HC Deb 15 May 1868 vol 192 cc343-5

said, he wished to ask Mr. Attorney General, Whether it is true that the Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas has appointed his son, Mr. William Bovill, last year a Lieutenant in the 16th Lancers, to be Clerk of Assize on the Western Circuit, with a salary of £1,000 a year; and, if it be true, whether there is any precedent to justify his appointment to such office; and, whether any or what legal qualifications are regarded as necessary for holding such appointment? He found the office of Clerk of Assize thus described— He is Clerk of the Crown for the respective comities included in his Circuit; is (with others) associated to the Judge in Commissions of Assize; and is, by Letters Patent, constituted a Justice of gaol delivery; he is also the Keeper of all the Records relating to the criminal proceedings of the Circuit. He cannot act as Counsel to any person on his Circuit.


Sir, the Clerkship of Assize on the Western Circuit having fallen vacant in consequence of the sudden and unexpected death of Mr. Chitty, it devolved upon the Senior Judge of the Circuit, Sir William Bovill, Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas, to appoint a Clerk of Assize. The Clerkship of Assize is an ancient office, the constitution and the emoluments of which were altered by statute some time ago, and a fixed salary is now received by the Clerk in lieu of fees of considerable amount which were formerly paid to him. In performing his duties the Clerk of Assize is assisted by a Deputy Clerk of Assize, a Clerk of Arraigns, and a Clerk of In- dictments, all of whom are officers perfectly well known, and whose salaries are paid by the Treasury out of the Consolidated Fund. The duties which devolve upon the Clerk of Assize are, in my judgment, rather of a ministerial character and offices of organization and routine than they are offices of a legal nature. And I may say that, according to my judgment, a person of the highest eminence at the Bar would not find much advantage from his legal knowledge and profound learning in the discharge of the duties which fall upon a Clerk of Assize. The duties are chiefly to correspond with sheriffs and gaolers for the purpose of having the calendars made out, in order that the periods may be fixed at which the Assizes shall be held; to attend the Judges during the Assizes, and to act as Associate in the Nisi Prius Court, and as either Clerk of Arraigns, or Clerk of Assize, or Taxing Master in the Crown Court, and to do other duties of that description which require no special legal knowledge. As to the question of precedent, if the hon. Member means to ask whether I know of any instance in which a gentleman has been appointed Clerk of Assize on the Western Circuit who was last year a lieutenant in the 16th Lancers, I really cannot mention such an instance. But if, as I assume, he intends to ask whether there are instances of Judges having appointed their sons or near relatives to those offices, I may state for his information, without specifying names, that I believe that, from the time of Lord Tenterden to the present day, there is not a single office of Clerk or Deputy Clerk of Assize that has not been filled by a Judge's son or by some near relative, and there is no instance in which any complaint has been made of the manner in which the duties of those offices have been performed. The duties of the Clerk of Assize involve; also the duties of Associate, and when I am asked if there is any precedent for the appointment of gentlemen who are not either barristers or solicitors, I believe I may state that the offices of Associate in the three Superior Courts of Common Law are held by three gentlemen, two of whom have been students for the Bar, but were never called, and the other was at the time he received his appointment either studying medicine or had actually been Admitted as a physician; and I would appeal to anybody who is in the habit of attending the Superior Courts whether their duties are not most efficiently performed by Mr. Campbell, Mr. Erie, and Mr. Pollock, the three Associates. The appointment to the Clerkship of Assize on the Western Circuit has been made by Lord Chief Justice Bovill, and it is true that he has appointed his son. Mr. Bovill, after leaving Harrow, where he passed a most creditable examination, entered the Army, and was a Cornet in the 16th Lancers. He left that regiment either early last year or the year before for the express purpose of being called to the Bar. He has begun to study law, has already kept three terms, and has been reading in the chambers of one of the most eminent junior counsel at the Bar. I believe he intends to continue the study of the law after his appointment, which is by no means incompatible with the practice of the profession, although he cannot practise as a barrister upon the Circuit on which he is Clerk of Assize. I believe I have answered the Question which has been put by the hon. Member; and I may add that, there being, and having for a long time been, officers whose special duty it is to prepare the legal documents, the Clerk of Assize has to exercise a general superintendence over the officers of the Circuit, and to see to the appointment of days, the signing of calendars, the taxation of costs, and other duties of that description; and in my judgment great legal qualifications are not necessary for their discharge.


After the explanation of the hon. and learned Gentleman, for which I thank him, I cannot help feeling that it will be my duty to move the omission from the Estimates of the salary of this officer.