HL Deb 08 July 1878 vol 241 cc950-2

said, he wished to ask his noble and learned Friend on the Woolsack a Question relating to a matter of considerable public interest on which he had been in communication with him. It was, Whether he had reason to believe that the Bill introduced by the Government in "another place" for establishing a Code of Indictable Offences would come before their Lordships in the present Session; and, if not, what course the Government intended to pursue in regard to it?


said, the question to which his noble and learned Friend had referred was, no doubt, an extremely important one. Her Majesty's Government had, as perhaps their Lordships were aware, introduced into the other House of Parliament a Bill of unusual magnitude dealing with the whole subject of indictable offences. The measure would repeal the whole of the present Statute Law in that matter, and substitute a Code. It also expressed and set out the whole of the Common Law on the same subject, and added a complete and new mode of procedure in regard to indictable offences; so that, if the measure should pass into law, it would constitute in itself one complete Code in that, the principal portion of the Criminal Law of this country. The only part of the Criminal Law not covered by it would be that relating to summary jurisdiction. The Bill was of great magnitude, and consisted of 425 sections. Of course, it had been the subject of very anxious consideration by Her Majesty's Government as to how a measure of this kind could be best proceeded with, and passed into law either in this or some subsequent Session. From the description he had given of the measure, their Lordships would probably be of opinion that it would be scarcely possible to suppose that, either in this or the other House, it could obtain adequate consideration and criticism in detail. Of course, at some periods of the Session, it might be possible to refer the Bill to a Select Committee; but, on the other hand, it was scarcely to be expected that any Members of either House of Parliament could give the time and attention which would be necessary in order effectually to examine and criticise a measure of such importance and magnitude in Committee. So, again, in regard to the proposal which had been made that the measure should be referred to a Royal Commission, if it were submitted to a Royal Commission of the ordinary kind consisting of persons probably occupied with other important labours and meeting at intervals, it was scarcely to be supposed that such a body could bestow the necessary amount of time and consideration on the measure. In regard to the preparation of the Bill, he could only say that his learned Friend Sir Fitzjames Stephen, who had been the draftsman, had devoted himself to it with a degree of labour and learning of which it was impossible for him to speak too highly. The Law Officers of the Crown, so far as it had been in their power, had also examined the Bill at every stage during its preparation; but they all felt that it would be too much to ask Parliament to accept a measure, however carefully prepared, on the faith of those who had been engaged in it. Under these circumstances, Her Majesty's Government had determined to adopt a course which he hoped would be satisfactory to Parliament, and would lead to the early passing of this Bill into law. They had determined to appoint a Royal Commission, consisting of three persons, who, during the months of November, December, January, and February next, had undertaken to devote the whole of their time, so far as might be necessary, to the examination and revision of this great measure. Of course, it would not be further proceeded with in Parliament that Session. He would mention the names of the Royal Commissioners, which he had no doubt would give satisfaction to their Lordships. He was glad to say his noble and learned Friend (Lord Blackburn), considering the state of Appeal Business in their Lordships' House, remembering that that Business was not so heavy during the months named as during other periods of the year, and relying on his (the Lord Chancellor's) assurance that other learned Friends would relieve him of his duties in that House for the four months in question, had agreed to act as Chairman, of the Commission. Mr. Justice Lush, one of the most learned and experienced Judges on the Bench, had also agreed, in consideration of being relieved from his more urgent judicial duties during the same time, to devote his services to the Commission; the third Member of which would be Sir Fitzjames Stephen himself, the author and draftsman of the Bill. Those learned persons—and he must offer the tribute of his own gratitude to them for the spirited way in which they had undertaken the task—would, from November to February, devote themselves to an earnest examination of the measure; and he trusted that when that had been done, they would not be disappointed in the expectation that Parliament, so far as regarded all matters of expression and mere detail, would put a very considerable amount of reliance on the work which they had accomplished.

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