§ 7.38 p.m.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL (Sir Thomas Inskip)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty representing that the state of business in the King's Bench Division requires that two vacancies in the number of puisne judges of the King's Bench Division should be filled, and praying that His Majesty will be graciously pleased to fill such vacancies accordingly, in pursuance of the Supreme Court of Judicature (Consolidation) Act, 1925.The Motion which stands in my name is one with which, I am afraid, the House is now familiar. It is familiar also with the provision in the Judicature Act, 1925, that, when the judges in the King's Bench Division in addition to the Lord Chief Justice number 15, any vacancy that may occur requires an Address to the King before an appointment can be made to fill it. The position to-day is that the number of judges stands at that level owing to the appointment of Mr. Justice Roche to the Court of Appeal and the resignation of Mr. Justice Acton. An examination of the figures shows that whenever the judges in the King's Bench Division in addition to the Lord Chief Justice have been less in number than 17 the arrears of cases awaiting trial at any given moment tend to increase. The influx of new litigation remains substantially constant, and what I may de scribe as the outflow of cases disposed of in one way or another has not kept pace.
The position, unhappily, may be looked at from another point of view. On 2nd October, 1933, there were no fewer than 1,325 cases awaiting trial. On 2nd October, 1934, there were 1,323—practically the same number. Of those 1,323 cases there were special jury cases which had been ready for trial for ten months and had been set down for the purpose of trial, there were common jury cases which had been waiting for nine months, and there were non-jury cases which had been waiting for eight and a half months. Everyone will, I think, agree that this state of things amounts to a practical denial and not merely a postponement of justice. There are many litigants whose business interests, quite apart from their character or their position in life, may depend upon a decision in litigation in which they are interested. When that 458 decision cannot be given for so long a period as nine or ten months it may, and I have no doubt it does, mean not merely disappointment but in some cases disaster and, even if that happens in only a small percentage of cases as the result of delay, it is not creditable.
It is not surprising that from many different quarters demands have been made for an addition to His Majesty's judges in the King's Bench Division, not merely for vacancies to be filled when they occur but for an actual increase in the number of His Majesty's judges so that these arrears may not merely be dealt with without permitting a further increase but may actually be reduced, and steadily reduced, until that which everyone regards as an ideal state of things comes about when cases will be tried substantially within two or three months at the most of being set down for trial. The Law Society, the Bar Council and this House even in a manner of speaking may be said to have voiced this demand. Before the Recess 74 Members of the House of Commons put their names to a Resolution asking that additional judges should be appointed. This need for further judges is not the result of illness causing loss of judicial time because, although there have been 153 judicial days lost in the last year, for' instance, attributable to the illness of judges, 154 days have been provided for by the appointment of commissioners of assize. Illness is inevitable from time to time and it is a proper way, perhaps, of providing for that emergency to appoint commissioners who as far as possible may take their place on assize, but we most certainly ought not to depend upon the appointment of commissioners in the future to assist His Majesty's judges in the normal way. The appointment of commissioners, although they invariably discharge their duties to the satisfaction of the public, is not regarded with satisfaction in the different assize towns, where they all prefer to see what is commonly called a red judge. I have figures available if more particular information is desired. The position at the present moment is that there are two vacancies which I am asking the House to say ought to he filled by agreeing to a humble Address being presented in accordance with the provisions of the Judicature Act of 1925. The announcement has been made in another place that in due course 459 a Bill will be presented to Parliament for an addition of two to the number of judges, and, when that proposal is before this House, it will be the proper time for me to offer some further facts in justification of the proposals contained in that Bill. To-day, I content myself with asking the House, upon the information which I have laid before them, to approve the proposal to fill the existing vacancies.
§ 7.47 p.m.
Mr. EDWARD DAVIES
When I saw that this Motion had been put down in the name of the Attorney-General I was tempted before I read the statement made by the Lord Chancellor in another place yesterday to oppose it as strongly as I possibly could, because the addition of two judges is merely tinkering with a very severe problem, as the Attorney-General has already pointed out. I noticed, however, that the Lord Chancellor yesterday admitted that the question ought to be considered in its widest possible form and that it is his intention to form another court of inquiry to see what can be done. The position, however, does not seem really to have been dealt with by the Lord Chancellor, or even by the Attorney-General, for the position is not that the addition of two judges will keep the arrears down to their present level, but that unless these arrears be wiped out altogether injustice is being done to litigants. Injustice is being done to the plaintiff, who hopes that he will be successful in his action against the defendant. Injustice is being done to the defendant, who has all the time standing over his head the claim that has been made by the plaintiff. Yet upon the figures of the Attorney-General cases which were set down as long ago as January and February last still await trial.
I should like the House to know what is meant by setting a case down for trial. The dispute will certainly have arisen last year. Then a writ is issued by one party against another. There is then delay until the pleadings are closed; in the pleadings the plaintiff states his case and the defendant states his answer. Then there comes the period during which correspondence is exchanged, and there is a discovery, as we call it, of documents. Then when all the parties are ready the case is set down for trial. 460 That means that the parties are ready at that particular moment for trial and are desirous of having the question decided between them. At the present moment there are litigants who were ready for trial last January and February and their cases are not yet being tried. What is the good, then, of merely appointing two extra judges to deal with arrears which have been practically constant, as the Lord Chancellor and the Attorney-General have admitted, for a number of years?
There can be no greater injustice than delayed justice. It leaves the parties all the time in an uncertain state as to what their real position is. Nothing has been done by the present Government or by past Governments to try to remedy this position, except by an occasional addition to the bench. Two additional judges were added as long ago as 1925, but they were only temporary judges and Attorney-General after Attorney-General has had to ask the House to agree to present an Address to His Majesty for the addition of two judges to take the place of the temporary judges who have gone. Is that a fair way of dealing with the public? I say that it is not. The method now adopted for the administration of justice is archaic. Judges still go on circuit. It was an excellent thing in the days of Henry II, when he first sent judges on circuit to inquire into the state of the land, to inform the people what was taking place in London, to deliver the gaol of prisoners, and to settle disputes. Those who are responsible for the present administration of justice do not seem to have moved very much forward since the days of Henry II. They do not seem to realise that there are railways, telephones and telegrams; that there are quicker methods of trying cases. All they have done is to hurry up the procedure in a certain class of cases which fall under the new Procedure Act and to add two temporary judges to the present list.
We should like to see a much more drastic change. The time has come when we should not only inquire into the circuit system and the present method of administering justice on circuit, and the places where justice is administered, but a number of circuit towns at present attended by the judges should he abolished. They are difficult to get at They offer no accommodation. Those responsible have forgotten also that the 461 population has moved. Places which used to be big assize towns have gone gradually down in the number of population. New towns have sprung into being and have no assizes, and yet from these thickly populated areas litigants have to go with all the expenses of themselves, their witnesses and solicitors, to some little place far removed, difficult to get at, where accommodation is limited and expensive. That is the position of things at the present moment.
I understand that the Lord Chancellor and the Attorney-General seemed satisfied that the number of cases that are being set down for trial were not in excess of what used to be set down a number of years ago; that the figure has been more or less constant. That does not mean that the disputes between people are less or remain the same. It means that the delay in the courts at the present moment is such that people do not resort to the courts. If there is an important dispute, people go to arbitration. Those who have had experience of arbitration realise that it is much more expensive than going to the courts. It is not as effective and it is not as satisfactory, and yet people are prepared to put up with the unsatisfactory method of arbitration in order that they may get quick justice and a finality to the dispute between them and their neighbour. That is not at present afforded by the courts, and the mere addition of two judges, again, will not afford it. The Attorney-General, but for the promise made by him and the Lord Chancellor of the possibility of a new Act of Parliament being brought into being, will have to come here again next year and say once more that litigants have waited—special jury cases 10 months, others nine months, some of them even for 12 months—in order to get justice done.
I understand that the Lord Chancellor was rather at pains to say he was sorry that an expenditure of an extra £9,000 a year would be incurred by the addition of these two judges. I am perfectly sure that this House would not complain, nor would the public complain of a greater addition to the cost of administering justice. Justice ought to be cheap to the litigant. That is the real point. It may be expensive to the State, but the litigant ought to be able to go to a judge and get his dispute settled on the 462 cheapest possible lines. I would offer no apology to the House for suggesting that the number of judges should be greatly increased, and that the circuit system should be reviewed, possibly abolished altogether, and permanent judges put in the provinces. In that way we would get an administration of justice which would be more in consonance with the times than the present.
§ 7.55 p.m.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
I, of course, support this Motion whole-heartedly, but, like my hon. and learned Friend who has just spoken, I want to advance one or two reasons why in my opinion even this, Motion does not go far enough. I have been at pains to get out some comparative figures going back for some considerable time. The first thing that hon. Gentleman may not have in mind is that the present normal strength of the King's Bench Division is only one more than it was in 1892. The normal strength is the Lord Chief Justice and 15 other judges, and two more only on occasions like this, when public business requires it. If this Motion goes through, for the time being the King's Bench Division will have three more judges than in 1892.
This question of arrears is by no means a new one; it is as old as the hills and has been the subject of successive reviews for 40 years. It is very interesting to turn back and to see what the Council of Judges sitting in August, 1891, said about the arrears of litigants then. At that time their arrears were very much the same as they are now. There were 1,064 cases carried over from the sittings of 1889–1890 to those of 1890–1891. In 1933 there were 1,052 cases carried over, untried, so that the position that the Council of Judges was assembled to deal with was very much the situation we have to deal with at the present moment. After a careful inquiry, they reported that they had a plan which would insure that there were never fewer than eight judges in London, and usually considerably more. That was to be achieved by reducing the 56 circuit towns at which civil business is taken to 18. That was in 1892, and they added these significant words:The essential foundation of this scheme"—463 because they recommended other things too—is the grouping of centres for the work of civil cases. If this cannot be done, the council are of opinion that all the other alterations suggested will have but little effect, and the most valuable part of the proposed reforms in the present administration of the law will be frustrated.The House may be interested to know that there are still 54 towns—56 in 1892—where civil business can be taken, and that the ideal of concentrating civil business in 18 is apparently just as far off as it was then. It is obvious in these days that we ought to have a minimum of eight judges, and usually considerably more, sitting in London to deal with London's business. At that time the population of England was 20,000,000, and that of London 4,250,000. To-day the population of England is 39,000,000, and of London 8,250,000. Notwithstanding these things and other equally significant things—first of all the internal combustion engine was not known in 1892 nor the incidents that my hon. Friend the Minister of Transport is using with such devastating effect for the purpose of abolishing his office—nothing has been done. The importance of the internal combustion engine to litigation has been prodigious. It has meant that an enormous number of cases in the courts are cases of accident by motor cars. In the last three weeks the average number of cases in the weekly lists dealing with personal accidents was 175. Therefore, it is clear that that factor alone has enormously increased the amount of litigation.
In the happy times of 1892 people who had to pay taxes, Estate Duties and so on were not quite so eager to contest their obligations as they are now, with Income Tax, Surtax and Estate Duty at a considerably higher level, and the result was that the revenue work was not so high then as now. Moreover, in 1892 there was no Court of Criminal Appeal. There was only the Court for Crown Cases Reserved, but its work was very limited compared with the work of the Court of Criminal Appeal, to which substantially every criminal has the right to go if he is dissatisfied with his conviction. All these factors, increased population and differing social conditions, have increased vastly the number of disputes 464 requiring settlement in the King's Bench Division. Notwithstanding, we find ourselves with one more regular judge to-day and we shall have only three more judges if, by the present kind of emergency procedure, we get the number increased.
The wonder is not that there is delay which, as the Attorney-General has pointed out, is really a denial of justice, but that arrears are not greater than they are. It is very surprising. I attribute the fact that the arrears are not greater to several factors. First of all, the curtailment of the right to jury trial has shortened trials and judges are able to get their cases through more quickly. Secondly, and by no means unimportant, at assizes the judges are sitting absurdly long hours. I hope that those who are responsible for the administration of justice in this country will let it be known that it is not in the interests of justice or in the interests of overtaking arrears that absurdly long hours should be sat on circuit. I have had the experience regularly on assize of appearing in cases up to seven o'clock in the evening and on some occasions until nine o'clock. On at least two occasions in my circuit career I have been in court until 11 o'clock at night. Justice cannot be clone in those circumstances. No one who has had the experience of attempting to try a case can doubt the extreme tension of attention that is necessary on the part of a judge to sustain concentration from 10 o'clock in the morning until eight, nine or 10 o'clock at night. Such a thing is really impossible and it does riot conduce either to justice being done to those who are seeking justice or to the dignity of the Bench itself.
In addition to these causes there is a further matter to which my hon. and learned Friend referred, which must not be overlooked. One of the reasons why the arrears are not greater to-day is because a great deal of the litigation is dribbling away into the sand as it were. It is going to the arbitrators. It is going to people who can be fetched at the end of a telephone and who can undertake to sit within two days and give an award which is always expensively arrived at and is often not very satisfactory. The State loses because with the unrivalled opportunities for deciding cases by means of arbitrators those 'opportunities are much availed of when judges cannot be 465 got. It is clearly a penny wise and pound foolish policy to keep the Bench understaffed and to allow valuable and important work to find its way to arbitrators and, incidentally, to private enterprise. Not long ago, if I am correctly informed—I speak of rumour and I do not pledge myself to the strict accuracy of the report, although it is probably substantially accurate—there was a great case decided before an arbitrator, who happened to be an ex-judge, and the fee was certainly more than twice. that of a judge's salary for a year. That case was brought before this very learned and very excellent arbitrator because it was impossible to get that very important case tried in court in the time that the litigants required.
In June last, the busiest time of the legal year, I looked at the list for a fortnight and during that time only on one day did eight judges sit in London. On three days seven judges sat and on six days six judges sat. In July the experience was very much the same. Nine judges sat three times, eight judges three times, seven judges twice and six judges three times. In October the administration of justice, owing to our archaic method of dealing with this matter, had to await the sitting of Parliament. We were all called back from our holidays, very reluctantly surrendering a fortnight of the Long Vacation, to spend idle days in the insalubrious atmosphere of the Temple waiting for cases to be tried, cases which were on our table, because there were only four or five judges available for trial.
These facts make it perfectly clear that we ought not to be satisfied with the two judges concerned in the Address and that we ought to have more. I do not think that the strength of the King's Bench will be adequate until it reaches a regular level of 20 judges—the Lord Chief Justice and 19 other judges. Do not let the House come to the conclusion that by passing tins Address they are going to solve the problem of arrears. There is another congesting element. Last year Parliament adopted the recommendations of the Business of Courts Committee, presided over with so much assiduity by Lord Hanworth. We have by Parliamentary action abolished appeals to the Divisional Court from the county courts. Those appeals have been thrown into the 466 Court of Appeal. That means that all those cases that were previously tried by two judges will now be tried by three. The Divisional Court was a two-judge court and the Court of Appeal is a three-judge court. Moreover, we have limited the right of trial by jury, which means that more people will go to appeal than they would from the decision of a jury. In addition, by restricting the right of appeal to the House of Lords we shall have encouraged litigants to go to the Court of Appeal. In the past they would not have appealed because they would have been afraid to be taken higher to the House of Lords. These factors will throw on the Court of Appeal a great deal of extra work. That fact was recognised by the Business of Courts Committee because they said in their report that this would throw a burden upon the Court of Appeal which as at present constituted it is not able to bear.
How is that going to be met? It all links up and dovetails in with the proposal we are considering to-night. If we are to judge by what has happened this term this Motion will really do us no good. We are going to be given two judges but three are to be taken away to sit in the Court of Appeal. We shall be not better off but worse off than before. It is true that the Divisional Court work will not take up three judges in the Court of Appeal all the time but I am envisaging that it will be necessary probably for a third panel of the Court of Appeal to sit. We have been waiting for some time to know really what is going to happen with regard to the appointment of Lord Justices. There is a Motion on the Order Paper in my name which has been signed by practically every legal Member of the House, except some hon. Members opposite who were not unsympathetic but were unable to put their signatures to it for reasons one can understand. That Motion asks for the appointment of three more Lords Justices. Unless that is done the giving of these two extra judges and the placing of three judges in the Court of Appeal, in accordance with the recommendations of Lord Hanworth's Committee, will do not much more than give us half an extra judge in the King's Bench Division, and that is not nearly enough.
While supporting the Address, I hope that the Bill which was forecast yesterday will make provision for the appoint- 467 ment of extra Lord Justices in order to prevent the Government from taking away with one hand what they give with the other. In that respect may I say something that I hope will be received in the spirit in which it is said. For heaven's sake do not let us allow this matter of the appointment of judges or lord justices become a mere wrangle as to patronage. I am by no means satisfied that the holding up of this matter is not an issue between the Prime Minister's Department and the Lord Chancellor's Department as to which is to have the appointment of the Lord Justices. It would not be in order to go further into that matter except to say that my personal view is that the right body to appoint a person of such high judicial standing is the Lord Chancellor's Department and not a political department of the House of Commons. However that may be, it is nothing less than a sandal if what really needs to be done is held up because there is a quarrel between two Government departments, however eminent, as to which is to make the appointments.
The question of expense is surely quote absurd. According to an answer which I received from my right hon. Friend last July, the salaries of the judges in the King's Bench Division amounted to £49,468, with court fees of £250,000, so that every penny paid to the King's Bench judges was covered five times over by the court fees received. Even if we take into account every kind of administrative expense, the upkeep of the Law Courts, wages, salaries of staff and everything we still make a profit out of justice. That is perhaps not desirable but, at any rate, it entirely removes the criticism that it is an expensive matter to appoint judges. I welcome the announcement made by the Lord Chancellor yesterday of the appointment of a committee to inquire into whether the King's Bench Division should be supplemented by the appointment of the two additional judges beyond those we are discussing to-day. I agree with my hon. and learned Friend that there is ample room for reorganisation. What requires reorganisation more than anything else is the List. The old fetish that you must not keep a judge idle is more disastrous to litigants than any single element in our archaic 468 point of view. It is better that a. judge should be sitting idle with his feet up on the mantlepiece waiting for cases than that litigants should be standing in the corridors and coming back day after day because the judge has too many cases in his list and is not able to devote his time to the waiting litigants. Anyone who has practised in the courts knows what it means to be in the same list day after day coming back perhaps with half a dozen or 10 or 12 witnesses and then at 2 o'clock making the usual application to be released for the day. The case goes over to the next day and you may have to go through the same experience for a week. In an ideal state of affairs you would be able to telephone to the Law Courts and say "I want a case in such a list tried next week. Can it be arranged?" The appointment of extra judges will only deal with the matter half way. Some steps will have to be taken to get back to the courts the arbitration eases which are now going elsewhere, and the matter of judicial salaries should not be overlooked. In 1880 there was a leading article in the "Times" of the 24th November, a short sentence from which 1 must quote:The Bench has already ceased to be very attractive to the most successful lawyers at their best, and it would be unfortunate if second-rate or worn-out men were as a rule made judges.That was the robust language of 1880, when Income Tax was much less than it is to-day and when a judicial salary meant a good deal more than it does to-day.
§ Major MILNER
Is the hon. and learned Member in order in discussing the appointment of additional judges? The Motion is to appoint judges to fill present vacancies.
§ Mr. HOLFORD KNIGHT
Is not the hon. and learned Member in order in making observations on the intentions of the Government as outlined by the Attorney-General?
§ Mr. DEPUTY-SPEAKER (Sir Dennis Herbert)
I was listening carefully to the hon. and learned Member and I think he has gone far enough. I do not think his first observations with regard to salaries as affecting the question now before the House are out of order, but I think he should leave the subject there and not develop it further.
§ Mr. O'CONNOR
I bow at once to your ruling. The hon. and gallant Member for South East Leeds (Major Milner) will appreciate that the argument I was putting forward as to salaries is equally applicable to the present judges as it is to any additional judges. When the question was discussed in another place, one objection to the appointment of additional judges, and to the filling up of these vacancies, was the difficulty of finding people at the present rate of salaries. There is no doubt that cheapness can be overdone. Cheap justice is bad justice, and cheapness in the long run may be most expensive. While I welcome this Address it does not in my view solve the question, and it would be foolish for the House to come to the conclusion that, having passed the Address, it has gone any considerable way towards overtaking the arrears or reaching that satisfactory state of affairs when justice can be done speedily at the instance of the humblest. The House must be vigilant when the Government come forward with further proposals to deal with the situation thoroughly.
§ 8.18 p.m.
§ Mr. LANSBURY
We on this side are all good trade unionists, but our ranks are sadly depleted of legal trade unionists. We have only two members of the legal profession. The hon. Member for Limehouse (Mr. Attlee) asked that he should not take part in the discussion because he is not practising, and my hon. and learned Friend the Member for East Bristol (Sir S. Cripps) is now in North Wales doing excellent work. But we felt that some one should step into the breach and say, first, how delighted we are to find such eloquent support of State Socialism in legal affairs, just as the right hon. Gentleman for West Woolwich (Sir K. Wood) is an excellent State Socialist in his administration of the Post Office. We only hope that he will be a little more generous to the workers later on than the Treasury now allows him to be. We are delighted to find what good trade unionists the legal fraternity are in this House. It was fine to hear the hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor) stick up for high wages and salaries. He said that cheap justice is bad justice. Cheap labour is bad labour under any 470 condition, but I should be sorry to think that justice really depended on how much we pay those who administer the law. That would be a very bad thing.
We support the proposal that a Committee should be appointed to consider the whole question of the administration of justice and the circuit system. Something similar was discussed in this House half a century ago. The law moves slowly, but the administration of the law seems to move even more slowly. I hope that such a Committee will be appointed, and I would ask the Attorney-General to represent to the Government that this is an occasion on which to apply the principle of an independent chairman. It would be an excellent thing if a good legal trade unionist or a business man was appointed as head of the Committee to investigate and inquire into the best system of reform which can be adopted. I may now be treading on dangerous ground. It has been said that justice ought not to cost as much as it does now. I think it is bad that people should have to pay very heavy sums for the best advice. You read of the sums on the briefs; and then there is the refresher. I have had some experience of it. I am not pleading for myself for by hook or crook I shall keep out of the hands of the gentry who administer the law, although I am not quite so sure of that now in view of the Bill which it is to be passed to-morrow.
The poorest person in the land ought to be able, in a matter of his defence or of putting his case forward, to have at his disposal the very best counsel it is possible to obtain. That can only be done through the State. It cannot be done by asking counsel to cut down their trade union or other rates to a point which is not right. I do think that the disparities and inequalities in the remuneration of the learned gentlemen who plead for us in the courts ought to be dealt with. They all seem to me to be a little hungry on occasion. All I am pleading for is that the commission or committee which the Government are considering the advisability of appointing shall be composed of people some of whom are lawyers but some of whom are people who have to go to law or whose friends may have to go to law, and that presiding over that commission there should not be a judge or a legal person 471 but what is known as an independent chairman. We should not dream of opposing the proposal, put forward as it has been, and, if the hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham will allow me to say so, we are glad to welcome him into the ranks of good State Socialists and as a really sound defender of good trade union principles.
§ 8.27 p.m.
§ Sir JOHN WITHERS
I rise to support the Motion most whole-heartedly. I do so not as a trade unionist at all, and I shall explain why. Anyone who has had experience of the other branch of the profession—other than the barristers—and has come into contact day by day with the poorest of the poor, must realise that at the present time very grave injustice is being done to them. Solicitors take a very large number of these poor people's cases and a considerable number of them do not get a single sixpence for it. The greatest injustice is being done to those poor people who ask for justice and are kept waiting. To them the situation is very serious indeed. I am not putting the matter from the point of view of a trade unionist at all, but from the point of view of the denial of justice to the poorest people who are waiting for relief. As has been pointed out, on the question of the appeals from the County Courts not only are you not doing anything to reduce arrears, but you are making matters worse by stating that a certain number of appeals shall be tried by three judges instead of two. The result is extremely serious, in that as many cases cannot he tried.
§ 8.30 p.m.
§ Mr. TINKER
The sum of £9,000 is to be spent, I understand. I would put these questions to the Attorney-General: Has the number of litigants grown since 1931? If so, has there been any examination of the causes of the increase? Has is been because there is something wrong in our law and administration, and does this cause people to go to court oftener than they went before? If so, why is not an attempt made to deal with the source of the trouble? Amendment of the laws could prevent these things happening.
My second point is to note the remarkable way in which we see a class fighting. 472 It seems to me that every lawyer in the House wants to have a "do" at this, and so supports the appointment of judges. One wonders whether it is for the purpose of looking after their own particular interests. It appears to me that that has something to do with it. I would give lawyers a word of advice, if I may, though it may be taken in the wrong way. When they are presenting a case in court, I think they should cut off a lot of their arguments. Whenever I go to a law court it seems to me that most of the lawyers think that the longer they talk the better impression they will make on the judges. I am speaking from some experience, because I am on a local bench of magistrates. When we magistrates look through the cases we say to ourselves, "Is there any lawyer on this case, because if there is we shall have to stop a much longer time than would otherwise be necessary." That is a word of' warning to the lawyers. Most of them become judges at some time, and I am sure that when they get on the bench they will say to themselves, "I have done that before, but is counsel not a silly chap to try to tell me things I have already seen."
The hon. and learned Member for Central Nottingham (Mr. O'Connor) waxed very eloquent about the amount of overtime that judges have to work. I wonder whether he has ever thought about other people working overtime. From time to time we have agitated about overtime in the mines, but from hon. Members on the other side of the House we never seem to get much help. They simply say, "If a job has to be done why don't the men stop at it?" In the law courts the judge or lawyer starts at 10 o'clock in the morning and finishes at four sometimes. At 12.30 judge and lawyers begin to look at the clock, and at one o'clock there is a stop till 2.30, and at four o'clock, or five at the latest, it is stated that no other case can be taken that day. There may be a rare occasion when a case is not finished and the court goes on longer.
I do not want the judges to be compelled to work overtime but I hope that those who are stressing the point about overtime in the case of the judges will have some regard for those in a lower sphere of life who are compelled to work overtime. I hope that as a result of this 473 discussion those who are now arguing for the appointment of additional judges to clear up arrears of legal work will, on other occasions, show the same regard for other people in other occupations. I do not raise any objection to the appointment of the judges. I would not like to think that litigants were being kept waiting for months and months to have their cases heard. That is wrong. I think it is the hardest thing of all for a litigant that he should be kept in suspense. The waiting period is the worst for a litigant, and if this proposal will help to clear up the legal arrears I am in sympathy with it. But I hope that those who fight so keenly for their class in regard to this matter, will show some sympathy for our people when the occasion arises.
§ 3.37 p.m.
§ Mr. KNIGHT
I hope the hon. Member for Leigh (Mr. Tinker) will acquit me of any desire to promote the interest of any class. I do not rise for that purpose but in order to make a few observations on this Motion—which I am not opposing—in the hope that from this interesting discussion there may be consequences which will improve the administration of justice. Motions of this sort have been moved again and again over a long period, and the country has been told that there is an accumulation of cases and that these Motions are directed to dealing with that condition of affairs. What the country wants to be assured of is that when the House responds to the invitation of the Government to deal with the accumulation of arrears in the High Court, the causes of that accumulation will not be allowed to continue. The Attorney-General has intimated that it is intended in the next Session to proceed with further legislation and also to inquire into the conduct of business in the King's Bench Division. I propose to make two practical suggestions. I speak from a very long experience of these matters and I think it will be found on inquiry into the scope of the business in the King's Bench Division that there are two special reasons for the accumulation of arrears.
First, the assize system has not been curtailed as much as it might have been in recent years. Power has been taken to remit cases from one county to another if the state of business otherwise in the first county does not require the calling 474 of assizes, but I was astonished the other day to read a letter in the "Times" signed "Recorder," stating that one of the reasons for this accumulation of business at assizes is that cases which might be committed to Quarter Sessions, instead of being so committed are held over for assizes. I hope that if the promised inquiry takes place it will cover this aspect of the matter. Every practical man acquainted with the matter knows that the first reason for the accumulation of cases in the King's Bench Division is the withdrawal of judges from their duties in the King's Bench Division to conduct assizes. If it is found that the assize lists are being unduly increased by a failure to send suitable cases to quarter session, attention might be given to the matter with the result of diminishing this accumulation in the King's Bench.
My second suggestion is this. The King's Bench Division at this moment is being flooded with cases which could quite properly be tried elsewhere. There are many cases in the King's Bench, particularly running down cases, which could easily be tried in the county courts, and when this review of the work of the King's Bench is undertaken, I hope that those who are responsible for it will consider whether there are not many civil causes which could be adequately tried outside the High Court, and particularly in the county courts. There is a further line of treatment. Why should not some of these cases be sent to the official referees? Why should all these small cases accumulate for the attention of one of His Majesty's judges?
§ Mr. McKEAG
Surely my hon. and learned Friend is not advocating that additional work should be thrown on the county court judges.
§ Mr. KNIGHT
On a proper occasion I would be prepared to argue that. Probably the question might arise of the additional work in county courts but what I am reminding the House of at the moment is that this accumulation in the King's Bench is at present unnecessarily increased by retaining in that division cases which could be adequately tried elsewhere. Further, may I say that I have been astounded to see the statement in the newspapers and to hear it repeated here, that His Majesty's Government find difficulty in obtaining the ser- 475 vices for the judicial bench of practitioners at the Bar. I am forced to say this. It is a position I have never sought and never intend to seek, but I say that the biggest privilege which could he offered to a member of the Bar, is the duty of serving King and country on the judicial bench, and I think it is a great discredit to the Bar of England that such a suggestion as I have mentioned should find any countenance in the Press or in this House. It is doing a serious injustice to many capable members of the Bar who could fill these positions. I speak as one who has served at the Bar of England with all the present judges and I say that there are many capable men at the Bar who would gladly do this service if they were asked to do it. The suggestion that members of the Bar hold back from it in order to fill their own pockets and that they are not willing to serve the State on the judicial bench is a discredit to those who make it, and is a severe comment and an unjust comment on the Bar of England.
§ 8.44 p.m.
§ Mr. McKEAG
I do not wish it to be thought that I subscribe to all the views which have been expressed by the various hon. and learned Gentlemen who have spoken on the opposite side of the House, but I wish to take this opportunity of adding my voice to the statements already made by certain hon. Members that the present suggested appointment of two judges to the King's Bench Division to fill these vacancies is entirely inadequate, and does not meet the requirements of the present position in the least degree. This is a matter which I have raised on more than one occasion in this House, and I think I can claim to speak perhaps a little more feelingly than my hon. and learned Friends opposite, because, as a member of the other branch of the legal profession, I have to come into more immediate touch with disgruntled litigants and witnesses who are tired and sick to death of waiting in the various courts for their cases to come up.
§ Mr. KNIGHT
It so happens that on this very day I have been one of the victims of this very system. I have been waiting for a trial in the High Court since last January.
§ Mr. McKEAG
So long ago as in November of 1932 I addressed a question to the learned Attorney-General in regard to the congestion of business at the Newcastle Assizes, and my question raised a storm of supplementary questions from all parts of the House, calling upon the Attorney-General to ensure that something should be done in the way of providing additional judges. His final answer was this:I shall be glad to take note of the opinion of the House on that question."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 29th November, 1932; col. 639, Vol. 272.]But nothing has been done in the last two years to alleviate the position. Today I had a question on the Order Paper to the learned Attorney-General in regard to this matter, and perhaps it may be of some little help and interest if I read that question, because it was not reached, owing to the very large number of questions on the Paper. I asked the Attorney-Generalif he is aware that, instead of the customary two judges, a commissioner alone has been sent to take the assizes at Newcastle-upon-Tyne; that, in view of the heavy business, a second court, presided over by one of the leaders on the North-Eastern Circuit, has had to be hurriedly convened to relieve the congestion; and whether he will take steps to ensure that in future two judges, or at least one judge and a commissioner, arc allocated to these assizes?I have been given an answer to the effect that a Resolution will be moved in this House with a view to filling these vacancies, but I claim that this does not meet the position, arid I would like to bring it more forcibly home to the learned Attorney-General by giving some details from a letter which I have only to-day received from Newcastle. The letter refers to congestion at the Assizes which are now proceeding there, and goes on to say:Mr. Arthur Morley, K.C., was sitting as an additional judge yesterday, and disposed of two criminal cases, and, in spite of the fact that it was stated at 4.30 p.m. yesterday that he would not be able to sit to-day he sat again to-day, and is dealing with a City case. The Commissioner"—who, I may say, is performing his duties there in an excellent fashion—is taking a manslaughter case to-day, and it is expected that it will finish this evening. If not, he will have to finish it to-morrow but to-morrow.… is sitting as a judge to try the West Wylam motor man- 477 slaughter case, to enable the Commissioner to start on the civil list. Divorce has been fixed for Saturday"—I think my hon. Friend above the Gangway said something about overtime. Well, they are sitting on Saturday at Newcastle-upon-Tyne during this Assize—which leaves to-morrow (or such part of to-morrow as may not be taken up with the manslaughter case if it has not been finished to-day) and Friday only for civil work. The special jury action is expected to last at least a day and a half; there are then two common jury actions, and, whilst in the printed list there are shown to be six non-jury actions, there are, in fact, seven, another case not appearing in the printed list having been permitted to be entered by special leave in London. Even if the manslaughter trial finishes to-day, it would appear improbable that more than two civil actions, all told, will be dealt with by the time the Assizes are due to close on Saturday. Everybody here is hoping that you will raise the matter as one of great public importance, and I know that all the counsel and solicitors interested in Assize work will be grateful to you if you do anything to try to draw attention to this scandalous state of affairs.I hope I have said sufficient by reading this letter to direct still further the attention of the Attorney-General to a very serious state of affairs which should not be permitted to continue. It is a state of affairs which, in my judgment, cannot possibly be remedied merely by the appointment of these two judges to fill these vacancies, and I ask that something further should be done. After all, there is no hesitation on the part of this House in setting up new departments costing millions of public money, and I cannot understand this niggardly attitude towards the appointment of additional judges. After all, the administration of justice in this country is too vitally important a matter to be subjected to misguided and unwise economy.
§ 8.53 p.m.
§ The ATTORNEY-GENERAL
So many topics have been mentioned that I should have to survey the whole legal world, from China to Peru, to answer them all. They have included fees of counsel, length of counsels' speeches, judges' salaries, circuits, arbitrations, and so on. The right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition asked me to call the Govern- 478 ment's attention to his opinion, which I respectfully say a great many other people share, that the chairman of the proposed Committee of Inquiry should be an independent person, by which I understand he intends a layman, who will bring a fresh outlook on the question. I believe that to be the opinion of my Noble Friend, but his attention will be called to the right hon. Gentleman's views. Then an hon. Member behind him asked a question as to the amount of new litigation. As a matter of fact, the litigation in 1933, if it may be judged from the number of writs and other originating proceedings, was a good deal less than it was in the years 1930 and 1931. In round figures, 60,000 writs were issued in 1930, in 1932 59,000, and that fell in 1933 to 53,000, so that, in spite of the diminution in the number of writs, the accumulations have grown even with the number of judges at their proper level until the two vacancies now in question occurred.
I think I need hardly trouble the House with the other questions that have been raised, because, strictly speaking, although they were no doubt in order, they were relevant not to this Motion, but, as I said in my opening observations, to the Motion to be proposed when the Second Reading of the Bill to which I referred came before the House. Whether all the things that were said were accurate or well founded I will not stop to discuss now, but there will be ample opportunity to discuss those matters when the Bill comes before the House. All that I am asking the House to do now is to fill the two vacancies, and I respectfully think there can be no disagreement in any quarter of the House with that proposal.
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty representing that the state of business in the King's Bench Division requires that two vacancies in the number of puisne judges of the King's Bench Division should be filled, and praying that His Majesty will he graciously pleased to fill such vacancies accordingly, in pursuance of the Supreme Court of Judicature (Consolidation) Act, 1925.
To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of His Majesty's Household.