HC Deb 29 July 1881 vol 264 cc118-9

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether, in view of cases like that of the "lark's nest" recently before him, and other instances in which defendants are being sent to gaol for non-payment of fines, he will consider the propriety of calling the attention of justices of the peace to the power given to them by "The Summary Jurisdiction Act, 1879," to afford time for payment by instalments so as to avoid unnecessary imprisonment; and, whether he will cause an inquiry to be made into the scales of costs and fees in use at petty sessions throughout the Country, with a view to their revision and reduction, and thus prevent the disproportion of costs to the fine inflicted, which occurs in many cases?


Sir, I doubt whether there will be any great advantage in calling the attention of justices to the provisions of the Summary Jurisdiction Act—they are perfectly well acquainted with them; but I agree very much in the regret that the wise provisions introduced into the Act by my Predecessor are not carried out so beneficially as they might be in many cases. In many cases, as everybody knows, where the fine is under 5s. there can be no costs, unless the justices specially certify them, and this they are too frequently in the habit of doing. I have pointed out to them that this is not what is intended by the Act; it was intended that only in exceptional circumstances should costs be given. The reply I receive is—"Oh, but we impose a small fine on account of the costs." In my opinion, that is not a judicious proceeding; it gives to the public an unfair impression of what has really happened. It appears that a person has been fined only 1s., when, in point of fact, he has had to pay 30s.; therefore, I much desire that the provisions of the Act with reference to costs were more fully carried out. The second part of the Question opens up a very difficult matter. I have very often much regretted that large bills of costs have attended these convictions, especially in the case of poor people; but it must be remembered that our present system is that these costs defray the expenses of the administration of justice to a great degree; and if you are to change the system, either the local authorities must undertake to pay the expenses which are now paid by fines, or the Exchequer must bear them, and both of these are serious propositions.


Sir, perhaps I may be allowed to say, as I had the honour of carrying the Bill of 1879, that I agree with every word of the right hon. and learned Gentleman's answer to the first part of the Question; what he has said is in entire accordance with the object with which the Act was passed.