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Bail For Poor Prisoners

Volume 180: debated on Thursday 15 August 1907

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I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether the letter he sent to justices throughout the country, after consultation with the Lord Chancellor and the Lord Chief I Justice in August, 1906, recommending that in minor offences they should not detain poor prisoners in prisons pending trial, but should release them on their own recognisances, has been generally acted upon or ignored by the justices; whether he will have a Return made of the length of time between committal to quarter sessions or assizes and trial in all cases during the past twelve months in which bail has been refused and the accused detained in prison with special note of those cases in which the accused has been acquitted; and whether, in cases where his recommendations have been persistently disregarded by benches of magistrates, and accused persons have been unnecessarily imprisoned in consequence, he will place the facts before the Lord Chancellor with a view to further steps being taken in the matter.

I issued such a circular as the hon. Member describes, but it referred to poor prisoners who were not of the "criminal, vagrant or homeless class." Offenders of this class are numerous, and to release them on their own recognisances would, of course, be equivalent to discharging them without trial or punishment. Tables are included every year in the Criminal Statistics showing the number of prisoners released on bail, and the numbers detained in prison, and the numbers of both classes acquitted. To give these tables for broken portions of a year would involve much useless labour and expense, but the figures for 1906 will be published in the autumn and will show, I anticipate, an appreciable improvement. I have no reason to think that my recommendations have been disregarded by the magistrates.