HC Deb 20 June 1924 vol 174 cc2571-2

"A registrar on the application of the defendant, of the hearing of which application seven clear days' notice shall be given by the defendant to the plaintiff, may order a plaint or other proceeding to be struck out on the ground that it discloses no reasonable cause of action, and shall make such order as to costs as he may think proper.

From the decision of the registrar an appeal shall lie to the county court judge in chambers."—[Captain Tudor Bees.]

Brought up, and read the First time.


I beg to move, "That the Clause be read a Second time."

We have put this Clause down in order to bring the practice of the County Courts into line with the practice that now obtains in the High Court and substantially improving the present procedure. May I explain, for the benefit of non-legal Members, what the position now is? In a County Court a plaintiff can only sue up to a limit of £100. If he claims for a greater amount than that he must commence his action in the High Court, and if proceedings are commenced in the High Court and the defendant thinks there is no reasonable cause of action—and there arc, of course, hundreds of cases started during the year which are purely vexatious and frivolous, and in a large number of cases merely for the purpose of blackmail—he can apply to the Master in the High Court and ask that the action may be struck out. If the Master thinks there is no reasonable cause of action, he has the power to strike out the proceedings. We want to give the Registrar of the County Court similar powers. It seems to us somewhat unreasonable and arbitrary that a defendant in the High Court for an amount over should have a power which is, withheld from a defendant in the County Court in a case the claim in respect does not exceed £100. I do not know whether the Attorney-General proposes to accept this Amendment. We hope he does. The Amendment meets with the approval of several county court judges and eminent counsel, and all those whom I have consulted who have had considerable practice both in the County Courts and in the High Courts.

I will give the House one specific illustration of the effect which this Amendment, if adopted, would have. Quite recently, to my own knowledge, a blackmailing action was started against a certain public man. The claim was for about £160. There was no reasonable cause of action. The plaintiff ought to have started his action in the High Court. In that event, knowing there was no reasonable cause of action, the defendant would have applied to the Master to have the proceedings struck out, and they would have been struck out. The plaintiff abandoned £60 of his claim in order to come within the jurisdiction of the county court. He sued for £100, by reason of the fact that he supposed that this public man rather than face the ordeal of a trial in court—people say that some mud will always stick—would settle. He took the unfortunate defendant to the county court, and the defendant, not wishing to go through the ordeal of the trial, and having the report of the case broadcast in the papers, settled for something like £100. In an event of that sort, why should not the unfortunate defendant have the right to apply to the Registrar and to ask that the vexatious, frivolous or blackmailing case started against him should be struck out?


I beg to second the Amendment.

In the opinion of those familiar with practice in the Courts, this Clause will fill a long-felt want. I am sure that the House will examine with the most scrupulous care—

It bring Four 'if the Clock, further consideration of the Bill, as amended, stood adjourned.

Bill, as amended (in the Standing Committee), to Le further considered upon Monday next (23rd June).

The remaining Orders were read, and postponed.

Whereupon Mr. SPEAKER. adjourned the House, without Question put, pursuant to Standing Order No. 3.

Adjourned at One Minute after Four o'Clock until Monday next (23rd June).