HC Deb 26 June 1896 vol 42 cc219-20

THE ATTORNEY GENERAL (Sir RICHARD WEBSTER, Isle of Wight) moved the Second Reading of the Official Secrets Bill, to amend certain defects in the working of the Act of 1889, and particularly to throwing the onus of proof upon the accused to show that he obtained the information for innocent purposes and not illegally for the use of a foreign Government. For obvious reasons he could not give the details, but cases had arisen in which there was no moral or practical doubt of the guilt, and yet conviction had failed because of the impossibility of obtaining evidence. The Bill followed precedents, it made no substantial alteration in the law and it was necessary in the interests of the public service.

MR. E. H. PICKERSGILL (Bethnal Green, S.W.)

took objection to Subsection 2 of Clause 1, of which the Attorney General had made somewhat light, but which really was a very important provision indeed. It raised what might be described as an artificial presumption against the prisoner, and on the basis of that artificial presumption it shifted the burden of proof from the prosecution to the prisoner.

And, it being Midnight, the Debate stood adjourned.

Debate to be resumed upon Monday next.