HL Deb 31 March 1876 vol 228 cc919-20

called attention to the fact that George Hill, lately convicted of murder at the Hertford Assizes, was in prison without a trial since 4th July of last year, and asked, Whether it is the intention of Her Majesty's Government to take any steps for preventing the recurrence of so great an evil? He thought it would have been almost sufficient for him to ask the Question as it stood upon the Paper, seeing the important business before their Lordships, but that an important question of principle was involved in the matter which necessitated a few remarks. He had been informed that the system of detaining prisoners a long time before their trial was getting far too prevalent. At the present Assizes, in his own county (Hertfordshire), there had occurred, several cases in which prisoners had been detained for periods extending from five to seven months before being brought to trial; and he had been informed that there were quite as many prisoners similarly circumstanced in Surrey and other counties. In his opinion the best way of relieving the Assize work, and thus preventing this evil, was to try the minor cases now tried at the Assizes at the Quarter Sessions.


said, that previously to the institution of Winter Assizes it had been frequently the case, unfortunately, that persons were kept for many months in prison awaiting their trial; and it was in order to lessen that evil that Winter Assizes were established. The rule with respect to holding those Assizes was that, in any Assize towns where there were six persons committed for trial after the Summer Assizes, Winter Assizes were held. In Hertford it happened that up to the time when the lists were made up there were only two persons for trial at Hertford, and consequently no Winter Assizes were held. It was much to be regretted that those two persons had been kept so long waiting for their trial; and in Hill's case the grievance was the greater, because he had been detained in prison until the Spring Assizes, and after that long delay was then acquitted. The matter had been engaging the attention of the Government, and, as had been announced already in the other House of Parliament, his right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department hoped to propose a measure to prevent the recurrence of such delays as those which the noble Earl had brought under the notice of their Lordships.