HC Deb 08 March 1872 vol 209 cc1648-73

, in rising to call the attention of the House to the recent appointment of Mr. Homersham Cox to be a Judge of the Mid-Wales County Court Circuit, and to move the Resolution which stood in his name, said, before doing so, he wished expressly to disclaim any desire to question the propriety of the motives of the noble and learned Lord who was responsible for that appointment, for whose character he, in common with every member of his profession, and, indeed, every man in the country, entertained the greatest respect. He quite believed that in making that appointment, just as in making another judicial appoint- ment which had been severely criticized, the Lord Chancellor was actuated by the best of motives; but he also believed that in that case, as in the other, he made a great mistake. He also wished to disavow no less emphatically any desire to claim for his countrymen any special or exclusive privileges. Welshmen were no advocates of "Home Rule" in the sense in which that word was used on the other side of the Channel, or in any other sense. Indeed, they asked for no right except that which was the natural and inalienable birthright of every subject of the Queen—the right to have justice dealt out to them so far as circumstances would permit promptly, cheaply, and efficiently. And if he could show that the prompt and cheap and efficient administration of justice was involved in the Resolution he was about to move, then he might fairly ask not merely for the support of his Welsh Colleagues, but for the vote of every Member on that side of the House who had any due sense of Parliamentary responsibility. The Mid-Wales County Court Circuit, to which his Motion more immediately pointed, comprised the whole of the county of Merioneth, and parts of the counties of Carnarvon, Cardigan, and Montgomery, and those were the most exclusively Welsh parts of Wales. For the benefit of such of his Saxon friends as had never penetrated into those remote localities, he might mention that at least four-fifths of the inhabitants of that part of Her Majesty's dominions habitually spoke the Welsh language, and, as a rule, spoke and understood nothing else. They carried on the daily business and intercourse of life, they wrote their letters, they concluded their bargains, and they made their wills in that language. Now, it must be evident to everyone that, under such circumstances, the administration of justice in what was virtually a foreign tongue must be, even in the Superior Courts, attended with great difficulty and inconvenience. In the first place, it was very difficult to find a jury who understood English properly. He remembered that when on circuit, many years ago, a story was current of a very learned Judge—Baron Parke—who had been explaining with great lucidity the law in an ejectment case, when he was interrupted by the foreman of the jury, who called out in Welsh—"Tell that old gentleman to cut his speech short—we hav'nt understood a word he has been saying, and we settled yesterday who was to have the property over a glass of claret at the Mostyn Arms." That was a good many years ago; but to show that things were not much better now, the hon. and learned Member related a case which occurred at Beaumaris Quarter Sessions, where a butcher was tried on two indictments for stealing sheep. The jury, in the first case, who understood very little English, having retired to consider their verdict, a jury was empanelled to try the second. While the second case was being tried the jury in the first returned into court and gave a verdict of "not guilty." The second trial proceeded; the case for the prosecution was closed, and the counsel for the prisoner had commenced his speech, when the jury interrupted him to request that he would speak in Welsh. It then appeared that they had not understood a word of the evidence that had been given. The trial proceeded, and necessarily ended in a verdict of acquittal. Sometimes it was the prisoner who did not understand English. At Cardiff, the other day, two men were tried for an assault on the police. The evidence was given in English, and the prisoners who were undefended were convicted. Just as they were about to be sentenced, it was discovered that neither of them had understood a single word which had been said against them, and that so far as they were concerned, the whole proceedings had been merely dumb show. But it was chiefly from the difficulty of interpreting the evidence of Welsh witnesses that miscarriages of justice arose. In the first place, a Judge or counsel who had to get his evidence through an interpreter was at a very great disadvantage. Very often a shade of difference in the expressions used by a witness, or even a change in his countenance might serve to put counsel or a Judge who understood the language the witness was speaking upon the right scent. Moreover, there was no regular interpreter attached to the Courts, and the Judges had to trust to any chance person, who often was unfit for the duty. The Welsh papers were full of ludicrous instances of mistranslations by interpreters. The hon. and learned Member gave instances in which, by mistranslation, a witness was made to state that he had seen a man at a fair with a "sheep" upon his nose, instead of a "wart;" another was made to describe a testator as a man "who would stand on his head for hours near a river," the deceased having merely been fond of meditative walks by the river side; another in which a man had been seen running away with another's "schoolroom" on his back, for a "ladder;" another in which a prisoner was sworn to have "stolen a compass," whereas he had merely taken a circuitous course. These cases had occurred chiefly in the Superior Courts; but it was obvious that in the case of the County Courts the necessity for a Welsh-speaking Judge was ten times stronger. In the first place, the verdict in the Superior Courts was always given by a jury, and the jury at least had the advantage of understanding Welsh. In the next place, the case was carefully sifted beforehand by competent legal practitioners who understood both languages, and who received their instructions from the client in Welsh, and transmitted them to counsel in English, and who, moreover, were constantly at hand to correct any mistakes into which the interpreter might fall. But the justice administered in the County Courts was of a more rough and ready kind. Not only were there no juries, but there were no written pleadings, no briefs, no attorneys, and, generally speaking, no advocates. Under these circumstances, one or two things must happen where the Judge was unable to speak Welsh—either the suitor must employ a professional advocate instead of conducting his case himself, which was in itself a very great hardship, or the Judge was compelled to act, not only as Judge and jury, but as counsel for one side, or it might be for both sides; in other words, he had to prove the case for himself, and to check the tendency of the suitor to wander into irrelevant matter. Now, in the name of common sense, was it possible for a man who did not understand the language of the suitor to do this? What would be said if his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary were to appoint—say to the Bow Street Police-Court—a gentleman who could speak and understand nothing but Chinese? But that was an exactly parallel case, for to these poor people English was Chinese. Take the actual case of India, where the suitors and witnesses all spoke Hindos- tanee. It was a sine quâ non that every gentleman sent out to preside in a Court should understand and speak Hindostanee. In the same way the Lord Chancellor who was in office when the County Courts were first established—Lord Lynd-hurst—made it a sine quâ non that every gentleman appointed to preside in a Welsh County Court should speak and understand Welsh. At any rate the two Judges between whom the circuit was divided (Mr. Arthur Johnes and Mr. Richards), both spoke Welsh with ease and fluency. He (Mr. Osborne Morgan) laid particular stress upon this, because he had been accused of asking the Lord Chancellor to establish a new precedent, whereas he only asked him to return to the precedent laid down by his predecessors. Things went on this way until the accession of the present Lord Chancellor to the office. Mr. Arthur Johnes, the Judge of the Mid-Wales County Court died, and was succeeded by Serjeant Tindal Atkinson. Now, he was far from questioning the general competency of that gentleman. He believed him to have been admirably fitted for the office of a County Court Judge, or, indeed, for a still higher post; but he could not speak Welsh, and on that account considerable dissatisfaction was expressed at his appointment. But naturally enough people were slow to move in such matters, and it was hoped, or indeed the event proved, that his tenure of the post would be temporary only. Last autumn, Serjeant Tindal Atkinson, whether at his own request or not he did not know, was removed to an English Court, and within a day or two after his removal—at any rate before any remonstrance could be addressed to him on the subject—the Lord Chancellor appointed Mr. Homersham Cox to the vacant post. Now he (Mr. Osborne Morgan) did not wish to speak with unnecessary disrespect of Mr. Cox. He believed him to be a man of ability. He certainly must be a man of very varied accomplishments, for he had written three works upon subjects no less divergent than the practice of the Court of Chancery, the Differential Calculus, and the British Constitution. He believed, too, that he was a very powerful political writer, and he understood that his services had generally been placed at the disposal of the Government. But he certainly was not a man in large practice, as he (Mr. Osborne Morgan) knew from having practised in the same Courts for 17 years. But be that as it might, he did not know a single word of Welsh. On this ground mainly his appointment was objected to in the Principality, and a number of memorials were presented to the Lord Chancellor praying his Lordship, not exactly to remove Mr. Cox, but to translate him to some other sphere where he might be permitted to shine with unclouded lustre. The Lord Chancellor did him the honour of addressing his reply to these memorials to himself, (Mr. Osborne Morgan) and that reply was contained in a letter which was afterwards published. Now if the Lord Chancellor had said that he could not find a competent man who could speak the Welsh language, or even if he had said that his appointment of a Welshman would have necessitated the lowering of what he conceived to be the proper standard of fitness for the office he (Mr. Osborne Morgan) should have said nothing more; for, in the interest of his countrymen he might state at once that he had no desire to saddle upon them an incompetent or even an inferior Judge, merely because he could talk Welsh. And while dealing with this part of the subject, he might say at once that he had no objection to the qualification which his hon. Friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hanbury Tracy) wished to introduce into the Resolution. Indeed, he thought the qualification was already contained in the Resolution as it stood, for where the area of selection was necessarily limited the principle of selection must be also. But the Lord Chancellor did not take that ground, nor could he perhaps have done so, for it was notorious that there were at least half-a-dozen barristers who understood a sufficient amount of Welsh for the purpose, whose claims were, putting that qualification aside, equal if not superior to that of Mr. Cox. Besides, they must bear in mind that if they once made it a sine quâ non that a County Court Judge should speak Welsh, they would find plenty of persons to qualify themselves for that office by learning Welsh—just as he understood that since the appointment of a Welsh-speaking Bishop the study of the Welsh language had become very much more popular among the Welsh clergy. But to return to the Lord Chancellor. His Lordship assigned three reasons for declining to accede to the prayer of the memorialists. His first reason was that a Welsh Judge would be distrusted by English suitors. ["Hear!"] The House should have his own words— In cases between Englishmen and Welshmen a Judge selected for his Welsh acquirements would become subject to a mistrust on the part of an English litigant. Now, if the Lord Chancellor had been asked to appoint a man who could not speak English, he could understand that there might have been some force in the objection; but surely a Welsh suitor would have much more reason for mistrusting a Judge who could not speak a word in his own language than an English suitor would have for mistrusting a Judge who could speak both English and Welsh. Besides, no English suitor ever thought of mistrusting Mr. Richards and Mr. Johnes, who were selected for their Welsh acquirements. The Lord Chancellor next took his stand upon an old Act of Henry VIII., which he (Mr. Osborne Morgan) had not been able to find in any modern collection of the statutes, but which he supposed to be still formally unrepealed. It ran as follows— All justices, commissioners, sheriffs, coroners, extreators, stewards and their lieutenants, and all other officers and ministers of the law, shall proclaim and keep the sessions courts in the English tongue, and all oaths of officers, juries, and inquests, and all other affidavits, verdicts, and wagers of law to be given and done in the English tongue; and also that from henceforth no person or persons that use the Welsh speech or language shall have or enjoy any manner of office or fees within this realm of England or Wales, or other the King's dominion, upon pain of forfeiting the same offices or fees, unless he or they use and exercise the English speech, or language. Now, if that meant that a man who could and did speak Welsh was ineligible for the office of Judge, all he could say was that not only Mr. Richards and Mr. Johnes, but one of the most distinguished of the Judges on the Equity Bench (Lord Justice James) would be disqualified. Nay, as the "office" would probably include a seat in Parliament, the Government might find that five or six of their staunchest supporters were disqualified from sitting in the House. But if it only meant that judicial proceedings were to be carried on in English, then he said that a Judge who understood both languages could do this quite as well as a Judge who understood English only, and he would moreover have the inestimable advantage of being able to check and correct any mistakes into which an interpreter might fall—just as Lord Chief Justice Bovill did the other day in the case of a French witness in the Tichborne case. But in fact he could not help thinking that the statute belonged to the same class of enactments as that which was last Session dug up out of the grave in which it had slumbered for centuries by the hon. and gallant Member for Grimsby (Colonel Tomline)—the Act, happily now repealed, which prevented lawyers from sitting in Parliament. At any rate he knew as a matter of fact that that provision had for many years remained a dead letter in Wales. Indeed, where the parties, the witnesses, and the Judge, all spoke and understood Welsh, it would be mere pedantry to require the proceedings to be translated into English. The third and last objection raised by the Lord Chancellor was, that the appointment of an Englishman might help to get rid of the Welsh language. He (Mr. Osborne Morgan) would quote his own words— The existence of two languages has a tendency to separate people who, as fellow-citizens, should be as far as possible united. Really, that was the first time he had ever heard that a Lord Chancellor in the distribution of his judicial patronage was bound to consider not merely the interests of justice, but the claims of a particular language. It really came to this—that in order that the next generation might be compelled to learn English, the present generation—who, through no fault of their own, had learnt nothing but Welsh—were to submit to a practical denial of justice. But if the attempt were made it would prove as abortive as it was unjustifiable. Twice had the experiment of suppressing a national language been tried—once in Poland, after the Revolution of 1830, when it was attempted to substitute the Russian language for Polish in the tribunals of Poland; and a second time in Hungary, during the darkest days of Austrian misrule, when it was attempted to substitute German for Magyar in the Hungarian Law Courts. In both cases the attempt was received with a cry of indignation from civilized Europe, and in both cases it utterly failed. The fact was you could not drive out a language vi et armis in that way. Language was but the reflection of thought, and you could not force the full-grown ideas of one people into the language of another. All this talk about encouraging or discouraging a particular language was mere rubbish. He would tell the House their language was dear to the Welsh people. It had been endeared to them from their earliest days. They had imbibed it, so to speak, with their mothers' milk, and they would not give it—no, not for all the County Court lawsuits in the world. It was the old story— Naturam expellas furca tamen usque recurret. Indeed, upon that part of the question he had on his side no less an authority than that of the Prime Minister himself. The right hon. Gentleman had had the courage to repudiate the old-fashioned and ridiculous notion that they could drive out the Welsh language by appointing English Bishops to Welsh sees. It was said then, as it was said now, that they could not find a Welshman fit for the purpose. However, "where there's a will there's a way," and his right hon. Friend did find a man to fill the See of St. Asaph, of whom he (Mr. Osborne Morgan) would only say that a man better qualified by his piety and attainments did not sit upon the Episcopal Bench. And if Bishops, why not Judges? So much for the reason of the thing. Now let him say one word about the testimony which had been adduced for and against the appointment. And, first, he would take the testimony of Mr. Homer-sham Cox himself. Mr. Homersham Cox, returning from his first circuit flushed with judicial triumphs, thought proper to write a letter to all the London newspapers, stating that only upon one occasion had he experienced the slightest difficulty in making up his mind as to any of the questions with which he had to deal, and maintaining that he had discharged his duties to the satisfaction of everybody, including himself. Unfortunately, however, there appeared next day in The Daily News an extract from a report of a trial upon this very circuit, which a little "took the shine" out of Mr. Cox's letter. It related to an amusing scene between the Judge and a witness, who, to all the questions put to him, replied, "Dim Saesneg;" to which the learned gentleman invariably replied—"Yes, I understand that; but are you a grocer?" "Yes—but do you sell tea?" So much for the evidence of Mr. Cox on his own behalf. Then there was the testimony of Mr. Humphreys, who had sat for Mr. Johnes during his illness, and who stated that no one had complained of Mr. Cox's not understanding Welsh; but it was not very likely that complaints on such a subject would be made to the Judge himself. Then it was represented that a Memorial in favour of Mr. Cox, "numerously and influentially signed" by the solicitors of the district, had been presented to the Lord Chancellor. To the credit of the profession, however, it turned out that only nine out of some 90 solicitors practising in the Welsh part of the Mid-Wales Circuit had signed that Memorial. So much for the evidence in favour of the appointment. He would now read to the House, on the other side of the question, two letters from gentlemen who from their position and experience would be admitted to be very high authorities upon the question. The one was from Mr. John Johnes, of Doluncothy, who had been a County Court Judge in Wales for 14 years; the other from Mr. Gold Edwards, one of the ablest and most experienced of the County Count registrars, which appointment he had held since 1847. The hon. and learned Member read their letters in extenso. They both expressed in the strongest terms the convictions of the writers of the great inconvenience which arose from the appointment of gentlemen who did not understand the Welsh language, and that under such a state of things it was impossible that justice could be administered. Now, he (Mr. Osborne Morgan) thought the evidence of these two gentlemen worth any number of statements made by Englishmen, however eminent, who did not understand a word of Welsh, and who had never entered a Welsh County Court in all their lives. If they wanted further testimony, surely it was to be found in the 89 Petitions—signed by thousands of persons, including magistrates, merchants, professional men, farmers, tradesmen, and persons of every class—which he had presented that afternoon. This was a suitor's, not a solicitor's question—a matter for the public, not for the lawyers—and the verdict of the Welsh public was unanimous. Now, he had but one more word to add—and that was to say, without fear of contradiction, that the sun did not rise upon a more loyal, a more peaceable, a more law-abiding people than the inhabitants of North and South Wales. He appealed to his right hon. Friend the Home Secretary, who was half a Welshman himself—and he only wished that he had been altogether one, for he felt sure that in that case he would have left undone many things that he had done, and done some things that he had left undone—whether any portion of Her Majesty's subjects had given him so little trouble? We, said the hon. and learned Member, do not shoot our landlords. We do not require to be kept in order by Peace Preservation and Coercion Bills. We do not even pull up Park palings—perhaps if we did we should receive a little more consideration. But he was ashamed of pleading for this concession as a matter of indulgence. He asked it as an ex debito justifiæ—he asked it in the first instance at the hands of the Government, and if he could not get it from them he must reluctantly appeal to that House, which never yet turned a deaf ear to a suppliant for justice, and which regarded, and rightly regarded, every question connected with the due administration of the law, whether it arose upon the appointment of a Privy Councillor or upon that of a County Court Judge, as its just and legitimate province. The hon. and learned Member concluded by moving the Resolution of which he had given Notice.


seconded the Resolution, maintaining that the grievance of which his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Denbighshire (Mr. Osborne Morgan) complained was a real and by no means a sentimental grievance, and one which persistently called for a remedy.

Amendment proposed, To leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "in the opinion of this House, it is desirable, in the interests of the due administration of justice, that the Judge of a County Court District in which the Welsh language is generally spoken should be able to speak and understand that language,"—(Mr. Osborne Morgan,) —instead thereof.

Question proposed, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."


Sir, as I find that I am unable at present to move the Amendment of which I have given Notice, which was to insert the words "as far as the limits of selection will allow" after the word "should," I desire to say a few words on the general question. I concur most cordially, most heartily, and most sincerely with what has been ably stated by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Denbighshire (Mr. Osborne Morgan) as to the desirability of having gentlemen appointed to the Welsh County Court districts who can thoroughly understand the language, so far as it is practicable to obtain them. It is idle to deny that the greatest advantage must accrue in the purely Welsh districts where the Judge, acting as he does in County Court business as arbitrator—as the common friend of the suitors, is able to accurately comprehend the minutest detail of the case from the suitors' own lips. A County Court Judge stands in a very different position to a Judge of Assize, or even to a county magistrate. One of his principal duties is to suggest compromises, and to make those arrangements between debtor and creditor, for which it is indispensable to have a thorough insight into all the circumstances of the case. It is undoubtedly true, as my hon. and learned Friend has said, that even in the Superior Courts constant, and in some cases ludicrous, mistakes have occurred from the want of this knowledge; but if it is so with them, how infinitely more must it be in those Courts where the suitors are of a far more homely character, and where there is little, if any check, to the statements of the interpreters? It seems to me almost a truism to affirm the desirability of having Judges able to speak the language of the people for whom they administer justice, and if there was any doubt as to the necessity of enforcing the rule in Wales, so far as the County Courts are concerned, I feel that the eloquent speech we have just heard must have convinced the most sceptical. The point I am anxious to raise is simply this—that I believe great practical difficulties must and do occasionally occur in obtaining a supply of competent men to fill the posts from the limited number of barristers able to speak Welsh, and I cannot help thinking that it would be a great mistake—a fatal blow to the due administration of justice in the Principality, if the area of choice were too much restricted; or if this abstract Resolution were to be allowed to pass without recording in the clearest and most unequivocal manner, our intention that before every consideration of language we must have judicial fitness—that we must have on our County Court Benches men of marked ability, conspicuous for their general attainments and of very considerable legal experience. Whilst we desire to express most distinctly that where two men are equally qualified, a marked preference should be given to the man who is able to speak Welsh, we do not want for one moment to sacrifice ability for colloquial knowledge; and though we wish to lay considerable stress on our opinion that it is an immense boon, so far as it is practicable, for the suitors to have a Judge able to understand their language and to be able to check the interpreter, we do not wish to draw too rigid a line, or to fetter the Government too stringently from exercising their discretion, or from performing their undoubted duty of selecting the fittest man for the post with the full knowledge that they are responsible for the appointment. The real truth of the matter is, that very few persons have the slightest idea how limited is the area of selection. Many people I know are under the delusion that there is ample choice in the North and South Wales Circuit, and that a Lord Chancellor who does not appoint a Welshman must of necessity be perpetrating a job, and passing over many men who have a prior right. The facts just as I can discover them are these—that the number of barristers qualified by sufficient standing at the Bar who can speak Welsh are on the North Wales Circuit, one; on the South Wales Circuit, one who can speak and two who can understand; on the Northern Circuit, one or two; and at the Chancery Bar I believe there are three, making altogether at the very outside seven or eight. It may be true, as my hon. and learned Friend says, that when once it is known that these appointments are to be given only to Welshmen, you will very soon have a supply, but we are now speaking of what number there are at present qualified. When we consider this, I think that we are bound to admit that any Lord Chancellor, however willing to appoint a Welshman, has no easy duty at present to fulfil. We must remember that it is not everyone who will consent to take the post of County Court Judge, even when offered to him; and we must not forget that there are many considerations which have to be well weighed, before deciding as to the fitness of a barrister to fill a judicial office. I apprehend the upshot of it is this—that so small is the number of duly-qualified men who can speak the language, that it is quite possible in the event of more than one district falling vacant at a time, that there should be absolutely not a single man really qualified, and it is in such a contingency that I desire to prevent incompetent men from being appointed. The actual appointments which have been called in question are, I am bound to say, somewhat peculiar. It is most unfortunate that two Englishmen should have been nominated in the short space of one year to a district the greater part of which is more purely Welsh than any in the Principality. I am told that when Mr. Homersham Cox was appointed, there were three or four very able men well versed in the language passed over. If this is so, no one can regret it more than myself; but at the same time we must in all justice to the Lord Chancellor remember that the only two vacancies which had occurred during the last 23 years had been filled by Englishmen. We must also remember that the distinguished Judge who my hon. and learned Friend alluded to—Mr. Arthur Johnes, a patriotic, enthusiastic Welshman, who so long ably presided on this very circuit actually, appointed as his deputy, a gentleman who could not speak the language, from which the inference would naturally be drawn that he, a Welshman with 20 years' experience on the circuit, did not consider a knowledge of the language a necessity; and when we further remember that no remonstrance or memorial was presented when Mr. Serjeant Atkinson was appointed, I think we are bound in all sincerity to admit that it is hardly fair to blame the Lord Chancellor for following the precedent set him by his predecessor, however much we may wish he had appointed a Welshman. But, Sir, whilst I state that, I feel bound also to strongly support the testimony of my hon. and learned Friend, that a very strong feeling of dissatisfaction is felt in the Principality at these appointments. Notwithstanding the memorial we have heard so much about, signed by eight solicitors, it is most undoubtedly true that amongst a large number of Welshmen an impression has got about, which I believe to be altogether erroneous—that an attempt has been made on the part of the Government to throw a slur on the ancient language of the Principality, to look upon Welshmen as the remains of Druidical barbarism requiring no consideration, to utterly ignore the fact that there are large districts where English is hardly understood, and altogether to forget that the peculiar feature of County Court jurisdiction is an endeavour to place a cheap and very easy remedy within reach of the poorest cottager. I apprehend that nothing can be more detrimental to the interests of justice than that such a feeling should be allowed to continue, as we must not forget that it is indispensable that not only must suitors have justice done them, but they must feel, understand, and believe, that justice is actually performed. The Welsh, Sir, are a peculiarly sensitive people, they love their ancient language with a fervour and a veneration which you must respect and admire, and which you cannot eradicate by force, by sarcasm, or by injustice. But, Sir, they are as well aware as you are, that the knowledge of English opens up the whole world to them, and enables their children to compete successfully with other countries, and that it brings them material prosperity, and greatly improved condition of life, instead of being obliged to remain cooped up and confined in comparative poverty in their native hills and valleys. It is acknowledged on all sides that English is spreading rapidly, and I am confident it will continue to do so if you do not thwart their national prejudices and force them back into their ancient seclusion. In no part of Great Britain is there now so sincere a desire for the spread of education, which cannot fail to bring with it new ideas, new interests, now associations, and with it a greatly increased desire for the knowledge of English. Sir, I will not take up the time of the House any more, I will only say that whilst I do not believe the Government or the Lord Chancellor can have had any intention to cast a slight, or to wound the feelings of the most sensitive Welshman, yet I am very glad that my hon. and learned Friend has called attention to the subject, and I trust the Government will accept the Resolution with the alteration which I venture to suggest, which simply affirms that however much it is desirable to have Welshman appointed to County Court districts, they must be men of marked experience and fitness, and that we are not prepared to sacrifice ability for colloquial knowledge; and I trust also that the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary for the Home Department, will be able also to disclaim any intention of disregarding the interest of Wales.


said, he understood that the hon. and learned Member for Denbighshire (Mr. Osborne Morgan) was willing to accept the principle of the Amendment of the hon. Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hanbury Tracy), and in that case the Resolution, which at first wore a rather warlike appearance, resolved itself into the most harmless truism—that it was desirable that County Court Judges in Wales should understand the Welsh language; but he (Mr. Scourfield) was disposed to go further, and to say that he thought it desirable that Welsh Judges should understand not only the Welsh language, but all languages—at least some language which everybody could understand. In one part of the county he represented (Pembrokeshire), Welsh was spoken, and in another part English; and in a borough he had represented, the people at one side of the river understood nothing but English, and those on the other side nothing but Welsh, so that it became difficult to say on which side of the water the inhabitants were most aggrieved on Sunday—the Welsh by having sermons in English inflicted on them, or the English by being obliged to hear sermons in Welsh. For his part, when he listened to Welsh sermons, although they sounded orthodox enough, he confessed that they appealed more to his imagination than to his understanding. He could not see what advantage a Resolution on this subject would produce, for nobody was disposed to say that if a Judge was otherwise qualified, it would not be desirable he should speak Welsh; and, like the hon. Member for Montgomery, he should be very sorry to limit the area of proper selection. It must, however, be borne in mind that the speech of the hon. Member for Montgomery went far beyond the Resolution, because the latter only referred to County Court Judges, while his argu- ment applied to the whole legal system of Wales. Within the memory of several hon. Members present not a single Judge on the Bench could speak Welsh. Therefore it seemed strange that this grievance should start up afresh now, when there must be a considerable addition to the number of Welsh-speaking Judges. It was a very difficult question, because a man might have a fair scientific knowledge of the language, though he could not speak it colloquially. It was, after all, an abstract question, and one for the Executive to decide rather than the House; but if, at the same time, hon. Members thought the Government were habitually making improper selections, that was a fair reason for withdrawing their confidence from the Government, but not for interfering with every appointment they made. Moreover, he did not see why the argument should be limited to County Court Judges. If it was valid at all, it ought to be extended to the whole legal jurisdiction in Wales. He must repeat that he did not think it would be desirable to limit the area of selection; but he thought the Government might accept the Resolution, with the addition suggested by the hon. Member for Montgomery.


said, he thought that it was a pity that the hon. Gentleman the Member for Pembroke (Mr. Scourfield) had not learned the language of the people among whom he moved, for then he might have been able to judge of the orthodoxy of the Welsh sermons he was doomed to hear. Had the hon. Member, instead of representing Pembrokeshire, the most Anglicized county in Wales, represented Denbighshire, or Cardiganshire, or any of the North Welsh counties, he would have been obliged to bear testimony to the strong feeling that prevailed there, in opposition to the appointment of Judges who were not conversant with the language. He understood that the hon. and learned Member for Denbighshire (Mr. Osborne Morgan) was willing to accept the Amendment of the hon. Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hanbury Tracy), and, therefore, it was not with the view of pressing the Resolution on the attention of the House that he rose, but principally to correct one or two fallacies, somewhat prevalent in England with regard to Wales, and exercising an in- jurious influence upon the relations between the two countries. One fallacy was this—it was asserted or implied that it was necessary to discourage, and, if possible, to extinguish the Welsh language, as a means of establishing more closely political union between the two countries—as though some disunion now existed. When the correspondence between his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Osborne Morgan) and the Lord Chancellor was first published, on the subject of the appointment of Mr. Homersham Cox, a great deal of arrant nonsense was written in some of the English newspapers, to the effect that there was a dangerous cry raised in the Principality—the cry of "Wales for the Welsh," which it was necessary at once to discourage and suppress. It seemed to be supposed that there was an intention to lift the banner of Welsh independence, and to promote some sort of "Home Rule," in an endeavour to secure separation between the Principality and the other parts of the Empire. A more preposterous and unfounded phantasy than that never troubled any human brain; for in all the vast dominions of Her Majesty, from the Hebrides to the Punjaub, there was no people more loyal to the Crown, or more faithful to the Constitution than were Welshmen. Another fallacy, very common in England, was to the effect that there existed among the Welsh people an intense antipathy to the English language, and a settled determination not to learn it. That also was an utterly erroneous notion. It was not only not true, but the direct converse of the truth. There was an eager and universal desire amongst the Welsh people to acquire the English language; and the best proof of it was that, in all the schools throughout the Principality—not merely National and British schools, which were supposed to be more or less under the influence of the Government, but in all private adventure schools, the English language was taught, not merely with, but even to the exclusion of, the Welsh language. To such an extent was this rule carried out, that in most of the day schools in Wales, wherever a child was overheard talking Welsh during school hours he rendered himself liable to punishment. In some parts of Wales the English language was rapidly gaining ground. There was a considerable number of Welshmen who had already learned to write and speak it very fairly. But it was true that, while willing and ever anxious to learn that language, the Welsh people were yet strongly attached to their mother tongue; and why should they not be? Was there anything monstrous, unnatural, criminal, or barbarous in a people desiring to retain the language of their forefathers? Even Englishmen, though they had not such a language as the Welsh, were attached to the language of their fathers. The history connected with the Welsh Church furnished an impressive lesson on this subject. A century and a half ago, the English Government set itself to discourage, and if possible to destroy, the Welsh language and Welsh nationality, by appointing English bishops to all Welsh sees, and English clergymen to all the best livings in Wales; and that the Government did expressly on the ground that it was desirable the Welsh language should be extinguished in order to unite the two countries closely together. In 1766 Dr. Bowles, an Englishman unacquainted with Welsh, was presented by the Bishop of Bangor to a living in Anglesea. In 1773 the churchwardens, aided by a society called the Cymrodorion, at whose head was a Baronet, who, he believed, was an ancestor of the hon. Member for Denbighshire, brought an action in the Court of Arches, and attempted to deprive Dr. Bowles of the living, on the ground of his ignorance of the Welsh language. And on that occasion the arguments used by the advocates of Dr. Bowles were to the effect that, although the Doctor did not understand the language, he was in possession of the living and could not be turned out; that Wales was a conquered country, and that it was the duty of the Bishops to promote English clergymen in order to introduce the language, and that that had always been the policy of the Legislature. That was the policy; but what was the result? Not to make Englishmen of Welshmen so much as to make Dissenters of them. As a Nonconformist, of course he had not the slightest objection to that result; but clearly that was not what the promoters of that policy wished or expected. Depend upon it, if they wanted to force the Welsh people to become English by laws which pressed hard on their rights, they would lose their aim. If it was wished to amalgamate the Welsh people with the English, conciliation and kindness must be the means employed for the purpose. He earnestly trusted, therefore, that the Government would accept the Motion of his hon. and learned Friend, at least with the modification which had been suggested.


said, that 80 per cent of the population of the Principality spoke Welsh, while the language of the Courts of Justice was English; the consequence was that it was felt to be a very great grievance by suitors in the Welsh County Courts that in consequence of the Judge's ignorance of the Welsh language they were compelled to employ either an advocate to state their case, which entailed considerable expense, or else to employ an interpreter, which from the difficult nature of the language often led to very great mistakes. In fact, the losing party generally attributed the loss of their case to the fact that it had not been properly explained to the Judge. He understood that Mr. Homersham Cox was a man of very respectable attainments; his talents, he believed, were fully recognized where he was intimately known; but he hoped the Home Office would, before long, take an opportunity of removing him from the position which he now held to some place where he would be more appreciated.


said, the result of the appointment of Mr. Cox was, that a considerable portion of the Principality had been practically deprived of the benefits conferred by the establishment of County Courts. In confirmation of that view, he had that morning received a letter from a Welsh clergyman who lived in Mr. Cox's jurisdiction, and who said he was satisfied that at least 7 per cent of the suitors in his Court were unable to state their case in the English language, and were therefore put to the necessity of employing lawyers, and, further, that it was difficult to get an interpreter to act fairly between the parties. He, therefore, hoped the Government would yield to the suggestion of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Denbighshire (Mr. Osborne Morgan). He (Mr. M'Arthur) considered that, having submitted the case to the Lord Chancellor, his hon. and learned Friend could not avoid bringing it before the House.


said, that he agreed with every word that had fallen from his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Denbighshire (Mr. Osborne Morgan), and thanked him for bringing forward the Motion. He wished to direct attention to the circumstance that in considering this subject sufficient importance was not attributed to the fact that County Court Judges had mainly to deal with small cases and comparatively poor people—cases in which the litigants could not afford to obtain professional assistance; and, indeed, in which the smallness of the amount involved would not justify the incurring of such an expense. There was no analogy between the case of the County Court Judges and the Judges of the Superior Courts who travelled the circuits, before whom causes were tried by juries, with the assistance of professional advocates. If a County Court Judge, who had to act as judge and jury, and without the assistance of professional advocates, was wholly ignorant of the language used by the parties and their witnesses, it was obvious that frequent failure and denial of justice must be the result. It was very easy for English people to sneer at these complaints as resulting from mere national sentiment; but he could assure them that the grievance was a real and a substantial one, and that a feeling of deep indignation was engendered by treating these feelings with contempt. As a Welshman, he was distressed when he was told by some of his English friends that all this fuss was made simply because this appointment had not been given to a Welshman, and that they were trying to get up a cry of "Wales for the Welsh," all of which he declared was sheer nonsense and without any foundation. The Welsh people knew too well the practical value of forming an integral part of this great kingdom, and desired to have no distinction made, but wished only to be placed upon an equality with the rest of the kingdom. Would it be considered right in England to appoint a local Judge for the district of Cornwall, who was wholly unable to understand the practice of the Stannaries and the habits and customs of the mining districts, say, for instance, a Welsh country gentleman who did not understand a word of English; or would it be right to appoint a Judge for the important district of New- castle, who was wholly inexperienced in mercantile and shipping and mining law? Precisely upon the same grounds the Welsh people felt that a knowledge of Welsh was a most important qualification for a local Judge in a district in which Welsh was the language of the great mass of the people. He was ready to admit that the number of competent lawyers acquainted with the Welsh language was very limited, nor did he dispute the fact that judicial fitness and a competent knowledge of law wore more important even than the knowledge of the language; but nobody could deny that other things being equal, preference should be given to a man conversant with the language of the people; but that which had roused the feelings of the people in the present case, was the belief—which be shared—that no attempt had been made by the Lord Chancellor to select a fit or suitable man for the office. When he had been asked by the country people who was Mr. Homersham Cox, was he a great lawyer from London, and much more fitted to be a Judge than any of the local Welsh barristers, and had he on that account been preferred to them?—the truth compelled him to answer that, although he had some acquaintance with the Law Courts himself, he had never heard the name of Mr. Homersham Cox, and from his experience of the way in which these things were done, he did not believe that the consideration of his fitness to be a County Court Judge ever entered into the question of his appointment. That was the opinion which he entertained and expressed, and he accepted his full share of responsibility for the feelings of indignation and irritation which were so naturally aroused in the minds of the people by such an utter disregard of their interests. If it could have been said with truth that the Lord Chancellor, in appointing Mr. Homersham Cox, had honestly endeavoured to select the man on the whole best qualified to fill the office, he believed that the appointment—although nothing could have made it a popular one—would have been received with very different feelings from those which it had excited. He appealed to other appointments in justification of the opinion he had expressed. The Lord Chancellor had confessedly appointed one man upon the ground that he was an ill-used man, and that he had been ill-treated by somebody else in the matter of an entirely different office; another man who had never had any practice at the Bar, and who had not even business chambers, was appointed because he had received a promise of an appointment on account of his filling the office of secretary to a commission for which he was insufficiently remunerated. Perhaps the present Lord Chancellor was not so much to blame personally in the matter, but it was shocking that a system should prevail of making appointments to these important offices upon grounds entirely irrespective of the fitness of the individual appointed. The hon. Member for Pembrokeshire (Mr. Scourfield) had stated that the Motion, as proposed to be amended by the hon. Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hanbury Tracy), was reduced to a mere empty truism, and became of no value. He could not accept it in that light. The House was not in the habit of adopting such Resolutions unless they were satisfied there had been a violation or disregard of the principle involved. He hoped the House would adopt the Resolution with the proposed Amendment, with which he begged to say he entirely concurred; and he should accept it as meaning that the House looked with disapprobation upon the course which had been pursued with respect to the appointment of Mr. Homersham Cox.


said, he was glad that the Motion had been so altered that he could cordially support it. He believed that they were all agreed that where there were two men equal in their legal attainments, one of whom understood Welsh while the other understood only English, the former was entitled to the preference as a County Court Judge in Wales. It was, of course, of importance that the person who was appointed to the office of a County Court Judge in Wales should speak Welsh; but the appointment of a man who possessed legal attainments would, in any case, give satisfaction.


said, that although the Motion which had been so ably brought forward by the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Osborne Morgan) might be construed as a censure upon the present or preceding Governments with respect to the practice pursued in the appointment of County Court Judges, still he could not regret that it had been made, because it was but seldom that the House was troubled with questions relating to Wales. During his 20 years' experience in that House, that was only the third occasion on which there had been a debate on exclusively Welsh affairs, and it was the first time when the extraordinary, but perhaps necessary, anomaly connected with the administration of justice in Wales had been brought under their notice. It was quite true, as had been observed by the hon. Member for Pembroke (Mr. Scourfield), that the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Denbighshire covered more ground than his Motion strictly warranted, because he had entered into a statement of facts relating to trial by jury and to the Superior Courts. He could not, however, concede that any very great injustice had arisen from the fact that the proceedings in the Courts in Wales were conducted in English; for when it was remembered that the present system had been in force for upwards of 350 years, it was remarkable that complaints with reference to its operation and to the anomalies it involved had not been more frequently made. The English system of law was first applied to Wales in the reign of Henry VIII., and the effect produced upon the minds of a people speaking Welsh exclusively by justice being administered by English-speaking Judges and barristers must have been extraordinary. In process of time the worst features of the case had, undoubtedly, been ameliorated; but even at the present moment anomalies still existed which were startling. Thus in many parts of Wales it was impossible to call together a jury who could understand all that was addressed to them by the Judge. How justice had been satisfactorily administered under these circumstances it was hard to say; but, perhaps, generally there were one or two men on the jury who understood English, and were enabled to explain what occurred to the other jurymen, although, doubtless, in an imperfect way. The more general custom, however, was to employ an interpreter to interpret English for the benefit of the Welsh jury, and Welsh for the benefit of the Court. That was found sufficient for ordinary purposes; but he did not at all deny that it was extremely inconvenient when points of law arose. The hon. and learned Member had told a story of a trial in Anglesea in which a man got off solely because the jury did not understand a word of the evidence, which had been given in English. He had, however, been informed that the magistrate who had presided at that trial was a thorough master of the Welsh language, and the failure of justice arose from there being no one on the jury who understood the English witnesses. The case of a County Court Judge was undoubtedly very different from that of a Judge at assizes or quarter sessions. In the latter case, as he had said before, the Judge could avail himself of the facilities which were offered to him by the presence of officials able to interpret the meaning of the Welsh witnesses, whom the Welsh-speaking jury could understand; but in the former case the Judge was placed in a position of considerable difficulty, as he had not the facilities which existed in the other Courts. The Government, in making the appointment in the present case, had undoubtedly acted upon the practice that had been generally followed for a long time past—of looking rather to the legal attainments of the person appointed than to his knowledge of the Welsh language. It was only 35 years ago that an Act was passed requiring that all clergymen appointed to a Welsh living should speak Welsh, and he should think that, a proper regard being had to legal attainments, a similar provision with regard to Welsh County Court Judges would not be out of place. In appointing a gentleman who, though not acquainted with Welsh, would do honour to any appointment, the Lord Chancellor had acted as most of his predecessors would have done. He was not indifferent to the wishes of the Welsh people, for no Member of the Government took a heartier interest than his noble Friend in the effort made by his right hon. Friend at the head of the Government to appoint a Welsh Bishop. In this case the Lord Chancellor had authorized him to say that he admitted the force of much which had been urged. Legal fitness would, of course, be always the first consideration; but after the representations which had been made by hon. Members connected with Wales, the Government—as also, he was sure, all future Governments—would have regard to a knowledge of Welsh. He believed that at no time since the conquest of Wales by Edward I. had there been more Welsh-speaking people than at present. It was hardly 100 years since the Cornish tongue had died out, yet in the time of William Rufus the population of Exeter was so equally balanced that service in the Cathedral was directed to be performed alternately in Cornish and English. He agreed with his hon. Friend (Mr. Richard) that the Welsh could only be won over by kindness, attention to their wishes, and ample provision for education. It was a mistake to suppose that the life of the Welsh language would be prolonged by insisting on County Court Judges understanding it, for the only effect of such a change as that implied in the Resolution would be to implant in the minds of the people a feeling that they were treated with a degree of justice and consideration which he was bound to say they had not hitherto received. That was what the Government were desirous of doing, and therefore he would, on their part, say they were willing to accept the Motion with the Amendment of the hon. Member for Montgomery. He believed there would be some difficulty in accepting it at the present moment, and he would suggest that it should be re-introduced later in the evening in its amended shape as a substantive Motion, in the adoption of which the Government would strenuously co-operate.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.