§ House in Committee (according to Order).
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
explained the nature of the amendments he proposed to introduce into the measure. In the first place he proposed to reduce the amount for stealing property to the value of which persons might be tried summarily by the magistrates in petty sessions from 20s. to 10s. He proposed also to reduce the period of imprisonment that might be inflicted from one year to six months, and, in the case of a person pleading guilty to a larceny of greater value than 10s., to one year instead of two years. He also proposed to enact that in no case should any summary conviction under this Act be attended with forfeiture. Exception having been taken to the Aldermen of the City of London being intrusted with the power of summary conviction, he had decided to omit them from the Bill, although the statistics certainly seemed to show that justice was at present by no means less efficiently administered by them than by the magistracy generally. He also proposed to give an option to the accused either to have their cases summarily adjudicated upon or to be dealt with in the usual manner.
expressed his satisfaction generally at the amendments introduced into the Bill by his noble and learned Friend on the woolsack. To show the extensive operation which the Bill was 1959 likely to have, he might mention that in the year 1853 there were 21,000 committals for petty larceny, 12,500 of which were of offenders who had stolen property of a less value than 5s. Even, therefore, if the amount of property for stealing which a man could be summarily tried was limited to 5s., the Bill would probably be applicable in 12,500 cases in the course of a year. He was, however, very glad that the sum was fixed at 10s. instead of 5s. With all possible respect for the Corporation of the City of London, of which he was a member, he must say that he did not think it was advisable to give the Lord Mayor or an Alderman, sitting alone, greater powers than were possessed by single magistrates generally, and it was, therefore, with great satisfaction that he heard from his noble and learned Friend that he did not intend to retain them in the clause by which power to convict summarily was given to polite and stipendiary magistrates.
said, he was sorry that his noble and learned Friend on the woolsack had consented to limit the operation of the Bill to larcenies to a smaller value than 10s., instead of extending it, as he had originally proposed, to 20s. He was, on the other hand, glad that the maximum amount of imprisonment to be inflicted under the Bill was to be limited to one year, which he thought quite sufficient to be imposed without the intervention of a jury. He was glad also that the noble and learned Lord had given the option of a trial by jury; for had he not done so he must have opposed the Bill as unconstitutional. It was also with great satisfaction that he heard that the Lord Mayor and a sitting Alderman of the City of London were not to be included in the clause permitting certain single magistrates to exercise the summary jurisdiction given by this Bill. Entertaining as he did the highest possible respect for the Corporation of the City of London, he nevertheless could not admit that the Lord Mayor or an Alderman was equal to any other two justices throughout the country. The great fault that he found with the Bill introduced during the last Session of Parliament by his learned Friend the Recorder of London for abolishing grand juries at the Central Criminal Court, was, that it made one Alderman equal to twenty-three grand jurymen. The present Bill certainly did not carry aldermanic laudation so far; but he nevertheless thought that his noble and learned Friend had done wisely in striking 1960 the City magistracy out of the clause to which he was now referring.
§ LORD ST. LEONARDS
expressed his approbation that the amount of the value for stealing which a man might be punished summarily by the petty sessions had been reduced from 20s. to 10s., because he thought that if they had embraced all offences up to the former amount in the present measure, the result would have been to throw such an amount of business on the petty sessions as the magistracy—particularly in the rural districts—would have found themselves unable to dispose of. He thought also that a year's imprisonment, with hard labour, was quite a sufficient amount of punishment to be inflicted by magistrates at petty sessions without the intervention of a jury.
wished just to remind his noble and learned Friend (the Lord Chancellor) that the clerks of the peace were differently paid in different counties, and he understood there was a considerable disposition on their part to oppose the measure. In some counties they were paid by salary, and in others by fees, but he hoped some measure would be taken to have them all paid by salary. So great was the variety of fees in different counties, that in one place the charge for discharging a recognisance was 12s. 6d., and, in another, only 2s.
observed, that in some counties a great many petty offences were tried, at considerable expense and inconvenience, before the judges of assize, and he thought that such cases might much more satisfactorily be disposed of by the magistrates at quarter sessions, or at intermediate sessions.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
thought that the inconvenience to which his noble and learned Friend referred was experienced only in the smaller counties, where there were very few criminals for trial.
considered that the two circuits now held by Her Majesty's Judges in the course of the year were insufficient to meet the exigencies of the country. It was true that this Bill would effect improvements which would render the rare going of circuit by the Judges a lesser evil with regard to criminal proceedings; but the inconvenience with respect to civil proceedings would still remain the same. He would suggest, therefore, whether steps ought not to be taken to increase permanently the number of circuits. He should think that four circuits a year 1961 would not be by any means too many. He was quite aware that difficulties must be encountered before this, in his opinion, most beneficial change could be carried into effect; but he had no doubt that the suggestion would be candidly and fairly considered by the learned Judges, with a desire on their part, to do their duty in the manner most advantageous to the public service and to the administration of justice.
could only say, as one of Her Majesty's Judges, that he was willing to serve either in town or country, wherever he might be required, and that no exertion on his part should be wanting for the due discharge of his duties; but he must remind his noble and learned Friend that the time of the Judges was now entirely occupied with the duties that were cast upon them. It would be utterly impossible, with the present staff of Judges, that assizes could be held so frequently as the noble and learned Lord proposed. If his noble and learned Friend thought it would be beneficial to have thirty Judges instead of fifteen, that was a matter for consideration; but he thought that such a proposition would be open to many objections. Unless, however, the number of Judges was considerably increased, it would be impossible to carry into effect the suggestion of his noble and learned Friend.
§ LORD ST. LEONARDS
hoped that no addition would be made to the number of the Judges. Nor could anything be more unwise than to call upon the magistrates to hold more frequent quarter sessions at the same time that it was proposed to increase their duties at petty sessions so considerably. He was sure that if it was left to the magistrates themselves to fix the times of holding the quarter sessions, they would make satisfactory arrangements for the administration of justice.
Amendments made; the Reports thereof to be received on Monday next.