HL Deb 25 February 1841 vol 56 cc1016-9
The Earl of Devon

moved the second reading of the Petty Sessions Bill. He felt confident when their Lordships should have come fully aware of the present state of the law, and the manner in which it operated upon public interests, they would agree with him that it ought to be immediately altered; and he hoped it would be considered that the present bill would effect the necessary remedy. The propositions on which he ventured to ground his hopes that their Lordships would proceed with this bill were, that the present state of the law with regard to the trial and punishment of offenders, in which the circumstances were simple and the pecuniary value small, presented anomalies which it would be extremely desirable to have removed. The present state of the law operated most injuriously upon various prosecutors and offenders. It was his firm conviction that a bill of this kind was necessary, and hence be had brought in a similar bill the year before last, which was not persevered in; but a committee was appointed, and he would refer to the report of that committee, to show that the committee were favourable to his views, and that the present state of the law had failed to encourage prosecutions when punishment ought to follow the committal of crime. A great deal of evidence, which was highly important to the consideration of the present question, had been taken before that committee. The noble Lord read long extracts from the evidence, to show the necessity that existed for some such measure as he proposed. The noble Lord concluded with moving the second reading of the Bill.

The Marquess of Normanby

was not aware that the bill stood for a second reading that evening. He, however, had listened to the noble Earl's explanation with great attention, and he certainly was not prepared to offer any opposition to the measure in its present stage. Further than this, he would promise to consider the provisions of the bill one by one, and to determine which of them it would be desirable to invest with the power of law. By assenting to the second reading of the bill, he was, he conceived, only admitting what was already sufficiently clear; namely, that the present condition of the law was anomalous, and that it was desirable to ascertain whether a system of summary conviction could not be adopted, and how far the obvious convenience and substantial justice of such a system could compensate for what would, no doubt, be felt by many persons to be a great evil; namely, the abrogation of trial by jury in certain cases. At present he would not say more; he assented to the principle of the bill, and would give his best assistance to render its provisions as perfect as possible.

Lord Ellenborough

said, that from his experience in the district in which he lived, he thought it was hardly possible that the bill could be carried into effect there. It would be impossible to secure the attendance of magistrates every fortnight. Every gentleman in the district, who ought to be a magistrate, was in the commission; and yet they were very few in number. He hardly knew how his own absence was supplied when he was in town. He feared the same objection, arising out of the limited number of magistrates, would apply to many other parts of the country. He was fully aware of the inconvenience of the existing system, which the bill of his noble Friend professed to remedy. In many instances persons accused of small offences, of which probably they would be acquitted, were confined for several months before being brought to trial. This was a serious hardship on those individuals. Another evil was this, that frequently when a man was committed for trial for some petty offence, his wife and children would, the next day, apply to the board of guardians for relief. He very much desired to see a remedy applied to evils of this nature, but he feared that in many parts of the country it would be impossible to carry the present bill into execution.

The Marquess of Salisbury

approved of the principle of the bill, but thought that some of its details might be improved in committee.

Lord Brougham

said, that in assenting to the second reading of the bill, he wished it to be understood that he would not thereby consider himself committed to its principle. He was glad his noble Friend had brought the subject before the House, and his noble Friend deserved the greatest possible commendation for the pains which he had bestowed upon it. That the existing system was productive of great evils every one admitted, but whether the present, bill provided the best mode of removing those evils, was a question which he was not then prepared to decide. He would not say a word against the bill, and only wished it not to be supposed that he had made up his mind in its favour. He hoped that his noble Friend would afford the Law Lords ample opportunity for considering the bill, and for taking the sense of the House upon its principle, if they objected to it. That might be done upon the question for bringing up the report of the committee, or for the third reading.

The Earl of Devon

said, that he would attend to the suggestions of his noble and learned Friend.

Bill read a second time,

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