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pital punislı ment, and to reduce the offence, as well as the punishment, down to the standard of simple larceniy. Now so far as it took a way the punishment of death, he was inclined to approve it; because sentences of death of ten pronounced in cases where they are scarcely ever fit to be executed, tended much to diminish their effect : but he could by no means agree to the propriety of leaving the offence punishable with no greater severity tban simple larceny. His learned friend was reported to have introduced the bill with pretty severe comments on the statute of Elizabeth intended to be repealed ; and any proposition of his was sure to come recommended by so much eloquence as to render it a difficult matter to consider it immediately with an unbiased mind: yet upon reference to the statute, it would be found to contain a statement of facts verified by an experience of two centuries and a balf, and equally applicable to the present time. It states ibat the offenders then called cut-purses were very numerous, confederated into fraternities of an art or mystery to live idly by secret spoil, even to the impoverish. ment of many, frequenting for that purpose places of public resort, such as places of divine worship, the court, couris of justice, fairs, markets, and places of execution, and being habiled in such a' garb as to elude suspicion. To this enumeration of places, the bank of England, and the approach to bankers' shops,' might now be added : in every other respect the description suited the present time. He was well informed by magistrates of experience that the number at presecit exceeded hundreds, some thought to the amount of several ; that many underwent a regular training to the art; that they plundered 10 such an amount, and were so far confederated, that large sums were never wanting for the purpose of procuring the ablest assistance' upon their trials, or of buying off prosecutors or witnesses ; upon the whole, next to nigbily housebreakers, no class of offenders were so pernicious. It was also observa able that the circumstances described in this statute had always been deemed aggravations of the offence of simple Jarceny, and therefore deserving of an aggravated degree of punishment. Such were the number of offenders, and the extent of the depreciations, that they were perpetrated with an art which denoted education, by gangs which are dan. gerous, and in a manier to elude all ordinary care and vigilance. That these practices j'revailed to an alarming
extent, and would not be repressed without severer panishment than transportation for seven years (the highest pilo nishment for simple larceny), he could unfortunately testify from his own experience in the county palatine of Chester. What had there happened within these few years, he was sure must strike the benevolent mind of his learned friend. During four or five years preceding the spring of 1806, several boys had been there brought to trial; the numbers had been increasing, till seven or eight at one assizes appeared to be confederated in a regular gang, and to have frequented the neighbouring fairs and markets, executing their designs with all the sime art and system that is to be found within the metropolis. The court, having before tried milder punishments, proceeded upon this occasion in two instances to transportation for seven years : but so little terror did this punishment inspire, that at the spring assizes in 1806, among furty prisoners, there was the melancholy exbibition of no fewer than seventeen boys between the ages of twelve and sixteen. They came from the manufacturing part of the comty, and their offence was generally that of privately, stealing, either from the shop or the person. Several were acquitteil, either from accidental defects, or for want of prosecution through the tenderness of their prosecutors: but among those who were convicted, some received sentence of death, and the former punishments having proved ineffectual, it was judged necessary to make a severer example by transporting two for seven years, and recomiending two of the capital convicts to the royal mercy on tran-portation for life. This increased severity happily produced a better effect, insomuch, that during the four last assizes, only four boys have appeared in the calendars, and none of them members of any regular confederacy. From all the foregoing circumstances he drew this inference; that sim. pły to repeal the statute of Elizabeth, as the bill proposed, would operate, not to the prevention, but to the encouragement of this species of thefi, and that the power of transporting for life was indispensable. There existed likewise olle difficulty in prosecutions under the statute of Elizabeth,which arose out ofthe construction which has been put upon the words, "privily without his knowle Ige.” This difficulty might in his opinion be removed with ad. vantage, by annexing the severer punishment to any larceny from the person, under circumstances not amount- .
ing to robbery: because it was an old and just principle in the law, that the person as well as the house ought to be protected with more than common cire. For a similar reason it was, in his opinion, on:vie to make any dis. tinction as to the value of the thing stolen : no such dis. tinction being made either in the case of robbery from the person, or in that of burglary ; more especially likewise as it often bappened, even where a large propesty was stolen from he person, that the money if found having, in the language of the law, no mar mark, could rarely be proved ; whilst the pure, or the pocket book containingit, ihongh of trilling value, could easily be identified. For these-ra ons he strongly recommended, that instead of death, should be substituted tran portation for lite, or any shorter time not less than seven years, or a long or short imprisonment with or without hard labour, at the discretion of the court, as the case might require. If therefore his learned friend was disposed to allow that the bill should be thus modified in the committee, he was ine clined to think that it might prove an amendment of the law.
Mr. Herbert likewire olnjected to the preamble of the bill. Buman laws, he said, were made for preventing, not for a venging crimes, and hence it often happened that punishments seemed to be disproportioned to the crimes. There were two different kinds of criminal legislation, according to archdeacon Paley : the one was that which assigned capital punishments only to the highest species of crimes; the other, that which had been a lopted in this country, assigned capital punishments to a variety of crimes, but inflicted it upon only a few examples of cach clas by way of example. He hai no hesitation in confesso ing that he agreed in opinion with the learned author to whom he had alluded, but he should not be so averse to the bill itself were it not for the declaration in the pre3 nble. He hoped, however, that at all cvents it would be postponed ul another session.
Sir Arthur Piggott agreed that the criminal law of the laid ought not rashly to be altered. But he conten led that the la. had not answeredibe great purpose of preven!. iig crimes, and that its failure ought to be ascribed to its severity, which in many instances, revented persons froid prosecuting those guilty of smaller offences. Ilow fur it might be proper to modify the severity of the punishment,
was ano her question not now before the house, and which would furnish natter of discussion in the committce. * The Solicitor General thought that there was at least so much good in the bill as to sanction the bouse going into a committee upon it, for the purpose of seeing whether it was possible to find a remedy for an evil of very great magnitude, or not. He did not meali, however, to pledge himself finally to give it his support, because he was not sure whether it would be possible for the committee to remove his objections to il.
Mr. C. W. Wynne confessed that the house ought not rashly to alter the criminal law of the country. The law, however, which it was now proposed to change, had never been executed in the recollection of any person now living. The consequence of this was, that its effect was lessened, , because the probability of escape was great. Hewas of opinion, that it might be expedient to leave a discretionary power to the judges, of transporting for life persons guilty of the offences to which the bill applied ; indeed he ihoughi, that transportation for life was generally preterable to transportation for a limited time; because when the culpriis returned, being wholly without character or protection, they were in most cases compelled to revert to their former habits.
Mr. Ponsonby agreed with those who were of opinion, that the house ought to go into a committee on the bill; because there was nothing in the bill which ought not to be the great object of all criminal law, namely, suiting the punishment to the crime.
Mr. Leycester said, what the horse would do a great mischief indeed, if they were to prescribe such punishi ment for offences, that would noi, if inflicted, in every possible instance, be felt as a hardship.
Sir Ralph Milbank thought that the less discretion left in the administration of criminal justice, the better; and agreed wiih a learned author, who had said, that it was better to have law without equity, than equity with. out law. He should certainly vote for going i..to a come mittee on the bill.
Sir Samuel Romilly was desirous that the preamble of the bill should stand; but if there were any objections to it, he should not persist in pressing it. With respect to the bill itself, the simple question was, whether privately stealing should remain a capital felony, or be rendered a simple larceny. The law as it at present stood, had, he contended, shocked the humanity of prosecutors, of juries, and of judges. The offence which it was the intention of the statute of queen Elizabeth to prevent, bad become more frequent than ever, because the punishment for the offence being too severe, it very often happened that no punishment at all was inflicted. He asked then, whether a law which encouraged, instead of preventing crimes, ought to be suffered to remain upon the statute book. To the authority of Dr. Paley, he opposed that of Mr. Jus. tice Blackstone, who in his Commentaries asserts, that the severity of the criminal law increases the number of of fences. It struck him as very extraordinary, that in a country and in a house so wise and humane as this, huna drels were ready to cry out against every attempt to mitigate the criminal law ; bui if any measure was introduced for the purpose of aggravating its severity, no per son was found to object to it. He stated the difference in the value of money, to be another reason for making an alteration in the law. Any other observations which he might have occasion to make, he should reserve for the committee on the bill,
Having gone into a commitee,
The Solicitor General proposed a clause, declaring that stealing without a person's knowledge, whether privily from the person or not, as contradistinguished from rob. bery, should be punished by banishment for life, to be reduced at the discretion of the judge to banishment for 'any period not less than seven years ; leaving it, however, optional with the judge, if the case should seem to merit it, to commute the punishment into imprisonment for any period not exceeding three years. The learned gentle.' man also condemned the preamble of the bill, by which the law was declared to be too severe, while no other rajio of punishinent was fixed on. The law which inflicted a capital punishment on persons stealing from a dwellinghouse, in certain cases five shillings, and in other cases forty shillings, depended on the same principle, and yet it was not contended that these punishments ought be alrngated. | Mr. Windham assented to the propriety of the clause proposed by the honourable and learned gentleman.
Mr. llorner was surprised to observe a clause of this nature, whicb; in fact, went to introduce a novelty into the