HC Deb 22 December 1915 vol 77 cc575-7

If, during the continuance of the present war, upon the trial of a person accused of an indictable offence, it is proved that any person whose deposition has been duly taken before the justice or justices by whom the accused was committed for trial is unable to attend the trial, having regard to the necessities of the public service, by reason of being actively engaged in the naval or military service of His Majesty, and if also it is proved that such deposition was taken in the presence of the person so accused, and that (except in the case of a deposition by a witness on behalf of the accused) he or his counsel or attorney had a full opportunity of cross-examining the witness, then, if such deposition purports to be signed by the justice by or before whom the same purports to have been taken it shall be lawful to read such deposition as evidence at the trial without further proof thereof unless it is proved that such deposition was not in fact signed by the justice purporting to sign the same:

Provided that no deposition shall be read in evidence under the powers of this Section save with the consent of the Court before which the trial takes place.

Motion made; and Question proposed, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."


I entirely agree with this Amendment. Personally, I think it is a good one, because it avoids legislation by reference. The old Clause which it displaces referred to three Sections of three different Acts of Parliament. Now we have a Clause which is entirely without any reference to other Acts of Parliament, and certainly for the layman, or for a person who is not acquainted with these special provisions of law it is a decided improvement. I hope that it will be supported by the Solicitor-General.

Question put, and agreed to.

Lords Amendment: After Clause 2, insert as a new Clause, "Where any person has been convicted of an offence punishable by death upon evidence solely contained in depositions which have been read in evidence at the trial under the powers conferred by this Act, the punishment of death shall not be inflicted, but the Court may pass such sentence of imprisonment or penal servitude as it may think just."

8.0 P.M.


I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

It is not quite the Amendment moved in this House, but it is a reasonable arrangement of the matter, and the effect of it is that where the evidence on deposition is the only evidence by which a charge is supported, the death sentence shall not be inflicted upon that evidence alone.


I am very glad to find myself in entire accord with this Amendment, and with the view of the Solicitor-General. I must not refrain from pointing out that the idea of this Clause was first suggested by me on the Second Reading of this Bill. It was on that occasion repudiated by the Law Officers of the Crown, and when we had Amendments, not exactly these, but directed to the same object, the Law Officers in this House did not see their way to support them. It is extremely satisfactory to me personally, and I think it will be to all my Friends in the House, that when the Lords take up ideas rejected here we are wide-minded enough to accept and adopt them.

Lords Amendment agreed to.

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.