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Juvenile Offenders Summary Jurisdiction

Volume 52: debated on Wednesday 26 February 1840

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

, in moving the second reading of the Juvenile Offenders Bill, said, that several objections were made against the measure, but he trusted that the House would suffer it to be read a second time and to go into Committee, where those objections could be fairly, and he hoped satisfactorily, dealt with. The bill proposed to give summary jurisdiction to magistrates in misdemeanours; but it had been suggested to him that this proposition would embrace too large a field of crime, and that it would be almost impossible to apply the principle of summary jurisdiction to misdemeanours generally. He was therefore perfectly willing, if the House wished it, to leave out the clauses relating to that subject, or to restrict the summary jurisdiction to certain misdemeanours which should be specifically named. It had also been suggested, with respect to the summary jurisdiction of two magistrates in petty sessions, that a jury should be formed of a few of the inhabitants of the localities, or de circumstantibus; and in committee no doubt some arrangement of that nature could be made. With respect to the clause for doing away with the holding of petty sessions in public-houses, he was so convinced of the evil of the practice, that he thought some means should be taken to discontinue it; at least, wherever that was practicable. Upon that point, however, he was also willing to act upon the sense of the House in Committee on the bill. It bad been objected that the measure he proposed would be productive of very great expense to counties. From calculations which he had made, founded on the accounts of the charges incurred in prosecuting criminals, he ventured to assert, without the slightest misgiving, that the counties would save by the bill. He thought there would be very little difficulty in settling those points of doubt and dispute, and therefore he hoped the House would permit the bill to go to a Committee. His object was, to erect an intermediate tribunal between the magistrates and the superior courts, in order to prevent young persons of 12,11, and 10 years of age, and perhaps even younger children, from being sent to prison for first and trivial offences, where they would only be made worse than before. This proposition had been before the public for years. Grand juries and petty juries, magistrates and judges, and persons of all descriptions, had countenanced and supported it; and that House itself had appointed committees to investigate the subject, and they had supported the same view. He denied, that it was a bill of punishments, which he understood some who objected to it had called it. It was a bill to invest magistrates, not with an arbitrary power to inflict punishment, but to give them an authority similar to that which a roaster has over his apprentice, or a father over his son—a moral authority, which would enable them to bring juvenile offenders under a course of moral training and discipline which should have the effect of reclaiming them to the paths of honesty and industry. The bill was a merciful bill, its object being to provide for those who were without natural parents and guardians national parents and guardians, in order to save them from being sent to gaols to be contaminated and ruined, to the great increase of crime and mischief in the land. The object of good laws should be as much to prevent as to punish offences; and he wished, by this bill, so to deal with those who rendered themselves obnoxious to the penalties of the law for the first time, that while suffering for their offences they might be relieved from the stigma and contamination which would deprive them of the chance of reformation. He doubted not that the Penitentiary in the Isle of Wight was found to answer; but he knew for a certainty that the Penitentiary at Warwick had done a great deal of good. The result of the experience acquired by the operation of the system pursued in the Penitentiary of Warwickshire was this—that though some of those juvenile offenders who had passed through gaols had been reformed, all those who had not, had been altogether reclaimed. He was sure that no one who took the trouble to make himself acquainted with the feelings, opinions, and practices of other countries as regarded their criminal law, their management of offenders, and the amount of punishment which they inflicted, but would readily agree with him that undue severity prevailed in England. According to the French code, boys under the age of 16 years were not subjected to punishment in the same manner as adults. It was not considered that their reason was awake, and whenever brought to trial, if satisfactory evidence were given that they had not reached the age of legal responsibility, they were acquitted as a matter of course. In all the experience be had had, he discovered no reason to think that the majority of delinquents were urged to commit crime by the pressure of want. He did not believe, that two cases could be found in a hundred of juvenile offenders who were driven into crime by distress; on the contrary, there were the best grounds for believing that crime was in most cases to be attributed to general ignorance, but more especially to ignorance of moral and religious duties, and to the absence of that sound discipline and control, without which, in early life, it would be vain to hope in any country for a well-ordered population. A recent instance came under his notice in the city of London of two girls, one aged nine, the other eleven years; both were tried, and one sentenced to seven day' imprisonment, the other to seven years' transportation; and why was the latter sentence pronounced? Because the Children's Friend Society undertook the care of one of them, and in order to give that association the requisite authority over the offender, it became necessary to sentence her to seven years' transportation. He felt that the grievances arising out of the present state of the law were so intolerable, that the House could not object to the second reading of the bill.

said, it was with great regret he felt himself bound to oppose the second reading of the bill. He was far from stating, that the jurisprudence of the country ought to be left in its present state, and he was for excluding many offences from trial by jury, upon which he thought that a wrong decision was often come to. In 1834, the County-rate Committee, of which the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth was chairman, suggested that part of the criminal expense which bore on the county-rates should be transferred to the consolidated fund; and they stated, that some tribunal or other ought to be established for the trial of juvenile offenders. The Government so far acted on this report that they referred the subject to the Commissioners then sitting upon the criminal law; and they produced a report on juvenile delinquency, which might be called the third report of the commissioners. They stated, that if the property stolen was under the sum of 10s., the justice of the peace ought to have the power of dismissing or punishing the offender with six months' imprisonment. If above 10s. and under 5l. he was to have the power of inflicting twelve months' imprisonment. The bill of the hon. Baronet would impose great expenses on the counties for the erection and support of new edifices, &c.; and the counties were already sufficiently burthened. His experience was, that crime began at very early ages, certainly in the first instance originating in bad education. From a report of the commission for inquiring into the constabulary, of which the Speaker had been Chairman, the hon. Member proceeded to read the confessions of two boys of the ages of fifteen and fourteen, who stated, that they had three years before left honest labour and taken to thieving—that they used to travel from town to town—that their adult friend used, when they got into scrapes in the streets, "to mill them out of the crowd," and that they often used "to gammon the constables to let them go." Now, under the Bill of the hon. Baronet, which would allow bail to be taken for such offenders, who could doubt that these elder professors of felony would come forward and bail their protégis? He would ask his hon. Friend if he had ever found any difficulty with juries in returning a verdict on the score of age, and if it was not always on account of the almost valueless nature of the property stolen that they hesitated about returning a verdict? He hoped the hon. Baronet would allow this bill to go to a committee up-stairs, with a view to amending the law of felony, generally removing from it altogether many minor offences. He should feel disposed, unless the hon. Baronet would consent to go to a committee upstairs, to move that the bill should be read a second time that day six months. He would ask whether, if the Bill passed in the House at present, there would be any chance of their being able to proceed with it any further? He hoped the hon. Member would accede to his suggestion by sending the bill to a committee up stairs. If not he would move that the bill should be read again that day six months.

said, that he thought the hon. Gentleman had thrown out a suggestion which should be attended to, and he hoped the hon. Baronet would consent to adopt the proposition that had been made. There was much that was good in the principle of the hon. Baronet's measure. He thought that in particular the resolution to dispose of juvenile offenders in a way different from anything they had hitherto done was a useful one. In a committee up-stairs they would have an opportunity of discussing that matter as well as the other advantages of the bill. He believed that it would also be important to ascertain whether they might not be able to change the present manner of holding petty ses- sions without incurring any additional expense. He should be very reluctant in. deed to vote against a bill which contained a principle of such importance; but he should prefer to have it referred to a committee up-stairs.

thought that the bill would not be improved by sending it to a committee such as that suggested by the hon. Gentleman; for he was of opinion that the object would be much better effected by the Government, upon whom that duty properly devolved, taking the matter into its own hands. To some of the details of the bill he was opposed, especially to that which limited the jurisdiction of the magistrates to offenders of a particular age—because it would deprive many persons of the benefit of trial by jury in cases where punishments of a serious character were involved. The duty of the Government was, to lower the grade of offences, and to withdraw several classes of crimes from the subdenomination of larceny. Minor offences punished in a summary way would greatly relieve the calendar, but he felt that the infliction of punishment by six months' confinement was too large a power to be intrusted to the discretion of the magistrates. In many cases a fine, not an immoderate one, but a fine suited to the condition of the individual, would be far more eligible in many trivial cases than imprisonment for any, even the shortest, term. As to the opinion expressed by the Under-Secretary, that it was expedient to send the matter to a committee up-stairs, in order to ascertain the opinion of country gentlemen upon the subject, and to know what influence the measure if carried into a law, would have upon the county-rate, he would take leave to inform the hon. Gentleman that the general opinion of country gentlemen upon the subject was, that no additional burthen ought to be imposed upon the county rates—that those rates were sufficiently burthened already, and were likely to be encumbered with a heavier burthen by the imposition of rates for paying the rural police, which would very probably double these rates. As to the efficiency of the rural police in controlling minor offences, he would not hazard an opinion, because the measure was not fairly tested by experience; but if it had not that effect-namely, to coerce minor offences, there existed not a doubt but that it would give great and general dissatisfaction. In his opinion it would be better not to permit the bill to be read a second time, but that the Government should pledge itself to introduce a bill not confining its powers to juvenile offenders only, but comprehending offenders of every age, from and under sixteen up to and beyond sixty. He would therefore oppose the second reading of the bill.

thought the House was indebted to his hon. Friend for bringing forward the measure, and he did not think it necessary lo refer the question of summary punishment in cases of minor offences to a Committee up stairs, as that question had already been examined in Select Committees, and reported upon by them.

said, that if the bill were permitted to pass, there would be no end to juvenile offences, juvenile gaols, juvenile courts, and all that, without the benefit to the prisoners of trial by jury. The principle of the bill was unconstitutional, because it conferred a power upon two magistrates to become judge, jury, and executioner at once. He would, therefore, oppose the second reading of the bill, because its principles were obnoxious; and he would also oppose sending it to a committee up stairs, because no committee could remedy by details a bill fraught with what he believed to be an unconstitutional principle.

would not wish to reject the bill, because he was sensible that the grounds upon which it was introduced, and the principle which it contained were valuable. If, however, he was compelled to vote upon the second reading, and without submitting the bill to a committee to amend the details, he would vote in the negative and reject the measure. There was no doubt but the hon. Baronet who introduced the measure had bestowed considerable attention upon the subject; but in his (Mr. Estcourt's) opinion, he was wrong in making age a criterion for summary jurisdiction, for it was notorious that there were juvenile offenders at sixteen who were guilty of greater and grosser offences than persons who were far more advanced in years. However, if the hon. Baronet would accede to the suggestion of the mover of the amendment, he would give him his support.

said, that he had not taken age as a criterion for punishment, but as a criterion of education, and with regard to the clauses for summary jurisdiction, a similar clause had passed this, House last year, but had been thrown out in the other House. By returns which he held in his hand it appeared that the average number of offenders under. 16 years of age was, in Warwickshire, as one in seven; in Kent, as one in eight; in Middlesex, as one in six; and in all England, as one in ten. He had brought forward this measure because be thought it right; but the other House might do what they pleased with it; that was nothing to him. He would consent to this bill going to a committee, but he predicted that if it did, it would come down totally different in principle from what it was when it was sent up. It would not be his principle; because his principle was to stop boys from being contaminated by early imprisonment.

thought the bill of the hon. Baronet was of the most objectionable kind. It would, in fact, take the right of trial by jury from those who most needed that protection, and who could not be expected to be able to plead their own cause as well as those more advanced in years. He thought the magistrates were rightly trusted with the powers they had, but he was not inclined to extend their powers further, and to take away from the people the right of trial by jury. He had looked over the bill, and could not see one redeeming point in it, and he should, therefore, con-' cur in the amendment, that it be read a second time that day six months.

wished not to give a silent vote on this question, since he should vote for the second reading, notwithstanding what had been said respecting trial by jury and expense. There was no person who more highly estimated trial by jury than he did, but he believed there might be many cases in which, how-1 ever good it might be in theory, it would I be very injurious in practice. The bill appeared to him to be one not of punishment, but reformation—to save juvenile offenders from the contamination of a gaol, and to educate them in their duty. He had not had so much experience as a magistrate as many gentlemen, yet, in practising his profession at Quarter Sessions, he had oft times been pained to see children of eight, nine, or ten years of age subjected to all the formalities of a public trial for the offence—he might almost say natural to children—of stealing a few apples, or similar articles. The expense he considered a matter of minor importance, when the object of the Bill was the reformation of morals. He should therefore vote for the second reading,

asked where the magistrates were to send the youths—to prison? The only point was, then, whether there should be contamination before or after conviction. The whole question resolved itself into one of prison discipline.

. The hon. Member can-Hot have read the bill—for the bill says nothing about sending to prison, but tending to asylums or penitentiaries.

. The very words of the act are, "To the common gaol or house of correction, or some asylum."

should vote for the bill being referred to a select committee up stairs, in order to legislate prudently upon the subject, and with the advantages of the best possible information. He knew that in the district with which he was connected the magistrates were unanimous in stating their regret that they had not summary jurisdiction with respect to offenders under 16 years of age.

The House divided on the original question—Ayes 49; Noes 16:—Majority 33.

List of the AYES.

Acland, T. D.Litton, E.
Aglionby, H. A.Lowther, J. H.
Aglionhy, MajorMiles, W.
Bailey, J.Miles, P. W. S.
Baines, E.Morris, D.
Barrington, Visct.Packe, C. W.
Bentinck, Lord G.Rolleston, L.
Bewes, T.Rundle, J.
Blake, M; J.Sandon, Visct.
Blennerhassett, A.Scarlett, hon. J. Y.
Bowes, J.Sheppard, T.
Bridgman, H.Stanley, E.
Broadley, H.Sutton, hon. J.H.T.M.
Brocklehurst, J.Thornely, T.
Brotherton, J.Townley, R. G.
Crompton, Sir S.Waddington, H. S.
Douglas, Sir C. E.Walker, R.
Dugdale, W. S.Wallace, R.
Dunbar, G.Warburton, H.
Eaton, R. J.White, A.
Farnham, E. B.Wilbraham, G.
Hayter, W. G.Wood, Sir M.
Hinde, J. H.Wood, B.
Holmes, hon. W. A.TELLERS.
Hurt, F.Wilmot, Sir E.
Jones, J.Sanford, E. A.

List of the NOES.

Barnard, E. G.Pryme, G.
Barneby, J.Salwey, Colonel
Callaghan, D.Turner, E.
Corbally, M. E.Vigors, N. A.
Darby, G.Williams, W.
Egerton, W. T.Wood, Colonel
Fielden, J.
Hector, C. J.Johnson, General
Henniker, LordStrickland, Sir G.

Bill read a second time.