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Before the Wars

Churchill as Reformer (1910 – 1911)- With a Foreword by Sir Martin Gilbert


Alan Baxendale

Winston Churchill will be forever known as the great statesman who bravely led Britain through the war years, but what led the young Churchill down this path to greatness? What motivated him to become the future leader?
Delving into documentary records in the Home Office archive, Alan S. Baxendale brings to light the young Churchill’s war at home while Home Secretary from February 1910 to October 1911. Passionate about reforming prison treatment and sentencing, Churchill engaged with his senior Home Office staff and His Majesty’s Prison Commissioners in a daily discussion of the business of criminal justice. With a focus on his working methods and relationships with his staff, Baxendale offers a new look at Churchill as a young and talented politician whose leadership led to innovative reforms that are still influential today.
This book makes an important contribution to the ongoing debate about the criminal justice system, providing a crucial addition to our understanding of the history of prison reform. It also gives us valuable insight into Churchill as a person, shedding light on his formative years as a minister and providing us with important clues to how he became one of the most successful politicians of modern times.


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Chapter 8: The Royal Prerogative of Mercy: Churchill and the Judiciary 155


chapter 8 The Royal Prerogative of Mercy: Churchill and the Judiciary Legislation was not the only means to which Churchill resorted to abate the scale of imprisonment in England and Wales. He was also attracted to the contribution the Royal Prerogative of Mercy could make towards this end. This, as we have already noted,1 was an authority vested in the sovereign, inherited from the early days of English history, to intervene in the criminal process by the application of Mercy as a corrective in cases where it could be shown that an injustice had occurred. Persons who sought redress submitted petitions to the Home Secretary. His senior officials were responsible for examining them and advising which ones merited prerogative clemency. They also scrutinized the Court Calendars and brought to the notice of the Home Secretary any cases there which they themselves discerned as need- ing his corrective intervention. The Home Secretary’s recommendations to the sovereign were customarily agreed: the monarch might comment on them or query them, but the long-accepted constitutional convention was that the Royal Prerogative of Mercy was to all intents and purposes exercised by the Home Secretary in the sovereign’s name.2 The prerogative operated through a system of pardons, remissions and respites. Pardons were of two types: a free pardon enabled the person under jurisdiction to be treated as if he or she had not been convicted; a conditional pardon, or commutation as it is perhaps better known, substi- tuted one penalty for another – for example,...

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