HC Deb 24 March 1887 vol 312 cc1438-48

Order read for resuming Adjourned Debate on Question [28th February], "That Mr. Speaker do now leave The Chair" (for Committee on The Supreme Court of Judicature (Ireland) Bill).

Question again proposed.

Debate resumed.

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

I am amazed that the Government, who have had weeks and weeks to deal with the objection that I have raised to this Bill, have not taken any steps in the matter. You propose to fuse the Common Pleas Division and the Excheque Division of the Court with the Queen's BENCH Division; but you have made no provision for dealing with the machinery of the Courts and the salaries of the officers. I ask the right hon. Gentleman in charge of the Bill, what is to become of the Masters and Clerks, and the machinery of these Courts, in the event of this fusion taking place? I never knew of a Bill of this character being brought forward in so great haste and in so muddled a manner; and I appeal to the House to say that something more is required besides providing for the fusion of the Courts. Certain Judgeships are to be abolished, and The Bill goes on to say that the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland may, by Order in Council, direct the fusion to take place between the Courts; but, as I hare said, there is no provision whatever for dealing with the officers of the Courts. Is it not absurd that, under the circumstances, there should be no provision for the salaries and pensions of those officers? On be last occasion, I moved the adjournment of this debate, and the Motion was carried. I do not like to have to make that Motion a second time; but at least I mast have some assurance from the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Holmes), who is not enamored of the Bill, that before we go into Committee the Government will give us some idea of their scheme for dealing with the officers of the Courts in question. It will be 6een, from the statement of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South Edinburgh (Mr. Childers), that in 1885 he introduced a Bill under which it was estimated that a saving would be effected of £25,000; but the right hon. Gentleman proposed to deal with the officers of the Courts. If this Bill is passed, you will weaken the Court of Appeal by removing from it two Judges. The Court Of Appeal in Ireland, up to the time of the appointment of Lord Ashbourne, was one which enjoyed a considerable amount of confidence. Lord Ashbourne was, for a long time, a Member of this House; he never prac- tised, and he appreciated nothing but the position of a politician. Under the law, as it stands, You have The Lord Chief Baron and the Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas in the Court of Appeal, and now that you propose, to merge the two Courts into the Court of Queen's Bench, what is to become of the Court of Appeal? When registration appeals come on, they naturally excite feelings of strong political partizanship, and I say it is to the credit of Lord Ashbourne that, on such occasions, he retires from The Bench, on The ground that he is a political functionary and never takes part in cases relating to the franchise. Well, Sir, you reduce the Court of Appeal 'in Ireland to two Judges, one of them Mr. Justice Gibbon, a Tory, and the other Mr. Justice Barry, a Whig; and I say this registration cases are row to be left to the decision of a Court in which neither I nor anyone in Ireland has confidence. Although I am opposed in this House to the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland, I believe, if he wore to decide cases of registration, he would give us full measure of justice. But we are not to get him by your arrangement. The Government ought to revert to The Bill which Sir Robert Hamilton ceased to be brought forward, which fully and freely dealt with this great subject, and which, if it had become law, would have met this difficulty. The Court of Exchequer enjoys the confidence of The people of Ireland; they belie that when they go into that Court they will get the law, if they have the Queen against them, and that is a very important thing; but you propose, by The action of The Lord Lieutenant and an Order in Council, to merge the Court of Exchequer in the Queen's Bench as soon as the Lord Chief Baron dies. I hope, if that is so, that The Lord Chief Baron will live along time. I altogether object to having The Court dependent on The signature of Lord Londonderry. That, in my opinion, is a vicious principle. I have no sympathy with The Bill, which deals with this question in a tinkering and obsolete manner, although, of course, I agree that it is necessary to reduce expenditure on the Courts in Ireland, and in that sense we shall vote with the light hon. Gentleman. Farther, I am convinced that The Bill does not reflect the genius of the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland; it would deprive him of an important position, and therefore it is not very likely that he has given his assistance in drafting it. Two months have elapsed in which you could have considered the defects of the Bill, and yet you have not put down a single Amendment to it. I say that Irish Members have no time to come here and make up for the bad workmanship of the draftsman employed by Her Majesty's Government; it is your business, and not ours, and I decline to undertake the remodeling of a Bill that is badly drawn and unsatisfactory in all its provisions. With the proposal to reduce the number of Judges I agree, but with the Bill itself I have not a spark of sympathy.


The hon. and learned Member for North Longford (Mr. T. M. Healy) says that this Bill contains no provision for dealing with the officers of The Courts of Exchequer and Common Pleas; but I point out that there are at the present time the Act of 1877 and The Act of 1882, under which they can be dealt with. The only difficulty in the way of that would be that The Lord Chancellor and two other Judges would have to consent to the arrangement. As regards The other point to which the hon. and learned Member called attention—namely, The Court of Appeal, there would be five Judges of Appeal—the Lord Chancellor, two ordinary Judges, The Lord Chief Justice, and the Master of The Rolls. Inasmuch as The normal number of the Court of Appeal is three, I should think that five Judges would be sufficient for every purpose. I ma)' mention that The late Chief Secretary to the Lord Lieutenant (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) stated, when he introduced this Bill, that he intended to put into a Bill to be brought forward towards the end of The Session some other of the clauses that were contained in the Bill originated by his Predecessor. I trust this explanation will facilitate the passage of The Bill.

MR. HENRY n. FOWLER (Wolverhampton, E.)

The last remark of the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland induces me to make a suggestion to The Government which, I hope, will be received favourably. I ask the right hon. and learned Gen- tleman whether, this Bill having been read a second time, when The Motion that the Speaker leave the Chair is agreed to, he will not himself introduce in Committee The clauses which were in The Bill brought forward by the right hon. Member for South Edinburgh (Mr. Childers) in 1885, in order to carry out a much-needed reform in The Irish Judicature and make The system completely satisfactory? I shall, of course, proceed with the Amendment of which I have given Notice, with reference to The Irish Judges, and I shall take the opinion of the House upon it; but for The purpose of settling The plan of the Bill, are from all Party bias, I would ask The right hon. and learned Gentleman to allow The matter to stand over for a fortnight or three weeks.


Mr. Speaker, I think there is a great deal in what The right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Henry H. Fowler) has said; but if I followed out his suggestion I would not be fulfilling The object my Predecessor in Office (Sir Michael nicks-Beach) had in introducing this Bill. This Bill was introduced simply in order to meet a present necessity. The Courts of Ireland cannot go on doing their work unless some arrangement is come to within the next two or three weeks. ["Oh!"] I am informed that that is a fact. The House, therefore, has really this choice before them—either I have to follow the example that is invariably followed by right hon. Gentlemen opposite, and fill up vacancies as they occur, pending the carrying out of the complete scheme which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. H. H. Fowler) has foreshadowed, or else the House must consent to pass, "immediately and without discussion," this fragmentary Bill, in which case the saving which has been alluded to will be effected. It is a matter of perfect indifference to me which course is adopted; it is purely a question for the English taxpayers. Merely as Secretary for Ireland, responsible for the administration of justice in Ireland, I am absolutely indifferent as to which course the House takes. I quite admit that, from the point of view of the re-constitution of The Courts of Law, The larger Bill is the one which ought to be considered and carried by this House. But I ask The House to consider the difficulty in which we are placed. Hon. Members know in what condition the Public Business of the House is. They know that the Government are pledged to bring forward large measures with regard to Ireland. Do hon. Gentleman suppose that, in the course of the next three weeks, or even in the course of the next three months, there is the slightest chance of passing the large measure which the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. H. H. Fowler) has described? But I merely rise now to repeat the pledges made by my Predecessor (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach). If the House will consent to take this Bill in its present form, without prolonged debate and without amendment, I shall be very glad to see it pass. If they will not so consent, I shall be obliged, in order that The work of The Law Courts in Ireland may be properly carried on, to fill up the vacancy which now exists; and I shall then proceed to press on, as far as I can, The large and general measure of reform the right hon. Gentleman opposite alluded to, and which I know my right hon. Friend (Sir Michael Hicks-Beach) desired to pass. But that cannot be done now. There are now only the two alternatives I have mentioned, and the question is which is to be adopted.


I have noticed the working of the Irish judicial system, and I bog to question the statement of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. A. J. Balfour) that there is any urgency whatever for the passing of this Bill. I may recall the right hon. Gentleman's recollection to one very significant fact in connection with this matter. Four years ago The late Liberal Government made the proposal to this House to reduce the number of Judges in Ireland by no less than five. The statement which The right hon. Gentleman makes now is that the Irish judicial system cannot continue to go on as at present, although there is only one vacancy, caused by the retirement of Chief Justice May. Anyone who knows anything about the working of the Courts of Ireland knows that the Court of Common Pleas is constituted of three Judges; that there is one vacancy in that Court, owing to the transfer of Chief Justice Morris to The Queen's Bench; and that, therefore, there are two Judges left to carry out the work of the Court. Under The Judicature Act, two Judges are quite competent to do the work of the Court; and not only so, but, in practice, they have been doing it for the past two years. Though the Court of Common Pleas is constituted of three Judges, nine out of every 10 judgments given in the Court are pronounced by two Judges. During a third of his time, at least, The Chief Justice is engaged upon legal business elsewhere—at one time trying appeals; and at another time sitting in Nisi Prius. Two Judges can do, and are at The present time doing, the work of the Court; and, therefore, there is no foundation whatever for the statement 0f The right hon. Gentleman the Chief Secretary that it is urgent that this Bill should be passed in order that there may be no mishap in The working of the Irish judicial system, owing to the vacancy which now exists. Now, I should like to make a few observations in reference to the statement of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland (Mr. Holmes). The right hon. and learned Gentleman said there is no necessity for providing expressly in this Bill for the merging of The offices of The Queen's Bench and Exchequer Divisions, because such offices already exist under the section of the Judicature Act to which he referred. He added that The Executive in Ireland have at the present time under their consideration a scheme for effecting this amalgamation. The Irish Members would like some little information as to the nature of the scheme. We should like to know how many of the existing officers are to be pensioned, as to how many are to be continued in the service, and who The favoured officers are to be? The right hon. and learned Gentleman The Attorney General for Ireland was entirely silent upon that point. It is a most important point; it is one which must be explained to The House before this Bill is passed; it is one on which the fullest information should be given to Members of The House; and I can see no more opportune time for affording such information than during the discussion of this Bill. There is another point which has not been adverted to up to The present. I confess, Sir, that when I first read this Bill, I came to the conclusion that it was nothing better than a dummy Bill—a Bill not meant to deal seriously with the subject. This Bill provides for the merging at present of i the Common Pleas, and in future of the Exchequer, in the Queen's Bench Division, and for having, in future, only one Common Law Division to do the work now done by three Divisions. Let me call attention to the fact that the Bill makes no provision whatever for pending causes or matters. The only precedent I can find for this Bill is the Judicature Act of 1877. That Act merged The throe existing Courts into one, which was called the Supreme Court of Judicature in Ireland; but it made express provision for The causes pending in the different Courts at the time the merging took place. This Bill is absolutely silent on that matter, and no lawyer can read this Bill without having his attention called to The fact. The causes and matters pending at the time of The merging will utterly collapse, or come to an end, owing to the fact that the now Court brought into existence by the merging of the three old Courts will have no jurisdiction whatever to deal with causes commenced in the old Divisions. There is another point on which this Bill is entirely silent. Under the present system, the two Courts it is proposed to merge in the Queen's Bench Division—namely, The Common. Pleas and the Exchequer, have certain exclusive jurisdiction. There is nothing whatever in this Bill to show that the Court of Queen's Bench, as constituted by the merging of The three Divisions, will have any jurisdiction to deal with the matters with which The two old Courts had the exclusive right to deal. It seems to me that this is a most perfunctory and imperfect measure. I could understand a complete Bill—a Bill such as the late Government introduced into The House three or four years ago; a Bill which proposed to completely reform The judicial system of Ireland. I could understand such a Bill as that for which The right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Wolverhampton (Mr. Henry H. Fowler) has asked to-night—namely, a Bill to deal with the emergency which occurred when Chief Justice May retired, and when The Government had to consider whether or not they would fill up the office left vacant by The promotion of Chief Justice Morris. But I confess I cannot understand a Bill of this kind, a Bill which is neither one thing nor The other, which does not con- fine itself to the one specific point I have referred to, and which does not effect that reform in the judicial system of Ireland which is so badly required. I trust that before this Bill comes to be considered in Committee the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. A. J. Balfour) in charge of it will consider the points to which I have alluded, and which seem to me to be most important and material, and that he will make some statement in regard to them.

MR. CHANCE (Kilkenny, S.)

I should like to say that oven if we admitted that a difficulty does exist—and I do not admit anything of The kind—tho House should recollect who created The difficulty. There were originally four Judges in the Queen's Bench Division; but one of them recently retired. I do not think anyone can stand up in this House and say that three Judges are too few to carry on the business of The Queen's Bench Division; but as a piece of political patronage the Chief Justice of the Common Pleas was promoted to the Queen's Bench Division, in which he draws a considerably increased salary. It is owing to the action of Her Majesty's Government that The deadlock, if there is any, exists. I do not think it can be denied by anyone that at present we are spending annually on the administration of law in Ireland not less than £150,000 more than we ought to spend. We are spending this £150,000 in what is nothing else but The most barefaced and arrant political bribery, in what is really a prostitution of law, and yet the Government come down to the House and tell us, upon The stand-and-deliver principle, you must allow us to save £1,200 a-year, or else we will go on spending £150,000 in patronage. Now, suppose this Common Pleas Division is abolished. There are many young gentlemen connected with The Division as to whose future The House would do well to evince a certain amount of interest. Take the case of Mr. Courtney, a nephew of Chief Justice Morris. He was appointed to a position carrying a salary of £1,000 a-year, and his duties have certainly not broken down his health. What is to be done with him? Is he to receive a good round sum as compensation, or is he to receive the modest sum of £500 or £600 as pension? There are about a dozen other officers who, in the same way, will have to be dealt with. But there is another point, which is of more importance to us than any other. We do not pretend to have any great burning regard for The English taxpayers' money; but we do attach great importance to The question of registration. If this Bill is passed unamended, the Court of Appeal, for the purpose of registration, will be constituted by the two permanent Judges of Appeal, the Master of the Rolls, and this promoted gentleman; and I say, without The slightest hesitation, that that Court will not have The confidence of The Irish people in any degree. It cannot possibly have; and the Gentlemen who now desire to uphold law and order would do well to give us some undertaking that The Court of Appeal will be more fairly constituted for registration matters. This object might be secured by the inclusion in the Court of one of The Exchequer Judges, The only Judges in whom The Irish people have any confidence. I. trust that before we proceed further with the Bill the Government will give us some assurance on this point; and also afford us some information with respect to The pension scheme which must follow upon The passing of this Bill.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clause 1 (Abolition of distinction between judgeships).


I understand there is an arrangement with The right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Henry H. Fowler) that the Bill should be taken up on Tuesday. I therefore move. Mr. Courtney, that you do now report Progress.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That The Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Plunket.)

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

I do trust we shall have some information from The Government on Tuesday as to what The scheme under this Bill is to be. Master Courtney is a young man of 35. What do you propose to do with him? What do you propose to do with all The clerks in the Common Pleas? Are we going to have an answer to that question or not. It is monstrous that English Gentlemen, professing to be anxious for The money of The taxpayers, should allow a Bill of this kind to be passed into law on The strength of their own ignorance, and refuse us The least support in asking the most reasonable questions of The Government. Are you going to pension these gentlemen or not?

MR. CONYBEARE (Cornwall, Camborne)

When this Bill is again taken up, I shall most certainly add my protest against it to that of my hon. Friends below The Gangway, unless we receive The fullest information from the Government as to what they propose to do. The mere suggestion that a young gentleman such as has been described should be pensioned off at The ago of 35 is enough to make The Secretary to The Treasury's hair stand on end.


I must point out that it is irregular to enter on this discussion on the Motion to report Progress.


Perhaps I may be allowed to say that the question raised is one for the Treasury rather than for the Irish Office; but I have no doubt that when we reach the 4th clause The explanation desired will be given.


If on Tuesday we can see no signs of information from The Government on this particular question, I shall, Sir, as soon as you enter upon your arduous duties in The Chair, move that you do leave the Chair.

Question put, and agreed to.

Committee to sit again upon Tuesday next.