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Cruelty To Children (Sentences)

Volume 409: debated on Thursday 29 March 1945

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asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is aware of the strong public feeling that the sentences being imposed by magistrates in cases of cruelty to children are inadequate; and whether he will take early steps to circularise those concerned or to take such other action as appears to him to be desirable to ensure heavier sentences in such cases.

It is the responsibility of magistrates, in this as in other classes of offence, to decide what is the appropriate penalty having regard to all the circumstances of the particular case. I have no information which suggests that there is any general failure to do so where offences of cruelty to children are concerned, as distinct from neglect due to ignorance or lack of training, and a circular from me is not necessary for the purpose of calling the attention of magistrates to public feeling on this matter. Moreover, in the exercise of judicial functions it is of paramount importance that magistrates should address their minds to the merits of the individual case and should not be carried away by waves of feeling which may occur from time to time in the direction of either leniency or severity. My hon. and gallant Friend will appreciate that, for these reasons, it would be wrong for me to recommend an indiscriminate increase of sentences for this class of offence.

While thanking my right hon. Friend for that reply, may I ask if he is aware of the very great public feeling that there is at present about this class of case?

Yes, Sir, I certainly am, and I am quite sure that the magistrates are also aware of it.

Is my right hon. Friend also aware that there is a great deal of feeling about circularising magistrates?