§ Order for Third Reading read.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That this Bill be now read the third time."—[The Solicitor-General.]
§ Mr. H. J. CRAIG
I do not think that the Third Reading of this Bill should be allowed to pass sub silentio. I have no wish to minimise the importance of the concession made the other day as regards the sittings of judges on Saturdays, but I would remind the House that that concession would probably not have been made had it not been for the opposition which we on these benches have offered to this measure at its various stages, and the fact that it has been made justifies the action which we have taken. This Bill is recommended to the House as the remedy put forward by the Select Committee. But this is not the only remedy suggested by the Committee, and I wish to press the Government to give us some indication of the view which it takes with regard to those other remedies which are not incorporated in the provisions of this Bill. I would draw the special attention of the learned Solicitor-General to Clause 4 of the Report.
§ Mr. MARKHAM
The Prime Minister gave an undertaking that the Government would give full attention to all the recommendations of the Committee.
§ Mr. H. J. CRAIG
I quite agree that the Prime Minister gave that rather vague 776 adumbration the other day, but I want, on this occasion, to get some indication, if possible, of the views of the Government in regard to particular remedies. In Clause 4 of their Report, in which the Committee recommend the appointment of two additional judges, they say they earnestly recommend in the meantime and without delay—"in the meantime" must mean before and not after the two extra judges are appointed—that certain reforms which have been suggested for the better organisation of business in London and on circuit should be considered with a view to such alterations as are found to be practicable or desirable being carried into effect. Will the Solicitor-General tell us what reforms are in contemplation regarding the better organisation of business on circuit, because it is largely due to the gross waste of time which takes place under our present system, whereby judges are withdrawn from London, where the lists are full, and are sent down into small country towns where there is no business to try—where they know beforehand there is no cause list—it is owing to this waste of judicial time which occurs under our present circuit system that the congestion in the King's Bench Division has accumulated. Let me give the House an illustration of how the system operates. We send judges down to certain towns to try civil causes, presumably with the view of getting litigants in the provincial centres to have their cases tried in those centres. But often the system operates in precisely the opposite way. A judge goes down to, say, Newcastle, and he is due in another assize town before he can dispose of the substantial cause list awaiting him in Newcastle. The unfortunate litigants know that if they put down their causes for trial they will probably not get an adequate hearing owing to the judge being in a hurry to go on and open the Commission in the next town. The result is that very many commercial cases which one would naturally expect to be put down for trial in the provinces are brought up to London by the litigants, and add to the congestion of the lists in London, which is attributable to the fact that judges are sent down from London to the provinces to try these very cases. Will the Government tell us what remedy they have in contemplation for it?
In the course of the discussion on the various stages of this Bill attention has been called to other glaring anomalies in our judicial system—such, for instance, as 777 that so strongly raised by the hon. Member for the Mansfield Division of Nottingham (Mr. Markham) as to the absence of any retiring age limit for judges. I think the time has come when the Government may tell the House what is their view with regard to this important question. I notice that the legal papers, such as the "Law Journal," proclaim the fact that this question is ripe for consideration. We cannot go on avoiding it. There is no adequate reason why judges alone, of all our Civil servants, should have no age limit imposed on them at which they must retire. It is for the purpose of inviting the Government to give a little more indication of their intentions regarding these reforms that I have risen on this occasion.
§ Mr. BOTTOMLEY
I will not detain the House long on a Friday afternoon, but inasmuch as I have a somewhat considerable practice in the courts, in the course of which I have had many opportunities of watching their practical working, I want to throw out some suggestions to the House, and especially to the Solicitor-General, which I think would obviate the necessity for this Bill altogether, and not only render it unnecessary to consider the appointment of new judges, but when the time comes in the course of nature for various occupants of the Bench to retire, not necessarily of their own free will, make it possible even to reduce the present numerical strength of the Bench. The system which at present prevails in our courts, with the exception of two courts, under which His Majesty's judges are compelled to go through the primitive and stupid form of taking in longhand a note of the evidence is the cause of nearly the whole of the delay which occurs in the administration of justice. In the Criminal Courts and the Probate Court there is an official shorthand writer, and nothing has struck me more forcibly in my experience in the courts than the monstrous waste of time caused by the fact that the witness is compelled to give evidence at the rate of about a word a minute in order that the counsel may say that he must watch his lordship's pen and see that the learned judge is taking down the more or less relevant evidence which the witness is giving. If the Government would consider the question of appointing an official shorthand writer to each of our courts at an expenditure involving only a few thousands a year, they could reduce the number of judges by one half. The notes 778 could be taken and they could then be transcribed, but the learned judge is still free to take whatever casual notes he likes of the case for the purpose of his summing up, but the present system is absolutely ridiculous, antiquated and wasteful. Many of our judges, through physical infirmity, are not very good penmen. I have been recently engaged in a case against an hon. and learned Gentleman whom I see opposite, the Solicitor-General in the late Government—and I was successful on that occasion in defeating him—in which the learned judge, in the course of his summing up, could not read his own notes, but actually had to appeal to counsel in the case as to what the paragraph was that he was endeavouring to decipher, which was in his own handwriting. I have again and again seen learned judges trying to read their notes and pondering and pausing to make out their own caligraphy. But quite apart from that, is it not a business proposition that there should be attached to the courts an official shorthand writer? There is no difficulty about finding him, because there is an official Institute of Shorthand Writers connected with the High Court, and the expense is infinitesimal in a relative sense.
Let the judges take whatever notes they want for the purpose of refreshing their own memories, and they can also always call upon the shorthand writer, as is done now, for the same purpose, and you will not need to have a great many more judges, but a great many less. I put that as a business proposition, and I think it is a sound one. It will save the time of judges, and prevent an enormous waste of time. I speak with great respect of the judges as a body, although, of course, there are discriminations, but [...]t is physically impossible for a judge to take a full note of the evidence, and the notes that they take involve a waste of time. If you go to the Court of Appeal—and I am sure the learned Solicitor—General has seen this hundreds of times in the same way as I have—the Judges of Appeal often throw down the book and complain of the scandalous writing of the judges of first instance, and say that their notes are not of the slightest use to the court, while only a few years ago a Judge of Appeal made a protest in court against the shameful way in which notes were sent out. I hope we shall not be told that all is right as it is, and that we must find rewards for political services on the Bench. Let us look at this matter from the point of view of the public service and public benefit. 779 Half a dozen judges of the King's Bench Division could do all the work if official shorthand writers were appointed, and it is for the purpose of making that suggestion that I rose. I have only one other word to say, and I am afraid that you, Sir, may call me to order, and therefore I will say it briefly. It is that before the Bill passes I hope the learned Solicitor-General will take the House into his confidence and tell us under what new rules the new judges will work.
§ Mr. J. G. BUTCHER
I should like to Urge upon the Government the acceptance of the proposal which has just been made by the hon. Gentleman as regards the appointment of an official shorthand writer to the court, although I do not quite endorse all the comments which he has made. I do, however, support his two suggestions, first, that it would save a great waste of time which goes on at the present time, and that it would undoubtedly facilitate business. From that point of view I think it would be useful, but there is another even more important reason why it should be adopted, and that is this: It is most essential to the litigants to have a proper record of the evidence when they go to the Court of Appeal. Of course, in the case of the wealthier the difficulty does not arise, because they are able to have a shorthand writer of their own, and by arrangement between the parties a shorthand note is taken and copies of the transcript are provided for the use of counsel and everyone concerned. The poor man, however, cannot afford to have a shorthand writer, and it is essential that when he goes to the Court of Appeal he should be furnished with an account of what took place in the court below. I do not suppose the speeches of the learned counsel should be reported in full.
§ Mr. J. G. BUTCHER
I do not think they should be ignored, but they need not ho given fully. As regards the evidence, however, I think the Solicitor-General would agree that in the case of those who cannot afford a shorthand writer it is essential that they should be furnished with a copy of the evidence.
§ Dr. ADDISON
I placed a notice on the Paper in order that I might raise once more and seek to obtain some assurance 780 from the Government on the question of an age-limit. The hon. and learned Member on a former occasion put forward some objection to instituting an age limit in this Bill mainly on the ground that it would be impossible to apply such a limit to those who are at present appointed. Of course, one must realise the fairness of that objection that we cannot make this retrospective, but unless we make a beginning I do not see how we shall ever get the principle established, and seeing that in the Army, Navy, and Civil Service—in all appointments of this character—an age limit is imposed, it seems to me that the present is a favourable opportunity for establishing such a rule in the case of judges. I fail to see any reason why judges should be less subject to the infirmities of age than members of the Civil Service. In Civil Service appointments the retiring age is, of course, earlier than seventy, but it is possible for a man to be transferred to less difficult and arduous work than that he is engaged upon at the time. That is not possible in the case of judges. As a matter of fact, the longer the experience of the judge upon the Bench the more arduous and responsible are his duties. The other objection of the learned Solicitor-General to adopting an age limit is that we might miss the services of men of ripe experience. It is true that in a certain number of cases that might be so, but still we have to take the facts of life as they are, and remember that owing to the non-existence of an age limit many younger men, admirably fitted to undertake the duties, are prevented from doing so. It is, however, with a friendly purpose that I put this Resolution on the Paper. It is simply in order to enter a protest against this opportunity not having been taken advantage of for the establishment of an age limit and to seek from the Government some assurance that they will give this matter their consideration and endeavour to apply it at the earliest possible moment.
§ Mr. GIBSON BOWLES
This is the end of a most interesting and important campaign. I would congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Mansfield and his associates upon the very proper and admirable compromise that has been arrived at. There are three conditions upon which my hon. Friends, with whom I associate myself as a humble follower, have consented to the passing of this Bill. The first is that the administrative changes promised by' His Majesty's Government 781 should be immediately taken into consideration and forthwith carried through. I do not presume to say what these changes should be. They are well known to the Solicitor-General. The second condition is that the judges should sit on Saturdays. That is a matter of good understanding with them—an understanding arrived at after an expression of desire on the part of this House. The third concession is that it must be understood that, as the Bill provides, the appointment of these two judges is a temporary appointment, when another two judges retire or die, they are not to be replaced. In fact, that the number will recur to what it was before. I was told by some cynical Members of this House—members of the legal profession, who, perhaps, are more cynical than other Members—that we were, to use a vulgar expression, "done"; that His Majesty's judges would pay no attention whatever to the desires of this House and to the desires of the Prime Minister, and that they would no more sit on Saturdays now than they did before. I did not and do not believe that, and I have justification for that disbelief in the fact that more than one of them has already announced his intention of sitting on Saturdays.
But an element has been introduced into this Debate with which I should like to deal. It has been suggested that there should be an age limit for judges. I really think that would not be advisable. The first necessity is to maintain the complete independence of the judges. That is provided for by making them irremovable except on addresses from both Houses of Parliament, by charging their salaries on the Consolidated Fund, and partly by allowing them to go on in their profession until they themselves feel they should retire. My belief is that a right-minded judge—and in my mind all judges are right-minded—will himself feel and recognise the moment his powers have failed him or rendered him incompetent any longer to fulfil his office. Therefore I should regret to see an age limit which is not necessary and which, in many cases, would deprive the country of the services of some of its ablest judges. Some of the ablest judges this country has ever known have given some of their most important and epoch-making decisions after they reached the age of sixty-five or even seventy.
§ Mr. GIBSON BOWLES
But that is an entirely different thing. A Civil servant is constantly removable. There is no sort of analogy between even the highest Civil servant and one of the judges of the court. I only throw out these remarks as some answer to my hon. Friend (Dr. Addison). I have been extremely glad that what might have been irritating and possibly offensive Debates have been avoided and that a compromise has been arrived at. I am the more glad because I see the time approaching, nay at hand, when the King's Courts will be the only thing which stands between the inhabitants of this country and the oppression of a proud and unscrupulous bureaucracy—Commissioners of this and Commissioners of that, tax collectors and tax surveyors, all assuming to make the law and break the law, to construe the law and to disregard the law altogether. In my opinion a very serious moment is approaching for this country and for the taxpayers of this country. There is not sufficient control by the Executive over the proud bureaucrats, who go about with enormous rapacity, no scruple, and an entire absence of any bowels of compassion, collecting taxes which exist and even when they do not. They are domineering, and yet constantly wrong in their construction of the law, and it is for that reason that I rejoice the King's Courts are still open to bring these oppressors to justice for their works. As in the old days, so in the future, it is not to Ministers, Commissioners, or Civil servants that we look for our rights to be preserved and for common justice; it is to the King's Court that we shall owe it.
Already a beginning has been made of protection. Mr. Justice Bray last Friday condemned the Commissioners of Inland Revenue in costs because they were unreasonable. If at any time the Government should endeavour to relieve these Commissioners from personal costs and endeavour to bring a Vote into this House in order to make the country pay instead of the Commissioners, I shall have a word to say upon the subject, and not only I, but, I trust, others, and if they do succeed in carrying their Vote there still remains the one other security that this country has besides the King's judges, and that is the Public Accounts Committee, which I earnestly trust will disallow any such item and cause those who pay it to be personally responsible for the payment. I very seriously and very gravely tell this House that things have arrived at such a pass there is such a disregard of law and 783 propriety and reason and fair play among the bureaucrats who have been recently increased, and who, as they are increased, daily increase in pride and in disregard for the law—that the only thing which stands between us and them is the King's Courts, and I end, as I began. by saying, "Thank God, the King's Courts are open!"
§ Mr. MORTON
I beg to move to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day three months."
It is unfortunate in connection with this Bill that we never had an opportunity of having a Second Reading Debate. It was got through late one night. I do not blame the Government for that entirely, but they ought to have given us a fair opportunity of considering a Bill of this great magnitude. We are told this is a temporary measure for appointing two judges, and that other matters can be considered afterwards; and we are told outside what this temporary measure means and what the object really is, and that is to shelve the subject for another thirty years and allow them to go on in the old way. I should like the Long Vacation question to be settled, and I do not think the Bill ought to be allowed to pass until we get it settled. Everyone outside and the judges themselves know very well that the real difficulty with our law courts is not a want of judges, but the fact that they do not sit there; and, as far as I understand from the Lord Chancellor's evidence, business is not increasing, and you do not want more judges. But we cannot apparently get the Government to properly consider the question of getting some settlement of particular questions. The Lord Chancellor himself is in favour of their being dealt with, and so, I believe, is the Prime Minister, and so, in fact, is everyone outside lunatic asylums in favour of settling this Long Vacation question. At present the judges only sit, apparently, about two-thirds of the year. Have more judges if you like, but surely the law courts ought to be kept open while there is business to be done, and if, instead of closing up for four months out of the twelve, they were to take a month's holiday, like other people, it would be quite sufficient for all purposes, and it would allow business to be done in an ordinary businesslike way.
But apparently the real point is this, that eminent barristers want to keep it all in their own hands, and at the same time 784 they want to take a long holiday. The great majority of the barristers would be only too glad if the courts were open so that they could go on with their work in the ordinary way. I think before this Bill is passed the Government should do something to settle this Long Vacation question. I hope hon. Members have read the Lord Chancellor's evidence. He states distinctly that these judges are not wanted, and therefore, if I and others have been led astray, it is by the Lord Chancellor himself. Most of us are aware that the Lord Chancellor does not run away from that evidence in any way whatever. Out of courtesy and goodwill to his colleagues on the Committee he was willing to give way to the majority, but he does not alter his opinion as to that evidence even as regards a comma. We had another suggestion the other day that a Committee or Commission should be appointed to consider the whole question of the Long Vacation before anything is done. We have heard no more of that, but when the matter came before the House a week ago, the Prime Minister made some promise with regard to sittings on Saturdays. It must have astonished most ordinary business people to find that these judges practically do not sit on Saturdays at all. In fact, it seems that eminent counsel only take these offices after they have made fortunes at the Bar, and do not wish to work so hard in the future, and the office is adopted as a sort of recreation. We want it made a business of, and if you cannot find barristers of sufficient importance and knowledge to take the offices for business purposes and carry them on in a businesslike way, we ought, like some other countries, to discard these barristers altogether, and educate men up for judges only, and not let the office be made use of simply as a recreation for their old age.
I am told the Prime Minister has promised something about sittings on Saturdays, but we get most of our knowledge from the man in the street. We have got some from the Lord Chancellor, who is not the man in the street, and on this occasion I am sticking to the Lord Chancellor's evidence, which is so clear that even a Solicitor-General could make no mistake about it. What we are told by the man in the street is that, although the Prime Minister, of course, meant what he said, he has no power to carry it out. I do not know how they manage things as to when the courts will 785 sit, because that is all done secretly, and we are apparently not allowed to have anything to say in the matter, but I should like to know if that is all we are going to get. I am sorry the Government seem determined to shove this Bill through at all costs. We might have waited a decent time, and had a proper inquiry as to the settlement of the question, which everyone admits ought to be settled, namely, that of the sittings of the court. But I am told there are two barristers already selected who think they ought to have had this office some months ago, and I should like the Solicitor-General to give us the names of the barristers he intends to put in these offices. We can get them from the newspapers outside, but I should like to have them from the Solicitor-General; then they would no doubt be authentic. If the selection has been made, I think we are entitled to know who they are to be because in future we want this work done. We should therefore interest ourselves in the gentlemen chosen to fill the appointments in order that we may pick out young men who are willing to work and not give them to men who wish to play. I wish to blow how the Prime Minister is going to carry out his promise, or whether he will undertake to place the judges under some authority which can compel them to sit on Saturdays. I do not deny that it would be something to have sittings on Saturdays. It would show a way out of the difficulty, and it would show also the utter want of necessity for any new judges at all. We altogether forget economy in dealing with public money in connection with these offices as well as others. It is so easy to spend other people's money. [HON. MEMBERS: "Hear, hear."] There are a few hon. Gentlemen opposite who say, "Hear, hear," but I do not find that they vote for economy. The hon. Baronet (Sir F. Banbury) who does his best to represent me in the City, talks about economy but never votes for it. I want to put a little courage in him and ask him not only to talk about economy but to vote for it. Until Members of this House do that the Front Bench will only laugh at them. What do they care about the hon. Baronet who represents me as well as he can? What do they care about his speeches when they know that he will vote for them. I hope the hon. Baronet and others who cheer me will have a little courage to-day and vote for economy. The proposal in this Bill is that we should deliberately waste £10,000 per annum of the people's 786 money. There is not the slightest occasion for it, and the Government have never given us any reason why they are throwing over their own Lord Chancellor. The only explanation which the Lord Chancellor gives is that he has agreed to the proposal out of deference to his colleagues. That being so, it is surely wrong and improper that the Government should attempt to carry the Third Reading of the Bill. I hope those gentlemen who are interested in economy will support me.
§ Mr. WATT
I desire to second the Amendment which has been so ably moved by my hon. Friend. I do so from the fact that, in regard to the appointment of these judges, there has been no limitation of age put in the Bill. Everyone admits that the Bench of this country is, so far as age is concerned, in an unsatisfactory condition. The age of many of the judges is such that, to put it mildly, they are past their best, and it is a well-known fact—known to the man in the street at any rate—that in the administration of justice the somnolency of the Bench interferes on many occasions with the administration of that justice, and unless something is done in the way of enforcing a retiring age on these servants of the Crown, as on all other Civil servants, a great evil will be brought about, and the man in the street will no longer have confidence in the administration of justice. What are the circumstances which this Bill is brought in to remedy? The King's Bench Division of His Majesty's Courts has allowed the business of that Division to get into extra-ordinary arrears. I believe that cases put on the roll five months ago are daily being adjudicated upon by the King's Bench Division. The judges, who have to deal with these arrears, sit only for about eight months in the year. They have three months holiday beginning shortly, and I believe they have about a month at Christmas and a month at Easter, so that while you have serious arrears of cases you have the judges, whose duty it is to adjudicate upon the cases, and who are highly paid for that duty, enjoying these extraordinary long holidays. I should like to call the attention of the House to the ages of these particular judges of the King's Bench Division. There are four of them over seventy years of age, one being seventy-seven, and one seventy-five. The one who is seventy-five is Justice Grantham, a man very well known to the last House of Commons. There are seven 787 judges over sixty-five years of age. We have, therefore, eleven of the sixteen judges over sixty-five years of age. It is a great age in view of the work that is set before them, and combined with that great age you have the fact that they take inordinate holidays. Their view, and the view which they have forced upon the Government, is that instead of sixteen being the number two more should be appointed at an expense of £10,000 a year to the country. They represented their case to the Lord Chancellor again and again, and on each occasion the Lord Chancellor absolutely refused to accept their method of clearing off the arrears of the King's Bench Division. He was of my opinion, and I believe he is still of my opinion, that these gentlemen should be called upon to work a little harder and take less holidays in order to clear off the arrears, and in that way avoid the necessity for the appointment of other two judges. The Lord Chancellor, in, I think, an erring moment, consented to have a Commission. The Commission sat and recommended that two more judges should be appointed, but that a condition should be attached to the appointments that several other reforms which have been suggested should be instituted without delay. Unfortunately the Government have accepted only part of the recommendation of the Commission, namely, that two other judges should be appointed, but they have not accepted the other part that other reforms should be carried out. We are now at the last stage of this Bill. I venture to think that the reforms which were recommended by this Commission should also have been carried out. We should have taken the whole of the recommendations instead of taking them partially, and simply bringing in a Bill to authorise the appointment of two additional judges. My particular desideratum in connection with the appointment of these two judges was that they should be limited in point of age, and that they should be asked to retire at seventy. When we had an interview with the Prime Minister on the subject we had something in the form of a promise that, although he would not accept the seventy years' limitation for retirement, he might think of accepting fifty-five years as regards the appointment age, so that those men appointed under fifty-five years of age might be certain of at least fifteen years' occupation of the office and would 788 be in a position to retire at the age of seventy. Unfortunately that partial promise of the Prime Minister has in no way been carried out, but instead of that great things are promised by the fact that they are going to sit on Saturday. For my part I think that these Saturday sittings will develop into a farce. The judges will probably sit for two or three Saturdays. Certainly they will sit on Saturdays while this Bill is hanging in this House. After it has passed my prophecy is that they will no longer sit on Saturdays but will de[...]y the House of Commons. That being so, I think that the House of Commons would act wisely in not passing this Bill at the present juncture, but in putting it off for three months, and with that view I have pleasure in seconding the Motion of my hon. Friend.
§ Sir EDWARD CARSON
I am always very slow in taking any part in discussions of this kind relating to my profession, because I know perfectly well that there are a number of Members in this House who always imagine that if a lawyer takes part in these discussions he has some personal interest in them. I can assure the House that I have none either as a practitioner or as a litigant, and any observations I have to offer the House are wholly and solely in the interests of the public, whom alone I represent when I come to speak in this House. The House ought to bring their minds back to the condition of business in the King's Bench Division. It is a scandal. It is a scandal in the interests of the public and of the litigant. I am glad to say that the business of the Court of Appeal is very well up to the mark, certainly in comparison with what it was some time ago. The business in the Courts of Chancery is also well up to the mark; but the business in the King's Bench Division is in a scandalous state of arrears. When we adjourn at the end of the month there will be hundreds of cases which are ready for trial, and which have been commenced, a great many of them, more than a year ago——
§ Sir E. CARSON
And these will not be heard. The first thing you have to consider is, what is the effect of that upon the litigants? I can assure hon. Members of this House that I have many times to advise litigants, where it is necessary to have a speedy justification of action they have taken, or of action which brought their conduct into criticism in relation to 789 their particular business, and I have had to advise them that it was absolutely useless to try to seek a remedy in the courts owing to the delay which would necessarily occur and which would make their remedy absolutely futile. I had a letter some time ago from a solicitor, who told me of a case where a man was turned out of his business, the employment which he had, because certain charges were made against him. They told him that until he vindicated himself in the law courts he must remain out of employment. I believe that he had a perfectly good case. Be asked how soon could he vindicate himself. I said, perhaps, in eight months at the earliest, or in a year, at all events. This man in the meantime has to remain out of employment, and to be there starving with his wife and children, as the solicitor told me, because of the state of arrears of business in the King's Bench Division of the High Court of Justice. That is not justice. That is the denial of justice; and I care very little with regard to any question arising in the discussion on this Bill as compared with putting an end in some way to that state of affairs. Some Members seem to think that the existing judges have some great interest in having this Bill passed. They have none. They are there for the term of their natural lives, and they have no interest in this Bill whatsoever. Of course, it is the habit of some people to talk contemptuously of the judges, and this habit I join with the hon. Member for King's Lynn (Mr. Gibson Bowles) in entirely deprecating. I do not think it is in the interest of any citizens or of the whole Kingdom, from any point of view, ever to belittle the judges. I agree with what has been said that, after all, the judges occupy often a very difficult position. They have to stand in circumstances very often of great difficulty, in cases where so-called public opinion—a passing wave of public opinion of the moment—may lead to very great wrong and very great injustice, and often in cases, too, where the erroneous acts of Departments of the Government may lead to very great abuse. Therefore I say it is not in the interests of anybody in this country to attempt by sneering remarks at the judges to in the least belittle the high position which they not only do occupy, but which they will occupy in this country.
§ Sir E. CARSON
I believe it to be entirely untrue to say, as has been said, 790 that the judges shirk work. I believe that to be an absolute falsehood. I hold no brief for judges. They are nothing to me, nor am I to them, nor do I ever want to be, but all I can say from observation day after day in the courts is that I have never yet seen a judge trying to shirk work in any way. People imagine that the only persons who are occupied in the administration of the law are judges. But you have to work the legal machine as a whole; you have to work it in reference to the jurors, in reference to the litigants, in reference to the counsel, in reference to the solicitors, and in reference to the various experts and various people concerned. It is not such an easy thing as people seem to imagine it to be to work the whole of that, taking it from one hour of the day to the other and from one end of the week to the other end. How often have I been in cases myself when on Friday the whole body of jurors have handed a requisition to the judge that, as they had been kept the whole week from their businesses, they might be allowed to stay away on Saturday, so that they might pay their men, see their overseers, and make arrangements for going on with their business. Then, if the judge accedes to their request, it is alleged that he is a lazy judge. You cannot look upon it in that way. Over and over again what happens is this: On Friday witnesses who have been kept up from the country all the week very often approach the judge, or counsel make the application on their behalf, to ask "Can we get home to-morrow? Everything is going to ruin down in the country while we are away"; and you have got to make some accommodation for these people.
§ Sir E. CARSON
Therefore, do not run away with the idea that the judges want to, or are trying to shirk work. There is no truth in the statement that they are. I heard the observation made here to-day that the judges never sit on Saturday. Before this matter was mooted many judges did sit on Saturday. Very often judges did not sit on Saturday because they could not get jurors to attend. Very often they did not sit on Saturday because it was inconvenient to bring up witnesses at the end of the week and keep them hanging over the Sunday until the case would come on on Monday. There is no fault to be found in this respect, and 791 there is no desire whatever upon the part of judges in my opinion, whatever it is worth, and there never has been any desire on the part of the judges to shirk their work. As to the present condition of affairs, some hon. Members talk as if the judges had created the arrears which have accumulated. They, however, have resulted from the work which has been added to that of the King's Bench Division. If Members will read the speech of the Lord Chancellor on the Criminal Appeal Bill, they will see that he pointed out that there would be some 6,000 or 7,000 criminal appeals to be heard by the King's Bench Division. How could the King's Bench Division deal with all that work with the same staff as before? The hon. Gentleman says it is quite simple. What has happened? There was this nucleus of some six, seven, or eight thousand cases to be dealt with, and these are cases which require very grave consideration. They are appeals from the solemn verdict of the judge and jury of the Criminal Court. For this work you have to take away three judges every week for at least one day. In addition, the judges have to go through the whole of the cases beforehand, and to read up the papers and evidence connected with them. All this involves a great deal of work which never comes before the public at all. Do you ever read, as I dare say you do not, the long and elaborate judgments delivered from time to time by judges of the High Court? Do you think that those judgments take no time to prepare? Do you think that the judges each evening they leave the Bench have done all their work? If they do not sit on the Saturday they have other matter to prepare for the next week, and all I say is that I wish they had even more time in which to consider and elaborate their judgments. It is an utterly incorrect view which is held amongst Members of the House of the real functions of judges, and I believe that the duties and functions of His Majesty's judges are honourably and admirably performed by the present holders of those judicial offices. In my opinion the appointment of two judges without other reforms will not be sufficient to clear up the arrears. I believe, however, that without these two judges you cannot make a commencement. I also hold the view that until the King's Bench Division, like the Chancery Division, are kept to their work, you will never be able properly to 792 deal with the business of that Division. The Chancery judges are not taken away to do odd jobs. They are not called upon to take the business of the Railway Commission, which often occupies the time of a King's Bench Judge for many days, nor have Chancery Judges to deal with criminal appeals or with election petitions. Yet all these matters are thrown upon the King's Bench Judges from time to time, and then you ask why they do not get through their work.
I believe that until you set about a scheme by which the King's Bench Judges will be kept to their work from one end of the term to the other, and not to leave that work, you will never get a satisfactory state of affairs in the King's Bench Division. I hope, however, that, besides the addition of two judges, something of this kind will be done. For my own part, I am one of those who think that the Long Vacation is too long and that the time has come when that question may very well be considered. Some hon. Members pay my profession the compliment of stating that the Long Vacation is retained by leading men at the Bar, who are making money and who want a long holiday. I think I know enough of the Bar to be able to say that men with a large practice make enough money to be in a position to take a holiday at any time. It must not be thought for one moment that any attempt is being made by any leader of the Bar against any reform in the interests of the public business. There is no foundation for that idea. Another hon. Member asked us to look at the way in which the judges treat the Long Vacation. It is not the judges who regulate the Long Vacation at all, and if it becomes necessary, on consideration, to shorten it, I do not believe you will find any real opposition on the part of those who are engaged in the administration of the law. A good deal has been said about the age limit of the judges. I believe judges should be appointed at a younger age than they are, but to lay down any hard and fast rule, I think, would be fatal. Supposing a vacancy occurred, and you were to look around and saw a man who was pre-eminently fitted and suitable, but yet outside the age limit by a year or two, while another was inside it, but whom you knew would not make nearly so good a judge as the elder man, would it not be against the public interest, under such a hard and fast rule, that the authorities should be prevented from appointing the man who possessed by far the greater 793 qualifications for the office. At the same time. I think it would be entirely in the interests of the administration of justice that, as a general rule, younger men should be appointed, but, as regards age, I think it is impossible to lay down a limit. You may have a man at sixty-five, or whatever age you lay down. who would be most admirable as a judge. Some of the best judges we have had were far beyond that age. Look at the late Lord Chancellor (Lord Halsbury). Would anybody like to have lost his services? He was one of the greatest judges by far that I have ever practised before—and I have practised both here and in Ireland—since I have been a member of the Bar. Yes, and I would not like to lose him now. for I think he is still a valuable asset in the judicial administration of this country. Do not let anyone imagine for a moment that the Bill is adding excessively to the staff of judges. I believe you can make no proper reform or set up any diary for legal business to the satisfaction of litigants unless you have a sufficient staff of judges to cope with the business of the various courts. Those who vote against the Bill are not punishing the judges or counsel, except perhaps those who might not get the appointments; they are punishing their fellow-subjects in denying them justice because of the insufficiency of the staff of the High Court.
§ Mr. BYLES
I wish to impress upon the Solicitor-General most earnestly the suggestion made by the hon. Member for Hackney and supported by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for York. I have not that great knowledge of the practice of the law courts which some hon. Members claim to possess, but I do know something about shorthand writing. and it does seem to me that the suggestion made by the hon. Gentleman is a valuable one. There are many survivals in the Law Courts which are picturesque, but the survival of longhand writing in these days, at the expense of public time, is surely an anachronism which might be got rid of. It was pointed out that the number of judges might be diminished and au actual saving of time effected by the adoption of such a suggestion. It is not only the time of the judges, but the time of counsel, suitors, and the public generally which would be saved if a reform of this kind could be introduced into our courts, and shorthand writers took the evidence and produced it next morning, 794 as is done for ourselves in this House, where at this moment reporters are taking down the wisdom and the nonsense spoken here. Last year I was a member of a Select Committee which had shorthand experts, and we had the evidence complete the next day. I submit that this is a reform which ought to be carried out. I hope my right hon. Friend will give serious attention to it, as I think it would be a saving of both time and money.
§ The SOLICITOR-GENERAL (Sir Rufus Isaacs)
It is, I think, apparent from the course of this Debate that there are some who seem to have some doubt, strange though it is that there should be any doubt, that the object of this Bill is merely to get rid of the arrears in the King's Bench Division, and that it is devised solely and absolutely in the interests of the public who are at liberty, and who have the privilege, and who are entitled to go to the Courts of Justice, in order to get redress for their grievances, and who are entitled, in my view, to complain of the administration of government in this country which does not secure to them not only judges of eminence and repute, but also a sufficient number to entitle them to get their cases tried at an early date, or almost as soon as they are ready, so that a man may not have to wait for money if he is entitled to it, or so that he may be able to clear his character without any undue delay if it has been attacked. I say, speaking in this respect solely on my own behalf, that I think of the two evils I would infinitely prefer the overstaffing of the judicial bench, and that there might be days when, perhaps, some members of the Bench might be idle, to the starving of the Bench, and in that way to the practice of what may be called, but what I think is falsely called, under those circumstances, economy. One of the greatest boons which can be given by the State to the subject is justice, and the longer you delay the subject from getting justice the more you are approaching, if you are not actually bringing, injustice to the subject.
I agree entirely with what fell from my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for the University of Dublin (Sir E. Carson) when he said that from his experience he has had to advise litigants not to bring actions, in order that they might have redress for some attack upon their character, or it may be to recover sums of money, because of the delay that would ensue. I will give one instance which 795 occurred to me in my own experience, before I had accepted my present office, when I was in the capacity of counsel advising private litigants, an experience which, I think, serves very well to explain what happens when you have not sufficient judges ready to deal with the cases of litigants. In this particular case the man was suing for a sum of £12,000. He was not a rich man; he had to borrow money from his bank, and get advances upon security, and carry on his business almost entirely by means of borrowed capital for the time being. He was entitled to be paid £12,000, and, of course, under those circumstances, to pay off his bank and other persons. He was being pressed for the money he had borrowed. He had a perfectly good claim. I have no hesitation in saying, speaking as I am at the moment from a knowledge of all the documents which could be relevant to the discussion, that there was not the faintest defence to that man's claim. He could not afford to wait. A defence was put upon record which entitled those defending to have the case tried. That involved some five or six months' delay before the case could be tried. My client could not afford to wait that time, because before he could get his case tried he would be sold up or made bankrupt, and his whole reputation and credit as a merchant would go.
It would be very little satisfaction, it seems to me, to that man to say at the end of that six months, when the case came on for trial, "I have a perfectly good claim, and if I had got my case tried I should never have lost my business and credit." [An HON. MEMBER: "Might that sort of thing not happen during the Long Vacation?"] The Long Vacation would take some portion of the period, but that does not in the slightest degree answer the point I am dealing with. That point is that you have got a period of six months before the case can be tried. Having heard that man's story and having heard what my client's position was, and realising that he could not afford to wait all that time, I advised him, though I was absolutely satisfied that there was not a vestige of a defence of his case, to compromise his claim and to take 75 per cent. of the money, so that he might be able to carry on his business. I do not hesitate to say that that is a scandalous state of things, and that that man was really suffering from a very grave injustice. In consequence of this long delay he had to 796 take so much less than what he was justly entitled to. I only instance that as a means of bringing home to the minds of those who do not seem to realise it, that this remedy is proposed in the interests of the public and that it is one that effects litigants.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I do not quite understand how even one who speaks, as my hon. Friend does, with long experience, can suggest that because you have a Long Vacation, which I heard put as being two weeks too long, that that is the cause of a delay of six or eight months. I note with much interest that the Amendment which is moved to the administration of justice in the King's Bench Division in England is an Amendment which was moved by a Member for a Division in Scotland, and seconded by a Member for one of the Divisions of Glasgow. It is very peculiar to observe that the Amendment does not call forth apparently the support of English Members, who are in the main interested in the High Court of Justice, and who know quite well that here in England it is so necessary that we should have prompt administration of justice, and apparently recourse has to be had to two Members representing constituencies in Scotland in order to place an Amendment on the Paper dealing with English administration of justice.
§ Mr. MORTON
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that the whole Front Bench, including the Lord Chancellor, is managed by Scottish Members?
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
The point with which I was dealing referred to the administration of justice. The only criticisms which have been made have appeared to me to be in favour of, and not against, the creation of the two additional judges. My hon. and learned Friend who seconded the Amendment (Mr. Watt) told us on a recent occasion that he was a member of the English Bar, and I noticed while he was speaking that, although he was not speaking from experience at the Bar, yet his knowledge and training as a member of the Bar always in the end brought uppermost in his mind how essential it was that you should have prompt administration of justice; and although he seconded the Amendment, before he sat down he had given most cogent reasons why two more judges should be 797 appointed, and also how necessary it was that there should be other administrative reforms. His argument, and I agree with it, was to the effect that it was desirable, not only that we should get rid of the congestion caused by the insufficiency of judges, but also that we should effect other reforms. I entirely concur, and it is for that reason we are asking the House to pass this Bill, in order that we may get on with one reform which the Joint Committee recommended should be done at once, while at the same time saying that other reforms should be considered without delay. I may tell the House, as I told them before, that those other matters are actually at the present time under the consideration of those who will have to deal with them, but nothing has yet been settled. The suggestions which have been made with regard to the circuits and other matters it would be quite impossible to discuss on this occasion. I have said, in answer to many questions, that ample opportunity will be given to this House to discuss those proposals before they are in any way put into active operation. But it is no easy matter, as anyone will recognise who takes note of the number of questions which are constantly being put to me as to what is being done with reference to various proposals. The moment it is proposed to remove an assize from one town to another in order to save judicial time and perhaps some expense, straightway there are complaints from the local authority and from the Member representing the constituency, who desire that the administration of justice should not be taken away from their particular town; but that that particular district should have an opportunity of seeing His Majesty's judges come there to dispense justice. I do not propose to discuss these points in this Debate, but I have always been impressed with the desirability, with due regard to economy and the saving of time, of His Majesty's judges going round the country and bringing home to the minds of the people something of what the administration of the law does mean, and bringing them into active close touch with one of His Majesty's judges of the High Court of Justice.
With reference to the suggestions which have been made as to the desirability of a shorthand note, that again is a matter not quite germane to this discussion, although it would naturally arise. It is by no means so simple a matter as some hon. Members think. I am one of those who 798 from not inconsiderable experience have often wished there was a shorthand note taken, so that words might be recorded as they were spoken, and one might have no difficulty afterwards in deciphering what had been written by the learned judge—although it is only right to say that that is not always due to the learned judge, as copies only are supplied. One of the speakers has said how convenient it is to get a record next morning, as we do of our proceedings here. That is true, but the difficulty is that the vast majority of cases are concluded on the same day, and no official shorthand note would be of the slightest use for the trial, although no doubt it is of use if the case goes to the Court of Appeal. But there is this danger to be borne in mind, that when a judge knows that a shorthand note is being taken he very often will not take a note of the evidence himself, but will rely on the shorthand note. He may think that the case will not finish that day, and that he will have an opportunity of examining the evidence before he comes to sum up. There is always that danger, and if the case comes to a conclusion there is no effective note upon which the judge can rely, and there is nothing to which one can turn in case of dispute as to what has actually been said.
§ Mr. BOTTOMLEY
The taking of an official shorthand note does not preclude the judge from taking notes of the evidence as the case proceeds.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I am pointing out that there is some danger. I have already said that my own view has been in favour of an official shorthand note; but I wanted the House to understand that it is not so entirely a one-sided matter as might be thought from some of the speeches that have been made. There are objections, and, although I quite agree that the learned judge is not precluded from taking notes of the evidence, my experience is that if a shorthand note is being taken there is less disposition to have recourse to the manual effort of writing; the judge will rely on his memory and upon the fact that he is going to have a transcript next day. That is a difficulty which must not be lost sight of.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
That really would not do. You cannot get a transcript of the evidence which has just been given in order that the judge may sum up at, say, three o'clock. Nevertheless those who are in favour of a shorthand note are quite entitled to say, and to my mind to say with justice, that several of these difficulties might be met by the judge taking a careful note of the most material and relevant evidence, and that the shorthand note could always remain for use in the event of the case going to the Court of Appeal. The only other question of importance which has been raised is, I think, with reference to the age limit.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
It must be quite clear that the age limit is not a matter which could be dealt with in this Bill. In fact I may ask the hon. Gentleman the Member for Tynemouth if he quite realised, although he spoke about it, that this Bill is not the proper occasion to introduce the age limit? You cannot deal with it in the case of two judges, and not with the rest. You could not introduce this matter in a Bill of this kind in the appointment of two judges, and not make it apply to the rest of the judges who have been appointed previously. But there is one important factor which seems to have been left out of consideration, even by those who are so very careful to take every opportunity—and rightly so—of impressing upon us the question of economy. Does it occur to these hon. Gentlemen, who suggest that you ought to make a judge retire at a certain age, that if he is still competent to perform his work, and that his capacity is as good as ever to act as a judge, notwithstanding that he has arrived at the age of sixty-five or seventy, that to put him on the retired list means the payment of his pension of £3,500 a year, and that you have to appoint another judge at £5,000? You are not by this method saving anything to the State, but putting on an increased burden. The whole truth of the matter is that when a judge has arrived at an age that he is no longer fitted to carry on his work, in case he does not retire, and that he does not see it himself, there generally are those who take upon themselves to impress the fact upon him. It is an invidious task, and sometimes one of considerable difficulty, but it has certainly always been done if necessary.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
The hon. Member does not really follow. I did not say anything about the power to retire. What I said was that if a judge arrived at a time when he was no longer competent to perform his work, that there were those who properly took the opportunity to tell him—not perhaps in an official capacity—the views of those concerned and the public opinion that it was time that he should as a matter of fact retire. Some of my hon. Friends who are acquainted with legal stories, will know there are many amusing anecdotes told in connection with some of these representations made to judges that the time had come for them to retire. Let me add to these observations a word as to what fell from my hon. and learned Friend the Member for the University of Dublin. I know of no one who at this moment—invidious as it is to speak of the judges—who is incapable of performing his work because of his age. Criticisms have been directed against some of the judges. For my own part, I believe criticism is as essential to judges as to everybody else, and helps them to do their work efficiently. And really the judges themselves are the first to recognise that public criticism—of the right kind, of course—is most useful to them. The judges on the Bench at the present moment are as competent to do their work as ever they were. They perform their task in the same way, and I think quite as well now, as they did when they were first appointed. Any criticism that may be directed to them certainly cannot be criticism as to the age at which they have arrived. I would like to add my tribute, as one accustomed to go before the judges at times—and I am making such observations with regard to their conduct as I think fitting. I defy anyone who comes before the body of judges in the King's Bench Division to say that you can point to any body of public men who attempt to do their duty so thoroughly as the judges who sit in that Division. That they may not be able to do all that is expected of them is, perhaps, after all, to say that they are human. But that they strive to do everything that possibly can be done by men who are appointed to the very high position of judge is, I think, beyond question. I agree that you may say in regard to the judges that one judge is too quick, and another judge is too slow. You may say 801 that one judge perhaps takes a view before he has heard sufficient evidence. All this is perfectly legitimate criticism. But what no one can do is to make any criticism of the judges that will show that they are incapable to do the work that they have to perform.
In respect to the observations made by, I think most of those who have spoken against this Bill in relation to the evidence of the Lord Chancellor, I do think that sometimes some unfair use is made of the evidence which the Lord Chancellor gave. The whole of the attack upon this Bill is centred upon the evidence of the Lord Chancellor. It must be remembered that the Lord Chancellor, who gave this evidence, is himself a supporter of this Bill.
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
I do not understand what that means. It seems to be a very curious suggestion, to make of the Lord Chancellor, occupying the position which he does, and I should be sorry to have it suggested of him that he is willing to support a Bill for the creation of two judges at the rate of £5,000 a year, out of courtesy to his colleagues. If that is meant to be of service to the Lord Chancellor I am sure that he will take the earliest opportunity to dissociate himself from it. The Lord Chancellor having first given his opinion, and put his views with all the force of which he is capable before the Joint Committee, the Joint Committee, composed of business men, except for my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State—except for him the Committee was entirely composed of laymen and not lawyers—that Joint Committee, having considered the evidence that could be brought before it, came to the conclusion, not really adverse to the Lord Chancellor's view, that two judges ought to Ire appointed at once. They added this, in opposition to the views of many who gave evidence before them, that these two additional judges were not to form a permanent addition to the King's Bench Division, but were to be appointed for the specific purpose and in order that we might get rid of the arrears of business in the King's Bench Division, that they should not, be reappointed within a certain period as described in the Bill, except upon the recommendations of the two Houses of Parliament. This, one may be sure, would never be given unless it is absolutely necessary that the two judges should be 802 reappointed. Every precaution was therefore taken by the Joint Committee that you should not have unnecessary judges appointed or reappointed. The Joint Committee went on to add, and the Lord Chancellor, of course, agreed with that view, that there are several administrative reforms which have to be taken into account, which must not be lost sight of for one moment, which may be just as important—it is possible even more important—than the appointment of the two judges, but that it is useless to consider these reforms, it is futile to discuss them, unless you are prepared to take the initial step to appoint your two judges for the present purpose of getting rid of arrears and enabling us to get a little more up-to-date in the King's Bench Division. I have addressed my observations in answer to the criticisms which have been made by hon. Members on both sides.
§ Mr. GIBSON BOWLES
Can the hon. and learned Gentleman tell us at this stage what has been done with regard to the administrative changes?
§ Sir RUFUS ISAACS
As I said in the House before, all that I can say, all that I am entitled to say at present, is that there are certain proposals at the present time before those who are responsible which are being carefully considered. I instance as an indication of it that these proposals are known in certain localities, and the number of questions which are being addressed daily to me, asking whether there will be ample opportunity given to discuss this rearrangement of circuit proposals before they become effective or are brought into operation. If the House is willing that this Bill should be read the third time there will be no loss of time in giving effect to it. We shall be able to proceed promptly and speedily with the appointment of the two new judges. There will then be an opportunity for the disposal of some of those cases awaiting trial for so long a time. I hope, myself, we are approaching a period which has always seemed to me, perhaps from my early training as a business man, before I became a lawyer, that for which we must always strive, as the ideal state of things in the courts of justice in this country, or in any other country, and which is that when the parties are ready for trial there should be a court, presided over by a properly appointed judge, ready to try the case, so that no time should be lost, and that every man should have the opportunity of getting that great boon 803 which the State confers—justice at the hands of His Majesty's judges, and, above all, that the injustice should not exist of keeping a man waiting for that which he has a right to expect from the taxation and the money which is spent in the administration of justice.
§ Sir JOHN JARDINE
I should like to congratulate my hon. Friends upon having been the occasion of such important and interesting Debates on one of the most important subjects that could occupy the attention of Parliament, and I will take upon myself now to suggest that the Amendment to the Third Reading of this Bill should not be pressed. In the speech which has been just made we have had promises that the defects in the administration of the courts of justice in the country is under consideration, and it is plain to anyone who has listened to the different Debates that have taken place that it is the determination of those who represent the learned profession in this House, as well as those who represent the business community that justice shall no longer be delayed. I need hardly remind hon. Members that the Sovereign in the Coronation Oath is presumed to accept the statement in Magna Charta not merely that justice shall not be denied, but that justice shall not be delayed. Under these circumstances I think we may rest secure that upon the passing of this Bill the litigant subjects of His Majesty will have quicker opportunities for receiving justice to which they are entitled than they had formerly. I hope, therefore, that tins Bill will he allowed to pass without a Division.
§ Question, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read the third time, and passed.