HC Deb 07 December 1944 vol 406 cc728-30
67. Sir W. Smithers

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department under what Act of Parliament, or by what authority, he sent circulars to justices of the peace designed to influence them in the administration of justice; and will he place copies of such circulars in the Library.

75. Sir Wavell Wakefield

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department what was the purpose of the circular issued to magistrates in connection with the conviction of workers for infringements of laws arising from their employment.

Mr. H. Morrison

The practice of the issue by the Home Office of circular letters giving information or advice to justices on matters relating to the administration of justice and the treatment of offenders is almost as old as is the Home Office itself, and derives not from any statute but from the constitutional position of the Home Secretary as the Minister concerned with such matters. Such circulars are often issued as the result of requests for advice from the courts and I have every reason to believe they are generally welcomed by magistrates and their clerks. They invariably avoid giving any advice which could possibly be construed as interfering in any way with the exercise by the justices of their judicial functions in individual cases. There are a great many of them and I cannot very well undertake to place them in the Library as a matter of course, although I shall be glad to consider doing so in a particular case where this appears to be the wish of Members. If my hon. Friends have in mind the circular issued in April about control of employment offences such as absenteeism and persistent lateness, the gist of that circular was to suggest that, in the case of such offences, where the defendant is not usually of criminal character, imprisonment should, where possible, be avoided, and that increased use might with advantage be made of the procedure of adjourning to give the defendant an opportunity of thinking the matter over and complying with the law. This procedure had been very successfully adopted by a number of courts, and compliance with the law had been secured without recourse to imprisonment in any but exceptional cases.

Sir W. Smithers

Will the right hon. Gentleman place copies in the Library of the last three or four circulars that he has sent out and, as he prides himself on being a progressive man, will he stop this vicious practice?

Mr. Morrison

I will consider placing copies in the Library. I am glad the hon. Gentleman recognises that I am a progressive man. I will not comment on what he is.

Mr. Goldie

Can the House have copies of this valuable and interesting document? I am a Justice of the Peace and I have never received one.

Mr. Morrison

If we sent one to all Justices of the Peace it would be a very large number. They are sent to the clerks and they are, of course, available to justices.

Mr. J. J. Lawson

Is my right hon. Friend aware that there are many Members who are very much obliged to him for giving us a revelation of the new apostle of freedom behind him?