HL Deb 27 March 1840 vol 53 cc166-9

House in committee on the Metropolitan Police Courts Bill.

On the first clause,

Lord Wynford

objected to the attempt that was now made to supersede the magistracy of the counties near London by the appointment of stipendiary magistrates. In most parts of Surrey, and more particularly in Kent, with which he was well acquainted, there were on the bench in the towns in the neighbourhood of town, men calculated from their knowledge, as common or civil lawyers, to preside ably upon the bench. In this point of view he confessed he thought the appointment of paid magistrates, with clerks, courts, and court-keepers, at a very great expense to the county, was perfectly unnecessary. The duty of such a magistrate could not occupy more than two hours a day, for which he was to receive, as he was informed, 800l. per annum. His greatest objection to the bill was, that it provided that when the unpaid county magistrates were sitting in the discharge of their duty, should one of those paid magistrates come upon the bench, instantly their jurisdiction ended, and the whole jurisdiction was confined to the stipendiary magistrate only. He thought such a provision derogatory to the magistracy, who must resent this attempt to degrade them in the eyes of the public. They, if the bill were to pass, would feel it their duty to, at least, absent themselves from all proceedings in which the paid magistrates might, in virtue of their office and appointment, interfere. He thought the proper line dividing the metropolitan district and the rural district was sufficiently designated by the bill establishing the Central Criminal Court. He should therefore propose that the jurisdiction of such magistrates should be co-extensive with the boundaries of the jurisdiction of the Central Criminal Court, and that no court having a paid magistrate should be erected outside the circuit of the present criminal court's jurisdiction, which embraced the county as far on the side of Kent as Dept-ford and Greenwich. By pushing this system further out from the metropolis, the criminals in the rural districts would be mixed with and imprisoned in the gaols of the metropolis, which must have a tendency to corrupt them, and teach even the younger classes a more perfect system of fraud and plunder than they ever could arrive at without such means of instruction. He perfectly understood, and so did others too, that this was only a feeler to try the pulse of the public, and that if this bill was suffered to pass, the system of paid magistracy would be extended far and wide, and the independent magistrates throughout the whole country would be totally superseded, an event which he could not contemplate but with regret and alarm. In order to carry the object he had in view, he should move that the second clause of the bill be altered, by substituting for the words in it "Metropolitan police district," the words "the limits of the jurisdiction of the Central Criminal Court," which alteration he thought would effect that part of the object he contemplated. He should also propose that at the end of the second section, the power of appointing magistrates be limited by the insertion of the words, "and further, that there be not appointed more than twenty-seven paid magistrates to perform the duties of the said courts."

The Marquess of Normanby

said, he should certainly be opposed to any attempts thus to curtail the power given to the Crown by the bill of last year respecting the appointment of these suburban courts. The restriction was the less necessary, as there was already a provision in the bill of last year, giving the power to pay only twenty-seven such magistrates. He could not see the advantage that would be gained by the noble Lord's amendment, which substituted the words "limits of the jurisdiction of the Central Criminal Court," for the words "Metropolitan police district;" for in many instances the former was known to comprise places and towns distant fourteen miles from town or further. There was no danger, therefore, that if this bill were adopted, there would be any greater chance of the people in the rural districts being corrupted by mixing in these courts or in the gaols in town with metropolitan offenders, than already existed under the hill establishing the jurisdiction of the Central Criminal Court. It could not be fairly imputed to him, that he had given an invidious preference to the stipendiary over the county magistrates. That power, of which his noble and learned Friend complained, was given by the Police Bill of last year—namely, the power to act when sitting alone, which power could only be exercised now by two county magistrates. That power was now, upon the appearance of the police magistrates, virtually transferred to that functionary upon the bench. This had been determined on after due consideration and deliberation. Indeed, it was reckoned essential, in order to make the police effective; and, sooner than agree to a proposition which would impair the effectiveness of the police, he would prefer withdrawing the measure altogether, and let the bill drop.

Viscount Sydney

hoped a limit to the appointment of these courts, under the control of paid magistrates, would be fixed. The average number of cases inquired into by the magistracy in his own district was not more than 105 annually, for which the magistrate was to be paid at the enormously disproportionate rate of 800l. a year.

The Lord Chancellor

said the principal object of this bill was to fix what ought to be the construction put upon the bill passed last session on this subject, and to ascertain more precisely the limits of the jurisdiction then established for courts of this description.

Lord Wynford

renewed his objection, stating, that he did not like to trust to the promisses of Ministers, nor permit the Government to get the wedge in so as to authorise a system of jobbing the magistracy throughout the country in a wholesale way hereafter.

The Duke of Wellington

suggested, that it might be better he should now report progress, and suffer his learned Friend to print these amendments, so as to enable himself and other noble Lords to ascertain what the amendments really were.

The Marquess of Normanby

thought it desirable the bill should pass as soon as possible, in order to settle the point in doubt, whether the bill of last year sufficiently authorised the exercise of this jurisdiction by the magistrates under that bill. He should not hesitate to acquiesce in the proposition of the noble Duke. He moved that the chairman report progress.

House resumed.