HL Deb 07 July 1879 vol 247 cc1699-704

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, road.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second tune, said, the object of the measure was to amend the law relating to the summary jurisdiction of magistrates. The Bill was divided into three sections. The first part related to the Court of Summary Jurisdiction. The 4th clause enabled the Court to mitigate punishments awarded by Statute; it might, in cases where imprisonment was provided, omit the addition of hard labour, or reduce the prescribed period, or both; in cases where, in addition to the sentence of fine or imprisonment, the offender was required to enter into recognizances, or observe some other condition, the Court might dispense with that requirement. Where the law prescribed a sentence of imprisonment only, the Court might inflict a fine instead. The 5th clause regulated the scale according to which imprisonment might be imposed, as an alternative, whore fines inflicted were not paid. It rendered the scale of fines above £5 more regular than it was at present, and empowered the magistrates to allow fines to be paid in instalments. It provided, moreover, that fines not exceeding 58. should not carry costs, except by the special award of the Court. The 10th clause enabled the summary trial of children charged with any indictable offence other than homicide, unless objected to by the parent or guardian. In such case the Court was to inflict the same punishment as might have been inflicted on trial by indictment—except that no sentence of penal servitude was to be awarded in any case, imprisonment being substituted; imprisonment was not to exceed one month, nor any fine to exceed 40s.; but, on the other hand, the Court was empowered to direct the offender, in addition to, or instead of, any other punishment, to be privately whipped. Similar provisions were made by the 11th clause for the summary trial of "juvenile offenders," the punishments to be awarded being adapted to this class of offenders. The 12th clause provided for the summary trial of an adult with his own consent. Clause 16 provided an alteration in the existing law of much importance and interest. It proposed that if, upon the hearing of a charge for an offence punishable on summary conviction under this or any other Act, the Court should think that though the charge was proved the offence was of so trifling a nature that it was inexpedient to inflict any punishment, or only a nominal one, it might, if it thought fit, dismiss the information. Other clauses of this section dealt with details and special provisions. The 2nd section of the Bill related entirely to amendment of procedure. The 3rd section contained necessary definitions, savings, and repeal of existing Acts.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a." —(The Lord Chancellor.)


said, he was anxious to make a few observations on the Bill at its present stage. In some respects, the Bill appeared to bear hardly on Scotland with regard to the mode of procedure in the Border counties. The measure was entitled, "An Act to amend the Law relating to the Summary Jurisdiction of Magistrates." What he wished was to point out some anomalies with respect to the exercise of that summary jurisdiction in respect of offences committed on the Border, due to the omission to give magistrates on either side powers either to apprehend or to cite offenders on the Border. Through that omission many of the offenders escaped punishment altogether. In order to make the case plain, he would mention some particular instances. Supposing an individual committed an offence against the Act known as the " Offences against the Person Act of William IV.," and it was committed in Scotland by an Englishman, no proceedings could be taken against him, because there was a provision in that Act by which all the proceedings against offenders must be commenced by citation, and the jurisdiction of the County Courts in Scotland did not extend to the citation of offenders resident in England; therefore, no man could be cited, whether he was in Scotland or not, who could prove that his domicile was in England. There could be no question that the law in such cases ought to be amended, so that the warrants for the apprehension of offenders should be endorsed by the magistrates possessing summary jurisdiction in England. Even should this Bill pass, this anomaly would still remain, because the Act did not extend to Scotland, and, therefore, no power would be given to English magistrates to endorse Scotch citations; neither would there be any means of apprehending offenders, because the Scotch magistrates would have no power to issue warrants for that purpose, because they could proceed by citation only. Some years ago the opinion of the Law Officers of the Crown in Scotland on this point had been taken, and that opinion was that these citations could not be endorsed by magistrates in Scotland so as to be effectual in England, and that the only remedy was to obtain some statutory power to enable the magistrates in England, or the sheriff in Scotland, to issue warrants or citations for offences, not only in the case of the Act of Will. IV., but in the case of numerous other Statutes, and under the Common Law, and enabling citations and warrants to be endorsed and served as might be requisite. He also desired to call the attention of the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack to the fact that in some cases, such as the General Turnpike Act, the General Trespass Act, the Weights and Measures Act, and several other Acts, it was impossible to proceed either by citation or warrant. If any person committed an offence against any of these Acts in Scotland he must be cited—which was equivalent to being summoned in this country—to answer for the offence. Of course, if he resided in Scotland he could be reached; but if he contravened the Act ands happened to be resident across the Border he could not be cited. On the other hand, Scotchmen contravening the Act and resident in England had a right to complain that instead of being cited, as they would have a right to be in their own country, they were exposed to all the indignity of having a warrant served upon them, and being apprehended as if they were criminals. No doubt, it might be answered that these were small objections, which might be brought before the Committee on the Bill. No doubt, that might be so; but he brought them to their Lordships' attention now, in order that when they came to consider the Bill in Committee they might be able to decide in what way these grievances could be remedied. It seemed to him most anomalous that at the present time, when there was extradition between almost every nation of heinous offenders, there should exist in this country itself a district in which the law could not be carried out and offenders punished. He hoped that the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack would consider this question, and that when it came before the House again in Committee he would be able to propose some satisfactory remedy for those who suffer under the grievances he had described.


said, that he very much approved of the measure as a whole; but he had to point out the Bill proposed to give an increased discretion to magistrates in many points in which they had hitherto been limited by Parliament. Whatever confidence Parliament might usually have in the magistrates, they had in various ways limited their discretion, and had thought it necessary to define the character of the punishments to be inflicted. But he must say that, on the whole, considering that Justices of the Peace were qualified for their office more by social status than by legal knowledge, it was creditable to them that so few complaints were heard of their administration of the law. With respect to the Bill before the House, he thought it right that the magistrates should have the power of distinguishing between offences occasionally so similar as felony and mere trespasses; but, notwithstanding the power of the Court to draw this distinction so as to bring the case within their jurisdiction, such cases would often be brought to the Quarter Sessions or the Assizes even after the passing of the Bill. Another point for consideration was the proper area of the summary jurisdiction of the magistrates in Quarter Sessions. Were they, for instance, to deal summarily with cases of embezzlement and receiving? His own opinion was that the offence of receiving, which was a very serious one, and often difficult of proof, should be dealt with in the superior Courts, and not summarily. But he saw no sufficient difference in the importance or difficulty of the cases of embezzlement, and obtaining goods under false pretences, to justify a distinction between them, such as was proposed by the Bill, which included the former, but excluded the latter. But, whatever view might be taken of such points of detail, everyone would approve the Bill as far as it tended to expedite and improve the administration of justice.


said, it was certainly correct, as the noble Lord (Lord Balfour of Burleigh) had stated, that he had some time ago obtained from the Law Officers of the Crown in Scotland the opinion referred to. The question, to his mind, was one that well deserved the attention of the noble and learned Earl on the Woolsack.


was of opinion that the principle of the Bill was excellent, and that it would effect a great improvement in the existing law. He thought, however, the provisions which dealt with the case of vagrants might with great advantage be modified.


said, the suggestions which had been made by his noble Friend should receive full consideration. He proposed to fix the Committee for to-morrow week.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday the 15th instant.