HC Deb 22 July 1930 vol 241 cc2090-8

Amendments made: In page 92, line 13, at the end, insert the words: (4) Except where otherwise expressly provided the expression 'highway authority' means a county council or the town council of a burgh charged with the maintenance and management of any of the highways therein.

In line 16, at the end, insert the words: and as if for any reference to a court of summary jurisdiction there wore substituted a reference to the sheriff.

In line 16, after the words last inserted, insert the words: (5) For the purposes of Section one hundred and fifteen of and the Fourth Schedule to this Act the expression 'local authority' shall mean a county or town comicil."—[The Lord Advocate.]


I beg to move, in page 93, line 3, to leave out Sub-section (8).

The terms of this Sub-Section are: It shall be lawful to convict a person of a contravention of Section forty-nine of this Act on the evidence of one witness. We object to this provision on the ground that by the law of Scotland one uncorroborated witness is not sufficient for a conviction. This Sub-section refers to Clause 49 of the Bill, which deals with the penalties for neglect of traffic directions. It provides that where a police constable is on point duty or when there are signals or signs to regulate the traffic, any person driving or propelling any vehicle who neglects or refuses to stop the vehicle or make it proceed in a particular line of traffic or to conform to the direction given by the signals shall be guilty of an offence. I do not object in the least to any person who is found guilty of this offence being condigoly punished so far as the law provides, but I object to such a conviction being recorded on evidence which is regarded as insufficient under the law of Scotland. The Scottish law is that if there is no oral evidence or documentary evidence or circumstantial evidence in addition to the evidence of one witness, then a case must be held to be not proved. It is sufficient if there is corroboration by circumstances.

The Solicitor-General, in dealing last week with an Amendment submitted from the benches behind me proposing that a man arrested for driving a motor car whilst under the influence of drink should have a right to be examined by his own doctor or an independent doctor, resisted it on the ground that a motorist must stand on the same footing as any other member of the community. All we ask here is that a motorist shall stand on the same footing as any other member of the community in Scotland, and shall be judged by the ordinary laws of evidence which prevail in the Scottish Courts. It ought not to be difficult for a policeman on point duty to get some corroboration, either that of another witness or some circumstantial evidence. I am not decrying the valuable public duty performed by policemen regulating traffic, but the law in Scotland is very definite about the uncorroborated witness.

The Lord Advocate is familiar with Edinburgh and will know that at a number of cross roads there are signal lights and that no policeman is on duty. Under this Clause, however, one unsupported witness, who may be a bystander on the pavement, will be sufficient to convict a motorist. There is also this last point, that it will be impossible to avoid bringing proceedings in any case, because if one uncorroborated witness tells his story that will be enough, if he is believed, to prove the case. The Lord Advocate knows very well that papers come for consideration to the Crown Office in Scotland, aad that if there is not sufficient corroboration it is determined that no proceedings are to be taken, but in these cases, one witness will be enough. If they have such testimony, it will be necessary to institute proceedings. On the whole matter, therefore, I cannot see that there is any reason why motorists should be put on a different footing from other members of the community. It may be that in a small number of cases in Scotland under Statutes one credible witness has been held sufficient to prove an offence. There are a very limited number of such cases. The general law remains that one uncorroborated witness is not enough. There must be corroboration, and I, therefore, appeal to the Lord Advocate not to depart from the ordinary law of his country in this particular instance.


I beg to second the Amendment.

The LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. Craigie Aitchison)

This is a matter upon which, if my recollection is right, considerable discussion took place during the Committee stage, and the Committee came to the conclusion, without a division, that this Clause which it is now sought to delete should stand part of the Bill. The Government are unable to go back upon the decision which was then taken, and having had opportunities of thinking the matter over since then, I am more than confirmed in the view that I held when this Clause was before the Committee. I think it is important that we should keep in view that the kind of offence for which one witness is deemed to be sufficient by this Clause, is not a crime in the ordinary sense of the term. If you were dealing here with crime I should assent at once, because, as my hon. Friend has said, it is undesirable to depart from the rule, which in general is a fundamental rule, of the law of Scotland that a case should be corroborated so as to have more than one witness. You are not dealing here with crime at all, but with a statutory offence, which is a different thing. [Interruption.] It is not a crime in the ordinarily accepted meaning of the term; it is a statutory offence, namely, the disregard of a traffic direction or of a traffic signal. This provision may involve a certain extension of the law of Scotland in the sense that it creates a statutory offence which is proveable by the evidence of one witness.


Can the Lord Advocate say whether in the past there has been any difficulty in obtaining a conviction under the law of Scotland where corroborative evidence is necessary?


I cannot say as regards this particular matter, but we have many statutory offences in Scotland which can be proved by the evidence of one witness only. For example, you have offences under the Game (Scotland) Act of 1772, and also under the Salmon Fisheries Act of 1828, and the Fisheries Act of 1857.


That is poaching.


Yes. If you can convict the poacher on the evidence of one landowner, for my part I cannot see that there is any reason why you should not convict the motorist for breaking the law on the evidence of one policeman. The motorist to-day is a far greater danger to the community than the poacher. There are many other statutory offences for which the evidence of one witness is sufficient. There are certain offences under the licensing laws. You can take away the licence of a publican on the evidence of one witness. There are also offences under the revenue laws. One witness is sufficient under the Excise Act, 1827, and under the Customs (Consolidation) Act, 1875. There are offences under the Roads and Bridges Act, 1878, which are provable by the evidence of one witness. It is quite inaccurate to say that this provision represents some far-reaching and revolutionary change in the law of Scotland. What it does is to extend a principle of the law of Scotland, which has been repeatedly recognised by Parliament, to a particular offence in regard to which a very strong case can be made out for such an extension of the law.

I do not think it is necessary to detain the House by saying much in justification of this provision. When one reflects that in the City of London alone, during the year ending on the 31st March, 1930, the number of children killed by motor cars was 297, and the number of children injured in the City of London alone was upwards of 10,000—[Interruption.]—I think it is vitally important that it should be possible to convict people who disregard traffic signals, which are imperatively required in the interests of public safety, upon the evidence of one witness. If two witnesses were required, the result would inevitably be that a very considerable proportion of people who ought to be convicted would go scot free. [Interruption.] There may be the very greatest difficulty in getting two witnesses of the disregard of a signal—not because there may not be some person other than cause the other person has not waited, but has gone on.

It used to be said that it was better that nine guilty men should escape than that one innocent man should be convicted, and that may be so when you are dealing with crime, but when you are dealing with a statutory offence such as the disregard of a signal, there is no the pointsman who observes it, but be-wisdom in the maxim; it is not common sense. Even in the case of crime the wisdom of the maxim was doubted by so eminent a lawyer as Sir James Fitzjames Stephen. When you are dealing with a matter of traffic regulation, the commonsense thing is that it is far better that you should run in your nine guilty people, even if, in the process, now and again an innocent person may be run in. [HON. MEMBERS: "Oh! Shocking!"] We did not hear protests against that doctrine when the landowner was given power to run in the poacher. It may be that you are giving to the police of this country in this particular matter a certain dictatorial power, but for my part, considering the way in which the motorist has over-ridden the rights and the interests of the pedestrian, I, for one, have come to the conclusion that this power is a salutary power, which is required in the interests of the proper observance of traffic directions, and that the House can give its assent to it without sanctioning any departure whatsoever from the well recognised principles of the law of Scotland.


Policemen often make statements in the Courts that are untrue, and it is utterly preposterous that the liberty of the subject should be dependent upon one witness. I think it is a bad law. The people on the other side made the laws to suit themselves. But the way to cure a bad law is not to put another bad law on the Statute Book. I put it to my Scottish colleagues that they have no right to support a Measure of this kind. It is not a good thing that one witness should be sufficient to convict any prisoner.


The point that there should be two or more witnesses is not only supported by the law of Scotland, but it has much more ancient authority, for in the Sacred Book it says, "By the mouth of one witness thou shalt not condemn a man, but by the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses, shall a man be condemned." At the same time I agree with what has fallen from the Lord Advocate on this matter, which is not a crime in the serious sense of the word, but is a quite serious offence and one against which we should make provision. All that is said here is that it shall be lawful to convict a person of a contravention of Section 49 of this Act on the evidence of one witness. It does not prevent the court taking into account the whole strength of the case, and without a strong case they are not going to convict, and if there is anything that puts it beyond the reach of controversy that the offence really was committed, although there would be only one man who witnessed it. I do not think the least injustice is done and the whole matter is sufficiently safeguarded. The court will only convict if, notwithstanding the fact that there is only one witness, the case is sufficiently strong to leave no doubt at all in their minds that the offence was committed.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 220; Noes, 83.

Division No. 454.] AYES. [11.26 p.m.
Adamson, Rt. Hon. W. (Fife, West) Brown, C. W. E. (Notts, Mansfield) Egan, W. H.
Adamson, W. M. (Staff., Cannock) Brown, Ernest (Leith) Elmley, Viscount
Addison, Rt. Hon. Dr. Christopher Brown, Rt. Hon. J. (South Ayrshire) Forgan, Dr. Robert
Aitchison, Rt. Hon. Craigie M. Buchanan, G. Gardner, B. W. (West Ham, Upton)
Alexander, Rt. Hon. A. V. (Hillsbro') Burgess, F. G. Gardner, J. P. (Hammersmith, N.)
Alpass, J. H. Cameron, A. G. George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)
Ammon, Charles George Carter, W. (St. Pancras, S. W.) Gibson, H. M. (Lancs, Mossley)
Arnott, John Charleton, H. C. Gill, T. H.
Aske, Sir Robert Clarke, J. S. Glassey, A. E.
Attlee, Clement Richard Cluse, W. S. Gossling, A. G.
Ayles, Walter Cocks, Frederick Seymour Gould, F.
Barnes, Alfred John Compton, Joseph Graham, D. M. (Lanark, Hamilton)
Barr, James Daggar, George Gray, Milner
Batey, Joseph Dallas, George Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A. (Colne)
Benn, Rt. Hon. Wedgwood Dalton, Hugh Grenfell, D. R. (Glamorgan)
Benson, G. Day, Harry Griffith, F. Kingsley (Middlesbro' W.)
Bentham, Dr. Ethel Denman, Hon. R. D. Groves, Thomas E.
Bevan, Aneurin (Ebbw Vale) Dukes, C. Grundy, Thomas W.
Blindell, James Duncan, Charles Hall, F. (York, W. R., Normanton)
Bowen, J. W. Ede, James Chuter Hall, G. H. (Merthyr Tydvil)
Bromley, J. Edge, Sir William Hamilton, Mary Agnes (Blackburn)
Brooke, W. Edmunds, J. E. Harris, Percy A.
Brothers, M. Edwards, E. (Morpeth) Hartshorn, Rt. Hon. Vernen
Hastings, Dr. Somerville McElwee, A. Sexton, James
Hayday, Arthur McEntee, V. L. Shaw, Rt. Hon. Thomas (Preston)
Hayes, John Henry McKinlay, A. Shepherd, Arthur Lewis
Henderson, Arthur, Junr. (Cardiff, S.) Maclean, Neil (Glasgow, Govan) Sherwood, G. H.
Henderson, Thomas (Glasgow) McShane, John James Shield, George William
Henderson, W. W. (Middx., Enfield) Mansfield, W. Shillaker, J. F.
Herriotts, J. Marcus, M. Short, Alfred (Wednesbury)
Hirst, G. H. (York W. R. Wentworth) Marley, J. Simmons, C. J.
Hirst, W. (Bradford, South) Marshall, Fred Sinkinson, George
Hoffman, P. C. Mathers, George Sitch, Charles H.
Hollins, A. Matters, L. W. Smith, Ben (Bermondsey, Rotherhithe)
Hopkin, Daniel Melville, Sir James Smith, Frank (Nuneaton)
Horrabin, J. F. Messer, Fred Smith, Rennie (Penistone)
Hudson, James H. (Huddersfield) Middleton, G. Smith, Tom (Pontefract)
Hunter, Dr. Joseph Millar, J. D. Smith, W. R. (Norwich)
Hutchison, Maj.-Gen. Sir R. Mills, J. E. Snowden, Thomas (Accrington)
Jenkins, W. (Glamorgan, Neath) Milner, Major J. Sorensen, R.
John, William (Rhondda, West) Montague, Frederick Stamford, Thomas W.
Johnston, Thomas Morgan, Dr. H. B. Stephen, Campbell
Jones, F. Llewellyn- (Flint) Morley, Ralph Strachey, E. J. St. Loe
Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly) Morrison, Herbert (Hackney, South) Strauss, G. R.
Jones, T. I. Mardy (Pontypridd) Morrison, Robert C. (Tottenham, N.) Sutton, J. E.
Jowett, Rt. Hon. F. W. Mort, D. L. Taylor, R. A. (Lincoln)
Jowitt, Sir W. A. (Preston) Muff, G. Taylor, W. B. (Norfolk, S. W.,)
Kedward, R. M. (Kent, Ashford) Murnin, Hugh Tinker, John Joseph
Kelly, W. T. Naylor, T. E. Tout, W. J.
Kennedy, Thomas Noel Baker, P. J. Townend, A. E.
Kinley, J. Oldfield, J. R. Vaughan, D. J.
Kirkwood, D. Oliver, George Harold (Ilkeston) Viant, S. P.
Lang, Gordon Oliver, P. M. (Man., Blackley) Walkden, A. G.
Lansbury, Rt. Hon. George Palin, John Henry Walker, J.
Lathan, G. Parkinson, John Allen (Wigan) Wallace, H. W.
Law, Albert (Bolton) Perry, S. F. Watkins, F. C.
Law, A. (Rosendale) Pethick-Lawrence, F. W. Watson, W. M. (Dunfermline)
Lawrence, Susan Phillips, Dr. Marion Wellock, Wilfred
Lawrie, Hugh Hartley (Stalybridge) Potts, John S. Welsh, James (Paisley)
Lawson, John James Price, M. P. Welsh, James C. (Coatbridge)
Lawther, W. (Barnard Castle) Quibell, D. F. K. Westwood, Joseph
Leach, W. Ramsay, T. B. Wilson Whiteley, Wilfrid (Birm., Ladywood)
Lee, Frank (Derby, N. E.) Rathbone, Eleanor Whiteley, William (Blaydon)
Lees, J. Raynes, W. R. Wilkinson, Ellen C.
Lewis, T. (Southampton) Richards, R. Williams, David (Swansea, East)
Lloyd, C. Ellis Richardson, R. (Houghton-le-Spring) Williams, Dr. J. H. (Llanelly)
Logan, David Gilbert Ritson, J. Williams, T. (York, Don Valley)
Longbottom, A. W. Roberts, Rt. Hon. F. O. (W. Bromwich) Wilson C. H. (Sheffield, Attercliffe)
Longden, F. Romeril, H. G. Wilson, J. (Oldham)
Lovat-Fraser, J. A. Rosbotham, D. S. T. Wilson, R. J. (Jarrow)
Lunn, William Rowson, Guy Winterton, G. E. (Leicester, Louahb'gh)
Macdonald, Gordon (Ince) Sanders, W. S. Young, R. S. (Islington, North)
MacDonald, Malcolm (Bassetlaw) Sawyer, G. F.
Macdonald, Sir M. (Inverness) Scurr, John TELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Mr. Charles Edwards and Mr. Paling.
Acland-Troyte, Lieut.-Colonel Glyn, Major R. G. C. Roberts, Sir Samuel (Ecclesall)
Allen, Lt.-Col. Sir William (Armagh) Gower, Sir Robert Ross, Major Ronald D.
Amery, Rt. Hon. Leopold C. M. S. Greene, W. P. Crawford Ruggles-Brise, Lieut.-Colonel E. A.
Ashley, Lt.-Col. Rt. Hon. Wilfrid W. Gretton, Colonel Rt. Hon. John Samuel, A. M. (Surrey, Farnham)
Balfour, George (Hampstead) Gunston, Captain D. W. Sandeman, Sir N. Stewart
Balniel, Lord Hamilton, Sir George (Ilford) Sassoon, Rt. Ron. Sir Philip A. G. D.
Beaumont, M. W. Hannon, Patrick Joseph Henry Shepperson, Sir Ernest Whittome
Bourne, Captain Robert Croft Hartington, Marquess of Smith, Louis W. (Sheffield, Hallam)
Bowyer, Captain Sir George E. W. Harvey, Major S. E. (Devon, Totnes) Smithers, Waldron
Bracken, B. Henderson, Capt. R. R. (Oxfd, Henley) Somerset, Thomas
Braithwaite, Major A. N. Heneage, Lieut.-Colonel Arthur P. Somerville, D. G. (Willesden, East)
Brown, Brig.-Gen. H. C. (Berks, Newb'y) Herbert, Sir Dennis (Hertford) Southby, Commander A. R. J.
Cayzer, Maj. Sir Herbt. R. (Prtsmth. S.) Horne, Rt. Hon. Sir Robert S. Stanley, Lord (Fylde)
Chadwick, Capt. Sir Robert Burton Howard-Bury, Colonel C. K. Stanley, Maj. Hon. O. (W'morland)
Christie, J. A. Jones, Sir G. W. H. (Stoke New'gton) Titchfield, Major the Marquess of
Culverwell, C. T. (Bristol, West) Lamb, Sir J. Q. Todd, Capt. A. J.
Dalrympie-White, Lt.-Col. Sir Godfrey Macdonald, Capt. P. D. (I. of W.) Tryon, Rt. Hon. George Clement
Davies, Dr. Vernon Merriman, Sir F. Boyd Vaughan-Morgan, Sir Kenyan
Davies, Maj. Geo. F. (Somerset, Yeovil) Monsell, Eyres, Com. Rt. Hon. Sir B. Wallace, Capt. D. E. (Hornsey)
Duckworth, G. A. V. Moore, Sir Newton J. (Richmond) Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. Lambert
Edmondson, Major A. J. Morden, Col. W. Grant Warrender, Sir Victor
Elliot, Major Walter E. Morrison, W. S. (Glos., Cirencester) Waterhouse, Captain Charles
Falle, Sir Bertram G. Morrison-Bell, Sir Arthur Clive Wells, Sydney R.
Ferguson, Sir John Muirhead, A. J. Windsor-Clive. Lieut.-Colonel George
Fermoy, Lord Nicholson, O. (Westminster) Womersley, W. J.
Fielden, E. B. Oman, Sir Charles William C.
Fison, F. G. Clavering Peto, Sir Basil E. (Devon, Barnstaple) TELLERS FOK THE NOES.—
Forestier-Walker, Sir L. Rentoul, Sir Gervais S. Sir Frederick Thomson and Sir
Gibson, C. G. (Pudsey & Otley) Richardson, Sir P. W. (Sur'y, Ch'ts'y) George Penny.

Resolutions agreed to.