HL Deb 18 June 1847 vol 93 cc699-701

The EARL of DEVON moved the Order of the Day for going into Committee.


expressed his general approval of the measure. There had, of late, been an immense increase in the number of petty offences, which was occasioned, he believed, by the frequent acquittal of persons who committed those offences at the assizes and quarter-sessions, arising from the disinclination of juries to convict in such cases. A person who had stolen a fagot or an egg might be imprisoned for some months before his trial came on; the jury thought this a very hard case; and the consequence was, that the prisoner was acquitted, and a general impunity was declared for all persons who were guilty of these trifling offences. He (Lord Denman) considered, however, that these offences were very important; for they were generally committed by the idle poor upon the property of the industrious poor; and it was, therefore, most desirable that some means should be taken for their repression. It appeared to be the almost universal opinion of persons most conversant with the subject, that a jury ought not to be required to decide upon offences of such a trifling character; and he (Lord Denman) was therefore prepared, however reluctantly, to consent to a jury being dispensed with in such cases, provided a good and efficient tribunal was established to decide upon offences of this nature. He did not see, however, why the jurisdiction of such a tribunal should be confined to juvenile offenders; for he thought it might be advantageously extended to all offences, whatever the age of the criminals, which were not worth the expense of prosecution at the assizes or sessions. He objected to some of the details of the measure; but he would reserve his objections until the Bill was in Committee. There was one clause of this Act which authorized the court to direct restitution of stolen property; but the property might not be found in the hands of the criminal, or might not be discovered, and in that case the prosecutor would be a loser. He (Lord Denman) was most anxious that the principle of restitution should be carried out, and that where anything had been stolen the offender should be bound in one way or another to make good the loss.


concurred with the noble and learned Lord in the opinion that the principle of restitution ought, if possible, to be adopted.

After a few words from LORD CAMPBELL in support of the Bill,


was strongly desirous of seeing some change in the treatment of juvenile offenders, so that they might be instructed and reclaimed as far as possible. At present nothing gave him greater pain than to commit a child of tender years to imprisonment. He recommended to the attention of their Lordships the report of the Select Committee on the execution of the Criminal Law, whose suggestions were well worthy of adoption. The noble Marquess was understood to give notice that, in Committee, he would move that all prisoners of tender years should serve their term of imprisonment in separate confinement.

House in Committee.


thought it would he a great improvement if the operation of the Bill were not confined to children of the age of fourteen years. He would recommend that there should he no restriction as to age, but that all petty offences, by whomsoever committed, should come under the operation of the Bill. The noble and learned Lord concluded by moving an Amendment in conformity with his suggestion.


concurred with the noble and learned Lord in thinking that the Bill should not be restricted to persons of a particular age. he looked to this Bill with much satisfaction, and thought that after a little experience of the manner in which it worked, the principle of a summary and speedy jurisdiction might be still further carried out.

Amendment withdrawn.

The Committee went through the Bill with Amendments.

House adjourned.