§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.
§ LORD CAMPBELL moved the Second Reading of this Bill, the object of which he stated to be, to change the mode of administering the oath to witnesses who were about to give evidence before grand juries. The mode now in use was, to swear the witnesses in great mobs in open court, in a way which was very irreverent, very inconvenient, and very misbecoming. The Bill provided that the foreman of the grand jury should administer the oath in the grand jury room before he was examined. A noble Friend of his had complained that the Bill did not extend to Ireland; but upon inquiry he (Lord Campbell) found that the system which the Bill proposed to introduce had already prevailed in that country for the last twenty years. He should be glad to see the principle extended in their own direction, and that the chairman of Select Committees of that House should have power to swear witnesses appearing before them, instead of the oaths being administered at the bar in a hasty and somewhat slovenly manner. Whether the House had power to effect such a change by a simple Resolution might be a matter of doubt; but it was quite certain that such a change was most desirable.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.
§ LORD PORTMAN
said, he had given notice of a Motion to postpone the second reading for six months, but after what had occurred it would not be necessary for him to press it. Some hon. Members of the other House had represented to him that the Bill, which was one of considerable importance, had passed through that House rather unexpectedly; and, as it was desirable that its provisions should be fully considered, he had given notice of a Motion to postpone the second reading, in order that their Lordships' attention might be called to it. One point which required consideration was whether, as grand juries at quarter sessions comprised no magistrates, it was right to confer upon the foremen of such grand juries the power of 1967 magistrates in respect to the administration of oaths. It had also been suggested that, as grand jurors were sworn to "keep the Queen's counsel, their own, and their fellows'," they might be compelled, in the event of the Bill being passed, to give evidence upon what occurred in the grand jury room. That, he was told, was an over-sensitive feeling, as no doubt the noble and learned Lord (Lord Campbell) would at the proper time explain, and he was quite content to leave the matter in his hands. With respect to the extension of the principle represented by this Bill to Committees of that House, he could see no reason why it should not be done.
§ LORD BERNERS
said, he could see no objection to the Bill, except that the mode of swearing the witnesses proposed in it was one that would take away from the solemnity of the administration of justice.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
supported the Bill. He spoke after an experience of many years in a criminal court, and he thought nothing could be more discreditable than the way in which the oath was now administered there. On the first day or two of the assizes in a large county it was almost impossible to pass and repass in the criminal court, owing to the continual pressure from witnesses who were being sworn. The whole exhibition, he repeated, was excessively discreditable, and he thought the main object of the Bill an exceedingly desirable one.
and the MARQUESS OF SALISBURY, were understood to express their general approval of the Bill.
§ THE EARL OF POWIS
observed, that he did not see why the foreman of the grand jury should be called upon to do the duty of the crier of the court.
§ THE EARL OF HARDWICKE
thought a great deal of time would be lost by the grand jury if this measure became law; instead of examining witnesses, they would be employed in swearing them. The question was, how to insure more decency in the swearing of witnesses, and he thought this object might be attained if, instead of being sworn by a crier, the witnesses were sworn either by a magistrate or the Judge himself. He did not look upon the Bill as at all necessary.
said, the suggestion would involve the suspension of the trials in court; and as it was, the business was seriously interrupted.
§ Motion agreed to.1968
§ Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the whole House on Tuesday next.