§ The Attorney-General (Sir Donald Somervell)
I beg to move,That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty representing that the state of business in the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division requires that a vacancy in the number of puisne judges of that Division should be filled, and praying that His Majesty will be graciously pleased to fill such vacancy accordingly, in pursuance of the Supreme Court of Judicature (Amendment) Act, 1937.The recent tragic death of Sir George Langton removed a Judge of great ability from the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division. He not only did his work with great ability, but also took a great interest in the general administration of justice and in the problems that arise in that area. His loss was a great one. This Address comes to be moved in the following circumstances, which I can 896 shortly explain. In 1937 a Bill promoted by my hon. Friend the senior burgess for Oxford University (Petty Officer A. Herbert) dealing with divorce became an Act. It increased the grounds on which divorce could be obtained. Broadly speaking, the big new ground for divorce was desertion, which was a completely new ground as far as England is concerned. At the time when that Act was passed there were substantial but not excessive arrears of work in the Probate, Admiralty and Divorce Division. There were some 1,000 odd undefended cases and about 470 to 500 defended cases awaiting trial. It was anticipated, and the anticipation proved perfectly correct, that as a result of the passing of that Act there would be a very considerable increase in divorce work. Parliament therefore passed an Act, the Act under which this Address is moved, providing for two extra judges to be appointed to that Division, but also providing that if a vacancy occurred it could not be filled without coming to this House to get a Resolution. The vacancy has occurred and we now ask the House for the Resolution.
Broadly speaking, the history of the matter in the meantime has been this. There was, of course, a very considerable increase in divorce as the result of the passing of that Act. The increased number of judges on the Bench was able to deal with it without any big accumulation of arrears piling up in London, and at the moment one could say that the figures of divorce work alone would justify one in filling the vacancy. The figures to-day are almost exactly the same as they were at the passing of the Act of 1937. They have, of course, been higher in the interval, but there are to-day about 1,000 undefended cases in the list at the beginning of any term and about 500 defended cases. But that is not quite the end of the story. Admiralty work has also increased. It is difficult to give figures because cases are not always returned until they are ready for trial, but probably Admiralty work has increased about 50 per cent. since the beginning of the war. The reasons for that are clear. Sailing without lights, sailing in convoy, and war conditions generally, inevitably create more accidents and other problems—insurance problems and so on—from which Admiralty cases may arise. Therefore, without further words I feel that I have satisfied the House that the case for the 897 filling of this vacancy is made out. But I should like to add this: In the King's Bench Division there is the same procedure. Before the war there were 19 judges and if there was one vacancy the number went down to 18 and if there were two vacancies it went down to 17, but those vacancies could not be filled except by coming to this House and getting a Resolution. Before the war started there were 19 King's Bench Division judges in addition to the Lord Chief Justice. The number has sunk to 17, but my Noble Friend has not come to the House to ask for the filling up of the vacancies, although in the Court of Appeal two vacancies have not been filled, and the House is aware that some of the judges have been spared to do committee work of various kinds. But in this case we think there are adequate grounds why in the Divorce and Admiralty Division the vacancy should be filled, and I ask the House to pass the Resolution.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
That an humble Address be presented to His Majesty representing that the state of business in the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division requires that a vacancy in the number of puisne judges of that Division should be filled, and praying that His Majesty will be graciously pleased to fill such Vacancy accordingly, in pursuance of the Supreme Court of Judicature (Amendment) Act, 1937.
§ To be presented by Privy Councillors or Members of His Majesty's Household.