HL Deb 14 May 1860 vol 158 cc1200-3

Order of the Day for the Third Reading read.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 3a.


said, he should oppose the third reading. The second clause dealt with the crime of murder, and he wished a proviso to be introduced into that clause that should meet the crime of wholesale murder arising out of the premeditated miscreancy of men who placed obstructions upon railways and thereby caused fearful loss of life. The 36th Clause provided that in cases where an individual was run over by a hackney carriage the driver should be subjected to the penalties of misdemeanour, but drivers of private carriages were exempted from that punishment. The Act gave no sufficient protection to the public against the fatal results of careless and reckless driving. In the last two years it appeared by the Returns that 134 persons had been killed, and 1,827 maimed and injured, in the Metropolis alone, by being knocked down and run over. The present state of the law was utterly ineffectual to repress the evil. Few persons could bring an action against the individual causing the injury; and there was no public prosecutor to put the law in motion. The deaths were generally found to be "accidental" by the coroners juries, but the word was quite conventional; it was ridiculous to suppose that all the 134 victims were killed by accident. What was required to repress such recklessness was a power of immediately arresting the offender and awarding an immediate and personal punishment, not a paltry flue of 40s. In one of Moliere's plays, a doctor asked how a certain patient was, "He is dead," was the reply. "Impossible! He was not to die till Thursday." "Nevertheless, he died on Tuesday, after taking the remedy prescribed." To which the doctor returned. "Enough! I am satisfied. If the formalities of medicine were gone through, all was right." It appeared to him in this case, that if the formalities of law were observed, that was all that was looked for. It was the duty of the Secretary of State for the Home Department to deal with this question, but it had not received his attention. In the case of persons poisoned, the body was exhumed, and the Home Secretary directed a post mortem examination: but in the case of these 134 deaths and 1827 injuries he had directed nothing to be done. Probably the Home Secretary was too much engaged on the Reform Bill or the paper duty to attend to a matter that so seriously affected the lives and properties of the public. Believing that such offences as he had described required to be treated with something more than a mere legal formality, he must withhold his assent from that portion of the Bill.


agreed that the offence, in reference to railways which had been alluded to by the noble Marquess should be repressed by the strong arm of the law; yet still he thought that it would be hardly possible to deal with that offence as with a case of murder. The Bill proposed the punishment of penal servitude for life, and he thought that would give sufficient protection to persons travelling by railway. As to injuries by running over persons in the street, the penalty might be two years' imprisonment, and that was a severe punishment.


What, for killing a man?


But surely there was a difference between killing: a man by running over him and killing him by murder; as also there was a distinction between both these cases and that of putting obstructions upon a railway. It appeared to him that the Bill would meet very many cases which occurred. He did not think there was anything to justify the strong censure which had been passed upon the Home Secretary.


observed, that the Bill would deprive magistrates acting singly of some of the jurisdiction which they now exercised, at least in Ireland. The Court of Petty Sessions for most purposes, except in the cases specially provided for, was constituted by one magistrate, who might thus deal with cases of common assault, and award punishment. But by the 44th clause of this Bill two justices would be required to exercise summary jurisdiction in cases of common assault, or even to take informations for the purpose of sending offences for trial.


said, that these Bills for the consolidation of the criminal law of the country were presented in their present mature state as the result of the labours of successive Governments, whether Liberal or Conservative, for nearly thirty years, and if they now became law a great object would be accomplished. The objections raised by the noble Marquess were those which he had replied to before. Such acts as the noble Marquess described, if done maliciously, with intent to kill, would still be murder, and if done negligently with fatal consequences they would be manslaughter; it was, therefore, unnecessary to define them in this Bill. In reply to the suggestions of the noble Earl (the Earl of Clancarty), he would say that the Members of the Commission had taken the greatest care to discriminate between those cases where one justice only was required and the case which required two. He believed it would be found that the limits of the administration of the law by justices were satisfactorily defined.


thought that if a public prosecutor were appointed a good deal of mischief might be prevented.

Motion agreed to.

Bill read 3a accordingly.

Amendments made.

Bill passed and sent to the Commons.

The other six Bills having for the object the consolidation of the statute criminal law were also severally read 3a, passed, and sent to the Commons.