HL Deb 23 February 1860 vol 156 cc1560-3

House in Committee according to Order.

Clause 2,


referring to some objections taken to the Bill on the second reading, said the only difficulty in carrying out the principle of the measure lay in this, that the district of the Central Criminal Courtand the metropolitan police district were not co-extensive. The Central Criminal Court district comprised the City of London, the county of Middlesex, and portions of the counties of Kent, Essex, and Surrey, including the borough of Southwark. By Act of Parliament Her Majesty in Council was entitled to assign as the metropolitan police district any portion of the Central Criminal Court district (with the exception of the City of London), and any place within fifteen miles of Charing-cross. The effect was that there were various portions of the counties he had named which were within the jurisdiction of the Central Criminal Court, but over which no police districts had been established; and the difficulty he had in framing this measure arose out of the fact that the City of London and portions of those counties were entirely out of the metropolitan police district. His noble and learned Friend (the Lord Chancellor) had expressed some misgivings as to intrusting to the Lord Mayor or to a single Alderman of London functions superseding those of the grand jury. Now he had given his noble and learned Friend's objection the best consideration; but he could see no way of obviating it short of leaving the City of London entirely out of the Bill, which would have the effect of defeating its object. He would submit to their Lordships that the City police courts, like the other police courts of the metropolis, were open to the public, and there was no reason to complain of the mode in which justice was administered in them. They would in every respect bear comparison with the other police courts—indeed if the ratio of acquittals to committals was taken as the test it would be found to tell rather against the police magistrates than the civic magistrates—and this probably arose from the fact that the Aldermen had the valuable assistance of clerks learned in the law, who prevented any mistakes being committed. The Legislature had certainly shown no disposition to disparage the City police courts; for in 1848 an Act was passed which gave to the Lord Mayor or to any single Alderman, sitting in public court, the same power and authority which could be exercised by any two magistrates sitting in petty sessions. They had, therefore, not only the power of committing persons for trial, but of exercising individually the power of summary conviction. His noble and learned Friend (the Lord Chancellor) said nice questions of law might arise in cases of this description; but he (Lord Chelmsford) ventured to submit that in ninety-nine instances out of a hundred no such case would arise. Nice questions of law might arise in cases of summary conviction, and yet the Legislature had intrusted the Lord Mayor and the City magistrates with the power of summary conviction. It was quite impossible that he could proceed with the Bill if their Lordships should be of opinion that any distinction should be made between the City magistrates and the other police magistrates of the metropolis. With regard to the outlying districts it would be in the power of his noble and learned Friend (the Lord Chancellor), in case he disapproved of the working of the Bill, to advise Her Majesty to annex them to police courts. There was only one other objection to the Bill, namely, that it would cause persons to be put on their trial at the discretion of a single person for offences that left an indelible stigma on those who were accused of them. Now if the accused were guilty, that objection would of course have no place; and he should imagine there was no innocent man who would not infinitely prefer an acquittal after a public trial than to have the bill against him ignored, because if the latter took place there would always remain a suspicion that it had been brought about by some underhand contrivance to evade justice. The principle of the Bill had been recognized by their Lordships twice, and also by the other House of Parliament. It was a Bill which had met with almost universal approbation both in and out of Parliament, and he trusted there would be no objection interposed to prevent their Lordships' adoption of a measure which he believed would introduce a very great improvement into the administration of criminal justice within the metropolitan district.


said, he was still unconvinced of the propriety of empowering the City magistrates to send for trial without the intervention of a grand jury. He thought, moreover, there was an advantage in the grand jury system, for it was obviously a good thing that persons of all classes should be periodically brought together to administer justice. At the same time, it was a very serious thing to put a man in the felon's dock and cause him to undergo a solemn trial—it was a thing that ought never to be done lightly—but where the magistrate was a trained lawyer he should be content to leave in his hands the discretion of committing or not persons for trial. The mode of conducting magisterial business in the country was certainly now much more satisfactory than formerly. Formerly the squire sat in his own hall, and had his gamekeeper for his clerk; but now the business was done in petty sessions, and they had for their assessors very able and competent persons—such persons as Mr. Oke and Mr. Martin the clerks at the Mansion House and the Guildhall.


doubted whether a grand jury afforded a better preliminary tribunal than the magistrates. True there were twenty-three men instead of two; but he had served on grand juries himself, and knew that the number of their members, so far from being an advantage, was a bar to any effective inquiry. A grand jury decided without hearing both sides, and, however able and anxious they might be, they were not in a position rightly to declare whether the cases which came before them should go for trial or not; whereas, on the other hand, you had two magistrates, men of education, deciding in open court after hearing witnesses, and perhaps solicitors on both sides, having moreover invariably legal assistance of their own. He believed that the Bill would effect a great improvement in the area to which it applied, and was glad that his noble and learned Friend (the Lord Chancellor) did not propose to amend it.


said, he believed he was the only person in the House who had had personal experience of the working of the grand jury system in London, and he could say it was impossible for them to make anything like a careful investigation into the cases brought before them. On one occasion when he served, the grand jury agreed among themselves that thirteen or fourteen should remain and do the business, and that the others might go away. They had between 300 and 400 Bills brought before them; and he put it to their Lordships whether such a tribunal could interpose any available protection against any possible mistake by a magistrate.

Clause agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

Amendments made, and Bill to be read 3a To-maorrow.