HC Deb 18 February 1907 vol 169 cc552-3

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether his attention has been drawn to the observations of different Judges and chairmen of quarter sessions, to the effect that the intention of the Poor Prisoners' Defence Act, 1903, is very largely defeated by the provision that the certificate for legal aid can be given only when the prisoner discloses some sort of defence or another before the committing justices, whereas the great majority of prisoners are entirely ignorant of this provision; and whether he will introduce a Bill to amend the Act in the respect indicated, or, in the alternative, would favourably consider such a Bill if introduced by a private Member.


My attention has not been drawn to any observations of this nature. It was not the intention of the Act that legal aid should be given to prisoners who refused to disclose their defence The Lord Chief Justice in a charge delivered to the Grand Jury at Warwick on July 1904 stated that "by a defence disclosed was meant not only a defence stated by the prisoner at the end of the hearing, but a defence disclosed on cross-examination or by questions the prisoner might ask or by remarks he interposed, or even in some cases such as might appear on the face of the evidence called for the prosecution." A circular was issued to all benches of justices in England and Wales calling their attention to these remarks of the Lord Chief Justice. Steps have been taken by the Home Office to bring the provisions of the Act to the knowledge of all prisoners. Notices explaining in simple language the effect of the Act, and the requirement that a defence must be disclosed before justices, have been affixed in all prison cells in which prisoners are detained on remand, and have been distributed to justices for exhibition at police courts and in police court cells. In the circumstances, I do not think there is any need for amending legislation.