HC Deb 08 July 1887 vol 317 cc222-3
MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)

drew the attention of the First Lord of the Treasury to the following passage from the Report for the year 1884 of the Society for the Defence of Personal Rights:— In the month of May information was received by your Committee 'that the police now, in Waterloo Place, Regent Street, &c, take up women for molesting men without any complaint from the men, and that Mr. Newton, of Marlborough. Street, does not hesitate to convict on the unsupported evidence of the policeman.' The Secretary (Mr. J. S. Baily) was instructed to attend the court, which he did on the 28th and 29th of May. On the first day he saw 11, and on the second eight, women convicted on the unsupported evidence of one policeman, who merely stated in each case that he saw the woman solicit, and that she was a prostitute. On our advice one young woman thus convicted applied for an appeal, which was granted. The magistrate's clerk, Mr. Lyell, informed our Secretary that the conviction took place in accordance with what he and the magistrates believed to he the correct interpretation of the Act—namely, that for a prostitute to be in a public place was an offence, and that the words 'to the annoyance of inhabitants or passengers' applied only to soliciting, and that they always acted on such interpretation. As the result of communications which passed between Mr. Lyell and our solicitors the former acknowledged the interpretation of the law hitherto acted upon to be incorrect, that 'annoyance to an inhabitant or passenger' must be proved in order to justify a conviction, and that care would be taken in future to prove annoyance before conviction. Owing to the action of your Committee the line was remitted in the case referred to, and the appeal was not proceeded with; and asked, Whether he will direct that the promised inquiry shall include the eases above referred to as bearing upon the consideration of the same magistrate's action in the case of Miss Cass?

THE FIRST LORD (Mr. W. H. SMITH) (Strand, Westminster)

I must premise that the circumstances to which the hon. Member refers occurred four years ago, and I have not yet had time to verify the facts stated in the Question. The rule acted upon by all Metropolitan police magistrates I understand to be that, while annoyance to inhabitants or passengers must be proved, that fact may be proved by any legal evidence, and not necessarily by the evidence of the inhabitant or passenger himself. At a meeting of Metropolitan magistrates in October, 1886, this was agreed to as being the correct interpretation of the Metropolitan Police Act. Having regard to the lapse of time and other circumstances, it would be inexpedient to include the cases referred to by the hon. Member in the inquiry now being carried on.