HL Deb 25 April 1839 vol 47 cc508-9
The Duke of Richmond

gave notice, that it was his intention to-morrow, to move for certain returns, which, in his humble opinion, were of great importance, as they concerned the due administration of the criminal law. It had been for a long time the practice of the magistrates in Sussex, to commit persons charged with small offences for trial at the quarter sessions; but it happened sometimes that between the committal and the holding of the sessions the assizes intervened, and cases had occurred where prisoners, whose names did not appear on the calendar, who were imprisoned and waiting for trial at the quarter sessions, had been discharged by the judge by proclamation. He did not mean in the slightest degree to impugn the conduct of the judge for taking this course, but he wished the matter to be settled one way or another, whether persons thus committed should be tried at the quarter sessions or at the intervening assizes. For the purpose of bringing the subject before their Lordships, he should to-morrow move "for a return of all prisoners waiting for trial in the different prisons and houses of correction in England and Wales at the last assizes, whose names were not in the calendar, specifying their offences, and those discharged by proclamation."

Lord Brougham

quite agreed with his noble Friend as to the discrepancy of the law upon this point, and that nothing could be worse than that discrepancy. At the same time he rather thought that it would be found, from what he had collected, that the learned judge could not have done otherwise than he did.

The Duke of Richmond

said, that in this instance there was only one gaol in the county, and the assizes were held at the house of correction. The witnesses in question were bound over to appear and prosecute at the quarter sessions.

Lord A binger

said, as he was the judge who had been alluded to he might be permitted to make a few observations. The duty of the magistrates was to commit prisoners in such manner that they might take their trial as speedily as possible after commitment. If magistrates had power to commit over an assizes to an adjourned quarter sessions, they might commit from one adjourned sessions to another for six months. The general rule was, that the judge should discharge the gaol, particularly of all prisoners whose names were in the calendar. In this instance the name of the prisoner was in the calendar; he was called up by proclamation, and he felt bound to discharge him. He thought it would be very convenient if the noble Duke would take this opportunity of bringing in a bill to govern the practice, leaving no discretion to the judges whatever.

The Duke of Richmond

said, on this occasion there was a difference of fact between the noble and learned Lord and himself. According to the information which he had received, the prisoners to whom he alluded were not in the custody of the Sheriff at all, but in the custody of the keeper of the House of Correction, and his motion was for a return of those only whose names were not in the Calendar. His object was, that there should be a uniform rule.

Lord Denman

said, there was a difference of opinion on the subject, and the noble Duke would do great service to his country by bringing in a Bill to settle the question.

Notice given.

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