HC Deb 31 July 1897 vol 52 cc28-40

(1.) One of the existing vacancies in the office of puisne Judge of the Queen's Bench Division of the High Court shall not be filled until the occurrence of the vacancy next ensuing after the passing of this Act in the office of Judge of the Probate and Matrimonial Division.

(2.) The other such vacancy shall be filled by the appointment of the Honourable Walter Boyd, and that appointment shall be effected by, and on the passing of this Act.


moved in Sub-section (1) to leave out the words "one of." This Bill, in its main lines, was not a reform but a job. There were many abuses connected with the judicial system of Ireland, but the greatest abuse was involved in the relation of judicial salaries to the emoluments earned by the leaders of the Bar. So great had been the falling off in legal business in the country and in the general prosperity of the country that, at the present moment, he believed he was well within the mark in saying that there were not six barristers in Ireland earning £2,000 a year. [A laugh.] The leaders of the Bar in Ireland thought themselves well off if they were making £2,000 a year. It was a question of the utmost importance to consider what ought to be the proportion between the salaries of the Judges and the salaries commonly earned by the leaders of the Bar in order to secure for the Judicial Bench the very best talent which the Bar could give. In Ireland, at the present moment, there existed a relation between the salaries of the Judges and the earnings of the barristers such as existed in no other country in the world. If the same relation between the salaries of the Judges and the earnings of the leaders of the Bar were to exist in London as existed at present in Dublin, they would have to raise the salaries of the English Judges to about £15,000 a year. It was perfectly well known that when leaders of the Bar in England accepted Judgeships, they generally consented to a considerable reduction in their incomes. That was perfectly right, because a man accepted a Judgeship for several reasons; he was willing to accept an office giving him a lesser income because he obtained dignity of position, security of position, and an assurance of a good retiring allowance after a certain number of years' service. The terms ought to be sufficient to tempt the best intellects of the Bar, but not such as to permit them to double the incomes they were now making by their profession. The sound principles which obtained in England had been departed from in Ireland. The reason was to be found in the history of the Union and in the whole political history of the country. The educated classes of Ireland had been corrupted—["hear hear!"]—and partly because the salaries of the Irish Judges had been maintained at double the figure which would easily command the best intellect of the Bar of Ireland. That was the main abuse connected with the Judiciary in Ireland. There were in Ireland 17 Judges. Two of them received £2,000 a year, and the others received from £3,500 to £8,000 a year, the latter being the monstrous salary paid to the Lord Chancellor. One would imagine that if the Government found it necessary to abolish any Judgeships they would abolish some of the more highly paid offices. It was evident, however, that this Government had said to themselves, "let us abolish the lower paid Judges, so that we may say to the world that no man can be got to act as a Judge for less than £3,500 a year." That was an admirable idea in the interests of the Bar. The two Bankruptcy Judgeships, to which were attached salaries of £2,000 a year, were to be abolished. When making such a proposal the Government were bound to give the Committee some grounds for the belief that competent men could not be procured to do the work for £2,000 a year. The Bankruptcy Court, in Dublin had existed for a long time, and no one had found fault with it. Judge Boyd was to be transferred to the Queen's Bench Division at a salary of £3,500. Judge Boyd was glad to accept a Judgeship in the Bankruptcy Court at £2,000 ten years ago when he could have no idea that this Bill would be introduced. What had happened in the business of the Bankruptcy Court, or in the general level of the incomes of Irish Barristers, to justify the Government in saying that in future no man could be got to do the duty at, £2,000 a year? He maintained that nothing had happened to justify such an assertion. As a matter of fact, the volume of legal business had decreased, and he did not think the Government were even justified in keeping the number of Irish Judges at that which was contemplated by the Bill.


said that the only two Judgeships in Ireland, apart from the County Courts, which were paid at a salary of £2,000, were the Bankruptcy Judgeships. All the Judges of the High Court received £3,500, and it was for the hon. Member for Mayo to show that that salary was too high. The hon. Member forgot that when Judge Boyd became a Judge of Queen's Bench he would have to deal with the whole of the Bankruptcy business, which, up to the time of Judge Miller's death was shared with that Judge. In the somewhat misplaced anxiety of the hon. Member to reduce the salaries of the Irish Judges he had forgotten the amalgamations and consolidations which were the principal objects of the Bill. Every reformer of the judicial system in Ireland had long been anxious to amalgamate the Bankruptcy Court with the Court of Queen's Bench, but the hon. Member would sacrifice that result merely for the sake of reducing salaries. The Government could not accept the Amendment.


said that the right hon. Gentleman had forgotten that the work of all the Judges in Ireland was decreasing year by year in consequence of diminishing population and litigation. But at no time in the history of the Irish Bench had Irish Judges worked as laboriously as did the Judges in England. Even after the Bill became law the number of Judges in Ireland would be far out of proportion to the number in England. There would be 17 for a population of a little over four millions. On the same scale England would have nearly 140 Judges. Crime and litigation in Ireland, too, were much less than in England relatively to the population. The cost of the administration of the law in Ireland was £2,000,000 a year. On the same scale England would pay £15,000,000 a year. Would not English Members protest against such a charge? Why, then, did they not support Irishmen in their protest? This was a dishonest and "stop-gap" Bill, the object of which was to prevent the carrying out of any real reform.

MR. J. COGHILL (Stoke-on-Trent)

said that most people were of opinion that there were too many Judges in Ireland, and that the Judges were too highly paid. [Nationalist cheers.] When the Chief Secretary found hon. Members opposite in the mood to assist in reducing the Irish Bench he was surprised that the right hon. Gentleman did not avail himself of the opportunity. [Nationalist cheers.]


said that the hon. Member for Stoke spoke no doubt with an intimate knowledge of the internal condition of Ireland, and his statements as to the overmanning of the Bench were most interesting. [Laughter.] He wished to state emphatically—and he had no personal interest in the matter—that this Bill reduced the number of Irish Judges to the very extreme limit possible under existing circumstances. Any further reduction would require the repeal of every single Act of Parliament at present regulating the judicial system in Ireland. The whole of the circuit system would have to be altered, and the system of summoning jurors, who at present were often brought from inconvenient distances. In addition, the real business of the country people of Ireland—the civil bill appeals—would have to be left undone. That was an almost perfect system for the poor. It enabled every case heard before a Connty Court, on the mere service of notice, to be taken before a Judge of a High Court sitting on the spot, and rehearing all the evidence. There were 4,000 or 5,000 of those cases every year. When hon. Members demanded a further reduction in the number of Judges did they wish to interfere with that system? Then a change would have to be made in the Court of Appeal in Ireland. That would be most undesirable, because a strong Court of Appeal was very necessary in Ireland, Irish suitors not being able to afford an appeal to the House of Lords. If the duties of the Bench were still further subdivided it would no longer be possible to have more than occasional sittings of the Court of Appeal. To his mind nothing could be more calamitous than to so alter the system of judicature as to take away any of the existing advantages that were to be gained by having a strong appellate tribunal sitting in Dublin. The argument derived from relative population was not a fair test. Take, for instance, the Appeal Court. There was one Appeal Court in Ireland, and only two in London; but they could not therefore say the Court of Appeal in Ireland ought to be abolished. Whatever the number of cases that came before them, it was absolutely necessary the Court of Appeal should be there for such cases as arose. As to the question of the relative incomes made by Irish barristers and the salaries of Irish Judges, he entirely joined issue with the figures of the hon. Member for East Mayo. He did not believe that the incomes of the Irish Bar had been reduced to the figures cited. At all events, if they had, he could state positively that it must be within the last three or four years, because when he was more intimately acquainted with the Irish Bar, there certainly were a very large number of men in Dublin who were making sums equal to the salaries that were given to the Irish Judges in the superior Courts—£3,500 a year—and he believed at the present time there were several men who were making incomes in advance of the salaries given to the Judges. The comparison of England and Ireland was a most unfortunate one, and for this reason, that they did get at the Irish Bar the best talent and the most successful for the incomes that were by statute given to the Judges. That they did not get at the English Bar, and without in the least degree wishing to make any invidious comparisons, he did not think that the majority of the Judges who were appointed in England were men who make any great sacrifice in relation to their incomes when they go on the Bench. [AN HON. MEMBER:"£12,000 or £15,000 a year!"] These were not men who took Puisne Judgeships. And when he cast his mind over the more recent appointments, if their incomes were to be tested, the House would be amazed at the incomes of some of the men who had been promoted. He would also say that, in his opinion, appointments to the Bench ought to have no relationship to the income a man was making at the Bar. It did not follow that because a man was making a large income at the Bar he was therefore the most suitable man for the Bench. That was a statement which any lawyer would entirely agree with. On the grounds he had indicated, he saw no justification for the attack made, whether on the salaries or on the number of Judges as they would be after the Bill was passed; and, for his own part, he suggested that in this matter of maintaining the Irish Bench, its high position and its great traditions, it was not for this House to be considering in any niggardly or cheeseparing way whether they were to add on this or take away that from a great institution which had hitherto worked well in Ireland. He would recommend his hon. Friend, before he again gave the House his interesting opinions, to make himself a little more acquainted with the institution which he had ventured to attack.


said the right hon. and learned Gentleman was always ready to sneer either at a fellow-countryman or any English Members who had the courage to utter a word of sympathy with Ireland. [Nationalist cheers.] The right hon. Gentleman had made a very able speech in defence of his brethren of the Bar in Ireland, and had lauded them to the skies at the expense of Members of the same profession in England. He seemed to forget that one of the greatest Judges, Chief Justice Whitehead, once said of the Irish Bar that it was one of the most corrupt professions in the world. If the present number of Judges in this great country, with its teeming population and its enormous trade and commerce, could carry on the administration, why could not a number of Judges relative to the population and the trade and commerce of Ireland do similar work? The number of Judges in Ireland ought to be cut down to ten or eight. That would be quite enough to carry on the Courts in Ireland if Irish Judges attended to their work like English Judges, and did not do so much political work for the right hon. Gentleman and men of his political party. [Cheers.] And if the profession of the Bar in Ireland was so profitable, why had the right hon. Gentleman fled the country and come over here? [Cheers.] The right hon. Gentleman's presence here in England and his speech were ample proof that they were entitled to cut down the number of Judges in Ireland.


supported the Amendment, and pointed out that at the present moment the Irish Judges had been going round and getting white gloves all over the country, so little had they to do at the assizes. The Chief Secretary seemed to forget that there had been a great devolution of bankruptcy business in Ireland, and that since the establishment of local Courts in Cork and Belfast, a large amount of work hitherto done by the Superior Courts in Bankruptcy in Dublin had vanished. If there was to be a reform of the judiciary system, it would be this, that Judge Boyd be retained in his present position as a single Judge of the Court of Bankruptcy and at the same salary, and that vacancies in the Court of Queen's Bench should not be filled up; that would be a saving of three of the higher positions, and a salary of £2,000 would be ample to recompense any Judge in transacting that business. He showed that on the basis of population there was an excess of £163,000 in the legal salaries of Ireland as compared with those in this country. He had been informed by one well acquainted with the Irish Bar that over 90 per cent. of those practising would be glad to take a County Court Judgeship.


could not admit the correctness of the Chief Secretary's statement that Judge Boyd would have to do the work of two Judges. He had seen it stated in a Dublin newspaper the other day that the Recorder of Antrim and Belfast discharged more Bankruptcy Court business than the Bankruptcy Judge in Dublin. His salary was less than £2,000; but here it was proposed to raise the salary of the Bankruptcy Court Judge to £3,500. If the Government would agree to the suggestion that Judge Boyd should come into the Queen's Bench at £2,000, and that the salaries of future Puisne Judges should be £2,000, his objection would be withdrawn. But he objected to a system whereby, under the guise of a Reform Bill, the Government were really perpetrating a job.

MR. J. J. SHEE (Waterford, W.)

commented on the discrepancy between the view of the Chief Secretary and the intention of the Bill. The Chief Secretary had stated that the main object of the Bill was to effect a consolidation of courts and offices in Dublin, but the intention of the Bill was to reduce the admittedly extravagant expenditure of the Irish judiciary.

* MR. J. G. WEIR (Ross and Cromarty)

advised the Government to bring forward a substantial reform, and not tinkering legislation like this. It appeared to him that Ireland was eaten up with Judges. [Laughter.] The Chief Secretary for Ireland made a remark with which he agreed—that if you impose extra work on a man you ought to give him extra pay. If Judge Boyd was fit to do double work and get double pay, they had either given him far too little work to do hitherto, or they were going to work him to death in the future. They had been told, however, that the work of the Judges in Ireland was falling off considerably, and to double the pay of one of them was simply monstrous. It was not fair that Ireland should be burdened with these heavy charges and with this excessive number of Judges, and it appeared to him that the whole business was very much like a political job—as though they were keeping a place warm for some younger man. [Irish cheers. He should certainly vote with the hon. Member for East Mayo if he went to a Division.

Question put, "That the words 'one of' stand part of the clause."

The Committee divided:—Ayes, 113; Noes, 32.—(Division List, No. 356.)


moved to omit Sub-section (2). He said the House had been condemned to a forlorn and dreary afternoon sitting for the purpose of rewarding Judge Boyd by an addition of £1,500 to his salary, and he did not think hon. Members, when they went home to dinner, would be able to reflect that they had done very much useful public service that day. ["Hear, hear!"] He maintained that the Chief Secretary for Ireland had not, up to that moment, attempted to give a single reason why Judge Boyd should be paid £3,500 a year for doing what he had been doing for two years for £2,000 a year. He did not believe that it was proposed to throw any additional work upon Judge Boyd. Nothing of the kind. Either he had not had sufficient work to occupy his time in the past, or—as he believed was the fact—the business of his Court had decreased so much that one Judge was perfectly able to do it. As he had pointed out, the wording of the subsequent section—which said that the Lord Lieutenant should assign one Judge of the Court of Queen's Bench in future to do the work of the Bankruptcy Court, while Section (4) provided that this Judge should have all the powers of the Bankruptcy Court—was sufficient to show that the Government expected—no doubt on good information—that one Judge would be enough to do all the Bankruptcy business. Did the Government mean to tell them that they were going to ask one man to do two men's work? He never heard of a Judge doing two men's work in Ireland, and he did not believe it would ever be done there. He did not believe there was a shadow of justification for this increase of Judge Boyd's salary unless it were to be in the shape of a reward for political services. That was the ground of his objection to the whole Bill, and especially to this section—that it proposed to increase the salary of Judges in Ireland without any excuse whatever, and that it therefore came within the definition of a political job. [Irish cheers.] They heard the other day a statement made in reference to Judge Boyd, when mention was made of his great services in defending Mr. William O'Brien—though he could hardly see why that should be stated as a claim for his promotion as an Irish Judge. No doubt he had on a certain occasion ably defended Mr. William O'Brien from the attacks made upon him by a gang of men then located at Dublin Castle. But he could hardly fancy that was the reason for rewarding him, for he found that this gentleman, who was held up to the admiration of the House of Commons for his able conduct as an advocate in defending Mr. O'Brien, within two months took a brief for Mr. French, the leader of this Dublin gang, whom he defended with the same fidelity and ability as he had displayed on behalf of Mr. O'Brien, and in the course of defending Mr. French denounced his former client in the most scandalous manner. [Laughter.] Seeing that, as counsel for Mr. O'Brien, the infamous character of Mr. French must have come to his knowledge, it did appear to be rather a singular thing that he should have afterwards taken up the defence of Mr. French. He had himself but little doubt that the action of the Government in regard to Judge Boyd was based on the fact that he placed his Court at the service of Dublin Castle when it was wished to imprison men who had won the confidence of the Nationalist Party. Unfortunately in Ireland the Bench was manned by political partisans, and that evil was not likely to be remedied as long as there were such high judicial salaries to tempt the Irish Bar.


said that he did not intend to occupy any time by a defence of Judge Boyd, who was an eminent Judge requiring no defence at his hands. But the hon. Member charged the Government with attempting to perpetrate a job in favour of an individual member of the Bench. If the hon. Member referred to the proposal to give an increased salary to that individual, he would point out to him that a Bill was not necessary for the purpose, and that there was not the slightest ground for supposing that the failure of this Bill to pass would in any way injure the prospects of Judge Boyd. The only result of the failure of the Bill would be to perpetuate what was admitted to be an undesirable state of things in connection with the Irish Bench. But the chief reason for his rising was to say that the Government could not ask the House of Commons to sit for an indefinite period. ["Hear, hear!"] He was himself most anxious that the Bill should pass, and he did not suppose that hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway opposite really desired to kill it. But they were pursuing a course which must have that result. Unless the Bill could be got through Committee that day, hon. Members must know that it could not survive, having regard to the period of the Session which had been reached. He therefore would ask hon. Members to assist the Government to pass the Measure through the present stage. If impediments were to be put in the way, there would be no probability of their being able to complete this legislation this Session, nor, as far as he could see, in the course of any near Session. The responsibility must rest upon those who took the course to which he was referring. A large part of the Debate had turned upon the question of Judge Boyd's salary, and he thought that question had now been threshed out. If the hon. Member for East Mayo would consent to take a Division now, they might, he believed, dispose of the remaining Amendments in a brief time. But if a Division were not taken without further delay, he could not hold out any prospects to the House and the hon. Member that he would be able to find the necessary time for completing the Bill. [Cheers.]


opposed the Amendment. The purpose of the Bill was to effect economies, and one of the economies proposed was the abolition of the office of Judge of the Court of Bankruptcy and the inclusion of that Court in the Queen's Bench Division. That seemed to him, in the circumstances of the case, to be a very rational purpose. ["Hear, hear!"] The rejection of the words referring to Judge Boyd would not prevent him from getting any appointment that the Government chose to give him. The Amendment, therefore, would fail to prevent this particular gentleman from obtaining promotion.


said that he objected to the Bill because it was a stop-gap Measure which would prevent any real reform in the judiciary of Ireland for many years. The Irish Bench was greatly overmanned, and the demand for a reform was not satisfied by the proposed small reduction in the number of Judges. To bring the number of Irish Judges into proportion with the number of Judges in England the former would have to be reduced by ten or more. The sum thus saved would be of some use to Ireland. He objected to the proposed increase of Judge Boyd's salary because, in his opinion, all the Irish Judges were overpaid, and he believed it was admitted that Judge Boyd had less work to do now than when he was first made a Judge in the Bankruptcy Court. Since then there had been some devolution of his work. The Recorder of Belfast, he understood, performed part of it. Judges in Ireland did not work on nearly as many days in the year as the English Judges did.

MR. GRANT LAWSON (Yorkshire, N. R., Thirsk)

reminded the hon. Member that as a result of the abolition of the Bankruptcy Judgeship £2,000 a year would be saved, and would be devoted to useful purposes in Ireland.


said that he should always refuse to be influenced by such considerations. What had hon. Members, who made so much of such paltry sums, as £2,000 and £3,000, to say about the millions that had been stolen from Ireland by this country. [Cries of "Oh!" and "Hear, hear!"]

Question put, "That Sub-section (2) stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided:—Ayes, 107; Noes, 28.—(Division List, No. 357.)

Clause 3,—