HC Deb 22 March 1910 vol 15 cc987-1009

Order for Second Reading read.

Motion made, and Question proposed: "That the Bill be now read a second time."


This is a Bill providing for the appointment of two additional judges in the High Court of Justice to be attached to the King's Bench Division. The staff of the High Court Judges on the King's Bench side consists now of fifteen puisne judges and the Lord Chief Justice. This Bill must not be taken as providing permanent additions, because it contains the proviso that: "Whenever, after 1st January, 1911, the whole number of such puisne judges amounts to upwards of fifteen, such vacancy shall not be filled unless and until an Address is presented by both Houses of Parliament representing that the state of business in the King's Bench Division requires that such vacancies should be filled." So that if, after 1st January next a vacancy occurs, that vacancy cannot be filled up unless this House and the other House take the state of business into consideration and present an Address to the Crown asking that the vacancy should be filled. The findings of the Committee ap- pointed to consider this Question was that the congestion in the King's Bench Division is serious. I do not think anyone with any knowledge whatever of the state of business in the courts would doubt or dispute that statement for a single instant. Not only is the congestion serious, but I think it may very fairly be said to have become chronic; and it causes delay in the administration of justice, especially in the cases of poorer litigants, in which, perhaps, the money sought to be recovered is vital to their business or subsistence, which amounts very often to an absolute denial of justice.

The Committee had before it a great mass of tables and statistics, with which I do not propose to trouble the House, tending to show how great the congestion is, but I think the House would desire that I should put before them one or two figures of the least disputable kind to show the necessity for the Bill. In 1876 the common law side of the court was under the administration of eighteen judges. In that year three of the judges were removed to form the Court of Appeal, along with the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls. That, of course, made a very serious drain upon the strength of what is now called the King's Bench Division, and what was then the common law side of the High Court; but the Legislature, instead of making good that important diminution in the number of judges, proceeded to lay an additional strain upon the judicial staff. In 1883 the Legislature transferred to the common law side the jurisdiction in bankruptcy. In 1888 they formed the Railway and Canal Commission, and recently we have had constituted the Court of Criminal Appeal, which has made very substantial demands upon the judicial resources of the King's Bench Division. These matters, however, are comparatively small, and I do not think they would themselves have called for this Bill. For the really substantial and important considerations we must look elsewhere. In 1873 the population of the country under the jurisdiction of these judges was something over 22,000,000; today it is 34,000,000 or 35,000,000. Moreover, there has been a far more than corresponding increase in the commercial and manufacturing business of the country; and it is impossible to suppose that in 1910 the courts could cope with that enormous increase in commercial and manufacturing business with a judicial staff, which is not only not greater than it was in 1876, but which has suffered positive diminution.

The extent to which the business has increased Members may well imagine for themselves. It is not that the number of cases to be tried is larger. That is a matter upon which statistics may very easily mislead. You may easily have—and you have had—a very great increase in the work of the courts at times when there has been a steady diminution in the number of cases. For instance, two causes—and there are others—which have operated to reduce the number of cases are the extension of county court jurisdiction and the extension of the process known to lawyers as "Order XIV.—Proceedings"— proceedings by which a defendant who is resisting a claim, but has no sort of substantial defence, is called upon to state what his defence is; that defence is then considered, and, if it is found to be trivial or not to form adequate legal grounds, judgment is entered against him at once without trial. That, of course, greatly diminishes the number of cases to be tried. Thus we have reduced the lists very considerably by the removal of cases involving small amounts, which are in themselves generally small cases, and also of cases as to which there is no substantial defence. The cases, therefore, that are left are long cases, which come to court by compulsion, often cases where the amount is unimportant, but which are very keenly fought. We have also an immense number of great commercial cases which cannot be disposed of by arbitration between the parties, although it is now increasingly found that commercial men entering into contracts insert a clause providing for arbitration. But disputes do not arise merely between those who are directly parties to the contract. They arise between persons who are connected with the contract without being actual parties to it, and for such persons there is no recourse except to the courts, unless they can agree with their opponents upon some other course of action.

In arbitration cases themselves, greatly as they have operated to relieve the courts, there is now beginning to be a just source of complaint and grievance. Commercial men are beginning to discover that they are not always a perfectly economical tribunal. They are generally so, but they are not always economical tribunals, and where they have to deal, as in nearly every case they do, with some point of law, they are not expert tribunals. I have seen, and all those connected with the law have seen, cases where you have had a great array of solicitors and counsel arguing before a layman, who perhaps has expert knowledge of the subject matter of the dispute from a commercial point of view, but who is not able to guide and control the controversy from the legal point of view. Why is it that there should be this great expense in order to employ an inexpert arbitrator? It is said that justice is supposed to be freely and gratuitously administered, and that in cases where they are compelled to employ counsel and solicitors they ought to be able to have an expert judge. But they do not get one because of the delay that ensues before a case comes on for trial. That delay is often referred to as being a hardship to the poorer litigants, but it is also a very great hardship on the wealthier business people. You have cases involving large sums of money, sometimes amounting to many thousands of pounds. A short time ago I was talking to a distinguished counsel, who was giving me, from his own recollection, instance of cases where great sums have been justly claimed, in which the defendant put up some technical defence, and the plaintiff has said:— I am claiming £12,000. There will be a long interval before we can get the case ready for trial; then when it is ready for trial I shall be lucky if it is tried within six months: I cannot afford to stand out of this money for all that time. Therefore he is compelled often to make a very inequitable compromise involving a substantial surrender of his rights. These are grounds which will appeal to everyone as making it reasonable that in the commercial interests of the country, and in the interests of justice generally, there should be an adequate staff of High Court Judges.

One of the reasons for the block in the courts is the increasing length of cases from the point of view of time. It was stated before the Commission that judges in olden times disposed of a large number of cases. That is an observation which ignores what I have just pointed out. In the olden times they had an immense number of undefended cases, and cases of the kind which are now transferred to county court jurisdiction, and it was, before Order XIV. proceedings were known. There was also another reason operating to give judges in olden times an appearance of greater rapidity than they possess now, namely, that cases were continually stopped on some technicality. Prosecutions in criminal cases were continually stopped upon some trivial flaw in the indictment; pleadings were subjected to the most meticulous examination, and powers of amendment were sternly exercised; so that case after case was ordered out of court upon some purely technical ground, by no means to the general interests of justice between the parties. Now-a-days cases are tried with much greater freedom from these technicalities. There is a much more generous discovery and production of documents, with the result that the heavy cases which come to trial are undoubtedly tried at greater length. Some people talk about the greater verbosity of counsel, but I do not think that counsel are more verbose than formerly. There are other causes which have tended to occupy the time of the court. For instance, there is the Poor Prisoners' Defence Act, a most just and beneficent Act. Another great cause for the increased length of criminal cases is the right of prisoners to give evidence on their own behalf. That has greatly lengthened criminal trials. Formerly, cases were continually disposed of on technicalities. Now every criminal ease is much more carefully tried. I am bound to admit that the institution of the Court of Criminal Appeal, whether or not it has increased the care with which prisoners are tried, has certainly increased the length of the trial. The note is much more carefully taken; it has to be sent up to the Court of Criminal Appeal; and every point on which a question of law might arise is much more fully thrashed out. All these things tend to increase the length of criminal trials. There is also an increasing number of trials. Between 1903 and 1908 the number of criminal trials increased from 2,500 to 3,192.

This, it has been estimated, means 25 per cent, added to the time that it takes to get the work done. The result is a block of a very serious character. It has caused sittings for months longer, and with much longer hours. I notice, not at all with any great surprise, that the great mercantile communities of Liverpool and Manchester have been protesting against the very long hours the courts have been sitting. The judges on circuit have been accustomed to sit very long hours indeed, and the protest raised is against the hardship to witnesses and other parties concerned, who are kept hanging about the courts. It is impossible for those concerned to do any portion of their ordinary work. I know some people say that the judges might sit longer, but they are the very first to protest at long sittings.

Various remedies have been suggested. One is that there should be a grouping of the circuit towns, and so time be saved on circuit. That proposal, ever since I remember the courts, has been before the country. There has always been somebody advocating it as though it had never been heard of before. There is no objection on the part of judges and counsel to the grouping of certain towns. Why, then, it may be asked, is it not done? Because you have these small circuit towns which for long have been the centre of a large agricultural area and population. The removal of the court does not so much matter in the case of civil business. But if you take a prisoner from such an area and try him at some distant town or large commercial centre, he feels a sense of injustice. For instance, if all the Welsh towns concerned are to be deprived of their circuit business, and it is sent to. say, Cardiff, what is the first lament of the persons sent for trial? It is: "We can prove such and such facts in defence, but we cannot, of course, bring our witnesses the distance." It is in the interests, of the prisoner, and certainly not in that of the commercial, professional, or judicial people, that the grouping of the circuit towns cannot be carried much further than at present.

There is the suggested increase of county court jurisdiction. All I can say to that is that the pressure of work in the county courts has become as serious, and is going to raise questions as serious, as the block of business in the High Court. A county court is intended to be the poor man's tribunal, but the poor man finds now that his case is delayed from court to court in order that what is really High Court work should take precedence. If you increase the jurisdiction of county courts much further you will have to increase the salaries of the judges. There are sixty-four judges, and the addition to their salaries which has been suggested is £500 per year each, or £30,000, which is as much as six High Court judges will cost. You will also have to raise their clerks to the High Court scale of pay. Hence you gain nothing in point of economy, but you will be laying a great and continued strain on the county court. What have the courts been obliged to do? They have been obliged to act by Commission. The Lord Chancellor has appointed commissioners to go round in the absence of certain judges. The judges themselves are also entitled to call upon counsel to give them assistance, and this has been done. I see that in 1908 there were something like twelve commissioners requested to act by judges, in addition to those sent on circuit by the Lord Chancellor himself. These twelve gentlemen sat for about forty-one days of five or six hours each. They gave their assistance effectively, but it is not a satisfactory method. These gentlemen have to be called from the Bar, and, after adjudicating upon cases, they take their place again among counsel, which seems rather contrary, I think, to sound principles of judicial administration.

These are the reasons which have induced the Select Committee to recommend that these two additional judges should be appointed. The Bill suggests that, after the appointment of such judges, any vacancy occurring among the puisne judges of the King's Bench Division, shall be filled, provided that after January the whole number of such judges amounts to upwards of fifteen, such vacancy shall not be filled until an Address is presented from both Houses of Parliament. The Bill will allow us to test whether this block is a temporary or a permanent one. If it is found that the business has increased in proportion to the appointments, which I think will very likely be the result, then it will be in the power of Parliament to make these appointments permanent. On the other hand, if the delay is a mere temporary delay, due to exceptional cases, then Parliament will be able to exercise its discretion; and I am sure no Government will desire to continue the appointment of judges that experience has proved to be unnecessary. I beg to move.


I should like to congratulate the Government most heartily on introducing this Bill, which is not only necessary now, but has been necessary for a large number of years. This matter has been brought before the House, in season and out of season, by various Members, including myself, for the last two or three years. I am not going over the arguments which have been frequently put before the public, probably no more strongly than by the present Solicitor-General at a public meeting held last spring, where the whole of the arguments were thoroughly reviewed and gone into by him. It is not necessary to go into them for this reason: The Government last year appointed a Commission, which I think I am entitled to say was certainly a strong Commission, at all events from the Government point of view, most members having been connected more or less intimately with the Treasury at one time and another. It could not have been said that that Commission was too sympathetic with the demands of the legal world, and the business world, so far as the appointment of more judges was concerned. The Commission came to the unanimous decision in favour of the speedy appointment of two more judges, and that proposal is incorporated in this Bill.

The Attorney-General has referred to one or two different matters, and has given various reasons why there is a necessity for more judges. Speaking personally, the Criminal Appeal Act alone is sufficient ground for the appointment of further judges. We were promised when that Bill was before Parliament that extra judges should be appointed in case they were needed, and the Government are only carrying out their pledge. Having cordially supported the introduction of this Bill by the Government, may I ask them for one small favour with reference to it? This Bill, as the Attorney-General pointed out, so far as the two judges are concerned, will only exist to the end of this year. If one or more judges of the King's Bench Division die or resign or leave their appointments after 1st January their vacancies will not be filled up unless further steps are taken by Parliament. That is a very short period indeed in which to give this Bill a fair chance. The Attorney-General said that in a year or two we should be able to see how the Act works, and to see if the block of business is merely temporary or permanent. That, I think, was the intention of the Committee. I think a fair interpretation of what the Committee meant was what the Attorney-General said to-day, that there should be a proper and sufficient breathing time to see whether on the appointment of these two judges the arrears, which exist now to such a terrifying amount, will be really worked off by the end of this period or not. I venture to submit to the Government that that period should be longer than 1st January of next year. The very least I think that ought to be would be to put the period to the Long Vacation of next year, so that we shall have at least more than one clear year's work to see the operation of the Act. I will press this point more strongly in Committee, where I hope the matter will get careful consideration, having regard to the possible risks of work between now and 1st January next, in the shape of election petitions and similar work which will take the judges away from their proper work. Having said this much I heartily support the Bill.

6.0 P.M.


The Government in taking action in this matter have given the go-by to the general agitation for other reforms that there has been in the legal profession for the last generation. The appointment of two new judges is a very easy way out of the difficulty. But it is at the same time piece-meal legislation. It takes no account of the enormous exertions for reform that lawyers of all kinds have been making, and not for their advantage but for the advantage of the commercial classes generally; nor does it take account of the hard work done in trying to get the county courts enlarged powers. It says nothing of work which in the future as in the past will have to be brought to London. The whole difficulty in regard to the increase of the powers of the county court and giving to the county court more jurisdiction lies, I believe, with the Bar. The difficulty, I understand, that the Lord Chancellor had in dealing with his County Courts Bill, has been that the Bar strongly object to the county courts having larger jurisdiction given to them unless they have the preferential right of pleading in those courts. It is really this attitude which has stood in the way of the county court getting those increased powers which, in my humble opinion, would be very much to the advantage of the commercial community generally, and would lessen the cost of litigation. The alteration of the circuit system is quite ripe for settlement. I am certain that people generally throughout the country long ago desired to see cases brought from the small county towns to the larger towns, if it was a fair and convenient distance, and especially Laving regard to the railway communication having vastly improved in recent years. I say, therefore, that whilst I certainly support this Bill because I believe it absolutely necessary, it is an easy way out of the difficulty, and it at the same time errs on the side that it takes no account of the work which the more enlightened of the legal profession have been doing for years in trying to meet the public need in favour of less costly and more convenient methods of law. One other reason must be named. This Bill has been produced because we have no age limit in regard to the judges. At present a judge may sit and go on sitting, whether he is seventy or eighty, and until he is dead. Of course, I fully agree there are cases of exceptional men. But these exceptional men may have exceptional rules applied to them. Speaking of ordinary men, I think we must admit that the allotted days of a man's usefulness are completed by seventy years of age. I quite agree it does not seem to be possible to introduce an Amendment to that effect, but the Government ought to take up this question of limiting the power of the judge to sit upon the Bench after seventy years of age. If that were done a good: deal of the block of business in the courts might be done away with. It is quite true that an old judge is often speedy, but he is not the most careful, and it is the old judge that necessitates most appeals very often, and in the long run it would expedite business if he were not permitted to sit on after the age of seventy. I think the system of allowing judges to sit after seventy ought to be put an end to. We do not allow admirals or generals or ambassadors to work after seventy years of age. It may be thought a judge requires less physical strength to do his job than the other people I have mentioned. Personally I do not think that is so. I think it requires more physical strength to sit in a chair all day long and to pay attention to legal arguments than it does for other classes of work. Those of us who sit in this House for any length of time have discovered there is nothing more straining, physically, than sitting still and listening to other people's speeches.

The real difficulty that stands in the way of judges retiring is that they have to retire upon £3,500 a year, whereas their salaries are £5,000. That is a difficulty, but it could be got over by saying to a man, "You are seventy years of age; you must retire whether you have earned your pension or not." At present if a judge is raised to the Bench at sixty he cannot get his full pension until after fifteen years, and therefore he must sit up to the age of seventy-five. If he was, appointed at sixty-five years of age he has to sit up to the age of eighty before he gets his pension. All these things arc very prejudicial to the general good of the community. One way out of these difficulties has been very often to make a judge a peer. Lately a number of judges have been made peers, I am sure to the advantage of everyone concerned. But the real difficulty at present is that, in order to get rid of a judge who is past his duties, you have to make him a peer. They will not retire otherwise; that is a serious matter, because when you make a judge a peer you give him the power to sit in the House of Lords and hear appeals from judges who are abler than himself.

If under a statutory enactment a judge had got to retire at seventy in the ordinary way you would have accomplished a great deal. In exceptional cases where you had a judge of unimpaired power and ability and strength you could make an exception, so that the State would not lose his valuable services by enabling him to sit in the House of Lords. There need be no difficulty in enabling him to do this. Any Act of Parliament carrying out these things need not prevent an ordinary judge from being sent to the House of Lords. I see no difficulty in allowing such a man to act as a judge because of his exceptional powers and abilities. The real difficulty we have to face is from the lawyers. These learned gentlemen at times have to appear before all sorts and kinds of people, and therefore they are the last to take the slightest trouble to try and get reforms of this kind carried out. That is perfectly natural. Lawyers can hardly be expected to stand up in this House and say judges are too old at seventy when in a few days they will he practising before, these very judges. If any alteration of this kind is made it will have to be made through the pressure of laymen. The chief reforms that might be brought about are—firstly, that all judges should be entitled to a pension at seventy years of age whether they have been fifteen years on the Bench or not; secondly, there should be a statutory provision which should terminate a judge's appointment at the age of seventy; and, thirdly, in the case of men of exceptional ability when they get to the age of seventy and the State requires their service still further they should be transferred to the House of Lords. If these things were done a very great advantage to the community generally would be obtained. With regard to this Bill, I do not think it is possible to oppose it because it is perfectly clear there are arrears, and these arrears must be cleared up, but the Attorney-General might have held out a hope that the Government would do something at an early date to deal with these matters. I trust if the hon. and learned Gentleman makes any further remarks later on he will hold out some such hope.


I rise to support this Bill simply and solely on the ground of public interest, because it is in my opinion a matter of public interest that the very highest judicial standard possible should be attained. I need not say a word about the details and figures to which the learned Attorney-General has referred. It is a matter of common knowledge how the work in the King's Bench Division has increased, and it is also a matter of common knowledge that the delay is due to the shortage of judges. It is almost impossible to overstate the inconvenience and the anxiety which is caused to suitors, and the injustice which is caused to them through delay. I should like to answer some of the arguments, put forward by the hon. Member opposite who has just sat down, in regard to the county courts. If anyone will take the trouble to look at the reports to which the hon. Member for Cambridge has referred he will see that that was all thrashed out before the Committee, and was very fully thrashed out. I think I am right in saying that, and I think I am right also in saying that if the Committee could have seen their way to meet this difficulty by putting extra work upon the county courts they would have only been too glad to do so. I will just mention one or two matters that seem to me conclusive against the argument of the hon. Member. I do not think that this Bill is intended to stop county court extension at all. There is no reason why county court extension should not go on if this Bill is passed. Let the hon. Gentleman remember that county court extension means this: That if you put heavy cases to be tried in the county courts you will oust the poor suitor for whom the county courts were instituted, and you will compel him to have his case tried, not by the county court judge but, in all probability by the registrar. In my opinion that will be a very serious thing. You cannot have too high a standard of judicial administration, however small the case or the suitor, and if you are going to do that you must not only oust the poor suitor but you must enormously increase the number of the county courts because the county court judges are as hardworked as possible, and you will have, in all probability, to raise the salaries of the county court judges and the salaries of the registrars. Therefore from the point of view of cost it will be much worse than the appointment of two additional King's Bench Judges.

The delay, of course, is a matter of common knowledge, but in my opinion the delay in very many cases really operates as a total denial of justice. I may instance the case of a poor man on one side and a rich man on the other. The rich man may be able to call to his assistance the delay in the Law Courts and the poor man is kept out of the debt to which he is perfectly entitled. Take the case of a man who has sustained some injury, and who is entitled to some compensation. If he can get it at once it may mean the saving of him; if the remedy is postponed it becomes stale and is no use to him. Therefore, I say that in many cases the delay is an absolute denial of justice. If you have a shortage of judges, as we have at this moment, you not only cannot do your work in London, but you cannot do your work on circuit also. We have had a very good instance of that at the beginning of this term. There was a proposal that a new rule should be made which would have resulted la cutting down the facilities for civil trials in small circuit towns such as Appleby, which I have the honour to represent. We opposed it, and I hope we shall hear no more about it. We opposed it upon this ground, and upon this only: The Attorney-General mentioned that judges ought to go to these towns for the trial of criminals. Quite rightly; and we said, if judges go down for the trial of criminals, why should they not try civil cases as well? The desire to curtail facilities for trying cases in small towns is simply and solely because the judges are doing their best to do with fifteen judges the work which would require seventeen or eighteen judges to do properly. They are sitting long hours on circuit, and yet find it difficult to do the work properly. There is another matter, and perhaps the most important of all. Assizes have to be regulated according to the judicial strength that is available, and I think everybody who knows circuit will say that the intervals in some cases between assizes are too long. It sometimes happens that a man who is charged with an offence committed a short time after an assize has been held has to go to gaol if he cannot get bail and has to lie in prison for some considerable time without trial. That is a great blot, in my opinion, upon the administration of justice in this country, and it should be avoided at all costs, and it is one of the things that may be avoided by the appointment of additional judges. I think the whole of the ground has been well covered by the Attorney-General. I am speaking simply and solely from the point of view of the public interest in this matter. I know it may be said that I speak as a barrister, but I am not putting this forward as an advocate of the interests of the Bar, That which is best for the public is also best for the legal profession. This question is one of very serious moment not only for the business community, but also for the proper trial of criminal cases and the proper administration of justice throughout the length and breadth of the country.


As I have not intervened in the Debates before, perhaps I may be permitted to say a word or two upon this measure, which is one of considerable importance to the public as well as to the legal profession. I say that with a considerable amount of trepidation, because one of the first things I heard on coming into this House was that a Debate in which lawyers were chiefly concerned is the dullest of all possible Debates that take place in this House. I think, however, there is some excuse for an hon. Member belonging to the legal profession speaking on this Bill when he has had some knowledge of the subject which is being inquired into. I should like to bring to the attention of the House the fact that in the present position of things in the King's Bench Division of the High Courts of Justice practically the working days upon which important cases can be taken have, by the operation of the Criminal Appeal Bill, coupled with the fact that circuits go on at the same time as eases are being tried in London, really been reduced to four days a week. Practically there is only Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday upon which jury cases and other work can be taken, and on Fridays and Saturday the work is practically at a standstill. I do not think the legal work of the country in the courts of justice can go on with any satisfaction to the public so long as this state of things continues.

The question of the retirement of judges has also been alluded to. It does not appear to me that this is very germane to the discussion, but I should like to say that a long experience in various capacities in the courts of justice has convinced me that the mere matter of age, as counted in years, is of very little importance in this connection. I can call to mind some judges who certainly have been quite old enough at very little over fifty years of age, and I remember other judges who have been perfectly able to administer justice with the greatest possible efficiency when they were approaching four score years of age. I think most of those who have had any real acquaintance with the profession would deprecate the drawing of any hard and fast line at which the retirement of judges ought to take place. The hon. Member who introduced this question seems to think that, however old a judge might be, and however incapable, he is quite young and capable enough to sit in the Supreme Court of the House of Lords.


What I said was that in the case of exceptional men of great ability and strong health it might be desirable to put them into the House of Lords in order to give their services in the Supreme Court to the country.

Sir F. LOW

I think it is introducing a most dangerous doctrine into our judicial system to lay down that the Government of the day should have anything to say in regard to the termination of the service of a judge. I think one matter, above all others, which should be kept out of the hands of the Government of the day is whether a judge should or should not continue in his judicial office. With regard to the remarks of the hon. Member for the Cambridge University, I cordially agree with his suggestion that a longer trial should be given to this Bill, or, rather, to its effective provisions. At the present moment there are two judges away from their duties on account of ill-health, and the appointment of two additional judges will practically only have the effect of filling up those two vacancies arising from necessity, and from circumstances over which the learned judges have no control. If the matter is only to be tried to the end of this year we should remember that we are now getting well on to the Long Vacation, and I think the suggestion of the hon. and learned Member for Cambridge University that this extension of the judicial strength of the King's Bench Division should have a longer trial than merely to the end of this year, should receive the most earnest attention of the Attorney-General.


I took upon myself last night the responsibility of preventing the Attorney-General getting this Bill through without a word of discussion. I think, after the very able speech which the hon. and learned Gentleman gave us to-day and his interesting exposition of the grounds upon which this Bill had been brought forward, he ought to be grateful to me for the action I then took. Not only have we had a most interesting speech from the Attorney-General, but we have had important contributions from all quarters of the House as to the reasons why this Bill has been brought forward. It appears to me, in the first place, that there are a great number of arrears, so far as civil actions are concerned, both in London and throughout the country. It also appears to me that the learned profession and all classes connected with it are strongly in favour of this Bill. I must confess that I have not been fully convinced as to what the cause of the arrears is. There are many different views, and the reason why I took the responsibility of providing an opportunity for this Bill to be discussed was that I was very much interested in the evidence given by the Lord Chancellor, because if there is anyone to whom laymen ought to go in regard to advice as to the policy of this measure it surely is to the head of the law in this country, the Lord Chancellor. I was anxious to know exactly the position of the Lord Chancellor in regard to this matter, and I found that when the Lord Chancellor was before the Committee which inquired into this matter he was absolutely positive that there was no ground whatever for this Bill. I will read to the House an extract from his evidence. He said:— I must say for myself, and for the reasons that I will tell you in a minute or two, I was not able and I am not able to advise that the two judges or any judge should be appointed. That, surely, is very strong evidence coming from the Lord Chancellor. He goes on in his evidence to say that there has been a great diminution in the number of cases that have been tried in London and Middlesex during the last ten years. He said:— In London and Middlesex there has been a great reduction during the last ten years, and last year was almost the lowest with regard to the number of cases which had been actually tried. I think we are entitled to ask what the reply of the Government is to the views expressed by the Lord Chancellor? He further says:— On these grounds I myself feel, and I ought, to say so, that in a country where people are in the habit of doing their full share of work, and where there are full holidays of nearly four months in the year out of the twelve, there is not a case for making new judges. I think we are entitled to ask whether the Government have the cordial and enthusiastic support of the Lord Chancellor in bringing forward this Measure. I should be glad to hear the reply of the Attorney-General on this point. Perhaps he will tell us if the Lord Chancellor is now in favour of this Measure, and, if so, state the reasons which have induced him to come round to his present view? The Lord Chancellor consented to the inquiry into this matter, in the first place, because of strong and influential representations which were made to him by all branches of the law, and he had no other alternative. Nevertheless, we have it on record in the evidence given by the Lord Chancellor that he was strongly against the appointment of two new judges, and I should like the Attorney-General to tell us what has occurred to change his views. I should like to know also if the Government intend to accept an Amendment providing that new judges shall not be appointed after they are sixty years of age, and that they should retire compulsorily at seventy years of age. These are both very reasonable proposals, and this is the time when the Government have the opportunity of showing that they sympathise with that view.


I am going to ask the House to listen to a very few words from me. I had the privilege of serving on the Committee which has been referred to, and I cordially say that the reasons given by the Attorney-General when he introduced this Bill certainly represent the views of those who signed the Report. The hon. Gentleman who has just sat down (Sir Henry Dalziel) has asked the Government to tell us whether the Lord Chancellor has changed his opinion in regard to the appointment of two additional judges. The Committee listened with great attention and respect to the views which the Lord Chancellor put before them, but we had in opposition to his views the opinion of the Lord Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Channell, and other judges, and this greatly discounted the Lord Chancellor's evidence, much as we respected his views and valued his opinion There is no doubt that the opinion of the Lord Chief Justice, and especially of Mr. Justice Channell, is very strongly opposed to the view of the Lord Chancellor as to whether more judges were required or not. I think there was no difference of opinion in the Committee finally that there was a congestion of business which must be removed, because that congestion of business which exists amounts almost to a denial of justice. We agreed upon that point, and then came the question as to whether these judges should be acquired for any particular period or for all time, and, fortunately, we were able to agree upon a compromise such as is suggested in the Bill. We were in that way able to get a unanimous Report.

We listened very carefully to all the arguments which were addressed to us with regard to increasing the jurisdiction of the county courts. Speaking as a member of the Committee, I can say that I. and I think many of my colleagues, were firmly convinced that the county courts have as much work as they can possibly get through. We then wont into the question as to whether the place of a judge could efficiently be taken on circuit by a commissioner, and we came to the conclusion that assize towns would think it more or less a denial of justice if a gentleman came down in a black gown instead of a High Court judge. There is no doubt a prejudice in favour of being tried by a High Court judge. There can be no doubt that the judges are wanted to deal with this congestion of business, and we shall no doubt have an opportunity at a later stage of considering the point raised by the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Mr. Rawlinson) as to whether we can get an efficient trial of this new system in about six months. I venture to think that a little longer period might have been given, but, being a party to that unanimous Report, I should not separate myself from my colleagues on that Committee. I suppose an Address could be sent up if we found there was no congestion. I venture to hope that this Bill will receive the unanimous assent of the House, because I am perfectly certain there is a great-demand for these new judges in the country for the quicker despatch of business. We considered all those questions as-to the length of the holidays and whether the judges work longer hours each day and sufficiently long on Saturdays, and we came to the unanimous opinion that the time had arrived when more judges were required to relieve the congestion of business.

The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Haldane)

I am substantially in agreement with all that the right hon. Gentleman opposite has said about these conclusions, but there are just one or two phrases in which he put his reasons which I should like to qualify in my own way. The position of some of us who sat on that Commission was this: We agreed that there was a block in the business—it was clearly proved—but we, were not, I think, all of the same mind as to whether that block was permanent, even with the existing staff of judges. Some of us certainly thought that temporary means might be adopted for disposing of it so as to leave us free to see how the experiment works of carrying out certain changes which we suggest as regards sittings and arrangements of business. I do not think I dissented from the view of the Lord Chancellor, or that the Lord Chancellor does anything but welcome this Bill, nor was I convinced by the whole body of testimony which was brought on the other side. There seemed to me to be two views: one, that nothing could be done without a permanent addition to the establishment of judges, and the other that there was no cause for any addition to the establishment of judges or for making any great change. Between these views the Committee came to a unanimous conclusion. I think possibly there were different shades of opinion among us, but I certainly did not dissent from the view of the Lord Chancellor, and we felt strongly and unanimously recommended that these administrative changes—they are not expressed in this Bill—should be carried into effect. I regard them, in addition to what is in this Bill, as part of the machinery for getting rid of the difficulty we are in with regard to the block.

As regards the Bill, this is the way the matter was dealt with. We said, first add to the establishment, but add temporarily; then, when you have cleared the block and made the experiment, you will be in a position to see whether you need a permanent addition to the existing establishment. Do not fetter the House of Parliament in the matter. Let Parliament have the opportunity of dealing with this matter in a definite way. Let no permanent addition be made to the establishment. That being so, we seem to have hit upon a means which certainly, at any rate, made the situation more hopeful than before. I wish emphatically to say that these administrative changes which the Committee recommended are an integral part of our plan and that we do not look to the Bill alone to accomplish what has to be brought about. I only rose to put forward my own view and to express my agreement with the Lord Chancellor in what he said and to obviate the impression that the Committee has come to a decision as between the two contending views entirely on one side or on the other.


This Bill commends itself to me, as a layman, because it is in fact a compromise, as the right hon. Gentleman who has just spoken has practically described it to be. I am sorry that the only other Member of this Committee who has spoken—it has constantly been incorrectly described as a Commission—thought it necessary to say that he attached more importance to the evidence of common law judges than he did to that of the Lord Chancellor. I think that is unfortunate, coming from him as a Member of the Committee. I attach great importance to the evidence of the Lord Chancellor, and I believe his opinion as to the time the judges are on holidays and the time they spend in court, and all the rest of it, was absolutely well founded. This, as I have said, is a compromise, and a compromise on two points. First of all, let me inform the hon. and learned Gentleman who spoke from this side of the House (Sir F. Low) that this is not a Bill which will appoint two judges till next year. It appoints two judges, making eighteen in all, who will go on until some one of the eighteen judges either retires or dies. That may be next year or the year after next, but we hope it may be long before it will be necessary for any of these emiment persons to retire or before any one of them dies.

I think there can be no doubt as to the existence of the arrears. Various causes have been suggested. I believe members of the Junior Bar believe it is because judges are not appointed until they are too old to be good judges, and they suggest that young men should be called to the Bench. It is not for me to criticise that. It has also been suggested, though it would not be in order to debate it here, that some judges are not so able as they might be. I think it would only be possible to discuss that if one were prepared to move an Address in this House, to be followed by the moving of another Address in the other House for the removal of a judge. It would not, therefore, be appropriate to entertain the idea now that any judge sitting on the Bench is not of the fullest possible capacity for conducting business. The arrears are there. How are they to be dealt with? There have been most important suggestions of administrative changes. Those proposals were entertained by this Committee, and they are an integral part of their recommendations. The House, I think, must thoroughly well understand that, if it is called upon to agree to the appointment of two new judges at £5,000 a year with a retiring allowance of £3,000 a year, it is on the distinct understanding that those administrative changes are to be considered. I should like to ask by whom are they to be considered. I presume by His Majesty's Government at the suggestion of the Lord Chancellor, who, after all, is the principal legal adviser of His Majesty's Government.

I principally rose in order to impress upon His Majesty's Government the absolute necessity of not treating these recommendations of the Committee which constitute a condition upon which they recommend two extra judges, as something they may take or leave, but as a matter with which it is their bounden duty to deal. It is impossible to read the evidence before the Joint Committee without coming to the conclusion that the Long Vacation is very long, that the sittings of the court are very short, and that in a very high office of which the members take sixteen weeks holiday in the year there is room for a little more work on the part of the existing judges. That is the impression left upon me, not only by the evidence of the Lord Chancellor, but also by that of the Lord Chief Justice, Mr. Justice Channell, and Mr. Justice Grantham, whose evidence the right hon. Gentleman opposite (Mr. Akers-Douglas) prefers, although I do not, to that of the Lord Chancellor. I believe it would be possible for the judges to sit half an hour per day extra in the courts, and I believe it would be perfectly feasible to shorten the Long Vacation, and perhaps the Easter Vacation. Those are some of the things which were in the minds of the Committee when they made this recommendation, on the condition of which they agree to the appointment of two additional judges. I am extremely glad these are not to be two permanent appointments. They arc appointments which will only subsist until the judges fall down to sixteen again. They are essentially temporary appointments. I trust they will be such as will deal with and clear off the arrears, and I still more earnestly trust that when those arrears are cleared off, whether by working longer hours or by appointing temporary judges, no such arrears will be allowed to accumulate again, because they do, in fact, amount to a denial of justice.

Mr. H. E. DUKE

With regard to what has just been said with respect to the sittings of the court extending over longer hours, I am quite sure the hon. Member for King's Lynn will appreciate that the whole of the business of the judges is not done in court. A very great deal of work has to be accomplished in connection with cases tried in court of which the public have no knowledge, but which would be most seriously interfered with if the judges had to sit for longer hours than those which have been settled after a great deal of experience. I hope the hon. Member will quite understand why one who has practised in the courts for a great many years thinks it only fair to say this with regard to the sittings of the judges. For my part I am very glad that the Government have made this an ad interim measure, and have not attempted to deal with it by way of a permanent settlement. The whole of this business is transitional. There has been a great deal of discussion with regard to the future relations of the various courts which make up our judicial system, and we really cannot tell what in a few years' time will be the judicial establishment of this country. These matters will have to be worked out after, no doubt, a great deal of controversy, which will include, of course, the claim for the maintenance of something like the existing provincial assize system. It does not seem to me that there is any practical utility in bringing into operation the Address to the two Houses so early as the beginning of next year. You will have no substantial change in the condition of our judicial system during this year; the arrears which exist cannot possibly be worked off in the course of this year.

At the present time a very great strain is put on the judges by temporary causes, and also by the permanent operation of the Court of Criminal Appeal, the effects of which have not even yet been fully foreseen. I would suggest that a really practical time would be the first round period at which you should stop—i.e., three years. Everybody knows that changes must inevitably take place before very long which will affect some of His Majesty's judges who have given a long period of service and have attained a considerable age. I suggest it would interfere less with the working of the system if the Government stopped at the first round period of three years, and then brought into operation the Address to the two Houses. One other question I wish to put, and that is why the Government, in the administrative changes which the Secretary for War insisted upon as being necessary, would not consider a point which is constantly a subject of discussion with those who had experience in the courts before the present system under the Judicature Acts was established, and that is the restoration of the distribution of the business of common law between judges in separate divisions, each having a separate president? If you have a body of judges, be it sixteen or eighteen, dealing with the multifarious business of the Common Law Courts as well as the circuit system, it surely is clear it imposes a burden in the matter of administration on the learned judge who is president of the one division and who also has a great variety of other duties. This is a matter which is common knowledge to the Law Officers of the Crown. They know the strong views entertained upon it in favour of returning to something like the old system. If there are to be administrative changes, I sincerely trust the Government will consider whether they may not probably increase the efficiency of the Common Law Courts by restoring something like the old emulation which existed when there were three divisions, each with its president. It would involve no additional expense and might be productive; of very considerable benefit in the working of the courts.

Question, "That the Bill be now read a second time," put, and agreed to.

Motion made and Question, "That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House "—[The Attorney-General]— put, and agreed to; to be considered in Committee upon 29th March.