HC Deb 23 December 1929 vol 233 cc1907-8

(by Private Notice) asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is aware that George Whistlecroft, a farm labourer, of Rickinghall Inferior, stands charged with the murder of Charles E. Cornwell, a gamekeeper, who was found shot in a wood at Botesdale, on 8th December, it being stated Mr. G. R. Paling is prosecuting on behalf of the Public Prosecutor; that the man in question accused has been before the local Justices at Eye Police Court several times, evidence being admitted from gamekeepers, police, and other persons, to substantiate the capital charge, the defendant cross-examining said witnesses, being himself without legal aid and guidance; having regard to the serious nature of the charge made against this farm labourer and that he now stands remanded for the purpose of enabling the prosecution to call expert evidence, the "hearing" being resumed on 27th December; whether immediate steps may be taken to provide such legal aid for Whistlecroft as the nature and consequences of so grave a charge appear to so urgently necessitate?


No, Sir. I am afraid that there is no provision in the existing law whereby a person charged before the Justices with a view to his committal for trial on a capital charge can obtain legal aid as a poor person before his committal for trial. As the House is aware, there is at present a Bill before Parliament which will alter the existing law. The principle of this Bill has been approved by the Government.


Is my right hon. Friend aware that the Public Prosecutor is taking action, that a gamekeeper, the police, and other persons have already given evidence in the court, and that this uneducated farm labourer has to conduct his own defence and cross-examine them without any legal aid whatever?


I can only say that I only received the terms of this question since I entered the House, but, if I can find that there is any way in which I can be helpful, I shall be glad to do so.


Will my right hon. Friend refer to the provisions of the Poor Prisoners' Defence Act, 1903, where he will find that, the committing justices, at any stage of the proceedings, can provide legal aid?