HL Deb 30 June 1915 vol 19 cc158-62


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, the reason for the introduction of this Bill is that it may be referred to a Joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament which is at present sitting and considering the con- solidation of Acts relating to the Criminal Law. Your Lordships may remember that this Committee has been reappointed from session to session for the last five years, and that the Forgery Bill and, I think, the Perjury Bill have already been the result of their labours and have been passed and become Acts of Parliament. In the course of their work it was found that if the consolidation of the Criminal Law was to proceed satisfactorily it was essential that there should be some alteration in criminal procedure, and this Bill has been introduced for the purpose of meeting that want. The drafting of the measures to which I have referred has been in the hands of a very strong Committee, presided over, I think, by Mr. Justice Avory, helped by the Public Prosecutor Sir Charles Mathews, and assisted by the eminent criminal counsel Mr. Bodkin, and other eminent people. It is under their care that this Bill has been framed, and your Lordships will sec that in substance what it does is to provide that the procedure shall be regulated by rules which are to be approved, and these rules, which are already prepared, will be submitted to the Joint Committee and, if approved by them, will form a code of procedure in criminal proceedings. I think that the history of this Bill should prove its sufficient justification, and possibly I shall be meeting the wishes of your Lordships if I avoid at this moment going into the details and the circumstances that have rendered this Bill necessary and explaining why it is that indictments in criminal procedure frequently become encumbered with matter which it is thought by wise and judicious rules may be effectively removed. I beg to recommend the Bill to your Lordships' favourable consideration, and to move that it be read a second time.

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


My Lords, I certainly do not propose to deal with the Bill as it is at present. I came down to the House with the intention of moving a great many Amendments to some parts of the Bill which I think are objectionable. But after what the noble and learned Lord has said, that the Bill is going to be referred to the Joint Committee, it would be inappropriate, I think, at this moment to discuss its merits.


My Lords, I only rise to express my satisfaction that the Lord Chancellor has gone on with this Bill, which has been called for for some time past and has been the subject much consideration. The noble and learned Earl who has just spoken has said, very properly, that the Bill deals with important matters. But it is going to a Joint Committee which is much more than a Consolidation Committee, because for the purposes of this Bill it will be a Committee which will subject the provisions in the Bill to the close scrutiny which they require, and I was glad to hear from the Lord Chancellor that the rules under which the procedure will be adapted will also be before that Committee. It is no new course to take for legislation of this kind to depend largely on rules. As regards procedure that has been our system for some time past, and it is certainly no objection to this Bill that it should be so here. The Bill is a most valuable one. As the Lord Chancellor told the House, it is impossible without it to have any adequate consolidation of the Criminal Law, and I trust that your Lordships will assent to the Second Reading on the footing that the Bill goes for investigation to the Joint Committee.


My Lords, before the Bill is read a second time I should like to ask two questions of the Lord Chancellor. This Bill deals with a very important subject. In fact, I think nothing can be more important than to maintain our criminal system on the surest possible foundation, so that justice may be done and prisoners may in all cases be properly protected against any risk of unjust conviction. Subsection (2) of Clause 1 provides that the rules as to indictments shall be made by a rule committee consisting of the Lord Chief Justice of England and other persons, and shall be subject to the approval of the Lord Chancellor. I want to ask the noble and learned Lord this question. Will those rules, on which the Bill really depends, be placed on the Table of this House so that we may have a chance of discussing them before they become law? If not, it appears to me that on a very important subject we shall be delegating entirely an authority which in the last resort ought to rest with ourselves. I quite agree that rules of this kind must be drawn up by an expert committee, but before they become law they ought to be submitted to the judgment of the House by way of being laid on the Table, so that if any one desires to take exception to them it will be possible to do so. As my noble and learned friend Lord Halsbury said, it is quite impossible to discuss the Bill in its present form; and when it takes a form in which it can be discussed I think that at that stage your Lordships should have an opportunity of expressing your views upon this most important topic—namely, the criminal jurisprudence and jurisdiction in this country. Therefore I hope that some assurance will be given upon that point.

My other question is this. It is proposed that the Bill should be sent to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills. I understood the noble and learned Viscount opposite to say that that was in accordance with precedent, but he cannot mean that this is a Consolidation Bill. In its terms it implies a large alteration in criminal procedure as it exists at the present time. Therefore if the Bill goes to the Consolidation Committee the House must not suppose that it is a Consolidation Bill in any sense of the term. It. only goes to that Committee in order that it may be discussed and settled in the ordinary way in which a Select Committee which was not a Consolidation Committee would deal with a proposal of this character. I welcome the Bill most heartily in its general aspect, because its tendency is to Ore greater simplicity. A leading factor in criminal jurisprudence should be the greatest possible simplicity and the absence of technical phrases and technicalities, provided at the same time that the prisoner or person charged is protected against any embarrassment, which I think might arise under certain clauses of this Bill unless the rules were properly framed.


My Lords, I think I can best answer the noble and learned Lord's first question by saying that the rules will be a proper subject for amendment. As to his other question, I desired to make it quite plain that this Bill was not strictly a Consolidation Bill. I said that it was a Bill the necessity for which became manifest when the Consolidation Committee proceeded with their work, and that it was because of that that it had been introduced.

On Question, Bill read 2a.

Then it was moved, "That it is expedient that the Bill be referred to a joint Committee of both Houses of Parliament, and that the said Committee be the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills of the present Session" (The Lord Chancellor); agreed to; and a Message ordered to be sent to the Commons to communicate this Resolution and to desire their concurrence.