HL Deb 24 May 1880 vol 252 cc303-6

said, that since he brought the case of the Brahmin Gya Pershad before the House last year, he had been informed by Lord Lytton's Private Secretary that the repeated floggings he had undergone for trifling infractions of prison rules were according to the India Prisons Act of 1870. Now, he did not refer to the cases of ruffians who might assault the warders; but in cases like this of Gya Pershad, a man who had rendered services to the Government, and had received a parchment certificate, called a Sunnud from Sir Richard Temple for hi public-spiritedness, the Prisons Act re quired revision. He had heard of an other case at the gaol of Patna, where a Mr. Simpson, the Superintendent, said to a prisoner named Amir Khan, "You are not working," and because he replied, perhaps hastily, "You see I am working;" for this he ordered him to be flogged, and as the man was in some danger of his life from the flogging, the Lieutenant Governor ordered an inquiry; but nothing came of it. With regard to the other Question of which he had given Notice, it had been stated in two novels which had appeared, one last year and the other this year, that in the Punjab a rule existed, or a Circular had been issued, to the effect that in murder cases where there was insufficient evi- dence, the case should be treated as manslaughter, with penal servitude for life. These novels were more of the nature of pamphlets in disguise; but as such books might be thought too trivial, he would read to the House a letter from their author, who might be known to the noble Marquess, since he recently opposed his brother at the elections at Calne. 3, King's Bench Walk, Temple, May 10, 1880. DEAR LORD STANLEY,—The statements in Beating the Air, and in Loyal and Lawless, with regard to evidence sufficient and insufficient, in murder cases in the Punjab, are grounded upon my personal experience and recollection. I fancy the rule referred to by me was laid down in a Circular by the Punjab Chief Court, addressed to Civil Officers, in 1873 or thereabouts, and the Circular may have been printed in The Punjab Record, an official compilation published monthly at Lahore. But as to the fact of the existence of such a rule I need scarcely say there is no doubt whatever. I have always been most anxious that my books should be true, not only in general, but in particulars; but it never occurred to me to seek for documentary evidence of what I learned by personal experience in the country of which I wrote. Truly yours, (Signed) "ULICK RALPH BURKE. Now, it was very difficult to obtain any attention in England for these things, which were blots upon the administration, and abuses, and he hoped the India Office would remedy them. Mr. Gladstone had used these words with reference to the murder of Serjeant Brett and the blowing up of the Clerk-enwell Prison as leading to attention to Irish grievances. They were his amended words last March, after Lord Grey had taken exception to what he said in November. Those two great crimes committed in England led the people of England to consider the state of Ireland; and when they came to consider the state of Ireland, it was not through the murder of the policeman or the blowing up of Clerkenwell Prison, but by the merits of the case. Now, in order to obtain attention to their grievances, would it be necessary for the Indians to murder a Chuprassy, or a Chief Commissioner, or even a Lieutenant Governor?


, in reply, said, so far as he had been able to ascertain, there was no reason to believe that the Indian Prisons Act of 1870 stood in need of revision in respect of those of its provisions which dealt with the infliction of corporal punishment for breaches of prison discipline. Up to 1870 punishment of that kind was inflicted by the direction of the magistrates or the gaol superintendents, under rules framed by the different local governments, the legality of which rules had, he believed, been sometimes questioned. When the Prisons Act of 1870 was in preparation this point was thoroughly considered, and a Select Committee of Council appointed for the purpose. It was the opinion of all experts in Indian prison administration that it would not be possible to maintain discipline in the large Indian gaols without retaining the power of inflicting corporal punishment. The gaols were large, some containing as many as 1,000 prisoners, and punishments could be inflicted in English prisons which could not be adopted in India, in consequence of the difference of the climate and of the character of the people. With regard to the particular case to which his noble Friend called attention last year, the statement had attracted the attention of the authorities in India, and the Government had received a Memorandum from the Chief Commissioner, in which he pointed out that the noble Lord had been very much misinformed as to the details of the case. The prisoner to whom the noble Lord had referred, a person of the name of Gya Pershad, had been convicted of a very serious offence—that of forgery—and in prison it had been found necessary to frequently punish him for breaches of discipline. He had ascertained that since the passing of the Act of 1870 a Committee had been appointed by the Indian authorities to inquire into the question of prison discipline; but its Report had not been sent to this country. He had taken steps, however, to procure it; and if it touched at all upon the particular aspect of the matter referred to by his noble Friend, it would undoubtedly be the duty of the Government to consider any suggestion the Committee might have made. His noble Friend was also misinformed on the second point of the Question. His noble Friend supposed that in 1873 a Circular had been issued directing the Judges to pass sentences of transportation in murder cases where there was not evidence sufficient to warrant a sentence of death. There was no such Cir- cular in existence. What had happened in 1873 was this—a prisoner had been convicted of murder, and the Judge had passed a sentence of transportation upon him, upon the ground that he had not been arrested in the act of committing the crime, or while escaping from the place in which it had been committed. The case came before the Superior Court, and the two Judges who sat upon it expressly disapproved the action of the Inferior Court. The Superior Court held that if the evidence was incomplete the prisoner should have been acquitted; while, if the evidence was sufficient to justify a conviction, the offence was one deserving the extreme penalty of the law. In the same year, a Judge of the Sessions Court of Peshawur had submitted a memorandum recommending that in murder cases where there was a difficulty in obtaining complete evidence, sentences of transportation should be passed. The Chief Court had, however, entirely repudiated the doctrine that punishments could be graduated according to the amount of evidence. The noble Lord would, therefore, understand that the practice of the Indian Courts was not by any means what he had been led to suppose.