HC Deb 01 September 1939 vol 351 cc216-8


Order for Second Reading read.

11.17 p.m.

The Solicitor-General

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

This Bill passed through all its stages in another place at a time when we were not so pressed as we are at present. It is a Bill to enable the administration of justice to be carried on during the period of any war. Obviously obligations will be incurred between men and men, and men and women, and women and women, and, of course, lunatics' affairs will have to be managed. All these matters will have to be disposed of, and our care is that the machinery of justice is kept rustless, so that it may be restored in more prosperous times. That is what this Bill seeks to do. It must not be forgotten that there are, in London, over 1,000 people attending the Royal Courts of Justice every day, many of them in quite humble walks of life, and that those numbers are swollen by jurors, litigants, and various other people, and it is obvious that decentralisation into some areas which may be more salubrious and less dangerous is essential if justice is to be administered.

The Bill proceeds on that principle of decentralising, and the scheme is to find places where there shall be courts and libraries and safe repositories for registers, wills, and other documents in different parts of the country. Therefore, Clause 1 provides as a preliminary that the Lord Chancellor should be enabled to declare a vacation on the outbreak of any emergency. It would appear that it will not be necessary to operate that Clause, because the vacation is with us at this moment. The rest of the Clause enables the Lord Chancellor to effect decentrali- sation of the Supreme Court. The second Clause deals with the decentralisation of inferior courts and enables the Lord Chancellor to move such courts as, for example, the County Courts, the Liverpool Court of Passage, and so on, to places where they can function without danger and inconvenience to litigants. Clause 3 substitutes the Lord Chancellor for an Order in Council as the method of bringing commissioners of assize into being. Clause 4 deals with the Court of Criminal Appeal and Clause 5 with the Central Criminal Court. Sub-section (2) gives the Home Secretary similar powers to those accorded the Lord Chancellor in relation to quarter sessions and summary jurisdiction courts.

Clause 6 enables the Lord Chancellor to delegate some of his functions to Lords of Appeal in Ordinary or Judges of the Supreme Court, including in that category the Lord Chief Justice and the Master of the Rolls. An important check is contained in Sub-section (5) whereby the powers which the Bill vests in the Lord Chancellor are subject, as regards the exercise of most of these powers, to the concurrence of two other Judges, unless in exceptional circumstances they are not available. The necessity for having 12 jurymen is dispensed with by Clause 7, and the minimum number of seven will be sufficient for the trial of any inquiry in civil or criminal matters. In civil matters there is to be no right to trial by jury except in cases where the court thinks that trial by jury is absolutely essential. Clause 9 extends the remand period for accused persons to 21 days and enables the period of remand to be extended in the same way as at present the time can be extended in the case of illness or incapacity. By Clause 10 vacancies in the Bench cannot be filled if in the opinion of the Lord Chancellor it be unnecessary. Clause 11 enables the Bill to be brought to an end summarily if the emergency disappears.

Mr. Pethick-Lawrence

In the course of the mass production with which we are endeavouring to cope in the present sitting this Bill appears to be unexceptional, and we do not propose to delay its passage.

Mr. Stephen

I notice that this power is given to the Lord Chancellor with a check upon him that he has to have the con- currence of two other Judges. Why is this power given to him instead of the procedure by Order in Council?

The Solicitor-General

The whole object is speed. The Lord Chancellor will be in touch with the administration of justice and courts will be distributed in different parts of England. In many cases they will be the assize towns and in other cases safer places than assize towns. The Lord Chancellor will maintain contact and be able to direct changes of sitting much more quickly than the machinery of Order in Council.

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

Resolved, That this House will immediately resolve itself into the Committee on the Bill." [The Solicitor-General.] Bill accordingly considered in Committee; reported, without Amendment; read the Third time, and passed, without Amendment.