HL Deb 14 June 1842 vol 63 c1515
Lord Wharncliffe

presented a petition from Mr. John Smith, of Liverpool, against the rule which required prisoners to plead not guilty, and praying for the adoption of some mode of taking the plea, by which it should not be necessary for a prisoner to affirm that which in his conscience he believed to be untrue.

Lord Denman

observed that the practice which formerly prevailed of judges persuading a prisoner not to plead guilty was wholly given up, but he confessed that he was much of the opinion of the petitioner, that for the purposes of trial it. was sufficient to inform the prisoner of the charge, and then proceed to call the witnesses, first allowing him to confess his guilt if he should wish to do so.

Lord Campbell

said, that the object of allowing a prisoner to plead guilty was to prevent the necessity of calling the evidence, and it would be sufficient for this purpose if they permitted the prisoner cxmero motu to say that he was guilty. The scandal arising from the judge persuading a prisoner to make a statement which was a falsehood no longer existed; but at the same time it would be a great improvement in the law if they did not require a prisoner, when on his trial, to plead not guilty.

Lord Wynfbrd

had often persuaded a prisoner who pleaded guilty to consider well whether he would plead guilty, and would, if on the bench, do so again. By the plea of not guilty, the prisoner did not deny his guilt, but he denied, even if guilty, that the law was applicable. Such an alteration as was now suggested was needless, and he believed that these continued alterations were doing a great deal of mischief.

The Bishop of Chester

had often been struck with this as a disgrace on our jurisprudence, that this practice should have so long continued, and he had often wondered whether some such question as "Do you confess your guilt?" or "Do you wish to be tried by the laws of your country?" might not be substituted.

Petition laid on the Table.

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