HC Deb 05 July 1910 vol 18 cc1574-96

As amended, considered.


I beg to move the following

NEW CLAUSE. — Every judge appointed under this Act shall make an annual return of the number of days in the year on which he has sat, in accordance with rules to be laid down by the Lord Chancellor.

I believe that under our Rules that if an hon. Member who has put down a new Clause moves it, he loses his right to reply. I therefore formally move the Clause which stands in my name, and I may have to ask the indulgence of the House later on in order to make a few remarks upon it.


I think it may be for the convenience of the House that I should take this opportunity of making a very brief statement which will affect, not only this Amendment, but Amendments lower down on the Paper. The Bill was introduced to carry into effect one of the recommendations of the Joint Committee of both Houses to appoint two new members of the Judicial Bench, and to give the consequent charge upon the Consolidated Fund, which course requires statutory authority. The Government have been ever since this Committee reported, and are, fully alive to the fact that the proposals of the Committee are only for a temporary increase of the judiciary of the King's Bench Division, and these proposals were accompanied, and in our view they cannot be dissociated from the other recommendations for the prompt adoption of various administrative changes—changes which I agree with the Lord Chancellor in thinking are equally called for as the creation of these two extra judges, as will appear from the evidence taken before the Committee. I quite agree with him that those changes are equally called for in order adequately and promptly to deal with the present, I hope, temporary congestion of business. It is quite evident to everyone who has looked at the Notice Paper and watched its ominous growth in the last few weeks, that there are hon. Members in various quarters of the House who are anxious that some of those changes and other changes which are not contemplated by the Bill should be introduced into this Statute, but I should like to point out that all the reforms that are suggested to us and recommended by the Committee, with the exception of this increase in the number of the judiciary, can be brought about by administrative action and without any Act of Parliament at all. I think that applies to every one of them, and I should like further to point out to some of my hon. Friends—with whose aims in the matter I personally am entirely in sympathy—I should like to point out that there is a certain inconsistency or, at any rate, inconvenience in applying by Statute new rules of conduct as to age, length of sittings, and so forth, to the two new members of the Bench which you cannot apply to the Bench as a whole.

These two judges would enter upon their offices under different statutory conditions from those which are applicable to the rest of the Bench. That, I think, everybody will admit is an inconvenient arrangement. It is far better that whatever administrative changes are made— and I quite agree in thinking some are needed—they should apply to the King's Bench Division as a whole and not to some selected members of that tribunal. In our view, as I said some time ago, the appointment of these two new judges, though urgently needed—it is certainly urgently needed, as everyone acquainted with the state of business in the King's Bench Division knows—the appointment of these two new judges is not in itself an adequate and complete solution of the problem of the accumulated state of business, and it is not so put forward. I am glad to know from inquiries I have made from those who are acquainted with the matter that steps are now actually under consideration for the better arrangement and employment in this division of judicial time. In particular, I think, and I believe most of us do, that a strong case was made out before the Joint Committee in regard to what is called the Saturday sitting—the House knows what I mean, the practice which has sprung up in recent years—it was not so when I was at the Bar—of some of the judges not sitting at all on Saturday, and many of them sitting only for a very short time. It is our view, and we understand it to be the view of this highly responsible and representative Committee upon whose Report this Bill is founded, that it should be a general rule, subject, of course, to special exigencies, that a judge might be expected to sit on Saturday, unless, indeed, as is the case with some of the judges, he has during the preceding days of the week sat on such a number of hours as can approximately be considered equivalent to an ordinary Saturday sitting. I may say that is the course pursued by some of the judges now, and there is no magic in Saturday qua Saturday, and the magic is rather the other way. What we want is that there should be an adequate employment of judicial time, and whether a judge sits on Saturday or he prolongs the sittings on other days of the week is immaterial. We think this Bill has the support both of public and Parliamentary opinion, and we have no reason whatever to believe that it will not commend itself to His Majesty's Judges themselves. I do not wish it to be supposed for a moment that I am associating myself with any attack upon the judicial body, but, on the contrary, I do agree with a great deal of the evidence which was put before the Committee, and with what I understand to be the conclusion of the Committee. They suggested that some Amendment by proper administrative action is urgently needed in order that the administration of justice should become more promptly accessible to those seeking our courts, and this scandalous condition of affairs involved in the state of congestion which exists in the King's Bench Division, which is a denial of justice to some few of His Majesty's subjects, should be put an end to at the earliest possible moment, and by the promptest possible means. I hope my hon. Friend will withdraw this Amendment of which he has given notice.


Having taken a very active part from the beginning with regard to this Bill, I am very pleased to pay my humble testimony to what I think is the highly satisfactory statement with regard to it which the Prime Minister has just made. I was one of those who was deeply impressed by the remarks which have been made as to the shortness of hours which the judges sat, but when I first opposed the Bill I was alone, and I only withdrew my opposition on the Second Reading on that ground and on an undertaking that the recommendations of the Committee for increasing the efficiency of His Majesty's judges would be carried out. The Government pledged themselves to carry them out without delay, and I withdrew my opposition. Then my hon. Friend commenced his opposition, and when I found him backed up by a large and increasing number of Members, and a still larger and more important number of Amendments, I felt myself at liberty to come back to the assistance of those who wanted, in a fair way, to get a little more work out of His Majesty's judges, and certainly, had my hon. Friends continued their opposition, and had they not been met, as I think they have been met, by His Majesty's Government, I should have supported them. But I rejoice that a Debate, which I think would have been painful, and, perhaps, damaging to the administration of justice, has been avoided. I think that the statement made by the right hon. Gentleman does enable my hon. Friend to abstain from further opposition, because it comes to this: that a statement has been made on behalf of the Government that there is a case for the restoration of Saturday to the week as regards the judges of the King's Bench Division. A very strong and effective statement has been made by the Prime Minister, backed, as I am sure it will be, by the opinion of this House, whose views will certainly be taken into account by the judges of the King's Bench Division, and I am quite certain that we shall have not merely a nominal sitting from them, but they will give us, as honourable gentlemen would, an effective Saturday sitting, subject to the various conditions of the business. There is reason in the roasting of eggs, and there is also reason in Saturday sittings.

I have listened with great satisfaction to the statement of the Prime Minister, and I believe that a condition of things "will be brought about by it which will be satisfactory. I am perfectly convinced that the effect of it will be that we shall get an effective Saturday sitting from the judges of the King's Bench Division, and that being so, I think that my hon. Friend and those acting with him will be able to abstain from further damaging discussion on the industry of His Majesty's judges, and they will be able to allow this Bill to pass. The understanding is, I think, threefold—first of all, that the administrative changes shall be carried into effect as recommended by the Committee; secondly, that there shall be an effective Saturday sitting; and, thirdly, I think it must be understood that the terms of the Bill are to be adhered to, and although these two extra judges are to be appointed now, they are to be regarded as temporary appointments, and that when two judges fall out they shall not be renewed. That, as I understand, is the situation created by the statement of the Prime Minister, and I have no hesitation in saying for myself I shall withdraw from any opposition I would otherwise have given to this, Bill, and I hope my hon. Friend and those who feel with him may be able to do the same.


I do not gather that what has been said by the hon. Member is entirely in accordance with what was stated by the Prime Minister. I agree with what the Prime Minister has said, but I do not think I should agree with all that has been said by the hon. Member for King's Lynn. The Prime Minister has said in his speech that he does not make any charge against the industry of the judges or the way they carry out their work, and it must be remembered that their work is most important and most exhausting. Everyone who has watched the hearing of cases in the courts must see that in the great majority of cases our judges are worked up to the greatest extent of their powers. I am sure, in regard to what the Prime Minister has said about Saturday sittings, that it is a question of administrative arrangement, that the full time which might be expended by the judges should be given in the week or on the Saturday. I entirely agree with what the Prime Minister has said that all matters of that kind are much better dealt with by administrative arrangements than by hard and fast statutory enactments. There is really no difference in this respect as between judges and other officials or Members engaged in extremely important business. As regards the addition to the Bench, everyone with the slightest knowledge of the condition of business in the King's Bench at present must be in favour, at any rate for temporary purposes, of the appointment of two new judges. There can be no worse economy than not giving suitors a proper opportunity of bringing their cases to trial within a reasonable time, and under existing circumstances no doubt there is considerable congestion in the King's Bench. I can express hearty approval, from my own experience, of every word which has been said by the Prime Minister, and I hope on that understanding the Bill may pass.


The statement made by the Prime Minister certainly makes the Bill more acceptable. It has been stated that this is a temporary measure. It is not very often when the number of judges is increased that it is ever decreased again and it is a very difficult thing to do. It is suggested also that the matter is left in the hands of Parliament to decide whether the number shall be continued on, but it is not, after all, in the hands of Parliament but in the hands of the Government, because no Address would have any opportunity of being heard, let alone of passing, unless it was first approved by the Government, and it seems to me that in all probability when the time comes when a reduction can be made in the number of judges it will not be found that the business before the courts is such as to justify the Address being passed in the terms of Sub-section (2) of Clause 1. With regard to the other statement of the Prime Minister that administrative changes could be made, I understand that the only administrative change which we have been promised is a provision that the court shall sit on Saturdays. While it is certainly one of the objections that has been taken to the appointment of two additional judges that practically very few judges sit on Saturday at present, the most important objection has not been alluded to at all, that is the fact that the judges have four months' holiday in the year. I understand that also is a matter which can be remedied by administrative action, but we have no promise at all from the Government on that score. I do not see any necessity for the judges to assume that a full discussion on this subject is in any way an attack on them. The attack is not on the individual judges of the court; it is upon the law which permits the condition of affairs which we have going on, and these laws are in the hands of Parliament. It certainly will be much more satisfactory for Members who are opposed to the Bill for these reasons if we have an assurance from the Government that the length of holidays which the judges have at present should be curtailed.

I understand that the County Court judges, who, it seems to me, are just as important to the administration of justice as the High Court judges, only have holidays amounting to about two months in the year, and if County Court judges can get along with holidays of that kind, why cannot the Supreme Court judges manage with the same amount of holidays? There is another reason why the Vacation is so long in the court, and it is not a reason which deals in any way with the interest of the public, which alone we ought to consider here. The holidays last for four months, largely for the convenience of the leaders of the Bar. These gentlemen, of course, are very important, and there is no doubt that the Bar is a very fine Bar, and will compare favourably with that of any other country of the world, but there is no reason why justice should be tied up for four months in the year simply to allow the leaders of the Bar, who have more than they can possibly do, to take a long holiday. I have no doubt at all that if the courts were kept going the junior members would come to the front. No doubt there are plenty of young men at the Bar who have just as much ability as the leaders. The trouble is that they do not get a chance. I see no reason why the courts should not be kept open every day of the year. It would be necessary to provide proper holidays for the judges, but all the Civil servants have reasonable holidays, and the War Office is not stopped, and the Navy goes on. It seems to me that if that were inaugurated with regard to the Courts of Justice it would be, after all, in the interest of the suitors. The announcement, however, is very satisfactory so far as it goes. I am only sorry that the Prime Minister was not able—I hope on further reflection he will be able— to go much further and to deal with the real evil, the fact that the holidays are too long.

Mr. H. E. DUKE

The hon. Member must really excuse us for being an old country. He views the practice of the courts from a recent arrival upon the scene. If he will familiarise himself with our proceedings in the English courts I think he will find that the people of this country have been able to adjust their business in accordance with the state of things which has grown up with their business. I notice that hon. Members who know least about this matter are the most severe in their criticism of those who know most about it. My qualification to speak upon this subject is merely that for twenty-five years I have spent my life engaged in the practice of the law, and, although that may seem a slight qualification to hon. Members who have spent, perhaps, a few hours in the course of the present year in interesting themselves in this Bill, at any rate it entitles one to have an interest in the subject. I have been very glad to hear the announcement of the Prime Minister that the view the Government take is that this proposal, which everyone who knows the subject knows to be essential, is to be carried upon the terms that there will be administrative changes which will make this temporary addition to the judiciary part of an effective scheme for improving the present congested condition of business in one of the divisions of the High Court. Everyone laments the congested condition of business in the King's Bench Division—that is, everyone who knows anything about it. The suitors lament it most. It is a misfortune to suitors because it denies justice to them. But it is not a just method of dealing with the matter to throw the blame for congestion on His Majesty's judges. Anyone who is brought by daily business into contact with-His Majesty's judges knows that the suggestion that they shirk their work is an absolutely unfair suggestion. Many of us upon the circuits have seen judges sitting from nine in the morning until eight or nine o'clock, or even later, at night, and never grudging the time which was devoted to the performance of their duties.

If hon. Members who take an interest in this subject would find out what the judges, in fact, do, and how they occupy their time, they would see that there is absolutely no ground for the attack upon the honesty with which they render service to the people of this country. The judges never would have enjoyed the confidence and esteem in which they are held if that had not been the case. I am very glad the Prime Minister has taken the view that it is impossible to lay down a hard and fast line as to the time of sittings or as to Saturday sittings. Members who attack the system do not know that a judge's duties do not begin when he comes upon the bench at half-past ten, and do not end when he leaves the bench at four or half-past four or five o'clock. In addition to hearing cases in court, a judge has many other duties, and one of them is to prepare, day by day, for the conduct of the business which he discharges in public. But under the system which has come into existence in the course of the last year or two every one of the judges of the King's Bench Division is bound to be ready, week by week, to sit in the Court of Criminal Appeal. Some Members do not know that to qualify a judge to sit in the Court of Criminal Appeal or in any court where depositions have to be considered there must be careful study in advance of the work to be done. The reason why many of the judges have not been sitting on Saturdays in recent times is that they have been occupied with the study of depositions for the purpose of sitting in the Court of Criminal Appeal on the Monday. The time spent in criminal appeals must be doubled if the judge is to go to the Court of Criminal Appeal with no previous acquaintance of the work to come before him. That is not the economic way of dealing with the matter.

I cannot believe that this House, or the constituents whom the House represents, would grudge the addition of £10,000 a year, or any other necessary sum, for the purpose of making the administration of justice in the Common Law Division of the High Court a satisfactory administration. I do not believe it is any cheeseparing disposition which causes the opposition to this Bill, but if the Government had trammelled the administration of justice and the administration of the business of the courts by accepting a hard and fast code of regulations for the conduct of judges, to bind them to being in places at times when their duties did not require it, they would have done one of the worst possible services to the administration of justice in this country. I am very glad they have done nothing of the kind, and I am very glad that they have stood up against the suggestion that what is called a scandalous congestion is due to any kind of misconduct or of indifference on the part of His Majesty's judges. I am equally glad that they have been able to agree with hon. Gentlemen below the Gangway that this temporary addition to the judiciary shall go hand-in-hand with permanent changes, which will tend to make the administration of justice not only sufficient, but also continuous and steady and such as to cause general satisfaction.


As I had the honour to sit on the Committee which made the recommendations on which this Bill is founded I should like to say a word or two. I approach the question not with the experience of the hon. and learned Member, but as a layman. I was convinced that the addition to the Bench recommended here is required. I think the proper way to look as this question is not with respect to the number of hours the judges work, but as it affects the convenience and necessities of the public. It is essential that the courts should be ready for access to the public when required, even if in order to provide for that the judges may sometimes be off work for a day or two. If you are to crowd all the work you possibly can on the judges so that they may be kept working from Monday morning until Saturday at mid-day, you will find congestion which will be a serious inconvenience to suitors. With regard to the question of the arrangement of the work, it is by no means so simple when you come to look into the matter. What we found from the evidence was this: You have to remember, in connection with the business of the courts, that not only have the judges a great deal of work to do outside the courts, but that they have to get up a mass of information in regard to their cases, and then when the cases have been heard they have to look up points of law and do an amount of work which you cannot gauge in any way. Solicitors, counsel, and witnesses have to be brought together and dealt with. There are such things as consultations, and these have to be held out of court hours. If you have a court sitting too long, it becomes very inconvenient for suitors who are concerned in these consultations. When witnesses are brought up to London, it is very inconvenient to have the courts sitting on Saturday. It is a very usual thing, when a court has been sitting on a case for several days, for everybody concerned on Friday to ask that the judge will not take the case on Saturday, The jury have been there possibly away from their business; witnesses have been there away from their business, and everybody engaged in the case says it would be a great boon for them to get away on Saturday to look after their business. Again and again when the judges do not sit on Saturday it is not a question of their own convenience, or of their going to play golf. It is a case of the judge meeting the convenience of litigants, witnesses, and other persons interested in the case. If that case be put off until Monday, it is not easy to find business which the judge can take on Saturday. He cannot begin another case, because if he did so, it would have to be given up half finished, in order that he might take the other case on Monday. He can only take on Saturdays such work as can be got rid of on the same day. He may give a judgment on Saturday or deal with little points which are brought before him, but, as I have stated, it is very often for the convenience of litigants, and litigants alone, that he does not sit on Saturday. I think when you have got men of the status of judges, you cannot deal with them as if they were paid so much an hour. You cannot gauge the work they have to do by the time they sit on the bench. We want the most competent and able men we can get to take these positions, and if you are going to make the position onerous and tie the judges down by petty regulations, you will not get the best men. You will get an inferior class of men by acting in that way. One thing we have reason to be proud of in this country is the character and capacity of the judiciary.

As to the question of costs, that is a mere nothing. The courts almost pay for themselves. The fees paid practically meet the expenses of the courts to a large extent, and when you take into account the additional expense which will be involved in the appointment of two temporary judges, it is trifling in view of the work which will be done. It is recognised that there are reforms which might be made. Some of the reforms affecting the circuit system will be very difficult to get through the House. Everyone interested in a circuit town will be on the warpath. Therefore the Committee suggested that the appointments should be temporary. There is congestion in the courts and the public are being inconvenienced. It is desirable therefore that that should be dealt with at once. The way to do that is to appoint more judges to deal with the work. While dealing with that, it is practically stipulated that the proposed reforms shall be thoroughly examined and put through if they are found to be practicable, and in order that the House of Commons may have full control over that it is specified that these judges shall not be replaced unless a vacancy occurs immediately, so that before the additions to the Bench could be made permanent the House of Commons would have an opportunity of considering whether the reforms which are practicable have been carried through. I would suggest that in the interest of the public and those who use the courts it is very essential that this measure should be put through. It will give an opportunity for trying some of the reforms, and in that way we will be able to see them tested before the appointments are made permanent.


I had not the good fortune to hear the statement of the Prime Minister, but I understand from the speeches to which I have listened that some administrative changes in the judiciary are about to be made. The object of my intervening in the discussion is to say that on a former occasion when this Bill was before the House I took the opportunity of making a few observations upon the condition of the judiciary of the King's Bench and the congestion therein. I desire now to say that at two or half-past two in the morning I may have made some statements concerning the Division which were not justified, and I desire now most unreservedly, in so far as they were not justified and were ill-considered at that early time in the morning, to withdraw those statements. We all regret the congestion, and we have all striven to arrive at the true cause of that congestion. I desire to associate myself with the encomiums passed upon the King's Bench Division by the hon. and learned Member for Exeter (Mr. Duke), My reason for intervening in the discussion at that early hour in the morning was to enforce the conclusion I have arrived at after my reading and study of Lord Gorell's Report. I am convinced from the study of that Report that the time has arrived for a great change in the judiciary of England and Wales. There has been before this time a great change made in the judiciary of England, and in the judicial procedure of the courts of England. The last great change occurred in 1876, and the present condition of business must indicate clearly that that change has seen its day, and that the position created by the change no longer serves the requirements of the country. I thought the present moment was one when the view might be enforced that some great change might be instituted whereby the recommendation of Lord Grorell's Committee might be adopted, and that there might be some co-ordination of the courts of la-w which carry out the judicial business' of the country. Although I hold a strong view in that direction, I am at the same time convinced that to wait for such a reform as that—I submit this with all respect in the presence of my seniors at the Bar—would be injudicious. What is wanted is a reform which will strengthen the Bench, in order to do away with the present congestion. I hope if the Solicitor-General should speak he will be able to assure the House that the time is not far distant when the Report of Lord Gorell's Committee will be taken into account by the Government, and when far-reaching reforms wall be made in the condition of the judiciary of Great Britain. There is a widespread opinion that the courts of law—the high courts and the inferior courts—ought to be co-ordinated, and that there ought to 'be some unification of their procedure. I trust the day is not far distant when we shall have a deep investigation into the whole matter of reform that is much needed, whereby the courts will be enabled to deal with the increasing work of this very prosperous country.

8.0 P.M.


I listened with the greatest possible interest to the statement made by the Prime Minister, and as one of those associated in some measure with the opposition to this Bill I would gladly re-echo the sentiments expressed by the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Gibson Bowles) and withdraw, so far as I am concerned, my opposition, if we were able to feel assured that we have effected any reform in the judicial procedure of the King's Bench Division. But the Prime Minister's statement stops short at the most interesting point. He picked out one of the remedies suggested before the Committee by the Lord Chancellor, and one only, although the Lord Chancellor suggested several others. The Prime Minister picked out the question of Saturday sittings, and promised that by some administrative changes there should in future be longer sittings on Saturday in the King's Bench Division. The question arises, What steps will be needed to enforce that There was no Order in Council or other measure needed, so far as I know, when Saturday sittings were shortened. The question to which I hope we may have a reply from some one on the Front Bench is this: What measures will it be necessary to take in order that we on these benches may feel sure, if our opposition is withdrawn, that the Saturday sittings will be lengthened? I should like to know exactly and precisely what is meant by administrative changes. Perhaps the Solicitor-General will be able to tell us whether the Government mean by administrative changes to include any of the other remedies mentioned by the Lord Chancellor—reorganisation of the circuit system, longer sittings, and shorter vacations. These are the remedies which a Member of the present Government, the Lord Chancellor, suggested before this Commission and said ought to be tried not after two extra judges had been appointed, but before two extra judges had been appointed. If the extra Saturday sittings are put forward as a remedy for this state of congestion that obtains in the King's Bench Division, surely that remedy ought to be applied and given time to work before the Government asks for the two extra judges and not afterwards. Let me read from the evidence which the Lord Chancellor gave. He said:— When the hours and the days of work are so moderate, ought we to add to the number of judges instead of saying: 'We ought all to join in making an effort to get rid of the arrears, and then pee what the state of business is when we have made a fresh start.' If necessary, every one ought to do what nil Ministers do, what all Members of Parliament do what Lord Chancellors do, and what everyone else does, namely, make the time fit the work instead of making the work fit the time. I would merely say this further: I don't want to see the hours too long or the vacations too short, but I think that there ought to be a reorganisation of business in London and on circuit, such as I have suggested. I think that an effort should be made by longer sittings and by sittings on Saturday to meet the business—that the Long Vacation, if necessary, should be shortened, if it appears that the work cannot be done by the present staff of judges, before we have recourse to appointing more judges. It is the Lord Chancellor's remedy which I wish to emphasise, which I wish to defend, and which I would like to see applied before the appointment of additional judges. At the same time I am willing, if we can have security that any of these changes would be effected, to withdraw further opposition.


I rise to ask the learned Solicitor-General a question. We have heard that there are to be administrative changes. Can the Solicitor-General tell us whether these administrative changes include any proposals to take over the assizes from any of the circuit towns?


That question does not arise.


I have listened with great pleasure to the statement of the Prime Minister. The only point I raised in connection with this Bill was in restricting the age limit of judges. Unfortunately the Prime Minister did not say a single word on that particular point. The speech of the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Duke) I listened to with very great regret. I think it a very bad practice whenever a Bill affecting a particular trade or profession comes before the House that only those affected should take part in its discussion. That is not a good practice. The particular point I wish to raise is whether we should have an age-limit so far as judges are concerned—that judges should retire at the age of seventy. It is recognised in the Civil Service that a man shall retire—


If the hon. Member is going to discuss that question he must discuss it at the proper place when we reach the Amendment.


I only desire to get an assurance on the point.

Colonel GREIG

I should not have intervened at this stage of the proceedings had it not been that I perhaps approach this question from a somewhat different point of view from my friends around me and from some of my colleagues of the King's Bench Division, who have spoken from the other side. As a member of the Chancery Bar we naturally approach this subject with, perhaps, a bias against making any addition to the number of the King's Bench Division judges. Naturally we at the Chancery Bar imagine that we do not get our fair share of the plums of the profession, such as our friends on the other side do. I say that because I read the Report of the Commission with that bias in my mind. I am sure that anyone who will read the Report of the Committee which went into this subject must come to the conclusion that a full and perfect case had been made out for an addition to the judgeship of the King's Bench Division. In the words of the Secretary of State for War, the difficulty in the King's Bench Division at the present time is normal. There is a normal glut of work, and it is not an abnormal incident that has occurred. Therefore, it is a denial of justice to the suitors at this time which ought to be removed. I am in favour of other reforms being adopted—continuous sittings in London, control of the court by the judge himself, rearrangement of the circuits, and so on. These ought to be carried. When you recollect that in 1898, I think, the late Chief Justice (Lord Russell of Killowen) pointed out that the Bench was undermanned, and when we remember that since then the population has been increasing, and that in 1876 we had eighteen judges, and there has been no increase since then, the necessity for the Bill will be seen. If we compare this country with Germany, we find that the whole legal business in this country is done by something like 200 judges—that is, speaking of county court justice and Imperial justice as well. In Germany, on the other hand, with a population on the same footing, something like 5,000 judges have to do with judicial business. I am aware that in that country the judges have also to deal with a good deal of registration work connected with companies and some other business which judges here do not have to do. Taking the whole circumstances into account, I have come to the conclusion that the course proposed in this Bill is a proper one to adopt.


One of the effects of this Bill which I do not think has been dealt with this afternoon, but which has been brought very forcibly to the attention of those who represent constituencies concerned is that in the event of these two additional judges not being appointed there is very great danger that the courts may be removed from the cities and towns in which they have been held.


That is a separate subject and must be dealt with separately.


Having moved an Amendment, I can only speak with the indulgence of the House. I am very sorry that I cannot, according to the Rules of the House, except for its indulgence, reply to the Prime Minister, who has left the House. The statement that he has made, although one of great importance, is not at the present moment quite clear to my mind. I therefore want, if I may, to dot the "i's" and cross the "t's" of his statement. I have spent nearly three weeks in going through all the judicature reports of the last fifty years. I know all the evidence of the Commissions and Committees that have sat, and I must protest against the remarks that fell from the hon. Member for Exeter (Mr. Duke). He said we knew nothing about this matter, that only judges and barristers were able to deal with the question. If a learned judge had given considerable time and thought to any case that came before him would you tell him he knew nothing about it? I think the man who would say so would get into trouble with the judge. If Members of Parliament who have studied the courts have to be told that only barristers can form an opinion on this question I think the House of Commons is not going to accept that doctrine. In this matter there has been no charge whatever made of misconduct against judges. That is a very improper word to use. The question I want to ask the Solicitor-General and I take it he is here speaking definitely on behalf of His Majesty's Government, is: Is the statement the Prime Minister has made this afternoon a declaration on behalf of the House of Commons that in the opinion of the House of Commons His Majesty's judges should sit on Saturdays, or, if they do not sit on Saturdays, that they should sit an equivalent number of longer hours during the week.




I may take that as a definite statement.


I so understood it.


My hon. Friends around me thought his statement not quite definite, but I understand the Solicitor-General understood the Prime Minister to say—and he spoke as Prime Minister—to this House that the opinion of this House was that judges who practically discontinued sittings on Saturdays should either sit on Saturday or, as an alternative, that they should sit for a longer period on each day of the week except Saturdays. If that statement is a definite one, and I am glad to hear the pronouncement of the Solicitor-General that it is a definite one, and if it is a statement of policy on behalf of the Government, I am bound to say that I and my Friends who have taken a very strong view in reference to this Bill, if we have been able to get three hours per week additional time added to the work of justice in this country, we can take some measure of satisfaction for what we, as a small opposition, have been able to accomplish. My Friends nad I came down here, even with you in the Chair, Sir, prepared to argue this question during two all-night sittings. We had got sufficient information to detain the House for that time. But I think it is quite wrong that in any way the subject of the administration of justice should form part of acrimonious Debates in this House. We all want to keep His Majesty's judges above all questions of Debate which might reflect, directly or indirectly, on the dignity of the Bench. That is not our object. But we are entitled, as Members of Parliament, having to vote money from the public purse, to see that that money is properly spent. I must protest against what I consider a remarkable statement made by the right hon. Gentleman, who said that it only cost £10,000 a year to have these two judges. Does my right hon. Friend know what the administration of justice costs in this country? It costs no less a sum than over £4,000,000 sterling. In connection with the Supreme Court of Judicature alone we spent last year £330,000.


The point the right hon. Gentleman made was that if you appoint two new judges who would be kept exclusively to civil work they would practically get their expenses paid from the fees of the suitors. Of course the expenses include the expenses of the criminal law, which is very expensive.


If my hon. Friend will look at 62–3 of the Civil Service Estimates he will find there are fifty officials in the Supreme Court alone, besides judges, drawing salaries of from £1,500 to £2,000 a year. They are all persons connected with the judges, so that the salary of the judge is only the commencement of the cost of the administration. Therefore it is quite inaccurate to take the salary of a judge and to say that this is the entire cost. It is nothing like the entire cost. It is only a very small portion of the total cost involved. The statement of the Prime Minister has, however, somewhat cleared up matters. If we have here a declaration of high policy of the House of Commons that in the opinion of the House His Majesty's judges should sit these longer hours, I feel it is unthinkable that His Majesty's judges should put themselves in conflict with this House and disregard that statement; because, as right hon. and hon. Gentlemen well know, there was an occasion—I think in the time of Richard II.—when in the case of the Regency Bill the judges held against Parliament, and Parliament at once chopped off the head of the Chief Justice and condemned the rest of the judges to death for their treason, but magnanimously pardoned them. I do not say that the Prime Minister or the Solicitor-General is going to act the part of Lord High Executioner, but I cannot help feeling that when we have had, what I term a declaration of high policy from His Majesty's Government, then for myself and my friends we will accept that high declaration, because it seems to me unthinkable that His Majesty's judges will put themselves in conflict directly with the House of Commons. I would like to say that, so far from being opposed to the addition of judges, I wrote to the Gentlemen responsible for this Bill to state that in my opinion it would be necessary to add ten new judges, so that every subject of the State should have speedy access to judges, as to deny justice to a large number of His Majesty's subjects was to discredit the administration of the law. But we part company at the point, and only at the point, when we ask ourselves the simple question whether the amount of time given in the courts of this country in the administration of justice and the hours of the judges are equal to what every other subject of the State has to give, except in the case of what I may, without using an offensive term, call the privileged class. There ought to be no body of citizens in the State drawing salaries much higher than the ordinary citizen for much shorter hours, and for that reason, and that reason only, we have had to take this opportunity which presented itself to us of preventing these additional judges being granted, although we had no desire in any way to place any obstacle whatever in the way of suitors in this country getting speedy justice in the courts. Our desire was to see certain reforms established, and now that, owing to this declaration of what I may term again "high policy," we have accomplished some of our purpose, I trust that none of my hon. Friends around me will get into hot water by reason of any action we have taken.

The SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir Rufus Isaacs)

I am very glad that it has been made perfectly clear in this discussion that there was no intention on the part of any of the proposers of the Amendment to cast any discredit upon the judges or to suggest that they had been guilty of any misconduct, and if there was any misconception in the minds of anyone who had read the Amendment or bad heard what was said on previous occasions, when the question was discussed in Committee, I am sure it will be a matter of satisfaction to them to find that it was a misconception, and that there was not the faintest intention of casting any slur upon any of His Majesty's judges. What has brought us here is this Bill, which proposes to appoint two more judges, and that has raised the question of the administration of justice in the King's Bench Division in the High Court of Justice in this country. As I understand from all that has been said by those who have spoken, by some of my friends below the Gangway and otherwise, with reference to this Bill, their observations were directed entirely towards securing, so far as they are able, a better and a speedier administration of justice in this country. And, as I understand the argument which has been put forward, they are merely grounds upon which it is urged that there should be an alteration made of the system, and that there should be some administrative reform.

Let me say this in reference to the observation put forward by hon. Members who resented the suggestion, if it was made, that laymen ought not to be entitled to criticise in matters of law, that I agree thoroughly with those who say that it is essential for laymen to offer criticisms on this subject. We lawyers are in this position, that we may be able to speak perhaps with a little more knowledge of the courts than laymen, or, at any rate than most Members of this House. But, of course, the courts exist for the public, and what the House has to do is to see that the public gets the full benefit out of the judicial system we have set up. And I do not think that anyone seriously suggests that laymen are not entitled to criticise. I may remind the House that the Committee which was appointed to discuss this very subject and report—the Joint Committee, was composed entirely— except, I think, with one exception— of laymen. I believe that the only member of the legal profession—if he is still a member of the legal profession, who was upon it, is my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for War. We got the Report of that Committee. I am not going to refer to it in detail further than to say this, that it has been made clear by a Committee of business men of two Houses that it is first of all essential in their view that we should have these two new judges appointed, making the reservation, as they have done and we have done by this Bill which is now before this House, that those judges should not be reappointed except upon representation from both this House and the other.

Further than that—and this is a matter which, no doubt, my hon. Friends below the Gangway consider of great import-ance—there are the administrative reforms which have to be proposed. I do not know if hon. Members caught what was said by the Prime Minister about that question. I do not profess to use his exact language, but my clear understanding and recollection of what he said was that at the present moment steps are being taken and consideration is being given to those reforms which were suggested before the Committee, and which the Joint Committee said should be considered, as they thought, forthwith. The reason why we are dealing with the Saturday sittings is this, that the matter does not require any Order in Council or any Act of Parliament; it really requires nothing, for the reason that in what the Prime Minister said he was expressing the views of the Government, the views of the Joint Committee, and, I think, the views of the House of Commons. Certainly there has been no dissent from the views which the Prime Minister expressed when he said that in the present state of business in the King's Bench Division it was desirable, indeed essential, that we should have effective Saturday sittings, or that full time should be put in, and in that way a good deal done for the purpose of getting rid of the congestion of business which at present exists. That was the definite suggestion made by the Prime Minister, and I do not think I need say anything more about it. One further fact. The Prime Minister was not professing to say anything which was antagonistic to the views of the judges, because I have before me the words of the Lord Chief Justice, that the judges are just as ready as we are to take into account the present state of business and give this extra time; that is to say, if they do not sit on Saturday, they will make the time up, or they will sit on the Saturday, so that the list maybe decreased in volume and the work proceeded with. The House of Commons, therefore, will not act in any way in opposition to the opinion of the judges that in the present state of business it is very essential that these sittings should be made practical, and that the time should be devoted to the public service. The hon. Member for Tynemouth (Mr. Herbert Craig) raised a question which I venture to say, with all respect, he hardly would have done on further consideration. He asked what security we would get from the judges that this particular reform as to Saturday sitting would be carried.


Not from the judges, but from the Government.


I am very glad to hear from the hon. Member that that is so. I had misunderstood him for the moment. I thought he had said we should get some security from the judges, but he asks what security is to be obtained from the Government.


I only mentioned the matter in order to get fuller details of the scheme of the Government in regard to Saturday sittings.


I have already given a few words which I quoted from the Lord Chief Justice, given in his evidence before the Joint Committee, and I think he may rest satisfied with that statement and need not ask for any further security. There is no doubt that we shall get extra hours to be devoted to the public service, with the addition of getting rid of the congestion, and with the further addition of administrative reforms which are under consideration, but upon which I am not entitled to say anything in this Debate under the ruling of Mr. Speaker, nor could I say anything beyond what I have stated in answer to a good many questions in this House, and if I may venture to remind hon. Members of the answers to the questions put to me, all I can say is that there are certain matters under consideration bearing on what the Joint Committee has said, and before any effective scheme is brought into operation opportunity will be given this House to discuss the proposal, so that everybody may rest satisfied that there will be ample opportunity for the argument of the whole matter when the Debate takes place. After what has been said in the course of the discussion, and after the observations of hon. Members below the Gangway, I hope we will be allowed to get to the Report stage of this Bill, and thus by the assistance of the House help quickly to carry out the reforms suggested, so that we may get some of these cases that have been standing over for so long a time disposed of.


I ask leave to withdraw my Motion.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


I beg, with leave of the House, to withdraw the further Amendments standing in my name on the Paper, in view of the satisfactory reply given by the Solicitor-General.

Amendments, by leave, withdrawn.


I also ask leave to withdraw the Amendments which stand on the Paper in my name, and to express my satisfaction at the statement of the Solicitor-General that the Government are considering further reforms. I am sure that every Member of this House will be very glad to have those reforms brought forward, and I personally hope that they will include a very considerable shortening of the Long Vacation.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.