HL Deb 01 March 1853 vol 124 cc789-91

, in moving that the House should go into a Committee upon the Bail in Error Bill, said, he would take the opportunity of briefly pointing out its principal provisions. It was a measure which nearly concerned the administration of justice, and, indeed, the liberty of the subject. It had long been the reproach of our law that after a conviction in a case of misdemeanor, where a sentence of imprisonment was pronounced and a writ of error was brought, the defendant was sent to prison, and there remained while the writ of error was pending; and it sometimes happened that he was discharged from prison after having undergone the full term of his imprisonment, before the writ of error had been decided in his favour. That grievance had remained unredressed until the year 1845. At that time the case of the late Mr. Daniel O'Connell had been heard. Mr. O'Connell had been in prison while a writ of error had been pending before the House of Lords, and it had then been proposed that the law should be altered; but his noble and learned Friend (Lord Lyndhurst) thought that it would not be advisable to alter the law until that writ of error should have been decided. Mr. O'Connell had accordingly remained in prison until that House had determined that the judgment against him had been erroneous, and then he was discharged. But he had suffered imprisonment for some months, although that House had thought that his sentence could not be justified. That circumstance had caused considerable scandal; and his noble and learned Friend (Lord Lyndhurst), who had always been an earnest and effectual friend to law reform, had introduced a Bill by which it had been enacted that if a writ of error should be brought by the defendant in case of misdemeanor, and gave bail that he would surrender in case the judgment against him should be affirmed, he should in the meantime be discharged out of custody, and enjoy his liberty. That Bill had proceeded upon an excellent principle, but, unfortunately, it had been rather defective in its provisions; for no special care had been taken that the prisoner who had been discharged should be recaptured when the decison was affirmed, and the consequence had been that in almost every instance in which bail had been given, the prisoner had escaped. One object of the present measure was to remedy this defect, and to take care that the defendant should always be forthcoming. According to the former Act he was merely required to surrender if the judgment should be affirmed: it was now proposed that he should from time to time, upon notice being given to him, make an appearance at every stage of the proceedings. Another evil in the Bill of Lord Lyndhurst was one of a character which had produced great perversion of justice. That Bill enabled defendants to tamper with prosecutors; and in various cases in which there had been convictions for atrocious crimes, the defendants, by bringing writs of error, had been admitted to bail, and had made up their differences with the prosecutors by giving them sums of money. The prosecutors afterwards did not appear, and the writs of error were necessarily decided in favour of the previously convicted parties. In one case several persons had been tried before him (Lord Campbell) at Westminster, and had been convicted upon the clearest evidence; but a sham writ of error had afterwards been brought, a compromise had been entered into with the prosecutors, who did not join in error, and the convicted parties had necessarily been discharged from custody. In order to guard against that evil, it was provided in the present measure that no reversal of the decision of the Court before which a case had originally been tried could take place until notice had been given to Her Majesty's Attorney General, and until he had certified to the Court of Error that he had received such notice, and that he concurred in the discharge of the prisoner. He (Lord Campbell) hoped that that provision would effectually put an end to compromises such as those to which he had referred. There were also in the Bill other clauses of a less important, but still, as he believed, of a useful character.

House in Committee.

Bill reported without Amendment; Amendments made; Bill to be read 3a on Monday next.