HC Deb 04 December 1890 vol 349 cc521-2

I bag to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he has observed any report of the remarks made by Mr. Justice Hawkins, on 22nd November, in charging the Grand Jury at Nor wich, especially those in which he commented on the "cruel hardship" suffered by men who are kept in prison two months or more after committal for trial at the Assizes for offences that would be adequately punished by six weeks' imprisonment, and on the necessity thus imposed on the Judge of Assize of discharging on the spot a man found guilty, for example, of a robbery deserving six weeks' imprisonment, but already punished by a longer term; whether the same consequences frequently follow committal to Quarter Sessions; whether the Government intend to take any action upon the subject and to adopt the suggestions of Mr. Justice Hawkins; whether any steps will be taken to remind Magistrates of the discretion which they already possess, enabling them to deal summarily with some of these cases, and in others to admit to bail; and whether he will bring in a Bill "enlarging;" as the learned Judge advises, "the jurisdiction of Magistrates not only in Petty Sessions, but in Quarter Sessions"?


I have seen a somewhat confused newspaper report of the remarks made by the learned Judge, who, as I understand, was referring to the power given to Magistrates by the Assizes Relief Act to commit to Quarter Sessions cases triable at Quarter Sessions, unless special reasons exist for committing to an intervening Assize. It is, I believe, generally understood that long detention in prison constitutes a "special reason" under the Act, which was passed with a full knowledge that it would in some cases cause a longer period of detention, but it was believed that on the whole there was a balance of advantage to prisoners in the principle which the Act contains. The Government are not prepared to reverse that legislation upon such short experience of it. I have no reason to believe that the Justices generally are not fully aware of the powers they possess. I have on one or two occasions called their attention to those powers where cases have been brought to my notice, and will continue to do so. A Bill has more than once passed the other House adding burglary to the list of offences triable at Sessions, and if the right hon. Gentleman will promote such a Bill, the Government will not oppose him. The Judges, as shown by their Report of April, 1878, are strongly opposed to any enlargement of the jurisdiction of Sessions in other respects, and the Government would not favour any such proposal.