HC Deb 28 March 1871 vol 205 cc806-8

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1 (Repeal of the disqualification of attorneys, solicitors, and proctors from being justices of the peace for counties).


, anticipating an Amendment which the hon. and learned Member for Ayr (Mr. Craufurd) had placed on the Paper to remove the disqualification of solicitors to act as county magistrates, expressed his opinion that it was in reason and principle a good thing that solicitors practising in counties should not, as a rule, be magistrates in those counties, not because it was to be feared they would abuse that position, but because it was deemed necessary that magistrates should be above suspicion. He therefore asked the Committee to depart from the strict principle only to the extent of allowing solicitors to become magistrates in counties where they did not practice. The clause was identical with one which had been framed by three noble and learned Lords in the Upper House, and he might add that the qualification contained in it was approved by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Morpeth (Sir George Grey) and the right hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Walpole), and by the Incorporated Law Society.

MR. CRAUFURD moved, in line 12, to leave out all after "repealed," to the end of the clause. The effect of this Amendment would be to remove the statutory prohibition against attorneys being appointed magistrates in the counties in which they practised. There was no such disqualification in other parts of the kingdom, and he did not see why it should be retained in England. Why should solicitors be treated differently in England from what they were treated in Ireland or in Scotland, where no such statutory prohibition existed as was proposed in this Bill? Even in England practising solicitors in counties of cities, counties of towns, and in boroughs were permitted to act as magistrates if elected to the mayoralty both during their tenure of such office and for 12 months afterwards. Consequently, the hon. and learned Gentleman (Sir Roundell Palmer) was obliged to insert an exception with regard to counties of cities and counties of towns; and he justified that exception on the ground that citizens were to be trusted to select the proper men for magistrates; but why not, then, the persons who were to appoint the magistrates in counties? Could not the Lord Chancellor exercise his judgment as well as the inhabitants of a city or borough? Recorders were invariably appointed for towns in the circuit in which they practised. Why should solicitors not be trusted as well as barristers? Formerly the attorney was not a reputable man, and in bygone years he was in common parlance spoken of as the "lower branch of the law;" now he believed that the attorney and solicitor stood at least as high as the barrister; for he was the legal and moral adviser of the family, the barrister being called in by him only occasionally, and then only to act according to his instructions. He trusted, therefore, that this limitation would be struck out, and he moved the Amendment of which he had given Notice.


instanced, in support of the Bill, the case of barristers who, however eminent, were debarred in their selection as chairmen of Quarter Sessions from practising at any sessions in the county.


said, he saw no objection to solicitors sitting on the bench of magistrates; but he would not permit this in the counties or towns where they were practising. He thought it for the interest of the profession itself that its members should not be open to the suspicion of preparing a case upon which they were called upon to adjudicate.


said, he hoped the Amendment would not be pressed. He would propose to substitute "and" for "or," and with that modification he would support the Bill.


said, that solicitors made excellent magistrates in Ireland; and he thought the measure would be most useful. He would, however, suggest that the restriction should extend not only to the counties in which they practised, but to adjoining counties also.


said, he hoped the Committee would pass the measure as it stood.


expressed his general approbation of the Bill as it now stood, and asked the hon. Member for Ayr (Mr. Craufurd) not to press his Amendment. There was not a single Member who had supported the view he had taken.


earnestly hoped the Committee would pass this measure, as many members of the profession had long looked upon their exclusion from the Bench as a great grievance—not a sentimental grievance, but a practical one.


said, he was perfectly content with the discussion, and would withdraw his Amendment; he was satisfied that the proviso would be found utterly unworkable, and would have to be repealed.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause amended, and agreed to.

Bill reported; to be printed, as amended [Bill 89]; re-committed for Tuesday 18th April.