Page images
PDF
EPUB

5. That Justices should have power to enforce the attendance of witnesses living beyond their jurisdiction, and that warrants should be executed in any part of England without being backed.

6. Justices to have power to order costs against defendants bound over in sureties, and to bind over either party, or both parties, in cases of assault on breach of the peace, although no one has applied that sureties should be required. Recog. nizances to be entered into before the clerks, and be recoverable as penalties. This last proviso has been worked in the metropolis, under the local Act, with great success.

7. Clerks to Justices to be enabled to issue notices for convening special sessions, authenticated by an official seal.

8. A record of convictions to be kept in each petty sessional division, and that a record, or certified extract therefrom, be deemed sufficient evidence-(combined, we presume, with identification of the accused). Now, that the principle of commulative punishment, so long contended for by that well-known magistrate, Mr. Barwick . Baker, is coming slowly, but surely into practice; the importance of this last provision is obvious. The farce of a constant offender who is well known in the small country town, and whose every offence is in every one's memory, putting the country to the expense and trouble on each occasion of proving a former conviction, is almost played out. Let us remind our readers what it involves. Clerk’s time, filling up a long-winded form full of absurd technicalities, the signing and sealing by the Justices, a journey of a clerk or constable with this valuable conviction to the office of the Clerk of the Peace some miles off, the copying by a clerk, countersigning by the Clerk of the Peace, and lastly the production before the Justice of a document which does not give him half the information he already possesses in the books of his court. In the Metropolitan Police Courts it is well known that under the present system few convictions are returned owing to the insufficiency of the staff of clerks.

8. Power to be given to a magistrate, or clerk in his

absence, to adjourn any sessions or remand. This power should, it appears to us, be scarcely entrusted to the clerk, unless he be also empowered to receive an affidavit justifying the necessity. Justices to have power to award portions of penalties as compensation to parties aggrieved.

10. Persons found drunk to be apprehended without warrant.

II. Justices' Clerks to be paid by salary and to act as public prosecutors.

The existence of the fee system so long is a proof of the little attention paid by the public at large, to the continuation of an evil of the greatest magnitude, and which would seem to pollute the very fountain of justice.

12. The consolidation into one Act of all matters relating to procedure before Justices.

These were the main provisions of the Lord Chancellor's Bill, and with their general object, we apprehend, few readers will quarrel. But we hear it suggested that in the event of the matter coming before Parliament there will be a movement, to give magistrates powers to imprison offenders on summary conviction of offences of violence and other crimes, for much longer periods than heretofore. We trust this will not be so. of inflicting long sentences should be most carefully conferred. Let it be remembered that although a single judge has the power, still he is, to some extent, kept in check by the importance of his office, the presence of his brethren of the bar, and an ever watchful press. An intemperate or popularity-seeking magistrate would often have no such restraints, and might act upon the principle of the Justice mentioned by Sir George Stephen, who made an order of affiliation, condemning a plough boy to pay half-a-crown a-week, for an eleven months' child, on the ground that, because the man was a poacher, “it would be a useful example.” If the sessions were as frequent as they should be there could be no necessity for cases of great brutality being kept from them. Lord Brougham, on the 23rd March,

The power

.

1855, in a touching speech, bequeathed the following proposals to his brethren and his country before he should have sunk into feeble, and unreasoning age :

That Assizes should be holden four times a year in each county, and Quarter Sessions so frequently, and at such times relating to the Assizes, as that a Court of Criminal Jurisdiction shall sit once a fortnight in each county.

That to equalize the business, counties may be divided and parts of different counties united, for the purposes of trial, and that persons may be tried, at the option of the public prosecutor, either in the district where the offence is alleged to have been committed, or in the adjoining district.

That the same criminal jurisdiction should be given to Judges of the County Courts as is at present possessed by the Quarter Sessions of the Peace, that this jurisdiction should extend over the district subject to their civil jurisdiction, and that the Justices of every county may be relieved from the obligation to hold Sessions oftener than four times a year, whensoever it shall appear; that beside those four Sessions and the Assizes, there is a sufficient number of County Court Criminal Sittings to give two Criminal Courts monthly in the district.

We cannot but think that in any amendment of the Criminal Law some reconsideratlon of the treatment of jnvenile offenders would be very desirable. Perhaps one of the most painful scenes in a magistrate's court, none the less painful from the incongruity, if not grotesqueness, of the magnitude of the charge and the insignificance of the criminals, is when some three or four lads under nine years of age are accused, with all due formality and circumlocution, with sacrilegiously breaking and entering, or burglariously, as the case may be, a certain place, and stealing therein, possibly, the sum of ninepence halfpenny, which it is subsequently proved they did feloniously spend in sweetstuff, dividing it with accomplices after the fact. Formal depositions are taken, the urchins are cautioned in a long form not to say anything, which caution, as their entire attention has

been absorbed with the contemplation of the Royal Arms, they duly observe, and then, after some other forms, they are duly committed for trial. At the Assizes an indictment is prepared, learned counsel are instructed to prosecute, and the parents, by selling their "homes,” instruct a barrister for the defence of offenders who cannot understand the crime for which, if convicted, they must bear the stain of felons for life. From thence, through the purifying trial of a month's detention in a common gaol, the children are at last sent to school. Such is our treatment of the young Hopeless of society. Had it been young Hopeful, who broke open his mamma's sideboard, or stole the neighbours' apples, would he, the child of a gentleman, be taken before a magistrate ? No. He would be confined to his room, perhaps flogged (although the experience of prison officers is, flogging acts as no deterrent to young thieves) and perhaps he might be sent to a more careful school and placed under stricter discipline. And is not this, we would ask, better for him and for the community ? His future prospects would not be destroyed. He would not graduate with older criminals. A life of usefulness would thus be saved to the State, ignoring the costs of the prosecution. There is not one law for the rich and another for the poor, but there are two practices.

Deal with men as men, and with children as children, we would say. Let every young offender for any first offence, except perhaps murder or similar heinous crimes, be punishable by summary conviction before a magistrate and be liable to be sent to a school of discipline, or to an Industrial or Reformatory School. The school of discipline should be in fact a child's prison, but a prison with the best and most strict reformatory rules. The expenses of the child at the school might well be borne by the parish to which he belonged, as it would be from the neglect of education in all probability, that the child had become criminal. The school of discipline should not interfere with industrial schools, the discipline would be much sterner, while the period of detention, as a general rule, should be much shorter.

The punishment would be, of those advocated by Bentham (Vol. I. p. 404) which are calculated to weaken the seductive, and to strengthen the preserving motives, and which have an advantage over all others, with respect to those offences to which they can be applied. There are other punishments which have an opposite tendency, and which serve to render those who undergo them still more vicious. “Punishments which are considered infamous are extremely dangerous in this respect, particularly when applied to slight offences, and to juvenile offenders.” Half the felons in the docks at the police courts are juvenile offenders, whom we are convinced would be much better dealt with by the schoolmaster than the Magistrate and the Prison Governor. “ To extirpate crime is the function of the State, and its urgent duty: and if it can extirpate crime only, by reforming and instructing criminals, what principles of economic or moral science can be pleaded in bar of its adopting the only means of doing what ought to be done?"*

Compulsory education is certainly working a great reformation. Parents are learning that they are responsible for their children, and are gradually giving up the old and convenient belief, that it is the duty of the policeman and the parson, in short, any body's but theirs to see to the moral training of their children. The result is that children begin to attend school regularly, and there are fewer young vagrants or professional thieves. The great difficulty is with children whose fathers and mothers both go to work. The parents pay the school fees, and tell the children to attend shool. The children do not go, the father is fined, and the children are beaten. This does not make boys and girls any more regular in their attendance. In New York officers of the sanitary police call at the schools, ascertain who are absent, and whether the parents are aware of it. If the officers catch the children they take them to school. If the children become habitual absentees after this, they are apprehended and sent to an Industrial School. We

[ocr errors][merged small]
« PreviousContinue »