§ MR. H. J. WILSON (Yorkshire, W.R., Holmfirth)
To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is aware that when a distraint has been ordered for default in paying poor rates, when the police have reported that the defendant has no goods to distrain on and magistrates have made a commitment order, it depends on the discretion and arrangements of the police whether the defendant is imprisoned for the period ordered by the magistrates, or whether he has an additional day or two of detention in the police cell until the police take him to prison; whether he will lay upon the Table a copy of the circular issued some twenty years ago by the Home Office, drawing the attention of magistrates' clerks to this question; whether he will send a copy of that circular, or a similar circular, to magistrates' clerks; and whether he will take some other steps to prevent the inequality which arises in the period of detention, which depends on the distance at which the defendant may reside from the police station.
(Answered by Mr. Secretary Akers-Douglas.) The circular to which the hon. Member refers was issued on April 22nd, 1889, and has been more than once reissued. It is as follows:—"I am directed 931 by the Secretary of State to acquaint you that his attention has been called to the apparent hardship which occurs when a prisoner sentenced to a term of imprisonment by a Court of summary jurisdiction is not conveyed to prison on the same day on which sentence is passed. The law requires that a sentence of a Court of summary jurisdiction should, unless otherwise ordered, be reckoned from the date of the prisoner's reception into the prison; and if, therefore, the prisoner is detained for a night in the police cells before removal to prison, he is apt to complain that he has to undergo one day's punishment beyond the term intended by the justices. It is probable that in passing sentence this circumstance is duly taken into account by the justices; but in order to put an end to complaints of the character above described, the Secretary of State would suggest for the consideration of the magistrates of your bench that in future, in cases where the prisoner will remain in custody after the sentence is passed, but cannot be taken to the prison the same day, they should insert in the commitment an express order that the sentence is to be reckoned from the date on which it was passed." This circular applies to cases where prisoners are committed direct from the Court to prison; but I understand that the case which the hon. Member has in mind is one where the defendant was committed in default of distress, and where, therefore, he was not in custody when the commitment was issued. In such a case it appears to me to be the duty of the police, on arresting the defendant, to convey him to prison with promptitude, and I think they ought, so far as they safely can, to avoid arresting a prisoner at an hour when it would be necessary to detain him for a night in the police cells. If any cases where the police are alleged to have acted otherwise are brought to my notice, I will make inquiry and consider whether the issue of a circular to the police or any other action is called for.