HC Deb 21 February 1882 vol 266 cc1224-5

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether his attention has been called to the severity of the sentences passed at the Surrey Quarter Sessions; whether, on a calendar of fifty-eight prisoners in January last (of whom nine were acquitted and one adjourned), the total sentences inflicted on the remaining forty-eight convicted amounted to one hundred and twenty-six years and ten months; whether, among the number so dealt with, John. Williams, alias Jinks, for housebreaking and larceny, after previous convictions, was sentenced to twenty years' penal servitude; John Donovan, for stealing a soldier's medal, after previous convictions, to twenty years' penal servitude; and John Connell, for the same offence, also after previous convictions, to twenty years' penal servitude; whether such severity is not exceptional, but is habitually practised and avowed by the chairman as, in his opinion, the mode by which crime should be kept down; and, whether these and former sentences by the same Court have been, or will be, subjected to inquiry by the Home Office with a view to their mitigation?


My hon. and learned Friend, by his Question, seems to invite me to pass a general sentence of approval or disapproval upon the conduct of a particular Judge. Now, I have often stated, and I repeat it again, that I have no authority to do anything of the kind. I am often asked to say that a Judge's general sentences are too severe. Now, the Secretary of State has no authority to do anything of the kind; if he did, he would entirely overbear the independence of the Judges, and assume to the Executive a power which it does not possess, and which would be contrary to Constitutional principles, and would be very disadvantageous in its effect. What I can do, and what it is my duty to do is, when a particular sentence is brought to my attention by any person who accepts the responsibility of saying he thinks it ought to be re-considered, then it is my duty to consider that sentence with the view of seeing whether it is a proper subject for the exercise of the prerogative. Beyond that, in my opinion, I ought not and cannot go.