HL Deb 01 December 1925 vol 62 cc1027-34

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, this is an important Bill and I should have to ask your Lordships' attention to it in some detail were it not that in substance the same Bill has passed your Lordships' House in two previous Sessions. I myself introduced a Bill of this character in the year 1923. The Bill then passed this House and only failed to pass into law because of the General Election that occurred in the autumn of that year. In the following year, 1924, a similar Bill was introduced by my noble and learned friend who now leads the Opposition, with the addition of some valuable clauses dealing with the probation of offenders. That also passed this House, but again failed to become law owing to the occurrence of another General Election. The Bill is now introduced substantially in the same form by ourselves this year and has passed the House of Commons. It has a few new clauses, which are mainly formal, and a few clauses have been omitted from it or struck out in another place.

Among the clauses so struck out is a clause, which your Lordships may remember, which sought to abolish Grand Juries at Quarter Sessions. For myself I regret the omission of that clause. I think that calling Grand Juries at Quarter Sessions means a waste of money and a waste of a good deal of time by busy men. The cases have already been fully examined by magistrates and the examination, generally perfunctory, given to bills by the Grand Jury is of very little use. Still, it was decided to delete the clause and I will not ask your Lordships to reinstate it. I may ask your Lordships to deal with one aspect of the subject in Committee. I understand that it happens much oftener than. I should have thought, that the only bills sent to Quarter Sessions are cases where the accused has pleaded guilty at petty sessions. In those cases the Grand Jury have a purely formal duty under the Act of 1920, and I think that it would be of some use if your Lordships were to insert a clause to the effect that where the only cases remitted to Quarter Sessions are cases in which the accused have pleaded guilty, a Grand Jury be not summoned.

The remaining provisions are very much the same as in the former Bills. Part I deals with the probation of offenders and the statutory effect of it is that each petty sessional division will be required to have available the services of a probation officer. The same officer may be appointed for more than one division and the agent of a voluntary society may be appointed if the justices so desire. The appointment will be made by a probation committee of the magistrates and the cost, so far as it falls upon the public funds, would be shared between the Exchequer and the local authorities. These are very useful proposals which will result in an extension of the probation system, which I am certain is of great value.

The Second Part of the Bill deals with jurisdiction and procedure, and I need only refer to the fact that the First Schedule, and the clause relating thereto, provide that certain offences now triable at Assizes are to be made triable at Quarter Sessions, and that by the Second Schedule, and the clause relating to that Schedule, certain offences now only triable at Quarter Sessions will be able to be dealt with at petty sessions. I think that the adoption of those clauses by Parliament shows that Parliament has continued confidence in the manner in which magistrates carry out their duties. Parts III and IV of the Bill contain certain amendments of the law. I will only refer to Clause 38, which will increase the penalty for drunkenness when in charge of a motor car—a very serious offence—from the present penalty of 40s., or a month's imprisonment, to a penalty not exceeding £50, or four months. That clause shows the gravity with which the offence is regarded by Parliament. I do not think it is necessary that I should refer to the other clauses. The Bill contains many improvements in the law which have been long asked for and desired, and I am confident that if it is passed into law it will prove to be very useful. I beg to move.

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


My Lords, I agree with the description of this Bill given by the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, and also with his com- mendation of the Bill to the House. That is not unnatural because, as he has said, this Bill has been through three Parliaments, and it passed substantially as it is now when the late Government was in office. Therefore, I do not propose to trouble your Lordships with any comments on the Bill in detail. There has, however, been some anxiety in the minds of people with regard to the appointment of probation officers. Clause deals with the matter. I do not doubt that the Government will be careful to give no preference of any sort to any kind of probation officer. Fear arises in this way. The present probation officers are not, properly speaking, officials at all, but are selected by voluntary societies, and they have done admirable work. Some of the most important of the societies are Church of England societies; others belong to other denominations.

This Bill enables proper probation officers to be appointed freely, and I think there is a great deal of advantage to be got by picking out those who have gained experience and who have done their work well from the existing people, although they may be denominational officials. It would never do, however, if it went out that there was any likelihood of preference being given to denominational probation officers in the choice to be made have no doubt that the Government are alive to that. It has been recommended to them from various societies, and I think care will have to be taken that the selection is made of probation officers entirely on their merits and from the point of view which promises to give most advantage to the public concerned. Subject to these remarks I will only say that I think the introduction of the system of probation officers is a great feature in this Bill. It will get rid of a great many sentences of the ordinary kind and save a great many people, particularly children, from being put into gaol. I think also that it will prove effective in reforming incipient criminals and delivering them from the consequences of their vice. With these observations I entirely approve of this Bill.


My Lords, there are no doubt many valuable provisions in this Bill, but, unless the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack is able to assure us that all the matters have been already passed in this House, I should ask that we might have an interval before the Committee stage. I would refer to two matters which seem to me of importance and with regard to which, as at present advised, my vote would be against the provisions of the measure. The first matter comes under Clause 11 and Clause 30, and relates to the power of the police to arrest and of the examining magistrate to go through the preliminary stages of the trial of a man at a different place from that in which the offence has been committed.

What would happen to a decent, respectable man, with not very much money, who, being in London on business, found himself charged with a sexual offence supposed to have been committed in Yorkshire, where he ordinarily lives He is arrested in London and tried its London. He wants witnesses and, above all, he needs a lawyer who will examine into the character of the prosecutor. He is bound to have a London solicitor, because the proceedings are conducted in London, and a London solicitor will be quite out of touch with Yorkshire and quite unable to make the necessary investigation. He would have to bring am witnesses, and, I forget whether he would be ultimately repaid, but in the first in stance he would have to pay for the expense of bringing up his witnesses from Yorkshire.

Clause 11 contains a provision that if the magistrate, during the course of the proceedings, thinks that the accused will suffer hardship then he is to surcease, but that may really make all the difference between conviction and acquittal depend upon the discretion of a single examining justice, who may not necessarily be a stipendiary. That might possibly be remedied, as in the case of bail, by giving an appeal to a Judge in Chambers. That might possibly mitigate the hardship of that clause. Clause 30, however, contains no such discretion given to the magistrate of stopping the matter if he thinks the accused is suffering, but it enables the magistrate in the first instance, not merely to try the man at a place where the offence was not committed, but to hale him to a place where he is not.

The Clause says:— Where it appears to any justice necessary or expedient, with a view to the better administration of justice, that any person charged with any indictable offence, or with a summary offence, should be tried jointly with or in the same place as some other person who is charged with an indictable offence or a summary offence, as the case may be, and who is in custody or is being or is to be proceeded against within the jurisdiction of that justice, he may, notwithstanding that the person so charged is not within that jurisdiction, issue a summons or a warrant against him. That seems to me, again, a case where very great hardship might be inflicted, and where no discretion is given to the justice to surcease. The man is compelled to suffer in this case in a place where he was not and where possibly the offence has not been committed. That is one point which I should like to have further considered and on which, I trust, possibly some concession may be made. I cannot help thinking it may be very hard sometimes upon individuals, and particularly those in humbler circumstances.

The other point touches upon a matter to which the Lord Chancellor referred, and that is the increased jurisdiction given to Quarter Sessions. I confess that I am very averse from any increase of jurisdiction of the Quarter Sessions, and especially the kind of jurisdiction proposed to be given under this Bill. I have looked through the cases in the Schedule, and a whole number of them are cases where it is conceivable and possible by law, to give a sentence of penal servitude for life. This matter was laid down by 5 & 6 Victoria, and under that any felony which, when committed by a person not previously convicted of felony, is punishable by transportation beyond the seas for the term of life was removed from the jurisdiction of Quarter Sessions. One inroad and, as far as I know, only one inroad has been made upon that. The late Lord Bramwell persuaded the Legislature to make burglary triable at Quarter Sessions when it is conceivable that there may be a sentence of penal servitude for life. But that rested upon the ground that the distinction between housebreaking and burglary was so very fine—it depended upon whether it was before a certain hour of the clock or not—that it was silly that there should be different tribunals for the two, and housebreaking, being only punishable with 14 years' penal servitude, was triable at Quarter Sessions.

I do think, with all respect for Chairmen of Quarter Sessions, and Deputy-Chairmen in the Second Court of Quarter Sessions—which, as all lawyers know, is a different position—that it is very doubtful whether in a large number of these cases (I am not speaking of all)—indeed, in all those cases where there is a possible penalty of penal servitude for life, the jurisdiction should not be with Quarter Sessions. Take the case (of all others a case most necessary to try carefully) of arson—arson of crops, 14 years' penal servitude, arson of stacks, penal servitude for life. I venture to think it is very undesirable that that sort of case should go to Quarter Sessions.

Those are the two points on which I wished specially to speak. But I cannot help thinking that Clause 39, as it stands now, is almost comical. It says:

"No person shall— (a) take or attempt to take in any court any photograph, or with a view to publication make or attempt to make in any court any portrait or sketch, of any person, being a judge of the court or a juror or a witness in or a party to any proceedings before the court, whether civil or criminal. I conceive of some great trial of historical importance and the editor of the Graphic or the Illustrated London News, or some other such paper, sending somebody to make a sketch of the scene at which that great trial takes place. If he does, and if the artist does not put in a blank where the Judge is, and other blanks where the jurors and the witnesses are, he is to be liable to a penalty not exceeding £50. I cannot help thinking that that is almost comic as it stands, and that the clause will require rehandling.


My Lords, I am very glad that attention has been drawn to Clause 11. It was one of the matters to which I wished to draw the attention of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. I should like him to consider—no doubt it has been considered—whether the very wide language of that clause does not really go so far as to enable you to try people in any county in this country for offences committed in another county. If so, that should not be done without express words. The words as they stand seem to me to be very wide. Then there is another point on Clause 28. Your Lordships may recollect that last year this House was good enough, at my instance, to add to that clause, which deals with penalties against drunken motor-car drivers, a provision that there should be a compulsory suspension of the licence for 12 months. I am still enamoured of that proposal, as the punishment would fit the crime, and when we come to Committee I shall propose to put it down again. I also join in the appeal to the Lord Chancellor not to take the Committee stage till next week, if he can find that convenient.


My Lords, I quite recognise that it is desirable to give sufficient time for noble Lords to consider this Bill and to put down their Amendments, and we do not propose to take the Committee stage before Tuesday next. With regard to what was said by the noble and learned Viscount, these appointments will be made by a Committee of Magistrates. I am quite sure they will be disposed to make appointments on the merits, and we hope they will take that course and I am sure the noble and learned Viscount will use the influence which he possesses in that direction. As to what has been said by Lord Phillimore, I would remind him that all the provisions on which he has commented have already twice passed this House. It is rather unfortunate that the comments which he made about taking photographs in Court were not made earlier in the history of the Bill.

The purpose of Clause 11 of the Bill is, of course, to avoid the sending of prisoners about the country from one county to another. It contains a provision to the effect that if hardship is likely to occur then that course shall not be taken. In the original Bill that proviso was limited to cases where undue hardship occurred, but we have made it stronger, so that where any hardship is likely to occur then the magistrate will not proceed. Clause 30 is intended to provide for cases where two persons are chargeable with the same offence which they are said to have committed together, so that the facts to be proved are exactly the same in both cases. In those cases the Bill seeks to provide that one of them may be tried in the same place as the other, so that there shall be one inquiry in the case of both prisoners charged with the same offence. It seems a reasonable pro- vision, and the clause is guarded by the initial words that this course should only be taken where the magistrate thinks it necessary for the administration of justice. I think that, so guarded, no prejudice is likely to occur. Of course, I will consider what noble Lords have said about these two clauses, and no doubt they themselves will raise the points in Committee. I do not think it can be a fact, as Lord Russell suggested, that Clause 11 will enable anybody to hear a charge in respect of an offence committed wholly outside the country.

As regards the observations made on the First Schedule, that is to say, the proposal that certain offences now triable at Assizes shall be triable at Sessions, I rather regretted to hear the comments of Lord Phillimore, and, as at present advised, I cannot say that I agree with him. I think that the offences scheduled have been very carefully selected, and are just of the same kind as those which now every year go to Quarter Sessions. I believe that the experienced magistrates who sit at Quarter Sessions are quite competent to deal with the offences named in that Schedule, and I hope that, when the time comes, I shall persuade the House to stand by it.

On Motion, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.