§ 27. Mr. J. Johnson
asked the Secretary of State for the Colonies the dates when the prisoners No. 13222/J, Kikuyu/ Nanyuki, No. 12795/J, Kikuyu/Kiambu, and No. 7966/J, Kikuyu/Fort Hall, now in Kamiti Prison, were sentenced respectively in court; where the court was held; and what were the ages of these Kikuyu girls then and there given.
§ The Secretary of State for the Colonies (Mr. Alan Lennox-Boyd)
I must apologise for the length of this answer.
The first prisoner was sentenced at Nanyuki on the 21st September, 1954, on a plea of guilty to two counts of taking illegal oaths, to two years and five years imprisonment, the sentences to run consecutively. Her age as recorded in the court proceedings was "adult," i.e., 18 or over. Her age as recorded on the prison record on admission was 18, subsequently altered on that record to 11, and how and by whom is still being investigated. Her actual age then, as deduced from the assessment by experienced Kikuyu women on 8th June this year, would have been 16¼.
The second prisoner was sentenced at Nairobi on the 20th September, 1954, on the capital charge of consorting with armed persons, to be detained during the Governor's pleasure. Her age as recorded in the court proceedings was "under 18". The Governor directed that she be detained in Kamiti Prison where, as a juvenile, she would be placed in a special compound, and her age as recorded on the prison record on admission was 12. This record was not altered. Her actual age then, as deduced from the assessment by experienced Kikuyu women on 8th June, would have been 16.
The third prisoner was sentenced at Thika on the 12th June, 1954, on the capital charge of consorting with armed persons, to be detained during the Governor's pleasure. It is recorded in the court proceedings that a medical officer estimated her age to be about 12¼. The Governor directed that she be detained in Kamiti Prison where, as a juvenile, she also was placed in the special compound and her age as recorded on admission was 12. This record was not altered. Her actual age then, as deduced on 8th June, would have been 18.
As I stated in reply to a Question last week a person under the age of 18 who is convicted by a court on a capital charge must be sentenced to be detained during the Governor's pleasure and such detention may be in prison.
The courts are not concerned with the exact establishment of age but with the age category of an accused person. On a capital charge the court must satisfy itself whether the accused is under 18. 1411 On a non-capital charge it must satisfy itself whether the accused is a young person, i.e., within the age range of 14 to 17 inclusive, or a child, i.e., under the age of 14. It is some indication of the difficulty of assessing the ages of young Africans that doctors who, as a result of research, have established a tentative standard (mainly by X-ray tests) indicating a minimum age of 17½ or thereabouts are not prepared, even in cases in which that standard can be applied, to commit themselves beyond a margin of error of six months either way. In court proceedings, of course, the benefit of any doubt as to age is given to the accused person.
§ Mr. Johnson
In the light of these facts, given openly by him, will the Minister agree that the charges made by Miss Fletcher now call into question, for possibly the first time, the impartial administration of justice by a British magistrate in a British Colony? Further, if the job of the magistrates in the courts was to settle whether these young Kikuyu girls were over or under 14 years, why could there not have been medical examinations in the first place, without waiting until the Minister himself sent out a cable and there was a hullabaloo in the House of Commons about it?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
I certainly do not think it can be said that this in any way calls into question the administration of justice. I have told the House that certain of the statements made by Miss Fletcher are being examined by her in consultation with my officers and with the Attorney-General of Kenya, who is now over here, and this afternoon, now that Mr. Dingle Foot has returned, they are actually having consultations. Copies of certain documents, including those to which Miss Fletcher referred in the articles at the end of last week, are now being flown from Kenya. It will take a little time to consider the results of the talks and to study the rest of the papers. When I have done this, I shall be glad to make available to the House all the information at my disposal, and I would venture to think that that might be the best way of resolving all the contradictions and, in many cases, undoubtedly, disagreements as to the facts.
§ Mr. Bevan
Is not the Minister aware that, whatever may be the differences as 1412 to the actual facts, sufficient has already been admitted by the Minister himself to show that there is something very seriously wrong with the administration of justice? Surely, would not the Minister agree that, after this lapse of time, to keep a child under 18 years of age in prison on a capital charge of consorting with persons carrying arms—the con-sorting being in most cases involuntary —that, in such circumstances, to keep that child in prison—in life imprisonment—
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
The right hon. Gentleman's supplementary question shows the danger and, may I add, the mischief that can come from sweeping charges unrelated to the facts. The right hon. Gentleman calmly used the word "lifers" as applying to three people, not one of whom was sentenced to life imprisonment.
The first was sentenced to two periods of imprisonment, terms of two years and five years to run concurrently.
The next two were sentenced to be detained during the Governor's pleasure, which is an obligatory sentence in the case of people found guilty on a capital charge and who are under 18 years of age. It does not mean a life sentence. It means that they are detained for as long as the Governor thinks it desirable, and I think that it needs little imagination to realise that in applying his discretion to cases of this or a similar kind the Governor would be actuated by due regard to the general state of the emergency and by normal humane considerations.
§ Mr. Peyton
Is my right hon. Friend aware that his policy in this matter has the entire support of this side of the House and that we support him entirely in repudiating the unworthy and shameful suggestions which are habitually made by the right hon. Member for Ebbw Vale (Mr. Bevan)?
§ Mr. Bevan
Is not the right hon. Gentleman aware that in the prison documents which have been quoted in the House a person detained at the Governor's pleasure is classified as a "lifer"? Is he not also aware that these children's sentences are reviewed every four years and is he not of the opinion that he and the Governor should be ashamed of themselves for keeping children in prison all this time?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
Once more the right hon. Gentleman enters the lists without having troubled to ascertain the facts. [Interruption.] These matters are so serious that I will try to retain my poise and deal with what the right hon. Gentleman has said. The four-year re-examination—if the right hon. Gentleman would listen—takes place in all cases of people sentenced to seven years' imprisonment or more. In addition to that, there is a special review procedure, about which a Question appears later in the Order Paper. In addition to that, in the case of those detained at the Governor's discretion, it is up to the Governor, at any time he likes—and without, of course, waiting for four years to elapse—to look at every case in the light of the circumstances. And I wish that the right hon. Gentleman would trouble to ascertain the facts before he lends his oratory to the mischievous continuance of untruths.
§ Mr. Shinwell
In view of the allegations and denials and contradictions that are inherent in statements made on both sides, would not the right hon. Gentleman agree that, in all the circumstances, and in order to remove suspicions that may exist in various quarters, it would be desirable to have a judicial inquiry into the matter? Would he consider that?
§ Mr. Lennox-Boyd
No, Sir. I do not believe that that is necessary or desirable. What I am proposing to do is to assemble all the information, which is being most carefully gathered—and my asking the Attorney-General of Kenya to come was an indication that I intended to take any such suggestions very seriously—to assemble this information and then find the appropriate means of letting hon Members have access to all the information to which I have access myself.
§ Mr. Speaker
Order. It seems to me that there is material here for a debate, which we cannot carry on at Question Time.
§ Mr. Fenner Brockway
On a point of order. With your permission, Mr. Speaker, I will transfer the subject of my Adjournment debate on Monday to the subject of these child prisoners in Kenya.