HC Deb 11 November 1937 vol 328 cc1996-9

Resolution reported, That, for the purposes of any Act of the present Session to amend the Supreme Court of Judicature (Consolidation) Act, 1925, by increasing to four the number of puisne judges who may he appointed to be attached to the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division of the High Court, it is expedient to authorise the payment out of the Consolidated Fund and out of moneys provided by Parliament of sums equal to the amount of any increase which may be incurred by reason of the said Act of the present Session in the sums payable under the Supreme Court of Judicature (Consolidation) Act. 1925, out of the said Fund and out of moneys provided by Parliament, respectively. Motion made, and Question proposed, That this House cloth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution.

10.29 p.m.

Major Milner

I desire to say a word or two on this Resolution. As I understand the position, the Government propose to appoint what are undoubtedly badly needed, namely, two additional judges for the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division, and we on this side take the view, which I think was expressed in the Division Lobby on Monday night, that the Government are adopting a wrong attitude in this matter. What is obviously required from every point of expediency is that two additional judges should be provided, but that they should be available, not only for the work of the Divorce Division, but for the general purposes of the King's Bench Division also. I speak more feelingly as a member of the lower branch of the profession, because in provincial towns, of which I have some experience, we have great difficulty in getting through the work which the circuit judges have to do in the time that is allotted to them. I was informed a night or two ago by a member of the Bar, who is also an hon. Member of this House, of the difficulty that has been experienced in the last week at Liverpool, where, in order to get through the work in the proper time, the judges were having to sit late; one night it was until 8.30. I will not say that the work was being rushed, but satisfaction was not being given to members of the Bar, the general public or those who had business at the Assize Court. I am also told on the authority of one of the hon. Members for Liverpool that the Assizes are not likely to be completed, although the courts arc sitting late, in the time that has been allotted.

That is an unsatisfactory state of affairs. It seemed to be not only the simplest, but the most obvious course, to appoint two judges of the King's Bench Division who could be allocated to the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division when the necessities of that Division required it. That is the way in which the best practical results would be achieved, because, if it were done, the two judges could be allotted, or some appropriate reorganisation of the King's Bench Division, which is largely in the hands of the Lord Chief Justice, could take place. It would not be a serious or difficult matter as the learned Solicitor-General seemed to think would be the case. It would facilitate the whole business of the High Court of Justice and the position with regard to the assizes. In the provincial towns it would not be necessary to appoint commissioners, as is done at almost every assize now. I say nothing about the work done by the commis- sioners who are appointed to sit in place of His Majesty's judges, but, as a solicitor, I know that the system does not give satisfaction to litigants. Naturally, when the decision of the court given by a commissioner does not suit them, they think that it might have been different if it had been given by a judge. My hon. Friends on this side agree that the right course, the course we would support without question, would be the appointment of two additional judges to the King's Bench Division. I do not know that my hon. Friends desire to divide again, but they certainly take exception to the course proposed by the Government.

10.33 p.m.

The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)

I hope that I may convince the hon. and gallant Member that, although what he has said is certainly deserving of attention, it does not really afford a ground for opposing this Money Resolution. As he will appreciate from what was said on the Second Reading, in the estimation of my Noble Friend the services of two judges are likely to be required, at any rate for some time to come, in order to deal with the existing arrears in the Divorce Court and the new work which may be expected as the result of the Act recently passed. Therefore, assuming that another procedure were adopted and two King's Bench judges appointed with the idea of dealing with these arrears and the new work, they would at once disappear from the King's Bench Division and from visiting the circuits, and their time would be fully occupied with the work which is to be expected.

The basis of this Bill is the estimate, which we have done our best to make accurate, that the full-time services of two judges will be required to deal with the arrears in the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division. Should that anticipation prove to have been an overestimate of the amount of work, there is, of course, nothing in the statutory position to prevent a judge of the Probate, Admiralty and Divorce Division whose time is not fully occupied in that Division being lent, if that is the appropriate word, to the King's Bench Division for work in London, and so relieving the other judges on circuit. I suggest to my hon. and gallant Friend that the considerations he has put before the House, although proper to be considered in connection with the question whether more King's Bench judges should be appointed, which under the existing position would require a Resolution and not a new Act of Parliament, really do not afford a reason for opposing this Measure—if we are right in our estimate that two new judges are required, and will be required for some time to come, solely for divorce work.

Question, "That this House doth agree with the Committee in the said Resolution," put, and agreed to.