HC Deb 02 March 1898 vol 54 cc419-25

moved the Second Reading of the Solicitors (Ireland) Bill, and said: Mr. Speaker, I may state to the House that the object of this Bill is to assimilate the law in Ireland, regulating the profession of solicitors to the law as it exists in England. I do not apprehend that there will be much opposition from any quarter of the House to this Bill. It has been on former occasions before the House, and a Bill almost similar in all respects to it passed a Second Reading in the year 1897. And there was also a Bill in" 1896 to the same effect, but in consequence of the difficulty attending the passing of private Bills, we did not succeed in getting a Third Reading for it. I may say that on the back of the present Bill there are the names of Members from Ireland representative of every section of public opinion. There are several Members from below the Gangway, and the name of the right hon. Gentleman the Senior Member for the University of Dublin is also on the back of the Bill. The Incorporated Law Society of Ireland, which represents this great and important profession in that country, has now been in existence for a great number of years, and in 1868 an Act of Parliament was passed which gave them certain powers and imposed certain duties upon them, with regard to the regulation of the profession. That Act was based upon the then existing Act of Parliament in England, but since 1866 the Incorporated Law Society of Ireland have not succeeded in getting any further powers, while in the same period three different Statutes have been passed in England extending and improving the power of the solicitors in this country. Now, Mr. Speaker, the object of the present Bill is to consolidate and re-enact several provisions of the previous Bill, and also to make certain improvements, based upon the reform that has been found to work admirably in England. The Bill, as appears upon the memorandum, consists of 10 different parts. I will not go in detail through them all, but I will state shortly the substance of the various changes proposed. I perceive opposite the learned Solicitor-General for Ireland, who is thoroughly acquainted, I have no doubt, with the existing law upon the subject; and I will say at once that this Bill in some particulars facilitates and improves the powers of the Incorporated Law Society with a view to giving them further control and better regulation as to the admission of solicitors to the profession. I need not point out to the House how very important it is that no one should be admitted to the profession of solicitor unless he has given ample guarantee not only of his education, but of his moral fitness for that profession. Accordingly, we find that this Bill in its first part has certain clauses dealing principally with definitions about which there can be no question. Then there are in part second certain clauses which contain regulations providing for the examinations and lectures which solicitors must undergo before they are sworn in. According to the law as it stands, as most hon. Members are probably aware, every person before he can be admitted as a solicitor must be apprenticed to a practising solicitor for five years. There are certain exemptions and modifications in favour of particular classes. For instance, graduates of the University, who have been candidates before they were bound need only go under indentures for three years. That is the existing law, and there is no change in that respect. So again, a person who attends lectures and examinations for a certain period may also be admitted after indentures for five years or three years. Besides that, every candidate for admission must undergo three examinations—a preliminary examination before he is bound, an intermediate examination in the progress of his service, to show that he is attending to his business, and then a final examination before he is admitted to the profession of a solicitor. These examinations, with the exception of the intermediate examination, were already provided for by the Act of 1866. There is a further provision in this Bill—and that is the only provision in regard to which any opposition appears so far to be offered to the present. Measure—enabling solicitors' clerks, under certain conditions, to be come solicitors. There is no doubt that solicitors' clerks are a most useful and industrious body of men. Certainly they are in Ireland, as I can say from my own knowledge and observation, and I believe they are the same in England. There is a provision in this Bill and also in the English Bill with reference to these solicitors' clerks. As the law stands in England a solicitors' clerk, who has been 10 years acting as a clerk, and can get a certificate of good conduct from his employer, can, on serving an apprenticeship for three years, become a solicitor. Now, they object to that, and, as I understand, they seek to be admitted at once on passing a final examination, without serving any apprenticeship at all. The present Bill, which I am now presenting to the House for Second Reading, gives to solicitors' clerks an advantage which they do not possess in England, and which they do not possess at present in Ireland, because this Bill provides that seven years' service as a solicitors' clerk will qualify with a three years' apprenticeship. Now, that is a decided boon conferred upon the solicitors' clerk, and I cannot understand on what principle opposition should be offered on that point. I am sure, at all events, that the House will agree with me in saying that it would be a very great calamity indeed if any one could be admitted, except under very particular and exceptional circumstances, to the very important and responsible profession of a solicitor without having served an apprenticeship in a solicitors' office, which is so essential to enable him to discharge the duties which he will afterwards have to fulfil. This Bill provides for that, and it also alters the conditions under which the examinations and lectures are held. It gives the Incorporated Law Society control over the examinations, and it gives them also the power of appointing professors; but that control and that power are subject to the approval of the Chief Judges in Ireland, the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice, the Lord Chief Baron, and the Master of the Rolls, or any three of them, and therefore it cannot be suggested for a moment that the power is likely to be abused. The Bill also contains a provision, which I think will commend itself to the House, enabling barristers who have been practising barristers for five years, and who wish to become solicitors, as to become—being, of course, disbarred, and removing their names from the roll of barristers—on passing a final examination, and not undergoing any apprenticeship. That is confined only to barristers who have been five years at the bar. That is an equal provision. At all events, it is a question of detail, and if there is any objection in any way offered to that, it will be a matter for the Committee to which this Bill may be referred, and which, if it is read a second time, can be amply dealt with. Now, it is also a part of the Bill that certain changes in the machinery are suggested. At present solicitors have to enter their names on a roll, which is enrolled in the Court of Chancery. This Bill proposes, as is the case in England, that the roll shall not be enrolled in the Court of Chancery, but that it shall be enrolled in the registry of the Incorporated Society. That is the practice which prevails in England. Enrolment in Chancery involves a certain expense and outlay on the part of those who are called to become solicitors, and I have no doubt that the House will consider that that will be a decided improvement. It also has a useful provision which has been very much pressed on the notice of the Incorporated Society, enabling apprentices during the course of their service to add some other work to eke out their means of subsistence, provided that this is done with the full approval of their employer and of the Lord Chancellor. There are many cases in which young men, after they have done the work of the day in some solicitor's office, might be ready to make an honest penny. But, as the law stands, this would incapacitate them from afterwards becoming solicitors. That has been found to press rather hardly, and there is a section in this Bill which would, subject to the approval of their master are subject to the approval of the Lord Chancellor, meet their case. The other matters are really all matters of detail, not involving, as it appears to me, any great principle. At present there is a cumbrous system by which solicitors, if they misconduct themselves, can be struck off the roll. That must be done by petition to the Lord Chancellor, who has then to refer it for a report; that report has to go back for further consideration, and it is a most circuitous proceeding. This Bill proposes that the Lord Chancellor should appoint what is called a Disciplinary Council of the Incorporated Society, consisting of seven members, to be nominated by him, and that when any complaints are made against a solicitor in respect of his profession, that those complaints shall come before the Disciplinary Council, and that they shall make a report to the Lord Chancellor, and the Lord Chancellor, upon that report, should exercise the power which he already possesses of striking the solicitor off the roll, or of making such other order as he may think fit. The fees which are paid at present, under the existing law, are increased by some five or six guineas. There is a fee of a guinea on the intermediate examination, which is not provided for by the existing law, because the intermediate examination was not then in existence; and there is also a fee of five guineas which a solicitor when he is sworn in will have to pay in order to meet the expenses incidental to his being enrolled on the rolls as a solicitor. These are the only additional fees provided for by this Act. Now, there is one matter in which the hon. and learned Solicitor General for Ireland (Mr. Dunbar Barton) cannot fail to feel interested, of which I must make mention. There is a provision, of course, in this Act, as there is in our English Act, that none but solicitors should act as solicitors in Courts of Justice. That is necessary for the protection of the public. I understand that the law officers in Ireland wish that some exception should be inserted in this clause, so as to enable representatives of certain Government Departments to appear if nominated by the heads of the department, even though they may not be admitted as solicitors. That is a matter which will probably be discussed in Committee, and I am sure there will be no difficulty in meeting the case in Committee. I will now ask the House to say that it is a Bill which the profession in Ireland is seriously interested in. I need not tell the House that nothing is so material to the well-being and prosperity of every community as that a profession so important as that of solicitors, which exercise such functions and affect every individual member of the community, should be guarded as well as human foresight can guard them from unscrupulous persons let loose upon society.

The Bill was read a second time.


I beg to move that the Bill be referred to the Standing Committee on Law.

The Bill was then referred to the Committee.