HL Deb 09 December 1925 vol 62 cc1306-9

Offences triable at Quarter Sessions.

1. Offences under Sections sixteen and seventeen of the Malicious Damage Act, 1861.

4. Offences under Sections fifty to fifty-six of the Post Office Act, 1908.

7. Offences under the following provisions of the Larceny Act, 1916, that is to say, Section twelve, Section eighteen, paragraph (iv) of subsection (1) of Section twenty, Section twenty-four and subsection (2) of Section thirty-three.

LORD PHILLIMORE moved to leave out the first clause. The noble and learned Lord said: If I am not vox clamantis in deserto, I am vox clamantis in quasi deserto, and it would be useless to take up your Lordships' time at any length, but I want just to explain and to put on record my view—the view of a Judge who, after all, had sixteen years experience as a Judge of Assize—of these matters. I have chosen out of this Schedule certain cases that I propose to eliminate. They are, all but two, cases where it is possible to give a sentence of penal servitude for life. The charter of Quarter Sessions, an early Act of Queen Victoria, drew the distinction and said that no offences punishable with penal servitude—it was transportation for life in those days—should be tried at Quarter Sessions. Parliament, at the instance of Lord Bramwell, made an exception in the case of burglary, which theoretically might result in the sentence of transportation for life. I should correct what I said. Quarter Sessions can try a case where it is a second offence and the second offence entails greater punishment, and may even entail transportation for life, but can never try a case where the original offence warrants transportation for life, except in the case of burglary, and there Lord Bramwell pointed out that the distinction between housebreaking and burglary turned on a certain hour of the clock, and it was rather ridiculous that one should be tried separately from the other

With that exception, I believe I am right in saying that Quarter Sessions have no power to try such cases, and I have proposed to eliminate them all. I have added two classes of offences because they hang together. One of these classes touches setting fire to crops, and the other class touches setting fire to stacks. The latter is punishable by penal servitude for life, the former with only fourteen years, but I thought you could not separate one from the other, and therefore I have introduced crops as well as stacks. And in regard to some of the Post Office offences I have introduced one offence which is coupled up with the others, which does not have so severe a penalty. Practically I have ventured to suggest that it is not right that any but the highest criminal courts should try cases of this great gravity, and I do not think that Quarter Sessions, with all respect to them (and I have sat there myself at times), is the proper court to try cases of such magnitude

The Lord Chancellor will be able to tell your Lordships whether these sections have been submitted to, and approved by, the Judges of the King's Bench Division. If they have, and if the Lord Chief Justice has expressed an opinion—I had hoped to see him in his place here—I can only say that I respectfully disagree. But if they have not expressed an opinion I think they ought to be asked to express an opinion, and at any rate I offer my protest, and I humbly move this Amendment

Amendment moved— Page 35, leave out lines 4 and 5.—(Lord Phillimore.)


In the case of one of these offences, the matter was dealt with by the Committee over which Mr. Justice Horridge presided


Every one?


No, one of them—under Section 17 of the Malicious Damage Act, setting fire to stacks of corn and things of that kind. That Committee recommended that it should be made triable at Quarter Sessions as well as at Assizes. I am told that they would have made a similar recommendation as to Section 16 of the same Act


Section 16 is a less serious matter


It is a less serious matter. There was some mistake and it was thought that Quarter Sessions had power already to deal with the offence; so that Sections 16 and 17 really stand on the same footing. The list has been very carefully considered, and I should like the Bill to remain as it is in reference to those two offences under Sections 16 and 17 of the Malicious Damage Act. I would say the same of the section which deals with sacrilege, for this reason, that very often an offence which is called sacrilege is really a question of stealing money from boxes in a church




And Quarter Sessions is well able to deal with that offence. There remain of the offences to which the Amendment refers only those relating to the Post Office, to put it generally


I think that is so


As to those, I should like time to consult again the two Departments concerned. I think the Home Office and the Post Office are not entirely agreed as to whether those charges ought to be triable at Quarter Sessions or at Assizes only. If the noble Lord will give me time, by not pressing his Amendment now, I will try to get them in line or to adjudicate between them myself, and then will make my suggestions to your Lordships' House.


I am much obliged to the noble and learned Viscount. I suspect it will be found that the Post Office will prefer that these offences should be tried at the Assizes. Is my conjecture right that at present that is rather the idea?


I think that is the present idea


The noble and learned Viscount will know, but I cannot help thinking that those trials are very seldom contested. As a rule, the Post Office have taken such pains and the matter is so clear that it is generally merely a question of discretionary punishment. Therefore, very little time is taken up by these cases going to the Assizes and the benefit is had of the best possible Judge in a matter of discretionary punishment. Where they are really fought cases—I have known two eases very seriously fought—they are generally serious, and I hope the noble and learned Viscount will consider the question further. I do not press my Amendment now, and I understand we shall be told on the Report stage whether the noble and learned Viscount agrees or not

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

First Schedule agreed to

Second Schedule agreed to

Third Schedule [Enactments repealed]:


This is the Repeal Schedule, and the Amendments to the Schedule which stand in my name are required to make the Schedule consistent with the remainder of the Bill. I beg to move

Amendments moved

Page 38, line 3, after ("eleven") insert ("except so far as applied by any other provision of the Act, or by any other enactment")

Page 38, line 40, in column 3, at the beginning insert ("As from the first day of July, nineteen hundred and twenty-six")

Page 39, leave out lines 22 to 25.—(The Lord Chancellor)

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

Third Schedule, as amended, agreed to.