I wish to put the first Question standing in my name on your Lordships' Paper, viz.: Whether the women agitating for the vote who were arrested on 30th June were prosecuted before Mr. Francis under Section 2 of the Prevention of Crimes Amendment Act, 1885, whether the maximum penalty on conviction under that Act is a fine 1429 of £5 or imprisonment for two months in default; whether, in fact, a certain number of those prosecuted were not convicted under such Act, but were ordered to find sureties to be of good behaviour, and were in default imprisoned for three months, what legal authority exists for requiring sureties of good behaviour of these defendants, and for dealing with them in the manner indicated.
I regret that this Question should appear on the Paper on a day when there is so much work to do, but I may remind your Lordships that I postponed it last week in deference to the request of His Majesty's Government. There is a rather peculiar circumstance with regard to the recent sentences in connection with the women who were arrested on the 30th of June. The prosecution took place under Section 2 of the Prevention of Crimes Amendment Act, 1885, which has the effect of making a new crime of cases of resisting or wilfully obstructing any police officer in the execution of his duty. It provides that under that section a person convicted shall not be liable to a greater penalty than £5 or in default of payment imprisonment for not more than two months. The effect of that is that when a person is convicted under that section, if it is considered to be the worst possible case that could arise under that section, then the maximum penalty that can be inflicted is a fine of £5, and if the person who has the option of paying that does not do so the maximum sentence that can be imposed is two months imprisonment. Instead of passing that sentence, however, the magistrate proceeded to offer to bind over these offenders to be of good behaviour. It is difficult to see how that arises. There is the common law power which, I think, would not apply, and therefore this must have come under Section 1 of the Probation of Offenders Act, passed last year. If that is the Act under which the magistrate acted you have the curious result that under a section of an Act which says that where the nature of an offence is trivial, and it is not considered expedient to inflict other than a nominal punishment, the magistrate gives three months imprisonment to people who would otherwise have only been fined £5 or in default would 1430 have been imprisoned for two months. It may be legal to do that, I dare say it is legal, but I think your Lordships will be of opinion that it is rather straining the provisions of an Act of Parliament which professes to hold out leniency. It may be said that these persons might have entered into the surety to be of good behaviour, but I do not think that that is a fair thing to say, for, though mistaken these ladies may be, they hold a certain view and they hold it as definitely as people connected with the Salvation Army hold their views, and they naturally refuse to be bound over not to do again what they think they have a right to do and ought to do. That they refuse is shown by the fact that all these ladies are, I imagine, still serving their sentences of three months imprisonment in the second division and the second division does not differ appreciably from the third division for it involves the wearing of prison clothes, the eating of prison diet, and solitary confinement each day for twenty-two and a half hours. We can hardly consider it reasonable that these ladies should be given an addition to their punishment under an Act which professes to ameliorate the punishment which can be given to them. They might have been charged with being disorderly, but they were not, and Parliament has limited the penalty under this particular section to £5. I should like to ask if it is under the Probation of Offenders Act that they have been imprisoned.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
The Question of the noble Lord divides itself into two parts. On the question of fact he is entirely accurate. It is only in the last three lines of the Question that there comes a legal question, and with regard to that I am somewhat unwilling to enter the lists against the noble Lord. I do not think the Probation of Offenders Act had anything to do with the decision of the magistrates, and therefore the argument of the noble Earl, so far as it was founded on that Act, falls to the ground. The noble Lord asked what legal authority there is under Section 2 of the Prevention of Crimes Amendment Act, 1885. These cases come under Section 12 of the Prevention of Crimes Act, 1871, under which any person who 1431 is convicted of an assault on any constable in the execution of his duty is guilty of an offence for which he shall be liable to a fine of £20, or in default to a term of imprisonment with or without hard labour. I apprehend that it was under this section the magistrates acted, and I am bound to say that I think the steps they took met with the approbation of the people of the country.
I am not sure how much I comprehend that answer. Now I want to ask the second Question in my name, viz.: Whether the women imprisoned in connection with the recent disturbances on 30th June, are not political offenders within the rule laid down in Re Castioni, and why their treatment in prison is more severe than that usually awarded to political offenders; and further, whether His Majesty's Government seriously contends that there is any legal obstacle to the exercise of the Royal prerogative of mercy in these cases. I do not want to trouble your Lordships, at any length, but I must remind you of the well-known case of Castioni, who shot and killed a person in a political rising and the question arose whether he was guilty of a political crime. I am well aware that the question of its being a political crime could only arise on the question of extradition, and that if he had shot and killed a man and been captured in his own canton he would have been dealt with in the ordinary course. The worst offenders among the ladies who have been arrested have been guilty of nothing worse than making speeches, and whatever their trifling acts may have been they were admittedly in furtherance of a political object. They are treated as second division prisoners, and this differs only from an ordinary sentence of hard labour in the fact that there is possibly not so much labour to do, better prison diet is provided, and possibly also they are better off in the privileges with regard to receiving visits; but they have to wear prison clothes, they are not allowed books or writing materials, and they have to spend twenty-two and a half hours out of twenty-four in their cells. This question has been pretty often raised in the other House, and I have watched the answers of the Home Secretary, but I 1432 have not been able to detect whether Mr. Gladstone says that the Royal prerogative of mercy does not exist in this case. On some occasions I gather that Mr. Gladstone said that these were not cases where he had the power to exercise the Royal prerogative of mercy. I should like to ask whether the Home Secretary cannot, and in some cases has not, exercised the Royal prerogative, and in some instances has interfered in cases in regard to contempt of Court. May I remind the House of the very different attitude adopted towards these ladies from the attitude which was adopted in regard to the squatters who have settled on the Island of Vatersay and for whom great sympathy was expressed, although they were treated as first-class misdemeanants.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
In this case also the Question of the noble Lord devises itself into two parts. As to how far these ladies come within the rule laid down in Re Castioni the noble Lord, versed in the best arts of an advocate, forgot to say that this relates only to cases under Section 3 of the Act of 1870, which relates to penalties in respect of offences committed abroad.
§ EARL BEAUCHAMP
The women referred to in the Question have been dealt with for offences under the ordinary law, for failing to keep the peace, and they have been dealt with in the same manner as others who have similarly offended. In regard to the Royal prerogative, His Majesty's Government does not contend that there is an absolute legal obstacle to the exercise of the Royal prerogative of mercy, but where Parliament has expressly given to the magistrates discretion in deciding in which class prisoners should be placed, it would, in the opinion of the Government, be unconstitutional to override their decision. Even if it were possible to exercise the prerogative in one case it could not be done in order to place a whole class of prisoners in a privileged position. There is an obvious difference between dealing with one person in ill-health and in exercising the Royal prerogative in the case of a class. I 1433 believe in this case, as in the other which the noble Lord has raised, the magistrates have interpreted the wishes of the people, and that they are entirely satisfied with the decision given by the magistrates.