HC Deb 05 December 1890 vol 349 cc644-6
MR. MATHER (Lancashire, S. E., Gorton)

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is aware that, out of the total number 1,131 juvenile offenders under 16 years of age brought before the Police Courts of Manchester and Salford in 1889, only two-fifths, or about 450, were charged with felony, the remaining three-fifths, or about 680, having been arrested for trivial offences without criminal intent, and that the whole of the non-criminal offenders were classified among criminals at the Police Courts and associated more or less with them, including confinement in police cells, up to the time of their discharge after the payment of a fine; whether he is aware that cases have occurred when juvenile offenders of a non-criminal character have been put into prison for their inability to pay costs amounting to four or five times the sum of the fine, when the fine itself has been tendered by parents and friends who were too poor to pay the heavy costs; whether the Magistrates or Police Authorities have discretionary power under the existing law to treat juveniles under 16 years of age, arrested for trivial offences against police regulations only punishable by fine, in such manner as shall prevent their associating with criminals at the first or at any stage of the process of punishment; and whether, if such power does not exist, he will introduce a Bill to confer power on Magistrates and Police Authorities to provide juvenile offenders of a non-criminal character with such accommodation after arrest as shall prevent their mingling with or being regarded as criminals, and also to provide special Courts to try trivial juvenile offences in order to spare children, otherwise honest, the obviously evil consequences arising out of the treatment to which they are at present subjected in Manchester and Salford and else where?


The Secretary of State has no official statistics on the subject. But the distinction drawn between criminal offenders and non-criminal offenders has no foundation in law, and would in practice be impossible. All must be treated alike while in custody in the police cells; and all in prison must also be treated alike, provided that they have received the same sentence. It is a mistake, however, to suppose that there is any association in prisons. Each prisoner is kept separate. The Legislature, in the Summary Jurisdiction Act, First Offenders Act, and other Statutes, have provided various means by which unnecessary or unduly long imprisonment may be avoided—allowance of bail, dismissal of trivial cases, remission of costs, allowance of time for payment of fine, imposition of fine in lieu of imprisonment, detention of juvenile offenders in a reformatory or industrial school. Circulars have been issued from the Home Office impressing on Magistrates the desirability of children not being imprisoned before trial, and Governors of prisons have been instructed to report to the Secretary of State every case of such imprisonment of a child under 14. The Secretary of State regrets that Magistrates do frequently impose light fines with heavy costs, as it leaves a false impression as to the administration of justice. But in most of these cases it will be found that the fine has been so light because the costs have been so heavy, and the person convicted has not been punished more severely than he ought to have been. There are difficulties in the way of such measures as those indicated in the 4th clause of the question. The practice in Metropolitan Police Courts is to remand to the workhouse, under Section 19 of the Industrial Schools Act, 1866, all children under 14 where desirable, pending inquiries necessary for the decision of the case. I understand this practice to be based on the view that the power given by that section exists in all cases where a child under 14 years is brought before a Court of Summary Jurisdiction. The Secretary of State hopes to introduce again a Bill authorising several alternative modes of dealing with juvenile offenders, with a view to preventing the necessity of their being sent to prison.