HC Deb 13 March 1883 vol 277 cc366-7

asked Mr. Attorney General, If he could state to the House, whether the Judges in England or Ireland, or either country, or any, and, if so, which, of said Judges were consulted as to the Court of Criminal Appeal Bill?


wished to know, since when it had been recognized as a condition precedent to the introduction of a measure to that House that the approval of any other persons should be previously sought or obtained?


Sir, if my right hon. and learned Friend intends, by this Question, to suggest that it is the absolute duty of the Government, before introducing a measure of legal reform, to obtain the sanction or approval of Her Majesty's Judges, I hope I may be allowed to say that I cannot give adhesion to such a proposition without considerable qualification. The responsibility of introducing such a measure as the Question refers to rests with the Government, and the responsibility of passing or rejecting it attaches to Members of this House. But, Sir, with this reservation, I can inform my right hon. and learned Friend that both because I was desirous of obtaining either suggestion or criticism from those whose opinions were of the highest value, and also because I should have been much wanting in courtesy if I had acted otherwise, I did submit the heads of the Bill and also the draft Bill to several of Her Majesty's Judges, and naturally among them to the Chief Justice of England, as representing that portion of the Judicial Bench which has to administer the Criminal Law; and, Sir, I have the Lord Chief Justice's permission to state that, while he reserves to himself the fullest right to discuss the details of the Bill, he gives a very cordial assent to its principles and the main provisions contained in it, subject, however to this observation—that he regrets that there is no provision to be found in it giving to the Court of Appeal the power to revise sentences, so as to deal both with the inequality and sometimes with the severity to be found in them. As this Court of Criminal Appeal Bill has been mentioned, may I ask the House to grant me its indulgence, so as to allow me to state that in the course of re-framing the Bill, at a late stage of its drafting, a paragraph, which from its nature could only refer to non-capital cases, has, by a strange inadvertence, which I cannot account for, found its way into the 2nd clause, relating to capital punishment, and has produced a manifest subject for observation, upon which I have received many communications—I mean the paragraph which provides that there shall be no increase by the Court of Appeal of the sentence imposed by the Court of trial. I hope this explanation will protect the Bill from further criticism upon that head.