§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. DENMAN
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that if the House would grant him attention for a short time he should be able to satisfy it that the legislation which had taken place upon the law relating to the admissibility of evidence, had left the law in a condition mischievous, irrational, and absurd. He thankfully acknowledged that in the course of the last twenty-six years much had been done much to remove the 1799 anomalies which had previously existed, and to enable parties to law suits and judicial proceedings and the public to nave a more full and fair investigation of the truth. The general principle of this Bill was to do away with the few remaining grounds of incompetency to give evidence which were still upon the statute book, or existed at Common Law. The principle of the Bill separated itself into two heads. The first point with which it dealt was the instances of incompeteney to give evidence, based on the supposition that no one could be trusted to give evidence in a case who had a great interest therein, either morally or pecuniarily. The second head dealt with the only other remaining case in which witnesses were altogether excluded; and that was the case in which persons—not from religious convictions, but from some objections which they could not get the better of in their own minds were unable to take an oath and thus were excluded from giving evidence, so that the Crown and the subject requiring the testimony could not have the benefit of it. These two heads came within one large and common principle—namely, that the law ought not altogether to exclude on the ground of incompetency of witnesses any testimony which may be trustworthy or true, but in every case the good sense of the Judge and the jury should be relied upon to decide upon the value of such testimony. Down to the year 1843 the slightest pecuniary interest in a cause prevented any person from giving evidence. A Bill was then passed, commonly known as Lord Denman's Act, which did away with some of the anomalies and much of the injustice which then existed. In 1846 an Act was passed which enabled husband and wife to give evidence for and against each other in the County Court; and in 1851, another Act was passed enabling them to give evidence in civil cases. Under the existing law, however, husband and wife could not give evidence for or against each other in suits instituted in consequence of adultery, nor could the principal parties give evidence for or against each other in actions for breaches of promise of marriage. It was a monstrous anomaly amounting almost to iniquity, that that should be the case, and the Bill proposed to sweep away this unreasonable exception to the law which was now 1800 applicable to almost every other kind of civil proceeding. He did not propose to alter that part of the law which prevented husbands and wives from disclosing communications made by the one to the other during marriage; and, if necessary, he was willing to introduce a clause exempting evidence of that kind from the operation of the Bill. The Divorce and Matrimonial Causes Act of the 20 & 21 Vict, coupled with the effect of the other statutes relating to the evidence of parties and their husbands or wives had brought about so absurd and unreasonable a state of things that hon. Members would hardly believe such a state of things could exist. By these statutes the principal parties, under certain limited circumstances, were allowed to give evidence; but whether they could give evidence or not, all turned upon the accident, whether the very same issue of adultery happened to be raised in a suit ''instituted in consequence of adultery" or not. In May last Lord Penzance had to try a petition presented by the husband for the restitution of conjugal rights, to which the respondent replied, charging her husband with adultery, and praying for a judicial separation. Upon that the husband abandoned his prayer and offered no evidence, but the wife, being already before the Court, was entitled to go on with her case. The question then arose whether, the issue having been joined upon the charge of adultery, the wife was entitled to give evidence in her own person in support of her case. The legislation was—that in no suit "instituted in consequence of" adultery should husband or wife be allowed to give evidence for or against each other; but the Judge held that, though issue had been joined on the very charge of adultery, the evidence having been tendered in a suit for the restitution of conjugal rights, and not in a "suit instituted in consequence of adultery" a different law prevailed, and the wife's evidence was admissible. That was the case of "Blackburn v. Blackburn," and it was instructive as showing that one law prevailed when a case was commenced, in one way while another law prevailed when the case was commenced in another way, though the issue tried was identically the same in both eases, and there was no conceivable reason why the evidence should be excluded in the one case more than in the other. So ab- 1801 surd a state of things ought not to remain on the statute book. The other case was that of "Bland v. Bland," which was a husband's suit for a dissolution of marriage on the ground of adultery. The wife in her answer charged cruelty against the husband, and prayed for a judicial separation; but it was held that the wife could not give evidence in her own person even on the question of cruelty, however great that cruelty might have been, because the suit was instituted in consequence of adultery. The Bill had been drawn by an able draftsman, Mr. Hastings, and had been submitted to Lord Penzance, who approved of it, as did also Mr. Best, a great authority on the Law of Evidence, and it had the sanction of the Law Amendment Society. In cases of breach of promise of marriage the law was quite as absurd, for neither the plaintiff nor the defendant could be examined. This was, he believed, the only other remaining case in which the parties were inadmissible witnesses in a civil action; the only relic of the absurd old presumption that where parties had so deep a stake in the case their evidence was not to be trusted, and that the truth was to be served by shutting out the testimony, of perhaps the only persons who had an accurate knowledge of the facts. It was urged that actions for breach of promise of marriage were of an objectionable character; but, so long as they existed, there was no reason why the court should not have the best means that could be obtained of arriving at the truth. In an action for seduction, and in cases of affiliation, the parties were competent to enter the witness-box and give evidence. Another objection which had been made against the principal parties being allowed to give evidence in these cases was that a counsel would be no match against a young lady of interesting appearance, good-looking, and well-dressed, who, if she could tell her story in the witness-box would be able to work upon the sympathies of the jury. But that was not a sound view. As the law now stood, a young woman, good-looking, and well-dressed, who sat below her counsel, but whose mouth was shut, had the opportunity of producing quite as great, if not a greater, effect upon the jury against a defendant whose mouth was closed, possibly not half as clever, half as good-looking, or half as well-dressed as herself, and was more 1802 likely to enlist the sympathies of the jury, and produce a detrimental effect against the defendant than if she could be examined and cross-examined like other plaintiffs. He believed that this change in the law, so far from encouraging actions of this description, would have the effect of putting a stop to the worst of them, namely—those in which the plaintiff's character and conduct could not stand the test of cross-examination. There was no reason, therefore, for the continuance of this anomaly. So far as this part of the Bill was concerned, he did not apprehend any serious objection of principle. The second part of the Bill had for its object the doing away with the incapacity of testimony which at present existed in certain cases, on the gound of defect of religious belief. He held that the law ought, in all cases, to leave Judge and juries to decide whether a man was to be believed, and that it should not be incumbent on the Judge to make a man stand down, and in some cases to commit him to prison, if he could not, or would not, from any cause whatever, consent, before giving his evidence, to imprecate Divine vengeance upon himself in case of his evidence being untrue. The first exemption from the necessity of taking an oath was made in 1696, in the case of the Quakers, who, it was found, could not be got by fear of imprisonment or anything else to pledge their oaths, though they were as competent and as likely as any other people to tell the truth. The Quakers were, therefore, exempted from the necessity of taking oaths in civil cases; and, in 1746, the Moravians, having similar scruples, were also exempted. After that another religious body, the Separatists, were exempted. Afterwards this law was extended to all persons who had been, though they had ceased to remain, Quakers, Moravians, or Separatists, and thus the law remained until 1828, when the Quakers, Moravians, and Separatists were also relieved from the necessity of taking oaths in criminal cases. In 1854, another enlargement of the law was made, and all persons who had conscientious scruples on religious grounds against the taking of an oath were permitted to give evidence on affirmation; but the affirmation was a peculiar one, compelling the person who made it to declare that, "according to his religious belief," it was unlawful to 1803 take an oath. There were some persons who objected to making such a declaration, because they entertained doubts respecting a future state, or were unable to place their objection to oaths on the express ground of "religious belief." The present law proceeded on the assumption that no man who did not believe in a future state of rewards and punishments was worthy of credence. Now was that a reasonable state of the law? Was not the man who had the courage to take the odium upon himself of confessing that he did not believe in future rewards and punishments a better man for the purposes of testimony than the one who did not believe, but who, without the slightest thought or scruple, made no difficulty, but glibly took the oath and gave his evidence as though he was a believer? Mr. Mill had pointed out very justly that the present state of the law only rejected those Atheists who had a regard for truth, while it admitted all those who were reckless and untruthful. One of the objections made to this part of the Bill seemed plausible, but it was entitled to no weight. It was said that if the man who declined to make the present affirmation suffered a hardship, it was no greater than the hardship suffered by lunatics, who were not entitled to give evidence. But that was not the case, for the evidence of a lunatic who had a lucid interval, or who could properly comprehend and reply to questions put to him, was admissible by law. The law was not so absurd, for instance, as to allow a keeper cruelly to ill-use a lunatic and to exclude the evidence of that lunatic altogether from being heard, unless it were proved that his mental incapacity was so great as to render him incompetent to understand questions and give answers to them. Under the existing law a man might lose all his property and be ruined, or be almost beaten to death, or garotted with impunity by reason of his inability conscientiously to make the declaration now required. Again, the law enabled an unscrupulous person to avoid being examined by pretending to be an Atheist, and thus to rob a meritorious litigant of his rights, or the public of its protection against some outrageous criminal, whom his evidence would convict. Under these circumstances, it was clear that the public interest might be greatly injured by the 1804 operation of the law. In many cases women, in a state of pregnancy, had refused to take an oath in consequence of their being under the conscientious, though mistaken, impression that, if while giving sworn testimony, they should by an accidental slip, state anything that was not entirely accurate they would incur the vengeance of God, and thus inflict injury on an existence more precious than their own. Now it was not desirable that the evidence of such persons should be lost merely because they had a superstitious scruple on the subject of oaths. A person might not be a confirmed Atheist and yet might have a doubt as to punishment hereafter—a doubt soon to be dissipated by further reading and reflection. In regard to this class of witnesses, a singular instance had fallen within his own professional experience. It was his duty, some years ago, to prosecute a soldier at Maidstone for the barbarous murder of two young girls, of the ages of sixteen and eighteen. They were found weltering in their blood by a baker, who came up immediately after the murder, and saw the murderer walking away from the spot. He was therefore the best witness to identity. He was accordingly called for the purpose; but when questioned as to his religious belief, he at once admitted that he did not believe in future reward and punishment, and his evidence, though he was to all appearance a respectable man, was, in consequence, excluded. Such a man, believing that lying lips were an abomination, though not an "abomination to the Lord" would have given evidence truthfully according to his conscience. He thought that the Judges should not question a man on such points. If he were willing to take an oath, or if, instead of taking an oath, he were willing to make this promise and declaration—"I solemnly promise and declare that the evidence given by me to the court shall be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth," surely this would answer every legitimate purpose. This was the declaration substituted for an oath in the 4th clause of this Bill. He wished to do away with inquiries into religious belief such as those to which he had referred. He did not wish to abolish oaths. Those who wished to take them might take them; but he proposed that it should be no longer the duty of a Judge to hold 1805 nice theological examinations. If a man objected to take an oath, a form of affirmation should be administered to him, and when that was done he should be liable to all the consequences of perjury if he told an untruth. The 4th clause provided that any person who, having made such promise and declaration, should wilfully and corruptly give false evidence should be liable to be indicted, tried, and convicted of perjury as if he had taken an oath. That, he contended, was the only logical and just way of dealing with the question. He did not propose this Bill because he believed there were any more Atheists now than there were in ancient days, though they were not so easily sent to prison for their opinions now-a-days; but his object was to prevent a miscarriage of justice from the arbitrary rule of excluding this evidence. He had no wish now to argue the validity or the importance of an oath; he did not deny that there were some shuffling and unconscientious, and he would even admit, some conscientious persons too, in whose case an oath was more likely to obtain the truth than an affirmation; but such cases were quite exceptional, and the evidence of such persons would always require watching. He should reserve any further observations until he heard the arguments that were to be urged against the Bill. He thought he had answered, by anticipation, the principal objections, and he hoped he had said enough to induce the House to give a second reading to the Bill, which he thought would work a very considerable improvement in the law, and promote the ends of truth and justice.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Denman.)
MR. STAVELEY HILL
, in rising to move that the Bill be read a second time upon that day six months, said, he concurred with his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Tiverton (Mr. Denman) in thinking it was desirable that persons coming into court to give evidence should do so under every responsibility that could be imposed upon them, and he further concurred with the hon. and learned Gentleman in thinking it was not desirable that persons coming forward as witnesses should be questioned as to their opinions respecting future punishment, but in the main propositions 1806 of the Bill he did not agree. He had a preliminary objection to the Bill, which was that, even supposing the change proposed by his hon. and learned Friend were desirable, this would not be the proper way to effect it. Last night the Secretary of State for the Home Department stated that there were thirty-two Acts relating to public-houses and beer-houses, and that it would be desirable to consolidate them. Strange to say there were exactly thirty-two statutory enactments relating to the Law of Evidence, beginning with the 15 Elizabeth and ending with a Bill brought forward by his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Denman) two Sessions ago. All these enactments ought to be dealt with in one Bill, which might embrace as much of them as it was desirable to maintain, and also embody any changes which it would be advisable to make in the Law of Evidence. By Clause 3 of the Bill now before the House it was provided that—The parties to any proceeding instituted in consequence of adultery, and the husbands and wives of such parties, shall be competent and compellable to give evidence in such proceeding.In 1845, some of the most eminent legal authorities expressed themselves as opposed to the principle of that clause. Lord Penzance, Lord Justice Selwyn, and Sir Roundell Palmer had given evidence antagonistic to the principle of admitting the evidence of the parties to a suit in the Divorce Court. A proceeding in the Divorce Court in consequence of adultery was a criminal or quasi-criminal proceeding, and it was contrary to the spirit of our law to require the accused to give evidence in a criminal process. He denied that the clause would promote the ends of truth and justice. Reference had been made to the improvements in the law by enabling parties to the suit to give evidence; but parties to these suits stood in a very different position. In other civil causes there was present the great foundation of the obligation to speak the truth—namely, that by falsehood you were depriving your opponent of property to which he was entitled and making gain to yourself thereby; in these criminal and quasi-criminal cases, however, no such obligation seemed to arise. No doubt the change would increase the business in the Divorce Court, because it would induce parties to institute proceedings on very slender grounds, in the expectation of being 1807 able to elicit something in cross-examination of the respondent, or co-respondent, to establish their case. Again, he thought the public feeling would be shocked by the spectacle of an adulterer or adultress getting into the box to avow the immoral act. Would not the woman who openly avowed her infidelity to her husband be adding insult to injury? Then, would not persons be likely to commit perjury to screen their partners in guilt? This sort of perjury would have a particularly bad effect on public morals, because persons would be more ready to excuse it than they would be to excuse false swearing under other circumstances. As to actions for breach of promise of marriage, he never knew one brought into court that had not better have remained outside. A promise of this kind was more easily cooked up than any other, and if the breach of them was to continue to be the subject of action the contracts ought to be in writing. With respect to the proposal to admit the parties in those actions to give evidence, he found that his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General had opposed a change in that direction when it was proposed in 1865. If it should be found, after such an inquiry as the House might think fit to institute, that it would be better to examine all parties to a suit, prisoners included, let there be a comprehensive measure placing all on the same footing. This matter ought not to be dealt with by piecemeal legislation; it ought to be dealt with as a whole, and, therefore, he moved that the Bill be read a second time upon that day six months.
§ MR. WHEELHOUSE
, in seconding the Amendment, said, he would ask why Parliament stopped short at the point it did in 1853? Could it be supposed that then due consideration was not given to all the bearings of the question? It was said that the proposed changes would elicit facts. He admitted that they would elicit something, but he feared that that something would be the reverse of truth—statements which would mislead he would not say Judges but juries, and which it would be better to stop at the threshold of the court. He thought it was most undesirable that the parties, even if rendered competent, should be compelled to give evidence. A putative father was not compellable to give evidence; he might offer his evidence if he 1808 chose, and therefore it was his own fault if he rendered himself liable to a charge of perjury.
§ Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Staveley Hill.)
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, the hon. and learned Member for Tiverton (Mr. Denman), had challenged the opinion of the House on a specific question, and, on a consideration of the whole matter, he felt himself called upon to give his support to the Motion of his hon. and learned Friend. The object of every inquiry was to obtain as much relevant information as possible, to do which you should examine witnesses who knew most about a transaction; but, unfortunately, the law had set up a theory that certain classes of evidence were altogether inadmissible, instead of leaving the effect of it to be considered by a Judge and a jury; and it had undertaken to say that certain classes of persons were incredible. We had violated the theory by admitting the evidence of parties to a suit, which was admitted to be a great improvement, and although they sometimes committed perjury they were usually found out by cross-examination. Every argument used against this Bill was urged against the admission of parties to a suit, and experience had confuted those arguments. The Bill proposed to do away with two remaining exceptions to the principle of admitting parties to a suit, and this change did not require a comprehensive measure. There might be some objection to the admissibility of parties to a suit in adultery which might not apply with the same force to other suits, but still the principle was the same, and it was a mere question of degree. All the arguments went to this, that the parties had so strong and deep an interest in the matter that they could not be believed. But this difficulty must be faced, and, on the whole, it seemed better to admit the evidence and trust to a Judge and a jury to determine the value to be attached to it than to say à priori that it was inadmissible. As to criminal cases, the suits referred to in the Bill were not criminal suits; the obtaining of damages was inconsistent with that. The promoters of the Bill contended that its principle was partly conceded by the law as it stood, for evidence 1809 which was inadmissible in a suit for adultery was admissible in another suit if the question of adultery were raised; and there was no principle in that anomaly. His hon. and learned Friend opposite (Mr. Staveley Hill) had objected to persons being called on to criminate themselves. But the Legislature should look to the interests of the innocent, and, at present, if a man knew himself to be innocent he was not allowed to be examined. He asked hon. Members to consider whether they would like to be placed in that position. On all grounds the case appeared to be made out for admitting the evidence of parties to a suit for adultery. He had often heard the noble and learned Lord the Judge of the Divorce Court (Lord Penzance) express the opinion that justice had frequently been defeated in his court from the want of the power to examine the parties to those suits. He was at first startled by the proposition to admit the evidence of parties to suits for breach of promise of marriage, knowing that softhearted jurymen might have more sympathy for young ladies under cross-examination than their own wives would be favoured with; but, if parties to suits were to fee admitted, there was no logical reason why they should be excluded in these eases. They were practically admitted in cases of seduction, and there was no logical ground for distinction between them and actions for breach of promise. Substantially, the same question was raised by the admission of evidence without regard to religious belief. Was the law to say that à priori a man who did not entertain a religious belief could not speak the truth? It ought rather to be left to a Judge and jury to determine whether the man spoke the truth or not. If he were garotted, and the only witness was a man without a religious belief, he would rather have the evidence of that witness than have no witness at all.
said, he desired to express his cordial approbation of the measure proposed by the hon. and learned Member for Tiverton (Mr. Denman). He thought the proposition of his hon. and learned Friend would bring the rules of evidence more in conformity with themselves, and. would eliminate another anomaly from our statute book. The law student of 1869 would scarcely believe that, twenty years ago, a tradesman 1810 seeking to recover the price of goods sold to a customer could not be called as a witness, to prove that of which he had special knowledge. The result was the tradesman was obliged to forego his debt, or trust to the chance of proving it by some evidence unsatisfactory to the jury, and only relied on because the natural and legitimate mode of proof was placed by the Legislature beyond their reach. No one acquainted with the law would hesitate to admit that the changes in the Law of Evidence, made in 1851, rendered the discovery of the truth much easier than it was before. The objections now made against this Bill had been made against every other measure of the same kind at the time when it was brought forward. The hon. and learned Member for Coventry (Mr. Staveley Hill) suggested that the Bill would load to perjury; but, even assuming that, were we to cast away the means of ascertaining the truth, because there were vicious persons who would come into court to state what was false? Besides, if the parties in question were competent to give evidence, the fear of their doing so would prevent many persons from coming into court at all. There were many cases in which plaintiffs and defendants persevered simply because they knew the mouths of their opponents were shut. The plaintiff often made an unjust attack, and the defendant often peristed in an obstinate refusal of a just claim, because they believed that their objects might be attained so long as they were themselves not liable to be called. In cases of breach of promise of marriage third parties who had seen letters which had been lost or destroyed by one of the parties could not be called to give evidence of their contents, because the person who received the letter could not give evidence of the fact of the loss or destruction of such letter. Remarkable anomalies under the existing state of the law occurred in the Divorce Court. A wife or husband might witness with their own eyes the infidelity of the other, and unless some third person could be called to prove the adultery, the unoffending party to the marriage might be called upon to continue cohabitation with a person of whose immorality he had ocular proof. He could obtain no redress in the Divorce Court, because he could not be called as a witness, and 1811 there was no other independent proof. Again, if a wife was a petitioner, she could be called to prove cruelty; but if the husband was a petitioner, and the wife set up cruelty as a recriminatory charge, she could not be called. Again, if a suit was undefended, the petitioner could be called and examined under Section 43 of the Act, but if defended the Judge was unable to exercise his powers under that section; because his so doing would inflict an injustice on the respondent, whom in no case could he call to contradict the statements of the petitioner. The ability, discrimination, and discretion of the learned Judge who presided in the Divorce Court (Lord Penzance) was surpassed by no Judge on the Bench, and he believed the fact that the learned Judge in question had given his sanction to the Bill of his hon. and learned Friend would go far to insure its safe passage through both Houses of Parliament.
§ MR. SERJEANT DOWSE
said, he thought he might claim to speak with independence on one branch, at all events, of this question inasmuch as in Ireland there did not exist a Divorce Court, persons in that country who wished to annul marriages into which they had entered were left to resort to the old remedy; and he must say that he had no desire, judging from the reports in the metropolitan journals, to see a Court of Divorce established in his country. The Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Tiverton (Mr. Denman) would, he believed, be accepted by the people of Ireland and the legal profession there as an unmixed good. Its provisions would enable them to get rid of the last relic of absurdity in the present mode of giving evidence. If the breach of a promise of marriage were considered a breach of contract, was it not an unjust thing that both the plaintiff and defendant could not be examined, in order that the real truth might be elicited? Many existing anomalies would be got rid of if the parties were allowed to speak what they had to say, and if it were left to the jury to decide whether or not they believed the evidence given. With respect to actions of crim. con. and breach of promise of marriage, his own experience supplied him with some remarkable instances of the injustice of preventing the parties to the suit from being examined. In order to evade the 1812 law, an action for breach of promise of marriage had been brought, including in the declaration a count for assault and battery, and as the plaintiff was examined on the latter count, the defendant by not presenting himself as a witness, practically allowed judgment to go by default on both counts. In another case a debt arising out of the negotiations for the marriage was sued for in a second count, and the breach of promise was thus incidentally tried in a different kind of action. As a woman could be examined in an action for seduction, juries often gave damages for that and breach of promise too. The hon. Member for Coventry (Mr. Staveley Hill) had looked at the question from the guilty point of view; but there was an innocent point of view; and he knew remarkable illustrations of injustice due to the existing law. He was once consulted by the defendant in an action for crim. con., and he thought the man would have fainted when he was told that he could not be examined as a witness. The case was a "plant;" it lasted three or four days before a, Judge remarkable for expedition, and it was with extreme difficulty, and more by an interposition of Providence than anything else, that the defendant left the court as an innocent man. If the plaintiff could have been called and certain documents put in evidence the infamous plot would have been exposed in five minutes. He also agreed with the clause as to the mode of swearing or affirming, and as a whole he would support the Bill, as likely to take away the barrier which at present existed against a speedy and easy arrival at the truth, though he thought they might in Committee introduce with advantage some alterations into the details of the measure.
§ MR. VERNON HARCOURT
said, that this question, in part at all events, raised a much larger issue than at the first blush appeared. He did not mean to oppose the Bill, and, indeed, the mere provision which it contained with respect to oaths would be sufficient to induce him to vote in its favour. But he confessed that he could not help entertaining some doubt with respect to the expediency of their adopting the clause which would make it compulsory upon the parties to a suit in case of adultery to give evidence. He could find no argument in support of that proposal which would not equally 1813 apply to the cases of prisoners in criminal trials. The main reason, he believed, why persons charged with adultery had been exempted from the law which allowed the parties to appear in the witness-box was that such an action was looked upon as a criminal rather than a civil proceeding, and that it was considered that defendants ought not to be placed in a position in which they would be not only tempted but almost compelled to perjure themselves. It was a grave question whether they should allow a man on trial for his life to subject himself to examination and cross-examination; but he felt convinced that that question could not be separated from the one which they were then discussing.
§ MR. AMPHLETT
said, he also thought that if this Bill were carried the principle must be extended to the cases of all persons accused of criminal offences, and it was because that was his view that he gave his support to the Bill. He had never been able to see any valid reason why the evidence of prisoners in criminal cases should be excluded. It was said that a guilty man might commit perjury in order to save himself; but he did not think we ought for that reason to deprive an innocent man of the advantage of giving evidence which might lead to his acquittal.
§ MR. DENMAN
said, he did not then intend to go into the question, whether prisoners should be allowed to give evidence in criminal cases. But he might observe that there was at least one argument, whether a valid one or not, against the adoption of such a course, which did not, he thought, apply to the alteration of the law he was then proposing; and that was, that in trials for such crimes as burglary, larceny and murder, the prisoners were usually of a class so uneducated and so ignorant that, on examination and cross-examination, they would be almost sure to commit themselves, and to injure their own case, whether they were innocent or guilty. Lord Penzance had expressed to him his general approval of the Bill, but had suggested to him that he might, for the purpose of obviating an objection to the measure, provide that a person should not be called upon to give evidence tending to prove against himself or herself the act of adultery. That was, however, merely a suggestion 1814 thrown out by the noble and learned Lord, who would, he (Mr. Denman) felt convinced, be prepared to take up the Bill in the House of Lords, if it should pass in the Commons.
§ Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for To-morrow.