HC Deb 04 June 1867 vol 187 cc1582-7

said, he rose to move for a Select Committee to inquire into the causes of, and perhaps to suggest a remedy for, the unequal way in which the laws relating to Juries pressed upon citizens. The present course of proceeding in London and Middlesex in respect of juries, particularly of special juries, caused great inconvenience to jurors, was disadvantageous to suitors, and was not satisfactory either in the conduct of litigation: or the administration of justice. He therefore desired the appointment of a Select Committee to see whether the law could not be made in London and Middlesex similar to what it was in other parts of the country as regards the striking of panels, the more careful revision of the lists, and the adoption of means by which the labour of serving might fall more equally upon those liable. In the country special jury panel were summoned under the provisions of the Common Law Procedure Act, passed in 1852. But London and Middlesex were not under its operation. In the country one general panel of special jurors was summoned. They tried all the causes referred to them. They were used according to the discretion of the Court, and they were usually informed of the number of days they had to serve. In London and Middlesex the case was totally different. Assuming that in one of the Superior Courts four causes were set down for trial, it would perhaps happen that there were twenty-four jurors on each panel. So that ninety-six would be brought to the Court every morning. With one general panel, such as was called in the country, probably eighteen jurors would be enough. But this was not the full extent of the grievance under which London and Middlesex jurymen laboured. When they attended the Court they were left in the greatest uncertainty as to when they would be required to consider a case. They might be summoned on a Monday and kept in suspense until the following Wednesday week. They might then find the causes they had come to try were either compromised, or had been withdrawn. The same man might find himself summoned to three of the Superior Common Law Courts, the Chancery Courts, Divorce Court, and other courts at the same time. The highest legal authorities had condemned the inequalities and injustice of the system. He found in the Report of the proceedings in the Court of Common Pleas, on the 16th of February, at Guildhall, before Lord Chief Justice Bovill, a record of the following incident:— A special juryman this morning complained to his Lordship of the unjust selection of jurymen. For himself he believed that he had been called upon to serve every sitting since he had been in business: his partner was frequently summoned at the same time as himself, and at that moment they both had summonses to attend in this very court. At the same time it was well known that hundreds, and even thousands, of their brother merchants were exempted from service altogether, either by the operation of the law or by the way in which the law was administered. The Lord Chief Justice said that the attention of those whose duty it was to alter the law had been for some time called to the matter. While he himself was a Member of Parliament he had taken the matter up at the suggestion of the late Lord Chief Justice Erle. What was complained of could not altogether be remedied under the present law. By it the juries were drawn by ballot, and it frequently happened that the same jurymen were drawn over and over again, while others were not called on for long together. A practice had also grown up that when a jury had been struck in one case the parties in other cases accepted the same jury. These things led to injustice to jurymen, and at that moment he had twelve summonses sent to one gentleman for one sitting. The subject was now under the consideration of the Solicitor General, and it had received great consideration for some years past from Mr. Erle, who had published a paper calling attention to the matter. In the country a general panel of special jurors was summoned instead of having a special panel for each case, and it was well worthy of attention whether the country system could not be applied to London. Business had also very largely increased in London. There were six Courts sitting now, while there used formerly only to be three, and in addition there were a great many compensation cases. If any committee of jurymen or any individual juryman would make any practical suggestion to Mr. Erle, he (the Lord Chief Justice) would take care to forward it to the proper authorities. On the 21st of February in the Divorce Court he read that— At the sitting of the court a gentleman made a complaint of the number of times that a person who claimed exemption as a barrister, and who was unable to attend to-day, had been summoned upon special juries. His Lordship said he quite agreed in the remarks which had been made in other courts, that the summoning of juries was at present conducted upon a most mischievous system, but he had no power to alter it. The Lord Chief Justice of England, when sitting at Westminster, had his attention drawn to a most extraordinary case— One of the gentlemen on the special jury panel for Middlesex complained to his Lordship that he had received eight summonses in eight different cases in the course of the present week (June 23, 1866). The Lord Chief Justice, after expressing his regret that the complainant should be inconvenienced, said there really ought to be some notice taken of the matter in Parliament. He believed that the present very unsatisfactory state of things arose from the defective lists sent to the sheriffs by the parochial officers, the result of which was that there was not a sufficient number of special jurors from which to strike the panels. Seeing Mr. Bovill present, who was one of the leading members of the liar, and also a Member of the Legislature, he had thought this a proper occasion to express his opinion on the subject. Mr. Bovill said he had intended to bring the matter before the House of Commons, because it did seem remarkable that any gentleman should receive eight summonses in one week. Would his Lordship give him permission to repeat what he had said to-day? The Lord Chief Justice said certainly Mr. Bovill might use his name, and add that he requested him to take such steps as would, it might be hoped, tend to facilitate the administration of justice. Again, before Lord Chief Justice Erle on the 30th of June, 1866, he read that— A special juryman addressed his Lordship, and said that he wished to protest against the system of summoning special jurors. He said that he had been summoned every session for upwards of twenty years, and this frequency of service he submitted could hardly be accidental, considering the long period over which it had extended. He received from one to three summonses every sitting; his brother and partner was as frequently summoned; and, in addition, he himself had to do duty at Westminster as a special juryman for Middlesex. He was perfectly willing to perform his share of the public duty, but he must say that he did so under a feeling of wrong, in consequence of the impression that the summonses were not fairly distributed. The Lord Chief Justice assured the gentleman that everything was done by the officers of the court in accordance with the spirit of the observations which had been made, and added that but for the pressure of public business a Bill would have been brought in to put the system upon a wholesome footing. That Bill would have provided for the summonses being impartially distribute; for the jury having occupation while they were in attendance; and for making the pressure upon them about one-tenth of what it was now. The evils which were complained of existed only in the metropolis, and it was very desirable that gentlemen who felt the inconvenience of the present system should represent the matter to their Members of Parliament, so that it might be brought before the Legislature. He believed it was possible to introduce a measure which would at once put an end to the state of things described in these reports; but he thought it more becoming his position as a layman if he moved for a Select Committee, in the hope that official support would be given to the reform be desired to initiate. Another subject of complaint in connection with this matter was the system of favouritism which was believed to prevail by the manner in which the sheriffs' officers performed their duty. It was suspected from the way in which some were continually being called upon, and others continued to escape from the obligation, to serve, that some such practical remonstrance as an occasional present was made to those whose duty it was to summon jurors, lumbers of persons secured to themselves a total exemption from being summoned, and thus threw the whole burden upon a comparatively small body of men. This evil loudly called for reform. Another just ground of complaint consisted in the fact that, although a special juror would be entitled to a guinea if actually sworn, he might wait for many days and yet receive nothing, because it had happened that he was not wanted. It was open for consideration as to whether jurors summoned to attend should not be compensated whether employed or not. The evil pressed upon the suitors with scarcely less severity. Taking the number of causes in each of the Superior Courts at a London sitting at 100, he found that, although in connection with only three-fourths of them, panels were struck, suitors had to pay for 1,800 summonses. In addition to this, it should be remembered that many causes were ordered to stand over and fresh summonses had to be issued. It constantly happened that there were difficulties in getting the proper number of special jurymen for the trial of causes. The deficiency had to be made up by calling upon talesmen, or, in other words, common jurymen to serve. This was any-thing but satisfactory. By the Jury Acts it was intended that higher qualifications should be required of special jurymen than of those who were only bound to serve on the common jury. When, therefore, the special jury had to be supplemented by talesmen it was a hardship upon the suitor who had expected that his cause would be tried by men whose intelligence was presumed to be greater, and whose position was certainly superior. It was imperative that there should be a constant revision of the jury lists. In Middlesex the lists were filled with the names of people who had died, changed their residence, gone abroad, or who lived in the country and never came to town. Serjeant Pulling, in his proposal for amending the law affecting juries and jurymen, had suggested an easy and effectual remedy for this state of things. The learned serjeant said— The short remedy for the present defective state of the jurors' list is to assimilate the procedure with respect to their revision, &c., to that prescribed in the case of the voters' lists. The overseers should every year be required to make out a list of all persons residing in the parish whom they believed duly qualified as jurymen, describing in separate columns the nature of their qualification, and whether objected to, or exempt from serving, and any one on the list should be entitled to object to its incompleteness or inaccuracy. The revising barrister should be invested with power to summon all necessary parties before him and to enforce penalties for giving false information, or, in the case of officials, for any neglect of duty. In the revision of the lists he should strike out the names of all persons not appearing to be properly qualified, or who were found to be disqualified on the ground of age, or conviction of crime or fraud, or who were exempt, generally, or for a limited period by reason of having already served. In the language of a high legal authority he (Viscount Enfield) would say— Jurors are our judges; they are judges in cases of life and death, in cases which concern property, liberty, character, and life itself. Can any care be too great to preserve the purity and efficiency of a system on which so much depends? He felt sure, therefore, that any care and pains taken to render the present system more satisfactory would be well bestowed. He had brought this subject forward in the interest and at the request of the constituency which he represented, and he believed that it was well deserving of the investigation which he solicited. He moved for the appointment of a Select Committee to inquire and take evidence as to the law and practice relating to the summoning, attendance and remuneration of special and common juries, and to report to the House as to any alterations which ought to be made therein.


said, that no one who looked at the manner in which trials had recently been conducted, or who had seen what had appeared in the public journals with regard to them, could doubt that the subject was one well deserving of the consideration of the House. On the part of the Government, he had no opposition to offer to the Motion. The noble Lord had done good service in bringing the question before the House. It was high time that the attendance of special jurors should be enforced when their services were required. It frequently happened that special jurors who were summoned did not attend. The result was that cases were tried by a jury who had not been summoned for the special purpose occasioning dissatisfaction to the suitors. The subject was one which might be fairly considered by a Committee. Whatever might be the result of its labours, it must lead to a better state of things than that which now existed.


said, he quite agreed that a Committee should be appointed. Great inconvenience was caused by the exemptions allowed under the present system. It was singular that persons living in monasteries and convents were exempted. He knew of a town of 24,000 inhabitants in which all the residents were so exempted.

Motion agreed to.

Select Committee appointed, "to inquire and take evidence as to the law and practice relating to the summoning, attendance, and remuneration of Special and Common Juries, and to report to this House as to any alterations which ought to be made therein."—(Viscount Enfield.)

And, on June 7, Select Committee nominated as follows:—Viscount ENFIELD, Mr. BRETT, Mr. DENMAN, Mr. HUDDLESTON, Mr. WHATMAN, Colonel WILLIAM STUART, Mr. Alderman SALOMONS, Mr. FRESHFIELD, Mr. HASTINGS RUSSELL, Mr. TURNER, Mr. Alderman LUSK, Mr. CHARLES WYNN, and Mr. HEADLAM:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records; Five to be the quorum.