HL Deb 10 August 1854 vol 135 cc1505-8

Commons' Amendments considered (according to Order).


moved that their Lordships do agree to the Commons' Amendments on this Bill, with some modifications. Most of these related to the arbitration clause; but there was one subject as to which a substantial alteration had been made in the measure, which no doubt the other House considered an amendment, but in which he could not concur; at the same time, he did not think it wise to raise any discussion on the subject, and so endanger the passing of what was otherwise a very useful and important Bill. As the measure was sent down to the House of Commons, it contained a clause providing that whereas, by the law as it at present stood, juries must be unanimous, or, if not, must be kept together until they were, in future they should be kept together only twelve hours, and during that time they might, under the direction of the Judge, be supplied with reasonable nourishment, the object being to secure a proper amount of deliberation, with a view to bring the jury to a unanimous decision; but if at the end of that period they should not be unanimous, then the verdict of ten or eleven, if so many should agree, should be taken as that of the whole. That provision had been introduced on the suggestion of his noble and learned Friend (Lord Brougham), and he confessed its great superiority to the recommendation of the Commissioners—namely, the simple discharge of the jury at the end of twelve hours if they did not agree before; because, supposing such a course had been adopted, it would have been in the power of one or two obstinate men on the jury to have prevented a verdict being obtained, by simply holding out for twelve hours. The suggestion was therefore agreed to by their Lordships, and the Bill went down to the House of Commons in that state; but in the Amendments made there, half of that clause had been struck out, and the very provision objected to by their Lordships, for the discharge of the jury after twelve hours' fruitless deliberation, introduced. Inasmuch, therefore, as their Lordships had refused to adopt such a principle at an earlier period of the Session, when they had ample opportunity to consider the matter, he did not think they could adopt it now. What he should propose was, to agree to the Commons' Amendments, and further amend the Bill by striking out the whole of the clause in question, thus leaving the law in respect to the unanimity of juries in the state it was before. He had the less scruple in recommending that course, inasmuch as the Commons had already struck out three clauses relating to the jury system, and it would, therefore, be absolutely necessary that the whole subject should be considered early next Session. In the manner in which the Bill had been sent up, it became simply inoperative, and there was no sense in the following clause, the 18th, which related to that part of the 17th clause that was struck out; the 18th might, therefore, now be dispensed with, as well as what remained of the former one.


heartily congratulated the House that, after the serious disappointments they had met with during the present Session, they had now almost a certain prospect that one of the most important Bills for the improvement of the law that had ever been proposed would receive the Royal assent. The Amendments made by the Commons by no means vitally affected the principle of the Bill, and they would be enabled by very slight sacrifices to obtain the reform they wanted. In his opinion, if this Bill passed, it would redeem the Session from the imputation of having been a fruitless one. He believed that since the time of Edward I. so im- portant a measure of legal reform as the present had not been introduced. The only one of the Amendments from which he should be disposed seriously to differ was that regarding the unanimity of juries, which was much too large a question to be now discussed. With respect to the additional Amendment proposed, he concurred most heartily in it, and he had every reason to believe that it would meet with approbation elsewhere, because, as the Bill now stood, it might have the most injurious effect, inasmuch as a wrongheaded man or a friend to either party might, by sitting twelve hours, prevent an adverse verdict, and thus not only would the time of the Court be wasted, but a most unprofitable expenditure would take place. If such a principle were admitted into civil trials, attempts would be made to extend it to criminal proceedings, and their Lordships might be very well assured that, if in trials for murder juries could obtain their discharge by refusing to give a verdict after twelve hours' deliberation, there never would be a conviction, and it would virtually amount to the abolition of the punishment of death altogether. They must be very cautious, therefore, what principles they introduced into the administration of the law with regard to civil trials, as by their transference to criminal trials they might give rise to the most injurious consequences. He should be glad if it were no longer requisite that the jury should be unanimous in delivering their verdict; but as the House of Commons refused to assent to any relaxation of the law on this point, he thought it was necessary to retain the present compulsory means of securing unanimity. In the present instance, he quite concurred with his noble and learned Friend on the woolsack, that it would be better to leave the law in that particular as it stood, and therefore the only course which could be pursued was that which had been suggested.


regretted that a proposal so reasonable in itself, so calculated to increase the efficiency of trial by jury, and to secure additional respect for it, as that of allowing the verdict of ten or eleven jurors to be taken as that of the whole, in case they did not agree after a certain time, should not have received the assent of the House of Commons during the present Session. He was, however, sure that when the attention of the public had been called to it, it would eventually be adopted.

Commons' Amendments agreed to, with Amendments; and Bill, with the Amendments, sent to the Commons.