I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time."
In tracing the origin of this Bill, the House will perhaps forgive me if I refer to the Poor Prisoners' Defence Act of 1930. I was able to introduce that Bill in the last Parliament, but, being a new Member has its disadvantages, for on a maiden voyage I did not wish to carry too much sail. I therefore eliminated from the Bill everything that was difficult or contentious. I entirely excluded the appeal from the courts of summary jurisdiction. During the Second Reading many hon. Members noticed that omission. Among them was my hon. Friend the Senior Member for the Cambridge University (Sir J. Withers), who was the grandparent and the godparent of the last Bill, and whose absence from the position of sponsor of the present Bill is due to his appointment to a certain departmental committee. After the intervening time, I do not feel any more fitted to embark upon a stormy voyage, but I believe that there has been a considerable change of attitude in public opinion towards this matter and, I may say, a change of competence in the House to deal with it. When I introduced the last Measure we were still a party Government. Now we are free from the trammels of a party Government or the timidities of a party caucus. What the Socialist Government did not dare attempt to do in the interest of the poor man writhing under a sense of unjust conviction, the National Government have, I believe, both the will and the courage to pass into law.
Before explaining the provisions of the Bill, I will explain the present position in this matter. Not every hon. Member will have had the personal misfortune, or the professional good fortune to appear in a court of summary jurisdiction, and I would ask hon. Members to step into the shoes of a man who is appearing in the police court to answer a charge. Let us assume that he has been charged with stealing a £1 note. When he appears he pleads not guilty. The police then intimate that it is a case with which the court can deal summarily, and the chairman of the court asks the man if he consents to the case being dealt with summarily. It is a considerable reflection on the education provided in elementary schools that in 99 cases out of a 100 the man consents to be dealt with summarily, yet I think that the House will realise some of the thoughts that pass through the mind of the man in giving his consent. If a case of simple larceny is dealt with summarily, the punishment can be only six months' imprisonment. If the man elects to go to quarter sessions to be tried, he is liable to a punishment of five years' penal servitude. Another consideration which will weigh with him is the delay, with a charge hanging over him, that will take place before he can be tried by quarter sessions. Any time up to three months may elapse between his appearing in the police court and his trial. He agrees, therefore, to be tried summarily, and he is convicted by the police court.
In his own eyes he believes himself to be innocent and that he has good grounds of appeal. What is his position? He must first within seven days give notice of his intention to appeal, not only to the clerk of the court, but to the other side. Within three further days he must enter into a recognisance to pay the costs of the appeal. He may also have to find sureties and the court has power to order him to pay down a deposit. The path of an appellant is not any easy path, and it is made more difficult by the practice applied by the clerks of courts of summary jurisdiction. The average recognisance or deposit in the police courts is £50. What poor man at the present day can find £50 and pay it within ten days of being convicted? To the rich man it presents less difficulty, but to the poor man it is insuperable. The House may have heard of a certain sneer of Lord Justice Mathew, and I will repeat it because it has considerable point. Lord Justice Mathew said: In this country justice is open to all, like the Ritz Hotel." If the man is able to pay that £50, what is his next difficulty? The poor man under my last Measure has the advantage of being defended by a solicitor in the police court, but on his appeal to quarter sessions that advantage is no longer with him. However poor he is, he is unable to obtain legal aid on appeal before quarter sessions.
Just contrast this path of an appellant with his path if he takes the other course and elects to be tried by a jury at quarter sessions. If poor, he has the assistance of a solicitor and counsel, and if he has good grounds of appeal he can appeal without paying any deposit or any recognisance. In the Court of Criminal Appeal since 1907 he has been able to have the assistance of counsel in prosecuting an appeal. The result can be seen from the crime statistics. I am hampered to some extent in being able to quote only the statistics for 1930, the others not having been published. In that year 8,000 persons were convicted at courts of assize and quarter sessions. Out of that number 442 appealed. In the same year, in courts of summary jurisdiction, 520,000 persons were convicted, and only 314 appealed. I ask the House to consider these figures. There were only three-quarters the number of appeals out of 60 times the number of convictions.
At first sight that would appear to proclaim a sense of satisfaction, of placid confidence in the decisions of those who preside in courts of summary jurisdiction, a greater satisfaction than with the decisions of men who have spent their lives in learning the law of evidence and in judging the merits of a case; but if we look at the result of the appeals I think a different story can be told. Out of the 442 appeals to the Court of Criminal Appeal from the proceedings of quarter sessions and assizes, in only 23 cases was the conviction quashed, in 28 cases the sentence was modified, and in 391 cases the appeal was dismissed. Out of the 314 cases of appeals from courts of summary jurisdiction, in 102 cases the conviction was quashed, in 81 cases the sentence was modified and in only 131 cases was the appeal dismissed. I ask the House to weigh well those figures—in the one group only one in every 20 cases a wrong decision; in the other one in every three a wrong conviction. In fact, in appeals from the courts of summary jurisdiction the decision was found to be wrong in more cases than it was right.
It may perhaps be said that I was fortunate in my year, 1930, and to guard against that suggestion I put certain questions to the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department two days ago to ascertain the figures for 1931. In appeals from assizes and quarter sessions during 1931 the conviction was quashed in 30 cases, the sentence was. modified in 35 cases, and in 448 cases the appeals were dismissed. In appeals from courts of summary jurisdiction convictions were quashed in 91 cases, the sentence was modified in 117 cases, and in 140 cases the appeal was dismissed. I think the House will realise that these figures are about an average year by year of what goes on under the present law, and they show that in cases of appeal from the courts of summary jurisdiction the decision is altered more times than it is allowed to remain. It may be thought that the alteration of a decision occurs only in minor matters, and that in graver charges the courts of summary jurisdiction are right. To meet that point I have two sets of figures which I will submit to the House before passing away from these statistics. In 1930 16,484 persons were convicted in courts of summary jurisdiction of simple larceny, a matter involving the question of the honesty or dishonesty of some person. Out of those 16,000 cases only 33 persons appealed. In 10 of those appeals the conviction was quashed, in 15 cases the sentence was modified, and in only 4 cases was the decision upheld.
One other set of figures relates to convictions in courts of summary jurisdiction for indecent exposure. In those cases 1,216 persons were convicted. There were only 13 appeals, and in 8 cases the conviction was quashed, and in three cases the sentence was modified and in only two cases was the decision affirmed. I submit that those figures present a most alarming and grave situation. I ask the House whether it is satisfied that among those 1,216 persons there were only 13 who wished to appeal, only 13 who had gone to appeal and only 8 persons whose conviction should have been quashed. It is remarkable to note the smug complacency with which this country has for so long allowed the rich a chance to appeal but deprived the poor of the same opportunity.
The object of my Bill is to remedy that situation, and if hon. Members will turn to its provision I will very shortly explain it. In Section 1 the Sub-section of the
Summary Jurisdiction Act, 1879, which lays down. that recognisances must always be paid by an appellant is repealed. Before taking the serious step of suggesting the repeal of a decision of this House on so important a matter I had the curiosity and interest to look up the Debates in the House when the Summary Jurisdiction Act was being considered in 1879. I wanted to see what mention there was of the inequity and injustice of these appeals. I found that, the House considered at some length the inequity and injustice of the position of clerks of the peace under the Summary Jurisdiction Bill. The then hon. Member for Penryn, Mr. Cole, said:
He knew many gentlemen who had accepted the position of clerks of the peace for counties and had given up their profession in reliance upon receiving the fees payable in that office. These gentlemen in many cases would lose £500 or £600 a year by this Act; and lie would ask if this was fair, right or just.
The position and the argument was put even more clearly by a gentleman, obviously from Wales, Mr. Lloyd Morgan, who said:
This Bill itself furnished some remedy for the loss of fees by the provisions made for appeals. But the number of these, it was well known, would be very inconsiderable, because prisoners and their relations were usually very poor, and in cases where they were defended before the magistrates their means were so exhausted that they were unable to prosecute an appeal. How few appeals, except in bastardy cases, ever come to quarter sessions? He ventured to say the appeals under the provisions of this Bill, so far from adding in any essential degree to the fees at quarter sessions, would add very little indeed. Therefore, it came to this, that the incomes of the gentlemen who held the offices of clerks of the peace, and who took those offices on the supposition that the fees were to be continued to them, would be very seriously diminished.
That was the only argument addressed to the House of Commons upon the justice or injustice of the provisions for appeal under that Act. I think the House, in considering those arguments now, will appreciate to what a length we have gone to-day. We no longer consider whether certain gentlemen gain or lose by the amount of crime which is prosecuted in their Courts. We are trying to help the position of anybody who is before the Court upon an important criminal charge.
Clause 2 of my Bill provides that where a would-be appellant is in custody and desires to appeal the Court may, if it thinks fit, release him on bail pending appeal. Section 3 gives an appellant without means the right that is at present enjoyed by the appellant without means to the Court of Criminal Appeal. That right is granted so that the appellant shall have similar advantages to that of a man under the Poor Prisoners' Defence Act, 1930. I have drafted Section 3 very closely to that Act, so that the legal aid should be given by the recorder or chairman of quarter sessions, and not by the court of summary jurisdiction. It is practicable, because in nearly all cases the appeals to quarter and borough sessions are taken on the second day, and therefore the recorder or the chairman will have opportunity during the first day to consider the question of means, and whether legal aid should be allotted. I have done it, because there is a certain amount of feeling in the country that there might be bias on the part of courts of summary jurisdiction in granting legal aid. I do not wish to subscribe to that view, but it is desirable when such is the fact to take appropriate precautions. A book was published this year on English Justice by a Solicitor, putting forward that point very strongly, and it would be well for the House to secure that the question of legal aid should be in the hands of the recorder or the chairman of the quarter sessions. Section 4 of this Bill exempts Scotland and Northern Ireland, enlightened places where the poor are already provided for.
It is a simple little Bill. It is backed by members of four parties in the House, and I believe that it will commend itself to the members of the other three parties when they read it. I would like to attempt to meet some of the objections that may be made to it. First of all, it may be said that the Bill is badly drafted. I take the full responsibility for the drafting, but the amateur draftsmanship of the Temple can be remedied in Committee stage by the professional skill of the Whitehall draftsmen, if the Bill is allowed to go to Committee. It may also be objected that departmental committee is sitting upon this matter. The Committee was set up on 7th July, 1932, and had its first meeting six months later in January. It is a strong Committee in which I have great confidence. I believe that it will report soon and decisively, but I would suggest that this matter is urgent. Yesterday, to-day and to-morrow men have been, are being and will be convicted, and deprived of the opportunity of appealing against the decision because they have to pay £50 recognisance. I ask the House not to admit the objection that a Departmental Committee is sitting upon the subject. If, as we hope, that Committee reports before this Bill reaches the Committee stage, I shall be most pleased to amend the Bill to meet any recommendations of that Committee that will provide for the better regulation of the appeals from courts of summary jurisdiction.
I have heard it whispered that there may be an objection on the grounds of economy. I say "whispered" because I challenge any hon. Member to set up that objection by a speech in this House. If there are double the number of appeals as a result of this Bill, and if in every additional case the man is poor and cannot get legal aid, Section 3 will cost the country the sum of £600. If hon. Members think that this country is in such a terrible state that we cannot afford £600 for justice, I suggest that every hon. Member should forgo £1 of his salary to pay the expenses of this Bill. I do not believe that the country will stand any economy in bare justice. It may be objected that the Bill will lead to frivolous appeals, and that men with no case will prosecute their appeal because they do not have to pay any recognisance. Perhaps I should admit that there is a slight risk, but that risk is provided for under that part of the Summary Jurisdiction Act, 1879, that I have not repealed. Under Section 5 of that Act the Court of Appeal has power to order any unsuccessful appellant to pay the costs of the appeal, and that is, to a certain extent, a prevention of a man appealing in a frivolous manner, because the court may punish him by calling upon him to pay what would be a considerable sum. varying between £50 and £100.
Hon. Members may say that this Bill is an innovation. For long we have suffered under this system of recognisances. It is an old-established principle and canon of law that if a man is detained in prison he shall not have to find a recognisance to pay the costs
of an appeal. I will refer to the words of the Master of the Rolls, Lord Esher, in 1896. He said:
Where the liberty of the appellant is in question, or where highly penal consequences will be entailed upon the appellant by the order appealed against, so far from thinking that the court is bound in any case to make an order for security of costs, I think, as a general rule, that the court would not do so.
What the High Court decided nearly 40 years ago in the interests of justice, and laid down as a canon of law, it is high time that this House should apply to the courts of summary jurisdiction.
There is one omission that I was very reluctant to make, and I had considerable doubt as to whether I was right. My hon. and learned Friends will notice the omission more than lay hon. Members. I have omitted all appeals by way of case stated. My reason for doing so was that there is, as the House will realise, considerable congestion in the High Court at the present time. Appeals by way of case stated must be tried under the present procedure by three of His Majesty's judges. To encourage this form of appeal would result in greater hardship and injustice to other litigants, because there would be even greater congestion in the High Court. It may be that additional judges will be appointed, and, if so, I think that the objection to this step would be gone; but, in any event, I would suggest that it is a matter for discussion in Committee, where the Committee can, if it thinks it right to do so, also repeal Section 3 of the Summary Jurisdiction Act, 1857, and allow appeals by way of case stated to be made without recognisances. As my Bill stands, people would have to enter into recognisances before prosecuting an appeal by way of case stated, although not in the case of appeals to Quarter Sessions. I would make an appeal to those hon. Members who not only desire a reform in regard to appeals from courts of summary jurisdiction, but also desire to reform courts of summary jurisdiction themselves and the system of justices of the peace, not to overload this Bill. Whether the system of courts of summary jurisdiction is the wisest that man can devise is, in my view, outside the scope of the Bill. It is, I would respectfully submit to the House, not a fit subject for a private Member's Bill, but is a matter of great importance to be raised by way of Motion, as it was in this House before Christmas. I ask the House not to mix up the vexed question of the fitness or otherwise of justices of the peace with the provisions of this Bill.
A man can make a mistake; a lawyer can make a mistake; and the records of the Court of Criminal Appeal show that Judges can make mistakes. How much more can these justices of the peace—men chosen without any legal qualification, with no experience of the weighing of evidence—make mistakes? That is the way in which I would ask the House to look at the matter. Admittedly, mistakes are made in courts of summary jurisdiction, but, nevertheless, appeals from those courts alone are hampered. England is a great democracy, but, in regard to appeals from courts of summary jurisdiction, she adopts a system that would be condemned by every form of government except a plutocracy I would ask the House, in considering this Bill, to realise that English justice is, and has for long been, our pride, but that at the present time, for the poor man who is convicted by a court of summary jurisdiction and wishes to appeal, English justice does not exist. It is in order that every man, however rich or however poor, may enjoy his birthright of justice, that I ask the House to give a Second Reading to this Bill.
I beg to second the Motion.
I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) upon the very careful way in which he has introduced this Bill; and I should also like to congratulate him upon the good luck he has had since he has been in this House. Some of us have been hammering away at this and other questions for quite a considerable time, and it is not with any feeling of envy at all, but with feelings of sincere congratulation, that we say we are glad that my hon. Friend, within his short period in this House, has been able, by the luck of the Ballot and by his own persistence, to be associated with two Bills, one of which is now on the Statute Book, and the other, we hope, will be on the Statute Book soon.
It has always seemed to me that the position with regard to appeals from courts of summary jurisdiction was abso- lutely indefensible. We have gone to no small pains in this country to perfect the right of appeal from the higher courts. From quarter sessions and from the Judges dealing with criminal administration we have been careful to provide the most adequate safeguards for any man who has even a suspicion that he has been wrongly convicted to appeal to the highest authority; and yet, during all that period, we have left the courts where there is the greatest liability to error alone, and have virtually deprived the poor man in those courts of any right of appeal whatsoever. It is not in accordance with the practice of the administration of justice that that should be the case. My hon. Friend's quotation from Lord Esher went to show that the practice of the High Courts in civil matters was largely against penalising the poor man by any orders for security. Orders for security are made in civil matters on appeal and they are made for the purpose of providing against the possibility of the unsuccessful appellant being quite unable to pay the costs of the other side. That is a serious matter, because it is necessary to be just to those who have to defend these appeals as well as to those who prosecute them, and many a man has been ruined by the bringing of an unsuccessful appeal against him involving his being put to the expense of defending the appeal and trying to uphold the decision, and then not being able to recover a large part of the costs occasioned by the other side.
Even in those cases, however, the appeal courts in civil matters have been extremely careful not to make an order for security in such a way as to stifle the appeal. Time and again appeals come before the Court of Appeal on accident matters, and the Court of Appeal is asked, in its discretion, to order the appellant to pay security as a condition of prosecuting the appeal; and, where the appellant is a poor man, and is appealing against a decision depriving him of damages or compensation for personal injuries, it is the rarest thing for the Court of Appeal to make any order that goes beyond £20 at the outside, and the average amount is about £10 or £15. And yet, in cases where a man's liberty has been taken away, he has, by orders of justices, in many cases been deprived of his right of appeal unless he has been in a position to deposit a sum of £40, £50 or £80. It is a strange commentary upon the difference between the administration of justice by some courts and the general administration of those who are trained in the administration of justice. I think we are entitled to say, when people are apt to gird at lawyers, that we shall find on this matter a definite concensus of opinion among lawyers that there should be no hindrance to the administration of justice in its fullest liberality to all classes.
I should like to say a word about this curious system of recognisances on appeal from justices. As my hon. Friend has pointed out, a party who seeks to appeal from an order of justices is called upon, within three days after giving notice of appeal, either to enter into recognisances or to give security by way of deposit for the prosecution of the appeal. It may interest the House to know that there is by no means certainty that the deposit or recognisances will be used for the purpose of paying the costs which are due to be paid by the unsuccessful party, because, while that hindrance is put in the way of the man who appeals, it is a matter of the discretion of someone else as to how those reconnaissances are used.
For example, what happens on an unsuccessful appeal? Take it that the appellant has been compelled to give security for, say, £50 for the prosecution of the appeal. He is unsuccessful and an order for costs is made against him. They may tax out at anything from £15 to over £150, but the average is probably £30 or £40 at the outside. The costs are not paid. A motion is made to estreat the recognisances, that is, to enforce them by taking possession of the deposit. One would have thought that, as that was a condition of the appeal, the money obtained by forfeiting the deposit would be used to pay the successful party's costs. Nothing of the kind. In Lancashire, if you make an order estreating the recognisances, the money, if recovered, goes into the funds of the Duchy of Lancashire, and it is entirely a question for the discretion of the Duchy whether it is used for the costs of the successful party or for Duchy purposes. The question of what to do in circumstances of the forfeiture of recognisances is one which causes Chancellors of the Duchy from time to time very considerable anxiety. But it is just the same in other parts of the country. The money is forfeited to the Crown. The person who has been unsuccessful in the appeal may be a private individual. It is within the discretion of those who advise the Crown whether the money that is forfeited shall go to the payment of the successful party's costs or be used for Crown purposes. It seems rather ridiculous to put upon a man a condition which may deprive him of his right of appeal, and which is supposed to provide against frivolous appeals and to provide for the payment of the successful party's costs, when in truth and in fact there is no such definite purpose about it, and it is entirely a question within the discretion of someone else whether it should be so used or not. That has always seemed to me a ridiculous position.
There is one matter which my hon. and learned Friend has deliberately left out, and that is the question of appeal by case stated. I should have thought there was no real excuse for leaving it out on the grounds that he has given, although I do not think anyone will suffer materially by it being left out. As a rule, appeals by case stated are not asked for except by persons who can very well afford to do it, and, in any case, whether the case is granted or not is again entirely in the discretion of the magistrate whose decision is being appealed against. There are cases where you can enforce a case, but in most cases it is at the discretion of the court. There are well-recognised grounds upon which a matter can he dealt with by refusal or otherwise, but surely in those cases there is in the very conditions of the appeal an adequate safeguard against frivolous appeals. That being so, there is a complete safeguard against anything in the way of extravagance, and I should have thought there was no real objection to including those cases within this Bill as well as the others.
Of course, everyone realises that in the main what a man wants who appeals from a court of summary jurisdiction is really a re-trial, and that is what is obtained by an appeal to quarter sessions. The possibility of error is great. It is amazing what things can happen in a court of summary jurisdiction. I am not making any general attack upon magistrates. The lay magistrates perform a difficult duty, very often with little or no training, and they perform it on the whole extremely well. I do not mean by that that I think they are ideal tribunals. I think they might be replaced by tribunals which would deal with cases with less risk of bias and prejudice than lay justices—but there are strange things. Only a short time ago I came across a case where, on the hearing of a summons, the respondent, on the plaintiff's case being ended, was approaching the witness box to give her evidence when she was told by a policeman, "It is not you they want, but someone else." She was turned out of court, the case proceeded and an order was made because the defendant had not appeared. One would think it was ire possible for a thing of that kind to take place, and yet it took place in one of the best managed police courts in the country.
I have known within quite recent times this sort of thing happening. A man was present in a police court. He heard a case from beginning to end. The defendant was sentenced to two months' imprisonment without the option of a fine. The man was so filled with a sense of the injustice of the proceeding that he went to the magistrate and offered to provide security for the prosecution of an appeal if the defendant wanted to appeal. An order was made for £10 as security. There is not the smallest doubt that, if the defendant had been left to his own resources, he would never have found even the £10 as security for his appeal. One has come across all sorts of cases. You have certain friendly societies particularly to look after people who are convicted—I do not mean friendly societies in the legal sense but, for example, the Jewish friendly society who look very carefully after their own race. I have known quite a number of cases where persons of the Jewish race have been convicted and ultimately the convictions have been set aside where, without that help that is given so freely by all classes of the Jewish race to their own people, those appeals would never have been brought because the very small sum asked for security could not be found. It is not satisfactory that the righting of wrongs should depend on a haphazard system of that kind. It is a blot upon our judicial system that there should be even the possibility of that sort of thing.
I agree that one matter which will have to be considered in Committee is the possibility of the opening of the floodgates to frivilous appeals, but I think that idea of a. flood of frivolous appeals may very easily be exaggerated. On the whole, the British people have a fairly accurate sense of justice, particularly when they realise that, in the case of an appeal from the court of summary jurisdiction to quarter sessions, the court has the right to increase penalties. You have in that a fairly good safeguard against frivolous appeals. At any rate, that sanction has worked very well in connection with the Court of Criminal Appeal, because it has the same power. There are a number of people who might have been tempted to appeal from decisions of the judge of first instance were it not for the fact that they realised that there was power in the Court of Appeal to increase the sentence in case they should wish frivolously to appeal. As far as that matter is concerned, I think that it may very well be considered in Committee. Some of our Dominions are very much more advanced than we are in these matters. I believe that in South Africa there is provision made so that the appellant court may be correctly informed if an appeal is brought, particularly in cases which involve the liberty of the subject. Provision is made for a shorthand note to be taken, and where the judgment is challenged—and I am not certain it does not apply whether judgment is challenged in the first place or not—there is an officer deputed to read the shorthand notes, and, after reading them, to decide independently of any tribunal whether leave for appeal should be given, and, if it is given, it is not marred by any such difficulty as the recognizance which prevents appeal in this country.
I do not desire in any way to delay the House on this matter. It is a matter which, I think, every Member of the House will hereafter be proud to have assisted. People do not always realise the guilding principle of the administration of justice in this country. People are apt to jeer at what they think are the archaic points of our laws of evidence. They do not take the trouble to consider the why and the wherefore of those rules of evidence, but a little examination would show to them that the guiding principle of our courts is certainty of proof, and that our rules and laws of evidence are directed towards obtaining certainty of proof, so that there shall be nothing haphazard or slipshod in the administration of justice, and that is particularly so in connection with the criminal court. Behind it all is the definite notion that the fact that a guilty person may occasionally escape is of no lasting importance at all. The one fact which, in the opinion of all connected with the administration of justice, would mar and condemn our system would be the slightest possibility of an innocent person being convicted. That is the guiding principle, and it does surely necessitate that in all cases where orders can be made by way of imprisonment or by way of fine, there should, at any rate, be all reasonable opportunities for diminishing the margin of error and for putting any errors right. It is because I believe that this has been an outstanding blot upon our system and never ought to have been there at all—it is indeed a contradiction of the ancient form of Magna Carta—that I warmly support the Bill. This practical prohibition of the right of appeal of poor people from courts of summary jurisdiction has been a denial of justice, and as a denial of justice it should be wiped off the Statute Book. Our law should be freed from it, and I hope that this Parliament, will take steps to see that the blot is removed for ever from our system of criminal administration.
It is very difficult and, indeed, almost dangerous for a layman to intervene in a Debate of this kind, but I rise in the main to prove, if that were necessary, that the Bill is backed by laymen as well as legal Members of the House of Commons. I too must congratulate the hon. Gentleman the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) not only for his luck in the ballot but because he has chosen this particular proposal and embodied it, as I think may well be the case very soon, in the law of the land. The only qualification I possess for intervening at all in this Debate is that some years ago, I sat upon a com- mittee under the chairmanship of Lord Justice Finlay who inquired into this particular problem and we reported that something of the kind contained in this Bill ought to be done. I ought also to congratulate the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Chorley (Mr. Hacking) upon his elevation to the position of Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office. I think that it is proper that I should do so. I wish, however, that he was a Minister in a very much more intelligent Government, but of course that is not his fault. I hope that with his entry into it the Government will be less stupid than they have been in the past. But that has nothing to do with this Measure; we are all united I believe on the provisions of the Bill.
I hope that I may be able to say just a word or two to help the Measure to pass into law speedily. When I was asked to back the Bill it did not require anything more than the reading of its main provisions to convert me, and I will read the Clause which appealed to me most. It is quite a simple but important provision.
If it appears to the court of general or quarter sessions to which an appeal from a conviction or order of a court of summary jurisdiction lies that the means of an appellant or respondent are insufficient to enable him to obtain legal aid, and that it is desirable in the interest of justice that such appellant or respondent shall have legal aid, the court may grant him a defence certificate, and the provisions with respect to defence certificates in the Poor Prisoners Defence Act, 1930, shall apply.
That Clause appealed to me in this way: there must be something done very soon in this country to obliterate from the minds of the people that you can still purchase justice provided you have the cash with which to do it. I think that that idea prevails in the mind of a goodly number of people. It is true to say, I think that where it does not require any money to be deposited in a case at law justice is meted out in this country on a very even scale indeed. But those of us connected with the trade union movement have had experiences of this kind, and I hope hon. and learned Gentlemen who are more conversant with the technicalities of the law than I am will find no difficulty in admitting my argument. My experience as a trade union official
has led me to this conclusion. Where persons are members of a trade union they are always better equipped to secure justice merely because they are backed by the finances of a powerful organisation. I have been astonished that working people are not members of trades unions, if only for this reason—and here I must pay tribute to some of the County Court judges—that when a, Workmen's Compensation case goes to County Court often the first question that is asked by the Judge of a working man is:" Are you a member of a trade union I "I am afraid that if I proceed further on these lines I shall convert hon. Members into joining my trade union, but possibly they already belong to a trade union of their own. I have come across cases where injured workmen have fallen out of trade union membership or have never joined one. I have known cases where one man has been charged with exactly the same offence as another man, and the person who is outside the trade union has suffered penalty whereas the man inside the trade union wins his case. The trade unionist can always secure the services of a very eminent advocate to defend him.
If the intentions of the Bill are, and I believe they are, to secure justice irrespective of whether a man, is rich or poor, I have the greatest pleasure in supporting it. The Bill is very necessary. I speak from experience As a member for a long time of the Departmental Committee of the Home Office on the treatment of young offenders. This problem came before that Departmental Committee on occasions in a fairly acute form. If I know anything about the problem it is this: and the hon. Member who seconded the Second Reading of the Bill and has a very wide experience of these matters also mentioned it, that I have a feeling somehow that although the Bill is travelling on the right road it does not go far enough. I would very much have liked to see justice in every section of the courts secured without the feeling that you are able to buy it with money. As a layman who has had to deal sometimes with cases when they have entered the court, it seems to me that it is not sufficient for the court to feel that justice has been meted out, but the courts must so act that it appears to the defendant himself that he has secured justice: It is not sufficient that the verdict satisfies the judge; it must seem to the man in the dock that he has had justice at the hands of the court. I quote the best authority in saying that the law is not reasonable unless it harmonises all the conflicting interests of the community and secures the well being of the whole. It is a fact that there are poor, decent men who on occasion 'are caught in the meshes of the law through no fault of their own and through no fault of anyone else either. It appears later that they have committed no offence at all against the law. We all desire that justice should be done to rich and poor alike; and as this Bill is in the main a Bill to champion the cause of the poor in prosecuting their rights in our Courts of Justice, I heartily support it.
I am sure that it is hardly necessary for any of us to endorse the appeal that has been made by my hon. Friend who moved the Second Reading of the Bill, but at the same time I think it is not quite right to say that there is one law for the rich and one law for the poor, although in so far as procedure is concerned, it does not infrequently happen that that state of affairs comes about. The law remains the same, but having regard to the procedure which is open enabling a rich person to carry an appeal forward whereas a poor person is not in a position to do it. The Summary Jurisdiction Act was passed 54 years ago, and at that date the position and powers of the magistrate not only in the number of the cases they had to deal with, but the powers which they had to exercise, were very much less than they are to-day. A very considerable number of Statutes have been passed, and it seems to be the tendency nowadays to put the decision of cases into the hands of magistrates in summary courts and petty sessions, and into the county court, whereas in the olden times they would have gone to the High Court. This process has been going on and the jurisdiction of the magistrates has been very widely increased. They have been given much more extensive powers in the way of dealing with cases, but the right of appeal from the magistrates has remained limited as it was before.
I entirely agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord) when he says that extraordinary things can go on in petty sessions and before the magistrates. We all know that when they do extraordinary things those magistrates who have been acting extraordinarily are less likely to fix a reasonable amount of security and so enable what they have been doing to be challenged in any court. Moreover, it very often happens, and to some extent it is a great advantage, that magistrates sitting in petty sessions have known all his life or all her life the antecedents of the particular person brought before them, and they cannot help at times unconsciously allowing that personal knowledge of the individual to weigh with them, rather than dealing with the case, as they ought to do, simply and solely on the evidence before the court.
May I suggest to my hon. Friend the Mover of the Second Reading that some words might be put into the Bill by which the court of quarter sessions or some other court over the magistrates should have power, upon appropriate cause, to extend the time within which an appeal may be made and entered upon. It has been rightly said that recognisances must be entered into within three days and. notice of appeal must be given within seven days. It would be advisable to consider the insertion of some words which would enable those three days to be extended, by a further order to that effect if necessary, and to enable that period of seven days also to be extended. I believe I am right in saying that if a person is convicted by the magistrates and unable to obtain his or her release by reason of not putting up the security at once, there is exhibited in the cell of the prison to which the person is taken a notification with regard to the time within which he or she has to appeal, but it occasionally happens that people do not appreciate the importance of acting punctually within that time. I suggest that, on appropriate cause being shown and proper security being given, someone should have the right, which no one has now, to extend the period of seven days, and so enable a person who had allowed the period to go by to put in an appeal.
The hon. Gentleman who spoke last said that people very frequently find themselves prosecuted in police courts through no fault of their own. There are so many rules and regulations to-day, that I doubt whether everyone in the country at some time is not a criminal in the technical sense of the word. He may be fortunate enough not to break the eleventh commandment in that he is not found out. At the same time, there are all sorts of technical matters—offences under the London Building Acts, for example—which, quite unconsciously, people do contravene. In those circumstances, having regard, as I say, to the great tendency to extend and increase the amount of work that has to be done by justices, I do think that there ought to be no difficulties whatever put in the way of prosecuting these appeals. It has always struck me as being particularly illogical and stupid that where you send very often difficult cases to be dealt with by non-technical justices involving very considerable sums of money, that the less training the tribunal has, the less right of appeal there is from that tribunal. It does seem to me to be a perfectly impossible situation, and, in the circumstances, I think the House, if I may say so with the greatest respect, has received this Bill with sympathy. I hope that it will give a Second Reading to the Bill, and that it may, after Amendment in Committee, come into operation as soon as possible.
I wish to add my quota of support to this Measure. We are all familiar with the emblematic figure of Justice in female form with a band round her eyes holding in her hand a pair of equally balanced scales; but those of us who have been associated with the administration of justice know that that figure is rather an ideal than a fact, and an ideal to which, I am glad to think, we have been for many years steadily approximating. The criminal history of this country is appalling reading. At the beginning of last century boys were hanged for stealing apples. Men and women were executed in droves, and we honour men like Sir Samuel Romilly and Lord Brougham for their successful efforts in bringing to an end the worst features of our criminal system. George the Fourth is not one of the Sovereigns of our country of whom we speak with very much respect, but I do honour his memory for one thing, that he detested the rigour of our criminal system, and did his best to lessen it.
This afternoon we are engaged in taking another step in the direction of the amelioration of the law. We have now a state of things which is a very real injustice to the poor. My hon. and learned Friend who spoke last made a reference to the shortness of time allowed for finding recognisances and security. That shortness of time is a very real grievance. There are Members of this House, I have no doubt, who are quite financially sound who, if they were suddenly called upon to find would have some considerable difficulty in doing so. That applies with still more force to the working man, and I endorse and support the remarks of my hon. and learned Friend with regard to the desirability of removing that injustice. We are all influenced—I confess that I am largely influenced—in supporting this Measure by the character of the summary courts. I have on former occasions in this House expressed my opinion of the average magistrate, but my hon. Friend who opened the Debate deprecated discussion of the Bill from that point of view, and I do not want to pursue it. But I should like to mention the first experience I had which shook my faith in the tribunal of the justices. I happened to be defending a farmer on a charge of watering his milk. I was instructed by some farmers' society. The farmer was duly tried, and, in face of the most cogent evidence to the contrary, he was convicted. I was so shocked that I took the opportunity some little time after of speaking to one of the magistrates who had given the decision, and expressed my astonishment and amazement at that decision. His reply was, "Mr. Fraser, everyone of the magistrates wanted to acquit the farmer, but, for some reason or other, the clerk wanted to convict him, and he stood with his back to the door and would not allow us to leave until we had convicted". That case in my own experience illustrates the character of some of the decisions in the summary courts.
The fact that there are frivolous appeals is no reason for depriving men who ought to have the right to go to courts of appeal, or for not removing the injustice under which they suffer. But I do not fear an undue number of such appeals. Even if the law be altered, and it ceases to be necessary to find re- cognisances and security, it still will be an irksome matter for a man to pursue an appeal. If he is a working man he has to come to the court, losing a days' work, and have all the embarrassment and worry of appearing personally in Court. I do not therefore think there will be a large number of frivolous appeals as a result of passing the Bill. There is one class of the community in particular who figure in one's mind when one is considering the propriety of bringing about this reform. I refer to the motorists. There are a large number of motorists now who earn their living by running a motor vehicle of some kind. I do think that these men are sometimes subjected to injustice. They have their licences suspended, and have not the means to carry the matter beyond the courts of summary jurisdiction, and with the growth of motor traffic and the increasing number of motorists who are liable to be punished by having their licences suspended, it is desirable that this reform should be brought about.
There is one other matter and I am finished. My hon. Friend who introduced the Bill said that he did not want to overload his Bill, but there are one or two difficulties which he ought to consider, and which, I think, ought to be met. I should like to ask him whether anyone under a. Probation officer would be brought within this Bill. I would also ask whether the Bill will apply to private as well as police prosecutions. Next, how about the persistent offender? How are you going to deal with him? Then, will the Bill apply to both conviction and sentence, and if the appeal is successful, should the respondent pay the appellants costs? I throw out these matters for consideration of my hon. Friend as matters which ought to be considered in Committee, and made quite clear. With these few remarks, I wish strongly to support what I believe to be an overdue Measure.
In supporting the Second Reading of the Bill, may I congratulate the hon. Member upon the lucid manner in which he has explained its provisions. At the present time magistrates have such wide powers that a Bill of this kind is necessary. In 1879 the cases tried by courts of summary jurisdiction were. comparatively few, but since that date Parliament, in its wisdom, has greatly increased the powers of magistrates in regard to cases which come before them, and it is rather peculiar that the position, so far as courts of summary jurisdiction are concerned, should have been allowed to remain as it is. The poor litigant is in a different position to the wealthy person. Take the initial stages of a case, even before it comes before the court of summary jurisdiction. A man who is possessed of means and is brought before the court upon a charge, whether serious or not, is from the outset able to engage the best professional assistance. The majority of cases which come before courts of summary jurisdiction and even before the county court and the High Court are not won in the court itself but in the preparation of the case before it is brought to the Court, in the securing of evidence and finding what witnesses can be brought to speak in support of the defence. That is where the wealthy litigant succeeds as compared with those who lose their case in the courts because of faulty preparation. At the start a rich man is in a different position to a poor man.
What happens in a. court of summary jurisdiction. His name is called, he steps into the box or stands in front of the table. He is not professionally represented and does not realise the power which the magistrates have in the matter. He pleads not guilty to the charge. One or two witnesses are called by the police, who are assisted by a solicitor, and after the witness has been called he is asked whether he has any questions to ask. He endeavours to make a statement but is immediately told by the chairman or the clerk that he must not make a statement then but will have an opportunity of making it later. After asking one or two questions he finds himself in some considerable difficulty as to how he should proceed. He desists; and in many cases—I have realised it often myself as I have sat in the court—a little further cross-examination of the witnesses for the prosecution would probably have resulted in an entirely different impression upon the justices. Afterwards he gets an opportunity of going into the witness box and giving evidence on oath or of making a statement. The difficulty of a man who has never been in court before must be apparent to all. He is asked if he has any witnesses to call, but those who could have supported him have not been sub-pœened and he is left without the assistance which he ought to have had to present his case properly. The bench convict, and sentence him to a fine or term of imprisonment.
Then he begins to realise that something has gone wrong. He feels—this is not a solitary case, it happens week after week—that owing to the fact that his case has not been properly put before the bench that injustice has been done. He wants to appeal. Anyone who takes the trouble to look through the pertinent section in the 1879 Act will realise that it is absolutely hopeless for the ordinary layman, who has had no experience of legal work, to appreciate exactly what has to be done in the case of an appeal, and the number of cases which have gone to the High Court are such as to indicate that it would be well to repeal the whole of this Section and have a new provision dealing with appeals of this character. This also must be remembered in comparing what takes place in a court of summary jurisdiction and at an assize or quarter sessions. Such a large number of cases are now within the competence of magistrates that with the exception of certain very serious offences they can deal with almost the whole range of the criminal law.
Compare their procedure with that of the assize court or quarter sessions. Where a plea of "Not Guilty" is put in the man is tried by a jury. The Judge, or the chairman at quarter sessions, sees as witness after witness is called that he does not make any statement which is not strictly in accordance with the rules of evidence. If the prisoner is not being defended by counsel the judge is particularly careful that he gets his assistance in the way of eliciting all the evidence which may be necessary in order to enable the jury to come to a satisfactory conclusion. Having heard all the evidence, and the jury having been addressed by counsel for the prosecution and the defence, the judge proceeds to direct the jury as to their verdict. He sets out the facts of the case as clearly and as succinctly as possible and indicates to them the questions which they should ask before coming to a conclusion as to whether the prisoner is guilty or not. But even then, as has been pointed out, there are many cases where injustice has been done. The number of cases which go to the Court of Criminal Appeal and the large number of the successful appeals, would indicate that the success of the appeals is due to the fact that the Judge or Chairman of Quarter Sessions or Recorder has misdirected the jury or failed to direct them.
What is the situation with regard to the bench of magistrates dealing very frequently with a type of case that will be heard by a Judge of Assize and go to the Court of Criminal Appeal? The magistrates are in the position of both judge and jury. The defendant or his legal representative has not the remotest idea as to what steps have been taken in directing the magistrates as to the decision to which they are to come. They may be directed. Perhaps there is a chairman with a great deal of experience, and when the justices retire he reviews the evidence from his notes. In many cases possibly the justices are not even competent to do that, and they have to take the direction of their clerk, who may be learned or may be far from competent to deal with an intricate case. They come back into court, they give their decision, and the defendant does not know on what ground they have come to that decision.
Look at the difference in the case of the man who has been convicted at Assizes. Every precaution has been taken there to see that the jury are properly directed. The defendant has an immediate right of appeal without going through anything like the intricate procedure which is outlined in the Act of 1879. Not only is the procedure simple, but he is able to appeal without being called upon to deposit anything in the way of costs or to enter into recognisances. The unfortunate litigant in the police court ends himself face to face with the intricate procedure of the 1879 Act, and is also called upon to enter into recognisances. The experience of most practising solicitors in various parts of the country is that the justices as a rule, anxious that if the appellant fails in his appeal the costs shall be forthcoming, insist on the deposit of an amount of money being demanded from the defendant. It is in the very cases where a man cannot get any satisfactory sureties because he is a poor man that this demand is made.
One wonders how it is that this procedure has been allowed to continue for such a long time. One knows that justices very often resent any suggestion of an appeal. The suggestion of an appeal is regarded by many of them as a kind of unwarranted reflection upon their capacity to deal with the cases that come before them. I know from experience that in a very large number of cases the justices do all in their power to discourage appeals. We must not imagine that the number of cases in which injustice is done to a defendant is small. Up to a few years ago there was scarcely a week when I was not in some police court. In a very large number of cases in which defendants were not represented and the magistrates had given their decision, it was quite a common thing in the conversations between solicitors or counsel practising in the court, and myself, to hear the remark "A pity this poor fellow had not someone to put his case before the court." It was a case in which clearly there ought to have been a different decision, had the defendant's case been put properly.
The statement has been made that this Bill may lead to frivolous appeals, but I do not think the possibility of a small number of frivolous appeals justifies the denial of a provision for those persons who have good ground of appeal. It is important to realise that the majority of cases that come before a court of summary jurisdiction are eases in which the police are the prosecutors. From the beginning all the resources of the State are at the disposal of the prosecution. How different is the position of the defendant in those cases. The great ideal in connection with the administration of justice is that every step within reason should be taken to enable the courts to come to a decision as to guilt or innocence. If there has been any miscarriage in the court of first instance the person who feels that he has had an injustice done to him should not be placed at a disadvantage. The Section of the Act of 1879 which this Bill would repeal is unnecessary in the case of rich litigants, but it is cruel if a poor man stands before a court and realises that an injustice has been done to him.
The Judges of the High Court have on more than one occasion referred to the position. I shall end by referring to what Lord Atkin said about three years ago in addressing a meeting of the Magistrates' Association. Lord Atkin in the address which he delivered to the Association put the case for my hon. Friend's Bill in a very clear and convincing manner. This is what he said:
I want to say something about the question of appeals. I am glad to be speaking in the presence of the Lord Chancellor who, I know, has this matter present to his mind. I consider that the whole system which exists at the present moment of appeals from justices to quarter sessions is old-fashioned and really quite unjustifiable. You have had your jurisdiction increased enormously. There are dozens of cases now heard before the justices which, in the old days, would have been heard at quarter sessions or assizes. If those cases were heard at sessions or assizes, the accused person would have the right of appeal without cost or trouble. He would only have to apply for leave to appeal in respect of some matters, and, on a question of law, he would have an appeal as a right. He could put his case without any formalities at all, and it would be quite certain to be very carefully considered by His Majesty's judges, and I know with what care they are considered. That case comes before the justices now and he has lost all those rights. He has got a right of appeal but only if he gives sureties and gives notice within a certain time. The rules are very technical. The truth of the matter is that it is only relatively rich men who can appeal at all from the justices. The poor are incapacitated from doing so; they are tied up by regulations which are sometimes so technically administered as to amount to a perfect scandal.
It is because I believe that Lord Atkin's words ought to be listened to with respect by all in this House and because I believe that this Bill is one step in the direction of dealing with this scandal that I trust the House will give it a Second Reading.
I should like to join with other Members in most hearty congratulations to my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) for the very careful and splendidly prepared speech in which he submitted this Bill to the consideration of the House. Those of us who know something of my hon. Friend's quality at the Bar feel that he will soon emerge into the ranks of those who are known as " learned in the law," and certainly if the progress of this Bill to the Statute Book is what we hope it will be, he will have made his contribution to the legislation of this country in a fashion and a form which will be very helpful to the people of our country. I wish to say a few words in anticipation of what the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office will probably say when he comes to speak on behalf of the Government. The hon. Gentleman may have in his mind the idea—although I know that neither my hon. Friend who introduced the Bill, nor the supporters of the Bill intend it—that the Bill may be some sort of reflection upon the magnificent lay magistracy of this country. I wish to say, frankly, that we are not in the slightest degree questioning the efficiency of our splendid lay magistracy. Nothing of the kind is intended.
We all know that a lay magistrate to-day, because of the enormous extra duties imposed upon him, requires an education and a prescience which a High Court judge of two centuries ago did not require. Let me give a specific instance from my own experience as a barrister, if the House will forgive a reference to personal experiences. I would point out to hon. Members how carefully our justices study the various Local Government Acts. There is no magistrate with less than 10 years' legal training and without legal knowledge as well as other knowledge, who can correctly adjudicate in respect to breaches, sometimes criminal breaches, of the Local Government Acts of 1925, 1930 and 1932. It is impossible for a lay magistrate unless he has had some legal training or experience to adjudicate correctly on some of the extremely difficult Acts of Parliament which this House has placed on the Statute Book for the protection of the people. I have in mind two men who were Members of this House for a dozen years and who have entered the legal profession, not for the purpose of practising it, but in order to fit themselves to discharge their duties as justices. Therefore, I hope that the Government will not imagine that we depreciate in the slightest degree the care and pains which magistrates take in discharging their duties and in dealing with those who come before them for justice.
In passing, may I say—although it has no immediate connection with the Bill— that many of us hope that at a future time some necessary qualifications will be required in connection with the appointment of lay magistrates. I hope that in the future it will not be considered sufficient qualification that a gentleman has reached a certain age, and has got the leisure time, or that he has rendered some special service to his town or his county. I hope that it will not be taken as a sufficient qualification for a person to become a magistrate that he or she may have been an important person in connection with some political body. We hope that the time is not far distant when, before a person is appointed to the magistracy, he or she will be required to show efficiency in being able to deal with the complicated legislation which has to be administered to-day.
Some hon. Members have said that there are certain other considerations which ought to be included in the Bill. My hon. Friend, I am sure, when the Bill goes into Committee, will be willing to include, if the Committee in its wisdom approve, any matter that may arise which is appropriate to the Bill. The last speaker referred to the question of frivolous appeals. That raises a very knotty question and I am not sure that even the Act of 1879 with its many Clauses entirely covers the position. But my hon. Friend is very properly seeking to eliminate Sub-section (3) of Section 31 of that Act and to include the provision which is set out in Clause 3 of this Bill. With this Bill on the Statute Book it ought to be possible to deal with such matters as frivolous objections. We know the admirable work which is done at present by the probation officers and to my mind it should not be impossible, still to use the old 1879 Act, along with the provisions of the present Bill and take advantage of the work of the probation officers and of local associations. These societies, some of them of a benevolent type, provide assistance for prisoners in cases of difficulty where, it may be, the prisoner has no means or where there is no opportunity within the scope of various Acts for him to be represented.
In respect to the matter of cost, these are days in which we play with millions, in a way in which in the old days we spoke of hundreds, and if it be possible that £600 may be the expense of administering one feature of this splendid Bill, when we consider some of the Measures which we have passed, but which have not brought their full value in relation to the cost incurred, I do not think it right that we should consider £600 as an insuperable barrier. Even if it does entail the appointment of one or more extra Judges, I do not see that this House should stand on that matter. At any rate, justice should be done, and, if this question of money is to enter into a clear application of what is right and proper for the poor folk, I say that £600 or even the cost of an extra Judge should not stand in the way of appeal.
My last point is as to the possibility of an increase of sentences under the Bill. I think most of my hon. and learned Friends know that that would not arise in this matter, and some of us say, with great respect, that this at present is not possible. It has been suggested that sentences might be increased, but I do not see how that could be. I have gone very carefully through the old Act and studied the Clauses of this Bill, and I really cannot see the possibility of that objection. Let us give this Bill a chance, and if so be that it wants moulding or shaping somewhat and that the Parliamentary draftsman feels that in some of its phraseology it may not correctly and properly apply in the best interests of those concerned, I am sure my hon. Friend who introduced it would be only too pleased to adapt and alter it accordingly. This is an opportunity for better justice for those who cannot afford always to fend for themselves in a court, and I give it my hearty support.
I should like to offer my warm congratulations to the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), who presented this Bill, on the clarity, detail, and force with which he did so. Hon. Members on all sides will welcome this Bill, I feel sure. It has always been an indefensible anomaly that in these days, with the jurisdiction of magistrates so widely increased, they themselves should have the power, after deciding a certain issue, to perform an act which in itself is a barrier to allowing an aggrieved person the opportunity to question the merits of the decision against him which they have made. When one thinks that this arbitrary right of taking away from the accused and convicted person the opportunity to challenge that decision is one which that court has, and which no High Court Judge wants or is allowed to have in the whole of our legal system, it makes one wonder what the circumstances were that enabled a, court of this nature to be in a different position from that of any other criminal court in the land.
In judging this matter, I think we must bear in mind how gravely increased is the jurisdiction of magisterial courts to-day, and how they decide in so many cases on matters which are virtually matters of life and death to the person charged before them. Of all courts where there should be a. free application of any right of appeal, I think this stands out as the court most needing to give the freest right to a reconsideration of its judgments. As has been said by one of the supporters of the Bill, there is no real understanding of how a magisterial court comes to its decision, and, assisted as they are by a clerk, we have that clerk standing in a position which is outside any real criticism, in that he is not a member of the court and yet may play a very active part in bringing the decision of the magistrates to a point against the prisoner charged before them.
There may come a time when the whole question of magisterial courts will have to be reviewed, and some uniformity of system fixed, and perhaps the present system swept away altogether, but, as my hon. Friend, in introducing the Bill, said, it is merely intended to assist justice in the system already established. I think every hon. Member listened with great interest to the statistics which he gave, but there is one set of statistics which he did not and could not give, the absence of which this House has to consider, and that is the number of cases where men have gone away from our police courts smarting under a sense of injustice, with a grievance that might be very well-founded, and yet, by the consequential decision of the magisterial court itself, those men have been precluded from putting to the test the decision which has been given against them, because of the fixing, by some arbitrary arrangement, of a surety which operates as a barrier against their having an appeal before a properly constituted higher court.
We do not know what those statistics are, but I do not hesitate to inform the House that one has seen many, many cases where difficult points have been considered by justices, who have come to a decision which, on the face of it, is open to very grave argument and is such that the man concerned is affected on account of a conviction which means everything in this world to him. They have come to that decision and have, by fixing the surety which they now fix under the Summary Jurisdiction Act, erected what to that man is an insuperable barrier. I know of many cases, as, I am sure, do many of my hon. and learned Friends, where men anxious to appeal have been denied the rights which they ought to have had by the corollary to 'a conviction by a biased bench, which has convicted a man and then set a barrier against appeal which is discretionary in their hands altogether. It is that arbitrary right to fix that barrier after there has been a conviction that this Bill attempts to abolish.
The hon. Member who introduced the Bill stated that it might be urged against him that the Bill would encourage the making of frivolous appeals, but under the Summary Jurisdiction Act the court trying an appeal will have every power, and may be able to make any such order as could have been made by the court of first instance. The exact words of Subsection (4) of Section 31 of the Act of 1879, in the last part of the Sub-section, are perfectly clear, and are as follow:
or may make such other order in the matter as the Court of Appeal may think just, and may by such order exercise any power which the court of summary jurisdiction might have exercised, and such order shall have the same effect and may be enforced in the same manner as if it had been made by the court of summary jurisdiction.
Those words, which will not be interfered with by the Bill now before the House, will give to the Court of Appeal ample power to inflict any legal sentence they like on a man who has appealed, in their view, without any just ground, and that court may have the same power as the Court of Criminal Appeal now has in dealing with any appeal against a sentence which the court thinks is not well founded. The question of expense does not enter into the matter at all. In every case involving a certain sentence of imprisonment the accused man has to be asked if he is willing to be dealt with summarily or whether he wants to be
tried by a jury, and the exercise of this choice to be tried by a jury might well put the country to greater expense than the removal of the blot that still exists on the fair name of Justice.
An hon. Member made a point as to the effect of Clause 3 of this Bill. By virtue of the 1930 Act, which, by a strange piece of luck in the Ballot, was also initiated by my hon. Friend who introduced this Bill to-day, power was given for the first time to a bench of magistrates sitting as a court of first instance to give out of public funds aid for the hearing before them of any case where they thought the gravity of the case warranted it and the means of the prisoner would otherwise prevent him being defended. One can assume that there will be no real hardship on a man who is given the benefit of the Poor Prisoners Defence Act before the court of first instance and then, when an appeal is made, that Act becomes operative by Clause 3 of this Bill. Although that legal aid may not operate on the appeal until the first day of the quarter sessions, there will be no hardship from the delay, because the case will be fresh in the mind of the solicitor who represented the man at the police court. It is right that this Bill does not deal with what is known as the "case stated", and I think my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord) put the position with accuracy when he pointed out that a different class was mainly affected by those appeals than the class proposed to be included in this Bill. The hon. Member who introduced the Bill was wise in avoiding the criticism that would have arisen from overloading it. The appeals which come by way of "case stated" are interesting and important, but largely academic. They are intended to get a decision on a matter of importance in which the question of costs does not as a rule arise.
This Bill is the poor man's charter of the police court, where a conviction may give a man the mark of felony, and such courts are the last courts which should have the arbitrary right to make their decisions final. The Bill gives to that man the absolute unfettered right of saying that he will have the decision of the court tested by an appropriate, competent and qualified court of justice. I hope that when members are considering this Bill they will recall the extraordinary anomaly that it is the only court in the land which is administering justice which is not legally qualified. For the smallest debt sued for, the claim is considered by a legally qualified tribunal. The class of case which is tried in the police court, with all the implications that follow a conviction, is tried by the one untrained, unqualified court in the land. It comes to a decision through devious methods, not one of which is shown in the light of day, by a system depending on a gentleman who is not a member of the court, who may not perhaps assist in the more serious deliberations. The court comes to a decision after having applied its mind in private in certain personal directions, and probably bringing into consideration antecedents which they are unable to withstand.
I cannot see any argument that can be advanced against a Bill which seeks to make a right of appeal from that tribunal, which, of all others, should have a ready system of appeal. It is not within the ambit of this Measure to discuss magisterial alterations which some of us would like to see. My hon. Friend the Member for Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser) made one or two caustic observations about the present system of magistrates. It may well be that in these days of enlightenment, the present system is wholly inadequate. It may be argued that some magistrates do very good work indeed. I venture to say that the inferior courts of the land should not have the absolute right of blocking any challenge to their decision on matters which mean life and death to convicted persons. One sees amounts fixed by way of so-called recognisances which have no relation at all to the costs which might reasonably be involved in the appeal which it is sought to. make against magisterial decisions. They are fixed for the one obvious purpose of stopping an appeal which a convicted man wants to make, especially when they come from a bench which has expressed strong views against the prisoner and against certain types of offence. This gives grounds for the allegation inside and outside the court that something more than justice, something more than a desire for justice, is tempering the findings of the bench. Justice must not only seem to flow, but must flow. It must not only be there, but it must be made available. One would stand aghast at a High Court judge or a learned recorder desiring to usurp to himself the right to say that he shall block a man's right of appeal. Without leave on matters of law and with leave on matters of fact, there is an unfettered right to appeal against a verdict to a superior court.
No question of costs has to be considered by a convicted man who desires to appeal on a matter of law against conviction in a court presided over by one of the ornaments of the judicial benches of the world, namely, a British Judge. The question of costs is not considered by the Court of Criminal Appeal in their desire to reach justice. To allow the question of costs to impede justice in the most inferior court in the land is, in my submission, archaic and indefensible, and an anomaly which should be swept away at the earliest possible moment. I am very glad to have had the opportunity of backing this Bill and offering my observations upon it, and with great respect I venture to offer the final hope that the House will give every possible facility to the passing of a Measure which in the time to come will be a great satisfaction to every one of us who had the privilege of being here to take an important stand in promoting the desire to give justice to the working class, to the poorer classes, to everybody within our gates who is entitled to justice irrespective of financial considerations.
There can be no question that any hon. Member of any party who has had the slightest experience of procedure in police courts will readily and willingly give support to this Bill which was so ably moved by the hon. Member for Thirsk (Mr. Turton). When the question of legal reform was before the House some little time ago it was my privilege to emphasize, to the best of my ability, the importance of this particular move in the direction of remedying a very serious evil and difficulty. After all, the important thing to consider in this regard is the number of people who are affected and the reason why, out of the great number of cases tried before courts of summary jurisdiction, so few persons appeal against the decisions of those courts. I say with great respect to my hon. and learned Friends in this House that the people who really have the experience in this important matter are those who have contact in the first instance with the individuals concerned, and they are the solicitors. There is no solicitor who has practised in the courts who does not realise that there are innumerable convictions which could and should have been the subject of appeal, and which are allowed to pass merely because of the financial difficulties that stand in the way such as the finding of recognisances, the finding of sureties or other technicalities which at present exist. In 1931 some 630,000 cases were dealt with in the police courts, and only 200 of those involved considered that they were in a position to lodge an appeal against the decisions. If justice is to be done, the poorest in the land must have equal opportunities with the richest.
It has already been said that the law does not make any direct provision for assisting the rich against the poor, but the fact of the matter is that in practice the poor man is put in a worse position than his rich neighbour. The reason is obvious. A rich man would not dream of going into court even for the most trivial offence without having legal assistance. It might not even be necessary for him to appear. His lawyer would conduct the case on his behalf. The poor man, on the contrary, has to appear in a court where everything is entirely strange to him. He finds himself hustled, possibly, with dozens of other people waiting to appear before the magistrates. When he is brought before the magistrates he attempts to ask questions or to state facts in the wrong place. When he is told that he must ask questions, often he does not understand how to do so. Everybody who has been in a, police court for any length of time and has watched these cases will know that is so. If the defendant wants to say anything he is told that he must wait until the end of the case for the prosecution. He is told that he has the opportunity of examining or cross-examining witnesses. In the end he becomes entirely confused, and does not give expression to the true facts of his case, simply because the atmosphere of the Court is entirely strange to him, the surroundings are strange to him, and he has not the manner and the lucid method of expression which are often so necessary, even in the most trivial cases, if a. correct decision is to be arrived at.
In many cases the magistrates have not time to deal with each case in great detail. They deal with those cases which are presented to them by advocates and others because they have got to deal with them, but they do their best to hustle or to get through the business as quickly as possible, and, indeed, one cannot altogether say that it is their fault if the person before them is not capable of expressing himself. They have to take the facts as they are presented to them and do the best they can with what may have been very poorly said. In those circumstances a large number of errors are bound to be committed. The magistrate is, after all, only a human being. He has his "on" days, if I may put it that way, and his "off" days. He may he apt to forgive on one day and on another day to impose a heavy sentence, or a heavier sentence than is justifiable. On one day he may be in a mood to acquit and on another day he may be moved by virtue of unexplainable feelings to convict. That being the position apart from other considerations the defendant ought to be given the opportunity, irrespective of his financial position, of appealing against a conviction. He should be given the opportunity of taking advice, and if he finds that what he thought when he entered the court was a trivial matter has become to him a very serious matter by reason of a conviction which be did not expect, then he should be given every facility to enable him to appeal against the conviction.
Already we have heard what are the obstructions in his path. We have heard that the question of expense to the State will immediately arise if facilities are given for appeal, but surely we are not at this stage in our history, going to allow any question of expense to assist the miscarriage of justice even in the slightest degree in the case of even the poorest and lowest of our people. Reference has been made by the hon. and learned Member for Norwool (Sir W. Greaves-Lord) to the fact that certain institutions exist to assist individuals in difficulty by giving them financial aid or an opportunity of taking legal advice, but the position should not be reduced to that level. I have the greatest admiration for those institutions particularly in my own constituency which year in and year out give legal advice freely, institutions which are constituted of Members of all parties. They give their advice and assist in every conceivable degree, and are very useful to enable persons to overcome difficulties of this nature. Nevertheless they are not in a position to cope with the vast majority of cases that require dealing with, and when it comes to a question of appeal. I think it will be appreciated by the right hon. Gentleman, or whoever is going to reply on behalf of the Government, that there is an intense feeling throughout the country, and in every district, that this matter must be dealt with by amending the law itself. I hope that the Government will accept this Bill, although in my view it does not go by any means far enough to deal with all the difficulties that exist.
I am not in full agreement with some other hon. Members who have spoken, because I am sorry that the hon. Member who introduced this Bill did not include appeals on stated cases. Why should hon. and learned Members presume that when a person finds himself anxious to question the jurisdiction of a court, or desires a case stated on a legal question although there are intricate technical difficulties to be observed, that this person should not be entitled to have the case stated with similar facilities as the person who goes to the court of quarter sessions on appeal? It is just because those intricacies exist that those of us who have given careful attention to this matter of appeals for some considerable time feel that appeal ought to made easier. Much more than that, we think that the formalities which have to be observed—in regard to the case stated, for example—and which are almost unknown to 75 per cent. of the petitioners in the courts without referring most carefully to their books should be removed. Appeals should be considered in the light of a poor person being able to conduct them even without legal assistance, and notices should not have to be in a strict and confined form. Notices should not have to be given to eight or ten magistrates and should not have to be delivered within certain times without right of correction. There should be a certain amount of elasticity in that respect. The suggestions that are contained in this Bill do not go far enough in that regard.
There is another way in which the provisions of the Bill might be amplified. Many hon. Members who have spoken during this Debate have said that magistrates are not men who are presumed to be fully versed in the law, and that they are laymen. One hon. and learned Member said that magistrates have to study for 10 years before they are able to administer the Acts to which he was referring. We all know that lay magistrates do not spend 10 years, they do not spend 5 years, on study of the law. They go to the courts and they take, in most cases, an intelligent interest in what is happening. They listen to the facts. Some of them have experience because they have been in the courts on previous occasions. Some of them have read the "Justice of the Peace," or some other journal which is published for use by magistrates and they rely to a considerable extent on the advice given to them by the learned magistrates' clerk. If the contention of hon. and learned Members is true, the present system of appeal is from one set of magistrates of that description to another set of magistrates of the same description. Appeals are taken from a court of summary jurisdiction to the quarter sessions and at the quarter sessions the same type of gentlemen are sitting, unless a recorder is sitting. There may be an appeal from a stipendiary who is a man versed in the law, to a court of quarter sessions where men are sitting who are not versed in the law. The whole thing seems to be anomalous.
I should have liked to see an additional Clause in the Bill. I am not blaming the hon. Member for Thirsk (Mr. Turton) because I realise that the thin end of the wedge has to be put in first. It is not an easy job to move even a National Government in a matter of this description, but the thin end of the wedge is being put in very well. I would like to have seen a proposal whereby the court of assize might have been made the court of appeal in certain cases or that a recorder or someone versed in the law should sit at the quarter sessions when a case comes up for appeal, so that there might be some higher authority than the court of summary jurisdiction to hear the appeal. This is the only instance in the whole of the English legal system where an appeal is taken from the decision of one set of individuals to the decision of another set of individuals who are practically on the same plane, and who have, in many instances, similar amount—or lack—of legal training. In other instances, the court of appeal may have had a very much less experience in legal practice and in legal procedure than the court of summary jurisdiction. I understand that one of our learned judges is a justice of the peace. It would be rather interesting to know what would happen in the event of that learned judge giving a decision in the court of summary jurisdiction and, upon the case being taken from the purview of that court to a court of appeal where a lay bench was sitting, the appeal court should decide that the learned judge had made an error on a, question of law.
My appeal to the House is the appeal of one who has seen much of these difficulties and who has had to advise persons that although I thought there were grounds for appeal—the lawyer himself is, of course, not always sure—and that there might be a successful issue on appeal, yet at the same time it was impossible to proceed. "Here you are," I have had to say, "placed in circumstances where you must find sureties, and you must do things which are entirely outside your power. In the circumstances, you had better stay in prison, or you had better pay the fine, and be satisfied." That is a most unsatisfactory state of affairs. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will see his way to accept this very useful and small attempt to remove the difficulties.
I am not anxious to delay the House in regard to the other points which have been referred to. There is no reason why this Measure should not be sent to Committee. There are many people with vast experience of these matters who would be able to assist in introducing new Clauses, and an opportunity would, I take it, be given to the Government to attack those Clauses if necessary. On the other hand, very useful assistance might be given to the Government in arriving at conclusions satisfactory to themselves and to others concerned. I do not know what are to be the findings of the Committee that is sitting, but I suppose we shall get those findings in a very short time. My own view is, if I may say so with respect, that they will probably coincide to some considerable extent with the views which have been expressed by some of us here this morning, and I venture to believe, indeed, that they will coincide with some of the views that I have expressed myself.
Be that as it may, here is the chance to get on with the job. I would say, let this Bill go to a Committee, and, while it is going through the Committee stage, let us have this report, and let us add to the Bill further, if necessary, on the strength of the report. After all, the Government must not be too anxious to confine to themselves the privilege of introducing a Measure of this description. Private Members are entitled to some little right in that regard. Let the Government help the Bill forward by giving such assistance as is necessary to mould it into further shape, with the benefit of their experience and knowledge. I commend the Measure to the full mercy of the Government and of its spokesman to-day; and I think it would be a gracious concession on the part of the right hon. Gentleman if he would say now that he is convinced, having heard nobody in the House speak against the Measure, that this is an appropriate time for the introduction of a Bill of this description, and that he will do his utmost to help it through the Committee stage.
My somewhat limited experience of this House has led me to the very definite conclusion that it is in the best interests of all concerned that Members should only address the House when they have first-hand knowledge of the subject that is being debated. For that reason, I have abstained on many occasions from inflicting myself on the attention of the House; I think I have only spoken on one previous occasion. I feel, however, that, as one who has had some 20 years' experience as a, member of the junior Bar in the North of England, and some four years' experience as a Recorder, I may, perhaps, be allowed to pay my tribute to the first-hand knowledge displayed by the hon. Member who so ably introduced this Bill. I am sure he will not for one moment think that I am criticising the general principle of the Bill if I make at a later stage a few suggestions which may render the Bill even more useful than it is in its present form.
I should like to draw the attention of the House to a point of view which has not yet been dealt with. I speak as one whose duty it is to administer justice as a Recorder in a large industrial borough in the North of England. I have had the privilege of occupying that position for some four years, and during that time, although the indictable offences in the borough have decreased almost to vanishing point, correspondingly the non-indictable offences dealt with summarily by the magistrates have increased enormously; and yet I can assure the House of a. fact which, to those hon. and learned Members who are present, may seem almost incredible, namely, that in the whole of these four years I have never yet had to try an appeal from a conviction. Why? Because of the obstacles which prevent a poor man from obtaining the justice to which he is entitled.
I pass to another subject, and one which, I confess, for certain reasons which I need not elaborate, I feel considerable difficulty in bringing to the attention of the House. There is no question that the most difficult cases with which the ordinary recorder or chairman of quarter sessions has to deal on appeal are maternity cases, and I think there can be nothing more terribly shocking to any man who is conscientiously trying his hardest to get at the truth of a case of that kind than to realise that, in practically every case that comes before him, the man is the appellant, and not the unfortunate girl with whom things have gone wrong. In my experience, and I think the hon. Member for Newton (Mr. Essenhigh) will bear me out in this, the number of appeals by girls against orders made by the court below is infinitesimal compared with the number of appeals by men against charges which, rightly or wrongly, have been made against them. There is something wrong there.
We have all paid our tribute to the lay Magistrates, but let it be remembered that, in the particular kind of cases with which I am now dealing, the lay magistrate, the recorder and the court of quarter sessions start with the absolute knowledge that somebody has already committed perjury, and is going to commit it again, because, when you have at the back of the court an infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse's arms,
you have there the living embodiment of a lie as to what has already taken place. It follows logically from that that these extraordinarily difficult matters must be dealt with by skilled legal minds. What is to be done? Surely, it must be made possible for these appeals to come before people with trained legal minds, and this is where I venture, with the greatest respect, to criticise my hon. Friend's Bill. It is to be remembered that every one of the appeals which would come within the provisions of the Bill in its present form are bona fide, but he will bear me out from his own experience that there is a certain stamp of cases in which a girl deliberately chooses the man whom she thinks most likely to pay. It is a horrible feature, but it is known to everyone; and it is these cases that have to be watched keenly by trained legal minds.
Let me give a personal experience, which I remember a good many years back. There was a lad, a chauffeur, who was engaged to a charming girl, a housemaid in a neighbouring house. He was happy, and looking forward to being married in some two years' time, when he got promotion. Suddenly another domestic made charges against him which, had they been substantiated, would have ruined him for life. It was my privilege to investigate the case. The matter came before a bench of lay magistrates, who were equally divided. On the second day the case was heard again, and, by a majority of one, an order was made against him. The matter was taken to quarter sessions, and the Recorder stopped the case at the end of the girl's evidence. Had it not been for the generosity of his employers, who were determined that justice should be done and that a proper investigation should be made—it cost them, if I remember rightly, something like £150, not a penny of which they recovered—that boy would have been ruined for life, instead of being, as he now it, a happily married man living with his wife and family.
Let us go one step further. What is to be done in order to ensure that the appeals are bona fide appeals? We may put on one side altogether the enormous number of petty, non-indictable offences. I do not think anyone would seriously suggest that, if a man were fined half-a-crown for not having his name and address on his dog's collar, or something of that kind, he should be given a right of appeal to quarter sessions. This would seem to be unnecessary when we are not dealing with serious indictable offences. But what are you to do where a man who has had a fair trial says to himself: "I am going to risk getting my punishment increased." With some experience, I have never known a punishment increased at quarter sessions. I am going to put my opponent to all the trouble I can. I am not going to be a penny worse off. I propose to appeal and take the chances." What are you to do in the case of a young girl who is deliberately out for blackmail? A young girl, provided she gets additional evidence, has in the period of a year the right to go to court again and have, to put it bluntly, a second run.
In the case I mentioned just now, of the chauffeur, the girl could take him to quarter sessions or still further, or she could blackmail a rich man against who she has made false allegations. We ought to have some protection against that danger. I do not want to be captious, I welcome the Bill, but I think it would be a most excellent idea if a similar procedure to that which exists in connection with the court of criminal appeal was introduced.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Whitechapel (Mr. Janner) on the point that he made as to the utter futility of appeals from three magistrates in a police court to three magistrates on a county bench. In the part of England in which I practise you get a full bench on appeal. On an appeal from three magistrates you will find at Kendal 20 magistrates, at Carlisle 25, and at Preston I have seen as many as 70. You get what was intended by the Act, a proper appeal to a full body. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Flint (Mr. Llewellyn-Jones) will recollect one sessions where a second court is formed and three magistrates solemnly hear an appeal from three other magistrates in a lower tribunal. It is reducing appeals to a farce. Unless you have a properly constituted bench there is something wrong. What I suggest is this. Let the court of first instance, if they care to do so, give leave to appeal. Assume for a moment, as is highly probable, that the local bench, under the able guidance of their learned clerk, say, "Most certainly not." Let the appellant have a right to insist on the magistrates' notes being sent to a committee composed of the chairman of county sessions possibly the deputy chairman and possibly the clerk of the peace, and let it be investigated there, and let there be an appeal to the chairman of the county sessions or to the recorder.
I should like to ask the hon. and learned Gentleman how he would deal with the case of the lay chairmen of quarter sessions? Many of them are scarcely competent to deal with the matters in chambers in the way suggested.
What would my hon. and learned Friend do in the case where the magistrates' notes are not complete, as they very rarely are, and what would be the effect of such a suggestion when the chairman of the county bench would later probably have to decide the issue between the appellant and the respondent?
I should have thought that if the matter was dealt with in, let us say, the equivalent of the county council offices we should be getting nearer to it, but I agree that that is a difficulty and one which might well be considered. I am not suggesting that the recorder should try the issue at all. All he has to do is to have in front of him sufficient material to enable him to say: "This is not a blackmailing case, This is a case in which there was really grave doubt." I am convinced that the hon. and learned Gentleman is in this case performing a real public service. I only hope that some day I shall be in the happy position of being successful in the Ballot, and, if the hon. and learned Gentleman should a third time be successful, may I commend one subject to him which needs careful attention—a reform of the bastardy law. In the court below the dice are loaded against the man every time, because he does not know what case he has to meet. Under the law as it stands, the dice are loaded against the girl in the court above, if she can get there. It is because the hon. and learned Gentleman is performing such a really valuable service in seeing that justice is made level both for the man and for the woman in these cases, which are so repugnant, that I most unqualifiedly support the Bill.
It is naturally with some hesitation that I intervene among such a community of experts as have been addressing the House this afternoon. I cannot claim to be a trained lawyer in any sense of the word, but I have had a great deal of experience, particularly with the administration and work of magistrates, both paid and honorary, in another country. I am certainly led by that experience to give my warm support to the Bill now before the House. I have been accustomed to so great a latitude of appeal that it is generally criticised as being unnecessarily wide and causing unnecessary trouble, but I have never shared that opinion myself. I have always thought that if you tried to restrict the right of appeal in any way you would certainly deprive a great many people of chances, which they ought to have and which might secure, either their being set at liberty, if they were in prison, or having their fines cancelled or reduced if they were not in prison. From what I have heard to-day, there are considerable difficulties in the way of appeal in respect of the records which are available in the appellant court. We are accustomed in India to have all the evidence taken down in longhand, generally for want of sufficient typewriters, by the magistrate himself or in the case of honorary magistrates, who work throughout the country by the clerk. But we have this at least, an unpaid judiciary or magistracy which is above suspicion. You do not here get a landowner applying to be made a magistrate in order that he "might support himself and his family."
I do not want to go into the details of the Bill, because I am not very familiar with them, but I was trained for two years as a probationer in the Indian Civil Service. I had to go round to courts in the different grades in this country and submit reports upon them to the Civil Service Commissioners, and it was a most helpful training. I also had seven years' experience as a magistrate of various grades in India, and, in my opinion, the question of whether a man is guilty or not guilty, of what is evidence and what is not evidence, and of the rights to be given to a man to appeal against a decision are really questions of justice which are the same no matter who the people may be, or the country in which you are administering the law. Whether they are highly civilised or backward the great principles of law and justice remain the same, and it is for that reason that I have great pleasure in supporting the Bill.
In rising to support the Bill, I wish to congratulate most warmly my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk (Mr. Turton) upon introducing it, and I should like to say, as one who has practised for some years at the Junior Bar, how necessary is such a Measure. I say it not only as a practitioner, but as one who some years ago gave voluntary services to the great organisation known as the Poor Man's Lawyer. In the city of Liverpool, where the society is well organised, there are young members of the Bar and of the profession of solicitor who are seeing week after week not merely dozens, but hundreds of cases. In Liverpool and in Birkenhead the society is flourishing, and members give of their time and services in advising unfortunate people who are not able to afford to pay for legal advice. On the occasions on which I have given advice literally scores of people have come to me. They have come with a grievance and a smarting under a sense of injustice very often against courts of summary jurisdiction. We have found that, whereas in some cases there were really no grounds for complaint, in many cases there were just grounds for complaint. They had misunderstood the whole of the position and the proceedings, and felt very strange indeed in what to them were strange surroundings, many of them appearing for the first time within the precincts of a police court. They wanted to know, in most cases, what they could do; could they appeal?
In all those cases one was able to say, "You had good grounds of appeal, but you are out of time." Not only that, in the cases in which the applicants were in time they had not the money to enable them to proceed. In a good many of the courts throughout the land recognisances and deposits mostly in the region of £50 are demanded. I know of no case where the recognisance has been fixed at less than £30. How in the name of common sense can a man who may be unemployed and receiving transitional payment conjure up thirty pence, let alone £30? I heard of a case a short time ago—it was not one of my cases, but a case of a colleague of mine—of a man who had been convicted and sentenced to a month's imprisonment for an offence under the Highways Act. He was a motor driver and had been driving for 20 years with not a single thing against him. On this particular occasion, probably due to an error of judgment in the exigency of the circumstances, he did something which was wrong, and was convicted. On that conviction his licence was taken away, for I forget whether it was taken away for three months or 12 months. The man's job went, and it was only because a friend came along and found the money that he was able to appeal. The conviction was upheld, but the sentence was reduced and varied to such an extent that he was fined, the suspension of his licence was revoked, he got his licence back and he was able to carry on with his job. If there was one case like that, and one only, it is sufficient justification for this Bill.
It has been erroneously stated in the Debate that if a person appeals, the court of quarter sessions may increase his sentence. I have taken part in a few appeals at quarter sessions and I have never known a sentence to be increased. I have always argued that a sentence cannot be increased on appeal. If we look at the Summary Jurisdiction Act, 1879, Section 31 (5) we fold that:
The Court of Appeal may adjourn the hearing of an appeal and upon the hearing thereof may confirm, reverse or modify the decision of the Court.
"Confirm or reverse." That is what the courts of quarter sessions have to do on appeal. They may say: "We are going to confirm this conviction and sentence," or "We are going to reverse this conviction or sentence," or "We are satisfied that the conviction is right," or "We think that the sentence is excessive." Modification of the sentence must surely
mean a reduction of the sentence and not an increase. There is no question that that was in the mind of the Legislature at the time that the Criminal Appeal Act was passed, because Section 4 (3) of the Criminal Appeal Act, 1907, says:
On appeal against sentence the Court of Criminal Appeal shall, if they think that a different sentence should have been passed quash the sentence passed at the trial and pass such other sentence warranted in law by a verdict whether more or less severe in substitution therefor as they think ought to have been passed, and in any other case shall dismiss the appeal.
The Court of Criminal Appeal obtained their right to increase a sentence by virtue of the Criminal Appeal Act, 1907. I beg hon. and right hon. Members not to be dissuaded from supporting the Bill be the thought that the person who appeals may have his or her sentence increased.
Another point which has been raised and stressed in the Debate is that this Bill is a grave reflection upon the magistrates of the country. Is it? If a person is given the right of appeal without having to enter into recognisances, is that to say that it is a reflection upon those people who are doing their job extraordinarily well, and to the best of their ability? Can it be said that that is a grave reflection upon them? If so, when you give the right of appeal, or the right to apply for leave to appeal, under the Criminal Appeal Act, are you going to say that that is a grave reflection upon His Majesty's Judges? That cannot possibly be said. Therefore, I ask the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Office if he is thinking that this proposal may be regarded as a grave reflection upon the magistrates, to dismiss that idea from his mind, and I ask hon. Members to dismiss such an idea from their minds. Some lay magistrates have had legal training and some not. They have their clerk to guide them and in most cases he is an experienced solicitor of many years standing. He is the person who should guide them as to matters of law, either in the court or when they retire to their room to consider whether there shall be a conviction and, if so, what the sentence shall be. But the magistrate's clerk cannot always be there and his assistant, although he may be extraordinarily good in many matters, may have no legal qualifications, and he may retire with the magistrates and advise them on questions of law.
The hon. and learned Member for Warrington (Mr. Goldie) thought that there might be a whole lot of people wanting to appeal. The point is as to whether they should have the right and who should give them that right. The hon. and learned Member for Warrington suggested various people. If you are going to have someone to scrutinise as to whether there shall be the right of appeal and whether leave to appeal shall be given, surely one need not go further than the county court judges. Many cases that are brought before courts of summary jurisdiction are cases that require competent legal knowledge, cases such as have been spoken of by the hon. and learned Member for Warrington, bastardy cases and the like, most delicate cases, involving tremendous knowledge of the law of procedure. Surely it would not be difficult to hand these over to the county court judge to decide whether he should give leave to appeal. The question of tribunal as to whether leave to appeal should be given ought not to stand in the way of the Bill receiving a Second Reading.
I feel, and a good many Members of my profession feel, that very great injustice is done by not permitting people the right of appeal without having to deposit these large sums of money by way of security. I beg the Under-Secretary on behalf of the Government to give the Measure his blessing and to put right what is justly felt to be a grievance, not merely for the sake of those members of the community who may be unfortunate enough to find themselves within the precincts of the police court, but for the whole of the community. I ask him to put right this dreadful anomaly, in order that the community may be able to say: "We do not deny justice, and we do not delay justice." I have very great pleasure in supporting the Bill.
As a mere layman, I hesitate to intervene in this debate, which has been conducted almost solely, but most efficiently, by those who, on account of their profession, are so fitted to speak on the subject matter of this Bill. I must, however, intervene if only to add my congratulations to the hon. Gentleman for his good fortune in the Ballot. He reminded us that this is not the first time that he has drawn a good place in the Parliamentary sweepstake, and I can only express the hope that he is as fortunate in other forms of gambling as he is in the lottery which is authorised by the Speaker of this House. Both the Mover and the Seconder of this Bill have given a very clear exposition of its terms. They have stated quite concisely, and without any measure of exaggeration, what the Bill seeks to attain, and, as a result of what they have said, it is obvious that every Member of this House must sympathise with their desire.
The Debate has been so full, so complete, that it has left me very little to say. It is probably only necessary for me at this moment, at any rate, to do three things: first of all, to give a short recital of the history of, and suggestions contained in, this Bill; secondly, to answer the very few questions that have been asked me; and, thirdly, and most important, to give the Government's decision as to what they propose to do with the Bill itself. As far as the history is concerned, the question of appeals from courts of summary jurisdiction was debated in the House of Commons in April, 1931, on a Bill which was introduced by my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University (Sir J. Withers). The Government spokesman at that time was Mr. Short—no longer a Member of the House—the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department in the Labour Government. He expressed sympathy with the objects of the Bill, but he did call attention to the difficulties to which it gave rise, and he suggested that it would be better that the whole question should be considered by a Departmental committee. The promise was made by a Member of the Labour Government, and I am sure that all the pledges which were given by that Government, if they could not, in fact, be carried out during their term of office, they would rightly expect that they should be executed, and should be honoured, by their successors. A Parliamentary promise is always sacred, except when circumstances may change. When the financial crisis, became acute in the summer of 1931, there was, obviously, a change in circumstances. The Cabinet of the first National Government decided that the time was not opportune then to proceed with the proposal to appoint a Departmental committee.
The question came up again in the early summer of 1932 during the passage through Parliament of another Measure in which my hon. Friend was interested —the Children and Young Persons Act. During the Committee stage of that Bill in the House of Commons my hon. Friend moved an Amendment proposing that the requirement of recognisances should be abolished in the case of appeals on behalf of young persons under the age of 17. That matter, I understand, w as brought before the Cabinet. At any rate, when the Amendment was reached, the Government spokesman, my hon. Friend, now Minister of Transport, made it quite clear that, in the opinion of the Government, it would be inappropriate to deal only with the question of appeals on behalf of persons under 17 years of age, and that in the submission of the Government it would be undesirable to deal with that question alone, but that it was certainly right that Parliament at some early stage should deal with the whole position of appeals from summary courts by persons of all ages. My hon. Friend added that the Home Secretary had intended, as soon as practicable, to set up a Departmental committee to inquire into the whole question.
Here I must make a point perfectly clear. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge University and others who have taken an interest in the subject under discussion, were told clearly that the appointment of the committee would be on the definite understanding that until the financial position of the country had improved, effect would not be given to any of the recommendations of the committee which might involve a considerable expenditure of public money. It is right that that should be made clear at the outset. The Committee was duly appointed in July, 1932. It had very wide terms of reference, namely,
to consider the law and practice relating to appeals from decisions of courts of summary jurisdiction and to recommend such amendments, if any, as may be thought desirable.
It is hoped that that Committee will report about Easter—not later. So much for the history of this subject. My hon. Friend the Member for West Leyton (Sir W. Sugden), as also did the last speaker, suggested that the Government might construe this Bill as an attack upon the magisterial benches in the country. They certainly will do nothing of the kind, for we know that the last thing the promoters themselves desire is to cast any general reflection on those who preside over our courts of summary jurisdiction. Let me make that perfectly clear. Now I come to the question of cost, which has been mentioned by so many speakers. My hon. Friend the mover of the Bill made certain calculations, and I think, as a result of those calculations, he said that this ought not to cost more than about £600 a year.
Well, that Clause 3 ought not to cost more than £600 a year; but I maintain, after having looked into this matter, that it is quite impossible to estimate what the cost might be. I hope that the Departmental Committee, which has not yet reported, will consider this very important aspect of cost, for in these times, however much sympathy we may have—and we all have sympathy with the provisions of this Bill—we must consider what the cost is likely to he before we give our consent to the great advance which would take place if this Bill were passed. I hope the Departmental Committee will consider carefully the question of cost and form an accurate estimate.
The hon. Member who introduced the Bill gave figures from 1930 with the intention of showing that the cost would be small. He also gave figures for 1931. In that year, from the answer which I gave him a few days ago in the House, 600,000 persons were found guilty by courts of summary jurisdiction and only 281 actually appealed. That is a small number, and if we could base the estimate upon that the additional cost would be very small. But we must remember that the whole of these 600,000 persons would be potential appellants under the Bill. It is preposterous to assume that any large number would, in fact, appeal, but you have that number who would be potential appellants, and, therefore, it is impossible even to guess how many would take advantage of the facilities of this Bill, and how many would, in fact, be granted legal aid. If there was a large number of appeals the cost would be not only the figure which has been mentioned during the Debate but the additional work which would be thrown on quarter sessions might mean an additional charge. Only experience can determine the actual cost.
Now I come to the Government's intentions. I have quoted the terms of reference to the Departmental Committee. They sound very simple; but a proper remedy for the problem is by no means free from difficulty. Some of the difficulties have been mentioned by the hon. Member for Lichfield (Mr. Lovat-Fraser) and, in fact, had there been no difficulties at all the Departmental Committee would never have been set up. It is clearly premature for the Government to come to any final conclusions until they have received and considered the Report of the Departmental Committee. They fully sympathise with the objects of the Bill, but the hon. Member for Thirsk (Mr. Turton) will not expect the Government to give him a more definite promise as to the attitude they will finally take towards these proposals. Many promises have been made during past years in connection with the subject matter of this Bill; some have been broken, and some have been kept, but as so many have been made I suppose there is no reason why I should not make one additional promise this afternoon. It is not going to be a difficult promise to keep, otherwise I should not make it. The Government promise to lose no time in giving full consideration to this matter after the Report of the Departmental Committee is forthcoming. They have no objection to the Bill receiving a Second Reading, but they hope that before it goes to Committee upstairs the. Report of the Departmental Committee will be available and that they will have time to consider it.
When this Bill is in Standing Committee and in the light of the Government's decision taken upon the Report one of three things may happen. The Bill may pass without any amendment or the Bill may fit in with the Government's pro- posals with a few simple amendments. The third alternative, which must also be borne in mind, is that the Government's decision may differ so widely as to necessitate starting all over again. I sincerely hope that the third alternative will not materialise. By passing the Second Reading to-day no harm can be done and, in fact, great good may come if only because we shall be saving the time of the House by avoiding a full Second Reading Debate in connection with another Bill. I hope I have made the position of the Government quite clear. If after this discussion and after this qualified blessing, the House does give a Second Reading to the Bill, I am sure that the Government may claim the friendly co-operation of the promoters, hon. Members of the legal profession in this House, and other hon. Members interested in the question, in the further stages of the Bill.
Those who are anxious to see a Bill on these lines passed into law would, I think, like one further promise from the Under-Secretary of State, who we are very glad indeed to see occupying his present position. The one other promise which we should like to have from him is that the Home Office will do their best to try and get the Departmental Committee to accelerate their conclusions. Once a Bill has passed Second Reading in this House time becomes rather the essence of the matter as to whether anything more is to come of it, and I press upon the Under-Secretary the desirability of urging the Departmental Committee to come to a con elusion as soon as possible.
Let me answer the hon. and gallant Member at once. It is not the intention of the Government to play any tricks in order to prevent the Bill getting on the Statute Book. We are only too anxious to see this grievance remedied, and we shall not certainly play fast and loose with hon. Members who are anxious to get the Bill through. I hope the Departmental Committee will get on with their work as quickly as possible so that their report may be available in time for it to be considered by the Government before the Bill actually goes upstairs to Standing Committee.
I am much obliged to the Under-Secretary of State. I was not insinuating that the Government would play fast and loose in any way after the very sympathetic attitude they have adopted towards the Bill. I was certainly not suggesting that they were going to ask the Departmental Committee to take so long that they would be able to use it as an excuse. I never dreamt that they would do any such thing. All I am asking them to do is to hasten the deliberations of the Departmental Committee as much as possible consistent with getting at the real facts of the matter.
With regard to the Bill itself the one point which many hon. Members desire to see remedied is the cumbrous proposals in Section 3 of the Summary Jurisdiction Act, 1879. The worst provision of that Section is the alternative provision which, in some cases, allows the bench to demand that a prospective appellant shall deposit security before he can appeal. In one or two cases in the north of England it is the practice that not only shall a convicted defendant who wishes to appeal enter into recognisances, but he has actually to deposit a sum of money in the court before he is allowed to prosecute his appeal. That obviously makes it almost impossible for a very large number of prospective appellants even to get their appeals heard, because there are many people who cannot pay £50 into court. The bench to which I have referred insisted that it should be paid within three days. I think the time has come when that Section as a whole should be repealed.
Then the question arises, how are you going to stop frivolous appeals? I do not quite understand the suggestion made by my hon. Friend the Member for the Newton Division (Mr. Essenhigh) about the county court judge coming into these proceedings. It seems to me absurd to try to bring county court judges, who at the moment have quite enough to do, into criminal matters, and to ask them to decide, with reference to the decision of a bench, whether a man shall have a right of appeal or not. The obvious thing to do is to amend Sub-section (5) of Section 1 of the Summary Jurisdiction Act of 1879, so that the Quarter Sessions shall have exactly the same power as the Court of Criminal Appeal has under the Crimi- nal Appeal Act. If you give that power in the case of a frivolous appeal, the appellant will know that instead of being fined perhaps 40s., he may in the higher court be fined something like £5 because he has brought a frivolous appeal. That power, although it is very seldom used by the Court of Criminal Appeal, does remain still in the background, and has a certain effect in stopping frivolous appeals. I see no reason why a similar power should not be given to courts of Quarter Sessions.
As to Clause 3 we are met with this difficulty: The appeal must go to the next practicable Quarter Sessions court and the court of Quarter Sessions is not permanently in session as the High Court is, except in the vacation. So, the only time when the appellant will be able to apply for a certificate similar to that under the Poor Prisoners Defence Act will be on the morning of Quarter Sessions, just after the court of Quarter Sessions has dealt with semi-administrative matters and is sitting as a criminal appeal court. At that moment the appellant will come and ask for legal aid. The most that he will be able to get will be enough money to pay a barrister who happens to be in court, who will then probably find the case most inadequately prepared. All that it will amount to will be the handing over out of the public purse of the small sum of £1 3s. 6d., which I presume the barrister will accept in the case of an appeal of that sort. Although it looks very well on paper it will not give a very great advantage to the man who is appealing.
With regard to that Clause of the Bill, if it were to stop the Bill going through on the ground of expense, I would willingly see it thrown away so that we may get the material part of the Bill that is included in Clause 1. The Under-Secretary said that Clause 1 might add to the cost of Quarter Sessions. I think the Bill should go through even if it does add to the cost of hearing appeals, because so long as you have some proper sanction against really frivolous appeals the courts of the country ought to be open to anybody who has an appeal, and this is not one of the economies that the country would wish to see inflicted. It is all-important that any man who is convicted should know that he has a free and unfettered course to put his case before a second tribunal. I do not think it would cost a lot of money. If it did, that would mean that a large number of people were suffering under grave injustice. I do not think there are large numbers of such cases, but I do think that there are quite enough to warrant this Bill being given a Second reading, to warrant it being supported in its essentials by the Government, and I hope that before the end of the Session it will be passed into law. I wish to congratulate my hon. Friend who introduced it on having been lucky once more in the ballot and on having introduced a Bill that I think will be of good advantage to many poor persons.