HC Deb 30 July 1912 vol 41 cc1837-8

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether two sisters, sentenced to six months' imprisonment for window-breaking, were recently discharged from Aylesbury Prison before the expiration of their sentence in consequence of the serious illness of their mother, a lady over ninety years of age; whether, before being released, they were required to sign an undertaking to abstain for life from all illegal conduct; whether this undertaking was a recognisance in legal form entered into before a Court or magistrate com- petent in that behalf; by what official, acting under what authority, were the prisoners required to sign it; whether such an undertaking has any legal validity to bind the signatories thereof; and whether he will give instructions that no irregular or illegal pledges be extorted from prisoners as the price of liberty in the future?


Representations were made to me by the sister of the two prisoners referred to that their immediate release was desirable on the ground of the serious illness of their mother, who is over ninety, and she produced a medical certificate as to the state of their mother's health. I accepted these statements, but I should not have felt justified in recommending the exercise of the prerogative of mercy unless I had been satisfied that the prisoners had no intention of repeating their offence. They were so informed, and were asked if they would give a promise not to break the law again. Both prisoners gave the promise, which has a moral though not a legal force. No recognisances were asked for or given. It is neither irregular nor illegal to seek some assurance that a prisoner, if liberated by the exercise of the Royal prerogative, has no intention of repeating the offence for which he has been imprisoned.


Apart from the question of the legality is the usual course followed to accept from the prisoners, as a price of their receiving the exercise of the Royal prerogative of mercy, a pledge to abstain from a particular line of conduct for the rest of their lives?


It is not the usual practice, because the prisoners usually offer the promise without being asked, but it is not an unknown practice.


Will this be taken as a precedent in the case of the Ulster Unionists?