§ Order for Committee read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."
said, he rose to move the Amendment of which he had given notice—That, in the opinion of this House, it is expedient, instead of carrying out the punishment of death within prisons, that Capital Punishment should be abolished.He felt some difficulty and hesitation in asking the attention of the House to the Motion of which he had given notice. In the first instance, he would express his extreme regret at the absence of his hon. Friend the Member for Dumfries (Mr. Ewart), whose name had been so closely connected with the amelioration of the criminal law, and who had done so much to abolish capital punishment. His reason for bringing forward this Motion now was, that he had a strong conviction that capital punishment was inexpedient and unnecessary; that it did not ensure the purposes for which it was enacted; that it was unjust in principle; that it involved not unfrequently the sacrifice of innocent human life; and further, that it afforded an escape for many guilty of atrocious crimes. Holding these opinions, he could not permit to pass an Act which proposed to re-enact the punishment of death without entering his solemn protest against it, and submitting the reasons why he thought it inexpedient that capital punishment should be inflicted. The late division on this question was no test whatever of the feeling of the House on the question of capital punishment. He was now asked, "Will you bring forward a Motion for the abolition of capital punishment in the face of the frequent murders, of the increase of the crime of murder—at a time when no doubt there are influences at work"—to which he would not particularly allude—"which aggravate the crime to an extent almost unprecedented?" He unhesi- 1034 tatingly replied, "Yes; I will bring it forward now, because, if my principle is good for anything, it is good at all times and under all circumstances." He would remind the House that the atrocious murders which were now being committed, and which they all so much deplored, were murders which were committed under the present law, and he believed would not be committed under the altered state of the law which he desired to introduce. The question he had to deal with was — by what means could they best stop the crime of murder? He disavowed emphatically any sympathy with crime—he disavowed any maudlin sentimentality with respect to this question. He was sure his right hon. Friend opposite (Mr. Gathorne Hardy) would agree with him that the question between them was, how best to prevent the crime of murder. He said, without fear of contradiction, that almost in every instance in which capital punishment had ceased to be inflicted for certain crimes those crimes had lessened in frequency and enormity since its abolition; yet, as regarded murder, where the punishment of death was still retained, the crime had increased not only in number but enormity. In proof of that allegation he might quote statistics; but the fact was well known, and he would not take up the time of the House by doing so. It was also not to be denied that this was a question upon which there had been a very considerable change in public opinion within a comparatively short period of time. Some of those who had the administration of the law in their hands, and some of those who had occupied the position of the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Gathorne Hardy), had come to the conclusion, at which he arrived many years ago, that capital punishment was undesirable—that it was unnecessary—and that the time had arrived when some other system ought to be adopted. Surely they were not succeeding in putting down murder. They had for centuries tried the lex talionis—the life for life principle—and they had miserably failed, and murder still stalked abroad. Earl Russell, in the introduction to the new edition of his work on the English Constitution, thus expressed himself as being favourable to the abolition of capital punishment—For my own part, I do not doubt for a moment either the right of a community to inflict the punishment of death, or the expediency of exercising that right in certain states of society. But when I turn from that abstract right and that 1035 abstract expediency to our own state of society—when I consider how difficult it is for any Judge to separate the case which requires inflexible justice from that which admits the force of mitigating circumstances—how invidious the task of the Secretary of State in dispensing the mercy of the Crown—how critical the comments made by the public—how soon the object of general horror becomes the theme of sympathy and pity—how narrow and how limited the examples given by this condign and awful punishment—how brutal the scene of execution—I come to the conclusion that nothing would be lost to justice, nothing lost in the preservation of innocent life, if the punishment of death were altogether abolished. In that case a sentence of a long term of separate confinement, followed by another term of hard labour and hard fare, would cease to be considered as an extension of mercy. If the sentence of the Judge were to that effect, there would scarcely ever be a petition for remission of punishment, in cases of murder, sent to the Home Office. The guilty, unpitied, would have time and opportunity to turn repentant to the Throne of Mercy.Now, the first objection which he (Mr. Gilpin) had to the punishment of death was its essential injustice. They gave the same punishment to the crime of a Rush or a Manning as they did to that of a Samuel Wright, and other less guilty persons. They had, under the present law, constant occurrences in which the feeling, intellect, judgment, and Christianity of the public were against carrying out the extreme penalty, even in cases where the law was clear and unmistakable as to the matter and there was every reason to believe that it had been justly administered by the Judge who had condemned the criminal. Take, for instance, the case of the woman Charlotte Harris. She was sentenced to death, being enceinte at the time. According to custom she was reprieved until her babe was born, and then if the sentence of the law had taken its course she would have been hanged; but public opinion in the meantime had become so strong that the Home Office, even, he believed, in opposition to the judgment of the Secretary of State, had to give way, though the case was a fearful and atrocious one, and her life was spared. Richard Cobden, writing to him (Mr. Gilpin) with reference to this case, said—You are right. It is truly horrible to think of nursing a woman through her confinement, and then with her first returning strength to walk her to the scaffold! What is to become of the baby at its birth? is it to lie upon the mother's breast until removed by the hand of Calcraft? Oh, horrible! horrible! Could you not have a meeting to shame the authorities.Well, there were several meetings—one of 40,000 women, headed by Mary Howitt — and they petitioned the Throne for 1036 mercy, and mercy was extended. Then there was the case of Alice Holt. She, too, was pregnant; but the Home Office, having got wiser by this time, would not bring her to trial until after the birth of her child. Then they brought her to trial, sentenced her to death, and carried out the execution. Against the injustice of such a proceeding he had at the time most earnestly protested. A practical point most serious to the interests of society was this: numbers of criminals had escaped from the punishment due to their crimes, because of the unwillingness of juries to incur the possibility of convicting the innocent. He believed it was on this ground that Mr. Waddington, the former Under Secretary at the Home Office, came almost to the opinions that he (Mr. Gilpin) entertained. He knew it did not appear in his evidence before the Royal Commission; but Mr. Waddington told him though looking at the matter from a different stand-point and urged by different arguments, still he had very nearly come to his (Mr. Gilpin's) opinions that it would be desirable for the interests of society at large that the abolition of capital punishment should take place. He (Mr. Gilpin) believed it was not too much to say that there were men and women walking about red-handed amongst us—persons unquestionably guilty of the most atrocious murders—who, had the punishment for their crimes been other than capital, would be now immured in prison, utterly unable to repeat such crimes as those for which they had been already tried. This arose from the unwillingness of juries to convict—an unwillingness which did them honour—unless they had evidence positive and indisputable. It was right that evidence which would suffice to convict a man where the punishment would be fourteen years, or imprisonment for life, should be regarded as utterly insufficient to convict a man when the sentence would send him out of the world. Some twenty years ago Charles Dickens wrote a series of letters in The Daily News on the subject of capital punishment; and in one, headed "How Jurymen Feel," he said—Juries, like society, are not stricken foolish or motionless. They have, for the most part, an objection to the punishment of death; and they will, for the most part, assert it by such verdicts. As jurymen in the forgery cases (where jurors found a £10 note to be worth 39s., so as not to come under capital punishment) would probably reconcile their verdict to their consciences by calling to mind that the intrinsic value of a bank-note was almost nothing; so jurymen, in cases of murder, probably argue that grave doctors 1037 have said all men are more or less mad, and therefore they believe the prisoner mad. This is a great wrong to society: but it arises out of the punishment of death. And the question will always suggest itself in jurors' minds, however earnestly the learned Judge presiding may discharge his duty—which is the greater wrong to society?—to give this man the benefit of the possibility of his being mad, or to have another public execution, with all its depraving and hardening influences? Imagining myself a juror, in a case of life or death, and supposing that the evidence had forced me from every other ground of opposition to this punishment in the particular case than a possibility of immediate mistake or otherwise, I would go over it again on this ground, and, if I could by any reasonable special pleading with myself find him mad rather than hang him, I think I would.He had alluded to the numbers of persons who had escaped justice altogether, because juries could not make up their minds to convict under such circumstances; but there was another view of the case, and that was the execution of innocent persons, and when he said innocent persons, he meant persons innocent of the crimes with which they were charged. He would not delay the House by quoting what he quoted on a former occasion—the evidence of Daniel O'Connell, or the evidence of the present Lord Chief Baron, as to the frequency of the execution of innocent persons. But he would call the attention of the House to a case which occurred in 1865—that was the Italian Pollizzioni, who was tried for the Saffron Hill murder, when one of the most humane of our Judges expressed his entire belief that the conviction was right. Pollizzioni was sentenced, and was within a few days of being hanged. Law had done its best and its worst, when Mr. Negretti — of the firm of Negretti and Zambra—heard of the case, and became convinced that the man was innocent. He busied himself in getting evidence, which at last satisfied the Home Secretary, not that the prisoner deserved secondary punishment, but that he was absolutely innocent, and then he was taken out of the condemned cell. But for the interference of a private individual this man would have been hanged. It might be said that a case like this was very exceptional, and God forbid that it should be frequent; but within a few months there was the case of another man at Swansea, Giardinieri—oddly enough, also an Italian—who was sentenced to death, and was within a short time of being hanged. Evidence was, however, procured which showed him to be innocent. These were solemn facts. Charles Dickens said— 1038I entreat all who may chance to read this letter to pause for an instant, and ask themselves whether they can remember any occasion on which they have in the broad day, and under circumstances the most favourable to recognition, mistaken one person for another, and believed that in a perfect stranger they have seen going away from them, or coming towards them, a familiar friend.Hence there should be a reasonable hesitation as to an irrevocable verdict. The frequency of cases of mistaken identity were notorious. Mr. Visschers, who held a high position in the Government of the King of the Belgians, stated that in his experience three men convicted of murder appealed to the Court of Cassation, when the conviction was confirmed. The King, however, commuted their sentence into one of perpetual imprisonment; but their innocence being afterwards established, they were liberated, and granted annuities for life. Mr. Serjeant Parry stated, in reply to a Question by Mr. Waddington—I could mention six or eight instances within my own knowledge in which men have been acquitted, purely upon the ground that the punishment was capital.And in reply to Mr. Bright, the learned gentleman said—I know that juries have acquitted men clearly and beyond all doubt guilty of murder, and some of the very worst murders that have ever been committed in this country, and have done so simply because the punishment has been the punishment of death. They would have convicted if the punishment had been imprisonment for life, or any punishment short of taking the life of the man, and they have seized hold of any excuse rather than be agents in putting capital punishment into operation.This was not unreasonable; because a man, if wrongly transported, as in the case of Mr. Barber, the solicitor, could have compensation made to him, but not so if wrongly hanged. Many years ago Sir James Mackintosh stated before a Committee on the Criminal Laws that during a long cycle of years an average of one person was executed every three years whose innocence was afterwards proved. And Sir Fitz Roy Kelly stated, in 1839, that there were no less than fourteen innocent persons within the first forty years of this century who had been convicted, and whose innocence since their death had been fully established. And doubtless the average of one innocent person every three years was much too low, because it should be remembered that after the person was executed there was no motive to discover 1039 whether he or she were innocent or not. It was only necessary again to refer to the well-known case of Samuel Wright, a working carpenter in Southwark, to show the inequality of the law, and that, too, resulting simply from the character of the punishment. He believed no jury would have found Wright guilty on the charge of murder, and that no Judge but one would have left him for execution. The prisoner, it was true, pleaded guilty to the crime, and neither the counsel nor the Court could induce him to retract the plea; but it was clear from the facts of the case that this was not a case of wilful murder. The man was awoke in the night, and was dragged out of bed by a violent woman with whom he lived. He struggled with her, and seizing his razor, which was lying in his way, without premeditation he killed her. He was brought up for trial, and he pleaded guilty. They could not expect a carpenter to be trained to the niceties of the law, and it could not be wondered at that he, a conscientious man, determined to plead guilty. Almost at the last moment a very large body of his fellow-working men came up to the Home Office to plead that his life might be spared. The present Government was not then in office. [Mr. BUXTON: Who was the Home Secretary?] His right hon. Friend the Member for Morpeth (Sir George Grey). It was thought, most unwisely in his opinion, that the appearance of so large a body of working men on such a subject was an attempt to terrorise the Home Office, and a deaf ear was turned to their pleadings, which might wisely have been granted. Samuel Wright was executed, and that in the face of Charlotte Windsor, the hired murderess of babies, who, to solve some of the subtleties of law, was brought from one part of England to another, and after all was only imprisoned for life. He could never forget the morning of that execution. The people in the neighbourhood, instead of rushing to see the execution, had their blinds drawn down. It was a case which it would take a long time to wipe out from the memories of the people of that neighbourhood. That happened about the time that Townley, another murderer, was acquitted on the ground of insanity—a plea which his subsequent suicide showed to be true. But the question of insanity was one of the most uncertain character; the dividing line was disputed by doctors, and even by doctors in divinity; and the result was that in the case of men who were 1040 executed no time was allowed to show whether the crime was the result of a diseased brain, or of that moral obliquity which was rightly the subject of punishment. He felt grateful to the House for the indulgence they had shown him on a subject which had occupied his attention for twenty years. Now, he would ask, what was capital punishment? The punishment of death? No, it was not that. The sentence of death was decreed upon all of us by a higher than a mortal Judge. We but antedated the sentence, and by how much this was done no man could know. A man might be sent to the gallows who, according to medical opinion, could not live three months—and, in fact, a man had been recently executed, of whom the medical man said he could not live three months if he died in course of nature, and another man with a prospect of a long life. But what was the punishment? It was not death; it was antedating the sentence passed upon us all by the Most High. From ten thousand pulpits in the land, they were told, and rightly told, that for the repentant sinner the gates of Heaven were open, whether his death was a violent one or not; and yet in the face of those sermons they said—he did not mean that the Judges say it in so many words—"Your crime is so great that there can be no forgiveness with man; but appeal unto God and he may forgive you if you appeal in the right way and pay due attention to your religious advisers." We told the criminal in one breath that his crime was too great for man to forgive—that he was not fit to live on earth, but we commended him to the mercy of the Highest. We said, in effect, that those feet "which Would leave no stain on the pure pavements of the New Jerusalem would leave the polluting mark of blood upon the ground that mortals tread." He knew not how to escape from this argument. If criminals were fit to die the time of their going to Heaven was hastened; and if not fit to die, they were allowed to go with all their unexpiated crimes on their heads be fore their final Judge. If we believed that faith which we professed, then the greater the sin the greater the need for repentance; and it was something monstrous that we should set ourselves up to decide that a fortnight from the date of his sentence was enough time for the worst murderer to make his peace with God. If we believed there was need for that peacemaking, let us give the murderer the time 1041 which God would give him to make his peace with Him. If we wanted to teach mercy, let us set an example of that mercy, and at all events stop short of shedding human blood. And if we would teach reverence for human life, let us not attempt to teach it by showing how it may be speedily taken away. He therefore moved the Amendment of which he had given notice, convinced that by the entire abolition of capital punishment, and the removal from their criminal code of the principle of revenge—the life for life principle—they would inaugurate an era in which the sanctity of human life would be regarded more highly than it had hitherto been, and in which the sense of that sanctity, permeating through society, would result in a great lessening of the crime of murder, and consequently in increased security to the public of this country.
To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, it is expedient, instead of carrying out the punishment of death within prisons, that Capital Punishment should be abolished,"—(Mr. Gilpin,)
§ MR. GREGORY
said, the question before them was not, as the hon. Member who had just spoken seemed to suppose, one of softening the heart or saving the souls of murderers, but of preventing the Queen's subjects from being murdered. The balance of all authority, as far as they could arrive at it, was that the punishment of death was the great deterrent for murder. Of the eminent men who composed the Commission of 1866, they had the authority of eight in favour of continuing capital punishment; and as to the four who were for abolishing it, they entered the Commission with minds already made up, having been Members of the Society for the Abolition of Capital Punishment. The opinion of all the Irish Judges was unanimous in favour of retaining that punishment, and the opinion of the English Bench was also unanimous to the same effect, with the exception of that of the late Mr. Justice Shee. The opinions of those best acquainted with the criminal classes were to the same effect. The governors of gaols stated that the fear of death alone restrained the miscreants they had 1042 in charge from attempts on the lives of the prison officials; and it was clear that it must be so. If a man be condemned for one murder to penal servitude for life, how could he be restrained from another murder. Punishment could go no further. He would be left to the indulgence of his brutal instincts without a check. The police officers examined before the Commission, who gave most intelligent evidence, one and all said that, from their experience of our most desperate criminals, they felt convinced they would have "knifed" this person and that, were it not that they were afraid, to use their own phrase, of being "scragged" or hanged. Pusey, a desperate burglar, who broke into a house in which an old lady and her housemaid lived, said, with an oath, that he would have "choked" both the housemaid and the old lady if it had not been that he was afraid of being "choked" himself. This they would find upon the testimony of Inspector Tanner, who added that such was the desperate character of the man that he would have carried out the threat with as much coolness as he would have eaten his breakfast. Another desperado, Palin by name, who committed murder, was sent to Australia, and after perpetratiug a horrible outrage in that country was condemned to death. Just before going to the scaffold he wrote a letter, in which he declared that the blood of his last victim rested upon those who had spared his life in the first instance, when he ought to have been hanged. But it was said that those who were assassins were not, generally speaking, persons who belonged to the marauding and dangerous classes. They committed every other crime but fell short of this, and the reason given was, that these people had a horror of taking life. This was a strange reason, and he should not have alluded to it but that some stress had been laid upon it by so high an authority as Lord Romilly. He (Mr. Gregory) had already shown from the evidence of police officers that it was precisely the fear of the gallows and nothing else, which had restrained these desperate men. Did they think that those garotters, who took as it were possession of the town a few years ago, were restrained by any tenderness for human life, when they left their victims senseless from blows and half strangled on the pavement? Unquestionably not. Did anyone imagine they were prevented from taking life by the risk of having their im- 1043 prisonment if tried and found guilty, extended from twenty years to imprisonment for life? Were there no punishment of death they would have done the business effectually and have no tales told. Inspector Tanner, who was as well acquainted with the criminal classes as any man in England, represented the invariable feeling among them, no matter how long the period of imprisonment, to be that something would turn up, and that they would eventually regain their liberty; and so great was the difficulty of dealing with the question found to be that even Lord Romilly proposed that, in the case of persons found guilty of murder, periodical flogging should be added to the punishment of imprisonment for life. But a deterrent was wanted, and that deterrent could not be had without publicity. If, therefore, a man were to be flogged within the walls of a gaol beyond the public view, and if he were never to emerge from the precincts of the gaol to tell others what had befallen him, this punishment would wear the aspect of revenge and torture instead of operating as a warning to others, so that that was the position to which Lord Romilly, with all his benevolence, was reduced in endeavouring to provide a substitute for death. Looking to the experience to be derived from other countries, it would be found by a Report which had some time ago been furnished by Mr. Rumbold, our Attaché at Berne, who had endeavoured to ascertain how matters stood in reference to capital punishment in several of the cantons of Switzerland, that though, as a general rule, the punishment was there inscribed on the statute book it was rarely enforced; but that, as far as he could ascertain, its maintenance as part of the legal system exercised a deterrent effect. It further appeared, from this Report that in Neufchatel and Friburg capital punishment had been of late years abolished; that in the case of the former no statistics were supplied; but that, so far as Mr. Rumbold's information went, the use of the knife there was steadily on the increase. In Friburg, where during the eighteen years from 1830 to 1848, when capital punishment was in force, only twenty-six murders had taken place, the number had increased during the sixteen years between 1848, when it was abolished, and 1864 to forty-seven. The Minister of Public Instruction in Tuscany gave pretty much the same account of the state of things there — robbery ac- 1044 companied by murder being, according to his statement, very much on the increase since capital punishment was done away with in 1859. He moreover states that the offenders were rarely detected, because the dead could not identify. But his hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, and those who supported his views, appealed to the number of murders which had been committed in this country within the last few years, for the purpose of showing that the existence of capital punishment did not prevent such crimes. The same argument, however, held equally good as applied to imprisonment, because it did not put an end to the frequent commission of assaults and thefts and burglaries. Were we, then, to give up imprisonment? Many thousand more assaults and robberies would surely be committed if imprisonment were done away with, and so would many hundred more murders be perpetrated if death were not the penalty of the crime. As to the argument derived from the alleged existence of insanity in the case of the offender, everybody well knew how often, after the commission of some desperate and deliberate murder, some soft-hearted doctor or some gentleman who was opposed to the punishment of death, tried to show that a great amount of unaccountable conduct had been exhibited by the culprit—that he had done many strange things in his youth, or that some members of his family had been eccentric. Now, juries listened to this argument. Half mankind is ready to believe the other half to be lunatics. Now, the accused knew well that, if acquitted on the grounds of insanity, he would be locked up for the remainder of his days, and the world would know him no more. But he strove to obtain—and rejoiced if he obtained—and his counsel also rejoiced exceedingly if he obtained this incarceration for ever—anything, in short, rather than hanging. As to the Bill on the subject which had been introduced by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department, he must confess that he was entirely in its favour. He could not, however, at the same time, conceal from himself that public executions, though in this metropolis they were accompanied by scenes of ribaldry, yet in the country and in Ireland impressed those who witnessed them with a feeling of deep awe. He recollected a speech which a couple of Sessions ago was made by the noble Lord the Secretary to 1045 the Admiralty. He described in vivid language the desperate character of the crowd which he saw assembled at an execution in the metropolis at which he was present—their levity and obscenity up to and after the falling of the drop, and he wound up his observations by asking, what advantage could result from such a scene? Now, he was aware that the impression created by it was not all that could be desired; but it nevertheless conveyed to every miscreant in that crowd the lesson that the law had a long hand as well as a strong one, and that for the crime of murder death was the penalty which it inflicted. More than that, he would venture to say that scarcely a single man out of all that evil gathering returned to his home without the conviction that there was a barrier set up against the indulgence of his bloody and brutal instincts beyond which he might not pass without becoming, in all probability, a similar spectacle — finishing his life like some savage beast—an object of execration and abhorrence. Nevertheless, the time had, in his opinion, arrived when public executions ought to be abolished. They were not in accordance with the spirit of the age. They were barbarous and, he believed, demoralizing; and he felt convinced that equal, if not greater, awe might be impressed if they were conducted within the precincts of the gaol. But everything should be done to render the occasion solemn and momentous. Notice of the execution should be given beforehand; the death-bell should be tolled; the black flag raised; and, above all things, the whole of the inmates of the prison should be made witnesses of the scene. Under those conditions, the punishment of death ought, he contended, to be continued. It was better that the murderer should perish than that innocent men and women should have their throats cut. A witty Frenchman lately wrote a pamphlet on this subject, and said—I am all for abolishing the penalty of death, if Messieurs the Assassins would only set the example.He quoted Montesquieu, who mentioned that, in his time, in England assassinations were rare, because robbers had the hope of being transported while assassins had not. In China, robbers guilty of cruelty were cut into pieces; consequently, they robbed but did not murder. In Russia, the punishment of robbers and murderers was the same; and they invariably assassinated 1046 because the dead told no tales. With all the respect, therefore, which he (Mr. Gregory) bore to his hon. Friend the Member for Northampton, he adhered to the opinion of such men as Bentham, Montesquieu, and Fenelon; to the verdict of the late Commission; to the almost unanimous testimony of the English and Irish Bench; and to the unanimous evidence of those best acquainted with the criminal classes; and, while giving his hon. Friend full credit for his benevolence and humanity, he must say "No" to his Amendment.
§ MR. NEATE
observed that the hon. Gentleman who last spoke inadvertently committed an error in stating that only four members of the Commission were in favour of the abolition of capital punishment, because, in addition to the four members alluded to, Mr. Justice O'Hagan did at a subsequent period intimate by a private memorandum an opinion recommending, though not immediately, the abolition of that punishment. It was also stated before the Commission by many gentlemen representing the Bar of this country that the result of their experience was that there was increased difficulty in obtaining the conviction of guilty persons in consequence of the existence on the statute book of the penalty of death. The present Bill only dealt with the smaller part of the subject which came under the consideration of the Commission. One important object of the Commission was to provide a better definition of the law of murder, and the Bill of the late Government as well as the Bill of last year grappled with that matter; but the present Bill only dealt with the smaller part of the question, having reference to the infliction of capital punishment in private. He objected to the labours of the Commission being dealt with in that way; for he feared that the result would be that the more important part of the recommendations of the Commission would fall to the ground. He admitted that the punishment of death was the most deterrent; but he did not therefore admit that it was the most effectual, or that its abolition would lead to the multiplication of murders. Certainly nothing was so terrible as death; but those who were most impressed with the sight of the scaffold were those who thought least of it when it was removed from their eyes. The same sensual nature which yielded to the terror of present death was least able to realize it at a distance. Murderers were usually, in 1047 some sort, courageous men; and if it were put to a Rush or a Palmer, when about to commit a murder, whether in the event of his being found out he would wish that the penalty for his crime should be death or perpetual imprisonment, he believed he would say, "It does not much matter, if I am found out, whether I am hanged or not; but if I am to make a choice, I say let it be death—["No, no!"]—because I know I have a greater chance of escape from the scruples of the jury than if the punishment was perpetual imprisonment." But even allowing for the greater chance of a prisoner's escape from punishment when the penalty attached to the offence he was charged with was death, he nevertheless admitted that the punishment of death was more deterrent, though it did not follow that it was, therefore the the most effectual means for the prevention of crime; for were the punishment of death abolished, improvements in the efficiency of the police or in the character of legislation would more than compensate for the absence of the terror of the death penalty. No doubt sheep stealers were more afraid in former days of being hanged than they now were of being subject to the penalty at present inflicted for the offence of sheep-stealing; but, in consequence of capital punishment being abolished for that offence, the State felt the necessity of improving the police of the country. The county police was accordingly brought into existence, and the crime had since diminished. One great reason why he wished the abolition of this law of murder was that it would compel them to see what they could do, by education and legislation, for the better humanization and improvement of the people. He should vote for the Amendment of his hon. Friend.
§ MR. J. STUART MILL
It would be a great satisfaction to me if I were able to support this Motion. It is always a matter of regret to me to find myself, on a public question, opposed to those who are called—sometimes in the way of honour, and sometimes in what is intended for ridicule—the philanthropists. Of all persons who take part in public affairs, they are those for whom, on the whole, I feel the greatest amount of respect; for their characteristic is, that they devote their time, their labour, and much of their money to objects purely public, with a less admixture of either personal or class selfishness, than any other class of politicians whatever. On almost all the great questions, scarcely any politicians 1048 are so steadily and almost uniformly to be found on the side of right; and they seldom err, but by an exaggerated application of some just and highly important principle. On the very subject that is now occupying us we all know what signal service they have rendered. It is through their efforts that our criminal laws—which within my memory hanged people for stealing in a dwelling house to the value of 40s.—laws by virtue of which rows of human beings might be seen suspended in front of Newgate by those who ascended or descended Ludgate Hill—have so greatly relaxed their most revolting and most impolitic ferocity, that aggravated murder is now practically the only crime which is punished with death by any of our lawful tribunals; and we are even now deliberating whether the extreme penalty should be retained in that solitary case. This vast gain, not only to humanity, but to the ends of penal justice, we owe to the philanthropists; and if they are mistaken, as I cannot but think they are, in the present instance, it is only in not perceiving the right time and place for stopping in a career hitherto so eminently beneficial. Sir, there is a point at which, I conceive, that career ought to stop. When there has been brought home to any one, by conclusive evidence, the greatest crime known to the law; and when the attendant circumstances suggest no palliation of the guilt, no hope that the culprit may even yet not be unworthy to live among mankind, nothing to make it probable that the crime was an exception to his general character rather than a consequence of it, then I confess it appears to me that to deprive the criminal of the life of which he has proved himself to be unworthy—solemnly to blot him out from the fellowship of mankind and from the catalogue of the living—is the most appropriate, as it is certainly the most impressive, mode in which society can attach to so great a crime the penal consequences which for the security of life it is indispensable to annex to it. I defend this penalty, when confined to atrocious cases, on the very ground on which it is commonly attacked—on that of humanity to the criminal; as beyond comparison the least cruel mode in which it is possible adequately to deter from the crime. If, in our horror of inflicting death, we endeavour to devise some punishment for the living criminal which shall act on the human mind with a deterrent force at all comparable to that of death, we are driven to inflictions less severe indeed in appearance, and therefore less 1049 efficacious, but far more cruel in reality, Few, I think, would venture to propose, as a punishment for aggravated murder, less than imprisonment with hard labour for life; that is the fate to which a murderer would be consigned by the mercy which shrinks from putting him to death. But has it been sufficiently considered what sort of a mercy this is, and what kind of life it leaves to him? If, indeed, the punishment is not really inflicted—if it becomes the sham which a few years ago such punishments were rapidly becoming—then, indeed, its adoption would be almost tantamount to giving up the attempt to repress murder altogether. But if it really is what it professes to be, and if it is realized in all its rigour by the popular imagination, as it very probably would not be, but as it must be if it is to be efficacious, it will be so shocking that when the memory of the crime is no longer fresh, there will be almost insuperable difficulty in executing it. What comparison can there really be, in point of severity, between consigning a man to the short pang of a rapid death, and immuring him in a living tomb, there to linger out what may be a long life in the hardest and most monotonous toil, without any of its alleviations, or rewards—debarred from all pleasant sights and sounds, and cut off from all earthly hope, except a slight mitigation of bodily restraint, or a small improvement of diet? Yet even such a lot as this, because there is no one moment at which the suffering is of terrifying intensity, and, above all, because it does not contain the element, so imposing to the imagination, of the unknown, is universally reputed a milder punishment than death—stands in all codes as a mitigation of the capital penalty, and is thankfully accepted as such. For it is characteristic of all punishments which depend on duration for their efficacy—all, therefore, which are not corporal or pecuniary—that they are more rigorous than they seem; while it is, on the contrary, one of the strongest recommendations a punishment can have, that it should seem more rigorous than it is; for its practical power depends far less on what it is than on what it seems. There is not, I should think, any human infliction which makes an impression on the imagination so entirely out of proportion to its real severity as the punishment of death. The punishment must be mild indeed which does not add more to the sum of human misery than is necessarily or directly added by 1050 the execution of a criminal. As my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton (Mr. Gilpin) has himself remarked, the most that human laws can do to anyone in the matter of death is to hasten it; the man would have died at any rate; not so very much later, and on the average, I fear, with a considerably greater amount of bodily suffering. Society is asked, then, to denude itself of an instrument of punishment which, in the grave cases to which alone it is suitable, effects its purpose at a less cost of human suffering than any other; which, while it inspires more terror, is less cruel in actual fact than any punishment that we should think of substituting for it. My hon. Friend says that it does not inspire terror, and that experience proves it to be a failure. But the influence of a punishment is not to be estimated by its effect on hardened criminals. Those whose habitual way of life keeps them, so to speak, at all times within sight of the gallows, do grow to care less about it; as, to compare good things with bad, an old soldier is not much affected by the chance of dying in battle. I can afford to admit all that is often said about the indifference of professional criminals to the gallows. Though of that indifference one-third is probably bravado and another third confidence that they shall have the luck to escape, it is quite probable that the remaining third is real. But the efficacy of a punishment which acts principally through the imagination, is chiefly to be measured by the impression it makes on those who are still innocent: by the horror with which it surrounds the first promptings of guilt; the restraining influence it exercises over the beginning of the thought which, if indulged, would become a temptation; the check which it exerts over the gradual declension towards the state—never suddenly attained—in which crime no longer revolts, and punishment no longer terrifies. As for what is called the failure of death punishment, who is able to judge of that? We partly know who those are whom it has not deterred; but who is there who knows whom it has deterred, or how many human beings it has saved who would have lived to be murderers if that awful association had not been thrown round the idea of murder from their earliest infancy? Let us not forget that the most imposing fact loses its power over the imagination if it is made too cheap. When a punishment fit only for the most atrocious crimes is lavished on small offences until human feeling recoils from it, 1051 then, indeed, it ceases to intimidate, because it ceases to be believed in. The failure of capital punishment in cases of theft is easily accounted for: the thief did not believe that it would be inflicted. He had learnt by experience that jurors would perjure themselves rather than find him guilty; that Judges would seize any excuse for not sentencing him to death, or for recommending him to mercy; and that if neither jurors nor Judges were merciful, there were still hopes from an authority above both. When things had come to this pass it was high time to give up the vain attempt. When it is impossible to inflict a punishment, or when its infliction becomes a public scandal, the idle threat cannot too soon disappear from the statute book. And in the case of the host of offences which were formerly capital, I heartily rejoice that it did become impracticable to execute the law. If the same state of public feeling comes to exist in the case of murder; if the time comes when jurors refuse to find a murderer guilty; when Judges will not sentence him to death, or will recommend him to mercy; or when, if juries and Judges do not flinch from their duty, Home Secretaries, under pressure of deputations and memorials, shrink from theirs, and the threat becomes, as it became in the other cases, a mere brutum fulmen; then, indeed, it may become necessary to do in this case what has been done in those — to abrogate the penalty. That time may come—my hon. Friend thinks that it has nearly come. I hardly know whether he lamented it or boasted of it; but he and his Friends are entitled to the boast: for if it comes it will be their doing, and they will have gained what I cannot but call a fatal victory, for they will have achieved it by bringing about, if they will forgive me for saying so, an enervation, an effeminacy, in the general mind of the country. For what else than effeminacy is it to be so much more shocked by taking a man's life than by depriving him of all that makes life desirable or valuable? Is death, then, the greatest of all earthly ills? Usque adeone mori miserum est? Is it, indeed, so dreadful a thing to die? Has it not been from of old one chief part of a manly education to make us despise death—teaching us to account it, if an evil at all, by no means high in the list of evils; at all events, as an inevitable one, and to hold, as it were, our lives in our hands, ready to be given or risked at any moment, for 1052 a sufficiently worthy object? I am sure that my hon. Friends know all this as well, and have as much of all these feelings as any of the rest of us; possibly more. But I cannot think that this is likely to be the effect of their teaching on the general mind. I cannot think that the cultivating of a peculiar sensitiveness of conscience on this one point, over and above what results from the general cultivation of the moral sentiments, is permanently consistent with assigning in our own minds to the fact of death no more than the degree of relative importance which belongs to it among the other incidents of our humanity. The men of old cared too little about death, and gave their own lives or took those of others with equal recklessness. Our danger is of the opposite kind, lest we should be so much shocked by death, in general and in the abstract, as to care too much about it in individual cases, both those of other people and our own, which call for its being risked. And I am not putting things at the worst, for it is proved by the experience of other countries that horror of the executioner by no means necessarily implies horror of the assassin. The stronghold, as we all know, of laired assassination in the 18th century was Italy; yet it is said that in some of the Italian populations the infliction of death by sentence of law was in the highest degree offensive and revolting to popular feeling. Much has been said of the sanctity of human life, and the absurdity of supposing that we can teach respect for life by ourselves destroying it. But I am surprised at the employment of this argument, for it is one which might be brought against any punishment whatever. It is not human life only, not human life as such, that ought to be sacred to us, but human feelings. The human capacity of suffering is what we should cause to be respected, not the mere capacity of existing. And we may imagine somebody asking how we can teach people not to inflict suffering by ourselves inflicting it? But to this I should answer — all of us would answer — that to deter by suffering from inflicting suffering is not only possible, but the very purpose of penal justice. Does fining a criminal show want of respect for property, or imprisoning him, for personal freedom? Just as unreasonable is it to think that to take the life of a man who has taken that of another is to show want of regard for human life. We show, on the contrary, most emphatically our re- 1053 gard for it, by the adoption of a rule that he who violates that right in another forfeits it for himself, and that while no other crime that he can commit deprives him of his right to live, this shall. There is one argument against capital punishment, even in extreme cases, which I cannot deny to have weight—on which my hon. Friend justly laid great stress, and which never can be entirely got rid of. It is this—that if by an error of justice an innocent person is put to death, the mistake can never be corrected; all compensation, all reparation for the wrong is impossible. This would be indeed a serious objection if these miserable mistakes—among the most tragical occurrences in the whole round of human affairs—could not be made extremely rare. The argument is invincible where the mode of criminal procedure is dangerous to the innocent, or where the Courts of Justice are not trusted. And this probably is the reason why the objection to an irreparable punishment began (as I believe it did) earlier, and is more intense and more widely diffused, in some parts of the Continent of Europe than it is here. There are on the Continent great and enlightened countries, in which the criminal procedure is not so favourable to innocence, does not afford the same security against erroneous conviction, as it does among us; countries where the Courts of Justice seem to think they fail in their duty unless they find somebody guilty; and in their really laudable desire to hunt guilt from its hiding-places, expose themselves to a serious danger of condemning the innocent. If our own procedure and Courts of Justice afforded ground for similar apprehension, I should be the first to join in withdrawing the power of inflicting irreparable punishment from such tribunals. But we all know that the defects of our procedure are the very opposite. Our rules of evidence are even too favourable to the prisoner: and juries and Judges carry out the maxim, "It is better that ten guilty should escape than that one innocent person should suffer," not only to the letter, but beyond the letter. Judges are most anxious to point out, and juries to allow for, the barest possibility of the prisoner's innocence. No human judgment is infallible: Such sad cases as my hon. Friend cited will sometimes occur; but in so grave a case as that of murder, the accused, in our system, has always the benefit of the merest shadow of a doubt. And this suggests another consideration very germane to the question. 1054 The very fact that death punishment is more shocking than any other to the imagination, necessarily renders the Courts of Justice more scrupulous in requiring the fullest evidence of guilt. Even that which is the greatest objection to capital punishment, the impossibility of correcting an error once committed, must make, and does make, juries and Judges more careful in forming their opinion, and more jealous in their scrutiny of the evidence, If the substitution of penal servitude for death in cases of murder should cause any relaxation in this conscientious scrupulosity, there would be a great evil to set against the real, but I hope rare, advantage of being able to make reparation to a condemned person who was afterwards discovered to be innocent. In order that the possibility of correction may be kept open wherever the chance of this sad contingency is more than infinitesimal, it is quite right that the Judge should recommend to the Crown a commutation of the sentence, not solely when the proof of guilt is open to the smallest suspicion, but whenever there remains anything unexplained and mysterious in the case, raising a desire for more light, or making it likely that further information may at some future time be obtained. I would also suggest that whenever the sentence is commuted the grounds of the commutation should, in some authentic form, be made known to the public. Thus much I willingly concede to my hon. Friend; but on the question of total abolition I am inclined to hope that the feeling of the country is not with him, and that the limitation of death punishment to the cases referred to in the Bill of last year will be generally considered sufficient. The mania which existed a short time ago for paring down all our punishments seems to have reached its limits, and not before it was time. We were in danger of being left without any effectual punishment, except for small offences. What was formerly our chief secondary punishment—transportation—before it was abolished, had become almost a reward. Penal servitude, the substitute for it, was becoming, to the classes who were principally subject to it, almost nominal, so comfortable did we make our prisons, and so easy had it become to get quickly out of them. Flogging—a most objectionable punishment in ordinary cases, but a particularly appropriate one for crimes of brutality, especially crimes against women—we would not hear of, except, to be sure, in the case of garotters, for whose peculiar 1055 benefit we re-established it in a hurry, immediately after a Member of Parliament had been garotted. With this exception, offences, even of an atrocious kind, against the person, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Oxford (Mr. Neate) well remarked, not only were, but still are, visited with penalties so ludicrously inadequate, as to be almost an encouragement to the crime. I think, Sir, that in the case of most offences, except those against property, there is more need of strengthening our punishments than of weakening them: and that severer sentences, with an apportionment of them to the different kinds of offences which shall approve itself better than at present to the moral sentiments of the community, are the kind of reform of which our penal system now stands in need. I shall therefore vote against the Amendment.
§ Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."
§ The House divided:—Ayes 127; Noes 23: Majority 104.
§ Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill considered in Committee.
§ (In the Committee.)
§ Clause 1 agreed to.
§ Clause 2 struck out.
§ Clause 3 (Execution to be within Prison).
§ MR. DARBY GRIFFITH
expressed his opinion that, in introducing the element of privacy into executions, they would do their best to imitate the crime itself. It was, of course, a deed of violence. In taking away the element of publicity, they were taking away the chief authority for the act, which was to be sought, not in any written statute, but in the common feeling of mankind seated in the heart. This doing away with the consensus populi would be to realize the prediction that if they abolished publicity it would be impossible to maintain capital punishment at all, because the effect would be revolting to human feeling. They would only show that they were afraid of carrying out their own principle of capital punishment. It might be true that, when a crowd was collected at executions, scenes and incidents revolting to moral feeling took place; but this might equally occur if a number of people were admitted to what was called a private execution.
§ MR. HIBBERT
thought the speech of the hon. Member (Mr. Darby Griffith) should have been made on the second reading of the Bill. There were many countries in which private executions were established without the inconveniences asserted to be inseparable from them.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
concurred with the argument of the hon. Member for Devizes. He admitted that private executions prevailed in various countries; but there was no country in the world in which respect for the law was so high and deep as it was in England. The principle of secresy which the Bill contained was objectionable, because it would bring the carrying out of the law into suspicion and diminish the force of the law. Secresy in matters of this kind would excite against the Executive an amount of odium that must be deplored, and which had never previously attached to it. The principle of our law was, that the execution of a person was the act of the whole nation, and that being so, it should be public, in order that that portion of the nation residing in the immediate neighbourhood of the crime might, if they chose, attend and see their own punishment carried out.
§ MR. M'LAREN
said, he entirely disagreed in the views taken by his hon. Friend on the other side. Even supposing that the scriptural argument could be maintained, and that the text, "Whoso sheddeth man's blood by man shall his blood be shed," was correctly interpreted, which he by no means admitted, where was it written that the shedding of blood should necessarily take place in the midst of a crowd composed of the most profligate and worthless part of the population that could be collected? Did the spectacle do good to the classes who furnished these crowds? All the evidence went to show that instead of doing them good, it had a tendency to demoralize them. The clauses of the Bill would insure every necessary publicity, and be cordially thanked the Government for the measure.
§ MR. ALDERMAN LUSK
thought the Bill a move in the right direction—that was to say, towards the total abolition of capital punishment. Public executions were an evil. He himself had had more than once to sentence numbers of persons in the police-court for robbing at executions. He asked whether "within the walls" of the prison would be interpreted within the external boundary walls or actually within the prison itself?
§ MR. DARBY GRIFFITH
said, with reference to the remarks of the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert), that if any change took place from private executions it would most certainly not be to public executions, but to the total abolition of capital punishment; the national aversion to secresy would enforce this abolition.
§ MR. DENMAN
admitted that one reason why he had voted for the second reading of the Bill was because he believed it was a step towards total abolition. But even assuming that capital punishment was to be maintained in perpetuity, was it not far better that it should be carried out within the prisons, and thus avoid the horrible and disgusting scenes that took place at public executions? One great stumbling block in the way of total abolitionists hitherto had been the want of a sufficiently strong public opinion to justify their proposal; private executions would, he believed, remove the difficulty by leading the public to the opinion that it was not necessary to put a person out of the world for the public safety when he could be well secured from doing harm by closely confining him in prison. The hon. and learned Gentleman said that, in the case of Palin, the first murder case he had ever defended, if the punishment had been anything but death the prisoner would have been convicted, because there was the plainest evidence against him. Palin was afterwards transported for fifteen years, and finally committed a capital offence, for which he was executed. But that he did not wish to inflict a speech upon hon. Members he might have cited different cases in which criminals, undoubtedly guilty, had escaped conviction through the repugnance of juries to doom them to the extreme penalty of the law. It would not be long, he thought after this Bill passed, before public opinion would declare that a secret act of assassination within the gaol was not necessary or expedient. A plan had been suggested by Sir Walter Crofton, a very high authority on such a subject, under which prisoners might be confined for life, and practically without hope, in the interior of some prison, so that society would run no risk of their escape from prison, and would avoid the risks it now ran, in many cases, from their total impunity, owing to the unwillingness of juries to inflict an irrevocable sentence.
§ MR. RUSSELL GURNEY
said, the 1058 hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Newdegate) objected to all punishments carried out privately as unconstitutional, was he prepared to revive the abominable practice of public flogging? There was no objection to the clause.
§ MR. NEWDEGATE
said, he objected to flogging prisoners, because to degrade men was not the best way to fit them to continue in society. But the case of capital punishment is totally different, and the old principle of English law is that if a citizen of the country is to be deprived of his life the execution ought to take place in the face of the public.
§ MR. M. CHAMBERS
said, that if, as some predicted, the effect of passing the second reading of this Bill were to lead to the abolition of capital punishment, he should assuredly regret that he had been among its supporters. He could not agree in that prediction. He for a long time considered private executions anti-English; but the majority of the country, or at any rate of the House, has now decided the question. He protested against the representation of the hon. and learned Member for Tiverton (Mr. Denman) that juries had violated their oaths—["No, no!"]—for violating their oaths it is, because they objected to the penalty of death.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ Clause 4 (Sheriff, &c. to be present).
§ MR. NEATE
said, that even if the House agreed to deprive executions of their public character, there was much that might and ought to be done to give solemnity to executions within the walls of the prison. He wished, for instance, that the sheriff present should be the High Sheriff; and he further thought that the foreman of the grand jury and at least three of the grand jury ought to attend the execution. ["Oh!"] The clause, as it stood, was founded on a total misconception of the nature and object of capital punishment. Something should be done to supply the want of publicity by the presence of proper representatives of the public. If he were asked to name a suitable hour and place for the purpose, he should say New Palace Yard at four o'clock. ["Oh, oh!"] As he was sure there would be a very strong feeling in the country against the Bill he hoped the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary would allow a sufficient time between the Committee and the third reading to enable the House to learn what was thought of it out of doors. The 1059 hon. and learned Gentleman moved to omit the words, "The Sheriff charged with the execution," and insert—The High Sheriff in person, and also the foreman of the Grand Jury by whom the Bill was found, and three other members of such Grand Jury, to be selected in such manner as the Judge of Assize by whom the case was tried shall direct.
§ SIR JOHN SIMEON
thought it would be unfair to require the attendance of either the High Sheriff or the foreman of the grand jury as they were unpaid officials.
§ MR. GORST
suggested that it would be well to provide for the attendance at executions of witnesses, independently of officials and the relatives of the criminal, whose evidence would satisfy the coroner's jury as to the mode of death. In Australia the attendance of two justices of the peace was required.
§ Amendment negatived.
moved to leave out the words "Relatives of the prisoner, or." Those who objected to public executions could not desire the presence of relatives of the prisoner when executions were carried out in private.
§ MR. HIBBERT
suggested that, for the purpose of identification, the presence of relatives of the culprit might in some cases be very important. At present the Governor had the power of admitting them to the gaol to see the procession on its way to the place of execution.
§ MR. GATHORNE HARDY
said, that if the words proposed to be omitted were struck out, it would still be in the power of the Governor to admit relatives of the culprit under the words enabling him to admit "other persons" than the officials specially named.
§ MR. WALPOLE
remarked that the words applying to "relatives" might be taken as giving such persons a right to demand admittance. It would be well to bear this in mind before altering the clause.
§ MR. DARBY GRIFFITH
could not suppose that the relatives of the prisoner would like to be present at such a distressing and shocking sight. At all events, it should be left to the discretion of the sheriff to determine whether they should be admitted.
§ MR. M'LAREN
said, it was always the case that poor persons stuck to their relatives to the death; and it would only be right to accord to them the privilege of 1060 being present at the execution of their relatives.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, the clause is permissive, and therefore it will make no difference in point of legal obligation whether the words are omitted or retained, though they would be useful as an instrucion to the sheriff as to whom he should admit.
§ MR. CANDLISH
thought it important that the relatives of the prisoner should have a legal right to attend the execution.
said, if the words are retained the sheriff will still have power under the clause to refuse the relatives admission in certain cases.
§ Amendment negatived.
§ MR. ALDERMAN LUSK
thought it desirable that a few of the general public should be admitted within the prison. If thirty, twenty, or even ten of the general public were allowed to be present the execution would not be a private one, any more than the Central Criminal Court was a private Court, although only a very limited number of the public could be accommodated in the building. He moved, therefore, an Amendment to the effect that the sheriffs and visiting justices should admit into the gaol as many of the general public as could properly and conveniently be accommodated.
§ MR. GATHORNE HARDY
said, he understood the proposition of the hon. Gentleman was that the gaol should be opened to any persons who might choose to come, as long as there was sufficient room for their accommodation. [Mr. Alderman LUSK: No!] If not, due provision was made in the clause as it stood for carrying out the hon. Member's intention. It was left to the discretion of the sheriff and the visiting justices to admit such persons as they thought fit, and therefore it would be unnecessary to introduce the words proposed by the hon. Member.
§ MR. ALDERMAN LUSK
explained that it was his intention that the sheriff should admit as many of the general public as could be conveniently accommodated.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
remarked that if the clause were altered in the way proposed, the sheriff would be bound to admit the public indiscriminately into the gaol as long as there was room to accommodate them. Thus boys, women, and others who ought not to witness executions, would have a right to admission. By the clause as it stood power was given 1061 to admit the representatives of the Press and other persons of respectability who, in the opinion of the authorities, ought to be present at the execution.
§ MR. ALDERMAN LUSK
pointed out that boys and young girls might be excluded, as they were now from Courts of Justice in certain cases.
THE SOLICITOR GENERAL
said, the reason why boys and girls were sometimes kept or ordered out of Court was that the Judge is assumed to have supreme control over the discipline of the Court, though some people doubted whether they have so much authority; but if this Amendment were adopted the sheriff would be bound to act according to the words of the statute, and to admit the public indiscriminately.
§ MR. DARBY GRIFFITH
thought what was proposed by the Bill would be very like a select audience. It would probably come to admitting people by ticket.
§ MR. M'LAREN
suggested the addition of words to the effect that the sheriff should admit such reporters for the newspapers connected with the county or borough as he might deem proper.
§ MR. DENMAN
, while agreeing with the spirit of his hon. Friend's Amendment, thought it quite superfluous and unnecessary. Under the term "persons," the representatives of the Press would be admissible.
§ MR. ALDERMAN LAWRENCE
thought that the representatives of the Press should have a right to be present, instead of their admission being at the discretion of the authorities, who, perhaps, might in some cases think it desirable that the public should not be furnished with a full account of the proceedings. He should therefore take an opportunity of moving an Amendment to that effect, and would certainly divide the Committee upon it.
§ MR. HIBBERT
opposed the Amendment as unnecessary, seeing that it must be left to the discretion of the sheriffs and the visiting justices to say how many people could be accommodated.
§ MR. M. CHAMBERS
could not see the use of adding the words, "of the general public" after "persons," as the latter included the former.
§ MR. ALDERMAN LAWRENCE
moved the addition of the words, "and so many reporters of the public Press," the effect of which would be to secure the attendance of the representatives of the Press, so that the public might know what official persons 1062 were present. He held that the decision of what persons to be admitted should not be left entirely to the discretion of the sheriff and visiting justices. He thought it would tend to the satisfaction of the people of this country that the admission should be ensured of those who would faithfully report what took place on such occasions.
§ Amendment proposed, after the word "prisoner," to insert the words "and so many reporters of the public press."—(Mr. Alderman Lawrence.)
§ Question put, "That those words be there inserted."
§ The Committee divided:—Ayes 24; Noes 46: Majority 22.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ Clause 5 agreed to.
§ Clause 6 (Coroner's Inquest on Body).
§ MR. ALDERMAN LAWRENCE
asked, if the representatives of the Press would be allowed to attend the inquests? Were those inquests to be private or public?
§ MR. GATHORNE HARDY
They will be as open to the public as Coroners' inquests held in prisons now are.
§ MR. ALDERMAN LUSK
said, a sheriff might have particular views of his own with regard to the admission of unofficial persons to an execution; and supposing the sheriff excluded such persons, who were to be witnesses at the Coroners' inquests?
§ MR. GATHORNE HARDY
If the hon. Gentleman thinks that an execution can be carried on without witnesses, I do not think so. There must be witnesses, whatever reliance may be placed upon their testimony.
§ MR. ALDERMAN LUSK
I understand that there may be official persons present; but will that satisfy the public? This should be arranged beforehand. If the sheriff did not admit any of the public, who were to be the witnesses but the gaoler and hangman?
§ MR. DARBY GRIFFITH
complained that the matter was treated with levity on the Treasury Bench, and regretted to observe that the House seemed ready to relieve itself from a serious subject by ebullitions of that kind. There might be a crotchety sheriff, of opinion that it was in- 1063 tended to carry out executions privately, and not admit the general public, and to that the hon. Member opposite took exception.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ Remaining clauses agreed to.
THE LORD ADVOCATE
proposed a clause extending the Act to Scotland, with the necessary modifications of language.
§ Clause agreed to.
§ MR. NEATE
said, that the punishment of hanging, as practised in great Britain, was derived from barbarous countries, and was singularly unequal in its operation. He would suggest that the Government should have recourse to modern science with the view of discovering a less painful mode of execution. It was a mistake to suppose that dislocation of the neck produced instantaneous death. Sometimes it did so; at other times, the criminal was convulsed for some seconds. The garotte was a more merciful punishment; or life might be taken by means of carbonic acid gas—a process which would prevent the painful necessity of having the hands of the hangman about the culprit's neck. He wished to limit manual interference by one fellow-creature with another in such cases as much as possible, and would even go so far as to allow the prisoner to put an end to himself. He thought the suggestion was worth consideration when they were altering the old mode of execution. He would move as a new clause, but would not press it to a division that—Her Majesty or her successors may, by the advice of their Privy Council, prescribe any other mode of execution in lieu of hanging.
§ Clause negatived.
§ House resumed.
§ Bill reported; as amended, to be considered upon Thursday.