HC Deb 13 July 1877 vol 235 cc1286-94

(6.) £45,987, to complete the sum for Law Charges.


inquired why the costs in Divorce Court cases were not paid by the losing parties? The number of cases in which the Queen's Proctor intervened appeared to be increasing, and he wished to know why his costs were paid by the Treasury?


in reply, said, that until very recently the Queen's Proctor was an independent officer, but the duties were now discharged by the Solicitor of the Treasury, who was paid by salary. It was perfectly true that the costs ought to fall on the unsuccessful party, but that was not always the case. His hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General had exercised the greatest discretion in authorizing the intervention of the Queen's Proctor. In this case there was no creation of a new office, but simply a transfer of duties from the office of Queen's Proctor to that of the Solicitor of the Treasury.


observed that when the Divorce Court was established, Sir Cresswell Cresswell desired the assistance of an officer to inquire into cases to see whether there had been any collusion between the parties. Accordingly the Queen's Proctor had been appointed to discharge the requisite duties. When collusion was established he was entitled to his costs from the parties, but he frequently intervened where collusion could not be proved, but where material facts had been kept from the knowledge of the Court. When under the Act he was not entitled to his costs from the parties, they were paid by the Treasury.

Vote agreed to.

(7.) £132,710, to complete the sum for Criminal Prosecutions.

(8.) £132,530, to complete the sum for the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice.


hoped the Government would give Mr. Justice Fry the usual Staff. The expense would be but light, and much inconvenience was suffered by the public from the present arrangement.


said, he was aware of the existence of a ge- neral feeling that Mr. Justice Fry ought to have the ordinary Staff of a Vice Chancellor, but he did not know whether it was justified. It had not been thought necessary when he was appointed that he should have a Staff, and he (the Attorney General) had not convinced himself that it was necessary. The Staff attached to the different Judges was already exceedingly numerous, amounting to more than 100 persons. The evil was that under the present system the Staff of one Vice Chancellor could not assist the Staff of another. There were some of these gentlemen who had a great deal of work to do, and others who had little to do. Now there might be an alteration, and if the clerks who were not overwhelmed with work might be called upon to assist the clerks who had a great deal to do, the difficulty would be got over. At all events, the present arrangement might be allowed to work a little longer.


wished to say a few words upon the Official Referees— not as to their personal qualifications, which were discussed last year, but as to the work they had to perform and the public money squandered upom them. It was an appointment of judicial officers in a direction in which they were not of the slightest use. There had been a twelve month's trial of the Official Referees. He found that one of them had had 12 causes before him, and sat 80 hours last year, which, allowing six hours for a working day, gave him 13 days and a fraction out of the 365 days of the year. Another had nine causes, and had sat 339 hours during the 365 days. One Referee had had 12 causes before him, another 18, another 9, and another also 9. One Referee had sat 273hours, another 339, the third 247, and the fourth, as he had stated, 80 hours. For these services the country was paying £6,000—namely, £1,500 a-year to each of these gentlemen, and £200 to their clerks. All this time suitors were complaining that they could not get their causes heard, and the Government were refusing to increase the judicial strength of the Courts because of the expense, while this sum of £6,000, which would pay the salary of another Judge, was being spent with utter inutility to the public. He hoped that some means would be devised of affording these gentlemen more work, and that no more Official Referees would be appointed.


said, he must admit that these gentlemen had not had very much work to perform. When the Judicature Bill of 1873 was introduced by the late Government, it made a sweeping alteration in the Courts of Justice, and it was thought necessary to have official persons to decide a variety of cases that could not be decided by the High Court itself. He believed that this view was entertained, among others, by his hon. and learned Friend, and it was thought that barristers should be appointed who, without the assent of the parties, should be required to adjudicate in cases requiring a prolonged examination of documents or accounts which could not be sent before a jury. The consequence was the introduction of of a clause authorizing the appointment of Referees, and empowering the Court to send before them questions for their decision, with the consent of the parties, and also, as he had intimated, cases requiring prolonged examinations. The clause also authorized the Court to send matters before the Official Referees, or before special Referees agreed upon by the parties. The result was that, generally speaking, the parties to a suit desired that matters which could not be decided by the Court should be sent before Referees of their own choosing, rather than before the Official Referees —a wish on the part of the litigants to which the Judges were not unreasonably disposed to yield. If, therefore, the Official Referees had not much business to get through, it was owing to no fault of theirs, for it could not fairly be alleged that they had in any way whatever neglected their duties, and he must in justice say they had shown their willingness to perform any work that might be required of them. No complaint had been made of the way in which those duties were performed; they did their work so far as they had it to do satisfactorily; and if the Judges would not so frequently yield, as they not unnaturally did, to the wish of the litigants, the amount of that work would be considerably increased. But, be that as it might, the institution of Official Referees had so far, he must admit, been a failure; and if in a short time the Judges did not adopt the course which he suggested, instead of sending cases before Referees appointed by the parties, or special Referees, as they were termed, different arrangements must be made and the services of the Official Referees must be utilized in some other way. He should deem it to be his duty, after a little further experience, to communicate with the Lord Chancellor with that object.


said, he was glad to hear that the hon. and learned Attorney General intended to put himself into communication with the Lord Chancellor on the subject, and suggested the desirability of considering whether the number of Referees should not be reduced. He was of opinion that if barristers of long standing and experience in their Profession had been appointed to the position of special Referees, they would have given great satisfaction to the country, and their services would have been put quite as much in requisition as those of the Railway Commissioners.


quite believed that the Referees were desirous of performing their duties; but the system was not a satisfactory or popular one, and the question was whether these gentlemen could not be put on a different footing. For his own part, he should like to see the system assimilated to that of the chief clerks of the Judges in Chancery —a system which he believed would operate satisfactorily and effect a considerable saving to the country.


said, there was a feeling abroad — whether rightly or wrongly he could not say—against the Judges sending cases down for trial to the Referees. He was rather surprised at hearing the hon. and learned Attorney General say that he had done all in his power, without success, to induce the Judges to refer cases for arbitrament to the Referees.


earnestly hoped that the hon. and learned Attorney General would not longer try to induce the Judges to send cases to the Referees. He did not think that a suitor should be compelled to go before a Referee whom he disliked. He ought at least to have a voice in the choice of his own Referee.


was opposed to any extension of the system of Judges' clerks, which litigants regarded as a very great nuisance. It did not in its operation give satisfaction to the suitors.


considered there were defects in the new Judicature system which ought to be remedied. He thought the popularity of the Referees would not be increased if suitors were obliged to take their cases before them in the way proposed by the hon. and learned Gentleman.


said, his remarks appeared to have been somewhat misunderstood. He did not desire that the Courts should compel parties to go to a reference. That was a great evil, and he thought that when persons came before a Court of Justice their causes ought, as a rule, to be tried by the Judges themselves. Sometimes, however, causes could not be so tried, because they involved long investigations, or for other reasons; and if such causes were referred, the suitors themselves, or their solicitors, were to blame. By a section of the Act of 1873, the Court was empowered in certain cases to send causes to be tried by another tribunal. This, however, could only be done in specified cases; and what he said was, that when a Judge had determined to refer a cause, it would be better for him to send it to the Referees appointed by the Act of Parliament. At the time the Act was passed it was intended that the Referees should be the persons who were to decide these matters.


said, there was one grievance which had not yet been alluded to, and which operated most unfairly on litigants. At the end of an Assize, on Circuit, it constantly happened that Judges and counsel were anxious to get away, and solicitors and clients were so pressed by a combination of the Judge and leading counsel that it was impossible to avoid referring a cause. And this also occurred sometimes during Term, when there was a press of business. If the power of reference to the Official Referees were extended, the evil, which was already great, would be thereby increased.


said, that many cases went into Court which were certain to be referred to the Official Referees, and it would be much more satisfactory, indeed it was preferred, to send them to arbitrators. The Referees had given satisfaction neither to the Profession nor the public, and there was a very general feeling that they had not been a success. He trusted that unless these Referees were found during the Recess to be fully employed the hon. and learned Attorney General would see his way next year to reducing the Vote in respect of their salaries, otherwise he (Mr. Dodds) would in that respect move the reduction of the Vote by £6,000.


believed that there were only two ways, by either both, or one of which the inconvenience at present inflicted upon suitors could be removed. In the case of causes involving accounts, the Judge was often right to refer them. As regarded the business at the large Circuit towns in the North, it would be necessary either to increase the number of the Judges, or to extend the powers of the County Courts. All the evils existed still which had existed before the appointments of the Official Referees, and nothing could be worse than the way in which both the London and the country Law Courts were blocked up with cases to be tried. Both Judges and counsel naturally wished to get their work done, but want of time stood in their way, and the present arrangements were insufficient. He could perceive no remedy for this very inconvenient state of things unless at least one of the two courses were taken that he had indicated.


said, that the Referees had made themselves unpopular by their habit of consulting with counsel, and by the length of time that usually elapsed between the various appointments. Perhaps there might be a month or six weeks between one appointment and another, and when Referees and counsel met again all they had known before about the case was forgotten. The consequence was that people would rather have anything than a reference, as in many instances the costs incurred far exceeded the value of the amount at stake. What he would like to see was one good tribunal like the Railway Commissioners, which would meet and settle the matter at once. When the Referee commenced a case, he should go on with it until it was finished, whether counsel could remain or not. Let them go to—wherever they liked. That view might be very unpopular in an Assembly which contained so many lawyers, but it was one which he thought was well founded.

Vote agreed to.

(9.) £47,160, to complete the sum for the Queen's Bench, Common Pleas, and Exchequer Divisions of the High Court of Justice.


called attention to the salaries and expenses of the district registrars of the High Court.


also called attention to the evils arising from allowing registrars to have private practice. In some instances a registrar might have his own partner coming before him in cases in which he was concerned. He hoped the Government would take the matter in hand, and that they would propose a Vote which would give registrars adequate salaries and enable them to give up private practice.


said, that where it could be done it was very desirable that the registrar should not have private practice; but in very small places, the fees which registrars received for the business they did would be utterly inadequate. The suggestion made had been and would be adopted, wherever the fees would allow of it. The registrars of Liverpool and Manchester had both been so appointed.


said, the evil arising from the registrars of County Courts being themselves in private practice was very much felt in the North of England, even in places where the salary was amply sufficient, and it would be very satisfactory to have such cases inquired into.

Vote agreed to.

(10.) £69,957, to complete the sum for the Probate and Divorce Registries of the High Court of Justice.

(11.) Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £9,831, he granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1878, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Offices of the Admiralty Registrar and Marshal of the Probate, Divorce, and Admiralty Division of the High Court of Justice.


said, that the Chief Registrar received a salary of £1,200 under this Vote, and £400 from other sources. As his work had been done in his absence in Canada by the assistant, he thought his services were not very much needed, and he moved that the Vote be reduced by £1,600.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £8,231, be granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1878, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Offices of the Admiralty Registrar and Marshal of the Probate, Divorce, and Admiralty Division of the High Court of Justice."—(Sir Charles W. Dilke.)


expressed a hope that the Motion would not be persevered in, as the officer in question had several important duties to perform, and was a most zealous and efficient public servant.


explained that this gentleman's duties were very laborious, and that he was very efficient.


observed that during his absence his duties were performed with difficulty.


said, he had no intention of pressing his Motion after those explanations.


complained that there were great arrears in these Courts, and especially in the registration of wills. Why should there be a charge of £1,300 for "making up arrears?"


said, that a sufficient number of clerks would be appointed to clear up the arrears on the Vote for the Wreck Commissioners' Office.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Original Question put, and agreed to.

Resolutions to be reported.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That a sum, not exceeding £9,192, he granted to Her Majesty, to complete the sum necessary to defray the Charge which will come in course of payment during the year ending on the 31st day of March 1878, for the Salaries and Expenses of the Office of the Wreck Commissioner.


asked what the duties of the office were?


said, that the duties were to hold inquiries into wrecks under the Merchant Shipping Act.


asked how the item of £6,000 for nautical assessors was applied?


asked what was the explanation of the charges for justices and for shorthand writers?


asked what were the duties of the Wreck Commissioner?


said, that the duties of the Wreck Commissioner were enormous. Shorthand writers were employed because it was necessary to publish the proceedings.

And it being now 10 minutes to Seven of the clock,

House resumed.

Resolutions to be reported upon Monday next;

Committee also report Progress; to sit again this day.