HC Deb 15 April 1948 vol 449 cc1253-6
Mr. Peake

I beg to move, in page 30, line 45, after "conviction," to insert "order."

Under this Clause a person convicted by a court of summary jurisdiction shall have the right of appeal (a) if he has pleaded guilty, against his sentence and (b) in any other case, against the conviction or sentence, to a court of quarter sessions. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) raised this matter in Committee, and suggested that after the word "sentence" the words "or order" should be inserted. The Under-Secretary, in reply, was inclined to make the case that although there were some orders against which the right of appeal already existed by statute, there were many other cases where there was no right of appeal, because the order was of only a trivial character. The Under-Secretary gave a promise, when pressed, that he would look more fully into the point to try to discover how wide the Amendment would go if it were inserted in the Bill, and I would like to know the result of his investigation.

Mr. Janner

This is a rather important point. No matter how trivial the offence may appear to the public in general, the person concerned very frequently feels very deeply about it. It is a mistake to think that the man who appears in a petty sessional court undergoes a lesser ordeal than a man who has to appear in a higher court. The atmosphere of the police court is quite strange to the vast majority of those who find themselves in that court. Magistrates and officials are perfectly at ease, but usually the person who has to appear before the court finds himself in quite a new atmosphere. Even if the summons against him is for a comparatively trivial offence, he may feel that a stigma will be attached to him for the rest of his life. I have heard it said, even in police court proceedings, that it is foolish for the person who is before the court to appeal against a small fine or a small order. But I have found from my own experience that a man of hitherto good character very often smarts much more under a small order than the man who has a heavier sentence imposed upon him in another court, and who has been accustomed to receiving such sentences.

Sir Peter Bennett (Birmingham, Edgbaston)

I would like to support the Amendment, and especially what has just been said by the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner). Often there is a feeling of intense indignation on the part of many people who have an order imposed upon them, and if the Home Secretary can do anything to meet that position he would remove the anxiety that any injustice which they feel is being done to them cannot be put right.

Mr. Ede

We have carefully examined this matter since the Committee stage, but our difficulty is the very wide range of matters which is covered by the word "order." All orders which courts of summary jurisdiction can make appear not only in public Bills but in private Bills promoted by municipal corporations and other authorities, and it is very difficult indeed to discover exactly how wide we should go if we included this word in the Bill. I hoped it might be possible to arrive at a limiting definition that would enable me to be sure that I had covered all the substantial grievances, but there are orders which, I think, it might be difficult to include. For instance, is a dog, having been proved dangerous, and already having had not merely his first bite but something else, to be allowed to roam uncontrolled while the appeal is being heard, during which he may perhaps be dangerous again and cause consternation to the inhabitants of the district?

There are other orders in connection with which it appears desirable that a quick and final decision should be reached. I am, however, not unmindful of what has been said by the right hon. Member for North Leeds (Mr. Peake), and those who have supported him, about the grievance which people sometimes feel when they find that something has been done in a court of summary jurisdiction from which there is no appeal. That being so, I will continue to try to find a way to limit the point so as to include what it is reasonable to include while excluding that which, in the interests of proper administration, I do not believe anyone would desire to see included. This will involve making a very thorough search to find out all the cases in which an order can be made, but I will undertake to see, between now and consideration of the Bill in another place, if I can do something to meet the view which, I know, is strongly held by various Members of the House.

Mr. Peake

On that undertaking, and being confident that the right hon. Gentleman will do his utmost to meet the case which has been put forward, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the Amendment.

Sir T. Moore

It occurs to me that a form of words which might possibly assist the Home Secretary would be "any order casting a reflection on the character of the defendant." That is what is at the bottom of the argument which was used by the hon. Member for West Leicester (Mr. Janner).

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

8.0 p.m.

Mr. Ede

I beg to move, in page 32, line 5, at the end, to insert: (7) The powers of a court of summary jurisdiction under paragraph (iv) of the said Subsection (1) (which relates to the grant of bail to an appellant to quarter sessions from a decision of a court of summary jurisdiction) may be exercised by any justice acting for the petty sessional division or place for which that court acts. This is a useful Amendment which has been suggested to me by the Justices Clerks Society and is a result of their experience in the working of their courts. It deals with the difficulties that arise in respect of courts which meet very infrequently. There are many courts which meet daily or almost daily and others which meet weekly, and in those cases no very great difficulty is likely to occur, but since I have been in office I have had to deal with complaints which have been made with regard to one court which met only monthly. It is clear that a person who had to wait to come before a court meeting monthly in order to apply for bail might, if he was very unlucky, spend 27 days waiting for the matter to be dealt with.

This will enable a justice acting for the petty sessional division or the place where the court sits, to act. I am quite sure that no one desires to see people kept unnecessarily in detention merely because there is some difficulty about arranging a court at which an application for bail could be considered. This Amendment, coming from a body of men who I know take great interest in the humane side of the work, is one which I can confidently commend to the House.

Mr. Janner

I rise to thank my right hon. Friend for having moved this, because it deals with an extremely important point. Very often in the course of practice when a person desires to appeal the difficulty presents itself to those appearing for him and to himself that he cannot get a magistrate in a particular court to grant bail because the court is not sitting. The right hon. Gentleman is to be congratulated on having accepted the views of the Justices Clerks Society which will receive the approval of all Members of the House.

Amendment agreed to.