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Clause 3—(Reduction Of Imprisonment On Payment Of Instalments Of Fine)

Volume 65: debated on Monday 20 July 1914

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(1) Where an offender is liable to be imprisoned in respect of the non-payment of any sum of money adjudged to be paid by a conviction or order of a Court of Summary Jurisdiction, and the offender before the issue of a warrant of commitment pays, to any person authorised to receive the same, any sum in part payment of the sum adjudged to be paid, the period for which he is liable to be imprisoned shall thereupon be reduced by a number of days bearing, as nearly as possible, the same proportion to the total number of days for which the offender is sentenced to be imprisoned as the sum paid bears to the sum adjudged to be paid.

(2) Where a person is sentenced to imprisonment or committed to prison in respect of the non-payment of any sum of money adjudged to be paid by a conviction or order of a Court of Summary Jurisdiction, there shall be stated in the conviction order or warrant of commitment the amount, omitting fractions of a penny, the payment of which represents an abatement of one day's imprisonment, and no part payment shall be accepted under this Section, or under Section nine of the Prison Act, 1898, unless the amount of the part payment is the amount so stated in the conviction or order, or, as the case may be, in the warrant of commitment, or some multiple thereof.

I beg to move to leave out the words from the word "imprisoned" ["to be imprisoned shall thereupon"] in Sub-section (1) to the end of the Clause, and to insert instead thereof the words "may thereupon be reduced by the Court by such period as the Court may think fit."

The Clause provides that, when the magistrates impose a fine with the option of imprisonment and part of the fine is paid, you are to reduce the amount of imprisonment by a certain number of days or hours, and also that on every conviction you are to do a sum in proportion. You are to put on the back of the conviction, or somewhere upon it, the information that for every shilling the prisoner pays he is to get off so many hours or minutes in prison. Whatever the fine is, you have to work that out on the back of the conviction. The meaning of a sentence is this: "We think your offence deserves a fine of, say, 10s. If you do not pay that fine, we think you ought to go to prison for a week, or whatever the time may be." It does not mean that if he pays 5s. he will get off for four days. There is one fine which he has to pay, and if it is not paid he mast go to prison. He must pay the whole fine or go to prison for the whole time. What is proposed here would impose a great deal of work on clerks and others if fines are to be cut up in this way, and if the document is to show how much imprisonment the man is to get off in respect of the payments made. I am sure if the Clause passes in this form, the amount paid in fines will be enormously reduced. You are making it difficult to administer justice, and the alternative I suggest is that instead of this elaborate system you should enable the bench to do what, of course, they are fairly entitled to do, namely, to reduce the period as they think fit. I think that would be much simpler, and it would save a great deal of trouble.

I beg to second the Amendment.

I really do not know what would happen if the magistrates, in addition to having clear brains to hear the evidence, are also to be expert mathematicians. My opinion is that the hon. Member for Stirling, who on the Finance Bill gave us an Amendment which was a problem in mathematics, would have to be appointed to every Court to work out what these fines would come to. My hon. and learned Friend's Amendment is much simpler, and I hope the Home Secretary will accept it.

The hon. and learned Member who moved the Amendment has, I think, omitted from notice the fact that this Clause is already the law after commitment. All we propose to do is that where a defendant is liable to be imprisoned in respect of the non-payment of a fine, and that he pays a certain amount before his imprisonment, the period of imprisonment shall be reduced in proportion to the amount which he has paid. Under the existing law, if, after the commitment warrant is issued, and the prisoner is taken to prison, a payment is made, say, of half a fine, he will then get a reduction of his imprisonment in proportion to that amount. What we ask is that the same law shall be applied before he goes to prison as exists now after he goes to prison. It is most desirable that a prisoner should know how much his sentence shall be reduced by paying a certain amount. A prisoner's friends may be able to find something for him. It is a small change in the law, and is most desirable.

I do not see how the Amendment moved by the hon. and learned Member for Kingston could work. If a man is sentenced to seven days' imprisonment in default of paying a fine, and, after serving portion of it, pays part of the fine, the Court is to have power to reduce the period of imprisonment. But the Court may not be sitting at the time. Under Clause 3, Sub-section (1), the reduction is automatic, and requires no sitting of the Court, which in many cases sits only once a week, so that in its present form the Amendment would not work.

The answer to the hon. and learned Member for Oldham is that Courts are constantly summoned at short notice to deal with matters requiring attention.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.