HL Deb 27 May 1879 vol 246 cc1335-8

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, it had already received the sanction of the other House of Parliament. Its object was to give effect to the recommendation of a Commission appointed last year to consider the subject, and to establish a Public Prosecutor. It was the opinion of those most conversant with the subject that in the administration of our Criminal Law there was no necessity for a general and thorough change; but some of the most eminent of the witnesses—including the Lord Chief Justice and others—examined by the Commission thought that some change was required; and that, although the system worked generally well, there were frequently eases in which offenders escaped justice owing to the disinclination of individuals to take lip the prosecution. The object of this Bill was to meet those exceptional cases—such as large commercial frauds, in which private persons could not be expected to undertake the expense of prosecutions. In order to effect that, the Bill proposed that the Secretary of State should appoint an officer who would be called the Director of Public Prosecutions, and who would have the status of a permanent Under Secretary of State. It would be the duty of the latter, under the Secretary of State and the Attorney General, to carry out prosecutions undertaken by the Government. It was proposed that the Metropolis should be under his direct control, and that the Provinces should be mapped out into certain districts, each having an officer under the Director in London. The proposals of the Bill were rather intended to meet exceptional cases than to disturb the general system at present prevailing; and regulations would be made by the Attorney General, with the approval of the Secretary of State, as to the exceptional cases in which prosecutions would be undertaken, and as to the mode in which the Director of Public Prosecutions would give advice. Solicitors would be appointed for the Assizes, and there would be a staff in the Director's Department, the number of which would depend on the work to be done. It would not be large at first. For the first time, the Law Officers would have an Office in London, and there would be a continuity of rules in their Department. The noble and learned Earl concluded by moving the second reading.

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


said, though the Bill fell far short of what had long been called for by those who were in favour of a Public Prosecutor, he approved of it, as he thought it would be useful in its operation by having a tendency to prevent the scandals which now occasionally arose. During the time he was responsible for the discharge of the duties of Home Secretary, he found by his official experience that there were many defects in the existing system of criminal administration; but there was no part of it with which there was so much dissatisfaction as the very large powers exercised by the Home Secretary. A large part of these cases arose from the imperfect inquiry as to the antecedents of the prisoner, with respect to whom, after his trial and conviction, facts often transpired which ought to have been known to the Judge and Jury at the time of the trial. From Scotland, where such inquiries wore carefully made, there was not only a larger proportion of convictions to prosecutions than in England, but a far smaller relative number of appeals to the interference of the Home Secretary. The necessity of careful examination when the case was in progress was proved when, after sentence, the Secretary of State was called on to make fresh inquiries. If every case were, in the first instance, fully investigated, there would be less necessity than now for the exercise of the power vested in the Home Secretary; but its exorcise was at times necessary because of the discovery of important evidence after the trial. In his own experience, a man killed another apparently without cause. He was found lying by the side of the murdered man, whom he had not robbed. He was tried, convicted, and sentenced to death, and it was only after his sentence that, local inquiries having been made, it was discovered that he suffered from epileptic fits, and that when labouring under them he was dangerous to those who approached him, so much so, that his fellow-colliers had pressed the manager of the mine in which he was employed not to allow him to work with them. In Scotland, in such a case, all the antecedents of the prisoner would have been fully inquired into before the trial, and the Home Secretary would not have been obliged to have recourse to irregular means to discover what the facts of the case were. The Bill, in his opinion, would bring about a change which would be acceptable to the country.


disapproved of the principle of the Bill, and said, that it was admitted that the present system worked well in criminal prosecutions. At present, the reputation of the Attorney General, or of other lawyers instructed by the Solicitor for the Treasury, was as much founded on defences as on prosecutions, and they could afford to be fair, and not to stretch points unduly; but the reputation of those new Public Prosecutors would entirely depend upon the number of convictions they obtained, and it was impossible that they should not be biassed by that.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Friday next.