The Demand for Reform of the Criminal Law
IN EXAMINING THE SENTENCES passed on prisoners at this period, it is impossible not to notice the startling contrast between the treatment of offences against property and offences against the person. Whereas a forty-shilling fine with the alternative of two months' imprisonment was imposed for gross cruelty to a child, or for beating a wife, death or a long term of transportation was considered the proper penalty for housebreaking. On April 17, 1831, leave was asked to introduce a bill to abolish capital punishment for housebreaking. The member who introduced the motion said, "The criminal laws of this country have been described by Mirabeau as requiring blood and a pound of flesh for every offence." The Solicitor-General objected that "murder, burglary and arson were crimes that endangered human life." Cobbett spoke in favour of the motion. He spoke of French and American methods of treating crime and suggested as an amendment "that all criminal enactments since the accession of King George III should be taken in a bunch and flung into the fire."
"Oh Gracious God!" exclaimed the Solicitor-General; "to think of going to America for an amendment of the laws of England!"
Leave was given to introduce the bill.
The fact was that in the early years of the nineteenth century England was to all intents still in the atmosphere