed to become law, that some future officers of the Crown might not extend the measure very much further than was intended by the present Members of the Government.


also hoped that the Motion for the adjournment of the debate would not be pressed. The scheme sketched for them by the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary would, he thought, recommend itself to the mercantile community and to the public generally. They had seen of late a great deal of abuse of public confidence, and reference had been made to one very great abuse—that of the Glasgow Bank Directors. Whatever might be the opinion of his hon. Friend the Member for Galway (Mr. Mitchell Henry) with reference to that case, he was sure that the perpetrators would not have been brought to justice so speedily had there not been Public Prosecutors in Scotland. The argument both of the Scotch and Irish Members had proved most incontestably that the systems of public prosecutions in those countries had worked well. A fear had been expressed that they might drift too much into centralization. If Scotland had not drifted, nor Ireland, and the power that had been exercised had not been abused, what right was there to suppose that the result would be different in this country? Any Member of the House, becoming aware of any abuse, might, from time to time, put questions to the Government in respect to any such abuse. In connection with criminal prosecutions, he was sure, from his experience and observations, that it would be a great public benefit to have Public Prosecutors. There were various occasions upon which people did not wish to prosecute. Now in many cases they were too ignorant, and did not understand the steps necessary to be taken; but if it were well known that there were Public Prosecutors, crime would be much more generally punished than at present. Those who had suffered by a crime were not always ready to become the victims of lawyers, and undertake prosecutions. It was a common saying, that what was everyone's business was no one's business. The result was, that great public wrongs remained without due punishment. For this reason, he thought it would be a great advantage to have Public Prosecutors; and he felt sure that the best course to adopt would be to consent to the House going into Committee, and those who desired to put Amendments upon the Paper could do so, when the measure could be fully discussed.


said, there was a very strong objection to the Bill, which was, that it delegated authority to the Attorney General and the Home Secretary for the time being. The House of Commons would never submit to such, a course as the delegation of authority to any Minister, however clever he might be, for the result, it was well known, could be nothing but disaster. He thought that the Government should withdraw the Bill and formulate another scheme. The Bill should be made a first Order of the Day in Committee, so that hon. Members might have a fuller opportunity of discussing the necessary Amendments. If the Government would make the Bill a first Order in Committee, he would suggest the propriety of withdrawing the Motion for adjournment.


said, he had always understood that the desire of the Irish Members was that the laws of Ireland should be equalized with the laws of England, and on that ground he thought that support should be given to the measure. There could be no question as to the advantage of having a Public Prosecutor in Ireland. He knew of a case recently whore a gentleman had suffered wrong, and was very anxious to prosecute, as a matter of justice to the community. But he was too poor to bear the expense of a prosecution. He appealed to him (Dr. O'Leary), and after an application had been made to the Attorney General the case was taken up; the case went on, and the conviction was obtained. In that case there would, most undoubtedly, have been a miscarriage of justice, had it not been for the office of Public Prosecutor, which existed in Ireland. It was well to mention that it was the Attorney General who directed that prosecution. With regard to the remarks of the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar), he considered that whatever difference of opinion might exist between the Attorney General of to-day and the Attorney General of five years hence, both would have but one duty to perform, and that was simply to discharge an official function. Being officers of justice, they would have nothing whatever to do with Party feeling. Indeed, in his opinion, Whig would be just as ready to prosecute Tory as Tory would be to prosecute Whig. He thought that he would occupy a very invidious position by not giving his assistance to the carrying out of that Act, which would equalize the laws of England with those of Ireland. By way of illustration, he would point out that there had been a great failure in the application of the Food and Drugs Bill for the want of a Public Prosecutor. He supported the Bill with all his heart, and hoped that his hon. Friend would withdraw his Motion for adjournment.


said, the reasons urged by several hon. Members for the withdrawal of his Motion for adjournment only proved to him the necessity which existed for a real discussion upon the measure. He begged leave to withdraw his Motion.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.


inquired if the Government really intended to afford them an opportunity of discussing the Bill in Committee or not? If the Bill were taken at so late an hour as the present, the opportunity for discussion was simply a mockery and a snare. He thought that the Bill should be made a first Order of the Day. It was evident that the Bill would have to be entirely remodelled, and that new Rules would have to be introduced; and as it was a measure of such a very important character, he thought that the least the Government should do would be to make it a first Order of the Day, in order to give hon. Members a fair opportunity for discussion.


said, he would very much regret that the subject should be proceeded with at that late hour. A great defect of the Bill was that it established no real system of public prosecution, and he appealed to the right hon. Gentleman who had charge of the Bill to afford an opportunity for further discussion.


said, be could not undertake to make the Bill a first Order of the Day; but it should be arranged to come on at a reasonable hour.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

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

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)


understood that Mr. Speaker had only left the Chair pro formâ; but the Motion having been made to postpone the Preamble, he would move to report Progress, because hon. Members who were absent, and who took a warm interest in the Bill, would not have an opportunity of discussing it upon its merits.


seconded the Motion.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Biggar.)


hoped the House would keep to the understanding arrived at. It was not desirable to spend another evening in discussing the Preamble. The hon. Member for Meath had expressed a wish to say something more at a future stage of the Bill, and the Chancellor of the Exchequer had stated that it should be brought on at a reasonable hour.


thought it most unreasonable for the Government to ask hon. Members to give up the last practical opportunity they would have for the discussion of the measure. He hoped the Government would agree to the very reasonable Motion to report Progress.


thought they would not be acting fairly towards the Government by supporting the Motion to report Progress.


said, that if the House chose to give up the interests of the people, of course they could not be prevented. He thought that by allowing the 1st clause to pass hon. Members would find they had got into a trap, for the Chairman of Committees would, only allow them to discuss each particular clause as it arose.

Motion negatived.

Preamble agreed to.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Thursday next.

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