HC Deb 24 May 1889 vol 336 cc1002-56
* MR. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)

I rise to move— That the inequality and the irregularity of the sentences pronounced by our Criminal Courts require the immediate and serious attention of the Government, and that an humble address be presented to Her Majesty praying for the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire as to the best means by which greater equality of sentences, and the more systematic punishment of repeated offences may be secured. My original intention was to make my Resolution wider in its terms, so as to embrace the character of the punishment as well as the period of its detention, but upon reconsideration, and consultation with others, I have decided to restrict my Resolution within its present limits for two reasons. In the first place, the most pressing scandal in the administration of our Criminal Law at present is undoubtedly the inequality of sentences; and in the second place, so far as I am aware, no public inquiry has ever been directed to this particular topic, whilst on the other hand we have the Reports of many Royal Commissions on the treatment of felons in prison. But I have also another reason. The learned Solicitor General (Sir E. Clarke) recently in debate used very remarkable language. He said— There is a great deal of crime among us, and as one remedy I look in the direction of making our sentences more equal. Let us have more certainty of detection, with known and equal punishments. "Known and equal punishments"—that is the text supplied by the hon. and learned Gentleman, to which I desire to call the attention of the House. In the first place, there is probably no system in the world—I doubt whether there has ever been at any period of the world's history—a criminal system which has left so wide a discretion as our own to Judges in the apportionment of punishment. Probably my hon. and learned Friends will tell me, that it is necessarily so, and in the present condition of the law I agree with them. But why? Simply because our definitions of crime are so wide that in one particular definition you embrace offences that are in nature and quality essentially different. I will give the House a single illustration. Suppose a band of marauders armed to the teeth in the dead of night break into a lonely dwelling-house, closely bolted and barred, and carry off thousands of pounds worth of property. Well, that is burglary. Then, on the other hand, suppose this case:—At five minutes past nine on a summer evening a poor, hunger-driven woman lifts the sash of baker's window and takes a penny worth of bread for her starving child. Well, that is burglary also. Yet in the one case the gravity of the offence would scarcely be adequately punished by penal servitude for life, whilst in the other case many of us think that a day's imprisonment would be too severe a penalty. I might give similar illustrations under any grave head of crime, rape, bigamy, perjury, and perhaps the most conspicuous illustrations of all would be under the head of manslaughter, but I need not occupy time with such illustrations. One of the suggestions I would submit to the consideration of a Royal Commission is this, whether it is not desirable, and if desirable, whether it is not practicable, so to recast our definitions of crime that one particular definition shall not embrace offences which in nature and quality are absolutely different. If that could be done then you would restrict the discretion of the Judges and would secure one desideratum to which the Solicitor General referred—namely, that the punishment would be know within narrower limits than at present. But, for argument's sake, I will suppose that it is impracticable to restrict by legislation the discretion of Judges, or, at all events, impracticable to restrict it in any material degree, then I say there is the more imperative necessity that we should erect in this country a Court of Criminal Appeal. Several cases lately brought before the House have shown how necessary it is we should have a court to which appeals against convictions may be possible, but it more concerns my present purpose to point out that where the Commission of the offence is not itself in question, it is still imperatively important there should be under proper conditions the right of appeal for the revision of sentences. I desire to speak with all respect of Her Majesty's Judges, at the same time I feel bound to say that no sensible, no candid mind can doubt that if the sentences of learned Judges were liable—I will only put it so high as that—were liable to be canvassed and criticized by a superior Court in the same way as the judgment of a Judge almost at every point of a civil action is liable to be canvassed and criticized by a superior Court, then I cannot doubt that sentences would be pronounced with a very different sense of responsibility, and that sentences would, in many cases, be very different from those which too often startle and disgust the public conscience. I desire to quote two cases which I have selected because I am extremely anxious the attention of the country should be called to them. I am glad that the right hon. Gentleman (the Home Secretary) gives me his attention, and I hope Her Majesty's clemency may be extended to these cases, because, of course, under the present law, that is the only resource in these and similar cases. At the Liverpool Summer Assizes last year, four lads, aged about 17, were found guilty of robbery from a poor woman of the sum of 3s., the robbery being accompanied by personal violence. It was a most dastardly offence and richly deserved a severe punishment. But what was the punishment actually inflicted? Penal servitude for 14 years, on lads of 17! I am not surprised that the Report of the proceedings says the severity of the sentence caused great surprise. With the permission of the House I will quote a few words from the language used by the learned Judge in pronouncing sentence. He said:— It is truly intolerable that a set of rascals like you, just between boyhood and manhood, should be allowed to become the terror of all decent people. Does not this language on the face of it supply evidence of the impulsive impressionable character of the sentence pronounced in hot blood—a sentence which, if it could happily come up for revision before a full court of Judges, would not be allowed to stand? There is another case, a still more notorious case, to which I will call the right hon. Gentleman's attention. It is a case in respect to which an evening newspaper, with which I seldom agree, performed a great public service by continually bringing it before the public notice. I mean the well-known case of the boy Osborne, 17 years old, convicted at the Central Criminal Court, of an attempt to blackmail a gentleman by threatening to accuse him of an odious crime. Of course the crime committed by Osborne was a crime of the most serious character, a crime which requires to be treated with heavy punishment. But what was the sentence pronounced by the learned Judge on this lad of 17? No less a sentence than penal servitude for life! A few months afterwards, at the same Court, but before another Judge, a man was convicted of a similar crime, a crime which the Judge who pronounced sentence said was one of the worst possible description of its class, and he concluded by passing a sentence of ten years' penal servitude. Since that time, at the same Court, again and again, men have been convicted of the same crime certainly not under more aggravated circumstances, and in no case has a heavier sentence than 10 years' penal servitude been pronounced. I know the attention of the Home Secretary has been called to the case and I do hope that he will take it into his very serious consideration, because I can assure him of this, that there is a very considerable section of the community who regard the sentence as vindictive, and of extremely unjustfiable severity. I spoke just now of a sentence being pronounced in hot blood and perhaps I may be permitted to remind the House that some years ago the writer of a leading article in the Times made a suggestion that is worthy of consideration. It was suggested that, where the crime was of a very serious character, which must from any point of view necessitate a severe sentence, the sentence should not be pronounced by a single Judge and on the spot, but should be deferred, and should be pronounced after consideration by the learned Judge who had tried the case and two or three other Judges, to whom the former would have to explain and justify the sentence that he proposed to pass. As a somewhat analogous illustration I may mention that some 25 or 30 years ago three Judges used to sit together at the trials of the Central Criminal Court, and I have heard Mr. Poland say that the plan had an excellent effect. All the Judges in turn passed through a sort of school at the Central Criminal Court with this result, that the Central Criminal Court set up a kind of standard for criminal sentences, and the Judges when they went on circuit adhered very much to that standard. That system as the House knows probably, exists no longer; we have now only one Judge at the Central Criminal Court, and he sits on an average only for two or three days, and we have therefore lost that valuable standard which according to the opinion of one of the most eminent criminal lawyers of the day once existed. I desire to avoid if possible every remark of an invidious or provocative character, and do not therefore propose to dwell at length on the sentences which are pronounced at Quarter Sessions, but I think I may at all events say this, that some of the most unjustifiable sentences passed are pronounced in those Courts, although I do not wish to point out cases. I may take the fact as sufficiently established. There is, however, one class of punishments in our Criminal Code as to which the superior Judges and the Courts of Quarter Sessions seem to be at cross purposes. I refer to the addition to sentences of penal servitude of what is called police supervision. Judges have exhibited a great objection to this police supervision, while Quarter Sessions order this addition to sentences in the most lavish spirit. It is a subject on which there may fairly be considerable difference of opinion, but I think all will agree with me that in similar cases it ought to be equally applied by all our criminal courts. But what are the facts? I find that out of 720 cases in which sentence of penal servitude was pronounced, 240 sentences were passed by Judges, and of these in only nine cases did the Judges order the imprisonment to be followed by police supervision, but of the remaining 480 sentences passed by Quarter Sessions no fewer than 209 were to be followed by police supervision. In other words, while the Judges ordered this addition to less than 4 per cent of their sentences, the Sessions adopted it in 43 per cent of theirs. I think that is a subject to which the attention of the Commission might properly be directed. If the Judges will not order police supervision then I think it would only be reasonable that Quarter Sessions should he precluded from passing such sentences. As I have referred to the Magistrates I may be permitted to point out the gross inequality in respect to sentences pronounced upon children by courts of summary jurisdiction. Now, we had thought—at least, I had thought—that imprisonment of very young children had practically ceased, and I must say I was astonished by the revelations of Mr. John Hutton, a Yorkshire Magistrate, last year, who showed that 40 children under 16 years of age had in the previous 12 months been committed to Northallerton Gaol, and he mentioned also the fact more immediately pertinent to my present purpose, that 17 of these 40 children had been committed by one Magistrate. I find also from the last Return that upon the 31st March last there were seven children under 12 years of age in Her Majesty's prisons. Now what does this mean? I may here use a very short quotation:— Those only who have seen, as I have seen, a little creature of 8 or 9 years of age crouching in a corner of a cell and crying for its mother, can fully realize what must be the amount of misery inflicted by such treatment. Now that is not the language of a sentimentalist addressing a public meeting, it is taken from a semi-official communication addressed to the Lord Lieutenant of Warwickshire by an experienced, and perhaps I may say without offence, a case-hardened Police Magistrate, Mr. Kinnersley, of Birmingham. I rejoice in the fact that a Bill has been introduced for the "Prevention of Cruelty to Children." I shall rejoice still more if it passes into law, but at the same time I would for a moment ask the House to consider whether there is not a very considerable degree of cruelty practised upon children in the way I have indicated under the sanction of the law by cruel or thoughtless Magistrates. One of the contrasts which most impress the public mind is the extreme severity with which crimes againt property are punished, as compared with the leniency, I might almost say the callous leniency, in some cases exhibited in sentences for crimes against the person. It is not necessary that I should give the House more than one or two illustrations, because any newspaper which contains a report of criminal trials shows the contrast upon which I am now insisting. I will take, however, one or two cases. B, a weak-minded man who had once been sent to gaol for a minor offence—of course, it must have been a felony, was for stealing a shirt sentenced to five years' penal servitude, and five years' police supervision. Here is another:—C had been committed to gaol four times for petty offences, then for stealing a rabbit-gin he was sentenced to 7 years' penal servitude, and 2 years' police supervision, and again for stealing a garden fork to 10 years' penal servitude and 5 years' police supervision. And now here is a case to which I ask particular attention, that of a man convicted—a first offence—of embezzlement and sent into penal servitude. I have no right to complain of that, embezzlement is a most serious crime; I do not know the facts of the case, I assume that he was properly sentenced. He came out of prison and for 16 years he lived an honest man. Then he stole some candles, was convicted of that, the previous conviction was raked up against him, and he was sentenced to seven years' penal servitude, and seven years' police supervision. Now, I do pronounce that a scandalous thing—("Where?") I give the case as I find it in this book published by Mr. W. Tallack, the Secretary to the Howard Association, which I think will carry weight with my hon. and learned Friend. It does not say where this sentence was passed, but no doubt I shall be able to supply my hon. Friend with the information later. In the Roman Law they had cumulative sentences as we have, but if an interval of three years elapsed between the termination of one period of punishment and the commission of a second offence, then the first offence could not be raked up to aggravate the sentence for the second offence. There is a humane and proper spirit in such an enactment. Now I come to the last case with which under this head I need trouble the House. At the Autumn Assizes at York, in 1887, a distinguished Judge—there is no reason why I should not say it was the Lord Chief Justice—had before him a woman who had already undergone 10 years' imprisonment for stealing a door mat, and was then charged with the theft of a piece of linen. The Lord Chief Justice sentenced her to three weeks hard labour and made the following observation— I do not know what is to become of punishment. If people are to be sent to 10 years' penal servitude for stealing a door mat, what is to be done with men for half killing their wives? The fact is we punish petty offences against property in cases of a second felony with such disproportionate severity that there is absolutely no margin of difference left for the punishment of crimes of personal violence, hence it is that we have corporal punishment so often advocated in such cases. As long as the law practically teaches that a man's person is far less sacred than his property, and that the smallest theft is to be regarded as more criminal than the grossest cruelty, so long shall we have as a result a big crop of crimes of violence and brutality. I have no doubt my hon. Friends opposite will be disposed to say, as many of them have said in the press and elsewhere, that the public find fault with sentences because they do not understand them. Let this be granted, and even so my case will be proved up to the hilt, for if the public conscience is revolted by punishments which are excessive in some cases and callously lenient in others, then I say great mischief is done and one of the chief ends of punishment is defeated, because you have not carried the opinion of the country with you. There is one case which I well remember. It occurred in 1881, in the Central Criminal Court, and excited great public attention and much unfavourable animadversion. It happened that on the same day—in the summer of 1881—a very distinguished Judge tried two men for the terrible crime in each case of kicking a woman to death. In one case the woman was the mistress of the man who committed the crime, and in the other she was the wife of the criminal. The sentences passed were—in one case six weeks' imprisonment, and in the other five years' penal servitude. By an unhappy fatality it happened that the sentence of five years' penal servitude was passed in the case in which the woman was the mistress, whilst that of six weeks' imprisonment was awarded in the case in which the woman was only the wife. Well, Mr. Speaker, I will for argument's sake grant that it is conceivable that the offence of kicking a wife to death in a fit of drunken passion can be adequately punished by six weeks' imprisonment, although I think that that is a very large concession to make. But, at all events, I say that such a sentence ought not to have been passed upon the spur of the moment as the result of the impression made upon the mind of a single Judge, however eminent, but ought to have been passed after consideration by a Court at least as strong as the Court which tries Crown Cases Reserved. Probably my learned Friends will say with regard to my remarks about the severity with which crimes against property are punished that a person is not sent into penal servitude because he steals a shirt, or a garden fork, or a pennyworth of herrings, or three pennyworth of candles, but because he has repeatedly committed offences against society. Well, there is a good deal in that objection, and I quite admit that the case of habitual offenders is one of the most difficult problems which confronts us. There are two classes of habitual offenders who give the greatest possible trouble to conscientious Judges before whom they come. One class is guilty of repeated petty misdemeanours, the other of repeated petty felonies. The old law draws a wide, and in many cases very irrational distinction, between felonies and misdemeanours, and to one of the distinctions which still exist I desire to call the attention of the House. In the case of repeated felonies, of however trivial a character, the law allows the cumulation of sentences. For a second felony a heavier sentence can be passed than for a first, but the same principle of cumulation is not permitted by our law to be applied to misdemeanours. The result is that you have a considerable number of persons in this country upon whom scores of contemptible sentences of a few days or weeks have been passed. I saw reported a little while ago the case of a woman who had been convicted as many as 150 times, and readers of newspapers occasionally come across cases in which men and women have received these small sentences 50, 60 or 70 times. Now, it is perfectly evident that persons of that class are not afraid of prison, and, what is perhaps of still greater importance and significance is that the contempt which they feel for prison they spread through the society in which they move. As long ago as 1872 the Liverpool Magistrates made a move in this matter. They approached the Home Secretary and strongly urged that it was desirable that the cumulative principle of sentences should be applied to the punishment of all crimes, whether misdemeanours or felonies. I am disposed to think that great good would result from a change in the law of that character, and I think it is one of the subjects which might with great public advantage be referred to the Commission for which I ask to-night. As I have said, the principle of cumulation does apply to felonies, but it is applied in the most absurdly capricious and cruel manner. The proposition cannot be too frequently insisted upon, because all experience proves the truth of it, that the efficacy of punishment consists not in its severity, but in its certainty. I hold in my hand a book recently published by Mr. William Tallack, the Secretary of the Howard Association, entitled, "Penological and Preventive Sentences "—rather a forbidding title for a singularly interesting and most useful book. It is a book that has gained the warmest encomiums from men of the first eminence both in this country and abroad, and it seems to me most amply to deserve all the praise it has received. Mr. Tallack says— Whenever a first brief imprisonment has failed to secure its object it should never be repeated. The same ground should never be gone over again Every subsequent conviction should involve some definite increase of detention. It is of comparatively minor importance if the amount of an additional penalty is but small so long as it is certain to be greater than anyone previously undergone by the same individual. It can hardly be too often repeated or recognized that the main element in the repression of crime is not severity but certainty, and in order to render this the more practicable it must involve moderate and patient gradation. I commend these observations to the very serious attention of the Government and the House. The cardinal rule which, it seems to me, should be observed in the administration of punishment, is never merely to repeat. On the other hand, the cumulation of sentences, operating almost with the certainty, the inexorable certainty of natural laws, can hardly fail in the majority of cases to impress the minds of the offenders and produce the most salutary results, as, in fact, wherever it has been fairly tried it has produced satisfactory results. It would be too hopeful to expect that even under such a plan you will in all cases succeed with old offenders. You will still have to keep penal servitude in reserve. Penal servitude should, however, only be given in cases where every other remedy has been tried, whereas, at the present time, as the cases I have put before the House show, penal servitude is frequently imposed most unjustifiably, in the case of conviction for petty felonies. There are some who seem disposed to do away with the difference which the law has hitherto established between mere imprisonment and penal servitude. For my own part I do not sympathize with these views. I think that the gulf which is fixed between the longest term of mere imprisonment and the shortest term of penal servitude is a wise provision, and I think it would be a mistake to endeavour to get rid of it. I hope the Government will lend a favourable ear to the appeal I am making to them. If they do not respond I hope I may make an appeal to the House. But in any case I am so firmly convinced of the practicability of some of the suggestions I have ventured to make, and especially so convinced am I of the salutary effects which would follow from the plan—the credit of which is not mine but Mr. Tallack's—of gradual and moderate cumulation of punishment, both for misdemeanours and felonies, that if I should be so unfortunate as to fail to-night I shall certainly revert to the subject on the first opportunity. I beg to move the Amendment which stands in my name. Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That," to the end of the Question, in order to add the words That the inequality and the irregularity of the sentences pronounced by our Criminal Courts require the immediate and serious attention of the Government, and that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, praying for the appointment of a Royal Commission to inquire as to the best means by which greater equality of sentences and the more systematic punishment of repeated offences may be secured."—(Mr. Pickersgill.)

* MR. FORREST FULTON (West Ham, North)

The question of the inequality of sentences is one which I think is well worthy of the attention of the Legislature. There can be no doubt at all that there is a wide divergence in the action not only of Judges, but of Chairmen of Quarter Sessions, in the views they take of the particular crimes on which they have to pass sentences. Having had some experience of the administration of the criminal law, I have over and over again been struck with the fact that the sentences passed by one Judge are much more severe than those passed by another in the same court. At the same time I do not agree with my hon. and learned Friend that this is a subject which ought to be referred to a Royal Commission. I think that is about the most unsatisfactory way of dealing with it which could possibly be adopted. We known that when a Royal Commission is appointed on any subject, as a rule nothing whatever is done. My hon. and learned Friend has given us cases in which he says very unequal sentences have been passed. He has referred to the case of a man named Osborne who was sentenced to penal servitude for life for threatening to accuse somebody else of a crime. No doubt that offence has always been regarded by Her Majesty's Judges as one of the most serious offences known to the law, and I understand my hon. and learned Friend to say he also considers it to be a very serious offence. It has always been classed by the Judges with the sending of threatening letters and has practically always been visited with a term of penal servitude. It has been a matter of astonishment to me that when lists of Irish outrages have been commented on in this House the sending of threatening letters has always been pooh-poohed and treated as if it were not a serious offence. Penal servitude for life is a very serious sentence to pass on a boy of 17, and I say without hesitation, and in all humility, that so far as my own opinion is concerned I certainly agree with the course uniformly pursued by the Lord Chief Justice of England of dealing with exceptional leniency with first offences, or first offences committed after previous convictions, where the previous convictions have taken place a long time ago. When a crime has been committed 10 or 15 years ago, and punishment inflicted, the conviction ought to be wiped out, and the wretched man who has committed another crime after such interval should be allowed to have a fresh start. The sentence on the boy of 17 years to which the hon. and learned Gentleman has referred was a most exorbitant punishment if I may use the expression, and one, the full particulars of which, I should like to hear. The case must have happened a long time ago.


In 1886.


I am sorry to hear that. I should have thought it would have been more likely to have happened in the year 1826. I entirely agree with my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Pickersgill) that this case should receive the serious consideration of the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary. But this is only a detail. My hon. and learned Friend suggests certain remedies. He suggests that there should be a Royal Commission appointed to inquire into the subject, and he throws out other suggestions of a practical character. He says that three years ago three Judges were in the habit of sitting at the Central Criminal Court to lay down rules which were followed in that Court and by Chairmen of Quarter Sessions.


Not by Chairmen of Quarter Sessions, but by Judges.


Well, I object altogether to that. My experience of what is called the uniform sentences of Judges is that the system has worked unsatisfactorily. I will give an instance. I happen to have the honour to be the senior Counsel to Her Majesty's Post Office in the County of London. There has been a practice for some time of passing in every case a sentence of five years' penal servitude on Post Office servants committing a certain class of offence. I am very glad to say that that rule, though it used formerly to be adopted by the Judges, is now more honoured in the breach than the observance. I am glad to think that the departure from the course which was formerly pursued by the Recorder of London and the Common Serjeant is one that meets with the approval of Her Majesty's Postmaster General. I do not think it would be desirable that there should be a rule laid down by the Judges as to particular cases, for you must rely upon the Judge who tries the case to a very large extent. My hon. and learned Friend refers to newspaper reports of criminal cases. A man steals a trifling article and is sentenced to a very serious and exceptional punishment, and the circumstances of the case are hurriedly reported in the press, the full facts not always appearing. Although the members of the Fourth Estate are very praiseworthy in some respects, the hon. Gentleman will agree with me that they are never so incorrect as in reporting criminal cases. They are seldom near the facts of the case. The reports are hurriedly prepared, and it is impossible for the public to form a true conception of what occurs from the reports that appear in the public press. From my experience in the Metropolis, I must say the sentences are carefully considered by the Judges. The Recorder of London is a man who takes infinite pains in the sentences he passes. He is remarkable amongst all the Judges for the carefulness of his sentences and their lenient description. With regard to the Judges who attend the Central Criminal Court, they do differ no doubt very much as to the view they take of particular crimes. For instance, in regard to the offence of bigamy, some Judges think it a crime of a most serious nature, and of course, it may be most serious. Where a man pretends to be a single man and marries a woman, I have always contended that in substance he commits the offence of rape, and ought to be punished by penal servitude. But on the other hand, there are crimes which are only technically bigamy—in the case, for instance, where the woman knows that the man is married and yet desires that he should marry her for the sake of her status amongst those in the midst of whom she lives. In this latter class of cases most Judges pass sentence of one day's imprisonment, but others condemn the man to a long term of imprisonment, or even to a sentence of penal servitude. The practical question is, Is there a remedy for this state of things? I believe there is, and I believe it is to be found in a properly constituted Court of Criminal Appeal. But a properly constituted Court of Criminal Appeal, as it has hitherto been proposed by Members of this House, and lawyers of position, is to give an appeal on questions of law only, and that, of course, would not meet the case which the hon. Member has brought before the House. But I see no reason why the question of the adequacy or inadequacy of a sentence should not be brought before such a Court. Throughout the whole of England we have had a very remarkable example of the way in which the Summary Jurisdiction Act has been worked in the matter of summary offences. There is in this country an appeal in every case of conviction by a Magistrate to the Court of Quarter Sessions, and during the two years that I had the honour to act as Counsel to the Treasury, there were constant appeals to Quarter Sessions, where the only ground of appeal was that the sentence passed by the Metropolitan Police Magistrates was excessive—that it should have been a fine instead of imprisonment, or where it was imprisonment, that it should have been for a less term. I did not know until this morning that my hon. and learned Friend intended to bring this matter forward, and I am therefore speaking from memory, but I should think that in 10 per cent of the cases the sentences were reduced from terms of imprisonment to a fine, and terms of imprisonment reduced say from three months to one month. So that we have here a practical illustration of the value of an appeal against a severe sentence. But the matter does not rest there. A Quarter Sessions Appeal is a new hearing; the whole of the case is gone into again and the whole of the witnesses are examined. I do not suppose it would be possible for a Court of Criminal Appeal to re-hear cases and re-examine witnesses. They could have before them written depositions. That is a fair guide of what the facts were at the trial. A case could be stated setting out any fresh circumsntaces or evidence adduced at the trial, or the Judges notes could be referred to, and upon this material without going through the form of a re-hearing, the whole case might be re-investigated so that a proper and satisfactory result might be arrived at. I may here say that I am not disposed to be so reticent on the subject of Chairmen of Quarter Sessions as the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite. Having had experience of Quarter Sessions in Essex and Hertfordshire and other counties, I think that Quarter Sessions sentences are exactly the sentences we ought to deal with. The Chairmen of Quarter Sessions do undoubtedly pass much heavier sentences than the Judges, and they constantly refuse bail in cases were bail might properly be allowed. There are flagrant cases before both the Chairmen of Quarter Sessions and the Recorders of Boroughs, in which it would be very desirable to overhaul the sentences. One of the objections taken to this suggested revision is, that the Court of Review would be flooded with appeals, and the Judges would be constantly called upon to decide whether a sentence should have been five years or five months; but I think there can be little doubt that if it were thoroughly understood that any defendant who has been convicted before a Judge or Chairman would appeal against the sentence passed upon him to a properly constituted Court of Criminal Appeal, much greater care would be exercised by the Judges or Chairmen than is exercised under existing circumstances. It is notorious that the Judges do not like being overruled; what an anomaly it is that a man who brings an action to recover £20 can go up to the House of Lords, if he thinks it necessary, in order to have the verdict set aside, and that no appeal is permitted in regard to criminal sentences. With reference to the proposal to refer the matter to a Royal Commission, that appears to me to be unsatisfactory; but at the same time I hope this discussion will help to bring about some practical result with regard to the question of police supervision. I have always entertained a very strong opinion that the House of Commons never intended, when the statute was passed, that this power of supervision should be exercised in the way it is, the result being that when a man has served a certain time and has been released on a ticket-of-leave he is so dodged about by the police that he is frequently prevented from getting an honest living. I feel assured that this sort of supervision was never intended to be exercised, unless under very exceptional circumstances, and mainly with regard to receivers of stolen goods; for men who are convicted of this offence constitute one of the most dangerous classes in the community; and in such cases police supervision is a very excellent thing. In the way however, in which the power has been used, it has proved most mischievous, and I hear on all hands that, instead of exercising a wise and beneficial influence on the interests of accused persons, it has had exactly the contrary effect. Under these circumstances, though I am unable to support the Resolution of the hon. and learned Gentleman in the form in which it has been brought forward, I am glad that the matter has been brought under the attention of the House, and I hope it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to make a proposal which will in some way meet the object in view.

* MR. H. H. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, East)

I quite agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman who has just sat down, that the House is indebted to the hon. and learned Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Pickersgill) for bringing forward this grave and important question, one that in my judgment has long demanded the attention of Parliament. I hope that this evening will not be allowed to pass away without some indication from the Government that a practical result will follow the debate in which we are now engaged. The hon. and learned Gentleman who has just spoken has agreed in the main with the case which has been made out by the hon. and learned Member for Bethnal Green, but I would point out that we ought not to confine the consideration of this question to the mere severity of the sentences that are passed; we ought also to consider the other points of the Motion on the Paper —namely, "the inequality and irregularity of the sentences pronounced by our Criminal Courts," and "the more systematic punishment of repeated offences." My hon. Friend, in introducing this subject, did not indicate that there was any great growth in the amount of punishment inflicted, or any great increase in our criminal population. It is a matter upon which the country may congratulate itself that there has been for many years a steady decrease, not only in the prison population, but also in the convict population, and that at the present moment there are proportionately fewer people in average prison life, and also fewer prisoners undergoing penal servitude than have ever been known since statistics have been obtainable on the subject. If we go back for a period of 20 years we find that the average prison population was 17,500, and to-day it is 14,500, although the population has increased 5,000,000. In 1871 the number of persons under sentence of penal servitude was 11,700; the number last year had come down to 6,900. We may, I think, congratulate ourselves that in a population of 28,000,000, our convict population is below 7,000. Although we are obliged to my hon. Friend for having drawn attention to this question, I cannot but admit that it is a very difficult one for Parliament to deal with. I am a strong advocate for drawing a very sharp line between the action of the Legislature and the action of the Judiciary; and it is only in extreme and grave cases that Parliament should interfere with what I may call the regular action of the Judges. But with reference to the infliction of sentences, that is a power invested in the Judges by Parliament. We have given an enormous breadth of judicial discretion, and there is no country in the world in which so vast an amount of discretion is entrusted to the Judiciary as in this country—a fact which becomes more serious when applied to the case of trials at Quarter Sessions. Moreover, there is in this country a complete absence of any system or standard of punishment such as other systems of jurisprudence have. In the Continental Codes we find a system of fixed punishment with only a very small margin of discretion; whereas we are without any system at all, for unless it be that the Judges have an understanding among themselves, of which I am ignorant, I know of no rule except that under which all offences against the Post Office are treated with exceptional severity. Another discouraging feature in the jurisprudence of this country is that we have no Court of Criminal Appeal. I think the motion is justified on three grounds—namely, the breadth allowed to judicial discretion, the absence of a fixed code of punishments, and the want of a Court of Criminal Appeal. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite has admitted the disproportion constantly observable in the sentences passed by different Judges for the same kind of offence, as well as the extraordinary severity of some of the sentences passed. I have no wish to give the names of particular individuals, nor to bring forward particular cases, because this House could not have all the facts before it that were brought before the Judges at the time, and upon which they were induced to act. But I will take a class of cases which came under my knowledge a few years ago. One of the learned Judges who were associated with them is now dead, and the other learned Judge has been remitted to another sphere; but those two Judges were sitting at the same time at two different assizes—one in the county of Stafford, and the other in the county of York. They were trying a certain class of offences. The Judge at Leeds was inflicting, for this particular kind of offence, a punishment of two years' hard labour; but the Judge at Stafford was imposing for the same offence 20 years' penal servitude. Now, it is evident that either one sentence was absurdly small or the other was grotesquely severe. Again, you may notice an enormous disproportion in the punishments inflicted for bigamy and other offences against the person, with regard to which there are some Judges who hold very strong opinions, while there are other Judges who hold strong opinions as to offences against property—each class of offence being treated by these Judges with exceptional severity. Taking what is the course pursued to-day, as a whole, we find that the punishments are far more severe where property is involved than where offences against the person are involved. It may be said that after all this is only the survival of what was a reasonable practice 100 years ago when society was accustomed to defend itself against acts of violence by acts of violence. It was an essential part of a gentleman's costume in those days to wear swords, with the intention to use them, and they did use them. While there was then a protection against personal violence which does not now exist, property is at the present time much more efficiently protected than it was then. Then there was no organized police or detective force, and society inflicted terrible penalties against sheep-stealing, horse-stealing, and other offences against property in order to protect itself. The main offences against property now are of a petty character, whereas, on the other hand, it is a sad fact that offences against the person are increasing, and offences against the person are not as severely punished at the present day as they ought to be. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green has mentioned some cases of severe punishments, and I mention one other, that of a man who was sentenced to 12 years' penal servitude and seven years' police supervision for stealing a piece of canvas. Altogether that man had, at different times, been sentenced to 34 years' imprisonment and penal servitude and seven years' police supervision. These are sentences which no reason can justify in a humane and Christian country. With regard to the sentences in Post Office cases, I remember a very learned Judge telling me that nothing would induce him to pass the sentence of five years' penal servitude simply because it was a Post Office case. I am delighted to hear that this meets with the approval of the Postmaster General, because there has been an impression that the legal advisers of the Post Office pressed for these severe punishments. With regard to embezzlement cases, bank robberies, and the graver cases of breaches of trust, it is contended that severe sentences are justified. What is wanted is to deter others from committing the same offence, and also, no doubt, to mark the gravity of the crime the particular offender has committed; but I wonder whether hon. Members realize what such sentences as seven, 10, or 15 years' penal servitude involve? A man who commits any of those offences loses his character, his prospects are ruined, his wife is condemned to an awful widowhood, and his children are orphans. To condemn that man to 10 or 15 years of slavery in addition is an excess of punishment which cannot be justified. I remember when I was at the Home Office a very learned Judge, now not alive, was conducted over Portland Prison, and when he saw what penal servitude really was, he learned what penal servitude really was, and he stated that if he had known what that punishment really was he should not have passed some of the sentences he had inflicted. In my opinion long terms of penal servitude ought not to be passed on habitual offenders. Reference has been made to sentences passed at Quarter sessions, and the hon. Member who has just sat down has referred to their severity. The official statistics show that in 1887 there were 1,806 sentences passed at Quarter Sessions exceeding six months' imprisonment with hard labour, and of those 331 were sentences of penal servitude. Perhaps, standing by itself, that, compared with sentences at Assizes, may not be a disproportionate average. What struck me most were the sentences in cases of offences against property committed without violence, for which last year there were passed 245 sentences of penal servitude. For simple larceny alone 140 sentences of penal servitude were passed. That shows a case for inquiry as to whether there are facts in connection with cases of simple larceny in this country which justifies such sentences. We have to consider the effect of those sentences. upon society itself and upon the criminals. I would call the attention of the House to what has been going on in Liverpool during the last three years. Mr. Hopwood was appointed Recorder of Liverpool three years ago, and at the commencement of his duties there he laid down a principle which he intended to adopt of imposing much milder sentences than had theretofore been the practice. He was exposed to much public criticism in consequence of the opinions he then expressed. We have now got statistics for three years, and I think the House will admit that is a fair period in which to test the working of his plan. Mr. Hopwood gives a review of the last three years. The total number of prisoners during the preceding three years—that is the three years before Mr. Hopwood was appointed—was 1,889, the total punishment of whom was 1,681 years, 3 months, and 7 days, or an average of 10 months per prisoner. One-third of these 1,889 prisoners pleaded guilty. During the last three years, where these milder sentences have been passed the number tried has been 1,608, a reduction of nearly 300, and the punishments inflicted during the three years has amounted to 408 years, or an average of 3 months against 10, the number who pleaded guilty being one-half. Mr. Hopwood says— If the total imprisonment of the later three years be deducted from the additional imprisonment of the three former years, then there is this large reduction of punishment, which represents a saving of human misery which anyone may estimate for himself, and a saving of any actual charge to the nation of £20 per head per annum. Of the total of prisoners during the last three years 600 had been previously convicted, and had returned from sentences inflicted in earlier years, and were not, therefore, the product of the system now adopted. The argument of Mr. Hopwood is practically this, that by his milder sentences crime has been reduced and not increased, and I think that is an end the House wants to reach. But, Sir, we have been talking to-night exclusively about penal servitude. A short time ago a well known correspondent of the Times, who is supposed to be a Law Lord, stated that two years' imprisonment with hard labour was about the extreme punishment which the ordinary man could bear. According to the present authorities, five years' penal servitude, which is reducible by good conduct to something like three years and nine months, is not so severe as two years' imprisonment under our present system. I cannot defend that state of things. I do not think there ought to be those variations in the nature and extent of the punishment. I think a great deal may be said in favour of the consolidation of punishment so as to have something like similarity of treatment. But now I want to come to the practical question, because I do not know whether hon. Members are going to dispute the position taken up with so much force by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green—namely, that disproportionate sentences are passed by different Judges, and that we have no uniformity of punishment. What is the remedy? My hon. Friend asks for a Royal Commission. The hon. Member below the Gangway suggests the establishment of a Court of Appeal. The Solicitor General, when he had not the responsibilities of office upon him, expressed himself in this House in very clear language on this question the last time it was brought before him, in favour of a Court of Criminal Appeal. He said: Sentences of penal servitude were passed with a light heart by Judges who sometimes did not know the amount of misery they were inflicting upon the unfortunate creatures they sentenced. He was sure that this point in the administration of the Criminal Law brought a great deal of anxiety upon the Secretary of State who was implored to consider the terrible sentences that had been passed, and there can be no reason why appeals in such cases should not be allowed. The Solicitor General was followed in the debate by the then Home Secretary, who pointed out that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Plymouth had admitted that one of the great misfortunes and scandals of our criminal jurisprudence was the inequality of sentences given by criminal Judges for the same offence. What has been the result of appeal in civil cases? The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Bury in 1883 told the House that during the six preceding years 44 per cent of the decisions taken to the Court of Appeal were reversed, and only 56 per cent confirmed. That is a strong proof of the liability of Courts of the First Instance to err. My right hon. Friend the then Attorney General, and now Member for Hackney, said that 25 per cent of the applications for new trials were granted. No doubt the Home Secretary will point out the difficulties there would be in constituting a Court of Criminal Appeal, owing to the large number of cases that would come before it. I do not deny that there are difficulties attending the constitution of a Court of Criminal Appeal, but I believe that advantages would vastly outweigh the drawback. There ought to be something like uniformity of punishment; something like a distinct understanding that a certain measure of punishment should be inflicted for a certain class of offence, and it is because I see the difficulty of dealing with the question of disproportionate sentences, unless we get the sympathy and support of the Judges in carrying out the reform, that I support the Motion of my hon. and learned friend for the appointment of the Royal Commission. The question is one well worthy of grave and judicial inquiry. Some of the best legislation we have had has been the result of inquiries by Royal Commissions, and I think the Judges should have brought before them, and the country should have brought before it, the actual working of our judicial system. I think that a Royal Commission will afford far better means of securing this end than speeches in this House. I am satisfied that our present judicial system is not humane; we are inflicting for certain offences punishments which are inflicted in no other civilized country in, the world. The Motion is one which should command the sympathy of the Government, and I am sure the matter is well worthy of complete, judicial, and accurate inquiry.


The hon. and learned Member for Bethnal Green has suggested that in some better kind of Penal Code offences might be marked off from one another by a sharp line of definition; but I know of no Code so perfect as to completely distinguish between all the different degrees of the same crime. The definition of burglary—"entering by force a house at night"—is as simple as can be; but how can any limitations prevent its including offences really of a most trivial character? If confusion between crimes of various characters is to be prevented, it can only be done by a Committee of Judges or some such body, and not by a Royal Commission. Taking the Criminal Law as it stands it would have to be reformed from top to bottom if no discretion is to be left to the Judges. It is the English system to leave—and the confidence has been fully justified—to those who administer the law the largest amount of discretion in order that they may fit punishment to the infinitely varying circumstances of crime. There is only one instance in the Criminal Code where a minimum of punishment is fixed—namely, the period of ten years of penal servitude for certain unnatural offences. Generally it is the maximum of punishment that is laid down, and as far as my experience goes that one minimum penalty of ten years' penal servitude has wrought very great mischief. If a large discretion is vested in the Judges, it follows that their decisions cannot suit all tastes. Nor would a Royal Commission necessarily help the hon. Member for Bethnal Green; for it is the Royal Commission of 1864 which added to the severity of punishments. Nothing but the teaching of experience will by degrees bring Judges of all classes to discover by tentative process what scale of punishment is the most efficacious in preventing crime. It must be generally admitted that only such a degree of punishment ought to be inflicted as is sufficient for deterring a man from repeating a crime or others from committing it. A single day's imprisonment beyond the necessary period is a great injury, not so much to the prisoner as to his wife and family who are dependent upon him. I think that the right hon. Gentleman went a little too far when he cited the authority of the learned Recorder of Liverpool as conclusive on that matter. I do not think that such experience as we have had of his mode of administering punishment is sufficient to demonstrate that his plan is entirely right. But this much, I believe, is demonstrated by the figures which appear in their judicial statistics, that the existing system during the last 10 years has not been a bad one for the general purposes of society. There has been an extraordinary diminution of crime, which is most satisfactory, since the Summary Jurisdiction Act of 1879 was passed. As a result of the passing of the Act of 1879, you have a decrease in the number of offences tried by indictment. In 1879, 12,500 persons were convicted on indictment, and, in 1887, only 10,380. Summary convictions at first increased, but the general result of the system has been to diminish crime in a most satisfactory way, and ultimately there has also been a remarkable decrease in the number of persons summarily convicted. Tried by its fruits the present system certainly does not deserve wholesale condemnation. I will not enter into the individual cases to which the hon. Member has referred. It is difficult, no doubt, to understand how anything could justify the passing of a sentence of penal servitude for life on a boy. But what the hon. Member seems to treat as his main point was that he would like to introduce a system of graduated penalties beginning from one month and rising to two months, three months, and so on; and only after a long series of offences arriving at the ultimate penalty of penal servitude. That, no doubt, may sound very reasonable, but it would be impossible to lay it down as a cast-iron rule for every case. A first offence might be a burglary, and the second the stealing of an apple; and the punishment for the second offence in such a case must be lighter than the sentence passed upon the first. But in 99 instances out of 100 the Judges already follow substantially the rule which the hon. Member has pointed out as being desirable. In the vast majority of cases they deal with first offences by light sentences, and with subsequent offences by heavier punishments. I know of no more heart-breaking problem than that of how to treat a class of people who pass their lives in criminal courses. These miserable creatures have no resources when they get out of prison and no faculties apparently but to commit offences such as petty larceny. Such persons cannot be allowed to go on without punishment of some sort. And yet the repetitions of slight punishments seems to have little or no effect upon them. If the hon. Gentleman looks at the last Return of the Prisons Commissioners he will find no indication of dealing too severely with persons who have been convicted more than once. The total number of persons who were committed to local prisons in the year ending March 31,1888, was 104,000 odd males and 31,000 odd females. In the next Table he will find that no fewer than 51,000 odd males and 25,000 females had been convicted before, either once, twice, thrice, or more than 10 times; and he will also observe this remarkable fact—that whereas the women who had been previously convicted more than once in all the columns except the last were less numerous than the men, when they came to persons convicted more than 10 times there were 5,700 odd men and 8,600 odd women. With regard to the imprisonment of children, the case of every child under 10 years of age who is sent to prison is specially brought before the Home Office and considered at once. In the Reformatory and Industrial Schools Bill, which will be before the House of Lords in a few days, and which I have spent a considerable amount of time in preparing, I have endeavoured to suggest a variety of alternative modes of dealing with juvenile offenders so as to avoid sending them to prison. With respect to the sentences which the Judges pass in Post Office cases, I do not think that these, any more than the sentences of former days in forgery cases, ought to be viewed with too much severity by the House. In a country like this where the credit of commercial instruments is of snch immense importance to the community it must be protected by punishments that are likely to be deterrent. I had a Post Office case before me the other day in which a sentence of five years penal servitude had been passed. In this case a woman of previous exemplary character had concocted a series of deliberate frauds, altering savings bank books, forging receipts, and robbing her neighbours of their little savings. That appeared to be a case in which a severe punishment was deserved. I may add, I think it well to keep down sentences to that point at which they may be considered to be deterrent. I think that five, or six, or seven years is terribly deterrent, but if you go beyond that the punishment often ceases to be deterrent. I think the suggestion of a Court of Appeal in the larger sense used by the right hon. Gentleman opposite for retrying cases on their merits is not practicable. I do not think, however, that it would be an impossibility to have a Court of Appeal which should simply revise sentences and act, so to speak, as a sort of sieve.


That was my suggestion.


Then I beg pardon. I thought the right hon. Gentleman's proposal was that the Court of Appeal should re-try cases on their merits, which would be impracticable. At the same time there are a great many matters that must be weighed on both sides, before the other suggestion can be adopted. I am afraid that the great Judge would no longer be feared as he now is in the Assize towns, if it were known that his sentences were subject to revision. When we are asked for a Commission to inquire into these matters, I cannot help pointing out that a Commission seems to be useless, as the facts are not in dispute. There is really nothing for a Commission to inquire into. All they could do would be to examine a great number of experts, and ask them the best way of making sentences uniform. That is not an inquiry which in my opinion could be usefully trusted to a Royal Commission. The Government itself ought to be able to make up its mind as to whether any of the changes suggested by the hon. Member should be carried out, and I doubt very much whether they could derive any assistance from a Royal Commission. Therefore, although I am in sympathy on many points with the hon. Member, I am bound to differ from him in his main conclusion, and to say we could not consent to the appointment of a Royal Commission.

* MR. NEVILLE (Liverpool, Exchange)

I have listened with the greatest interest to this debate, and I only rise to point out to the House that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary (Mr. Matthews) has, I think, given us the strongest possible illustration of the inequality of the Criminal Law as it exists at the present time, and of the necessity, at all events, of an inquiry to see whether something cannot be done to alter and ameliorate it. The right hon. Gentleman gave us the case of a young girl who was properly convicted by a jury of burglary. He says, and very accurately, that this is one of the results of the extreme simplicity of the definition of burglary in our law. That is just the point. Where you have these extremely simple definitions you necessarily include in them an enormous number of offences of greatly varying magnitude. And what is the result? The girl whose sentence to a day's imprisonment not only affects all the audience in the Court but moved the Judge himself to tears, was convicted of precisely the same offence as the man who, with others, armed with revolvers, comes into your house, robs you of your goods and is prepared to take your life either for the purpose of securing his booty or avoiding apprehension. Surely the state of the Criminal Law must be wrong if in the eye of that law these two offenders are guilty of precisely the same offence. Though it is quite true that the Judge in criminal cases must exercise a discretion, it cannot be right that the discretion should be so enormous that by the sentence he imposes he is to mark the distinction between the offence of the young girl and the armed burglar, while the law itself makes no distinction between the two. The right hon. Gentleman told us that the Judges must try to see what sentence really is deterrent and how far in severity they need to go. I venture to think that judicial life is much too short for such an inquiry and it shows the necessity of the sentence appropriate to any particular offence being decided not by one Judge but by a Bench of Judges, so that the Judge should have something to guide him as to how particular offences should be met. It seems to me that these are matters which ought to be carefully and judicially considered by a Commission. I cannot think we have arrived at the height of human wisdom in our present criminal system. I think it is capable of improvement, and I think the best way of arriving at that improvement and amendment would be to grant an inquiry by a Royal Commission.


I should not, perhaps, have intervened in this debate had it not been for the reference made by more than one speaker to the case of Government Office offences, which have been cited as illustrations of the worst evils attending on our present system of criminal sentences. I have [...] been anxious, as far as I myself [...] concerned, to give to the House the most positive assurance that I have felt the extreme unpopularity and undesirability of the uniform system of severe sentences which have in former days followed offences against the Post Office. Almost immediately after I took office I read in a newspaper that a learned Judge, in passing sentence at some assizes in the country, had said that whatever might be his own view as to the amount of punishment due to the offence, he felt himself bound, by the views he believed to be entertained by the Postmaster General, to follow a fixed standard of punishment, and inflict on the offender a sentence of five years' penal servitude. I am rather inclined to question the propriety of a Judge fortifying his own decision in a particular case by referring to the supposed views of the Post-master General, and I think I was, in the circumstances, justified in addressing a letter to the learned Judge to assure him that he was misinformed as to the views of the Post Office, and that so far from believing that a uniform sentence of five years was a protective to the public and the Post Office, I believed, on the other hand, that, by the disinclination which it produced on the minds of jurors to convict, such a sentence was most detrimental to the interests of the public, and subjected employés of the Post Office to the most serious temptation. Since that time I am glad to say the Judges have exercised a much more general discretion in the sentences they have passed. For my own part I have always felt that, where the offence is a first offence and without circumstances of aggravation, a much less punishment may be sufficient to protect the public and to deter Post Office servants from any of these crimes. I felt it was perhaps right I should say this as the question of the Post Office offences has been so prominently brought forward in the course of the debate. But I must confess that the interest I take in this subject is not at all confined to my experience in my present official position. It has been my fortune for many years to act as a Magistrate and to sit as Chairman of Quarter Sessions, though I have never held the proud position of permanent Chairman. I have therefore seen something of the way law is administered by Magistrates and by Quarter Sessions, and I should like at the outset to say a word with regard to the point raised by the hon. Member for Bethnal Green (Mr. Pickersgill) as to police supervision being viewed in a different manner by Judges and by Quarter Sessions. So far as my experience goes I should say that where the police supervision has formed part of the sentence, it has almost invariably been with the view of reducing the sentence. The arguments have run over a wide field, but it is not difficult to deduce from them that more than one train of thought has been working in the minds of hon. Members on both sides. We have been told that it is very undesirable that we should give the Judges the extended discretion which at the present they exercise, and almost in the same breath, and by the same speeches,we have had illustrations given of Judges who have been commended for the extremely light sentences which they have thought it their duty to pass. More than one hon. Member has really had in view quite as much a reform of the Criminal Law, as the question of rendering uniform our present code of punishment by some Procrustean means. I cannot help thinking that if some such system as appears to be intended by Mr. Tallack, some regular scheme of punishment graduated so as to meet all sorts of cases, were adopted, the hon. Gentlemen who have come down to the House to protest against the discretionary power of the Judges would be the first persons to protest against that Procrustean system, which would not allow the discretion of the Court in dealing with particular circumstances. My right hon. Friend the Home Secretary (Mr. Matthews) has expressed the views of the Government upon this question, and therefore I speak for myself only when I say I have for many years been inclined to share the views of those who think the Criminal Law is a great deal too severe in dealing with small offences against property. I have felt and seen how extremely cruel has been the operation of the system of cumulative sentences in many cases. I remember, many years ago, sitting in the Second Court at Chester, trying some prisoners, and among others a man charged with stealing a goose. The man had just come out of penal servitude and had been twice or three times previously convicted. When the jury had convicted him I said to the clerk, "I suppose there is some regular and recognized system by which the Chairman of Quarter Sessions sentences prisoners under such circumstances?" The clerk said— "We always expect a prisoner under these circumstances to have five years' penal servitude." I said—"Do you really and seriously suppose it is possible I should sentence this man to five years' penal servitude for stealing a goose?" He, of course, had to submit to the views of the magistrate, and I gave the man six weeks or two months. It really does not appear to me to be con- sistent that hon. Members should denounce the severity of the law, and yet at the same time, also denounce the system which gives to the Judge or Chairman the power of mitigating the operation of the law. These are two quite separate issues which ought to be kept entirely distinct. The hon. Member suggests the appointment of a Royal Commission. That is merely a Parliamentary way of saying that something ought to be done. I think it will be admitted that there is a disposition on both sides of the House to recognize the imperfection of the present administration of the Criminal Law. There is no question between us on that point, but there is, no doubt, very considerable difference of opinion as to how far we should be justified in referring a question of this sort to a Royal Commission. It seems to me that a Royal Commission would have to be armed with extremely wide powers if they were to be able to give effect to the suggestions which have been brought forward. I do not see that we could refer the whole question of the reform of the Criminal Law to a Royal Commission. That appears to me to be a matter which falls within the responsibility of the Government of the day. If the law requires to be altered, it is the duty of the Government to take steps to alter it. To hand the consideration of the question over to a Commission would merely have the effect of protracting and delaying the settlement of a matter which is really of urgent and serious importance, and of weakening the responsibility of the Government, and making it less likely that we would obtain a serious and satisfactory amendment of the law. There was another subject touched on by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Ham (Mr. F. Fulton), and also by one or more of the other speakers, and that was the establishment of a Court of Criminal Appeal with regard to sentences. I confess that while I entertain very grave doubt as to the utility or the effect of a Royal Commission on this question, I entertain the very greatest objections to the institution of a Court of Criminal Appeal as regards sentences. The system of appeal which prevails in civil cases where an appellant is not restricted from going to a Court of Appeal if he thinks he would be better off there than in the Court below, appears to be distinct and separate from a system of appeal relating to criminal cases. A man who has been sentenced to a long term of imprisonment for a criminal offence has nothing to lose by going to a Court of Appeal, and there is nothing to prevent every prisoner from appealing. It is said a system might be established by which the Court of Appeal could increase sentences. I do not think that that is possible or that public opinion would support such a system. Without such a power the Court of Appeal would be reduced to the position of a Court of Review simply, and we have at present a most efficient Court of Review in the Home Secretary for the time being. The sentences are reviewed by the Secretary of State not from a purely legal point of view; and the Secretary of State has the assistance of the Judges who tried the cases which come before him. The decisions of the Home Secretary are not influenced by articles in newspapers or by counsel, and I consider the tribunal a very efficient one. We undoubtedly have in the prerogative of mercy, administered by the Secretary of State in the name of the Crown, an excellent corrective for extravagant and cruel sentences; and I doubt whether any Court of Appeal would constitute a more satisfactory tribunal to review the decisions of the Courts below. But when I say this I do not for a moment wish to minimize the scandal which is caused by the extraordinary differences in the sentences passed by Judges; but I believe that the Home Office, encouraged as it is likely to be by debates of this sort, will more and more venture to exercise a controlling influence upon such sentences without the apparatus and pomp and apparent efficiency of a Court of Appeal. Judges like other people make serious mistakes; but I am inclined to think they are less likely to make mistakes under the present system than under the system of a Court of Appeal composed of Judges who will have a natural desire to affirm the decisions of the Court below. And let me remind the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) with regard to the statistics as to appeals of which he quoted, that all the decisions the Civil Courts below did not come up for appeal, whereas we may be certain that all criminal sentences will be appealed against in the event of the establishment of a Court of Criminal Appeal. I cannot help thinking that if hon. Gentlemen analyze their own feelings, they will find that they are founded on a vague dissatisfaction with the state of the Criminal Law, and I do not think their origin is due to the exercise of discretion by the Judges. The punishment of a great many offences is felt to be too severe, and I believe any Parliament, any Ministry, will deserve well of their countrymen who take into most serious consideration the present incidence of punishments in Courts of Law in regard to offences both against property and person, and the disproportions therein. A Parliament which succeeds in dealing satisfactorily with this question, will have a stronger claim to the gratitude, of both contemporaries and posterity, than those who accomplish some showy and demonstrative legislation.

* MR. SHIRESS WILL (Montrose, &c.)

No one who sympathizes with the Resolution of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green can complain of the speeches delivered from the Front Bench, and, indeed, I think the speech of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Raikes) affords the strongest possible argument in favour of issuing the Royal Commission asked for. The right hon. Gentleman told us, from his experience as Chairman of Quarter Sessions, how, consulting the clerk as to the sentence on the poor creature in the dock below, he was advised that five years' penal servitude was the proper sentence. Fortunately in this case the right hon. Gentleman was able to bring his better judgment to bear, and the unfortunate criminal got off with six weeks' imprisonment. I do not think anything could be more clearly in favour of the Motion. Some of us who have experience of the law, perhaps some little experience of the Criminal Law, have wondered why it is that the law has said, that if a man commits a felony the punishment shall be imprisonment up to two years, or else penal servitude for five years or more. Why is it? There is another marvellous discrepancy. Suppose a man has committed a felony once and is then convicted of a second felony,the Judge has discretion to sentence that man to penal servitude, but he cannot do it for less than five years. But he may sentence him to a month's imprisonment. Look at the marvellous gap between these extremes. The Judge is not required to sentence him to penal servitude, but this vast discretion is given the Judge, and there is no one to review the decision. It has been said that one of the reasons why we cannot have a Court of Appeal in criminal cases is because there is no power to give costs against the persons who appeal. Why we all know, or we have read of the injustice that has been sometimes done by wrong convictions on what is called circumstantial evidence. Let me take one case out of hundreds that might be mentioned. Eliza Fleming, a poor servant girl, was convicted of administering poison to the family for whom she worked She was sentenced to the gallows, and she went there calm and serene as an angel, and she died innocent. Ought such a one to be refused an appeal because she could not pay costs? Is this the ground on which this House would refuse the common justice of an appeal? There is one point I wish very strongly to urge on the Front Bench in support of this claim for a Royal Commission. It is over and over again said of people who are of the criminal class that they are convicted again and again; they are gaol birds, habitual criminals and all the rest of it; but does anybody ever try for a moment to enter into their minds and see what it is that influences them? Does it ever occur to hon. Members—I am sure it does—that sometimes these people become hardened from a sense of injustice; that sometimes, though rarely, they are wrongly convicted, but more often sentences are inflicted unfitted to the offences committed, and they go away with a burning sense of wrong in their hearts? Is this the way to redeem them. Ought there not to be some Court of Criminal Appeal? Why if it is a question of a debt of £100 a man may carry his case to the Court of Appeal and again to the House of Lords; it does not matter whether he be rich or poor, he has this right of appeal. The Court has some discretion as to costs which I need not enter into now. Is it to be said that liberty is of less account than property? Is it to be said a man's life, or 20 years of his life, are of so small account that you allow him no appeal from the sentence of, it may be, an angry Judge? Judges, after all, are but men, and many a time a Judge is apt to be angry because he believes an offence is greater than it really is, and so is apt to make his words and his sentence the more strong. Is there to be no appeal from these errors of judgment? The Motion of my hon. Friend has shown once more that here are matters requiring very careful consideration. Those outside this House who to-morrow read the speech of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton (Mr. H. H. Fowler) will understand how it is we have this state of the law; they will see that it is because in the past our desire and our efforts have been in the wrong direction; we have been trying to protect property instead of liberty. My right hon. Friend has pointed out more clearly than I have ever known it done before, how in the past, before we had a proper system of police, we were anxious by punishment to deter from crime against property; but now our efforts should be to wean people from crime. I am quite sure that both sides of the House are equally alive to that, and will be willing to devise for the future some system by which the wide discretion of the Judge shall be limited by some means of appeal. For committing a felony a man may be liable to a penalty of a day's imprisonment or penal servitude for life. This wide discretion is too much to leave uncontrolled to any man. You cannot expect men, even when Judges, to be archangels, and we must devise some safeguard, leave open some means to revise these momentous decisions. I will not sit down without acknowledging the fair and sympathethic manner in which the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary has addressed himself to this question. I am perfectly sure that every case that comes before him will never lack labour bestowed-upon it. No man who knows his generosity of heart, his capacity for work, his sympathy for the poor and unfortunate, will doubt that the right hon. Gentleman will give to every case brought before him a full and candid consideration.

* MR. C. W. RADCLIFFE COOKE (Newington, W.)

I confess that I am a little confused by the observations that have fallen from two distinguished occupants of the First Bench below me, and am led to ask for some further explanation from that quarter. Seeing that the Under Secretary of State for the Home Office has been taking notes, no doubt he will supplement, explain, or reconcile the diverse opinions expressed by his official superiors. My right hon. Friend (Mr. Matthews) stated in pretty clear terms that it was the intention of the Government to establish some sort of a Court of Appeal to revise criminal sentences. [Mr. MATTHEWS dissented.] Then I misunderstood my right hon. Friend even more than I thought I had. At any rate, he conveyed to my mind the impression that the Government had in contemplation something of the kind. I do not think if my right hon. Friend reflects on what he said:—


What I said is of less importance, but as expressing the intention, and speaking on behalf of the Government I do not wish to be misunderstood. All I said was that the subject of a Court to review criminal sentences had been carefully considered by the Government.


I suppose, Sir, with some object. I should like to hear what was the result of that consideration, because at present we are left in a very doubtful condition. I supposed after hearing these observations from my right hon. Friend, that either from his lips or those of some other Member of the Government we should hear a little more on the subject; but when the Postmaster General so completely set his foot down on a Court of Appeal or a Court of Review of any sort or kind, then I felt I was thrown entirely upon the Motion of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green, with no course open to me but to accept it and support his demand for a Royal Commission; for if the Government have had under consideration the question of a Court of Appeal and have done nothing, and if the Postmaster General thinks it is impracticable to appoint such a tribunal, then there is not much hope from the Front Bench that independently of external initiative that Court of Appeal will be appointed, which by common consent of both sides seem s to be desired. When the hon. Member for the Exchange Division of Liverpool (Mr. Neville) rose to address the House, I hoped, knowing the constituency he represents, and the feelings entertained in that part of the world with regard to the views of Mr. Hopwood, that possibly he might have corrected to some extent the inferences drawn from the conduct of Mr. Hopwood by the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. H. H. Fowler). Those who read the Press of both sides in Liverpool, the Conservative as well as the Radical, will find that there is by no means a concensus of opinion as to the advantage of the working out of Mr. Hopwood's ideas of what he considers his duty, but, on the contrary, a very strong view that he has acted wrongly in his method of procedure. It has been suggested, indeed I do not know whether it may be the fact, that the diminution in the number of prisoners brought before him is because committing Magistrates do not send prisoners to Mr. Hopwood's Court. I will not say whether this is the explanation or not, but the inference the right hon. Gentleman draws from Mr. Hopwood's conduct cannot be accepted without a little further investigation. The right hon. Gentleman also gave us a very interesting account of a visit paid by a learned Judge to the convict prison at Portland, and how experience thus gained taught that learned Judge some part of his duty with which he was unacquainted before. Well, last week I visited the convict prison at Portland, and if it is valuable to a Judge's experience, then it is a qualification for office I venture humbly to present to Her Majesty's Government. I can, at all events, confirm the right hon. Gentleman in one thing, the great diminution in the number of prisoners in convict prisons. I was told that the inmates were less than they had ever been before, and the officials informed me that this was also the case in other similar establishments in the country. A good deal has been said in regard to the definition of offences, and the discretion of Judges. For my own part, I think the precise definition of offence is a great safety to prisoners, almost as great as the discretion allowed to Judges. But if we do not accept the suggestion of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green, and have nothing else from the Front Bench, we shall have a state of things continuing by which Judges gain experience in the exercise of their discretion at the expense of prisoners. It was once said, "Wretches hang that jurymen may dine," so now Judges will send prisoners to Portland in order to learn when not to send them there. Surely my right hon. Friend did not mean that. If there is to be a review of sentences by the Home Office on a very much larger scale, we shall want several additional Home Secretaries. Unless we have something more clear and definite from the Front Bench in reference to the appointment of some Court to review sentences, in favour of which there seems to be a general opinion on both sides, I shall be compelled logically and inevitably to vote for the Resolution before us.

MR. AMBROSE (Middlesex, Harrow)

I do not agree with my hon. Friend that there is a general concensus of opinion on this question. I have listened attentively to the hon. Member for Bethnal Green, and he assumed rather than proved the inequality and irregularity of sentences pronounced in our Criminal Courts. What were the bases of the statement he made? He did not tell us, in one single instance, from what source he obtained his information; but we know that it could not have been from any other source than the newspapers. Well, we all know what newspaper reports are of cases that are tried before Judges. Speaking for myself, I may say that I have read reports of cases in which I have been engaged the previous day, and, but for the names, in many instances I should not have recognized them. Yet from newspaper reports—necessarily condensed and frequently incorrect—we are called upon to condemn Her Majesty's Judges or Chairmen of Quarter Sessions in regard to sentences passed from time to time. The ob- jection applies equally to this Motion for a Royal Commission. It would be, in some sense, a reflection on the administration of our Criminal Law; and it is one of the last things the House ought to do to cast doubt on the fairness and propriety with which the Criminal Law is carried out. If you have a Royal Commission, is it to investigate sentences, and say whether there have been these irregularities and inequalities spoken of? How could a Commission do it, unless the Commission re-tried every case, and had every circumstance before it which was before the Judge when he arrived at his decision and passed his sentence? You could not, after lapse of time, have all the attendant circumstances forthcoming as they were originally presented to the Court. Sentences are necessarily unequal and irregular, because crimes are unequal and irregular. You do not have the same offence committed under the same circumstances, and the Legislature has, therefore, wisely invested Judges with a wide discretion. If you have a hard and fast line in reference to the punishment for particular offences, then you must compel Judges to inflict sentences from which they would shrink and which might be cruel in the extreme. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green gave an illustration which tells against the position he assumes—a case of housebreaking or burglary. He put a case of housebreaking under circumstances in which the highest penalty would not in the least degree be too severe, and then he put the case of a starving person, who, immediately after the technical hour, nine o'clock, lifts a window and steals a loaf, and he says this is equally burglary. This is exactly what legislation has provided for, and for which the Judge has discretionary power. If you establish a hard and fast line, and say that as soon as an offence answers to a description in the Penal Code, then a particular penalty shall attach, you will immediately have outcries from hon. Gentlemen opposite as to the hardships and inequalities of the law because a case comes under the definition of a heavy offence, though attendant circumstances demand a more lenient consideration. I have failed to discover in any of the speeches that have been delivered that there has been any abuse on the part of Judges of the discretion allowed them, though there may be this difference, that one Judge takes a more serious view of one particular offence than another; that is inevitable; but I fail to see that there is any real injustice. I admit it is important to have certainty of punishment, but still it must be determined by the Judge according to attendant circumstances. I have referred to the remedy by Royal Commission. I have said that it must cast a slur on the administration of justice and be ineffective for the purpose for which it is intended. As to the establishment of a Court of Criminal Appeal, I have no objection in the world to that, and should be prepared to support any measure for that purpose, but the House should remember that it will involve a very considerable cost because of the addition to the number of Judges. If the House is prepared to incur that cost, I should say that the same right of appeal should be given in criminal as in civil cases. But as soon as ever the Government shows a disposition to undertake a measure of this sort, we shall be involved in questions of economy. For these reasons I shall vote against the Amendment.

MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)

Perhaps I may be permitted to take a little interest in this subject by reason of the fact that I am probably the only Member of the House at this moment who is able to speak as a convicted criminal. And I should like to say that I think it would be a very good thing if all hon. Members could speak with the experience of convicted criminals—as persons who have passed the mill—because I entertain a very strong opinion that if hon. Members, especially those who sit behind the Ministry and take an active part in the administration of rustic justice, had suffered the penalty they are constantly in the habit of inflicting, we should hear less than we do at present of "Justice's justice." I am not going to suggest that any sentences inflicted at Quarter Sessions, any more than those inflicted by the Judges of the land, must necessarily be harsh; but I am convinced that if Members who have to frame the law and to administer it when framed knew something by practical experience of the results of the penalties they inflict, they would be much more careful in their punishments than they are. The impression which has been conveyed to my mind by this debate is that while on the one side ample reason has been shown for a change in our present system, no cogent, convincing argument has been presented by a responsible Member of the Government against the proposed reform. The proposals are twofold. One is in the nature merely of a means to an end—namely, that a Royal Commission should issue for the purpose of investigating and taking evidence upon the whole subject. That proposal will certainly have my support unless some more expeditious method of dealing with the matter is proposed. The other proposal is that the Government in its responsible capacity should take the matter in hand with a view to the establishment of a Court of Criminal Appeal. The responsible Member of the Government in these affairs is the Home Secretary, but he meets us on both these points with a blank non possumus. He considers that a Royal Commission should not issue, because the facts are known and admitted, and, therefore, an inquiry would be useless. Nay, more than that, he says, or suggests, that a Royal Commission would diminish the responsibility of the present or any Government that might be called on to undertake a great reform which he seems to think would be desirable. With respect to the first argument, that the facts are known, the observations we have heard from the hon. Gentleman the Member for the Harrow Division (Mr. Ambrose) rather negative the assumption of the Home Secretary. The hon. Member, so far from regarding the facts as admitted, began by saying that there was no concensus of opinion in the House on the subject, and then went on to say that a Royal Commission, if issued, must review every sentence, and would have an endless and impossible task before it. Now, I am not of the same opinion as the hon. Member for the Harrow Division. It seems to me that it is clear that the Royal Commission would in no sense have to review sentences passed in individual cases, but, taking the particular proposition that the sentences imposed are irregular and uncertain and that too great a discretion is allowed to the Judges for the liberties and lives of our fellow citizens to be safe, it would be perfectly possible by an examination of records and criminal statistics to prove that some remedy is necessary. It is said that it is not necessary to have a Royal Commission to consider the irregularity and uncertainty of sentences, because crimes themselves are irregular and uncertain. But one case presented, I think, by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Wolverhampton completely disposed of that argument, because it was proved that you had one Judge in one district punishing a certain crime with two years' imprisonment and another Judge in another district punishing the same crime with twenty years' imprisonment. It seems to me that that entirely disposed of the somewhat airy arguments advanced in opposition to the view that sentences are irregular and uncertain. Then we are asked to believe that a Royal Commission would cast a slur upon the adminis- tration of justice. I cannot conceive a more idle argument than that you are to refrain from investigating the question of the mal-administration of that part of the law upon which, more than upon any other, the happiness of the people depends, simply through fear of the susceptibilities of the Judges. If this argument is to be weight, it seems to me that we might as well at once shut our eyes and ears to all claims for the redress of grievances in this country. We are not complaining that the Judges of the country do their duty badly. I believe we may say that our Judges in this country are, as a rule, the highest class of officials in such a capacity that the civilized world can show. At any rate, I sincerely entertain that views The Judges themselves would, I am sure, welcome such an inquiry as is asked by the Motion, and would rejoice at the establishment of a Court of Criminal Appeal. The hon. Member who uses the argument that such a Court would be costly, mistakes the temper of Englishmen, if he thinks that a niggardly consideration of that sort would prevent them from taking steps to prevent injustice and judicial murders. The argument for such a Court is analogous to that so often urged for the existence of a Second Chamber. Judges, like others, are subject to panics, under the influence of which they give hasty decisions, and are tempted to impose unduly heavy sentences. By the time an appeal could be heard, in most cases, the panic would have subsided. The Trafalgar Square riot, on what is now known as Bloody Sunday, November 13, 1887, affords a good illustration of this. George Harrison was convicted of stabbing a policeman with an oyster knife on purely circumstantial evidence, and sentenced to five years' penal servitude, whilst the hon. Member for Lanarkshire (Mr. Cuninghame Graham) and his sturdy supporter, John Burns, only got six weeks' imprisonment, although, save for the oyster knife incident—which was supported by evidence on which one would not have hung a dog—theirs was precisely the same offence as Harrison's. The severity of the sentence on this man made so remarkable an impression on the working men of the Metropolis that they are supporting the unhappy man's wife and children by small subscriptions of a penny, sixpence, and so on. This case may be classed with those already quoted to the House, and will also serve to show the necessity for some system of reviewing the sentences passed by Judges in times of panic. You are not, I think, likely to further the ends of justice by allowing the public mind to become impressed with the belief that the sentences passed by Judges are unduly harsh and severe. In olden times juries have been known to forswear themselves rather than, for petty offences, condemn their fellow citizens to the gallows. I maintain, moreover, that irregularity and uncertainty in the matter of sentences produces contempt of the law on the part of the criminal classes. We have recently seen the spectacle of a number of noble Lords and others being arrested for gambling in gambling clubs. What has been the result of the prosecutions? Why, owing to an extraordinary condition of law, not one of the gentlemen found gambling has been punished—at any rate, to any appreciable degree—whereas the keepers of the clubs and the menials found in them have been subjected to heavy punishments. There is a decided irregularity observable in these cases. The gentlemen who were found gambling had broken the law—and broken it in what most people regard as a disgraceful manner. I suppose most honest people not afflicted with a passion for visiting Monte Carlo during the Christmas holidays, will recognize gambling as not only an offence technically against the law, but as carrying with it a moral stigma, otherwise I do not understand the rationale of a law which interferes with the pleasures of a noble Lord or anyone else. But we find that under British Law the offence of gambling is not punished in the case of those who ought to be held primarily responsible — namely, those who have committed the offence, but that secretaries, croupiers, and so on have inflicted upon them the same penalty which some of us on this side of the House have endured from calling "Three cheers for the Plan of Campaign." I want hon. Gentlemen to understand what this means. If it does not display uncertainty and irregularity in the law, and if it is not calculated to produce contempt for the law, it passes my comprehension to know what is uncertainty and what is likely to produce contempt. Under the Coercion Act in Ireland there have been 23 convictions against hon. Members of this House, in consequence of which these Members have been subjected not only to the harsh discipline of the plank bed and the other indignities that common criminals have to endure, but to brutalities which are a disgrace to the country. Members have been tortured—as in the case of Mr. Carew, whose health has been nearly ruined—for technical crime, which no one outside the Tory Party looks upon as other than an honour and a glory to commit. These sentences are being inflicted not merely upon Leaders of the Irish Party, but since my own conviction there has been one miserable peasant sentenced to six months' imprisonment for the same offence—that of saying "Three cheers for the Plan of Campaign. Now I ask, where is the principle in a system of law which allows people to be sent to prison for six months for a technical offence of this kind, and yet allows a Magistrate to punish a man in England or Scotland with a month's imprisonment, or a paltry fine, for kicking his wife to death? You must strike at the root of this enormity. It is said. "You cannot have a Court of Criminal Appeal." But there is a Court of Criminal Appeal in Ireland—a miserable one, certainly, especially when you consider that it sometimes increases sentences instead of reducing them. The Postmaster General told us that the Home Secretary is the very best Court of Appeal we could have, as he is not subject to outside pressure; but every one knows that whenever there is a conviction, as to the justice of which there is the least doubt, especially where the prisoner has been sentenced to death on circumstantial evidence, the greatest pressure is brought to beer on the Home Secretary to induce him to let the man off. I may quote one case which I think reflects credit on the action of right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary. I allude to the case of the Jew, Lipski. There were many of us who thought he was innocent, and we used all the influence we could to induce the right hon. Gentleman to grant him a reprieve. So anxious was the right hon. Gentleman that there should be no mistake or miscarriage of justice that a reprieve was granted; although I am bound to add that we were at fault, and that the right hon. Gentleman was right in the conclusion he had at first come to, because Lipski, before he went to the scaffold, admitted that he was guilty. That is not the strongest case we can take, but it shows that the right hon. Gentleman in his official capacity, as a Court of Appeal in himself—if I may use such a phrase—is open to outside pressure, a fact which entirely destroys the argument of the Postmaster General as to not having a Court of Appeal. There are numerous cases in which strong proof has been forthcoming that innocent men have been kept in penal servitude for years—in one instance, the innocent person was thus detained for ten long years—and surely, if hon. Gentlemen could realize what it is to serve such a slavery as that of ten years' penal servitude, they and every other thinking man would unite in urging the necessity of establishing a Court of Appeal. I am sorry to say that the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary used one argument that was hardly worthy of him. He spoke of the dramatic effect produced by the Judge in his red robes as a sufficient reason for not disturbing his decision by the action of a Court of Review, or Appeal. But here, again, the fact that the right hon. Gentleman is himself a Court of Appeal cuts the ground from under him, because it is well known that cases of murder are liable to be brought up for revision by the Home Secretary. Are we, then, as a sensible body of men, forming part of the Legislature of the country, prepared to admit that there is any force in the argument that a red-robed Judge constitutes a spectacle producing such an effect as is likely to deter persons from committing future offences, and that if he is conscious that his decision may be reversed by a Court of Appeal, he will, therefore, be invested with less dignity? No one can go to an Assize town and see all the ridiculous flummery attendant on the passing of the Judges from their Chambers to the Assize Courts, accompanied by their javelin-men, and heralded by trumpeters making the most hideous and discordant noises, without becoming aware of the farce to which the whole system would be reduced if it is only looked at from the dramatic effect point of view. For Heaven's sake let us get rid of these absurdities before we talk of insisting of maintaining the dignity of our Criminal Law system! The arguments we have heard from the other side of the House, so far as they have been directed against the Resolution of my hon. and learned Friend, are, in reality, not worthy of serious attention on the part of this House. Therefore, without going into them, I will only say in conclusion, that I thank the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary for what he said when he spoke in sympathetic tones of the poor wretches who spend their lives in penal servitude as an expiation for petty crime. It is well known that there are many so-called criminals who, merely by the state of hopeless misery in which they are plunged, commit the crimes for which they are sentenced in order to obtain the shelter, clothing, food, and warmth which are obtainable in our gaols. It must, indeed, be recognized that in this country poverty is a crime—although, perhaps, the same thing may be said of too many other places—but, whatever you may do in the way of establishing a Court of Appeal, or otherwise altering the English system of criminal jurisprudence, you will never truly solve this great and important question until you take that much wider subject—the condition of the people—into due consideration, with the view of seeing how far you can get rid of the terrible misery which, here and elsewhere, is the most prolific parent of crime.

* MR. MILVAIN (Durham)

With regard to the Resolution of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, I believe it would be absolutely impossible to draw up a Code that would make sentences equally applicable to all classes of criminals, no matter what the offences may be. This is a matter which must very largely be left to the experience and discretion of the Judge who tries the case, and that may be the reason why, he has a discretion varying in misdemeanour and a great number of felonies, between short terms of imprisonment or mere sureties of peace, to penal servitude of greater or less duration. A Judge—with the critical eye and experience belonging to every Judge on the English Bench—ought to be able to take in at a glance, independently of all the circumstances, what is the physique of the prisoner, so that he may properly adjust the amount of punishment to be endured. The Judge ought also to be able to make this general distinction in the sentences he passes—that each sentence shall be such as to induce sympathy with the law, instead of sympathy with the prisoner. For my part, speaking of the administration of justice in this country, I am prepared to maintain that public sympathy is almost invariably with the law, and very seldom, if ever, with the criminal. The fact impresses upon me the conviction that the public have full confidence in the administration of justice. I now turn to the question, What course would be taken if a Royal Commission were appointed? Would you have the Judges brought before the Commission to answer questions as to the reasons which influenced their minds when they passed this or that sentence in this or that particular case? Or would you have all the witnesses whose evidence had been given at the trial of certain cases called before the Commissioners so that the latter might determine as to the circumstances under what particular punishments were inflicted? Or would you go to the extent of calling the criminals themselves, so that the Commissioners might judge of their physique and nervous temperament? To my mind it would be absolutely ridiculous and absurd to expect a definite conclusion as to anything like equality in the sentences passed on prisoners. Of course, there have been cases—and I am glad there are so few—in which there has been miscarriage of justice, and it has been suggested that the establishment of a Court of Criminal Appeal would be the proper mode of meeting such cases. The Edlingham burglary case has been quoted as an instance and used as an argument in favour of such a Court of Criminal Appeal. But what would have happened if that case had been heard in such a Court? The criminals would be arraigned before the Court, and their own testimony would not be admissible. The same witnesses would be examined against them, their conviction would have been affirmed, and they would still have been suffering the punishment to which, if they had been guilty, they were very properly sentenced. In my opinion, the Home Secretary is a more satisfactory tribunal of inquiry. He is not bound by the technicalities of the laws of evidence, but inquires into all the circumstances, and upon them determines whether the conviction or sentence is satisfactory. If the Edlingham, burglary case is quoted as a reason why a Court of Appeal should be created, I would quote it as a reason why it should not be created. In looking for a remedy for cases of this nature, I cannot but think that the Home Secretary is the best tribunal; and I would suggest that his jurisdiction might be enlarged and strengthened to this extent: that where any case arose in which grave doubts were entertained as to the propriety of the conviction and the consequent sentence, the Home Secretary, upon good cause being shown that there ought to be further inquiry, might be empowered to grant such an inquiry, the Commissioner whom he might appoint to conduct it being authorized to administer the oath and take such evidence as might be forthcoming. I cannot but think that if the present discretionary power of the Home Secretary were so strengthened you would be enabled, in this way, to meet all the evils and get rid of all the difficulties which have been brought before the House, on the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Bethnal Green.

MR. CUNINGHAME GRAHAM (Lanarkshire, North West)

I had not intended to have spoken in this debate, and I am fully aware of the difficulty in which any Member is placed who offers to stand between the House of Commons and a Division at a quarter to one o'clock. I have, however, been prompted to rise by a sense of duty, and I only intervene in consequence of some remarks that have fallen from the hon. Member for Camborne (Mr. Conybeare.) In supporting the Motion of the hon. and learned Member for Bethnal Green the hon. Gentleman brought before the House the case of George Harrison, who was sentenced to five years' penal servitude for an occurrence a year and a half ago. I am not now going to rake up the old story. I hope that the feeling which existed in this House at that time has subsided, and' that the House is now content to let bygones be bygones and to argue the question on its merits. That case, in my opinion, presents the most cogent and forcible argument in favour of the creation of a Court of Criminal Appeal, this man, George Harrison, having been sentenced on such evidence as you have heard from the hon. Member for Camborne, during a period of great public excitement. I think that every Member of every section on both sides of this House will agree with me when I say that had the case of that man, based on the evidence which was then brought forward, been presented before a Judge of this country at the present moment the result would have been a very different one. I want to ask every Member of this House to try and realize what a sentence of five years' penal servitude is to a working man in receipt of 18s. or 19s. a week. I want to try and emphasize the state of things that must happen when such a man, who at least is the bread-winner for his wife and family, is in prison. I do think that it is not a matter for congratu- lation that the responsibility of such a sentence should rest finally, as it must rest in the present state of the law, upon the head of the Home Secretary. I know that most probably the Home Secretary would, if it were possible to do so, mitigate the sentences of these men. But it is impossible for him, holding the position that he does hold, to express an opinion against the opinions expressed by the Judges of the land. I do think that if the. hon. Member for Bethnal Green had searched the criminal jurisprudence of this country from one end to the other, he could not have found one argument of greater force than this case of George Harrison, whose sentence was inflicted with circumstances in view that were in no wise brought about by himself, and whose sentence should speedily be reversed.

* MR. STUART WORTLEY (Sheffield, Hallam)

I cannot allow the debate to conclude without entering my protest against the description which has been given of the evidence against Harrison.


I think the right hon. Gentleman will allow that the policeman for whom this man was sentenced was not off duty more than three or four days. Therefore he could not have received any serious personal injury.


The question is, whether the description given of the evidence by the hon. Member for Camborne was a correct description. He said that no witness saw the blow inflicted for which Harrison was convicted. That is not the case. He was seen to go through the motion of stabbing and to throw away a weapon; and the weapon was immediately afterwards found close at hand.


With reference to that point—


Order, order!


We cannot re-try the case. I merely wish to enter my word of protest against the exceedingly inaccurate description of the case.


I deny it.


In view of the most minute and laborious examination of the circumstances of the case which was made by the Home Secretary, I believe a sound conclusion was arrived at. On the general question, I would ask the House to remember that in the few recent instances in which the House has been asked to limit the discretion of the Judges, it has steadily refused to do so Only the other day it extended the discretion of the Judges by accepting the Second Reading of the Bill with regard to corporal punishment, and two years ago it refused to adopt a minimum for sentences in case of armed burglary. I submit that recent instances show that the general tendency of modern feeling is to preserve the system which prevails of giving the widest possible discretion to the judiciary by imposing the maximum limits of punishment and not attempting to draw anything like a minimum line.

The House divided:—Ayes, 122 Noes, 53.—(Div. List, No. 126.)

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question proposed, That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

SUPPLY—Committee upon Monday next.

It being One of the clock, Mr. Speaker adjourned the House without Question put.

House Adjourned at One o'clock till Monday next.

Back to