HC Deb 14 February 1917 vol 90 cc736-53

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

This Bill, which I shall very shortly recommend to the House, is one for suspending during the period of the War, and until the 28th December next after the conclusion of the War, the service of grand juries. The House will notice that this Bill is brought forward merely as a war measure. It has been induced by the remonstrances—and the reasonable remonstrances, in the opinion of the Government—which have been addressed to the authorities by gentlemen who have been summoned from services which at the present time are national service in order that they might discharge their duties upon grand juries. I do not enter upon the large question at this moment as to whether or not grand juries ought to be abolished altogether. It may be within the knowledge of the House that a very powerful committee which was appointed two years ago to inquire into and report upon the whole matter reported by a majority in favour of the complete abolition of grand juries. That is not proposed in this Bill, nor is the Bill before the House anything but a war measure. I may point out that the experience which we gain of the working of our judicial institutions during the period of the War without the intervention of the grand jury may afford valuable lessons when it becomes necessary to decide whether or not it is desirable to restore the institution, but at the same time this Bill automatically comes to an end, or, in other words, the onus at the conclusion of the War is upon those who wish to press upon the House the complete abolition of grand juries. I want to say a word as to the case made out by those upon whom there is at the present time the duty of serving. I have had letters from sheriffs and those concerned with the assemblage of grand juries during the War to show that there has been a waste of time, involving important persons, which, under present conditions, is appalling. The House is well aware that the country is singularly crimeless, for reasons which I need not got through. The gentlemen composing the grand jury when a majority of them have been rendering useful service are taken away from that service in order to attend for trials, and they frequently find when they appear that there is not a single person to be tried. We are concerned, and rightly concerned, to see that our railway system is not congested, and yet persons are perpetually travelling, who are seriously wanted elsewhere, in order to discharge functions which, when they arrive, are found not to exist. That state of things in time of war is extremely serious, and ought, if possible, to be relieved. It may be said that grand juries in the past have rendered very valuable service. Let it not be supposed that I am so ignorant of or blind to our constitutional and communal history as to be unaware of the lessons that may be learned by those who study in detail the great convulsions of feeling in this country, in which a great and distinguished part has been played by grand juries. But we are dealing with modern conditions, and under those conditions what is the function that is discharged by the grand jury? You have, in the first place, an examination before a magistrate, or before a body of magistrates. It is their duty after hearing all the evidence relied upon by the prosecutor, and after considering it, in the case of a stipendiary magistrate in the light of his own knowledge and experience, and in the case of unpaid magistrates in the light of their experience and training, to decide whether a proper or sufficient case exists to put the person on trial. It would be, I think, attributing too little knowledge to the House if I were not to assume agreement with the view that an examination of the evidence by such a tribunal is an infinitely more powerful guarantee that no man shall without adequate cause be put on trial than an examination by a larger number of persons very often with less training and under no obligation to examine the whole of the evidence.

I have very little doubt that with the security which is afforded by the examination which takes place before the magistrate and with the additional security which is supplied in a Clause of the Bill that the most complete security will be maintained that no person shall be exposed to the pain and unhappiness of standing his trial without justification. I will give illustrations of the opinions of some persons who have had great experience in these matters. Mr. Frame, in a letter which he wrote to the Press, stated that after an experience of at least 200 grand juries at the Old Bailey in the course of his official duties in the Treasury Solicitors' Office, that in the whole period of that history ho hardly remembers one single case in which the intervention of the grand jury produced any useful result. That may be putting the matter rather high, but experience of people like him is, I think the House will agree, valuable. The Incorporated Justices Clerks' Society, a powerful and experienced body, have passed a resolution unanimously approving of the Bill suspending grand juries during the period of the War. I have received a very large number of letters from Recorders and Chairmen of Quarter Sessions and other persons of similar experience, and resolutions from town councils and city councils innumerable.


Has the right hon. Gentleman received or read Sir Harry Poland's letter which appeared in the "Times" of 25th January?


I have read it very carefully, and Sir Harry Poland has undoubted experience, but in all those matters, having taken the experience of persons who are to-day and since the War have been engaged in calling together grand juries, I have no doubt——


There is the recommendation of the Royal Commission.


Certainly. I mentioned that I know there is a very strong body of opinion in favour of the view of the Royal Commission that they should be altogether abolished, and I pointed out that it is open to those who hold that view to press it after the War is over. I said that there was security afforded in this Bill. I have a proposed security to be substituted. Under Sub-section (2) of Clause 1 the proviso states:

"Provided that in any case where the judge whose duty it would have been but for this Act to charge a grand jury would have advised such grand jury not to find a bill of indictment a true bill, either as to the whole thereof or as to any count therein, the judge shall make an endorsement upon such bill of indictment to the same effect, and thereupon such bill of indictment or count therein shall be dealt with in all respects as if a grand jury had found no bill in respect thereof."

The House will see the effect of that. Under existing circumstances the grand jury is charged by the judge, and advised by him as to whether or not they should on the depositions find a true bill, and in the main they accept the advice of the judge. If under this provision the judicial person, who under existing conditions gives advice which is ordinarily followed, comes to the conclusion that the evidence does not justify putting the prisoner on trial, he gives a certificate to that effect, which has the effect of a "no bill" by a grand jury. I am very hopeful that the House will regard this Bill as a reasonable and necessary war measure, giving very desirable relief to many persons upon whose time there is great public demand—persons engaged in agriculture, persons engaged in shipping, and persons out of military years whose services are yet retained in our great commercial enterprises. These form the class of persons from whom grand juries are drawn. I would venture very respectfully, but very earnestly, to ask the House, if they are disposed to accept the views put before them by the Government, to show me a singular indulgence for reasons which I hope the House will consider sufficient. If the course of the Debate indicates that that is the attitude of the House, I would ask them to give the Government the further stages of the Bill to-night. At this very moment grand juries are being summoned all over the country, and if this Bill becomes law within the next two or three days summonses to thousands of citizens can be avoided.


If we agree to that, would you extend the Bill to Ireland?


My hon. and learned Friend invites me to enter into a matter of some controversy.


Not a bit of it!


He is far more familiar with the circumstances in Ireland than I am. Apart from the other distinctions which may be drawn between the existing circumstances in Ireland and this country, it is the case that I have not received a single requisition or representation from Ireland that the system there is at this time causing any inconvenience or showing any desire to modify the law there. I am not disputing the fact, if he says there is any such desire there. If there is, it is strange that the Attorney-General for Ireland has not communicated with me. I have not had an opportunity of discussing the matter with him, but I have not in fact received one representation from Ireland in the hundreds that have been forwarded to me.


I can back up the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. T. M. Healy). This would be most welcome in Ireland.


I should be very glad if that matter could be compromised. I will at once communicate with the Attorney-General for Ireland, if the hon. and learned Member will agree to that. It is in my right hon. Friend's sphere, not in mine. I will at once communicate with him, and, if he agrees with the hon. and learned Gentleman, I will undertake either myself to introduce or ask him to introduce a similar measure for Ireland.


An Irish Bill would never pass.


That is a very good reason for pressing this one. I have made my points to the House, and I hope they will not think it necessary to press me for any further particulars. I would ask them to grant me the indulgence for which I have asked.

9.0 p.m.


I know that I am addressing a House the sense of which is against me. At the same time I am more or less a supporter of the ancient ways, and though I will not oppose the Second Reading of this Bill, nor shall I offer in the slightest degree opposition to the right hon. and learned Gentleman in wishing that it should go through all its stages in the circumstances to-night, perhaps the House will allow me to offer some reasons why a very ancient system should not be abolished, as it were, by a stroke of the pen and on the ground of its being war-time. War-time is the last time, in my judgment, in which anything approaching a safeguard of public liberty should be dissolved. We ought to be more careful in war-time of the liberty of the subject, especially when we know that enormous powers have been acquired by the Administration under the Defence of the Realm Acts. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, with his accustomed great intellectual skill and Ability, has made a very great case for the temporary abolition of grand juries. One remembers the old proverb as to the thin edge of the wedge. One cannot but believe, if this Bill be carried, that there is an end to the old grand jury system in England. We all agree in that. I cannot say that I agree with the hon, and learned Gentleman who sits below me (Mr. T. M. Healy), because I have not sufficient knowledge of the professional opinion in Ireland as to the abolition of the system there. I am here merely as a student of constitutional history to protest against what I think is an undesirable innovation. I can tell my right hon. and learned Friend that in October, 1911—this is with reference to the Irish system—a discussion took place at one of the Law Students' Debating Societies in reference to the propriety of abolishing grand juries in Ireland, and I can very well recollect that one of the best Irish judges, Lord Justice Moriarty, made a magnificent defence of the grand jury system as he understood it. I am not quite sure, but I believe that the late Lord Chief Justice, who was there, took a similar view. It is a queer thing to see the Attorney-General of all persons in the world trying to abolish this system, because this really means the abolition of the grand jury system. One Attorney-General, who was one of the greatest exponents and defenders of the grand jury system, was John Somers, afterwards Lord Somers, who drafted the Act of Settlement. He wrote a book on grand juries in which he described them as the security for the lives of the English people and in which he also dealt with the power, trust and duties of grand juries.

As we are now going into the details of the Bill, may I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman's attention to the machinery. His idea that the judge should have the power to ignore or find a true Bill—that is what it comes to—is not a very deft proposal. The judge, in charging a grand jury to see whether a primâ facie case has been made out and directing it to find a true bill or ignore it, is acting in a strictly judicial capacity. But when a judge takes it upon himself to declare whether or not a true bill should be presented, he becomes not a judge but a jury, and beyond all question his mind is affected in trying the case afterwards. If there is to be any substitute for the grand jury or pre- liminary investigation before a common jury, the judge who tries the case ought not to be that substitute. It gives the judge an unconscious bias in trying the case. The grand jury system has been threatened for certainly seventy years. A very great agitation in favour of the abolition of grand juries began in the 'fifties of last century, having been threatened for twenty years before, and there was a Mr. Forsyth who used to be mentioned for every judgeship for many years. He was a great constitutional lawyer and was member for the Borough of Cambridge. He wrote a delightful book on the history of Trial by Jury. He wished to abolish the grand jury. He cited an opinion of Lord Justice Bousfield pronounced from the bench as Chief Justice. My legal friends will find it in Fifth Thompson's Reports. What occurred was this. An action for malicious prosecution was brought and there were heavy damages. The Court was moved on excessive damages, and Chief Justice Bousfield said, "as far as I am concerned, I will never in a case of malicious prosecution and in a case where a man has stood in the dock, be a party to reducing the damages, having regard to all the moral terror he has undergone." That shows the power of the grand jury in protecting a man from that terror, if the case be not one in which almost one must say the chances are and ought to be for a conviction on the first showing.

I would say another thing in reference to the case the right hon. Gentleman has presented in this Bill, that I rather think he confounds the whole system and the whole principle under which the grand jury is instituted and founded. As far as I can see the grand jury was a buttress between the Executive on the one hand, and the subject on the other, and above all, it was a buttress, when judges were supposed to be very much under the influence of the Crown, between the subject and the judge. Nearly all the great cases in which we hear of grand juries intervening, and some of them are almost in our own time, at least in the time that I am old enough to remember, in my boyhood, were cases in which there was a conflict between the people and the judge. Let us consider some of the most notable cases. There is one case I recollect very well, which would appeal to the Attorney-General. The gentleman who was interested in the case, the defendant, was a very picturesque and able young man, indicted for a thumping libel on the Government. His name was F. Smith. He was had up before Jeffreys, in 1680. The grand jury liked the style of F. Smith, and liked his ability and his talents, and they would not convict him. In they came., ignoring the bill, and he sent them back three times, and F. Smith was preserved to us. There is another case, almost a year after that, almost as interesting. I do not know that the F. Smith of 1680 became Attorney-General or Prime Minister, but if he was as good a man as his modern representative, we shall be well content for his being preserved from the stocks or gaol by the grand jury. A year after that a potential Prime Minister escaped by the interposition of a grand jury. Lord Shaftesbury was brought up. He was to be impeached for a libel on the Government, or rather for treason, and an indictment had to be found. The House of Lords was adjourned, and the arrangement was that not the House of Lords but a packed jury of the House of Lords should try him, and Lord Shaftesbury had not a chance for his life. The two judges, when the jury ignored the bill, insisted on the grand jury going out, and having witnesses examined before them. The foreman of the grand jury said, "We are bound to keep secret." "That is quite true," said Justice North, who was seconded by Justice Pemberton, "but the King, in his prerogative, can allow the publicity." Lord Shaftesbury got off by the perverse finding of the grand jury. So there is something to be said for grand juries.

Let me turn for a moment to Ireland. Grand juries have played a most conspicuous part there. If it had not been for the intervention of the grand jury, the whole agitation in reference to the Drapier letters by Swift would have been suppressed. There the Chief Justice brought out the grand jury thirteen times, and they ignored the bill, and the Chief Justice abused them to the uttermost. The printer of the Drapier letters was never prosecuted. In a time far more recent, coming to our own time, an Attorney-General abused his position in Ireland in this way. They have sometimes done it. When they became converted I do not know, but I have always found in my thirty years here that the Attorney-General was always everything that was right and everything that his predecessor ought not to be. This occurred in Lord Plunkett's time. Lord Plunkett wished to prosecute some people for what was called the bottle riot. He preferred an ordinary bill against them. The grand jury ignored the bill. He then proceeded ex officio in spite of the grand jury, this conduct was discussed in this House in the fiercest terms. Anyone who refers to the Debates for 15th April, 1823, will see a strong upholding from a high Tory of the principles of the grand jury.

In my boyhood grand juries played a conspicuous part I was very young at the time, but I recollect the Jamaican insurrection. I recollect Governor Eyre's action. I recollect a prosecution endeavoured to be instituted against two of Governor Eyre's assistants for holding a court-martial in Jamaica on a man named Gordon for murder. Then a bill was preferred against two gentlemen, and the Chief Justice of England, Lord Chief Justice Oockburn, endeavoured to get the grand jury to find a trite bill against these gentlemen, and made what was called at the time a Balaclava Charge against them, a charge which contains a wonderful exposition of what martial law is or is not; but the grand jury, in spite of the charge of the judge, ignored the bill, and then, in spite of the charge of Lord Blackburn, they ignored another bill against Governor Eyre himself. All these things show that grand juries are really a very great protection for the public against the influence of the Crown on the one hand and the influence of the judges on the other. Of course, if the sense of the House is in favour of passing this Bill, I cannot in any way resist it. I have simply wished to raise a protest against what I consider a very ancient, a very interesting, and a very venerable institution. If I had no feeling in reference to it, I could not resist the exposition of the benefits of the grand jury as described by Sir Harry Poland, who was an Old Bailey prosecutor for fifty or sixty years, and whose knowledge of all things, especially of criminal matters, is encyclopædic. Sir Harry Poland himself said that he was counsel first of all for Governor Eyre, and then for Colonel Neilson and Mr. Grant, and that he blessed the interposition of the grand jury on that occasion. I think the House for the kindness with which they have listened whilst I have addressed them.


As I was the Member who first brought this question before the learned Attorney-General, I beg to thank him for at last, and somewhat tardily, having brought in this measure. I confess that I have done my best in the interval to be a nuisance to him, and I have continually pressed upon him the importance of this measure. We have had from my learned Friend the Member for West Donegal (Mr. Swift MacNeill) a very interesting discussion from the Constitutional point of view, and, if we were now dealing with a measure for the total abolition of the grand jury, unquestionably there would be a great deal in the speech which it would be necessary to answer, but we are now dealing with what is essentially a war measure. I can say, having been Chairman of Quarter Sessions for my county for a considerable number of years that it would be perfectly impossible for any injustice to be done under the Bill. I am confident that all the magistrates assembled at Petty Sessions, when they have an indictment case before them, will be, if possible, far more cautious and careful in the future than they have been in the past. They will not only discuss whether there is sufficient legal evidence upon which they ought to send the prisoner for trial, but they will also carefully consider whether it is a case in which a jury are likely to convict. I am perfectly confident that there can be no injustice done to any prisoner under this proposed new system. It has, indeed, been a very grievous thing to me time after time to have to admit to a grand jury how ashamed I am that they have been called from their important duties to do practically what is nothing at all. At the Quarter Sessions before the last there was a man who had been apprehended for some small larceny. He was obliged to be sent for trial, owing to the number of previous convictions against him. When charged by the policeman he admitted his guilt, and when asked before the magistrates whether he had anything to say he said, "I am guilty." Yet we had no less than twenty-four farmers called away from their farms at the busiest time of the year, namely, July, for the purpose of having a true bill found.

I am glad this measure has been brought in at the present time, and I hope the House will give it a prompt reading at its different stages, in order that men who are now called up to do these duties may be absolved from them in future. I have a little doubt about the Clause which allows a judge to take upon himself the functions of a grand jury. I should have been glad if the Attorney-General had omitted that Clause altogether and had allowed a case, when it had been committed for trial, to go at once before the common jury. Having regard to the fact that a large number of Quarter Sessions, like those of my own county, are drawn from country gentlemen at the present time, I think it would have been more satisfactory, when a case has been committed for trial, if it went at once before the common jury, and if the chairman of Quarter Sessions were not called upon to exercise in his own person the functions of a grand jury. I can only say that the representations which have been received by the Attorney-General are well worthy of the attention of this House. I believe on a previous occasion he did go elsewhere for inspiration. I understand that in the other quarter where he took advice there was an opinion not wholly in favour of this Bill, and I believe one or two of those who were most against it were those who are generally the despair of the Court of Criminal Appeal, and whose sentences and directions are most frequently called into question. I can only say that I am sorry my learned Friend listened to those who, even in war time, cannot forego their idle vapourings before a grand jury.


I am one of those of the legal profession—I believe we are in a majority, although we certainly are not unanimous—who would like to see grand juries abolished altogether. I also agree with the hon. Member who spoke last in not very much liking that proviso which puts upon the judge the conscience of a grand jury. I would like, as one who is not a Recorder for an agricultural district, but who has been for eight years Recorder of Liverpool, where we have probably as large a calendar as any of our great towns, although we are not conspicuously large, to say that I have never known a case brought before the grand jury at Liverpool which could possibly for one moment have given them the idea that it was their duty to throw it out, or which as a fact they have thrown out. During the time I have been Recorder no Bill has been thrown out at all, and I believe that was so for many years previously. Grand juries, certainly in our big towns, are absolutely a thing of the past. They are completely unnecessary. One can make beautiful cases about the history of grand juries. One can trace them back to Ethelred II. or even earlier, when they had totally different functions, and one can talk, particularly to a lay assembly, as though there was something in it, of historical questions about grand juries and there being some reason for preserving them. There is no reason for preserving them, although I quite agree that the Attorney-General has taken a wise course in putting off that thorny matter upon which people hold different views until the War ends.

The other day, when I found myself once more face to face with a grand jury—all of them practically ought to have been busily engaged in doing work for the Government—who were brought down to Liverpool, as grand juries mostly are, five times a year, to do work which is really no work at all, and which never takes more than a few minutes, though it wastes a day and brings them on railways already crowded and takes them away from valuable work, I felt it my duty to protest against what I ventured to call the melancholy farce of grand jury procedure. The Government are doing a very wise and necessary thing, and I thought that I would give the House the benefit of what I have seen in a large town of the lack of the necessity of any such body as a grand jury. As a matter of fact, the cases are always well looked into by the magistrates before they ever come before the grand jury at all, and the grand jury certainly in war-time is unnecessary. I hope when the War is over we shall sweep it away as only cumbering our legal procedure, and as a relic of a past which was very different from our own time. At one time grand juries did stand for the liberties of the people, but one or two of the cases which I have heard to-day do not convince me that they were always right. Grand juries in the old days had functions which they will never have to perform again, and I for one welcome this Bill most heartily.


I agree entirely with what has fallen from the two hon. Gentlemen who preceded me, perhaps with the exception of this small criticism. The Attorney-General, I must say, by the introduction of this Bill, shows, I think, at once the glory and the shame of this House, the glory as regards England and the shame as regards Ireland. The glory in this respect, that the moment an English Member states his opinion his view is listened to instantly by the Executive Government, and this question, which has not been agitated practically for more than a couple of months, finds a response on the part of the Executive authority, and this Bill is brought in in response to public opinion. Considering the ancient character of the institution, the wonder is that the Bill is introduced at all. Take the case with regard to Ireland. He says that no single representation has reached him from Ireland on this subject. Why? Because there is not a single Irishman living who thinks that it would be any good to make any representation to any English Department. That is the fact, and I think that an Irish Attorney-General would no mote venture to address the English Law Officer on a question of procedure than I would think of offering my opinion to the Pope on a question of theology.

Last year the Indictments Bill was brought forward, and I asked why it was not applied to Ireland. But the Government would not touch this remnant of old Irish archaeology, and we are to-day as we were 300 years ago with regard to indictments in Ireland. Whereas you have absolutely swept away the old procedure in England, you have the law left in Ireland as it was. Both as regards indictments and grand juries, when a legal reform is brought forward nobody ever thinks of Ireland. The old Law Revision Acts for years were left without any Irish Act-being revised. I myself, with great difficulty, thirty years ago got a small Committee appointed, and some little good was done. But the Irish Law Officers in this House never think of reform. They think they are on the way to pensions; they never think they are on the way to reform. They want to get into their jobs the same as a rabbit wants to got into its hole. The thought of doing anything for legal efficacy never strikes anybody. I desire to make a protest on this question of grand jury. Let us begin with Quarter Sessions. Why should twenty-three poor men, on some question of stealing a pocket-handkerchief, be brought in seven or eight miles to Quarter Sessions to pass a bill before the County Court judge can determine the guilt of a prisoner? During war-time crime is exceedingly light. There are practically no calendars of any importance, and the result is that these twenty-three gentlemen have to come in with nothing to do. The right hon. Gentleman is most anxious with regard to the March Assizes. I quite appreciate that. But why should twenty-three times thirty-three men in the Irish counties and twenty-three times seven or eight men in the Irish boroughs continue to be brought in? Therefore I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to have included Ireland.

I tell him frankly that I will not oppose his Bill. I will not oppose a reform which I believe to be absolutely essential, but I entreat of him to extend this measure of relief to Ireland. I quite agree that in these ancient times grand juries had functions. There was good and bad to be said of them. There is a good deal in what the hon. Member behind me has stated. Then there were cases in the old times where Lord Faulkland and Deputy St. John put twenty-three soldiers into the box who had no more to do with the county than I have to do with the Isle of Wight. So we can quote cases on both sides. I appeal to the right hon. Gentleman to give us for Ireland the same reform which he and all the Law Officers whom I have watched on both sides both for England and Scotland have always been anxious to do for their countries. They have always been most anxious for reform, whatever party they belonged to, but we have nothing of that sort in Ireland. The country is without a shepherd, and it is only right in a matter of this kind which is now a public convenience some attention should be paid to our needs.

In reference to the power to be left to the judge I would say that it is throwing an unjust burden upon him to put upon him the arduous duty of ignoring or of approving of these bills. Take a case that interests everybody in which there is great public interest—I am sorry to have to mention it, but say a sexual case. The magistrate as a rule will send that case forward for trial because he says, "Let the petty jury decide upon it." The man may be absolutely innocent, a false charge may be brought against him. If the judge ventures to ignore the bill, and that man is of high standing, if it is a blackmailing case, there may be an outcry that the judge has acted partially and in favour of that man. It is an injustice to impose such a duty, and it ought not to be done. I respectfully think the right hon. Gentleman would be well advised, unless he has opinion behind him with which I cannot venture to quarrel, not to put an arduous obligation of this kind upon the learned judge, who has quite enough to do to try the prisoner, and I respectfully ask the right hon. Gentleman not to make this change unless the view to the contrary is held strongly by some great authority.


I was a member of the-Royal Commission which dealt with the judiciary of the King's Bench, and there was no point on which it was stronger than that the grand jury system should be discontinued, and I believe that if it had not been for the War the recommendation of that Royal Commission would have been considered, and this system of grand juries would have been done away with before this. One reason why the Royal Commission came to that conclusion was that for more than half a century it had been debated whether the inconvenience and cost of summoning the grand jury did not far outweigh any advantage that was afforded. Another reason why it was maintained that the grand jury system should be abolished was that it had outlived the circumstances in which it had its origin and was not an essential safeguard of innocence, and that it usually put the country to considerable expense and numerous persons to great inconvenience. My hon, and learned Friend will see that this decision was arrived at on the evidence of judges and others who were well able to define and testify to the position. In the first Clause of the Bill it is proposed that it shall operate until the 28th day of December next after the termination of the War. If the War ends on the 1st January this Bill would be in operation for about twelve months following. If the War ends on the 1st December the Bill would only be in operation for about three weeks. I make the suggestion whether the right hon. Gentleman could not see his way, instead of continuing the Bill until the 28th December next after the War, to-substitute the words, "until Parliament otherwise determines." By so doing, the position would not be in any way one in which Parliament would lose control, and if the measure continued to work satisfactorily, as I believe it would, on the evidence I heard before the Royal Commission, I think that would be a desirable course to pursue, because the matter would still come under the notice of Parliament. In any case, I cannot see why it should be continued perhaps for three weeks after the termination of the War, or, it might be, for twelve months. I would urge the House to let the Bill pass its stages for the reasons alleged by the Attorney-General. The matter has been thoroughly investigated by the Royal Commission, and the general feeling, not only of the legal profession but of those who sat on the Commission, is that the grand jury should be done away with.


As far as I am concerned, I feel that there is some inconvenience in passing the Bill into law in the form in which it is at the present time. Of course, it is a war measure but not a popular war measure, and although it is perfectly right to bring people to perform very desirable duties during peace time, in war-time difficulties present themselves and on the whole the balance is in favour of the Bill. In Clause 1 powers are given to the judge in regard to which I have an Amendment to propose to omit certain words, and unless I receive some explanation I shall be inclined to press that Amendment; and I have another small drafting Amendment to insert at the end of the first Clause, but I will not trouble the House with it at the present moment. I think, however, that it is a dangerous matter that the House of Commons should allow a Bill of this kind, of which everybody is not unitedly in favour, to pass its three stages in one night. We have the duty in the House of Commons, quite apart from anything else, to go through the different points which are raised. The Bill came on at half-past eight this evening, and nobody expected it to-night at all. One hon. Member said he was strongly opposed to the measure, and that it ought not to go through, but he went away, quite expecting that the Bill would not come on. I do think it is a bad precedent to take all the stages tonight, unless there is great urgency. I do not believe the Government need act hastily in this matter; the Bill could perfectly well be taken to-morrow night, and if you are to make an alteration in a matter of this kind, the House should have an opportunity to express its opinion. There is no particular urgency in this matter. The Sessions do not come on until the 28th March, and the Assizes are very nearly at an end at the present time. As a matter of fact, two or three days could not make very much difference.


The sense of the House is clearly in favour of the Bill and in regard to what several speakers have stated as to the powers given to the judge to act in place of the grand jury; but I do not think that the powers conferred on the judge would render his duties unduly onerous. He has power now to make up his mind whether he will proceed, or whether he will not ignore a bill, and this is solely and entirely in the interests of the accused. I agree strongly with the reasons of many people as to the value of the grand jury as defenders of liberty, but I would point out that we are dealing with a temporary and urgent matter, and I hope that my hon. Friend will proceed with the measure.


Of course we can discusion any point on which it is obvious that the opinion of the House may be required, and I shall be very glad to consider any point which is raised. At the same time I would point out that the Debate on the Second Reading is overwhelmingly in favour of the Bill, and I hope that the House will be good enough to go on with it to-night.


Two legal gentlemen have written to me regarding this Bill, and one is sending me an Amendment to put down. I think it is rather rapid procedure which is being suggested in this case, to try and get a Bill through all its stages in one day, and I cannot believe that the Attorney-General will press that.


As a layman, I would like to support the Bill. I would not care to pit my opinions against those of legal gentlemen, but I absolutely agree with the hon. Gentleman opposite, who has had a long experience in Court work, and who tells us he is satisfied that the abolition of grand juries permanently would be a good thing. I have been a magistrate for some years now, and it has always appeared to me quite farcical that cases should go before grand juries at Sessions and Assizes. As a layman, I welcome the introduction of this measure. I hope it will be put into operation for the duration of the War, and that, after that, it will become a permanent legal enactment.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time.


I beg to move, "That this House will immediately resolve itself into the Committee on this Bill."


Will the right hon. Gentleman agree, when the Clause excluding Ireland is reached, to move to report Progress?


Yes, if it is so desired.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill accordingly considered in Committee.

[Mr. WHITLEY in the Chair.]