§ MR. E. SPENCER (West Bromwich)
I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether it is the custom in many Police Courts for the Magistrates, prior 1o hearing charges, to be furnished with information of the previous convictions (if any) of the parties charged; and, if so, will he issue instructions that such information shall not in future be furnished until after the Magistrates have decided to convict?
§ MR. HANBURY (Preston)
Before that question is answered I should like to ask whether it is not also true that previous convictions are put before Chairmen of Quarter Sessions and Judges of Assize before they sum up to the jury, and whether at certain Petty Sessions the procedure by which previous convictions of prisoners is proved is often very lax indeed?
§ THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. ASQUITH,) Fife, E.
In reply to the question of the hon. Member for West Bromwich, I have to say that I have no reason to think that it is customary for Magistrates, prior to hearing cases, to be furnished with information of previous convictions (if any) of the parties charged. Such a practice is, in my opinion, to be strongly deprecated, and in the Metropolitan Police Courts it is not allowed. In answer to the hon. Member for Preston, I may say I believe that what the hon. Member states is the case, in some 1002 parts of the country at any rate. In my opinion, that information ought not to be supplied until the time of passing-sentence. I think it might possibly prejudice the case of the prisoner even in the mind of a perfectly fair and impartial Judge that he should know what the prisoner's previous criminal record was. As far as my influence is concerned, it will be in the direction for the discontinuance of the practice. I agree that the present system of identifying prisoners is very unsatisfactory. I recently appointed a Departmental Committee to consider this matter. The Committee have presented their Report, and I hope to be able to give effect to its recommendations, under which I trust the possibility of mistake, if not altogether prevented, will be largely diminished.