§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, To whom the telegram sent from London on Monday night to Portland Prison directing the release of William Habron was addressed, and whether he will lay a copy of it upon the Table of the House; and, whether it is true that this young man, who has received a free pardon because he is innocent of the crime for which he had been sentenced to be hanged, was handcuffed during part of his journey from Portland to London after the receipt of the aforesaid telegram from the Secretary of State; and, if true, whether he will take into consideration such conduct on the part of the prison officials?
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
Sir, no telegram was sent directing the release of William Habron at Portland. I had received a private intimation from the master whom he had served, and from his brother, that if he was released it would be agreeable that either the master or the brother should come up in order to receive him on his release. I therefore thought it the better course not to release him at Portland, but to bring him up to London. A telegram was sent for him to be brought up, and another to the master to come up, and also to bring the brother if he chose, to receive him and to consult what was best to be done. I had thought, from the intimation I sent to Portland, that, although they were not aware that he was to be actually released, they would not have treated him in the way they did; but I am bound to say, in justice to officials, that if it had struck me for a moment that they would do so, I certainly would have given more positive directions. I can only regret what has taken place, and for the absence of those positive instructions which I ought to have given I take the entire blame on myself.
§ DR. KENEALY
asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether, in view of the case of Habron, wrongfully convicted of murder, and of several other persons whose sentences he has remitted as being wholly innocent, he is prepared to introduce a Bill to enable Her Majesty's Judges to grant a 1431 new trial, as a matter of right, in all criminal cases where reasonable grounds exist to challenge the verdict; to enable the Crown to grant compensation, as a matter of right, to all persons who, though innocent, have been found guilty; when their innocence has been made known to restore them to liberty, not as a matter of grace and pardon but as a matter of right also; to declare, as well, that writs of error in all criminal cases are writs of right which the Crown has no authority, by common law or statute, to refuse; and, whether he will lay upon the Table of the House a Copy of the Evidence on which he advised Her Majesty to release Habron?
MR. ASSHETON CROSS
Sir, I hope I may be allowed to say, with regard to the last part of the Question, that it would be a most inconvenient practice to lay the evidence upon the Table of this House. With regard to the first part of the Question, I have never been able to understand why a person who is likely to lose some small portion of his property, real or personal, may have an appeal, and in another case, where he is very likely to lose his life, no appeal is granted; and I have always, been in favour of having an appeal in, at all events, certain criminal cases upon questions of fact, always of course, preserving the Prerogative of the Crown to exercise mercy untouched. But if the hon. Member will look at the Code laid upon the Table last Session, he will find that provision was then made for an appeal in certain criminal cases as to questions of fact. That Code, as the hon. Member may be aware, is at the present moment being revised by several learned Judges and other eminent persons; and I believe that it will contain practically the same provisions, although I am not at the present moment aware what alterations they may have made or suggested in its actual form. As to the question of granting compensation in all cases in which there has been a wrong trial, the House must remember that in these cases it is not through the action of the Executive Government, but through some unfortunate mistake of the country, upon whose judgment the prisoner is put to take his trial. I am not aware that in any other country in Europe compensation is granted as a matter of right. As to the case of Habron. That case, like that of Barber, is of a very ex- 1432 ceptional character, and I am sure both the House and the country would desire that some compensation should be made. With regard to the question of writs of error, I think, if the hon. Member will refer to this Code, he will see it is proposed that writs of error in criminal cases should be abolished altogether, and other provisions with reference to them have been made.
§ MR. MITCHELL HENRY
Might I ask the right hon. Gentleman, if I am to understand him as saying that the question of compensation has been settled with regard to Habron?