§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ Sir JOHN WITHERS
I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This Bill marks another step in the endeavour which is being made at the present time to remove the disadvantages from which poor people have suffered in the civil and criminal courts. As far as the criminal courts are conerned, there used to be two forms of disadvantage. One was that they had no legal assistance. They could not afford to pay for their lawyers. The other was that they had difficulty in making appeals. The first disadvantage arising from not being able to afford legal assistance, has been got rid of by the Poor Prisoners' Defence Act, 1930, under which a poor prisoner can get legal aid when appearing before the magistrates, and can have legal aid upon his trial if he has to go before quarter sessions or assizes.
There still remains the injustice with regard to poor persons and their appeals. The poor person who is convicted before a court of summary jurisdiction has to enter into a recognisance or bond and give two sureties, if necessary, or pay a certain amount of money into court, for the purpose of securing the costs of the prosecution if the appeal is unsuccessful. In the case of the ordinary prisoner, there is no difficulty. He is probably a person of fair means. He gets a couple of friends to enter into a bond with him, or, if necessary, he can pay money into court, and he has his right of appeal, and the appeal proceeds. The poor person, however innocent he may be, is placed in a very serious position, through not being able to secure two persons as sureties, and he cannot produce, owing to the very nature of his position, the money to cover the costs of the prosecution at the trial. I am asking the House in this 1325 Bill to remove that injustice and to put the poor person into a position of being able to prosecute his appeal. The position is dealt with under the Summary Jurisdiction Act, 1879. In Part II., Section 31, Sub-section (3) it says:The appellant shall, within the prescribed time, or if no time is prescribed within three days after the day on which he gave notice of appeal, enter into a recognizance before a court of summary jurisdiction, with or without a surety or sureties as that court may direct, conditioned to appear at the said sessions and to try such appeal, and to abide the judgment of the court of appeal thereon, and to pay such costs as may be awarded by the court of appeal, or the appellant may, if the court of summary jurisdiction before whom the appellant appears to enter into a recognizance think it expedient, instead of entering into a recognizance, give such other security, by deposit of money with the clerk of the court of summary jurisdiction or otherwise, as that court deem sufficient.The Bill before the House seeks to add to that Sub-section the following provision:Provided that if such court of summary jurisdiction is satisfied that the appellant is unable, through poverty, to pay the costs of an appeal, the recognizance or deposit or other security shall not be conditioned as to the payment of such costs as may be awarded by the Court of Appeal.That is to say, the justices may make a person sign a bond that he will proceed with the appeal and attend at the court, but he shall not enter into a security to pay the costs of prosecution if he fails. The other part of the matter is dealt with under Sub-section (5) of Section 31 of the Act of 1879. At the end of that Sub-section it says:The Court of Appeal may also make such order as to costs to be paid by either party as the court may think just.This Bill provides that at the end of that Sub-section, there shall be added the following words:Provided that where, under the proviso to subsection (3) the court of summary jurisdiction has dispensed with a condition as to costs, the Court of Appeal shall not order the appellant to pay costs unless such court is satisfied that the appellant is possessed of sufficient means to pay such costs.The matter is in a very small compass. It simply means that if you have a poor person who wishes to appeal from the conviction of magistrates, he shall not be prevented from doing so simply because he has not the money to give security for the costs. It is a simple proposition, and the matter need not be 1326 laboured. I think it is in the good faith of everybody, and especially in keeping with our idea of English justice, that this anomaly should be removed. It is time that the burden which has been placed upon the shoulders of the poor person, who may be perfectly innocent, should be no longer continued.
I suppose that the only answer to the Bill would be that it might lead to frivolous appeals and that there might be a number of appeals brought by people simply for the purpose of delaying their sentence and without any really serious idea that they hoped to win the appeal. That may be so. But I think that in Committee we may look to the Home Office to provide us with the safeguards which may be thought necessary under the circumstances. Personally, I would rather have 50 frivolous appeals than that one innocent man should be convicted, and, because of his poverty, should not be able to appeal. I confidently recommend the Bill to the House and hope that it will receive a Second Reading.
§ Sir W. GREAVES-LORD
I beg to second the Motion.
I wish to say something about the practical position regarding appeals. At the present time, as a result of the Criminal Appeal Act, if a man is convicted either at assizes or at quarter sessions, where, in the main, he has a trained tribunal, he can appeal to the Court of Criminal Appeal, and, when he appeals to the Court of Criminal Appeal, he does so without let or hindrance. He appeals without giving any security, and there is provided for him and for the court, a complete copy of the shorthand notes of his trial. He does it without any expense. Apart from everything else, by application to the court, counsel can be assigned to him under the Criminal Appeal Act, and counsel acts for him, and also a solicitor, without any cost to the appellant. That is in every case where a man is convicted by the superior courts administering the criminal law. It is true, if you put it in one way, that every man who is convicted by a court of summary jurisdiction has a right of appeal, but he has not a right of appeal which is equal to that which is given to the man who is convicted by the superior courts. 1327 When the Court of Criminal Appeal Bill was brought forward it was stated that:An appeal against conviction by a court of summary jurisdiction is sufficiently provided for at present, and is not dealt with by the Bill.The Lord Chancellor of that day said:In small, insignificant cases tried before the magistrate, where three months' is a possible penalty, there is an appeal. In small cases, where a man can only be fined …there is an appeal to Quarter Sessions —and very properly, too.What the learned Lord Chancellor omitted to point out was that while there is a right of appeal it is a right of appeal which cannot be exercised by a poor man. I have here a book written on the Criminal Appeal Bill, one author of which, Sir Harry Poland, unhappily, has passed from us, had an almost unprecedented experience in the criminal law. The other author, Mr. Herman Cohen, happily still with us, has done a great deal of public work in connection with prisoners through the Discharged Prisoners' Aid Societies and also in the administration of the criminal law, and he points out that the right of appeal to Quarter Sessions against summary conviction is absolutely useless to the poor man. Further, and he gives his reasons for this view, he says:It is obvious that to a poor man this right of appeal is absolutely useless.Why does he say that? He says that because where a man is convicted by a court of summary jurisdiction and he wants to appeal he has first of all to give notice within a very short period of time. That notice has to be very carefully drafted and when he presents it he must also be prepared to give security for the costs of the other side should his appeal be unsuccessful. The recognisances are contingent upon his entering and carrying out the appeal. How are those recognisances calculated, and by whom are they calculated? They are calculated by the magistrates against whose decision the man is appealing, through their clerk. I did not put a question in this House in regard to this matter, but I did get some information two or three years ago with regard to the average rate of security which is asked for. When security is asked for it does not always take the form wholly of recognisances. 1328 It is open to the magistrates to say that the form of security shall be a deposit of money.
I was informed, and I am certain the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department will bear me out when I say, that the average amount which is asked for is something like £45 in an appeal from a court of summary jurisdiction. I have known one case in my experience where the security asked for was as low as £10. The reason for that was that there were three magistrates who sat on the case and the chairman, who disagreed entirely with the conviction, was able to use his influence to make the recognisances as low as possible. His two fellow magistrates disagreed with him but they were not able to exercise quite the same influence on the recognisances, and the result was that the security was put at £10. The appeal was taken and was successful and a sentence of two months' imprisonment which had been passed upon the wife of a railway guard for a wholly unfounded offence, was set aside. In many cases the recognisances instead of being £10 are as high as £60 and £80, and that in the case of very poor people. Can anyone say, with these facts clearly before them, that the right of appeal from a court of summary jurisdiction is other than absolutely illusory in the case of a poor person?
There is an official view in regard to this matter. It is no use being blind to that fact. I have no doubt the Under-Secretary if he makes inquiry will say to the House, on the information of those who provide the information for him: "there is really no injustice. We never get complaints, and in these circumstances there is no necessity to interfere." I do not know in what form they would expect to get complaint. A poor person who is sentenced improperly to 14 days' imprisonment does not after coming out of prison walk to the Home Office and say: "I have been wrongfully convicted; there ought to have been a right of appeal." He comes out of prison and passes or tries to pass from a very horrible memory, but the fact remains that he has suffered the injustice of imprisonment that he ought never to have suffered.
May I give two small illustrations of cases which happened within the last four or five years. A poor man whose 1329 only offence, so far as I could find out, was his poverty, had befriended a cat. In the course of time the cat became a little obnoxious and he turned it out. A certain society prosecuted him. Whether or not, there was any cruelty was very doubtful, but that poor man, who had a perfectly good character, was sentenced to 14 days' imprisonment, without the option of a fine. It so happened that he was a Jew. I say in all sincerity, and with the greatest regret, that if that man had been a Christian I believe he would have served the whole of his sentence. We all know that the Jewish race keep very careful watch over their poor and give help to their poor very readily. The result was that within a day of that man being sentenced the Jewish community found it out, some of the wealthier Jews came forward and provided the recognisances and the money for the appeal. The man was able to get out on the recognisances, his appeal was prosecuted with success and there was an end of the whole thing. If he had not been a member of that race and had not been one who was looked after he would have suffered 14 days' imprisonment with hard labour, without any real reason for it. That cannot be a right position.
I know of another case of a man belonging to the same race, who had committed one of the most technical breaches of the alien law that one could possibly imagine. He was about 40 years of age and had a lifelong character of honesty and respectability. On the merest technicality he was sent to gaol for a month, without the option of a fine. Again, only because the Jewish community look after their poor, his ease was found out, the recognisances were forthcoming and the man was able to prosecute his appeal successfully. In the other case of which I spoke, that of the wife of the railway guard, a man who was in court was so struck with the injustice of the conviction that he came forward and offered the recognisances. If it had been left to the woman and her husband to find the recognisances they would not have been able to find them and the woman would have suffered two months' imprisonment.
Wherever we go we can find many cases where these injustices are occurring. You cannot get statistics with regard to them; and it is impossible to judge this 1330 matter by statistics. With regard to the superior courts there is a clear right of appeal which every poor person can exercise, but with regard to the inferior courts grave cases of injustice can arise; the conditions are such that they actually prohibit any appeal at all on the part of a poor person. It is time that this state of affairs was brought to an end, and there is only one way of doing that, and that is by getting rid of the system of recognisances as far as poor people are concerned.
There may have to be some provision in the Bill to stop frivolous appeals, and I should be anxious that there should be some provision of that kind. Some of us in this House might have to spend a large amount of time in dealing with frivolous appeals if there is not some safeguard. But there are means and methods of dealing with frivolous appeals. There is one method employed in connection with poor persons cases in civil matters. There you have a committee which inquires strictly into the case which comes before the poor persons department and reports whether it is a, proper one to be dealt with, and I can see no reason why there should not be a committee of justices to deal with cases where an appeal was threatened against the conviction. It would have to be done quickly. There is another method used in connection with poor persons cases. One of the things which might easily give rise to difficulty is that if you had a completely unrestricted appeal there might be cases which were speculative. In the case of poor persons this is dealt with carefully and under the poor persons procedure there can be no speculation. If the poor person is successful the only costs his adviser gets are those which cover out-of-pocket expenses, and there is therefore no temptation to speculate. There may be in these appeals some provision of this kind, which would do away with the smallest possibility of there being speculative appeals.
If the Home Office are in any difficulty let the Bill be given a Second Reading and they can then inquire before they put forward their amendments in Committee as to what method there is of stopping frivolous appeals. I hope they will not put the official view as to the great difficulties there are and that therefore they cannot do anything with 1331 it. Here is a crying grievance. The poor people of this country are in a position, as far as the inferior courts are concerned, in which they never should be put, and I ask that all the emphasis one can employ that the Home Office will advise the House to give this Bill a Second Reading so that the matter can be thrashed out and a real disgrace to our criminal procedure removed.
Mr. ARTHUR HENDERSON, Junr.
I support the Second Reading of this Bill if only as another step in the direction of removing the penalties under which poor people of this country suffer to-day in regard to the administration of justice. Those of us who have to pass some part of our lives in the courts of this country know from our own personal experience the large number of cases in which men and women have been unable to appeal against decisions given in the summary courts of jurisdiction owing to the requirement of the law as to recognisances. I believe that this Bill, if passed, will do something to remove a sense of injustice which prevails in this connection. On the other hand, I anticipate the difficulties which will be put forward by those responsible for the official point of view and it is idle for any Member of the House to deny that those difficulties may not arise. There are certain categories of cases which are determined in the police courts of this country, affiliation cases, where it would be unjust, from the other point of view, if it were possible for a man who has had an order made against him in the police court, without giving any security, to take the case to quarter sessions and possibly lose his case there, without having to incur any financial obligation in respect of the additional costs imposed upon the party on the other side. If that was encouraged, I think, it would have unfortunate results.
The suggestion put forward by the hon. and learned Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord) might provide some means of dealing with what are called frivolous cases. If a discretion was given to the magistrates to determine—I think it will be agreed that this is not going to be easy—if it were possible for a discretion to be vested in the magistrates to decide whether a particular case was frivolous or not, and if they came to the 1332 conclusion to refuse to put the provision into operation by insisting upon the party desiring to appeal to enter into recognisances, it would perhaps counteract effects which might arise from the provisions in the Bill.
There is another point which the promoters seem to have overlooked. Section 3, Sub-section (4) of the 1879 Act gives a discretion to the magistrates to release a prisoner from custody provided that he has entered into recognisances or has given such security from which the Bill seeks to release him on the ground of poverty. If we are not careful we may find the position in some respects worse under the Bill than it is at present. If, on the ground of poverty, the would-be appellant is to be released from any liability to enter into recognisances or to give the required security, if he can only be released from custody pending an appeal provided that he has entered into such recognisances or given such security, we may have a bench of magistrates saying "we are quite prepared to release you from such recognisances but if you desire to be released from custody it is not in our power to do so unless you enter into such recognisances." I hope it will be possible within the scope of the Bill to remove any doubts which may exist on that particular point.
There is one other point, a drafting point really, to which I should like to refer. The Bill refers to the Court of Appeal and uses the capital "C" and the capital "A" to indicate that the Court of Appeal, which is the court midway between the High Court and the House of Lords, is the court to which appeals are taken from the police courts of the country. That is not the position. Appeals are taken from the police court to quarter sessions, and I suggest that this can be put right by using a small "c" and a small "a" as I have no doubt is the intention of those responsible for the Bill. Subject to these qualifications, I hope the Government will see their way to accept the Bill and allow it to get a Second Reading.
§ Mr. LLEWELLYN-JONES
I also wish to support the Bill. Anyone who has been associated with the administration of criminal law in this country must appreciate the fact that in this connection the poor man is placed at a con- 1333 siderable disadvantage compared with the man who has a certain amount of money. In recent years, for instance, we have seen a very large number of appeals in all parts of the country by motorists who have been convicted by courts of summary jurisdiction. In almost all these cases the defendants have been men of some substance who have been able to appeal to quarter sessions, and in a very large number of cases, although they may not have succeeded, upon the facts, in getting the conviction reversed, they have succeeded in inducing quarter sessions to modify the penalty inflicted by the justices. Anyone who has appeared for a large number of years in the police courts knows that a fair number of persons might appeal with success to quarter sessions against a decision of the courts of summary jurisdiction, but that immediately the question of an appeal is discussed the question is asked "What money can you find?" or "What persons can you find who are prepared to enter into recognisances on your behalf?" In my experience before the War the figure in many of the country districts was £30. After the war the figure almost invariably increased to £45, £50 or £55. When a defendant is told that he has to find security for £50 or £55, or recognisances to that amount, he has to reply that it is hopeless, and he has to submit to the decision of the justices, even if there be a reasonable chance of getting that decision altered on appeal.
One suggestion that has been made in the Debate is that something should be done to discourage frivolous appeals. I fear that if a decision on this point were entrusted to the justices who had convicted, it would be very difficult to get those justices, who have already concluded that a man was guilty of an offence and that he deserved a term of imprisonment or a substantial fine, to conclude, immediately after the hearing of the case or two or three days afterwards, that there could be any possible ground for appeal. If there is to be any body called upon to decide upon this matter I think it should not be the court before which the case was originally heard. A few weeks ago in this House reference was made by the hon. Member for Hereford (Mr. F. Owen) to a case which came before a bench of justices in Herefordshire. I do not wish to go into the facts 1334 of that case, but one is justified in coming to the conclusion, on the facts stated by the hon. Member, that if this proposal had been in operation that man would have been in a position to appeal and would probably have appealed against the sentence of the justices. It is conceivable that he would not have succeeded in his appeal as to the conviction, but anyone who is acquainted with the facts of the case as placed before the House could not help coming to the conclusion that an appeal to quarter sessions would have resulted in a very different penalty.
In some respects the Bill is too wide and in other respects not wide enough, and when the Bill goes before a Committee I hope it will be extended and restricted as may be necessary. Section 33 of the Act of 1879 deals with the case of appeal from the court of summary jurisdiction by special case. That is where an appeal is taken on a point of law. The experience of many of us is that these are the cases which give the greatest difficulty. A person is convicted by a bench of justices; certain points of law have been raised and submissions have been made to the court that the justices were not empowered in law to convict. In those cases the proper procedure is by a case stated to the High Court. Here again the poor defendant is face to face with the same difficulty as in an appeal to quarter sessions. As a rule in appeals to the high court the amount of recognisances asked for is very much greater than in the case of appeals to quarter sessions. Wealthy men have no difficulty in going to the high court, but this avenue is absolutely closed to the poor man, who has first of all to give recognisances or security for a considerable sum, and to find the necessary sum for engaging solicitors and counsel to conduct the case.
I trust that in Committee it may be possible to add a proviso to Section 33. I know that the Clause does not actually deal with the question of procedure, but the question of procedure in these cases is laid down by rules of the High Court. In other respects I think it is desirable that there should be a slight restriction of the right given to poor persons under this Bill. My hon. Friend the Member for South Cardiff (Mr. A. Henderson, junr.) referred to appeals against orders in bastardy. In the Act of 1879, under 1335 which such appeals are made, provision is made for an appeal from a conviction or order of the court of summary jurisdiction. I think everyone will agree that as far as convictions are concerned the poor man who has a genuine ground for appeal ought to have every possible facility to appeal, and ought not to be penalised by the fact that he has not funds, or cannot get anyone to become a security or enter into a recognisance on his behalf.
On the other hand, if persons against whom certain orders are made—orders, for instance, in bastardy cases—are unable to appeal in pursuance of this Bill it may cause a great deal of hardship. After a fair amount of experience in the courts I find that what happens in such cases is this. A man has been adjudged by a court of summary jurisdiction to be the father of an illegitimate child and an order is made against him. In a very large number of these cases the mother of the child has difficulty in finding the necessary fees to proceed with the case. If the putative father desires to appeal to quarter sessions he can do so, but he has to enter into a security or get satisfactory recognisances. That is the only way in which you can ensure that the mother, if she succeeds on appeal, is going to be reimbursed for the cost to which she is put in engaging counsel and solicitor at the sessions. Under the proviso which is to be added to Sub-section (5) a court of quarter sessions if they thought the defendant was a poor man would not be in a position to award the costs of the appeal to the successful respondent—as for instance to the mother in an affiliation case. I think the Bill ought to be confined to convictions and that orders of the kind to which I refer should be excluded. Otherwise where you have one case of hardship at present of a man against whom an order is wrongfully made you will have 20 or 30 cases of hardship applying to mothers who have succeeded before the justices but have afterwards been taken to the quarter sessions on appeal by the putative father. Subject to those observations, I support the Bill and I hope that it will receive a Second Reading.
§ Major LLEWELLIN
Anyone who practises in the courts must speak in support of this Bill. This Section of the 1336 Act of 1879 requires to be amended much more drastically than is proposed in the Bill. The Bill does not do very much. The Section says that an appellant shall within the prescribed time enter into a recognisance to do three things, first, to enter and prosecute the appeal, secondly to abide the judgment of the court of appeal thereon, and thirdly to pay such costs as may be awarded by the court of appeal. This Bill provides that the security or recognisance entered into shall not be conditioned by the cost of the appeal but the court may insist that the man who wishes to appeal shall put down a sum of money, perhaps quite a substantial sum of money before he can prosecute his appeal. The Bill is not wide enough to cover all the cases which I think its promoters wish to cover. I, personally, know of a case in a court in the northern part of this country, in which the ordinary practice is to demand that security shall be put down beforehand. In this case the security asked was £70 and the man had to place it in court within three days. It seems to be monstrous that it should be possible to fix so high a sum, and I should like to see this Section of the Act of 1879 altered in such a way that some limit will be put on the amount of security which can be demanded from an appellant.
There are one or two other matters in connection with the same section which might well be cleared up since we are dealing with it. I think it is a moot point whether the security has to be deposited within three days or not but I say no more on that subject, because I understand that a case dealing with the point is shortly coming before the courts. There is another respect in which I should like to see the Section amended. At the present moment it is necessary to enter into the recognisance within three days after giving notice of appeal. In my view, a period ought to be fixed from the date of the trial. A man who is not very well instructed may give his notice of appeal at once, and he has then only three days in which to get the security if it is demanded. A man who is better advised will go to the end of the seven day period before entering his appeal and he will thus have ten days in which to give any security which may he demanded. There seems to be no reason for the limit of three days from the notice of appeal and I suggest that it should be ten days from the date of trial. 1337 As the Title of the Bill is wide, I hope we shall try to amend this Section of the Act of 1879 in those particulars also, and deal with Section 33 at the same time. Subject to those remarks I strongly support the Bill. I think it is an effort in the right direction and I only wish to see it go rather further than it goes at present.
§ Mr. EDE
I support the Bill. In my opinion, as a justice of the peace who frequently attends petty sessions and quarter sessions, this reform of the criminal law is most necessary in order that the law should be regarded by all parties as working equally between man and man, irrespective of social status. I disagree with the view put forward by the hon. Members for South Cardiff (Mr. A. Henderson, jun.) and Flint (Mr. Llewellyn-Jones) with regard to withdrawing orders in bastardy and similar orders from the working of the Measure. An affiliation order made against a man is probably the heaviest penalty which the law, at the moment, inflicts upon the poor man in the way of continuous financial obligation, and these cases are almost invariably very difficult to decide. They almost always depend upon whether some alleged conversation, or letter, or some rather remote circumstance, can be taken as corroborative evidence of the woman's statement.
I am bound to say that, in my experience as a justice, a decision in cases like that has given me more grounds for doubt than any other decision which I have had to take. One knows the way in which men persistently, year after year, say, "The order was unrighteously made against me; I am not the father," and decline to pay anything and have almost cheerfully gone to prison time and again in order to wipe out the debt and as a constant protest against the decision originally reached. I am bound to say also that if you exclude the man from appealing without a recognisance, you will hive to exclude the woman from appealing also, and there again, owing to the very difficult nature of these cases and of finding out exactly what the corroboration is—a thing that is not known, after all, very well to these girls when they are bringing their actions, often without any skilled advice—I think it would be unjust if one allowed appeals generally from courts of summary juris- 1338 diction and withheld them in these particular cases.
Perhaps these cases do not present the same difficulty to the legal mind as they do to the non-legal mind of the magistrate who has to reach a decision after the two lawyers have done their best to confuse him. I have always thought in these cases that the lawyer on each side is very certain that the piece of evidence that he is putting forward is corroboration or that the evidence that he has to rebut is not corroboration, according to the side he is on, leaving the bench still to decide whether it is corroboration or not.
I support this Bill mainly because I believe it is a very necessary act of justice to the young poor person. After all, the young poor person has probably more at stake in a conviction, especially a conviction followed by a sentence of imprisonment, than most persons who appear in the courts. They have nothing to lose but their character, and once having been sentenced to a term of imprisonment, that character is gone, and nothing that they do in after life ever fully rehabilitates them in the mind of the community. I had an instance brought to my notice that brought it home very vividly to me. My own bench of magistrates, on a day when I was not present, convicted the son of an old schoolfellow of mine, and sentenced him to a term of three months' imprisonment. I ought to say, in justice to them, that it was not a first conviction, but it seemed to me, when the father detailed to me all the circumstances, that it was eminently a case in which, not the conviction, but the sentence should be appealed against.
The man came to me and told me that when he asked if he could appeal he was told that he must put £40 down. He said to me, "You know me; I should be a lucky man if I could put 40d. down"; and but for the fact that he was able to enlist my help and that of some others, because I could not put £40 down for him, but three or four of us clubbed together and put the money down, he would have been in great difficulty. The appeal was heard, and the man's sentence was reduced to the term of imprisonment that had been served prior to the date of his release on the appeal. It seems to me that these instances, and those given by the hon. and learned Member for 1339 Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord), show how necessary this reform of the law is and how desirable it is that we should be able to convince ordinary persons appearing in the courts that, as between man and man, justice will be done quite evenhandedly.
There is the case of the motorist that was mentioned by the hon. Member for Flint. The kind of motorist who could put down the money is generally the kind who motors for pleasure, not for the pleasure of other users of the road, but his own pleasure, but when he gets his licence suspended, it is not nearly as serious to him as to the ordinary man to whom motoring is a means of livelihood, and I have known cases where those licences have been suspended, and where only with the very greatest difficulty has a man been able to raise the money in order to prosecute his appeal, although his whole livelihood perhaps for a year or possibly even longer may be at stake unless he can successfully prosecute an appeal.
I felt last year, when we were discussing the Poor Prisoners' Defence Bill, that this was an even more necessary reform of the law, if one had to choose between the two, than the other. I hope that what is called by the hon. Member for the Sutton Division (Viscountess Astor) the official view of the Home Office will not be allowed to prevail to-day, and I hope my hon. Friend the Under-Secretary of State will not presume on the Noble Lady's absence to make a speech that would draw down on him her very just castigation if she had been in her place to deliver it. This is one of the few occasions when I regret that the Noble Lady is not here to keep a watchful eye on the Under-Secretary of State while he is delivering his speech, but I hope it will be generally recognised that this is a matter that calls aloud for speedy treatment and that we shall not err in circumscribing too much the liberties of appeal that we give even in the cases mentioned by my hon. Friend below me and the hon. Member for Flint.
§ The UNDER-SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. Short)
I must congratulate the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Sir J. Withers) on the pleasing bedside 1340 manner with which he introduced the Bill. I know of no one whose manner in matters of this kind is better calculated to disarm hostile criticism and to remove opposition. Whatever may be the provisions of the Bill, he has indeed brought to our notice one of the most difficult problems associated with our criminal procedure. It is a problem which has exercised the minds of many persons, including those who have a wide and general knowledge of the administration of the law, and of which up to now no really satisfactory solution has been found. I am not here to say that the existing system is ideal and that there are no flaws in it; indeed I have a great deal of sympathy with the purpose and the objective of this Measure.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord) referred to the official view. I had not been in office many weeks before I called attention to the need for some change in the law respecting this matter, and had a consultation upon it. It is only fair to say, in relation to what may be termed the official view, that I did not find any opposition, but plenty of sympathy in so far as the grievance exists and that a remedy is desired, but I did find a recognition on the part of those whom I consulted of the difficulties associated with the finding of any remedy in connection with this very intricate and complicated question. Indeed, though we have only had a few speeches to-day, almost every speaker has called attention to some aspect of the problem not covered in the Bill or, if it is thought to be covered, on which some further Amendment is necessary, or an appeal has been made that we should go much wider and further afield than is suggested in the Bill.
The hon. Member for Cambridge University indicated what was the law upon this question as set out in the Act of 1879, and the various Sections, and I think the law is so well known, at any rate to those who have listened to this Debate, that there is no need for me to recapitulate those Sections. It is clear that the object of the Bill is to provide that a poor man shall not be required to enter into recognisances or deposit a sum of money conditioned as to the payment of such costs as might be awarded by the Court of Appeal, and that he should 1341 not be liable to pay the respondent's costs. While having every sympathy with the purpose of the Bill, I have, however, to call the attention of the House to certain difficulties which appear to me to arise. For instance, reference has been made to the question of frivolous appeals. I have only to remind the House that in 1928, which is the last year for which statistics are available, 604,000 persons were found guilty of offences by courts of summary jurisdiction, and of this number only 22,000 were sentenced to imprisonment without the option of a fine. Further, 59,000 persons were found guilty of drunkenness, of whom only a, few were sentenced to imprisonment without the option of a fine.
Those figures, in themselves, indicate to some extent the nature of this problem, If we were to give, as it were, a free right of appeal without any safeguard, without any conditions, then, as the hon. and learned Member for Norwood properly anticipated, he and many of his friends who have to adjudicate upon our benches would be overwhelmed with cases, and the administration of the law in this country would he seriously handicapped, although I would say that that, in itself, is not a convincing answer, because if justice is to be done, and if we intend justice to be done, it is desirable that the machinery of the law should be of such a nature and of such a volume as to cope with the vital and just needs and requirements of the people affected.
There are one or two other points I would make briefly, and, in putting them to the House, I am not doing so at all in any antagonistic spirit, but rather to indicate the nature of the problem, and to enable the House to see that my right hon. Friend and the Department which he represents have not overlooked some of the difficulties associated with this matter. I will run over rapidly some six or seven of the chief points which have occurred to the Department in relation to this Bill. Should the Bill apply to all appeals in criminal cases, that is, appeals by the prosecutor and appeals by the defendant, where a private person is the prosecutor? I would point out that under a few Acts the prosecutor may appeal against the dismissal of a 1342 charge by a court of summary jurisdiction. Then, it should be remembered by the House that further criminal proceedings can be instituted in England by private persons, and it may be doubted whether it is right that a person, who has been convicted in proceedings instituted by a private person, should be able to put the private prosecutor to the expense of resisting a frivolous appeal, and whether such a liability is indeed in the interests of justice. A private prosecutor who has been injured is as much deserving of consideration as the aggressor Should it equally apply whether the defendant is sentenced to imprisonment, fined, or dealt with under the Probation of Offenders Act, 1927?
These are considerations which we shall have to take into account if we are seeking to remedy the law, or remove an admitted grievance. I hope the House, as I said when I was going to put these points, will understand that I am putting them only in order that the House and those who read this Debate outside may realise that there are difficulties with which the hon. Member for Cambridge University has not thought fit to deal. Should it apply to persistent offenders as well as to first offenders? Should it apply equally to appeals against sentences as well as to appeals against convictions? Should it apply to civil as well as criminal cases? Should the principle of the Bill be restricted to poor persons? Should we legislate on this question merely for poor persons? Every one in this House, we know, has full sympathy with the object of this Measure, in so far as it seeks to come to the assistance of poor persons. But, on this question of right of appeal from courts of summary jurisdiction, I doubt whether, if we are to deal with it, we ought not to go much farther, or find some other methods of dealing with this question. Then, of course, there is the final question which occurs to me, as to whether the respondent should be liable to pay the appellant's costs. There are many other questions of like importance, which I know those who are learned in the law have in their minds, if they have not attempted to deal with them in this Bill.
I indicated at the outset of my remarks that there is no lack of sympathy for this 1343 proposal, so far as the existence of a grievance and the need for some radical remedy is concerned. My right hon. Friend was approached some time ago by the hon. Member for Cambridge University in relation to this Bill, and he indicated that there was no doubt that a great deal could be said in favour of some amendment in the law. He stressed as I have stressed the complicated character of the problem, and also indicated that, owing to the pressure of public business, there was little likelihood of any legislation being tabled—that is, I presume, from the Government side—but he expressed his willingness to set up a small departmental committee to consider the whole question in relation to this Bill and the larger problem to which I have addressed myself. I am not invit- 1344 ing the House to reject the Measure, but I hope that what I have said will be sufficient to satisfy the House as to the attitude of the Government.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a Second time, and committed to a Standing Committee.