HC Deb 16 March 1893 vol 10 cc240-1
MR. OWEN (Cornwall, Launceston)

I beg to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether he is aware that it is the frequent practice for Justices' Clerks in England and Wales to act for licensed victuallers and others, in regard to the purchase or sale of public-houses, situate in the Petty Sessional Divisions in which they exercise their official functions, and even to prepare the notices to lead to the transfer of the licences of such public-houses, and afterwards to Act in Court and advise the Justices upon the applications for such transfers, and in regard to complaints against the same public-houses respecting which they have been previously concerned as solicitors for private clients; whether he is aware that it is also the frequent practice for the clerks to the Justices, who advise Magistrates sitting in Petty Sessions as to sending cases for trial, to act as solicitors for the prosecution at Quarter Sessions or Assizes, and to derive fees from the prosecution which follows when such cases are so sent on their advice; and whether he is prepared, by legislation or otherwise, to prevent Justices' Clerks from acting in their private capacity in cases which are likely to come before the Magistrates to whom they act as clerks?


I have no information concerning the frequency of the practice referred to in the first question, but the statement of the hon. Member is probably accurate, inasmuch as Justices' Clerks are almost always solicitors, and sometimes the only solicitor of standing in a district. In answer to the second paragraph, the practice is prohibited, so far as clerks in boroughs are concerned, by Sub-section 3 of Sec. 159 Municipal Corporations Act, 1882; but the prohibition does not extend to Justices' Clerks in counties. The question of the expediency of such extension has been frequently considered; there is much to be said in favour of it, but the practical difficulty is, as I have already said, that in many rural districts the Justices' Clerks are the only solicitors of any standing, and interference with their private practice would not be conducive to the administration of the law. The extent of the practical evils resulting from the present system is doubtful, and I am not at present prepared to undertake to propose legislation, but I will confer with my hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General with a view to further consideration of the subject.