§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, this is strictly a Consolidation Bill and nothing else, and in the event of your Lordships giving it a Second Reading it will be sent automatically to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills. The immediate cause for this particular measure is the fact that last year there was passed an Act called the Counterfeit Currency (Convention) Act, by which it is expressly provided that the penalties for counterfeiting foreign currency shall be brought into line with those for counterfeiting the currency of the actual State which is legislating. In accordance with that Convention a, number of alterations were made in the Coinage Offences Act of 1861, which was formerly the Consolidating Act. It is eminently desirable, I think, that the law should be put into a reasonably comprehensible shape, and on that account the Government have thought it right to introduce this Bill. I beg to move.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
My Lords, before we give a Second Reading to this Bill I should like to address a question to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. This is a Consolidation Bill, as we have been informed, but the old penalties seem to have been reincorporated in the Bill. I suggest to your Lordships that it is hardly in keeping with modern ideas of punishment for crime to maintain the penalties of penal servitude for life for the offence, dealt with in Clause 2 (a), of gilding or silvering or altering with any material certain coins to give them the appearance of precious metal. Your Lordships will observe, too, in Clause 5 380 that the person who tenders, utters or puts into circulation counterfeit coins is only liable, on conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding one year. The man who washes or colours coins to make them look like golden sovereigns can be sentenced to penal servitude for life, but the man who utters and circulates the same coins will be liable, if I read the Bill aright, only to imprisonment for one year. If your Lordships look at Clause 9 you will see that for having certain coining implements in his possession a person, on conviction, can also be set to penal servitude for life. Surely some explanation of that is needed. Is it really pretended that any one is going to be sent to penal servitude for life for possessing coining implements?
There is also another matter which I should like to bring to your Lordships' notice, and on which I should like to ask the Lord Chancellor for information. In several places it is laid down that a person accused has to prove that he is innocent. I always understood, although I am only a layman, that that is contrary to British legal practice. I will quote the words from Clause 9 (2):Every person who, without lawful authority or excuse … makes or mends, or begins or proceeds to make or mend, or buys or sells, or has in his possession—(a) any edger, edging or other tool—intended to be used for making counterfeit coins shall be liable, on conviction, to penal servitude for life, and it says that the proof shall lie on the accused person. I stand to be corrected, but I have always understood that the onus of proving an offence was on the prosecution. Perhaps the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack can see his way to give some further explanation on these points.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, the answer to the noble Lord is that this Bill, as I endeavoured to explain, is not an amending Bill but is a Consolidation Bill. It is necessary therefore, in order that it should preserve that character, that it should reproduce exactly the existing law, and that is what the draftsman has attempted to do. So far as I know—I have not checked it—both the penalties and the provisions as to onus of proof in these particular cases are so drafted as to retain the law as it is at present. So long as they are the law, 381 they will necessarily be reproduced in a Consolidation Bill. Of course, there will be opportunity hereafter for any one to propose air amendment of the law if he so desires. Although the noble Lord is right in thinking that, as a general rule of law, the burden of proof is on the Crown, there are a number of Statutes in which the burden of proof is shifted by Statute, so that when certain facts are proved, then the fact that they are consistent with innocence has to be established by the defence. This presumably applies to certain cases reproduced in this Bill. If that is not so, then of course the Consolidation Committee will be bound to amend the Bill to bring it into line with what is the law at present. No alteration in the law is being made, and if it is found that there is any alteration, it will be the duty of the Committee to put the Bill into line with the present law.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and referred to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills.