HC Deb 27 May 1913 vol 53 cc109-14

Order for Second Reading read.


I beg to move, "That the Bill be now read a second time."

The main purpose of the Bill of which I am now moving the Second Reading must be well known to the House by this time, as this matter was discussed in 1911. The Bill was again introduced in 1912, almost in the same form, and now in 1913 it has come to us from another place. What it proposes, in substance, is to add two additional Lords of Appeal-in-Ordinary—four being the present number—making in all six Lords of Appeal-in-Ordinary if this Bill is carried. It proposes to appoint them at the same salary as is at present paid to the Lords of Appeal-in-Ordinary under the Statute of 1876, continuing the same system as hitherto existed on the same conditions as have hitherto prevailed with regard to these appeals. Secondly, it is proposed that these Lords of Appeal should be enabled to sit in the Court of Appeal. At present they are not ex officio members of the Court of Appeal, and it is necessary to give statutory power to enable them to sit there in order that they may, if they can and if they are willing, assist the Court of Appeal whenever there is time for them to do so. The third point dealt with by the Bill is that several alterations are made with regard to the numbers of judges in His Majesty's Dominions who are to be empowered to sit with the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. Under the present Statute law only five can sit with the Judicial Committee in certain circumstances, and it is proposed by this Bill to extend that number to seven. This part of the Bill does not create any new Law Lords. What it does is to create these new additional powers so as to give seven as the maximum number of judges in His Majesty's Dominions who may sit under this particular Statute. Those are the main provisions of the Bill.

8.0 P.M.

I do not think I would be saying too much if I put forward the proposition that the appointment of two new Law Lords is perhaps the only controversial element in this Bill. I gathered from some observations made during the course of the discussion we had earlier in the afternoon that we may look forward to opposition from some of my learned Friends and some of my hon. Friends who have opposed the moving of the Address. I want the House to recognise and to appreciate to the full that in introducing this Bill we are only carrying out a pledge—I think it is right to call it a pledge—certainly an obligation which we incurred at the Imperial Conference of 1911. It is important that the House should recognise that at the outset. There has been a very considerable amount of discussion in regard to this proposal, and first it was proposed by, I think, the representative of New Zealand, Sir Joseph Ward, at the Imperial Conference of 1911, that it would be well that each Dominion should appoint a judge who should sit on the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and form one of the Appellate Tribunal, but, as the result of a considerable amount of discussion, it was found that each Dominion thought it would be a very good thing as regards itself and in respect of law suits which came over to this country on appeal from their Courts, but objected very strongly to judges from the other Dominions sitting in judgment on them. Without going into detail, I can quite well understand Canada, for example, objecting to a New Zealand judge assisting in passing judgment on an appeal which came from Canada. As the result of a considerable amount of debate upon this point, the conclusion was unanimously arrived at by those who were present at the Imperial Conference and had taken part in this very important discussion, that the proper way to meet the difficulty was to create two additional Lords of Appeal-in-Ordinary to sit in the House of Lords as a Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, and it was in order to give effect to that Resolution that we introduced a Bill in 1911 and again in 1912, and now for the first time are placing this proposal before the House of Commons.

I doubt very much whether those who hear of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council quite appreciate what its functions are and how wide and extended is the jurisdiction of that tribunal. No doubt hon. Members of this House, and certainly those who are members of the legal profession, are aware of the fact that there are four Lords of Appeal-in-Ordinary, as they are termed, under the Statute which means, translated into ordinary English, that there are four judges who are life peers, who sit in the House of Lords and who take part in the work of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. They are paid a salary of £6,000 a year under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act, 1876, and they have been paid that sum from 1876 until the present time. There are a number of members of the Privy Council who by virtue of certain Statutes are also entitled, but not bound to sit in the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. It is a very important distinction when we are dealing with the constitution of the Court—that is, of the Judical Committee. The Judical Committee of the Privy Council is part of the Privy Council, and one of the main connecting links between the various constituent parts of this Empire is the appeal to the Sovereign in Council, which takes place from all our Dominions, and which enables the appeals to come to this country, where they are heard in the Judical Committee of the Privy Council as it is called and where vast interests are dealt with in a very quiet and unostentatious way. It has often occurred to me in entering the room in which this Judicial Committee of the Privy Council sits whether some of those who might stray into the Court have any conception that that body, or perhaps three or four elderly gentlemen which might perhaps be found sitting there, without any of the panoply of the law as we are accustomed to see it in the High Court of Justice, quietly listening to an argument from a gentleman bewigged in accordance with the traditions of the profession, is, I believe, the tribunal with the widest and most extended jurisdiction of any Court of Justice which has ever been known to sit in this Empire. That Court has a jurisdiction over more than quarter of the population of the world. Its area is immense; it is co-extensive with the British Empire. I think the laws are as different in one part of the Dominions as they can possibly be from another.

The Judical Committee has to deal with all these various systems of law. They have not only to be familiar with English law, Scotch law, and Irish law, in order that they may be qualified to sit and discharge their functions properly as members of the Supreme Appellate tribunal for the United Kingdom, but they also have to be equipped wit ha knowledge of the laws and customs of all the nations in various parts of the Empire—French, Roman Dutch, and the old Roman law, and, of course, all the various laws relating to India, and the Maori law relating to New Zealand. I only mention these as some instances, not by any means exhaustive, and when this House bears in mind—as it must, and as it should do when considering the Bill of which I am now moving the Second Reading—the vast extent of area of the jurisdiction of this Supreme Appellate tribunal of the Empire, it will, I think, understand why it is that at the Imperial Conference so much importance was attributed by the representatives of our Dominions at that Conference to the proposal which I am now bringing forward. I may be asked why it is that the Imperial Conference desired that there should be an addition to the numbers. The Court, either in the House of Lords or in the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, so far as it consists of Members who are bound to sit in order to discharge their functions, consists only of the Lord Chancellor and the four Lords of Appeal under the Statute of 1876. It is at once seen that that gives you only five, and indeed I very much doubt whether one is justified in reckoning the Lord Chancellor as one of those who can sit in both tribunals at any time, because the Lord Chancellor has many other functions to discharge. He has to attend the Cabinet Council; he has the Cabinet Committee; he has his administrative work as the highest judicial functionary; and besides that he presides in the House of Lords, where, of course, he is engaged at times for many hours. So that even if I reckon him, and I do for this present purpose at any rate, in dealing with those whose duty it is to sit habitually in these two Courts, you cannot constitute the two Courts simultaneously out of that nucleus of your four Law Lords and the Lord Chancellor.


I think, in 1910–11, two Committees of the House of Lords, the Privy Council and the Judicial Council, sat on the same days in thirty-four cases.


I do not think the hon. Baronet has quite taken the point I was making. I said I was dealing with those who were bound to sit, drawing the distinction between them and those who are qualified to sit if they choose. You can only reckon the strength of your Court by counting the heads of those who are bound to be there, and upon whom you can absolutely rely. You can at times constitute Courts from those who are not bound to sit, but who are willing to sit when called upon. There would sometimes have been difficulty if it had not been for the services freely given by an ex-Lord Chancellor, who is not bound to sit at all. [An HON. MEMBER: "Pension."] He gets a pension for services he has performed. Lord Loreburn, another ex-Lord Chancellor, has also, ever since he has been well enough since his retirement, been only too willing to assist in forming a Court and giving his very valuable assistance. There have been distinguished judges who were able to give their services who had retired on pensions, and who very willingly gave them. I think at the moment of Lord Ashbourne, an ex-Lord Chancellor of Ireland, a man with very ripe experience of law and great knowledge, and whose delightful voice and charm of manner will be missed, I am quite sure, by those who have come before that Court. I think also of Lord Gorell. Both Lord Ashbourne and Lord Gorell gave their services, again most freely and most willingly, which they were not bound to perform. Lord Gorell, besides the work of the Royal Commission and other Committees which he took upon himself, was always ready to assist and to give of his great erudition and great legal knowledge and great experience to the assistance of the Court. I may mention last, but by no means least, Lord Macnaghten, who, I suppose, is one of the greatest judicial figures that the legal history of this country has ever known, who went straight from the Bar to the highest position of Lord of Appeal in Ordinary, which he continued to adorn until the very last, sitting there for many years, and, I think, conferring a distinction upon every case he heard and upon every judgment he delivered.

It being a Quarter-past Eight of the clock, and there being Private Business set down by direction of the Chairman of Ways and Means, under Standing Order No. 8, further Proceeding was postponed without Question put.