§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir Thomas Inskip)
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill is a Measure to give effect to a number of recommendations made by two Committees connected with the administration of criminal justice. It has been the fortune, or misfortune, of my right hon. Friend the Attorney-General and myself to be associated with one or two rather controversial Bills in con- 1204 nection with legal matters in the course of this Session, but I think and hope that this Bill will not be found controversial by any party or section in the House, or by any hon. Member. It embodies a number of proposals upon which there may not be absolutely a consensus of opinion, and I can understand that hon. Members may have points of view to submit, either to the Douse on Second Reading or in Committee on the Bill upstairs, but, generally speaking, I think I may say that the Government desire to have the assistance of the House. The Bill is in no sense a party Measure. It is not a Bill upon which the Government take the view that they must have every letter or even every Clause of the Bill, though the case which we are able to present, we think, is a very strong one in favour of all the proposals, subject, of course, to small points which the House would not wish me to discuss now, because I want to be as brief upon this matter as is consistent with clarity.
The two Committees which I mentioned are generally known in the legal profession, at any rate, as the Horridge Committee, because it was presided over by Mr. Justice Horridge, and the Bodkin Committee, because the Director of Public Prosecutions presided over the second Committee. The Horridge Committee was appointed in order to inquire into the circumstances in which prisoners committed for trial at assizes or quarter sessions, when not admitted to bail, are sometimes detained for long periods in prison before being tried. The Committee, which was composed of a number of gentlemen very familiar indeed with the course of the administration of justice in criminal cases, made a few simple recommendations, which have been embodied in this Bill, and hon. Members will find in Clauses 1 and 8 the recommendations of the Horridge Committee in substance carried out. The recommendations were that power to commit to any Assize or Sessions convenient as regards time and place should be given. They also recommended that there should be an increase in the number of offences triable either at Assizes or Sessions, that more frequent Sessions should be held, and that the granting of bail, in every possible case where it could reasonably be done, should be allowed.
1205 The last two recommendations require no elaboration. They are merely recommendations to the legal authorities concerned to exercise the powers they already possess under the existing laws. The first two recommendations are carried out by the provisions of Clause 1 of the Bill, which adds, by means of the First Schedule of the Bill, a number of offences under the law as it already exists which are triable at uarter Sessions, and, unless hon. Members desire any elucidation or information as to any particular offences, I would refer them to the First Schedule. I may say that the Schedule of offences has been very carefully considered, and the recommendations of the Horridge Committee have not been followed meticulously in every respect. If arty hon. Member has any criticism of the Schedule, I am sure my right hon. Friend the Attorney-General will give in, the utmost consideration, with the desire to give effect to any arguments that may be advanced. Thee other recommendation as to the power to commit to any Assizes or Quarter Sessions is to be found carried out in Clause 8. The recommendation of the Horridge Committee included a power to commit to the Central Criminal Court in any case. That power has not been included in the Bill, but otherwise the Committee's recommendation, which gives a general power to cimmit prisoners to any Assizes or Quarter Sessions convenient as to time and place, is to be found in the Clause. I think hon. Members will agree that nowadays that is a business-like proposal which will ensure more speedy and more economical prosecution of criminal charges.
The rest of the Bill is composed partly of Clauses to deal with the recommendations of the Bodkin Committee, which related to convenience and economy in criminal procedure. As I have already said, I do not propose to go through those Clauses in detail, but the sort of recommendation that is dealt with is the Clause that provides for dispensing with the attendance of purely formal witnesses when the case is tried either at Quarter Sessions or Assizes. Certain witnesses, as everybody who practises in the Courts knows, are required to prove the offence strictly, but they give evidence which is not cross-examined as a rule, and very often it, is practically unnecessary that they should attend; yet, from a legal 1206 point of view, it is necessary. Power is given to the magistrates to mark such witnesses as are unnecessary, and they will not attend, unless notice is given either by the prosecutor or the person charged, so that there will be the fullest opportunity given to everybody desiring the attendance of the witness so marked to obtain his attendance at the trial.
The other proposals are such as are dealt with in Clause 2, which extends the power to deal summarily with indictable offences. Clause 3, which, I hope, will not be found controversial by any hon. Member, provides for the abolition of the Grand Juries at Quarter Sessions. They will remain at the Assizes. On this side of the House we might be supposed to be so thoroughly conservative as to maintain the Grand Jury system, which has been of great historic interest for everybody connected with the legal profession, both at Quarter Sessions and Assizes. There has been a great deal of public discussion and in legal circles as to the future of the Grand Jury system, but I think, on the whole, this Bill carries out the principle most people would think wise, that we should retain the Grand Jury system at Assizes, but at Quarter Sessions it is not necessary. It may be that in the course of time the Grand Jury system will be found superfluous, and will be altogether abolished. I should rather regret that myself, and I think that will probably be the opinion of most hon. Members who are familiar with it. However that may be, this Bill simply purposes to abolish the Grand Jury system at Quarter Sessions.
Clause 4 is another recommendation of the Bodkin Committee. It is a very technical matter, but it does lay down in a simple and codified form the procedure that is to be followed in the case of persons who are charged with offences, and desire either to make a statement or to give evidence, or to make a statement and to give sworn evidence. There will be no difficulty on the part either of the magistrates, the Justices at Quarter Sessions, or the Judges at the Assizes, or on the part of the prisoner in knowing in future the precise form which is to be followed on these occasions. I pass now from the Clauses which carry out the recommendations of the Bodkin Committee to three Clauses which, perhaps, merit particular notice. The first of them is 1207 Clause 19, which deals with the power of search in certain cases for obscene books and other articles which it is very desirable to prevent the sale, exhibition, or distribution of. Nobody who is familiar with this traffic but knows the extraordinary difficulties there are in preventing it. Don. Members also know what an evil it is that a traffic of this sort should be carried on with impunity. At the same time, everybody desires to respect the rights of the British citizen, and the idea that a man's house shall be his castle. We have to reconcile the privileges of the private citizen with the duty of the State and the desire of everybody, I am sure, to grapple with this difficult question, the exhibition, distribution, and sale of obscene books Accordingly, Clause 19 provides that(1) If a justice is satisfied by information on oath made before him by an inspector of police or any other officer of police of equal or superior rank that there is reasonable cause to suspect that indecent or obscene articles are kept within any place within the jurisdiction of the justice for the purpose of being sold, published, distributed, exhibited, lent on hire or otherwise dealt with, and whether in any case for purposes of gain or not, the justice may issue a search warrant….I hope hon. Members will accept the principle of the Clause; any discussion as to details can be suitably dealt with in Committee. The second of the three Clauses which I think it necessary to dwell upon is Clause 20 which provides for the investigation of banking accounts. It may appear that this is a very far-reaching power to be given to anybody, but hon. Members will appreciate the difficulty which the Director of Public Prosecutions is in at the present time. They will be well aware of cases in the last year or two where the financial transactions of the person charged has been absolutely a vital part of fife case, and, in a case of the sort, unless information can be obtained as to the way in which large sums of money have been dealt with, it is impossible to secure conviction. This Clause provides that the Director of Public Prosecutions may obtain an order in the High Court giving him power to inspect the banking account of any person who has been or is about to be charged with any offence. The present position is that the Director of Public 1208 Prosecutions finds himself in a vicious circle. He suspects an offence against somebody in respect of large sums of money. He has reason to suppose that they are contained in some banking account, and that the suspected person is drawing from that account and reducing the amount which ought to be available for repaying those who have been defrauded. The present practice is that the Public Prosecutor proceeds under the Bankers Book Evidence Act when he requires to see a banking account, and when he obtains an order under that Act the banks give the fullest possible information. But such an order can only be obtained after process has been issued and the Director of Public Prosecutions has taken upon himself the risk, probably upon insufficient evidence. of commencing criminal proceedings against the person suspected. That may operate very harshly upon the person charged, and this makes it exceedingly difficult to frame a proper charge. It is thought desirable, in order to escape from this cul de sac in which the Director of Public Prosecutions constantly finds himself, to give him power to obtain an Order for this purpose from a Judge in the High Court. I agree that this is a drastic power—
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
If hon. Members will reflect for a moment they will remember that in connection with the Income Tax information is given to a Government Department which is most zealously guarded by the Inland Revenue Department for the purposes of the Income Tax alone, and nobody suggests that the Inland Revenue Department abuses the confidence reposed in them. I think hon. Members will find in this case some parallel to the powers which it is now proposed to give to the Director of Public Prosecutions. The circumstances I admit are somewhat different, but he will obtain this information solely for the purpose of criminal proceedings as to which he has to satisfy a Judge of the High Courts before he gets power to inspect the banking account. The only difference is that he will have the power to enable him to initiate criminal proceedings against persons who at present are likely to go scot free or he would have to institute criminal proceedings 1209 on insufficient information. I hope hon. Members will agree that this is a proper power to give to the Director of Public Prosecutions and it can only be obtained by him on the Order of a Judge of the High Court.
§ Sir F. BANBURY
That is quite different from what exists now. What the hon. and learned Gentleman proposes now is that the bankers should violate the undertaking which they have given to their customers to keep their accounts secret in order that the Director of Public Prosecutions may see if he find evidence on which to institute a prosecution.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
My right hon. Friend, by the skill of his interruption, if I may be allowed to say so—
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL
If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to reply to the right hon. Baronet it will be more courteous and more convenient. My right hon. Friend with his accustomed skill puts his case as strongly as it can be put against this proposal in the Bill and he says this is an essentially different proposal from the law as it exists to-day. Of course it is, but the principle is not very different. When my right hon. Friend speaks about compelling bankers to violate their undertaking of secrecy with their customers he should realise that the banker is compelled to violate that custom of secrecy as the law stands to-day, if and when process has been issued. This is a matter so entirely for the House to decide, both of the liberty of the subject as guardians and as the body to determine what law shall be applied to criminals, that I do not put this Clause forward as one against which no arguments may be presented. Of course, it will be open to a great deal of argument, and I only ask hon. Members to read the Clause and to consider it as a proposal in the interests of the pursuit and conviction of criminals. If they think that the Clause goes too far, they will, of course, be at liberty- to express their opinions both on the Second Reading and in Committee. What I said at the beginning applies particularly here, and my right hon. Friend and the Government will welcome the disinterested 1210 criticism which I am sure hon. Members will give to this Clause as to other parts of the Bill. I will say no more about this Clause except that we put it forward as one which will not in any way interfere either with the relations of the banks with their customers or with the general liberty of the subject, but will conduce to the apprehension and conviction of a class of criminal whose evil deeds it is very difficult detect.
Clause 24 of the Bill deals with a subject matter which hon. Members have had brought to their attention by one of two recent cases in connection with the coercion of a wife. There were two proposals which might have been adopted and which were considered by a Committee appointed in 1922 to consider this question of coercion. The Committee considered two alternative proposals. One was to abolish the presumption of coercion where a crime is committed by a wife in the presence of her husband, but leaving the defence of coercion open to the wife. There would be no legal presumption, but the wife might show by evidence that she was coerced. The other alternative was to abolish the, whole doctrine of coercion and to leave the wife in precisely the same position as any other person would be in the eyes of the law, unless she could prove that by actual physical force she was compelled to commit the act. The Committee recommended the second course of complete abolition, and no different doctrine of coercion as applying to the wife as compared with any other citizen.
This Bill does not adopt the recommendation of the Committee but proposes to adopt the first alternative, which is to abolish the legal presumption but to leave the wife free to prove to the satisfaction of the jury, if she can, that she was coerced, not merely by physical compulsion or bodily fear, but by that power which the husband, when all is said and done, has over a woman. I think hon. Members will feel—at least, I hope they will feel—that that proposal agrees with the general feeling which we all have about the position of woman. When all is said and done, although we recognise to the full her intellectual and spiritual, I was going to say equality, may I not say superiority over men, she is not yet, nor probably ever will be, built in such a way as to 1211 be able to hold her own against the domination of a powerful personality who also happens to be her husband, and we think that justice will be maintained if we allow a woman placed in such circumstances as those to show that, though she is not compelled by bodily fear or physical compulsion, she was, in fact, dominated by the husband, and in those circumstances the jury may acquit her. I hope hon. Members will not regard me as putting forward this Bill as though it were the Ten Commandments coming down from the mountain. We believe it is the result of a great deal of hard work by these three different committees and by the persons who are responsible for the administration of criminal justice. We put it forward for the sympathetic consideration of the House, and we hope that, generally speaking, the Bill will be adopted as it stands to-day as a series of proposals likely to facilitate the administration of criminal justice, to reduce the expense of doing so, and to make the system work more easily for the acquittal of the innocent and the conviction of the guilty.
§ Mr. FOOT
I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."
Whatever may be the opinion held in relation to this Bill, I think we shall all agree as to its importance. The Committees which have sat and considered the subject to which the Solicitor-General referred are to be congratulated on their labours, and I say at once that there will be no question in any part of the House that there is in this Bill a great deal that we are all very anxious to see carried into law. It has been a matter of gratification to us that the Solicitor-General has just informed us that Clauses 19 and 20, which I think he put before the House somewhat apologetically, may be subject to review in Committee. I think he gave us to understand, particularly in regard to Clause 19, that the opinion of the House might very readily be taken. I hope when that opportunity arises it will be the free opinion of the House. I think we can assure him that so far as Clause 19 is concerned, giving to the police officer such considerable powers, there is likely to be 1212 most vigorous opposition on this side of the House, and as regards Clause 20 some of us consider that as officialism run mad. Therefore, so far as Clauses 19 and 20 are concerned, there will be most acute controversy if the Government insist on mainlining these provisions in anything like their present form.
I wish to refer particularly to three subjects: firstly to that which was put aside very lightly by the Solicitor-General, namely, that of Grand Juries. He said he hoped that that subject would not be controversial, but the mere fact that the Government have in this Bill wiped out grand juries at Quarter Sessions, but propose to retain them at Assizes, must make the matter controversial. If hon. Members will refer to the Memorandum at the head of the Bill, they will see it stated that the subject of grand juries has been considered by the Judges, and we are told that during the War the summoning of grand juries was suspended, both at Assizes and at Quarter Sessions. The Memorandum proceeds:At the end of the War the opinion of the Judges of the High Court was taken as to the expediency of abolishing grand juries, but the opinion of the majority of them was against the course. The Bill, accordingly, does not deal with grand juries at Assizes.Apparently, therefore, among His Majesty's Judges there is division, although we are not told in the Memorandum whether the majority in favour of their retention was substantial or not. There are, however, considerations that must be weighed during the passing of this Bill. Although we all recognise that the grand jury is a very interesting historical remnant, if one may use the term, yet we have to recognise, surely, that certain events have grown um which have made our system outgrow the grand jury system. The preliminary investigation of crime is now made by an authority much more satisfactory than the grand jury can ever be, and that is the investigating magistrate. The grand jury no longer fulfils its original purpose, namely, that of a public prosecutor. Further, as long as we retain the grand jury, it is possible for any evilly-disposed person to come before a grand jury and prefer a bill of indictment for felony against an absolutely innocent man, without any preliminary inquiry whatever, and I might refer to 1213 an interesting article that appeared in the "Law Times" for the present week, referring to something that happened at the City of London Sessions only a few days ago. It says:—On the 16th instant a bill was preferred before the grand jury at the opening of the Sessions at the Old Bailey without a preliminary hearing of the case before a Magistrate. In his charge to the grand jury, the Recorder, Sir Ernest Wild, explained that British subjects had the privilege of coming before the grand jury and presenting a bill against anyone. I do suggest,' said the Recorder, that, before you find that bill, you should carefully examine it, because there is no other sifting body but yourselves. If you think it is a case that should be allowed, you will find a true bill. The person preferring it has not thought it right to take the ordinary, and I think in most cases the fairer, step of bringing the matter first before a Magistrate.'The article goes on to quote the opinion of Sir Fitzjames Stephen, who spoke of the great wrong that might be done to a man when, before the grand jury—which, after all, is a secret court—some charge might be made, a charge that he might be able to rebut, but the mere knowledge that the charge has been made might do irreparable harm to him in his estate and in his reputation. As long as the grand jury is maintained there is, at any rate, that danger; and there is, further, the consideration that the system of grand juries, as we have it in this country to-day, involves a very heavy expense upon national funds and upon local funds, as well as upon individuals—an expenditure which, I submit, is quite disproportionate to the theoretical advantage. In that relation, may I just refer to the Report, quoted by the Solicitor-General, of the Committee on Alterations of Criminal Procedure, in which the Committee say:It is understood that between £10,000 and £12,000 per annum has been saved within the Metropolitan Police District alone from the absence of grand juries during the War, and there is no doubt that, if it be thought desirable to discontinue summoning grand juries, except in cases of great gravity, such as treason, treason-felony, murder, etc., the economies effected in all Courts of trial throughout, England and Wales will amount to a very large sum. The value of the grand jury is largely discounted at the present day by reason of the very careful preliminary investigation before Justices, and the minuteness with which proofs of guilt are there attended.1214 So the very Committee quoted by the right hon. Gentleman says 11.0 P.M. the grand jury might very well be dispensed with. We have had some experience without them. During the War somehow we dispensed with -them, and I should be glad if anyone who supports their retention will tell us of any injustice that arose. As far as I can tell, not a dog barked throughout the country when they went. As a matter of fact, when it was decided to remove the suspension of grand juries, there was a protest. I put a question to the Home Secretary asking what protests had been received, and I was informed:Since the termination of the Grand Jury Suspension Act protests against the grand jury system have been received at the Home Office from 48 sessions, one protest has been received from a chamber of commerce and two from private persons.A very strong opinion was expressed by the late Lord Chancellor a month or two ago.I was for nearly 20 years Chairman of a Quarter Sessions of my county and for 10 years Recorder of a borough, and, throwing my mind back, I cannot remember any occasion on which the absence of the grand jury would have had any prejudicial effect upon the administration of justice.That is very valuable evidence. In the same Debate Lord Haldane said:Why it should be retained, with its expense and with the vast amount of time which it wastes, I do not know. I hope a little later this Bill will be followed by that which is in accordance with the opinion of, I think, the majority of present-day authorities, namely, the abolition of the grand jury system for Assizes also.I should like to know why it was that the grand jury system was retained for the Assizes. Mr. Justice Hawkins, as he was then, said it was retained in order that it might give the county gentlemen an opportunity of seeing how justice ought to be administered. Of course, there is the power to present an original Bill. Original Bills may be presented by the Attorney-General or by a private individual. I asked the Attorney-General how often that power had been exercised, and informed meFor the greater part of the period mentioned the summoning of grand juries was suspended by the Grand Juries Suspension Act, 1917. Under the power vested in the Attorney-General by that Act, fiats were granted during the last three years in four cases for the presentation of an indictment, 1215 in addition to which a fiat has been granted in one case under the Vexatious Indictments Act.However important those four cases might have been, I hardly think it can be contended that the grand jury system should be sustained for the few cases that can be dealt with satisfactorily in another way.
The serious and, I think, important contention is that it is a safeguard to the prisoner. That argument might very well be used if it had not now been proposed to wipe out grand juries at the Quarter Sessions, but it is impossible to argue that you can do without the grand jury at the Quarter Sessions but you must retain them for the Assizes. If it is a safeguard for the prisoner, the prisoner is entitled to it whether he goes to Quarter Sessions or to Assizes. Two men may be tried in the same town, and one is sent to Quarter Sessions and one to the Assizes. They have been charged with almost similar offences and might be innocent or guilty. One man, because of the accident that he goes to quarter sessions, is to be deprived of the safeguard of the grand jury and the other is not. It is open for the Government to say, "We think the grand jury is a safeguard for the prisoner, whether at the, Quarter Sessions or the Assizes," but it is impossible for the Government to say,"We look upon the grand jury as being a safeguard for a prisoner and so we propose to wipe it out at the Quarter Sessions. During the Committee stage, we intend to go into that matter very closely. The second point to which I wish to draw attention is a subject on which I have taken the opportunity of questioning the Attorney-General, and that is the right of Crown counsel to reply in criminal cases. That right is spoken of in Halsbury's "Laws of England," where he says:If the Counsel for a party who does not begin calls no evidence, he has the last word, except where the Sovereign is party to the record, in which case either the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General, by virtue of his office, can claim to reply.This question goes back for centuries. Formerly any counsel who appeared for the Crown was entitled to the last word, but in late years it has been held only to apply to the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General. Don. Members will 1216 appreciate the difficulty. Counsel who appears for a prisoner, if he calls no evidence, except the evidence of the prisoner himself, is given the last word to the jury. As soon as the prisoner has given his evidence, prosecuting counsel addresses the jury, and he is followed by counsel for the defence, and then the Judge sums up. That applies in Ian cases, except where the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General appear. If it is a hanging case, a case where a man is being tried for murder, one can readily see the injustice. The matter has been commented upon again and again. I will quote what was said in 1886 by a distinguished counsel who was an honoured Member of this House, who represented the town to which I belong, Sir Edward Clarke. When he was counsel in the Bartlett case, in 1886, he said, when addressing the jury:GENTLEMEN: I fear I shall have to detain you some time in discussing this case, for one reason which only applies in cases where the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General appears for the prosecution. There is a strange anomaly in the procedure 'n such cases.He then outlined the procedure in ordinary cases, and in cases where the Attorney-General or the Solicitor-General appears for the prosecution and has the right to address the last word to the jury. He spoke of this as an anomalous privilege. He said:Gentlemen, it is an anomalous privilege, and I do not hesitate to say, as I have said in this Court before, that I hope an Attorney-General may be found some day, unless the law is altered, as it should be, to abandon the exercise of a right which does not seem to me to be defensible.That objection has been taken up by different counsel on various occasions. Last year there was a distressing trial—the Bywaters case, in which the Solicitor-General used his right of reply. When the Solicitor-General appears as prosecuting counsel he has the right of reply which can be exercised by nobody except the Solicitor-General or the Attorney-General. Objection was taken by the defending counsel, and in the Court of Criminal Appeal that was ramie one of the grounds of appeal. Of course the Lord Chief Justice brushed it aside. He said that it was still the law of the land. But all my sympathies are with the man on his trial, and the man on trial for his life ought not to have 1217 the scales tipped against him by the mere accident that the Solicitor-General or the Attorney-General appears to prosecute. It may be that it is not very much of an advantage. If not, it is an easy concession to make. If it is an advantage, the advantage ought not to be against the prisoner. Therefore, seeing that we are now dealing with the question of the administration of criminal justice, the anomaly, described as an anomaly so many years ago by Sir Edward Clarke, is one which I hope can be dealt with by some part of the Bill.
There is a third point—the right of the poor person to have legal defence provided before the magistrates. Under the law as it stands a poor person can be defended before the Assizes. A poor person who has been committed can ask for assistance on certain conditions. One of the conditions is that there shall be some defence revealed before the magistrates. But very often the case is fought out before the magistrates. I remember cases often being fought out before, the magistrates for three or four days and no help could be given to a poor person.
If the House will excuse personal reminiscences I remember nearly 20 years ago being concerned in the defence of a girl charged with the murder of her child. Before she went to the assizes the case was fought out for three days before the magistrates and the case was actually decided there. All the witnesses were brought forward by both sides, and if it had not been for the assistance of friends the girl would have been helpless and undefended there. If assistance is given later, it ought to be given earlier, especially now as the Bill extends the jurisdiction of the magistrates so widely. I think there has always been a case for assisting a poor person before the magistrates, but the case is strengthened now when we are giving heavier penalties and when we are bringing in a number of indictable of-fences under the jurisdiction of the magistrates and are doing what was never done before, and that is putting in indictable cases the question, "Are you guilty or not guilty?" That is a very difficult question to put, and very often a difficult question to answer. My sympathies are always with the man on trial, particularly with the poor person 1218 on trial. Under our law poor persons are often heavily hit just because, they are poor.Through tatter'd clothes small vices do appear,Robes and furred gowns hide all. Plate sin with goldAnd the strong lance of justice hurtless breaks,Clothe it in rags a pigmy's straw doth pierce it.Now we have an opportunity of making some provision for these poor people so that there may be something more of a standard of equality in the trial of poor persons, who if they happen to be in Court for the first time are in many cases at a hopeless disadvantage because they have no means to pay for legal representation and they are utterly bewildered by their experience. If you are going to widen the jurisdiction of the magistrates, you must take the, responsibility of facing this question. I hope it may be possible so to deal with this Measure that we can make it a great charter of reform. I think that is possible. If there can be some assurance that the points I have raised, at any rate, can be discussed during the Committee stage, I shall not press the Motion that I have put before the House, but I and my hon. Friends are very anxious, now the opportunity is given, that these other subjects that are not covered by the Bill might be brought within its ambit before it passes its Third Reading and goes to another place.
§ Mr. FRANK GRAY
I beg to second the Amendment.
I desire to refer briefly to one or two matters, and, first, to Clauses 19 and 20, and the extraordinary powers which are sought to be conferred in future. The hon. and learned Solicitor-General, in defending these provisions, in a halfhearted way, sought to draw an analogy between the present powers of the Income Tax authorities and the powers which he proposed to confer in the future. If I may say so, a more fallacious argument was never put before the House, because there is all the difference in the world. The present proposal of the hon. and learned Solicitor-General is that, without the consent or will of anyone, an authority anxious to know whether there is a ground for prosecution or no may ransack the banker's book. The hon. and learned Solicitor-General put it on the ground that the right enjoyed by the 1219 Income Tax authorities had never been abused, but there the difference is this. In that case it is a matter of the parties concerned consenting to give access to the Income Tax authorities, but in this case it is the reverse. It is an attempt to find out whether there is a case for prosecution or not by delving into the secret Commercial matters of the Community. That is a point on which, I think, there should be strong opposition put up at all stages of this Measure.
The second point to which I desire to refer is the question of grand juries. I believe I am right in saying that the origin and meaning of grand juries is this, that a person should have the opportunity of having it ascertained by a competent authority whether there was a prima' facie case or not before he was subjected to a public inquiry, with all that that might mean to his credit, even in the event of his securing an ultimate acquittal.
As a matter of fact, that, as I say, was the original meaning of such a provision. The very reverse has come to pass. It has now become this, that by a secret tribunal a man may well be indicted, and, for the first time, publicity be given to his case before there has been any public inquiry into the case at all, and before he knows of the accusation. We know, full well, that in the present day the Press system is so perfect and complete that any case worthy of it is adequately reported and made public, even in the preliminary stages, so that the whole meaning of trial by grand jury has ceased to exist. But, assuming for one moment that the arguments we are putting up were wrong, one thing could not be justified, and that is to say, in one breath, that the grand jury should be retained so far as Assizes are concerned, and be abolished so far as Quarter Sessions are concerned. We have to remember that although a case tried before the Quarter Sessions may be, in the public view, of small importance and in regard to the penalties involved may be of small importance, yet to the man who is standing his trial for the first time it means as much as any case taken to the Assizes. It means everything to him. With regard to poor prisoners there should be a provision that the prisoner at the earliest stage before 1220 the magistrate, should know that if he desires to take advantage of the privileges which have been extended to him, he should give an indication at that stage of the nature of his defence or he will be deprived of that benefit at the later stage.
Clause 2 proposes—with, I admit, proper safeguards—to give extended jurisdiction to magistrates and it is material to consider whether benches of magistrates throughout the country are so constituted and their members so selected, that they are to be entrusted with an extended jurisdiction which, we may presume, is only the preliminary to other additional powers which may hereafter be conferred upon them. In all I say I should like to draw a sharp distinction between borough magistrates and county magistrates. There is no single county magistrate who is not absolutely convinced of the superiority of the county benches over the borough benches. I speak as one who has appeared before a great number of benches. [Laughter.] I am glad to say that so far—and I put in "so far" as a qualification or reservation which I know will appeal to hon. Members on the other side—it has only been in a professional capacity. With that experience, I have no hesitation in saying, that in every case and without exception, borough magistrates' benches are vastly superior to any county bench before which I have appeared. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh"] Before I sit down I am going to tell some tales, and hon. Members will judge for themselves. It may be denied by some, but is, I think, generally accepted that in the past to a great extent and at present to some extent, there is a distinct political flavour about the selection of members of the bench. I draw a distinction between past and present because there has been some mild add very misleading re-arrangement of the method by which magistrates are selected. Recently there has been a policy in regard to county benches of putting one man on the bench who is known to have leanings in the direction of Labour, or perhaps one woman. I think, if may say so with respect, the Labour Party are wrong in allowing one of their number to serve upon a bench of magistrates, which is generally, so far as the counties are concerned—
§ Mr. GRAY
With great deference, I are trying, perhaps very imperfectly, to argue that inasmuch as under Clause 2 we are proposing to confer greater powers and authority upon benches of magistrates, it becomes very material to consider the means by which you constitute, create, and maintain the benches of magistrates upon whom, you propose to confer those greater powers. Why I say this with regard to Labour, and with regard to women, is this, that they ought to insist that, if they are to be represented, they should be adequately represented, they should be represented in the same proportion, I suggest, as they have secured representation in this House, and the same applies to the Party to which I belong. As it is, with one man put on the bench, it simply means that he is held to some degree responsible, without being able in any way to influence the overwhelming majority with which he is invariably faced. It may be said that that would be material if the benches were frequently called upon to try political issues, but my point is this, that whether you belong to this side or that is largely due to a state of mind, and the state of mind which determines that is the state of mind which influences the magistrates in coming to a decision upon certain points. Upon this very issue of appointments, I put a question to the Attorney-General, who, I see, is rather amused. I did not receive a sympathetic answer. I did not expect to. There is a great gulf between Mr. Attorney-General's and my state of mind, but I know very well the way in which he would meet my opposition. He would have me seized early in the morning—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
I do not think this is really relevant. This is an administrative question—the selection and appointment of magistrates, and we' cannot now go into that. The hon. Member, as far as this Bill is concerned, must take the bench as it is.
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The whole day might be taken up in discussing the method of 1222 appointing magistrates, but that would be quite irrelevant to the Bill. For the present purpose, the hon Member must take the bench as it is.
§ Mr. GRAY
Without desiring to argue that point, I submit that if one could make complaint, for instance, about the Quarter Sessions, it would be material to argue that in considering whether you were going to dispense with a grand jury or not, because the whole point must depend on the authority and respect you have for the next tribunal—
§ Mr. SPEAKER
The hon. Member might go on to criticise the stipendiary magistrates, and then the Judges. However, I have given my ruling on that matter, and the hon. Member must please observe it.
§ Mr. CASSELS
In rising to take part in this discussion, I venture to claim the indulgence which this Douse always extends to a new Member. I have a keen desire to leave the ranks of those who have not spoken in this House, and to join the ranks of those who have. I give general support to this Bill, because I recognise it is a measure which will facilitate the administration of criminal law, and also save expense. There are one or two suggestions that I would like to make to nay right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, which, perhaps, might be considered in Committee. With regard to grand juries,' eminent judges will always differ—in fact, in their retirement they generally spend their leisure hours in writing letters to the "Times," either attacking or defending the system of grand juries. Real experience as to grand juries was obtained by what happened in War-time. No complaint was ever raised because they were abolished. As far as I understand the argument in favour of grand juries, apart from the fact that they happen to be a bulwark of the Constitution, it is that they enable eminent and respectable county gentlemen to meet together on certain occasions, and discuss the affairs of their county. Incidentally, they have an opportunity of seeing how justice should be administered. Incidentally, too, they return all true bills, and very, very occasionally throw Bills out.
I want to make an appeal for London, and to ask, if grand juries are to be retained, that, at any rate, they may be 1223 abolished as far as the Central Criminal Court is concerned. The Central Criminal Court administers criminal law in a district which is no county at all. It has a jurisdiction extending from Uxbridge to Leyton, from Barnet to nearly as far as Croydon. The whole of the county of Middlesex, part of Surrey, part of Kent and part of Essex come within that jurisdiction, and while it may be said for any other part of the country that the eminent county gentlemen meet, with some interest in common, no one can suggest that a grand jury assembling at the Old Bailey has anything at all in common, except the desire to get away. The reason for grand juries is supposed to be that they protect the prisoner. I never knew a Bill to be thrown out in any case in which a petty jury would not have stopped the case before it had got halfway through. Therefore, I appeal for the abolition of the grand jury as far as the Old Bailey is concerned. I am satisfied, from such inquiries as I have made, that the saving of expense in London would be between £10,000 and £12,000 a year, if the grand juries were abolished. It means the assembling of witnesses from all parts of the country, merely for the purpose of being called in front of the grand jury if the foreman of the grand jury should think he desires to see them. If it happen that a man living in London should have obtained by fraud something from a gentleman who lives in Glasgow—a very rare event, of course—the grand jury sits to consider whether a true bill shall be returned or not; the gentleman from Glasgow has to be brought to London; he goes before the grand jury; he goes back again to Glasgow; he is brought here again for trial, and then he returns once more, a sadder but a wiser man. His fare has to be paid twice—and that is once too many—because of the grand jury. Therefore, I ask that the grand jury in the case of the Old Bailey be put in the background.
This Bill dispenses with the attendance of certain formal witnesses, and, therefore, is an exceedingly good Measure, because at the trial many formal witnesses are called to produce documents, and their attendance has to be paid for. If they attend at the police court, and their 1224 names appear on the depositions, no one would object if their depositions were read to the jury. There is nothing in this Bill which amends the Criminal Appeal Act, 1907, except in one small particular. The subject I want to mention is the new powers given to the Court of Criminal Appeal to order a new trial. Many Judges who have sat in that Court have expressed their regret that the Criminal Appeal Act does not give the Court power, in appropriate cases, to order a new trial.
This Bill extends the jurisdiction of Police Courts. There certainly is a tendency to allow magistrates to have very much larger jurisdiction in cases and greater power over their fellow citizens. I wish to make a suggestion to the right hon. and learned AttorneyGeneral—that in Committee he will provide facilities for appeals to Quarter Sessions from the decisions of the magistrates. At present if a person be in the unhappy position of having been convicted before a Court of Summary Jurisdiction, and he desire to appeal, he has to find sureties to prosecute that appeal. That is not a very simple thing, for it means that he has to find two people willing to pledge themselves to pay the costs of the appeal to the extent of their sureties should it be unsuccessful. So the magistrates in fixing the sureties, and being, perhaps, naturally a little indignant that there should be an appeal from their decision, fix it at such a figure that it is prohibitive as far as many people are concerned, and tells against the possibility of appeal. In some cases it is fixed as high as £200, and that surely should not be when the jurisdiction of the Courts of Summary Jurisdiction is increased so much. There are other matters that will give rise to a good deal of discussion. Clause 10 is one which hon. Members, recognising the subject of Income Tax, will feel that it is necessary should be very fairly criticised. I recognise no secrecy, so far as the relationship of banker and customer is concerned, if it be sought to protect by that secrecy property which has been fraudulently obtained. You can follow stolen property from the thief to the receiver without any obstruction, with no one objecting. Yet when it is suggested that the Director of Public Prosecutions, with every safeguard that can be provided by a Judge of the High 1225 Court, desires to go into a bank, and make inquiries into an account that he considers contains money which has been obtained by the commission of an offence, it is said that you are breaking the time-honoured secrecy between the banker and his client, and that the Director of Public Prosecutions should not be allowed to do so. I would support that part of the Clause.
As regards the second part, I would suggest that that might be considered, because it is not fair, in my opinion, to handicap the accused person at the start, by providing that so far as his banking account is concerned, he cannot touch it without the permission of a Judge of the High Court. Dow can a person who is on remand in Brixton Prison make an application to the High Court to enable him to operate his banking account, if he be lucky enough to have one? I recognise that at the end of the case, if he has been adequately defended, he probably will not have a banking account… While, however, the case is on, it is only right that he should have access to his banking account, if only for the purpose of drawing upon it for the very necessary matter of his own defence. In addition to that—although I would not put it quite so high—there is the question of maintenance of his wife and dependants. That is another matter for which he ought to be allowed to write cheques. I shall support the first part of the Clause, but if I should have the good fortune to be upon the Committee which considers this Bill, I shall certainly urge the amendment of the second part of the Clause.
There is the last Clause dealing with the question of the coercion of the wife. I can only regret that the Bill there does not follow the recommendations of the Committee. They suggested that the defence of coercion of the wife by the husband should be abolished. The presumption is one matter, and defence is another. Now that it has been legally discovered that wives no longer obey their husbands, but on the contrary that husbands obey their wives, the defence of the coercion of the wife ought to be abolished, lest juries should be under the impression that whenever a woman commits an offence, it has been done at the command of the husband. I think that 1226 it is a proper matter to be taken into account in mitigation of punishment, though in these days of equal rights women will claim to be punished just as much as men. I shall give a general support to this Bill, and I make these suggestions for the consideration of the Attorney-General when the Committee stage of this Bill is reached.
§ Mr. W. A. JOWITT
I find myself fortunately circumstanced in having to follow in this Debate the hon. and learned Member who has just sat down and who for the first time has addressed the Douse. I congratulate him upon his interesting speech, giving a closely reasoned survey of the Bill which did not surprise those who have known him for many years in the Law Courts. My task is rendered more difficult, because I find myself in complete agreement with every word he said. If the intention is to press the Amendment to a Division, I shall support the Second Reading. On the whole, this is an admirable Bill, although it contains certain blemishes, but they are really Committee points, and as the Attorney-General is present, I am certain that he will pay attention to the suggestions which have been made, and I should like to make two or three comments for his consideration. First of all, with regard to Clause 19. In its present form it seems wholly bad. From all quarters of the House at the present time we look for support for the rights and liberties of the individual as against the possible tyranny of the executive. I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor-General has no inclination to become a tyrant, but at the same time it is very undesirable that the executive should be given these extremely wide powers against well disposed citizens.
The position is that at present this matter is governed by the Act of 1857 which deals with obscene books and literature. I think I am right in saying that, under that Act, in order to secure a general search warrant it is essential to show that the person against whom the warrant was sought was contemplating the exhibition, or publication, or the sale, or hire for the purposes of gain. Nobody in any section of this House desires to give any protection to people who sell disgusting articles to make a living out of it; but I doubt whether 1227 it is wise to extend the provisions of the Act of 1857 and make the right of applying for a general search warrant to extend to cases where nobody is believed to have any indecent articles which is defined as including books, writings, pictures and models, and all other articles whatsoever whether similar to the things before mentioned or not. The mere having on your premises certain things, although you do not intend to use them for the purpose of gain, constitutes grounds for the granting of a general search warrant. When the police inspector goes to search he is entitled to examinee the premises and any person found therein. Does that mean searching their clothing or asking them questions, and then he is entitled to receive any such articles. That is not limited to articles used for sale, publication, exhibition, or otherwise. You have now introduced the words "whether for the purpose of gain or not." Unless those words are considered important you have not made any substantial change in law under the Act of 1857.
§ Mr. JOWITT
The Attorney-General shakes his head, and if he takes that view then I am probably wrong and he is right. I have been looking recently at the Act of 1857, and that is the impression which I formed. With regard to Clause 20, I entirely agree with the last speaker. I should not so much object to the Director of Public Prosecutions in a proper case obtaining a copy of a banking account, but it does seem to me to be opposed to the principles of English justice that you should get something in the nature of an execution before you have got judgment. The Director thinks this is necessary for the purpose of rendering more effective Sub-section (2) of Clause 20 which relates to a fine. Not only this, but to ensure that the fine shall be paid the Director is entitled not only to get a copy of the banking account, but to obtain a stop order on the account, which in the case of a tradesman might mean ruination. If a private individual sought such an injunction he could only obtain it by giving an undertaking to be responsible for damages. If any such provision as this is going to be put in 1228 it is only fair, if the director finds that he has made a mistake and not stop, order ought to have been made that the person who has been injured ought to be compensated out of public funds. I object to Clause 20 as it stands, and I hope the Attorney-General will consider whether he is justified in pressing it through.
I would like to refer to one or two other small matters. With regard to the change of venue, I think it should be stated clearly that no change should be made unless the accused person consents. It seems to me that it is the historic right of a man to be tried by his Peers in his own county, and unless he is willing to give up that right he ought to be able to adhere to it. At the present time, so far as the Bill is concerned, it does not seem to me clear one way or the other.
Then, as regards the Poor Persons Defence Act, a subject with which I do not pretend to be very familiar, it seems to me a matter of importance here. You are enlarging very considerably the jurisdiction of the magistrates. So far as you are enlarging the jurisdiction of Quarter Sessions, I, for one, welcome it entirely. My only experience of Quarter Sessions was a good many years ago at Plymouth, where they were presided over by an hon. and learned Member opposite, and the House would understand me when I say that I have a great belief in Quarter Sessions and welcome their extension. I have a little misgiving about the extension of the powers of the magistrates who in certain county districts have not the necessary training which undoubtedly is of use in weighing evidence and arriving at a satisfactory conclusion. I have some doubt about the wisdom of that, but on the whole I am prepared to assent to it, and I think the Attorney-General might consider whether there is not an opportunity here of doing what I have often thought would be a very good thing from the point of view of the Bar and of the prisoner. The young barrister, so anxious to have an opportunity to do a case and get on his legs, would be only too thankful to go and attend these courts, and, if it were in accordance with the etiquette of the profession, to give his advice and assistance gratuitously to 1229 defend people charged with crime. It is true, as the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot) has said, that it is no easy matter for a trained man to know whether the right plea is "Guilty" or "Not guilty." I should welcome the possibility of the extension of the principle of the aid which is granted under the Poor Persons Act not only to Assizes and Quarter Sessions, to which it is now limited, but to the appearance before the magistrate.
I should like the Attorney-General to consider the point referred to by the hon. Member for Oxford (Mr. F. Gray) who said it is desirable that persons should be told clearly that, unless before the magistrate they disclose some defence, they forfeit the privilege they otherwise would have of getting assistance under the Poor Persons Defence Act. I apologise for taking up time with a series of small matters on a Bill which is an excellent Measure. It is because the Solicitor-General invited criticisms, and because I have responded in no party spirit that I venture to hope the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General would see how far they can go to meet these small points which have been urged on and put before me in particular by a well-known society that takes an interest in these matters—the Howard League for Penal Reform.
§ Mr. SINGLETON
Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I find myself in general agreement with this Bill, but there are just one or two matters that I should like to bring to the notice of the Attorney-General in order that he may deal with them at the proper time. As was pointed out by the hon. Member for Bodmin (Mr. Foot), this Bill increases very materially the powers of magistrates. One only has to look at Clause 2 and refer in turn to the Second Schedule of the Bill to see the various types of offence with which magistrates will be empowered to deal if this Bill becomes an Act. What I desire to do is to impress on the Attorney-General the desirability of adopting the course suggested by the hon. and learned Member for West Leyton (Mr. Cassels) with regard to appeals from Petty Sessions. Appeals are only possible under certain conditions. They may be allowed by a particular Act which creates the offence, or under the provisions of the Summary Jurisdiction Act, 1879 or the Criminal Justice Act, 1914. Whether 1230 they are allowed generally or by a particular Act, they are always subject to this requirement, that the appeal can only be in manner provided by the Summary Jurisdiction Act, 1879. One requirement of the Summary Jurisdiction Act, 1879, is that the appellant shall enter into recognisances and provide sureties, and these sureties have to be satisfactory to the police so that in the event of the appeal being unsuccessful, the police or the prosecuting party can recover their costs of the appeal. That, in many cases, is a blot on the administration of justice. In many cases appeals at Quarter Sessions by people who can find the necessary recognisances and sureties are successful. That fact shows that if there could be appeals in cases where people are not able to provide the necessary sureties or deposit the money required for an appeal, some would be successful. So long as there is that requirement in criminal cases, it seems to me that we cannot say honestly that our law is the same for the rich as for the poor.
I have always felt that in such cases the rights ought to be the same, and that no man ought to be debarred from appealing to Quarter Sessions because he cannot provide the necessary money, or provide the necessary sureties. I suggest to the Attorney-General that, if we are now increasing the powers of magistrates we ought to increase to some extent the right of appeal of the man who has been convicted. In any case, I suggest that where a man tried before a Court of summary jurisdiction has been convicted he should have his right of appeal, subject to the Summary Jurisdiction Act, but in such a case the magistrates, because of the importance of the case or because of the lack of resources of the man convicted, might have the power to dispense with the requirement of the Summary Jurisdiction Act as to finding sureties or entering into recognisances. On the other hand, if such an application is made by a person who has been convicted, and the magistrate or magistrates who convicted him refuse to grant his request, he should have the right of applying to the Recorder or to the Chairman of Quarter Sessions, out of Session, for dispensation of the requirement as to entering into recognisances under the 1231 Act of 1879. If it was open to the Recorder or the Chairman of Quarter Sessions to make such order as seemed to him right under the circumstances, we should be doing something towards giving the same right of appeal to Quarter Sessions to the man who has no money as we give now to the man who is provided with funds.
I emphasise this point for one reason. We have provided various measures of help to poor people who have been convicted by other tribunals. If a man is convicted before a jury at Quarter Sessions or at Assizes he has a right of appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal on a question of law, or by leave of the Judge or the Court on a question of fact, and no recognisance is required, and no surety has to be found. He can appeal without any cost to himself; indeed, he can often get legal aid. It is provided by the Criminal Appeal Act, 1907, that no costs are payable by him. If in that manner we protect the rights of a person convicted by a Court with more experience than a Court of first instance, and if he is provided with legal aid at the Quarter Sessions, the Assizes or in the Court of Criminal Appeal, and if, again, in civil matters we allow a poor person to proceed in, forma pauperis or to appeal in forma pauperis, we ought to have some such provision as I have suggested in regard to appeal from the Court of first instance to Quarter Sessions. We must remember that the Court of first instance is possibly a Court with the least judicial experience of any Court in the country, civil or otherwise.
It is most essential to my mind to do away with the feeling which many people have that they cannot appeal to the Quarter Sessions purely because of lack of means. I wonder if it has occurred to anyone what may happen under Clause 19. A constable or inspector of police suspects some house of containing a model which he thinks to be indecent. He gets a search warrant, takes it before the Court of First Instance and secures, under Subsection (3), an Order for it to be destroyed. Under Sub-section (4),any person aggrieved by an Order made under this Section may appeal against the Order to the Court of Quarter Sessions in the manner provided by the Summary Jurisdiction Acts.1232 Though this man's house has been searched and something may have been found which he regards as an object of art, and an Order has been made for destruction of a valuable article, he cannot appeal against the Order except in manner provided by the Summary Jurisdiction Act, entering into his recognisances and finding sureties, and possibly he is unable to do it.
Another matter I desire to mention, in order to express approval of it, was that right which is given by Clause 13 with regard to the right of appeal against sentence of a person who has pleaded guilty. That, to my mind, is another matter which for a long time has cried for a remedy. I am glad to know that now there is a strong probability that that shortly will become law. I suppose all of us who have been concerned with Courts of one kind and another, in one way or another, have found that from time to time a man has been taken to a Police Court and been charged with an offence: he did not desire it to get into the papers. I remember one case in which a professional man was charged with being drunk in charge of a motor car. He asked a police sergeant how he could best get through and was told if he said "Guilty" he would be fined 10s. and no one would know anything about it. He did, and instead of being fined 10s. he was sentenced to a month's imprisonments, which was of course utter ruin to him had it been allowed to stand, and all the time he was able to obtain a number of witnesses who could and ultimately did prove his sobriety. It was fortunate for him that the conviction was under the Licensing Act, 1872, and that being incorporated with the Licensing Act, 1910, and the wording being somewhat different, he had in fact a right of appeal. The Section of the Licensing Act that gave a right of appeal was:If any person feels aggrieved by an Order or conviction made by a Court of Summary Jurisdiction under this Act he may appeal there from to Quarter Sessions.A little different from the words of any other Act on the subjects. In many cases here, a man has pleaded guilty before a court of first instance, he has been left without remedy, even though he hags received an altogether harsh sentence. He has had since 1907 a right of appeal under the Criminal Appeal Act against 1233 sentence if convicted on indictment and I am glad to know that any man who has pleaded guilty, after this Measure becomes law, will have a right of appeal against the sentence passed by magistrates.
§ Captain BERKELEY
I cannot claim the kind of experience hon. Members who have just been addressing the Douse have had, but I Mid, before the War, have four years' practice, mostly before magistrates ands mostly of a criminal nature, in the Colonies, and there are one or two observations on Clauses which have not been touched upon that I should like to make. The first deals with Clause 4. I should like to ask the Attorney-General whether he is really satisfied that the words which the examining justices are to put to the prisoner after the depositions have been taken are really in the interest of the prisoner or whether there is not a danger that they might entrap him into making some kind of admission which he would be far wiser not to make at -chat stage. As I understand it, in the days when I used to practice, the whole purpose of a trial in a court of law was that the Crown should make out a prima facie case without any assistance which could inadvertently be given them by the defence, and the magistrate should thereupon commit the man to take his trial. The case the last speaker mentioned in which a man pleaded guilty was not an indictable case. It was a summary case. It is quite possible that a poor person, not represented by counsel, appearing before a magistrate on an indictable charge might be put in the same position. He might wonder if the best thing wads not to plead guilty and it might be very detrimental to his interests later. Or he might make no specific plea. He might make a sort of rambling statement. I am sorry to see that this provokes the mirth of hon. Members opposite. It is a serious topic. I may not be expressing it as clearly as the hon. Member would like. I am not expressing it as clearly as I should like, but I am doing my best. It might very well happen that an illiterate man might wake a rambling, incoherent reply to this question and it might prejudice the conduct of his defence in the superior court when he came to take his trial. I suggest that the really healthy rule to observe is that the prisoner should invariably reserve his defence and that he ought to be cautioned by the magistrate to that 1234 effect. I ask the Attorney-General whether he can see his way to consider varying the form of words which are set out to be used by the examining magistrate. I would suggest that the words "and do you plead guilty or not guilty" might very well be omitted.
With regard to Clause 19, I share profoundly the doubts expressed by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the Hartlepools (Mr. Jowitt) and from the other side. It seems to me that -the empowering words of the Clause are altogether too wide. I would ask the Attorney-General to bear in mind that the interpretation Clause is going to lie with a body of men who, however desirous they may be, as we all know they are, of doing their duty, are liable to make mistakes. We all know that a prominent member of one public body in this country recently denounced mixed bathing as indecent. It is easy to imagine a justice of the peace with very narrow, restricted views as to what constitutes indecency granting a search warrant in circumstances in which no search warrant should be granted, and it is easy to imagine circumstances arising in which objects of art might be destroyed by such action. I hope that the Attorney-General will give careful consideration to this point.
Clause 26 seems to me to introduce a curious principle. It provides that the forgery of a passport or the making of a statement which, to the knowledge of the person making it, is false, for the purpose of procuring a passport for himself or another person, shall be a misdemeanour punishable by imprisonment for a period not exceeding two years or a fine not exceeding £100 or both. That punishment is not too severe for the forgery of a passport, but surely the offence of making a false statement in connection with the obtaining of a passport does not stand in the same category as forgery. It is not even a statement made on oath, and punishment for forgery is even more severe than punishment for perjury. Here you have an identical punishment proposed for the forgery of a passport, which is a very serious breach of what has for centuries been the law of the land, and the making of a false declaration. I hope that on that point, as on the others, the Attorney-General will be able to give consideration, and possibly to suggest modifications.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
I do not propose at this hour of the evening to take up very much time. I think that the Government may be congratulated on the Debate to which we have just listened. The criticism which has been offered in respect of the Bill has been really helpful. As the hon. Member for the Hartlepools (Mr. Jowitt) pointed out, this is not a party question, but a question relating to matters of the highest importance in which every one would desire to co-operate. I would like to add a word of special congratulation to my hon. Friend the Member for West Leyton (Mr. Cassels). We who have known him at the Bar always knew that, he could make a good speech when he wished, but he has had the self-restraint to wait until a subject upon which he is an acknowledged master came up for discussion, and he has reaped the reward in the reception which his speech has received on all hands this evening.
I do not propose to go in detail through all the matters to which reference has been made this evening. I do not think that it can often have happened that the speaker who moved the rejection of a Bill wound up his speech, as did the hon. Member who moved the rejection of this Bill, by the statement that with some slight amendment the Bill might be made into a great charter of reform. All the criticism has been on comparatively small points. There was a discussion as to grand juries with regard to which the House will remember that we are not proposing to keep matters as they were, but that we are proposing to abolish grand juries at Quarter Sessions, but not at Assizes. The question of the retention of grand juries, as has been pointed out, is a matter on which there is a great conflict of expert opinion. We hope, by the method we have adopted, to be able to preserve the advantages which some people, at any rate, see in the grand jury system, while lessening very greatly the expense and burden which they undoubtedly impose on some sections of the community.
A word as to Clause 19. The hon. Member for the Hartlepools said that the only alteration in the law was that under the new proposals it was no longer necessary to prove that the indecent articles were kept for sale. The position is that under the existing law you not only have 1236 to prove that the objects are intended for sale, but you have to state in your information on oath, that one of them has been actually sold, or offered for sale, under Section 1 of the Act of 1857. That has actually caused great inconvenience. The particular case I have in mind is one where a foreigner came over with a great stock of indecent, articles, which he kept at an hotel in London, and intended to purvey undoubtedly all over the country, with great harm to the public morality; and where the magistrate was unable to grant a search warrant because nobody could swear that he had actually sold or offered for sale any of those articles.
There is another difficulty that arises in practice, that unfortunately there are—although it is not a very agreeable subject to discuss—persons who are so depraved in taste that they desire to distribute these articles, not for purposes of gain, but for purposes of lust, and nothing else; and that at present renders it impossible to take measures against them. We are not wedded to the particular language of the Clause, and I can assure the hon. Member that we are as anxious as he is not unduly to increase the power of the Executive, as he put it, but those are the sort of people with whom we want to deal. I shall be very happy to consider any suggestions the hon. Member made to keep this power in without running risks such as he pointed out. There have been various helpful suggestions with regard to other matters which might be dealt with in the Bill. I do not propose to deal with them now, not from any discourtesy to the hon. Members who referred to them, nor from any desire to shirk discussion, but because I can more profitably deal with them in detail when they are brought up on the Committee stage. I think the House will feel that this Bill might fairly be given a Second Reading and the matters left for discussion in Committee. I thank the Douse, and the hon. Members who have taken part in the Debate, for the suggestions they have put forward, and I shall be very glad indeed to welcome suggestions from anybody in the Douse, or, indeed, any body of expert opinion outside the House. I hope, with the assistance of hon. Members on all sides of the Douse, we may make of this Bill a real advance and a real improvement in regard to the detection of crime.
§ Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.