HL Deb 24 February 1898 vol 53 cc1493-5

In asking your Lordships to read this Bill a second time I think it is necessary to say a word or two on the subject of it, because, by reason of the very few lines which are contained in it, it might seem to be an unimportant matter. I believe that although the change is a very small one which is asked to be made in the law, it is a change which is fraught with very important consequences. My Lords, the history of bail in this country has been a somewhat singular one. The necessity and expediency of admitting prisoners to bail is hardly doubted now, yet, for some reason or other, the magistrates throughout the country have thought it right, almost as a rule, to refuse bail. They are under the impression that they are entitled to treat the period which elapses between the committal for trial and the actual trial as a period during which they might partly punish the accused persons by refusing them bail. My Lords, the inexpediency of that practice has now become very manifest, and it has, in a great measure, rather hampered the administration of justice in the case of persons awaiting trial at Quarter Sessions. A great many of Her Majesty's Judges are under the impression, and act upon it, that they have no jurisdiction to allow any person to remain in gaol when they come to deliver the gaol. They have perhaps taken a more constitutional view than the Legislature itself. On more than one occasion a miscarriage of justice has arisen in consequence. Another obvious reason for the Bill is that there is no reason why a great number of persons who are earning their own living, and can be permitted out on bail, should be supported at the expense of the country. For some reason which I am unable to understand, the magistrates throughout the country have exhibited very strong reluctance to admit to bail. I am told by those who ought to know that it has arisen from a belief that the facilities for railway travelling, etc., aid the escape from justice of persons, if allowed out on bail, but I believe that our improved system of police and the electric telegraph make it almost impossible for poor persons to escape. As I understand it, the excuse put forward for this extraordinary reluctance on the part of magistrates to admit prisoners to bail is that under the present law their discretion is greatly hampered. The Bill which I present, with a view to getting rid of this excuse, leaves everything to the discretion of the justices. It can be in future never suggested that the justices have not the power, if they think proper, to admit to bail any accused person, even on his own recognisances. Over and over again Her Majesty's judges have pointed out that many persons have been sent to gaol who ought to have been admitted to bail. Every judge who has to sentence a prisoner who has been a long time in gaol naturally and justly takes into consideration, in passing sentence, the period of his detention, but when he does that everybody doss not know the ground upon which he has pronounced, perhaps, a comparatively small sentence. We have seen unfavourable comment with regard to such cases, but in passing sentence the learned judge has been alive to the fact that the accused has been in gaol for many months. There can be no doubt that there has been an undue and unreasonable reluctance to admit to bail. I propose to get rid of the excuse by giving the magistrates unfettered discretion, except in certain cases, such as treason, to admit to bail any persons whom they have reason to believe will submit to take their trial, and for that reason I ask your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading.


I entirely approve of the Bill, which my noble and learned Friend has introduced, and I hope it will pass into law.

Read a second time accordingly.

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