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Criminal Law—Execution Of George Hill—Question

Volume 229: debated on Thursday 4 May 1876

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether it is the case that at the trial of George Hill, who was recently executed at Hertford, Lord Chief Justice Coleridge in passing sentence of death refrained from wearing the blackcap, omitted the usual prayer, and also by his language intimated to the prisoner and to the public that the capital sentence would not be carried into effect; whether this was reported to the Home Office by Lord Coleridge or otherwise; and, if so, why the opinion of the Judge who presided at the trial was in this case disregarded contrary to the invariable custom; and, how long before his execution George Hill was informed that the hopes held out to him at the trial would not be realized?

in reply, said, it was true that in the case referred to the learned Judge in passing sentence did not put on the black cap or conclude with the prayer which was often used at the end of a sentence for capital punishment. With regard to the latter part of the Question—how soon the man had notice that his sentence would be executed—he was in a position to state, as from the High Sheriff, that immediately the Governor of the prison, the Chaplain, and the Under Sheriff knew, they were instructed to tell the man that he could not entertain any hopes of mercy. He (Mr. Cross) was not aware that the Judge used language to lead the man to the conclusion that the capital sentence would not be carried into effect, nor did he know that Hill entertained any hope that the punishment would be remitted. The responsibility in all these cases rested not with, the Judge, but with the Secretary of State. At the same time, no Secretary of State, if a Judge recommended that a man's life should be saved, would ever carry out the last sentence of the law. He could hardly conceive any circumstances which would justify a Secretary of State in so doing. He certainly would incur a serious responsibility if he did. He had never followed that course himself. In the present case, he had had an interview with the learned Judge, who described the murder as the most wilful and deliberate murder he had ever tried; and since this Question had appeared on the Paper the Judge had written him to say that the murder had been deliberately conceived, and the murder of the child was accompanied by a very cruel and brutal attempt on the life of the mother, that he had never recommended him to mercy in any form or shape, and that the sentence of death was most properly carried into effect.