§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD BRAMWELL
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that it had already been twice passed by their Lordships' House. Its object was to extend the jurisdiction of the Court of Quarter Sessions in cases of burglary. Undoubtedly, there were many cases of burglary for which the offender deserved to be sentenced to penal servitude for life—cases in which housebreaking instruments and weapons such as firearms were used. Such cases ought to be tried by Judges of Assize. The offence of burglary was technically committed in most trifling cases. Burglary consisted in either breaking into or breaking out of a house between 9 p.m. and 6 o'clock a.m.; and the offence was committed if a man walked out of a lodging-house with another lodger's coat, simply opening the door, or if he put his hand through a pantry window and stole a piece of bacon. There were many cases of burglary sent to Assizes which might be more properly tried at the Quarter Sessions; for, as they knew, a man might be kept in prison a longer time awaiting his trial at Assize than he might be if tried by a Court of Quarter Session. It was impossible to lay down any rule, or to make any statement, which would define a case of trifling burglary. The language used in the Bill included all cases, but gave an option to the committing magistrate, who, instead of being bound, as he now was, to send all burglars for trial at Assizes, might, if he thought them proper cases, send them to the Court of Quarter Session. Though it included all cases, the Bill contained words which would sufficiently indicate to any, magistrate, mindful of his duty and endowed with common sense, that he was not to send grave cases to the Quarter Sessions. He denied that magistrates in Quarter Session were unfit to try such cases as were proposed. Magistrates at present tried cases of housebreaking, and to say that they were incapable of trying trifling 435 burglaries was to say that they were not capable of trying at what o'clock the offence was committed. He asked their Lordships to pass the Bill, with a view to benefit prisoners who otherwise might be detained longer than they would be if tried at Quarter Sessions, and in order to save the waste of time of Judges in trying trumpery cases.
§ THE MASTER OF THE ROLLS (Lord ESHER)
said, he had the misfortune to differ from the noble and learned Lord. He thought that before passing the Bill they ought, at least, to have some proof that magistrates in Quarter Session were willing to undertake the heavy responsibility thrown upon them. The enactment of the Bill was that any case of burglary might be tried before a Court of Quarter Session, so that cases of the gravest kind might be tried before this Court—cases the punishment for which was penal servitude for life. It was not fair to put upon local magistrates so great a responsibility as such cases might involve. The recital that the Bill was to be applied only in trifling cases had no effect upon the enactment. And, further, a trifling case in itself might be the offence of a man who had been previously convicted, and the responsibility for whose punishment ought not to be placed upon magistrates. He also wished to point out that while in the title of the Bill it was stated that the committing magistrate was to have a discretionary power in sending cases of burglary to the Quarter Sessions or Assizes, in the Bill itself, which was really all that should be looked at, nothing at all was said as to there being any option in the matter. The Bill was not wanted. The number of cases of small burglaries, as they were called, did not, on the average, exceed five at an Assize.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord HALSBURY)
said, he agreed with a great deal of what had been said on both sides. He thought it would be well to read the Bill a second time; but it would also be reasonable to wait and see whether some Amendment could not be made in the Bill. Mere trifling cases of burglary ought not to occupy the attention of Judges of Assize, blocking the way of more important business. Some improvement might be made whereby the Public Prosecutor or some proper person might intervene before a case was committed to 436 the Quarter Sessions, and see that there was no objection to the course taken. There were serious offences, such as wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm, which magistrates now practically decided should or should not be tried at Assizes. But even these did not depend absolutely upon the discretion of the magistrates. The Grand Jury had a right to intervene, and if they had before them what they considered an important and serious case they could return whatever Bill they liked, and it was quite within his experience that a Grand Jury had demanded to have before them an indictment for a graver offence than the one submitted in the first instance. He thought that some mode might be found, not of defining what was a little burglary—for he had tried to do that and had failed—but of providing some security against the evil suggested and preventing any danger from the rash or foolish action of a magistrate.
§ THE LORD PRESIDENT OF THE COUNCIL (Viscount CRANBROOK)
suggested that a way out of the difficulty would be found in allowing magistrates to treat small cases of burglary as cases of housebreaking.
§ Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly.