HC Deb 10 May 1864 vol 175 cc283-5

in moving for leave to introduce a Bill to enable the Benchers of the Inns of Court to appoint Judicial Committees in certain cases, and to give the necessary powers to such Committees, said, that hon. Members were probably aware that the Benchers of the Inns of Court exercised judicial or quasi-judicial functions. Any charge or complaint made against a banister with a view to his being disbarred would be brought before them for decision, as would also any objection to a student about to be called to the bar, or to a student to whom permission was about to be given to enter one of the Inns. Those charges or complaints were investigated before the general body of the Benchers, who however, as a tribunal, were placed at great disadvantage. It was necessarily a changeable tribunal, and it was very often the case that the commencement of a complaint was heard by A, B, or C, continued by D, E, and F, progressing through the alphabet until it was finally decided by X, Y, and Z, who had not heard anything of the beginning of the case. Another defect in the tribunal was that it had not the power which was absolutely necessary for the exercise of any jurisdiction—the power of administering an oath, of compelling the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents, and of punishing for contempt. At present, when an accusation was made, the prosecutor was ready with his witnesses; but the person accused might have a difficulty in getting the evidence necessary for his defence, and so there might be a miscarriage of justice. This result had actually occurred in the case of Mr. Daniel Whittle Harvey, against whom the Benchers decided; but, the case being afterwards submitted to a Committee of this House, they came to an opposite conclusion, and stated that the reason was the attendance before them of a certain witness whom the Benchers could not compel to attend. This showed the paramount importance of such a power. He, therefore, proposed that in any case in which the Benchers exercised judicial authority they should be empowered to elect from among their number a Judicial Committee of five to hear and determine the case, and this Committee should be intrusted with the powers which he had specified. This would be a great improvement in the administration of justice in the cases to which the Bill applied; and it would be very analogous to the change introduced by the Grenville Act into the practice of this House respecting election petitions. Before that time, all election petitions were heard at the Bar of the House, and, though the House had the power of compelling the attendance of witnesses, they could not administer an oath; but the Grenville Act referred these petitions to be disposed of by a Select Committee, giving them power to administer an oath. The Bill provided an appeal to the Judges of the Superior Courts. The Committees were to have all the powers of Courts of Record, including the power of administering an oath. He had spoken to several hon. and learned Friends in this House, who all approved the principle of the Bill, and he hoped that, with the improvements which would be effected in Committee, it would receive the assent of the House.

Motion agreed to.

Bill to enable the Benchers of the Inns of Court to appoint Judicial Committees in certain cases, and to give the necessary powers to such Committees, ordered to be brought in by Sir GEORGE BOWYER, Mr. WILLIAM EWART, and Mr. HENNESSY.