HC Deb 14 April 1887 vol 313 cc983-8

(Sir Michael Hicks-Beach, Mr. Jackson.)

COMMITTEE. [Progress 24th March.]

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1 (Abolition of distinctions between certain Judgeships).

MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)

I observe that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Henry H. Fowler), who has the first Amendment on the Paper, is not in his place. I should like to know what course the Government intend to take with regard to this Bill?


I am not surprised to find the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henry H. Fowler) is not in his place. I have had some communication with him in regard to this subject, and though I am very unwilling to narrate a private conversation in the absence of the right hon. Gentleman, I think I am justified in saying that the right hon. Gentleman is not disposed to look unfavourably on the proposal which I made to him, which was that he should not press the Amendment he had on the Paper, which would have the effect of abolishing one of the Common Law Judges in Ireland; and that the Government, in return, would pledge themselves to bring in a Bill dealing in a broad and liberal spirit with the whole question of Irish Judicature as soon as they are able to do so. Hon. Gentlemen who have followed this question are aware that in 1885 the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Edinburgh (Mr. Childers) brought in a Bill which dealt with the whole question. I am perfectly ready to acknowledge that I believe that Bill was meant to remedy a state of things which has long been recognized as an evil in Ireland—namely, the excess of strength in the Supreme Court of Judicature for the duties to be performed. We are prepared to deal with that question as the right hon. Gentleman was prepared, and when we get an opportunity of doing so, we shall be prepared to bring in a Bill which, in its main provisions, will not differ essentially from that the right hon. Gentleman himself proposed. Of course, as no one has moved the Amendment standing in the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton, I should not be in Order in discussing it; but I may say that we are of opinion that the adoption of the Amendment will not facilitate the final settlement of the question. The Amendment would abolish one of the Judges who are necessary, and leave unabolished the Judges who are not necessary. In 1877 the number of Common Law Judges was reduced from 12 to 10; and when the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Childers) considered this question, he had to decide whether he would further reduce the number. He came to the conclusion that, keeping in view certain work these Judges had to perform, and the convenience of certain arrangements, it was not expedient, in the public interest, that the number should be further reduced; and I believe the experience of the last few months has confirmed the opinion then arrived at by the Government. The branches of the Irish Judicature which ought to be lopped off are not in the branch of Common Law, and this Bill does not propose to remove Judges who are necessary, but to take a step which will facilitate the fusion of the Common Law Division, The Bill is a substantial step in the way of reform, and if the House will allow it to pass in its present shape, we will bring in a Bill carrying out the remainder of the views, broadly speaking, of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Childers). We shall, in that manner, do much more to promote the object of Irish Judicature reform than if we were to introduce a crude and ill-considered proposal, not taking full account of the necessity of Irish administration.


No Amendment has been moved, and therefore the Question before the Committee is, "That Clause 1 stand part of the Bill."

MR. CHILDERS (Edinburgh, S.)

Upon that Question, Mr. Courtney, I may say that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Henry H. Fowler), who has an Amendment on the Paper, is not here tonight; but I can explain, in general terms, the part he and others interested in the matter take. I listened with great attention to the promise which the right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary for Ireland (Mr. A. J. Balfour) has just made. I think I understood it; but if he will allow me to add one or two words and if he will express his concurrence with them, there will be no difference between us. In the Bill of 1835, which I had the honour of introducing, a considerable reduction in the strength of the Irish Judicature was proposed, to the extent of three or four Judges, but that reduction did not extend to the Common Law Judges. The right hon. Gentleman now undertakes at once—I do not mean to-morrow, but within a reasonable time during the present Session—to introduce a Bill practically carrying out this reduction, but not in the Common Law Judges. If I distinctly understand that the reduction I proposed will be made, while the right hon. Gentleman will not be tied down to all the other details of the Bill of 1885, I recommend the House to accept that as a fair arrangement, and I shall not move the Amendment of my right hon. Friend.


I entirely accept that version of my speech. I do not pledge myself as to the number of the reduction, but it will be three or four.


After what has been said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Edinburgh (Mr. Childers) it would be useless for us to attempt to proceed further with the opposition to this Bill. I cannot help saying, however, that I regard, with apprehension, the weakening of the Court of Appeal in Ireland. The most important cases which go to the Court of Appeal are land cases, and it is highly undesirable that that Court should consist of only three Judges, one of whom, the Lord Chancellor, is necessarily a Party man. The present Lord Chancellor (Lord Ashbourne) has fought the cause of Irish landlords with great ability in the House of Commons, and another of the three Judges is also a Tory. A smaller point I wish to mention is, that if the Common Pleas is abolished, it will be necessary to transfer from the Common Pleas Master to the Queen's Bench Master, the power of taxing election costs. Another point of importance is that suitors should be allowed to retain their suits in the Court in which they had laid them. For example, in Ireland the popular Party lay their writs in the Exchequer, because they believe they get law there; but the landlord Party lay their writs in the Common Pleas. A provision should certainty be made for exhausting pending cases in the Divisions which it is proposed to abolish.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 2 (Consolidation of the Common Law Divisions).

MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)

For the purpose of raising the question of the Taxing Master, I will move the omission of the words "at any time," in page 1, line 21. I take it that the Government are disposed to carry out the provision with regard to the Taxing Master. The words of the clause have a very wide character, and under them the Lord Lieutenant might make orders we do not contemplate.

Amendment proposed, in page 1, line 21, to leave out the words "at any time."—(Mr. T. M. Healy.)

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


I would point out to the hon. and learned Gentleman that if the wording of the clause were made more narrow than it is by the omission which he proposes, it would be impossible to carry out the intention of the Bill. I trust the hon. and learned Gentleman will not think it necessary to press this Amendment.


I should like to know what will be the position of the Masters of the Common Pleas when the fusion takes place?


The object of the clause is to prescribe that the Masters of Courts of Common Pleas and Queen's Bench shall continue to be the Masters as long as they are in office.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses 3 to 6, inclusive, agreed to.

Preamble and Title agreed to.

Bill reported, without Amendment.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."—(Mr. A. J. Balfour.)

MR. T. M. HEALY (Longford, N.)

I would ask the hon. and learned Attorney General whether the right will be preserved to suitors of having pending appeal cases tried in the ordinary way?


Although I venture to think that the proposal of the hon. and learned Gentleman would be provided for by the Bill still I believe that my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General for Ireland is willing to consider in what way cases pending may be disposed of in the manner most convenient to the parties concerned.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.