HC Deb 01 July 1935 vol 303 cc1539-43

(1) The Summary Jurisdiction Acts (Northern Ireland) shall, notwithstanding any special provisions to the contrary contained in any enactment relating to His Majesty's revenue under the control of the Commissioners of Inland Revenue or the Commissioners of Customs and Excise, apply to all informations, complaints, and other summary proceedings in Northern Ireland under or by virtue of any such enactment:

Provided that nothing in this sub-section shall affect the provisions of section two hundred and fifty-seven of the Customs Consolidation Act, 1876 (which relates to the time within which proceedings may be brought).

(2) A resident magistrate in Northern Ireland shall have power to reduce the amount of any pecuniary penalty which be has power to impose for an offence against any such enactment as aforesaid, notwithstanding that the amount of the penalty is prescribed by that enactment.

(3) Where any person arrested in Northern Ireland without a warrant for an offence against any enactment relating to the Customs is brought before a resident magistrate, or before a justice of the peace sitting out of petty sessions, the magistrate or justice may from time to time remand him in custody for such period (not exceeding eight clear days) as the magistrate or justice thinks fit, or may discharge him upon his entering into a recognizance, with or without sureties, to appear at the time and place named in the recognizance.

(4) In this section the expression "Summary Jurisdiction Acts (Northern Ireland)" means the Summary Jurisdiction (Ireland) Acts and any Act of the Parliament of Northern Ireland, whether passed before or after the date on which this section comes into operation, amending those Acts.

(5) The enactments set out in Part I of the Second Schedule to this Act are hereby repealed to the extent mentioned in the third column of that schedule.

(6) The foregoing provisions of this section shall come into operation on such date as the Treasury may by order appoint.—[Mr. Chamberlain.]

Brought up, and read the First time.

3.40 p.m.

The CHANCELLOR of the EXCHEQUER (Mr. Chamberlain)

I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

This Clause arises out of a Bill which is at present passing through the Northern Irish Parliament. It amends the summary jurisdiction law of Northern Ireland and provides that one resident magistrate, sitting alone, shall constitute a court of summary jurisdiction. The Bill has obtained its Third Reading in the Senate of Northern Ireland and is now being referred back to the Commons for consideration of some minor Amendments. When it has become law, it will be possible to apply to Northern Ireland a principle which has been applied in England since 1879 and in Scotland since 1908, namely, that the general summary jurisdiction code shall apply to revenue offences, and the purpose of this Clause is to enable that to be done. The first Subsection makes that provision. I should say that the Clause has been put forward in consultation with the Government of Northern Ireland. It will be seen that the sixth Sub-section provides that it is not to come into operation until such date as may be appointed by order of the Treasury, the purpose of that being that it shall not come into operation until this Bill actually has been through the Northern Ireland Parliament and has become law. When it has been passed we shall have similar legislation in this country and in Northern Ireland, and I think that the result will be beneficial to both sides.

The first Sub-section gives the power which brings the summary jurisdiction code into operation in dealing with revenue offences. There is a proviso to it which is considered necessary to make it quite plain that Section 257 of the Customs Consolidation Act, 1876, will override another Section of the Petty Sessions (Ireland) Act, 1851, which provides that proceedings under the Summary Jurisdiction Acts (Northern Ireland) have to be brought within six months. Section 257 of the Customs Consolidation Act, 1876, provides that proceedings for offences can be brought at any time within three years, so that the proviso is in order to keep that in force now.

The second Sub-section is not really consequential upon the first. It deals with a somewhat different matter, but, under the Summary Jurisdiction Acts of Northern Ireland, a magistrate has no general power of mitigating the size of penalties as he has under English and Scottish Acts. The Excise Acts confer a power of mitigating Excise penalties, but there is no similar provision in respect of Customs, and so the purpose of this provision is to do the same with regard to Customs as is already the law with regard to Excise. As a matter of fact, at the present time, the Commissioners of Customs and Excise here have the power to mitigate the penalty, and they have been frequently called upon to exercise that power in Northern Ireland, but it is thought that it would be very much better that the responsibility should rest in Northern Ireland primarily with the magistrate who tries the case, and so we have taken the opportunity while bringing in this Clause to include that Sub-section.

The third Sub-section again is not really consequential upon the main purpose of the Clause. A doubt has been raised as to whether magistrates in Northern Ireland have power to remand offenders in certain classes of Customs case. It is thought desirable to remove doubt on the subject, and accordingly it is proposed to confer this power upon not only a resident magistrate but also a justice of the peace sitting out of petty sessions, and the reason for that is that it might be that there would be some difficulty in obtaining the services of the resident magistrate without a considerable period of delay. But there is no abnormality in conferring this power of remand on justices of the peace, since they will, in some cases, have this power under the Bill which is now before the Northern Ireland Parliament.

The fourth Sub-section defines the expression "Summary Jurisdiction Acts (Northern Ireland)" so that it will include the Bill which I have already mentioned which is now before the Irish Parliament, and finally Sub-section (5) repeals certain enactments relating to revenue proceedings in Northern Ireland which would conflict with the provisions of the Clause or else would become redundant after the Clause becomes law.


We on these benches offer no objection at all to this Clause. It obviously seems to be desirable that the procedure in Scotland and England should be the same as that in Northern Ireland, and this Clause merely approximates that procedure to our own, and we therefore think it wise that it should be passed.

3.45 p.m.


I wish to raise one rather curious point as a result of an experience which I had 18 months ago, when I spent the whole of Christmas Eve trying to get a man out of prison who had been remanded in custody by the magistrates for a week. The period happened to include Christmas Eve and was in respect of an offence which, though regrettable, was not a grave criminal offence, and my experience, after spending the Sunday evening before the Vacation Judge, was that there was no power to grant bail if a man had been remanded in custody by the magistrates. I am only raising this question of the freedom of the subject because of this curious experience. The result was that after consultation with the then Lord Chancellor, Viscount Sankey, the matter was cleared up, and there was no doubt that, under our procedure, any judge in fact had power to grant bail even though the magistrates had refused it. I want to be sure, though this only happens to affect Northern Ireland, that we are not, by the words in Sub-section (3), giving away something which, in fact, though in some doubt 18 months ago, has been our legal protection for many years past.

3.46 p.m.

The SOLICITOR - GENERAL (Sir Donald Somervell)

I am not quite sure that the matter is exactly as my hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon (Mr. H. Williams) put it. I understand that there is always power to go to a judge on a plaint concerning bail. As far as Northern Ireland is concerned, I understand that there would be a right of appeal in the ordinary case against an order of this kind, but my hon. Friend has raised this point, and no doubt note will be taken of it, but the House can be assured that, as far as this matter is concerned, it is really applying to Ireland the procedure which at present exists in England and Scotland. My hon. Friend the Member for South Croydon has raised a point which ought to be looked into as far as England, Scotland and Northern Ireland are concerned, but as far as the House is concerned at present we are applying the procedure which exists here.


On that particular occasion when we appeared before the Vacation Judge on the Sunday evening, he said that as far as he knew he had not the power of granting the application. Therefore, there was some doubt at the time, and that is why I raise the point now.

Clause added to the Bill.