HC Deb 15 July 1948 vol 453 cc1577-82

Lords Amendment: In page 22, line 14, leave out from "offence" to end of line and insert "punishable with".

Mr. Younger

I beg to move "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment." This Amendment and the next one are drafting.

Mr. Manningham-Buller (Daventry)

I rather fear that this Amendment is little more than drafting. Under Subsection (8) of Clause 19 of the Bill, as the Clause stands and as it left this House, a court of summary jurisdiction can commit a person of 16 or over for sentence by quarter sessions to Borstal, if one or two conditions are satisfied. Either that court can themselves sentence that person to imprisonment or, but for Clause 17, they would have the power to send him to prison. As the Clause stood in its original form there could be no doubt but that a court of summary jurisdiction, although they could not send a youth under 17 to prison by reason of Clause 17, could commit him for sentence by a court of quarter session. By the taking out of these words as proposed by this Amendment, and by the insertion of the words in line 31: punishable on summary conviction with it appears to follow, although it may not be intended, that the only cases in which a court of summary jurisdiction will be able in future to commit a man for sentence to quarter sessions will be those in which they themselves can sentence that person to imprisonment. Otherwise, that accused person is not before them on an offence punishable by them with imprisonment.

The effect of this Amendment would appear to be that a court of summary jurisdiction will not be able to commit for sentence a youth of the age of 16 but not more than 17 who, therefore, does not come within the power of a court of quarter session to send to prison. I hope that I am wrong in this, but it seems to me that that is a serious limitation consequent upon this Amendment which is really intended to be drafting. The same point seems to arise with other Amendments which are also considered to be of a drafting character. It appears to me that the effect of these Amendments will be to reduce and cut down the power of courts of summary jurisdiction. I am sure that that is not the intention. I hope that I have made the point clear and that my doubts may now be set at rest.

The Attorney-General

I will do my best. The effect of this Clause is not really altered by the Lords Amendment. The matter is caught up again by one of the subsequent Amendments in page 65, line 45. That proposes to leave out from the word "offence" to the word "shall" and to insert: punishable with imprisonment shall be construed, in relation to any offender, without regard to any prohibition or restriction imposed by or under this Act upon the imprisonment of offenders of his age. …

Question put, and agreed to,

Lords Amendment: In page 23, line 9, leave out "practicable" and insert "available."

Mr. Younger

I beg to move, "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This and the next three Amendments in lines 9, 12 and 14 are drafting Amendments.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

I should like to ask what is the significance of changing the word "practicable" which is the word which appears in all the old Acts, to the word "available." It must have some significance.

Mr. Younger

It is merely a matter of drafting. I am afraid I cannot say what is the difference. I suppose that there is some argument as to what is practicable. It is not the same as the word "possible." There might be some argument about that.

12.30 a.m.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

It the hon. Gentleman looks at the old Acts dealing with appeals to quarter sessions he will find that the word normally used is "practicable," but here the word is "available" and that is why I am asking the question.

Mr. Younger

I am advised it was merely put in because it did not appear to make any great difference and it was more acceptable to their Lordships in another place.

Lords Amendment: In page 23, line 18, at end, insert: (b) the Poor Prisoners Defence Act, 1930, shall apply as if the offender were committed for trial for an indictable offence, subject to the modifications that in subsection (2) of section one the words 'after reading the depositions' and in subsection (2) of section three 'and the costs of a copy of the depositions' shall be omitted; (c) the Costs in Criminal Cases Act, 1908, shall apply in relation to the proceedings before the appeal committee or court of quarter sessions as it applies in relation to the prosecution of an indictable offence before a court of quarter sessions; (d) if the appeal committee or court of quarter sessions passes a sentence of Borstal training, the offender may appeal against the sentence to the Court of Criminal Appeal as if he had been convicted on indictment, and the provisions of the Criminal Appeal Act, 1907, shall apply accordingly; (6) References to a court of quarter sessions or a court in any enactment as applied by the last foregoing subsection, or in any other enactment relating to persons dealt with by quarter sessions (including any such enactment contained in this Act) shall be construed as including references to an appeal committee of quarter sessions by whom an offender is dealt with under that subsection.

Mr. Younger

I beg to move "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This Amendment inserts what are at present Subsections 9, 10 and 11 in a more appropriate place.

Lords Amendment: In page 23, line 19, leave out from "passed" to end of line 20 and insert, "under this section."

Mr. Younger

I beg to move "That this House doth agree with the Lords in the said Amendment."

This Amendment together with those to lines 21, 29 and 37 are drafting with the exception possibly of that to line 29, which substitutes four weeks for three as the period of remand. This was inserted in another place as a compromise with a longer period than that.

Mr. Manningham-Buller

The Amendment to line 29, to which the Under-Secretary has cursorily referred, in my opinion makes a somewhat significant alteration in the law. This Amendment, which I note is similar to Amendments in a later Clause of the Bill, has the effect of extending the time which a person can be kept in custody without being brought before a court to four weeks. Before the war a man charged before a court of summary jurisdiction on an indictable offence could be remanded for a period not exceeding eight days, which meant that the courts kept a very close control over the individuals who were awaiting trial in custody. There might also have been two or three remands a week, in which case probably some pressure came to be put upon the prosecution to get their case ready.

At the beginning of the war the period of not more than eight days was extended by the Administration of Justice (Emergency Powers) Act, 1939, to a period of three weeks. One could understand that in wartime, and three weeks was the period mentioned in this Bill when it left this House. Three weeks in my view was the maximum which could be allowed to pass between the time when a man was brought before the court and remanded and brought back to the court again. I am confirmed in my view that three weeks was quite long enough by the fact that I understand the Home Office have stated it to be their view that three weeks is ample. I want to know why we are now asked to agree to the proposal that a man can be remanded in custody for a month before coming back before the court. When he comes back after a month has elapsed he may be remanded for another month. That period is surely far too long.

The Under-Secretary's explanation of this change is singularly inadequate. If the reason be that in some parts of the country courts only sit at intervals of a month, it would be far better if a few magistrates came together at more frequent intervals rather than that a man who has not been proved guilty of any offence should be kept in custody four weeks without being brought before them. To some it may seem that there is not much difference between three weeks and four, but I believe that to an accused person one day makes a great difference. I feel that three weeks is the absolute maximum, and it was only with some hesitation that I remained silent on that period at an earlier stage in our discussions.

Mr. Ede

I am impressed by the argument which has been adduced by the hon. and learned Member. I understand that the case put forward in another place was, as he hinted, that there are some courts that only meet once every four weeks. I know that is so because one court about which we have had an inquiry met only once in four weeks, and held an extraordinary sitting in order that the chairman could get an evacuation order against a tenant who had upset him. I could not help thinking that if that court could meet earlier for the chairman's convenience, it might on occasion meet more frequently for the benefit of some person who was on remand. Therefore, I shall be prepared in this case to move that the House disagrees with the Lords in that Amendment.