§ (NO. 118.) SECOND READING.
§ (4.50.) Order for Second Reading read.
§ * MR. SEALE-HAYNE (Devon, Ashburton)
This Bill is intended to deal with a grievance which has been felt for a long time—namely, the method of appointing Justices of the Peace in this country. The purpose of my Bill is: in the first place, to give County and Municipal Councils power to appoint a certain number of Justices of the Peace, in proportion to the inhabitants; in the second place, my Bill provides that Chairmen of Boards of Guardians and Urban Sanitary Authorities shall be Justices of the Peace on the same principle that Mayors of towns are Justices, and that Aldermen in some cities, also elected, are Justices of the Peace; thirdly, I desire to abolish the property qualification in respect of the Justices so elected; and, fourthly, to provide for the retirement of a large number of gentlemen whose names are now in the Commission, but who have long ceased to do magisterial duty. No one can contend that the present method of nominating Justices of the Peace is in any way satisfactory, for they are nominated by an irresponsible official of the Crown—the Lord Lieutenant in counties, and in boroughs merely by the wire-pullers of the Party which at the time happen to be in office. This, I hold, is contrary to the principles of representa- 582 tive government. It is unsatisfactory to those who wish to enjoy the dignity of a Justice of the Peace, and it is unsatisfactory to the people at large. This is no new subject, for it was raised in this House as far back as the year 1876 by an hon. Member, in a Resolution, to the effect that the law needed speedy and thorough investigation with a view to its amendment; and the late Mr. John Bright held a very strong opinion of the same kind. I am a Justice of the Peace myself, both for a county and borough, and disclaim any idea of making an attack upon the present Magistrates. Many of them, no doubt, are zealous, conscientious, and thoroughly respected, and I am anxious not to give offence in any way to them; but I can hardly think anyone will contend that there is that confidence amongst the working classes in the administration of justice in our Courts of Petty Sessions which they ought to feel. I do not think that the decisions of the Great Unpaid are universally respected, and my desire is to inspire public confidence in these Petty Sessional Courts by introducing the principle of election. I base my argument on the broad principle that the present principle of nomination is inconsistent with the free and democratic institutions of this country, and is a mere relic of the old days of jobbery and patronage. Our old constitutional principle is that a man should be tried by his Peers, but that is not done in our Courts of Petty Sessions; for men of the working classes are tried by those who are commonly regarded as a superior class, above them, and I do not believe there are half a dozen Justices of the Peace belonging to the working classes in the whole country. The present system has the effect of setting class against class, and favours the exploded idea that it is the special function of owners of property to rule, and the fate of the poor to be ruled. There is amongst the people at large a perpetual soreness upon this point which must continue so long as the present system exists, so long as Benches, consisting entirely of men of property, decide questions affecting property, and game preservers are permitted to adjudicate upon cases of breach of the Game Laws. I am no 583 advocate for electing Judges of the Superior Courts. They require special qualifications, and have to determine questions of law involving rights of property. But in criminal cases they are assisted by a jury. Justices of the Peace discharge the functions of both Judge and jury, and should be selected from all ranks of the people, and by men elected by the people, and in whom they have confidence. I know that many regard our social fabric as a building with its upper and lower floors. I would ask them to remember the Tower of Babel, and what became of it, when the gentlemen in the upper story ceased to understand the men on the ground floor. There is nothing in my Bill which militates against the appointment of paid Magistrates, and I should like to see our Borough and County Councils have power to appoint paid Magistrates for their own districts. I will, however, call attention to some of the evils in connection with the present system. The idea of election is not new, for at the present time elected Mayors are Justices, as are elected Coroners, elected Baillies, and in some boroughs Aldermen and Portreves. In boroughs our Justices are now elected, but by whom? By the political wire-pullers of the particular Party which happens to be in power at the time. Their names are sent by the wire-pullers to the Lord Lieutenant, and by him forwarded to the Lord Chancellor, who goes through the decent farce of submitting the names to the Town Council. Poole was a peculiar place. It, had 31 Magistrates and 14 policemen, yet the present Lord Chancellor added 4, on the ground that his predecessor had added 3, although it was not pretended that more Magistrates were required. In the case of Winchester, where there were 22 Magistrates and 19 policemen, a list of names so submitted was objected to, and, in reply to a question, the Home Secretary said that the Town Council exceeded its duty in so replying to the question asked by the Lord Chancellor. A Return presented to the House some time ago showed that throughout England the number of Justices who during the previous year had virtually abandoned their duties amounted to about 23 per cent. In Wiltshire, 25 per cent. were non-resident 584 during the year, many permanently so; altogether about 36 per cent. of useless men were on the Commission. In that particular county, in 1886, the Lord Lieutenant appointed 77 Justices of the Peace, of whom 70 were members of the Political Party to which he belonged. It seems to me that the chief qualification necessary to obtain the dignity is to accept office in the Primrose League. In Wales few of the Justices are able to speak Welsh, and, though the great body of the inhabitants are Nonconformists, not 2 per cent. of the Justices are Nonconformists. It is true that one or two working men have been appointed Justices; but when, in 1886, the Attorney General was asked to nominate more he replied that he was not prepared to advise the Lord Chancellor to recommend one class more than another. That is just what I complain of Gentlemen recommended for the Bench are entirely of one class.
§ * MR. SEALE-HAYNE
In Flintshire, where 97 per cent. of the, inhabitants are Nonconformists, there is not a single Dissenter on the Bench. On that point, in answer to a question, the Home Secretary said that Justices were appointed without regard to their religious views, and that the Lord Lieutenant could not discover a single Nonconformist who possessed the necessary qualification. We should like to take it out of the power of the Home Secretary to make such a reply in the future. At Hanley six Justices were appointed in spite of the Petition of the Mayor and Corporation to this House; and in reply to the hon. Member for Sheffield the Minister replied that it was not the duty of the Secretary of State to interfere with the Lord Chancellor, the meaning of which was, apparently, that this House has no control over the Lord Chancellor in any way. In several places there are many more Magistrates than there are policemen, notably in Poole. I will now turn to the Bill. It provides for the retirement of Justices who do not attend to their duties for the space of one year, and that, Mr. Speaker, is desirable in order that more active gentlemen may be appointed to fill 585 their places. It proposes also that Chairmen of Boards of Guardians, who, as a rule, are men thoroughly well known and respected in their districts, shall be Justices. When we have the long promised District and Parish Councils, the Chairmen of those Bodies, in the same way as elected Mayors, should have the powers of County Magistrates. In regard to election by the County Council, it may be objected that the elections will degenerate into a Party fight. It may be so in some instances, but the nominations at the present time are made for political purposes, and are frequently the subject of a backstairs contest. If we are to have a political contest it had better be in the open. I think the County Councils may be trusted to elect the best men in their localities, and I believe this would be a reform demanded by the working classes. Far from in any way weakening the administration of justice, if we introduced into municipal and county benches men on the elective principle, they would be held in greater respect, especially in the country districts, than at the present time. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.
Motion made, and Question proposed "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Seale-Hayne.)
§ *(5.15.) MR. G. HOWELL (Bethnal Green, N.E.)
It is a fact that the experiment has been made of appointing a few working men as Justices, but we want a thorough revision of the mode of the appointment of Justices. We have no guarantee whatever that the person appointed is at all fit for the position he is called upon to occupy. No one can know anything of Justices of the Peace in many parts of the country without knowing that many of them are less learned in the law than prisoners who are brought before them. I think the time has come when an effort should be made to make the Bench of England worthy of the position it occupies. I admit that it popular elections we may not always gel the best men to occupy the best positions, yet, speaking generally, we should have a better chance that the men would be fit for their positions than we 586 have under the present system. The worst form of appointment is by the nomination of wire-pullers, it matters not to me whether by the Primrose League or by a Radical Association. I contend that the principle is wrong, and that men should be elected to that high and honourable position by reason of fitness. There are thousands of instances in which Justices have been interested in the cases which have come before them, and in which sentences have been inflicted far beyond their deserts. This has, however, been somewhat modified by the growth of public opinion. In the rural districts there have been cases of men found with ground game in their possession and tried by game-preserving Justices, and the wonder is that the people have not been entirely driven out of these rural districts by the way the Game Laws were administered. The Returns also will, I think, show that in some of our ports sailors have been sent to prison by Justices more or less connected with the shipping interest. It is hardly reasonable to think that these Justices would not look upon such cases with some degree of prejudice. The Criminal Law Amendment Act, passed in connection with the Trade Union Act and subsequently repealed, afforded other illustrations, where employers of labour sent to prison men brought up under that Act. In the case of the Labour Laws, the then Home Secretary (Viscount Cross) endeavoured to prevent a miscarriage of justice by sending out some notes on the administration of the Law. It seems to me almost impossible that under the present system of appointment these preferences, partialities, and prejudices shall not come into play. I desire that the Law of England shall be administered in the most enlightened spirit by men competent to administer it, and I call in question the competency of a great number of the men who now sit on the Bench. There are many points in the Bill which may be amended in Committee, and, as this is the first attempt in which we have been successful in bringing the Bill before the House, I support the Second Reading of the Bill.
§ *(5.25.) MR. J. R. KELLY (Camberwell, N.)
It seems to me, Sir, that this Bill is an unfortunate remanet from Session to Session, and I think the taxpayers of the country should no longer be called upon to pay for printing it. I hardly think the hon. Member who seconded the Bill can have read it, for there are absurdities in it from which even he must shrink. We are supposed to be asked to do away with the present system of appointing Justices, and to substitute for it one of the most extraordinary that has ever been devised. But the Bill does not put an end to the old system; there is nothing in it to prevent the Lord Chancellor appointing as many Justices as he likes. The hon. Member proposes also that if by any chance, illness or any other unavoidable cause, a Justice of experience, respected, and learned in the Law does not sit on the Bench for a year he is to be struck off the Roll. With regard to that, there is a very curious proposal in Clause 4. The Clerk of the Peace is to mark the attendances of Justices, and if he fail in that duty any person, with the consent of the Attorney General, and any police officer, without it, may bring him up before the Justices for such default. I think that is tolerably absurd. But the curious thing is that a subsequent clause would at first sight appear to give a discretion to the Lord Chancellor; but the truth is that under the clause he, in fact, can do nothing but remove the name from the Roll. The House can hardly understand the absurdity of the provisions of the Bill, under which a man may be 50 years a Justice so long as he attends once a year, but if, from any cause whatever, he be absent for twelve months he ceases to be a Justice altogether. The hon. Gentleman spoke of the importance of Chairmen of Boards of Guardians being Justices. In most cases in my experience they are, and where they are not I do not think much would be gained by making them so. Besides, there is no certainty that they would hold the office for two years in succession. There is also another proposal in the Bill, that for every 10,000 inhabitants there shall be one Magistrate elected by the County Council. If that had been passed two or three years ago London 588 would have been flooded by 500 Magistrates of strong Radical propensities. But what would be the good of them for London? Of course, this number seems ludicrous when considered in reference to London, but it is equally ridiculous with reference to any other large city in England. Another feature of the Bill is the provision which assumes that no person under 30 years of age could have sufficient knowledge to properly discharge the duties of a Justice of the Peace. Then, again, Justices are not to hold the office permanently, but are to be re-elected every six years. I deny that jobbery or patronage is largely practised under the present system of appointments, and I am bound to declare that I think unworthy insinuations have been made against a very honourable body of men. They may have, in many cases, no very great knowledge of law, but it is ludicrous to say that often they have less than the persons brought before them. They have been held up to odium by the hon. Member who introduced the Bill as "game-preservers." It is equally obvious that this charge has been purposely dragged into this debate, and that the question of game-preserving would be relevant only if this were a Bill for the abolition of the Game Laws, to which I would personally offer no objection. In regard to the complaint that Magistrates now act as Judge and jury, I maintain that in respect to the lighter classes of offences this is an advantage, for it is greatly to the interests of the masses that justice should be speedily done; but the House will readily understand that this would be prevented if every case were to be tried by a jury. We have heard a good deal of matters that have nothing whatever to do with this Bill; but I think that, under the circumstances, the House will agree with me that the Bill in its present form cannot be accepted—that it cannot be entertained by the House; and the remedies proposed by the Member for the Ashburton Division to meet the evils of which he complains are impracticable; and, even if practicable, they would be absurd. In reality, the hon. Member does not propose to do more than add to the present system an enormous number of gentlemen who, 589 according to his own view, would only be elected because they happen to be the hangers-on of favourites of some particular Party. The present system of administering justice is, upon the whole, one of the best—one of the fairest and most economical in vogue in any country in the world, and I, therefore, hope that the House will not interfere with it, as they are asked to do by this Bill, but that they will reject the proposals by a large majority.
§ *(5.40.) SIR CHARLES RUSSELL (Hackney S.)
The hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has treated the House to a criticism, more or less acute, of the provisions of the Bill; but I do not think he has said much to enable the House to judge as to whether the essential principle of the Bill is, or is not, worthy of acceptance. In order to get at the essential principle of the Bill we must see what is the existing condition of things. The existing condition of things is, that at present a Government Public Official, who holds a high legal position, and also a high political position, practically has in his own discretion the appointment of the entire Borough Magistracy of the country, while in the case of the County Magistracy he acts on the recommendation of the Lord Lieutenants of the counties; therefore, I say, that he has, practically, control of the entire Magistracy of the country, broadly speaking. Now, the hon. and learned Gentleman says that that has not been the subject of complaint in past times. I beg to differ entirely from the hon. Member. I do not know of any subject that has more frequently cropped up in the local Press throughout the country than these criticisms, often severe, and, I must say, often well founded. I am afraid, on the fact that the Lord Chancellor, whatever may have been his motive, or whatever may have been his knowledge in the matter, has appointed, to a very large extent, to the Magisterial Bench, 590 gentlemen who were members of his own Political Party there can be little doubt. I am not attributing to the Lord Chancellor that he does this intentionally. The Lord Chancellor acts in the matter on the representations made to him, and he would naturally more readily listen to the representations that came from those who are upon his own side in politics than to the representations that came from those upon the other side. As a result, the belief is that in many cases the appointments by the Lord Chancellor—and I am not now speaking of the Lord Chancellor upon one side or the other—are largely actuated by political considerations. One has to ask oneself, What is, or ought to be, the first and essential qualification for holding a judicial office, which is concerned, more than any other, with the affairs of everyday life, and brings those holding it into contact with the great bulk of the people? I say that it is not high station, that it is not the possession of property, that it is not even the possession of high intellectual gifts, but that it is the enjoyment of the confidence of the community, and the belief that a man will honestly, and to the best of his ability, discharge his duty; and what better way can be pointed out of securing that Magistrates should possess the confidence of the community than by providing, as is proposed by this Bill, that the appointment shall rest, in part at least, with the representatives of the community itself? I do not think that is a matter which should excite the ire of the hon. Member. My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgeton Division, when he held the office of Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, tried what was considered at the time a very bold experiment. Holding the views that it was desirable that the selection of Magistrates should no longer be confined to persons in good positions socially, or of large means, he thought the experiment should be tried of appointing men who had not such position or such means; men who had not such qualifications, but men who were able to bring to the discharge of their duty a 591 reasonable amount of intelligence, judgment, and good sense; and who would possess the confidence of the people amongst whom they would be administering justice. The result of that experiment has been, I believe, in Lancashire, attended by eminently satisfactory results. With reference to the clauses of the Bill, there is first of all a clause dealing with retirement. With regard to the provision that a Magistrate who failed for one year to attend to his judicial duties, that he should on that account lose his position, I think that should be qualified, and that some consideration should be given to those Magistrates who absent themselves through ill-health, or who have other adequate excuses for non-attendance. I think they might claim to have their names retained upon the Roll. As to the proposal that Chairmen of Boards of Guardians and Sanitary Authorities should become Justices by right of their office, that is merely an extension of a principle which is already embodied in our law. Then I come to the really effective part of this Bill, which is, of course, that part providing for the election of Magistrates by Municipal Councils and by County Councils in the case of counties. I must say that I do not think there is any ground for anticipating the election of large numbers of Magistrates on account of their political views only. If the majority on any County Council were to so abuse their powers as to use them solely for the purpose of advancing men belonging to one political party, I believe such action would be resented by every section of the community. My hon. Friend referred, as being a matter of complaint, to the fact that the Bill touches the power of the Lord Chancellor. My opinion is that the reason for passing a Bill of this kind is that the public do not like to think that Magistrates, whose functions are most important, should be appointed in accordance with the mere will of the Lord Chancellor, who does not, and could not, know what was thought of the men appointed by the communities amongst whom they lived.
§ MR. KELLY:
I understand the hon. Gentleman claimed to do away with the jobbery which, it is alleged, exists.
§ * SIR CHARLES RUSSELL
The hon. Member should not have interrupted me. The Bill does not take away that power of appointment by the Lord Chancellor, but it is sought to leaven the body of Magistrates appointed under the present system, by those to be appointed under the new. The measure proposes to abolish property qualification, and surely at this time of day that qualification should be abolished. We have abolished the property qualification for a seat in this House. So far back as the year 1835 this qualification has been abolished in respect to Borough Magistrates; upon what principle should it be retained for County Magistrates? I submit that the only true qualification for the successful discharge of magisterial duties is the appreciation of the responsibilities of those duties, and the capacity to discharge those duties honestly, fairly, and intelligently, so as to inspire confidence in the people amongst whom the Magistrates preside. I submit that this Bill should receive a Second Reading. As regards the property qualification, let me say that a noble Duke, not an advanced politician, strove, in another place, to abolish it altogether, and the answer of the Lord Chancellor was a very remarkable answer, but not to the point; the Lord Chancellor thought it sufficient to say that he had not heard from the Lords Lieutenants of Counties that there was any dearth of gentlemen ready to serve as Magistrates. That is not our point. The question is, may there not be a leavening, at least, of the present system by which those who have already shown that they possess the confidence of the community shall have some voice in the selection of Magistrates.
§ *(5.57.) THE SECRETARY OF STATE FOR THE HOME DEPARTMENT (Mr. H. MATTHEWS, Birmingham, E.)
I wish to state why the Government propose to vote against the Second Reading of this rather crude measure. There are two principal matters dealt with by the Bill: first, there is the 593 disqualification of Justices by reason of their non-attendance for a certain time at Quarter, Petty, and other Sessions. It seems to me that those who have framed the measure have taken a somewhat one-sided view of the duties of a Magistrate, and have forgotten that a Magistrate may be, ex officio, a Guardian of the Poor, and may be more interested in his work as a Guardian than in the discharge of his functions as a Magistrate. Such a Magistrate might be constant in his attendance at the meetings of the Board of Guardians, and might there render very valuable assistance; but, in spite of that, unless he attended Sessions regularly he would, under this Bill, be disqualified. The rule in the Bill providing for the disqualification of Magistrates on account of non-attendance would produce some remarkable changes with regard to gentlemen who, I believe, enjoy the confidence of the community in which they live. I find, amongst others, that it would disqualify a gentleman who is Chairman of the Quarter Sessions in a particular county, a gentleman who is a member of the legal profession, and a gentleman of long service. I find that in the County of Pembroke one gentleman, who is a Queen's Counsel, would be disqualified by this rule; and another gentleman who has the misfortune to be a man of rank, who is Chairman of Quarter Sessions in an adjoining county, would also be disqualified by this rule. Such a rule as this is totally unnecessary. No harm is done by the non-attendance of a Magistrate so long as there are a sufficient number present to discharge the magisterial duties necessary for the administration of justice. In most boroughs, and probably in every county, there are a certain number of Magistrates who would be struck off the Commission of the Peace under this rule. It is absurd to do it. No 594 advantage is gained by striking them off. If there is any complaint that there are not sufficient Magistrates in constant or habitual attendance to meet the wants of the several Courts satisfactorily, I have never known a case in which Magistrates have not been added in order to meet that want. Moreover, I cannot help pointing out to the House that in every locality, I suppose, there are a certain number of Magistrates who attend regularly because they have nothing else to do, and there are a certain number of other Magistrates, qualified, trustworthy men who have other avocations and pursuits in life. If you apply this hard-and-fast rule disqualifying Magistrates by reason of 12 months' non-attendance, you will really reduce your Bench of Magistrates everywhere, practically, to those men whose principal merit is that they have nothing else to do—no other avocation in life. I think it would be a misfortune in a great many cases to deprive the Bench of the services which may be rendered upon occasions that specially require them of men who have other avocations in life, and to limit the discharge of judicial duties in each borough and each county to those men whose chief occupation in life is to attend to Magisterial business. I believe you will eliminate some of the most valuable elements of the Magistracy, certainly in every county, and probably in most boroughs, if you act on this rule here laid down. I do not criticise Clause 5, which admits of no excuse and allows no option. It seems to me to be unnecessary, and, upon the whole, to be mischievous. Well, then, as to the principle of election introduced into the Bill. In the first place, the principle is a new one. I agree that that would not be a sufficient objection to make. I am perfectly well aware that in certain isolated cases, such as the Mayor of a borough, who, during his year of office, is a Magistrate ex officio, and in the case of Alder- 595 men in the City, Magistrates are, in a sense, elected, but it is well known that these gentlemen are elected to fill other practical and important duties; they are added to the Bench simply honoris causa, in order that they may have every dignity and the power of performing every function that their position in the locality admits of, and they are Magistrates ex officio while they hold that office. [An hon. MEMBER on the Opposition Benches: A coroner.] I should have thought that the principle of the election of coroners might well be relegated to mediæval antiquity. I understood that the principle of electing coroners had not been satisfactory, but, on the contrary, had caused universal discontent and general dissatisfaction. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for South Hackney said that there was a strong impression abroad that the Lord Chancellor acts from political motives. I daresay many Lord Chancellors have acted from political motives. I am not concerned to deny that; but I am bound to say this: that a Lord Chancellor is largely guided in his selection, and that he makes the selection in reference to the choice of those who are interested in the locality. The Lord Chancellor is not bound by the recommendations made to him by the Lord Lieutenant of the county; but a Lord Lieutenant's recommendation is very rarely disregarded. No gentleman who knows the matter in hand can doubt or deny that a Lord Chancellor takes care to find out the leading opinion of a borough before he puts any gentleman in the position of a Magistrate in it. I shall not refer to any particular instance. So far as I know, there is no difference at all between one Chancellor and another in this respect. Lord Chancellors, I have no doubt, select political friends of their own, in a certain proportion; but they make it a point, also, to select political opponents, in particular cases. I will not say that it always has been done, but to my knowledge that has been done; and I believe that it is becoming more and more a practice, as far as possible, to choose evenly between the gentlemen of different political 596 opinions; but this is quite certain: that if, as the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for South Hackney says, there is an impression that political motives weigh too much with the Chancellors——
§ SIR CHARLES RUSSELL:
I said that political motives weighed also with Lords Lieutenant, and in many cases even more than with Lord Chancellors.
§ * MR. MATTHEWS
I accept the correction of the hon. and learned Gentleman. But I am quite certain of this: that if political motives weigh with Lords Lieutenant and Lord Chancellors, there is an absolute certainty that they will weigh with Borough Councils. If you want to carry out the principle that political motives should be the guiding and leading motives in the selection of judicial persons, then entrust the function of choice to a popular body; and the more you do that, the larger you make the popular body that exercises the choice, the more certain you may be that political motives will accompany the choice. The Lords Lieutenant and the Lord Chancellor are individual subjects of attack. They are responsible to, and are closely watched by, public opinion, and open to public criticism. But in the case of County Councils or Borough Councils, a candidate for the office of Magistrate will have a less accurate test of fitness applied to him than would be applied by an officer, who, after all, is responsible for all the judicial appointments of the country. Is it to be said that the Lord Chancellor who appoints the Judges is not perfectly qualified to judge of the fitness of a County or Borough Magistrate? Neither a County Council nor a Borough Council can be supposed to be as well qualified to judge of the fitness of a judicial officer as the head of the whole Judicial Body of the country, himself the greatest and first Judge of the country, and having a direct responsibility and interest in the right administration of justice in the country. It appears to me that if you want to 597 make something else rather than fitness the test for determining the reasons for appointing Judges, you cannot do better than substitute a principle of election for that which is followed at present. That principle of election has led in other countries to consequences that, in my judgment, have been so disastrous and mischievous that I am not prepared to assent to the principle proposed for a change of that sort without a far stronger case being made out as regards the evils arising from the present system than I have ever heard made, or even heard attempted. I could fancy nothing more whimsical than the system which this Bill will set up. You will have two Judge-making authorities side by side—the Chancellor on the one side, and the County Councils and the Borough Councils on the other side, each manufacturing Magistrates and turning them out apparently in rivalry with each other, and limited only by the provision that there shall be one Magistrate to 10,000 of the inhabitants; and with a different state of law applicable to one set of Magistrates and to the other. Your Chancellors' Magistrates for counties are still to have the property qualification as it now exists; your Chancellors' Magistrates in boroughs are still to be subject to the condition of residence; but your elected Magistrates need not have the property qualification in counties, and are not to be subject to the qualification of residence in boroughs. You would have two sets of Magistrates, with different qualifications, created by different authorities, and these in opposition one to the other throughout the country. I believe that that would not tend to further the administration of justice in the country. I believe, on the contrary, that, using it for the first time, the principle cannot stop there. Do not suppose that this argument, which has been advanced by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hackney—namely, that it is desirable that any person administering justice should have the confidence of the people—will not be carried further. They will have the confidence of the people if they are properly qualified; and is it to be supposed that the pre- 598 sent system does not adopt the best machinery for getting at their qualifications and judging of their fitness by requiring that they should be defined by an eminently competent person, acting in high responsibility, and bearing the whole brunt of criticism, rather than that the selection should be handed over to an indiscriminate body, who will have no responsibility and no qualifications for exercising a choice of a certain sort? But once you admit that argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hackney in its full extent, you cannot limit your principle of election of Magistrates to County and Borough Councils. By degrees you will have to go on and apply the franchise to the election of Judges, as I believe is done in the United States, and elect Judges very much as you elect Members of Parliament. If that argument of the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hackney were carried out to its full extent, the methods of election to the Legislature will have to be extended to Justices. For how can the confidence of the people be better expressed than by the choice of all the electors of the country? If I look at the American system as compared with our system, I should say that the American system has resulted in judicial bodies not so deserving of confidence, not so well qualified, not so upright, and not possessing those qualities which, with the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hackney, I think are the most important. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green has sneeringly remarked that there are Magistrates in the country who do not know as much law as the criminals brought before them. But there are many criminals in the country who know more Criminal Law than the Judges of the land. I particularly remember one case in which a criminal reminded the Judge that he had not power under the Statute to order hard labour. I agree with the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hackney that technical knowledge acquired in the dock or in the gaol is not, however, nearly so valuable for the administration of justice as the straight-forward mind that means to do right and has common sense 599 enough to grasp the very simple principles of our law and to apply them with an unswerving desire to do justice. It has been said that the present system does not not lead to the appointment of as many Nonconformists and as many working men as hon. Members desire. I have myself urged the Lord Lieutenants in Wales to do their best to appoint qualified members of the Nonconformist Body who might be recommended to the Lord Chancellor.
§ * MR. MATTHEWS
No, not quite in vain, though not so many have been recommended as I could wish. The appointment of working men as Magistrates does not fairly arise on this Bill, so that it is not necessary to embark on the enormous change that this Bill proposes in order to modify the qualifications, so as to make it more easy for working men to be appointed to the Commission. Instances have not been infrequent, however, where in boroughs working men have been placed on the Commission. The hon. Member for Bethnal Green talked about Judges interested in a conviction adjudicating in a case. Of course that is very much to be lamented, that we ever should have a Judge sitting to try a case in which his interests incline either to one side or the other; and in our recent legislation we have endeavoured, so far as we could, to prevent that. It is prohibited by provisions in the "Mines Regulation Act," and in many similar Acts of that sort. For my part, I should be extremely glad to see those provisions extended to all cases in which that sort of interest prevails; but I assure the hon. Gentleman that it would not be easy to remedy that state of things by taking Judges from a class from which they have not been hitherto taken. Your employé will not have less interest than your employer, and you will have the same objection with regard to working classes as with regard to employers. That is inevitable, I think. These prejudices and these prepossessions will occur as objections to the working man just as much as to the employer.
§ MR. GEORGE HOWELL
If the right hon. Gentleman remembers I put it in that form—that prejudices were inevitable.
§ MR. MATTHEWS:
Then we agree. These prejudices are inevitable. It is one of the infirmities of human nature. But this Bill will not cure, and your elected borough and county Justices will be no more free from it than the existing Justices.
§ *(6.25.) COLONEL W. CORNWALLIS WEST (Denbigh, W.)
As some remarks have been made with regard to Wales I desire to say a few words with reference to the appointment of Magistrates. I can only say that it is wrong and unfair for any insinuation to be thrown out in this House that the Lords Lieutenant of Wales are actuated solely by Party feeling in the appointments they make. I can only say for myself, as one of those officials, that I have endeavoured to the best of my ability to discover gentlemen to be added to the Commission who differ from me in politics and religion, and I have asked persons cognisant with the county to give me the names of any Nonconformists who ought to be put in the Commission of the Peace. When I discovered these gentlemen I appointed them. But I assure the House that so long as the property qualification remains it is almost impossible to find Nonconformists with the necessary qualification. I acknowledge that, and I, for one, would have no objection to see the property qualification either considerably reduced or done away with. I have been fortunate enough to find some gentlemen able to qualify in my county who are Nonconformists, and they make excellent Magistrates; but, at the same time, I do not consider whether a man is a Nonconformist or a member of the Church of England—I never take the slightest regard as to what his religious opinions are, and I believe that the majority of the Lords Lieutenant do the same. If we know that a man is a just man, a man of ability, a man of education, we say that that man will, in all probability, obtain the confidence of the community, and it is unfair to say 601 that we are actuated in the appointments we make solely from political and religious motives. Now with regard to this Bill, I will not detain the House by criticism, but I confess that I look with the greatest possible mistrust on any suggestions made for the election of Magistrates. I myself believe that in a country like Wales, where Party spirit runs very high, if you are going to give the appointment of Magistrates to the County Councils you will find gentlemen of means and position who do not happen to be members of the dominant Party excluded altogether from the business of the county in which they take a great interest. Now that I think is a decided objection; and I say further that, even now they are largely excluded from the County Councils, that they do not take that interest in the county they used to take, and numbers of them are actually going away. For my part, I would prefer to retain that class of persons in the county and not to deprive them of what I consider they do now extremely well, namely, the judicial business connected with the neighbourhood in which they reside. I can only say that, so far as the county with which I am connected is concerned, I believe that the Magistrates are actuated by a desire to do justice to all, and as a matter of fact I believe that there is not, at the present moment, any actual dislike or suspicion whatever against the Magistrates in the counties; but unfortunately there are those who are actuated with political objects, and who raise a suspicious feeling against them with the desire of excluding them not only from judicial work, but every other work if they can, in the county.
§ *(6.30.) MR. MANFIELD (Northampton)
I should like to say, Sir, that I am in favour of the elective principle being adopted in the matter of the appointment of Magistrates. In the borough which I represent it has been customary for the Town Council to recommend the Magistrates, and we have never had a single complaint during the whole time that system has been maintained. There have been cases where by backstairs influence a list has been sent to the Lord Chancellor who has very much disappointed them. I am in favour of the 602 people having the power of electing those who are to govern them, and I believe from my experience that if they make a mistake they will rather bear the burden of that mistake than have a person put in authority over them with whom they have no sympathy, and in whose election they have had no voice. All that is wanted in a Magistrate is that he should be a fair-minded and just man, a man of common sense, who will judge fairly and honestly the people who come before him, and who will temper justice with mercy.
§ *(6.33.) MR. LLEWELLYN (Somerset, N.)
I do not think, Sir, that the question which is raised in this Bill is one that can be adequately discussed or properly settled by means of a private Members' Bill. One of the chief objections to the Bill in its present shape is this—that no evidence at all has been shown of any dissatisfaction with regard to the action of the Magistrates.—[Opposition cries of "Oh, oh!"]—The exclamation "Oh!" does not answer my argument. Sir, no one having any experience of country life can fail to see that there are many and grave objections to having popularly elected Magistrates. I notice that the attacks on the present magisterial system generally come from those who would like to write the letters J.P. after their names, and when they are allowed to do that, the occasions are rare when J.P. does not appear in largest possible type after their names. The chief objection to electing Magistrates by the popular vote is this—that it will at once bring to the front all the faddists. Some would not be voted for unless opposed to vaccination, or the liability of poor people to contribute to the maintenance of their parents, or against convictions for non-attendance of children at school—no man would be elected unless he agreed to do these. Then the liquor trade would come to the front, and I would ask hon. Gentlemen how the work of the counties is to be carried on if all these faddists have their way. Freedom of action by Justices would be rendered impossible where pledges had been imposed and given. Complaint, Sir, has been made that Magistrates did not attend regularly to their duties. 603 Attend to what? There are, of course, some men who do not sit regularly on the Bench at Petty Sessions or Quarter Sessions, but they do other work, certainly not less important or useful, such as work in connection with Boards of Guardians, Highway Boards, and Assessment Committees. If Magistrates are to be elected for one year, how they are to render effective service in such matters I do not know. There are certain people who are in favour of an alteration of the qualification necessary for Magistrates. I will not go into that now, but I think it might be considered. The whole question ought, indeed, to be considered seriously, and not at the initiative of a private Member. The question, in my opinion, is brought forward more as an electioneering move than as a serious proposal. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time this day six months.
§ MR. BAUMANN (Peckham)
I beg to second that.
Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Llewellyn.)
Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ * MR. THOMAS ELLIS (Merionethshire)
Sir, I do not think that the argument which has been used by the hon. Gentleman who has just sat down is a very honourable argument. The hon. Gentleman says that the objections to the present system of selecting Magistrates come, more or less, from those who are anxious to write the letters "J.P." after their name, and that, I think, is not in itself an argument of a very honourable kind to throw out against hon. Gentlemen sitting on this side of the House.
§ MR. LLEWELLYN:
I must really be allowed to explain. I did not say it was because hon. Gentlemen were not Magistrates that they complained, but that the objections which were raised very often came from those who were not Magistrates.
§ * MR. T. ELLIS:
I am very glad that the hon. Gentleman has withdrawn an 604 insinuation which, I am bound to say, the whole House understood to be applied to Members sitting on this side. Now, with regard to the speech of the hon. Member for West Denbighshire, the House is aware that the hon. Gentleman is the Lord Lieutenant of the county. And, on turning to the list of the Magistrates of the county, I find that one of them is a clergyman for an adjoining county, another a Baronet in Scotland, another a gentleman from Chester, another a Lieutenant-General from Somersetshire.
§ COL. CORNWALLIS WEST
I am sorry to interrupt the hon. Gentleman, but the probability is that the names he has read out are those of gentlemen who once resided in the county and have since left.
§ * MR. T. ELLIS
If these gentlemen are only on the list, and never come-to the county for effective magisterial purposes, then one useful object will be served by this Bill by the removal of their names. The hon. Gentleman the Member for West Denbigh seemed to think he had placed on the Bench every Nonconformist who was qualified. Sir, the Chairman of the County Council of the County of Denbigh, as in several other counties, has had to be made a Magistrate by the operation of the Local Government Act.
§ COL. CORNWALLIS WEST
May I be permitted to say that the Chairman of the County Council has been offered the position of a Magistrate two or three times, and he has always. refused.
§ * MR. T. ELLIS ;
I admit candidly that I did not know that he had refused, but I can quite understand that he refused to be made a Magistrate according to the present system. I have myself had the honour of being offered the office two or three times, but I refused, because I did not possess the necessary qualification, and because it would not be possible for me to discharge the duties while sitting in this House. In Flintshire the Chairman of the County Council is a Magistrate simply because of his election to the chairmanship. There 605 are very few Liberals on the Bench, and the Lord Lieutenant has refused persistently to put any Nonconformist on the Bench whether he had the necessary qualification or not, In the county of Anglesey the Chairman of the County Council is only Magistrate ex officio, and, as if this were not enough, the Home Secretary must needs go to Wales for his illustration. In Cardiganshire the Chairman of the Quarter Sessions is a Worcestershire barrister (Mr. Willis Bund), who happens to own a fishing lodge in the county, and the chief part he has taken in the work of the Bench is as a member of the Joint Police Committee, on which he has used his ingenuity as a lawyer to frustrate the wishes of the County Council. In Carmarthenshire the Nonconformists form an overwhelming majority (75 to 85 per cent.), and yet there is only one Nonconformist on the Bench, and he was appointed after he became a Liberal Unionist. The Lord Lieutenant, the Earl Cawdor, following the example of the Lord Lieutenant of Flintshire, refused to place any Nonconformist on the Bench, therefore his son Lord Emlyn was driven from the representation of his county, and is now obliged to go to Manchester in order to try and get a seat in this House. There is nothing against him personally, but he represents a system which boycotts the majority of the people of the county. The result of the County Council elections in Carmarthenshire and Flintshire is largely owing to the deep discontent felt with the present system of electing Magistrates. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary tried to picture the terrible evils of the system of elective Magistrates in America. He did not know the system himself, and he used the argument most unfairly. He used the American bogey against the provisions of this Bill, which enables County Councils to select Magistrates, whereas in reality the American system is one of direct popular election. The hon. Gentleman the Member for Somersetshire said, If you agree to this Bill, you will have Magistrates elected solely by the faddists and the anti-vaccinationists: but these persons have and ought to have very little power, unless 606 at a General Election. When that is over, they have little influence upon the proceedings of the elected council. The hon. Gentleman said if this Bill passed, it would exclude the minority altogether. I venture to say that I do not believe any County Council in England or Wales would be guilty of such a proceeding; and I have no doubt that county gentlemen, clergymen, and others, would be put upon the Commission of the Peace, from time to time, by the Councils of counties where Nonconformists may be in a large majority.
§ (6.55.) MR. STORY-MASKELYNE (Wilts, Cricklade)
Sir, I believe this Bill to be one that can very easily be put in shape in Committee, and I think it ought to be read a second time. A great deal has been said about the question of election, and something was said about the faddist who would be brought into the field to put this and that person on the Bench, but it seems to be forgotten that what is proposed by this Bill is a system of election carried out not by the people, but by a grave and thoroughly representative body, namely the County Council. To such a body I can see no objection, not to giving the whole of the magisterial appointments to them, but to giving them a portion. This Bill proposes that one Magistrate should be appointed for each Petty Sessional Division. The election of a Magistrate is a very different thing from the election of a Judge by popular vote. In the one case you have to take into consideration that the man who is to be appointed Judge has already shown great judicial capacity and knowledge of Law, but the individual Magistrate is only one of several who act together, and if he can bring to the Bench the necessary time and the necessary knowledge, I think it would be a very good thing if he were appointed in the way proposed by this Bill.
§ (6.58.) MR. HENEAGE (Great Grimsby)
Sir, I agree with the hon. Member for Somersetshire that this is a crude and a badly drawn Bill, but I am not prepared to condemn it in the wholesale fashion adopted by the Home Secretary, and in voting against the Bill I must not be taken as endorsing everything that the Home 607 Secretary said. I am decidedly in favour of doing away with the property qualification, and I am also in favour of striking off the list those magistrates who have not attended to their duties for the last three years. I think one year is too short.
(7.0.) MR. A. E. GATHORNEHARDY (Sussex, East Grinstead)
I only wish to point out that the property qualification is not removed by this Bill, which merely removes it in the case of the new members to be elected. If it had been simply a question of the property qualification, I should have been very much inclined to agree with the last speaker; but the principle of this Bill appears to be that of electing Magistrates, and to that I am opposed. For that reason I intend to give my vote against the Second Reading.
Question put, "That the Bill be now read a second time."
The House divided:—Ayes 125; Noes 168.—(Div. List, No. 3.)
Main Question, as amended, put and agreed to.
Second Reading put off for six months.