§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD SANKEY)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. In 1907, after a considerable public inquiry, a Court of Criminal Appeal was set up for England to which persons who had been convicted on indictment might appeal against either their sentence or their conviction or both. There have been one or two small amending Acts since then to deal with matters of procedure, but as a result of twenty years experience of that Act I think it may be said that it has really fulfilled a great public need. Whether that was so or not, in 1926 Scotland was very anxious to have a similar Appeal Court. They had the advantage of twenty years experience of the working of the English Act. One or two small Amendments were made in the Scottish Act, and it became law after being debated in your Lordships' House and in another place in 1926. The object of the present Bill is to provide a similar Court for Northern Ireland.
Your Lordships may ask, why does Northern Ireland not pass the Bill itself? The answer is that this is one of the reserved subjects under the Act setting up the Northern Ireland Parliament and an Act for this purpose has to be passed here and not in Northern Ireland. The Government of Northern Ireland have requested the Government here to introduce legislation for this purpose. We are assured that all Parties in the Parliament of Northern Ireland desire this Bill and it has been drafted in consultation with the authorities there and with the Chief Justice of Northern Ireland. The Bill follows the principle of the English Act and its amending, Acts except in regard to one or two minor details where it is thought that the Scottish Act is better. The Scottish Act was the result of twenty years' experience of the English Act. The position, therefore, is that the authorities of Northern Ireland ask that this Bill should be passed. It has been submitted to them and to the Chief Justice and at all stages they have been 262 consulted. Therefore I think I am right in saying that the Bill is in accordance with their views and their suggestions.
On the matter of principle—which is the only thing with which I need trouble your Lordships on Second Reading—the position is that a similar Act has worked well in England, Scotland has followed the example of England, and now Northern Ireland desires to have an Act and would no doubt pass it in its own Parliament if it had the power to do so. In those circumstances I should hardly be justified in detaining your Lordships longer on this matter; but may I rapidly call attention to the clauses of the Bill? I do not think I need occupy your attention for more than a few moments. Clause 1 sets out the constitution of the Court of Criminal Appeal in Northern Ireland. There are one or two small differences there due to the fact that the number of Judges in Ireland is not so large as the number of Judges in England. The result of that may be seen in subsection (5) which provides that:—Where any appeal or matter before the court is heard by two Judges and those judges differ in opinion, it shall be re-heard by three Judges, and where any appeal or matter before the Court is heard by three Judges, it shall be determined according to the opinion of the majority of those Judges.Fortunately, in England such a provision is not needed because we are able to follow the practice of always having a Court of not less than three Judges, and in one particular case we had a full Court, I think, of sixteen or seventeen Judges.
Another difference between the English Act and the Northern Ireland Bill is contained in Clause 3, subsection (3), which provides that:—On any appeal, whether against conviction or against sentence, the Court shall, if they think that a different sentence should have been passed, quash the sentence passed at the trial, and pass such other sentence warranted in law (whether more or less severe) in substitution therefor as they think ought to have been passed.That follows the Scottish Act. In England, unless a person appeals against the sentence, there is no power given to the Court to alter it. With regard to Clause 6, your Lordships will observe that the provision for appeal to your Lordships' House is preserved and the decision of the Court is to be final subject to appeal to the House of Lords. 263 There is no reference to the Director of Public Prosecutions as there is in the English Act because, as I understand it, that official does not exist in Northern Ireland and the right of appeal will be subject to the issue of a certificate by the Attorney-General.
I do not think I ought to go through the rest of the clauses of the Bill, because they simply deal with procedure, but your Lordships will observe that Clause 18 provides for the abolition of existing procedure in criminal appeals and that Clause 19 (1) provides that:—This Act shall apply in the case of all persons tried and convicted on indictment, who are sentenced after the thirty-first day of March, nineteen hundred and thirty-one, but shall not affect the rights as respects appeal of any person sentenced on or before that date.I need hardly say that when we come to the Committee stage if any suggestion is received from Northern Ireland we shall be only too glad to consider it and if possible give effect to it, but as far as we know the Bill is entirely in accordance with the wishes of the Government of Northern Ireland and of the Chief Justice. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2ª.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ LORD CARSON
My Lords, I have been in communication with the Home Secretary for Northern Ireland, who indeed wrote to me to tell me what the position was in relation to this Bill. It is exactly as stated by the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor. Northern Ireland is, in fact, the only part of the United Kingdom which has not now got any Court of Criminal Appeal, and the Home Secretary, who has held that office ever since the new Government was set up there, has found on various occasions that it would have conduced, as he thought, to the interests of justice if there had been a Court of Criminal Appeal. So far as I am concerned, therefore, with the knowledge that I have I am glad to support the Bill. I also desire to thank the Government for so speedily acquiescing in the views of the Government of Northern Ireland and bringing in the Bill, and to thank the Lord Chancellor for his personal courtesy in allowing me to see the Memorandum upon the Bill as it was proposed.
§ On Question, Bill read 2ª and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.