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Clause 1—(Obligation To Allow Time For Payment Of Fines)

Volume 65: debated on Monday 20 July 1914

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(1) A warrant committing a person to prison in respect of non-payment of a sum adjudged to be paid by a conviction of a Court of Summary Jurisdiction shall not be issued forthwith unless the Court which passed the sentence is satisfied that he is possessed of sufficient means to enable him to pay the sum forthwith, or unless, upon being asked by the Court whether he desires that time should be allowed for payment, he does not express any such desire, or fails to satisfy the Court that he has a fixed abode within its jurisdiction, or unless the Court for any other special reason expressly directs that no time shall be allowed.

(2) Where any such person desires to be allowed time for payment the Court in deciding what time shall be allowed shall consider any representation made by him, but the time allowed shall not be less than six clear days:

Provided that if before the expiration o£ the time allowed the person convicted surrenders himself to any Court of Summary Jurisdiction having jurisdiction to issue a warrant of commitment in respect of the non-payment of such sum as aforesaid, and states that he prefers immediate commital to awaiting the expiration of the time allowed, that Court may forthwith issue a warrant committing him to prison.

(3) Where a person so allowed time for payment as aforesaid appears to the Court to be not less than sixteen nor more than twenty-one years of age, the Court may, if it thinks fit, and subject to any rules made under this Act, order that he be placed under the supervision of such person as may be appointed by the Court until the sum adjudged to be paid is paid, and in such case before issuing a warrant committing the offender to prison in respect of non-payment of the sum a Court of Summary Jurisdiction shall consider any report as to the conduct and means of the offender, which may be made by the person under whose supervision the offender has been placed.

(4) In all cases where time is not allowed for payment, the reasons of the Court for the immediate committal shall be stated in the warrant of commitment.

I beg to move, in Sub-section (1), to leave out the words "possessed of sufficient means to enable him," and to insert instead thereof the word "able."

This is merely a matter of drafting, and I think the word I suggest is better than the words which emanated from the Home Office. There are many difficulties a man might experience which might be held to disqualify him from receiving the benefit of this Clause. It might very well happen that, although he had not the means himself to pay, there would be other persons who have means and who would be willing to assist him. There are also other circumstances which would naturally suggest themselves at once to the minds of hon. Members to meet which the words in the Bill might be made a little more elastic.

I am not sure that my hon. Friend's words would have the precise effect which he intends. If the words were "able to pay the sum forthwith," it would presumably be construed as meaning that the man had the money in his pocket. That would not cover all the cases in which he would be able to pay. If he had "sufficient means to enable him to pay," distress could be levied on his goods. If you insert the Amendment you would exclude from the operation of the Clause those cases in which the person did not happen to have the money in his pocket to pay. As my hon. Friend's Amendment is of a purely drafting character, and would not have the effect he desires, he would be well advised to leave the Bill as it stands.

May I exercise my right to reply? There is obvious substance in the contention which I pat forward, but I will withdraw if the Home Secretary will promise to consider these words with a view to moving an Amendment in another place.

Certainly, I will do that if I find further arguments to support my hon. Friend's contention.

I do not think the Amendment would be a wise one to make. I hope the Home Secretary will consider both sides of the question.

I am rather surprised at the hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. King) availing himself of another place. I thought he did not like that place. On this occasion I should be inclined to vote with the hon. Gentleman, because I think the effect of the words will be to strengthen the Clause and make it more difficult for a prisoner who has money to escape payment.

I do not think the Clause will bear the interpretation put upon it. It only makes the practice in the Petty Sessional Courts analogous to the proceedings in a superior Court—for instance, the County Court. As drawn, it requires the Court to satisfy that a person is possessed of sufficient means to pay before it makes an order, which is precisely the line the Legislature took up in regard to the Debtors Act, and made the question of means one of proof before the Court can make the order. Here the person asking for the order will have to satisfy the Court that the prisoner is possessed of means, and not merely that he is able to pay. It is desirable that the practice should be like that of the County Court. This is merely the case of a man collecting a civil debt, which is a fine, and it ought to be met, and the Clause as it stands ought to go.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

On a point of Order. Is your ruling, Sir, with regard to the bastardy laws final, because I would draw your attention to Clause 32?

I beg to move, in Subsection 1, to leave out the words "its jurisdiction" ["a fixed abode within its jurisdiction"], and to insert instead thereof the words "the county or county borough within which he is tried."

It is obvious that if a man is summoned in one Petty Sessional district but lives perhaps in the next, he ought to be allowed the advantage of this Clause. There is a good deal of substance in this Amendment, and I hope the Home Secretary will accept it.

I am not sure that my hon. Friend is not under a misapprehension as to the necessary functions of a county borough. I understand him to mean such county boroughs as have a separate commission of the peace. But by no means all the county boroughs have a separate commission of the peace, consequently his words would not have the effect he desires. The borough police would be able to obtain information as to the abode of the person fined within the borough, but they would have no means of ascertaining whether he has a fixed abode outside the borough. That is the objection in principle to accepting the Amendment. As a matter of fact, the Amendment would not read in the Clause, for the simple reason that a great many county boroughs have no separate commission of the peace.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill," put, and agreed to.

I beg to move, in Subsection (2), to leave out the words "but the time allowed shall not be less than six clear days."

The Bill provides that when time is allowed for payment not less than six days shall be allowed. I see that the Home Secretary has a proposal on the Paper to make some concession altering the six days to seven. My own view is that it is not desirable to draw a hard and fast line of this kind at all. When time is given—and, of course, it is given every day—the bench has some regard to the question when the person convicted is likely to have the money to pay. The magistrates know quite enough about those who come to the Court, and are told quite enough to be pretty confident as to when money will come in sufficiently to enable the defendant to pay. It often happens that a conviction takes place on Wednesday, and the bench knows quite well that by Friday or Saturday the man or woman charged will be receiving money quite sufficient to pay the fine. Under this provision the bench must give time until the following Wednesday or Thursday, and when that day comes along the money will have been spent absolutely and the funds available to pay will have gone. In most cases the best thing to do is not to have a hard and fast minimum line at all, but to leave it to the Court to exercise its own knowledge and discretion to give, if they think fit, three or four days, and not necessarily six or seven. I speak from great experience of these cases, and I think that the better thing is to leave out the words altogether and not insist on a minimum.

I beg to second the Amendment. My experience is the same as that of my hon. and learned Friend. As far as I know, magistrates nearly always give time unless they happen to know that the person in question has that money and can produce it that afternoon or evening or in a day or two. As far as I know, the tendency on the part of magistrates is always to be extremely lenient over this question of time. There are times when people who are given to intemperance are brought before the bench. It may be within the knowledge of the magistrates that these people will be receiving the following morning a certain sum of money. If they have six days before they have to pay, the result will be that they will spend the money in drink, repeat the offence, and be brought before the magistrate again. These hard and fast rules are a great mistake. If confidence cannot be reposed in the magistrates they should not have been appointed, but having been appointed a certain amount of latitude and discretion must be left to them.

This is a proposal to abolish the minimum now laid down by the Bill. Magistrates have now a discretion, and according to the hon. Baronet, the bench to which he belongs exercises that discretion wisely. They allow seven or fourteen days always.

I think lenient is wise in this connection. At any rate, seven or fourteen days allows the man to spend the money in drink, according to the hon. Baronet's argument in this Amendment. I submit that to abolish the minimum altogether will be in effect to abolish Sub-section (1)—that is to say, we want to bring all benches up to the standard of the bench to which the hon. Baronet belongs. All justices are not equally wise or equally lenient, but if this Clause stands as it now is in the Bill, it would compel magistrates to give six days, or under my right hon. Friend's Amendment seven, in which to pay the fine. That is a reasonable proposal and I hope the House will adopt it.

I do not often differ from my hon. Friend (Sir F. Banbury), but I am not a magistrate, and I look perhaps at this matter rather from the point of view of what I see in the Courts below the magistrate than from the magisterial seat. I should like to give the House one or two figures in regard to the imprisonment of people for non-payment of small fines. The object of this Clause, I understand, is to ensure that there shall be a minimum time given before a person should be committed to prison for non-payment of fines. This is to carry out a very distinct pledge given by the right hon. Gentleman's predecessor, the present First Lord of the Admiralty, who, on 20th July, 1910, promised that he would bring in this Bill, the main principle of which should be to secure for everyone who commits a minor offence a short time to pay any fine which may be inflicted upon him. I have some very remarkable figures for the ten years ending 1910. In England and Wales alone 958,000 people were comitted to prison for non-payment of fines. That averages 9,000 people a year, and since 1910 the figures are approximately the same. In 1912, 82,000 out of a total of 160,000 prisoners were people who were convicted of such very small offences that a fine was considered an adequate remedy. In a very large proportion of these cases their friends came after they had been committed to prison and paid the fines, or a portion of them, and got them out of prison.

Sometimes this happens. A prisoner asks for time and the bench refuses, and the prisoner puts his hand in his pockets, holds out two or three pounds and pays the fine.

I know that is sometimes the case. But if the law gives time, when the expiration of the time comes I think the hon. Baronet will find that the people who have the money will pay it rather than go to prison. The object, surely, of our criminal administration is not to get people into prison, but to keep people out of prison. So far as the law can be made to be obeyed, if it can be done by a system of small fines and time given to enable men to pay, it is infinitely better than committing to prison. In London alone, in the year 1911, 10,380 youths under twenty-one years of age were sent to prison. Of these 3,000 were imprisoned for breaches of by-laws and other non-criminal offences—playing football in the street, playing pitch-and-toss, bathing in a canal, or riding a bicycle without a lamp. They are not crimes, and I would certainly appeal to my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Cave), who has a great part in the administration of the criminal law as a Recorder, whether more criminals are not made by the first sentence than by other means. These young fellows, who are only guilty of high spirits in many cases, are condemned to a fine with immediate imprisonment in default of payment. They go to prison for the first time in their life, and they find that imprisonment is not as bad as they thought. Imprisonment is a very grave deterrent before you have been there.

I trust my hon. Friend never will, but if he goes there once, I should be prepared to prophesy that he might go there two or three times again. He would find, as everyone finds, that it is the first imprisonment that counts. After that the hon. Baronet would get amongst bad companions, instead of those with whom he is in daily contact here, as these young fellows do, and they find more and more ways of crime, and I suggest that the House should support the Bill in its original form, and do all they possibly can to keep our young men out of prison rather than let them get in.

I hope the House will not accept the Amendment. The early Clauses of the Bill, up to Clause 6, deal with the subject of fines, and the object which this part of the Bill has in view is, in my opinion, a very important one. It is to prevent the unnecessary imprisonment of men who are living on weekly wages. If it is made obligatory on any bench whatever, however wise and lenient, that there should be not less than seven days for payment of a fine, it is quite certain that a very large number out of the 80,000 who are annually committed to prison every year will not go to prison, and a good object will have been served by the Clause. I am quite aware that magistrates generally are to be trusted and use their discretion wisely, but this Clause does not impose any stigma upon those magistrates who exercise their functions wisely, and it prevents a possible misfortune, and it is a great misfortune that a man should be sent to prison unnecessarily. I hope the House will reject the Amendment.

I differ entirely from the last two speakers, and I think I am entitled to claim some knowledge of the subject. Nowadays magistates, whether in Petty Sessions or in Quarter Sessions, never send a man to prison for a first offence, even though it be a relatively serious offence, if they can possibly see their way to prevent that happening, and in Petty Sessions I am certain that in all matters with regard to fines every possible latitude is allowed for payment, if the magistrate is able to be assured that the money will be forthcoming, and that his leniency will not be abused for the purpose of escaping punishment. I should advise my hon. Friend (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) not to pay too much attention to statistics the like of which he has quoted, because they are not always reliable. If and so far as he finds upon analysis of these statistics that there have been cases of people, notably boys, being sent to prison for the first time for a first offence, I am afraid the offenders are the stipendiary magistrates, who do not and cannot, because of the work that involves upon them, pay the same detailed attention to the cases that come before them. One has only to go to a Metropolitan, Stipendiary Court to see the speed with which the cases are dealt with. But in very few cases are they sent for non-payment of fines. I have visited for some years His Majesty's Prison at Wormwood Scrubs, and I always make a point of seeing definite classes of prisoners, and I find that an enormous number of them are there for non-payment of fines, sent by stipendiaries. I think with my hon. and learned Friend that if their discretion is left unfettered magistrates are better able to judge of the truth of the story that is told as a reason for time being given. There is a certain amount of pressure, and if that pressure can be given effect to by a short order at the time when the money is said to be coming in there are far more chances of that money coming in than if they are given a long period, by which time the defendant may have made arrangements to get out of the jurisdiction. I am quite sure that if the benches who administer the law with regard to these matters, apparently to the satisfaction of the Home Office, were left unfettered rather than have a week put upon them, it would certainly have the effect of getting the law respected and getting the fines enforced.

I hope this Amendment will be accepted, for I have in mind the case of a man who may have committed an offence on Thursday and is tried on Friday. If the magistrate was allowed jurisdiction as to the payment of the fine, that man would almost certainly pay, but if the payment is deferred over the week he may get drunk again, with the result that the fine will not be paid. I am sure that the magistrates everywhere in Courts of Summary Jurisdiction will desire to fully carry out the spirit of the Act.

This is one of the Clauses which applies to Ireland, and I hope the Government will retain the Clause as it stands. In Ireland in eases where the fines are under 40s., there is no appeal whatever. It would be most undesirable that the Clause should be changed in any way. There is no chance for an offender whose fine is under 40s. going to Quarter Sessions to get his trial reviewed, and, therefore, it is extremely desirable that a longer period should be given. The draftsman regards one section of a Bill at a time, overlooking the fact that the laws are different in different countries. Therefore, unless we get an appeal, I should be in favour of the Government sticking to their own words.

Amendment negatived.

Amendment made: Leave out the word "six" ["shall not be less than six clear days"], and insert instead thereof the word "seven."

I am very glad that this first Amendment brought forward by the Home Secretary is on the lines of enlarging and making more generous the scope of the Bill. That Amendment will rule out one of which I had given notice.

I beg to move, to leave out the words "not to include the day of imposition nor the day of payment of fine." I hope the Home Secretary will not resist this Amendment. It merely makes the word "clear" a little more definite, and it goes further in the direction of giving greater consideration to the prisoner.

I hope my hon. Friend will not press this Amendment. The words "seven clear days" have a definite meaning which is thoroughly understood in the Courts of law. My hon. Friend proposes to introduce some other meaning.

May I ask the Home Secretary whether the word "clear" does or does not include the days of imposition and payment.

In view of the Home Secretary's explanation, I desire to withdraw the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

I beg to move, in Subsection (2), after the word "may" ["that Court may forthwith issue"], to insert the words "if it thinks fit."

Amendment agreed to.

I beg to move, in Sub-section (3), after the word "person" ["supervision of such person"], to insert the words "not a police constable." In the case of an offender between sixteen and twenty-one years of age the Court might place him under the supervision of a police constable. I move the insertion of these words in order to secure that the person shall not be a police constable. We have heard from the hon. Member for Brentford (Mr. Joynson-Hicks) that in many cases the offenders are merely youths of high spirits who are offending against by-laws. One desires to keep them out of the criminal vortex. If the person to whom they are committed is a police constable, that may more seriously interfere with their career than if they were committed to a probation officer, or some friendly person. If an offender is committed to the supervision of a police officer he is under police supervision. I believe there might be an officer for these cases whose duties would be analogous to those which a probation officer performs in other cases.

I am sure we all sympathise with the object which the hon. Gentlemen has in view. Obviously the proper and most suitable person would be a probation officer or the Court missionary. Still, he is not available in all cases, and there might be cases where a police officer would be not only the best but the only person capable of doing the work. In a country district there might not be a probation officer, and if we accepted these words the provision would become a dead-letter. Therefore I ask my hon. Friend not to press the Amendment.

Amendment negatived.

I beg to move, at the end of Sub-section (3), to insert,

"(4) Without prejudice and in addition to the foregoing provisions of this section, where any person desires time for payment of any sum adjudged to be paid by a conviction of a Court of Summary Jurisdiction the Court shall take any representation made by him into consideration."
These words would make it imperative on the magistrate to hear what each prisoner had to say on being convicted. I think that is only fair.

I think my hon. Friend will appreciate that by imposing a duty of this kind it would be implied that the magistrates had failed in the exercise of their duty. In the whole of this Bill, where we have made directions to the magistrates to exercise their discretion in a certain way, we have only put the duty upon them when we have found that they did not act in that way. I could not say that we would be justified by experience in saying that magistrates have not taken into consideration representations made by prisoners. It may have happened in individual cases that they have not done so, but generally experience is not of that kind. Therefore, although there is no harm in the Amendment, and although it does not alter, add to, or vary the law, still I think it would be undesirable to put in print in an Act of Parliament such an obvious direction to the magistrate.

I do not think that the objection to my Amendment is at all valid, but as I want to get on with this Bill I ask leave to withdraw it.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.