HL Deb 30 June 1836 vol 34 cc1061-3
Lord Lyndhurst

moved the order of the day for the House going into Committee on the Prisoners' Counsel Bill.

Lord Wharncliffe

entirely disapproved of this Bill, but he should not trouble their Lordships with his reasons for doing so until the bringing up of the Report.

The Duke of Richmond

did not oppose the Bill. On the contrary, after the evidence that bad been take:!, he thought the Bill ought to pass. But he rose to ask the noble and learned Lord whether he would have any objection to introduce a clause to remedy an evil, the existence of which he pointed out last year? If he understood the principle of this Bill it was to give a fair trial to the prisoner. By the present law, if a man bad been previously convicted and was brought to trial for a second offence, it had been decided by the judges that the former conviction must be set forth in the indictment, and evidence be adduced to prove the identity of the prisoner. This, of course, brought the prisoner at once before the jury with a strong prejudice against him. He submitted to the noble Lord that a clause might with very great propriety be introduced into this Bill to alter the law in that respect.

Lord Lyndhurst

was desirous that the law should be restored to the state in which it formerly stood with respect to this point, and he should have no objection to introduce a clause to the effect proposed, provided the noble Duke would not afterwards call it an original Bill. It was his intention, when in Committee, to propose to strike out all the clauses except the first, as either being unnecessary, because they went to enact what was already the law, or because they were enactments which had no connexion with the real object of the Bill. He also intended to propose that the Bill should come into operation on the 1st of October. It would likewise be necessary to change the title of the Bill. It was now stated to be an Act to enable prisoners to make their defence by counsel. As prisoners were sometimes tried where no counsel were present, but were defended by attorneys, it would be necessary for the words "or attorney" to be in the preamble.

The House went into Committee.

On the 1st Clause

The Earl of Wicklow

said, that he had had communication with a very eminent judge in Ireland, who had great experience as a criminal judge, and he had stated that his opinion was, that the bill would not be, upon the whole, beneficial to the prisoner himself. He would confine the right of the prisoner to address the jury where the counsel for the prosecution had previously done so. Much time might be saved on occasions of this kind if this course were adopted, for however their Lordships might wish to avoid using time as an argument, yet they nevertheless must feel that time was an ingredient worthy of their attention while considering this question.

Lord Holland

said, that the object of the Bill, if he understood it aright, was not intended to be beneficial to the prisoner: and even if it were, he did not think that the judge or the counsel were the best authority upon the subject. The object of the Bill was the better administration of justice by placing the prisoner tried for felony upon a more equal footing with his prosecutor: upon the same footing, indeed, as persons were placed who were tried for other offences;.

The Earl of Radnor

thought there was a great discrepancy in the present state of the law, which ought to be removed. But still he did not entirely approve of the Bill. It was desirable that the indictment should be framed in a different way from what was now the practice. The mode adopted in Scotland and in France was preferable, and gave the prisoner much better opportunity of defending himself than the system adopted in England. He thought the alterations which the noble Lord was going to make would strike out the very best part of the Bill. [Lord Lyndhurst: In what way?] By striking out the clauses.

Lord Lyndhurst

The object was to make the proceedings in cases of felony correspond with the practice in all other criminal proceedings. Let that be done in the first instance, and see how it worked. If it were found to be inconvenient, then let the law be altered.

The 1st Clause was agreed to.

The Bill went through the Committee with considerable alterations.