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Criminal Law—The Convict Standridge—Question

Volume 229: debated on Monday 8 May 1876

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department, Whether his attention has been called to statements in several papers attributing undue severity to Mr. Justice Denman in the case of Mr. Standridge, a schoolmaster, near Exeter; and, whether there are any grounds for the imputation?

in reply, said, his attention had been called to the paragraphs in question, in which it was stated that protests had been made by Teachers' Associations in the county against the severity of the sentence passed upon the convict Standridge, that at length Mr. Justice Denman had written to him recommending a mitigation of the sentence, and that it was then discovered that the man had become insane in consequence of the sentence passed upon him. These statements were inaccurate in almost every particular. The facts were that the prisoner pleaded guilty to a most atrocious crime, for which, under ordinary circumstances, very severe punishment ought to be given. No facts transpired at the trial, nor was anything urged by himself or by any one on his behalf which could justify any mitigation of the sentence. But the learned Judge, from certain expressions in the depositions and from his own observation of the conduct of the prisoner, suspected that he was not altogether sane. He (the learned Judge) accordingly made inquiries on this subject, voluntarily, without any remonstrance or suggestion from any other source. The result result was to confirm Mr. Justice Denman's doubts whether the man was responsible for his acts, and the learned Judge immediately reported this doubt to him (Mr. Cross) and suggested further inquiry. He (Mr. Cross) had in consequence directed an inquiry by two medical officers and from their report there could be no doubt that the prisoner was insane now and was insane at the time he committed the act. He was accordingly removed at once to a lunatic asylum; but it was certainly putting the cart before the horse to say that the severity of the sentence had driven the man insane, for he was insane before he committed the crime, and the discovery of that fact was entirely due to the learned Judge.