§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.35 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Hartley Shawcross)
I beg to move, " That the Bill be now read a Second time."
This is a modest and I apprehend, an entirely non-controversial, but, I think, an important Bill. It makes provision for the possible appointment of up to six additional judges in the High Court and up to five additional judges in the county courts. It is, no doubt in some ways a serious matter to increase the number of judges, but I make no apology at all for the present Bill, unless it be to anyone who thinks that its provisions are perhaps a little overdue. I have no hesitation whatever in saying that the proper administration of justice in the civil courts and in the criminal courts now necessitates an increase in judicial strength.
There are three propositions which I think everybody, on both sides of the House, will agree are axiomatic in our administration of justice; first, that justice should not be delayed or tarried to any man; secondly, that, on the other hand, when cases have at last come to be tried they should not be tried with any sense or feeling of pressure or lack of time; thirdly, the proposition to which I personally and, I think, at least the whole of the legal profession attach importance, that judges' work ought to be done by judges and not by substitutes who, however good they may be, and usually are, do not seem to litigants to occupy the same status as His Majesty's judges and sometimes appear to litigants to be administering a kind of second-class justice which, of course, does not exist in our system.
Unfortunately, in these years since the war our judicial machine has been unable to comply with these elementary requirements and the time has now come to enable the Bench to be strengthened so that our judicial system, of which we are rightly proud, may again be able to work to maximum efficiency. In commending this proposal to the House, I do not want it to be thought that the required increase in the number of judges 1699 necessarily shows that the nation is becoming less law-abiding, more litigious, or more criminal.
There has certainly been a serious increase in crime, and there is no room for complacency about that. But the plain fact is that the nation is also becoming more numerous. In 1871 there were 18 judges in the three Common Law Courts which are now united together in the King's Bench Division of the High Court. These are the judges who deal with the criminal cases and the generality of the civil work. Today there are only 20. In 1871 there were 60 county court judges; there are 60 today. But in 1871 the population of the country was 22 million and today it is 43i million. It would not be surprising or altogether a ground for dismay that a few additional judges might well be required in order adequately to conduct the judicial business of the country.
On the other hand, it is true that in more recent years the number of cases to be tried has greatly increased. That is true not only on the criminal side but on the civil side as well. I do not know the reasons or whether it would be use- ful to canvass them. The growing complexity of modern life; the fates and chances resulting from greater mechanisation in industry; the greater use of motor vehicles; because a very large proportion of these actions in the courts are actions for damages for negligence; a greater awareness of legal rights and perhaps a greater ability to take advantage of legal rights —all these things, and I imagine many others as well, have tended to increase considerably the volume of civil litigation.
On the first day of the Easter Term in 1937 there were 655 cases set down in the King's Bench Division for trial. The number dropped during the war. It has since risen; in 1948 there were 1,000, and this year there were at the beginning of this term 1,215 cases, an increase of about double compared with 1937. On the criminal side the position is of course one in which the serious increase gives rise to important social implications. In 1938, there were 2,700 cases tried on indictment, that is either at the Old Bailey or at the various assize towns. In 1948 the number of indictable cases had risen to 4,678.
1700 In 1938 the judges occupied 692 days in trying criminal cases on circuit. In 1949 they occupied 1,019 days, and in the same period there was an increase of —if I may use the expression-183 judge days in the Court of Criminal Appeal. I agree that it is an objectionable phrase but it is one which has high authority.
§ Mr. John Foster (Northwich)
Is a " judge day " a day of five hours or does it include days on which a judge may sit for nine hours?
§ The Attorney-General
No. I shall later refer to the extra length of sittings, which is a very serious consideration. The Court of Criminal Appeal is now sitting almost continuously. Again, today—I have just come from there— they have a Divisional Court of five judges. That will sit again tomorrow, I think, and for the rest of the week they have been sitting as the ordinary court of three judges. When the judges are on circuit and the Court of Criminal Appeal or the Divisional Court are sitting, either with three judges or the full court of five, it means that there are very few judges left to do the civil work in London.
On the civil side there is no reason to think, and some lawyers will possibly take the view that there is no occasion to hope, that litigation is likely to diminish. On the criminal side, on the other hand, I have expressed a hope that there is good reason to expect that the figures have passed their peak, and that the amount of criminal work which will fall upon the judges may be expected to diminish. I am certainly not suggesting that one of the ways of preventing crime is to appoint more judges; they deal with the end result. The place to prevent crime is in the schools, the homes and youth organisations. But the extent of crime at present has undoubtedly imposed a heavy burden on the judges which has prevented them from carrying out to the full their functions on the civil side.
Any diminution there may be, and which we hope there will be, in the amount of criminal work at the Old Bailey and the assizes, is certainly likely to be counterbalanced by increases in civil litigation. which, having dropped 1701 right down during the war, is now steadily building up again to much higher figures. For instance, the number of long non- jury cases which were set down at the beginning of the Easter Term in 1948 was only 168, but this term the figure has increased to 707, which is a most astonishing increase. One would expect that when the provisions of the Legal Aid and Advice Act come into operation in October this year this tendency towards an increase in civil litigation, certainly in the Divorce Court and probably in the ordinary civil courts of the High Court, will continue.
That situation has had a number of unfortunate results. There has in the first place been a much greater time lag between the setting down of cases for trial and their coming on for actual trial before the court. In 1946, when imme- diately after the war the civil lists were light, there was a lapse of only about six weeks on the average between a case being set down in London and actually being tried. The period between setting down and trial is now sometimes as long as eight or nine months. On circuit, on the other hand—a great deal of the civil work is now conducted in the various assize towns—the position is often that too many, some would say, far too many, cases are included in the daily list, with the result that litigants are induced to settle cases which ought really to have been fought. They are induced for one reason or another, either because the cases are put in sooner than they expected, or because they cannot afford to wait day after day until their case comes on to be heard, or for other reasons arising from the overcrowding of the list.
Another consequence, an unfortunate one, is that judges and juries in the various assize towns are having to sit late, too late. They often have to sit until seven or eight o'clock at night, and sometimes even later. That is a practice which is really most inimical to justice, but which on the other hand cannot be avoided under our existing arrangements if the courts are to get through the work. I shall have something more to say shortly about this question of sitting late, but I think there is general agreement in the House that there is a limit of time beyond which it is not wise for courts to sit or for litigants, witnesses or counsel to be put to the strain of being constantly on the alert in the conduct of their cases.
1702 Moreover—and this is another matter on which on other occasions as head of the Bar and in an independent position I have expressed a strong view it has been necessary for the Lord Chancellor as a regular expedient to appoint commissioners of assize to travel the various circuits and take cases which in normal conditions would be taken by the judges themselves. The House will be aware that it has very long been the practice in exceptional cases, where something unexpected has happened—perhaps the judge has become ill or something of the sort or where there is an emergency of one kind or another—to appoint one of the " silks " travelling the circuit to sit as a commissioner for a day or two in order to deal with an emergency situation.
But the practice which has had to be followed in these last few years—and the Lord Chancellor had no alternative with regard to it—has been to appoint commissioners as a matter of regular course. Last year the Lord Chancellor had to appoint 15 commissioners, who sat on no less than 283 days. These gentlemen, not I think usually practising members of the English Bar, have been good enough to discharge this important public duty, and I do not want it to be thought that in any comment I am making about the practice I am making the least criticism of the way in which commissioners have discharged their duties. On the contrary, we are most grateful to them for the assistance which they have given in the administration of justice.
The point is and this is the serious and substantial point as I see it—that they have been doing judge's work and that judge's work ought to be done by judges. There is a wide-spread, strong and, I think, a justifiable objection, both in the legal profession and amongst litigants to a system which, as a regular thing, results in cases being dealt with by commissioners instead of by judges.
Rather a similar situation has arisen in the county courts. In 1949 the number of county court judges was the same as it was in 1871 when our population was about half what it is now and it has fluctuated very little in the period in between. In 1949 the county court judges found themselves considerably overburdened with work. The result was that deputy county court judges had to be appointed to sit on 133 occasions 1703 to relieve the congestion. That is the number of occasions on which they sat; not because a judge was ill or there was some special emergency of that kind—those cases are to be counted in addition—but on 133 occasions a deputy had to be appointed in order to try to relieve the lists.
The congestion in the county courts is very well illustrated by the fact that in 1949, 1,335 cases had to be adjourned for want of time, compared with only 127 cases in 1946. That seems to me to be an intolerable position from the point of view of litigants, and I will say a word or two more about that in another connection when we come to consider the number of judges now required.
As the House will be aware, not only are the county court judges at present over burdened, but the committee which is inquiring into the organisation of courts under Lord Justice Evershed—I forget the exact title, the Evershed Committee as it is generally known—
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller (Northants, South)
It is the Committee on Supreme Court Practice and Procedure.
§ The Attorney-General
I am obliged to the hon. and learned Gentleman. That committee has recommended that there should be substantial increases in the jurisdiction of county courts. They have suggested, moreover, other alterations in practice and procedure which will tend to increase the use of the county court to the relief of the High Court. It seems to me a most desirable thing that when opportunity affords in Parliament so far as legislation is necessary that should be done.
The county court is a most important court. It is the people's court in the best and the good sense of that word. It is a court—and I am using the word in that sense and not in any other sense—presided over by one of His Majesty's Judges, but it is a court which is readily accessible to the people; which is reasonably informal in its procedure; in which it is not essential, although no doubt desirable, to employ lawyers, and in which the costs are really not great. It is a court presided over by shrewd and kindly men, who get to know the habits and the social circumstances of the areas 1704 within their jurisdiction; and who administer justice, not from great Olympian heights, but in close contact with the people with whose cases they are dealing. I regard it as a most important court. and anything that can be done to improve its practice and procedure and to simplify and make it more readily available is, I think, good.
In the result, we think it necessary to ask for power to appoint a maximum of six additional judges in the High Court; two of them will certainly be required immediately. Indeed, expressing my own personal view, I do not think we shall be able to cope satisfactorily with the existing situation until four new appointments have been made. No doubt there will normally have to be three judges going the Northern Circuit. There is a great deal of heavy work on that circuit which means one additional judge going on that circuit in place of a commissioner. On parts at any rate of the North-Eastern circuit an additional judge will be required, and if four are now appointed that will leave two extra. Sometimes they may be in London, where, as I have said, the strength is very low, especially when the Court of Criminal appeal or the Divisional Court is sitting, and sometimes they may lend a hand elsewhere—in any circuit town where the list happens to be particularly heavy.
Some day, and I hope myself that it will not be too far distant, this House will have to consider, if it is a matter for legislation—I am not sure that it is, perhaps I should have said we shall have to consider—whether it is possible to implement the recommendations which the Evershed Committee have already made, of having a system of fixed dates for trials. I do not think it should baffle the ingenuity of man, certainly not of lawyers, to establish some system which makes it possible to fix dates some time in advance; so that litigants, witnesses, and counsel can make their plans accordingly. But that does require a margin of additional manpower.
Hitherto, we have always proceeded on the assumption that the one important thing in our judicial arrangements was that the time of the judge must be fully occupied; that nothing must be allowed to occur which enabled the judge to rise before four o'clock in the afternoon. The result has been that cases have been brought into the list, often at short notice, 1705 and have been kept in the list for several days before they have been reached in order to guard against the risk that a judge may not be fully occupied; because earlier cases turned out to be shorter than was expected, or because they were settled.
An illustration of that is the 1,300-odd adjournments for want of time in the county courts. I have no comparable figures for the High Court, but every practising lawyer and most litigants are familiar with the fact that often cases are put in the list two, three and sometimes four days before they actually come to be reached; and every practising lawyer and most litigants know the frustration and expense of having their cases put in the list a considerable time before the court is really ready to try them.
That seems to me to be a position which is really quite intolerable in existing circumstances. It should be possible, as a general rule, for cases to be tried on the day when they are listed. If, in the result, judges occasionally find that, owing to cases being settled or cases taking less time than they were expected to take, they are able to rise at mid-day, then we must rejoice with them in the possibility of their going off to play a game of golf, or, if I may be so vulgar, going to the pictures, or even perhaps occasionally reading the decisions of their learned brethren.
The cost to the Treasury of making the necessary appointments to enable the system of fixed days to be operated, as I hope it will be, will, I think, be quite insignificant in comparison with the time and money which will be saved, and which litigation now involves to the actual liti- gants who are brought to court before their cases are ready to be tried because there are other cases in front of them in the list. When that system comes into operation, it will certainly be necessary to appoint the two additional judges for which this total of a maximum of six provides. That is why, although we may only appoint two, or probably four, at the moment, we seek power to have six so that we can make the additional appoint- ments contemporaneously with bringing into operation a scheme for fixed dates for trial, at any rate in London.
In the county court we are asking for only five additional judges. Two more will be required immediately to deal with 1706 the situation in London, and the possible three others may be needed to add to the strength in different parts of the provinces. The Lord Chancelor will certainly only make the appointments if it is clear that they are needed, but I have explained to the House that the congestion in the county courts is already considerable and there is the prospect of increasing jurisdiction.
It is suggested sometimes that the problem of congestion in the courts could be solved by working longer hours and having shorter vacations. In fact, the vacations have been shortened and the judges are, every day, sitting for much longer hours. We ought to be grateful to them for that. Although their salaries have remained the same for 100 years, and are now quite out of conformity with what is sometimes called the salaries structure of the country and certainly ill-reflect the status and independence of the judicial office, none the less the judges have cooperated fully in doing their utmost to cope with the vastly increased volume of work.
Although I express my personal view as to their salaries, I am not suggesting, of course, that they could be raised at this moment. This is a time demanding great sacrifice and restraint from everybody, as I know His Majesty's judges appreciate. When things get easier, there are others—the railwayman with £4 10s. a week, the teacher who is paid less than the policeman, and people in that condition—who may be entitled to prior consideration. But the fact is that their salaries have remained what they are for a very long time indeed. We ought to be grateful to the judges, as I am sure we are, and it is right that we should express our gratitude, for the fact that they have made great efforts to enable the existing judicial machine to work smoothly, in spite of the fact that it has been most heavily overloaded in the past few years. In doing that, they have maintained the high reputation of our courts.
The solution is certainly not longer hours. I think everybody who has considered this matter—and it has been carefully considered before the Evershed Committee—has agreed that a sitting of four-and-a-half to five hours is as much as any judge, litigant, witness or counsel can stand if justice itself is not to suffer. The 1707 strain of four or five hours of being constantly on the alert, listening, if one is a judge, quietly and without too much interruption, to what is going on and taking it all in, is really a very considerable mental strain. It is also a strain for witnesses, litigants and counsel.
§ The Attorney-General
And certainly for juries who have to sit there without even the occasional relaxation of being able to interrupt the proceedings by putting a question or a point to counsel. Juries sit under very great strain when, sometimes up to seven or eight o'clock at night, they are trying difficult cases. That seems to me a system which is inconsistent with proper trial and the due administration of justice. Longer hours is not the solution.
On the other hand, I do not think that the solution is even shorter vacations. The legal profession certainly, particularly the solicitors' branch of it, is opposed to the idea that the vacations should be reduced. I want to dispel in a sentence the popular impression which possibly exists that during the legal vacation members of the legal profession all go away to the South of France on holiday. Litigation in the courts is not the only work which has to be done by members of the legal profession. The vacation, at any rate for the solicitors' branch, provides the time when non-litigious business can be undertaken and litigious work can be prepared.
There is no doubt that the only solution is the one that we have proposed, involving a modest but reasonable increase in judicial strength. Accordingly, I commend this Bill to the House. Its passage and implementation will do much to make the law the better to serve the citizen, which is its proper function in a civilised society.
§ 4.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller (Northants, South)
In order to relieve the Chief Patronage Secretary from that anxiety which perpetually afflicts him in this Parliament, may I say straight away that we welcome this Bill and, of course, shall not divide against it? The right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General has made out a very strong case for more High Court judges. That case has existed 1708 for a considerable time. We are glad that this Bill has now been introduced. I do not think it is putting it too high to say that in recent years the administration of justice could scarcely have been carried on satisfactorily without the great assistance given by commissioners, both those trying divorce cases and commissioners of assize.
I agree with what the right hon. and learned Gentleman said about the regular practice of employing commissioners. It is wrong and, while the individual commissioners are deserving of thanks and gratitude for what they have done to help in this situation, and while I do not wish any words of mine to imply any criticism of those who have acted, I must say that I hope that one consequence of this Measure will be that the regular practice of the appointment of commissioners will soon—very soon—cease.
I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman that persons who have their cases entered for the High Court, whether they are divorce cases or other kinds of cases, and who find them being tried by a commissioner and not by a High Court judge, get the impression of obtaining second-class justice. Of course, I do not think that they do, but that is their impression. It is an impression which, perhaps, is sometimes enhanced by the amenities of the particular court in which the commissioners function. Perhaps " bargain basement " justice would be a more accurate description in some cases.
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
That impression, with which they leave the court, is speedily corrected when they get the bill of costs from the solicitor.
Those observations of mine, which I made primarily regarding commissioners sitting in London, equally apply with regard to commissioners of assize, and I think that it is particularly unfortunate when we have a commissioner of assize who is trying serious indictable offences. I think a visit from a " red judge " has a deterrent effect which the visit of a commissioner of assize does not have, and I hope that, in these times, great attention will be paid 1709 to the avoidance of the appointment of commissioners of assize wherever possible.
After all, if a commissioner is good enough to do the work of a judge, he should be appointed a judge, and, if he is not good enough to do the work of a judge, he certainly should not be appointed a commissioner. Indeed, I would say that the only case which really exists for the appointment of commissioners is that where there is, say, a sudden illness on circuit of a judge of assize, or where someone is being tried out with a view to his appointment as a judge. As a regular practice, I think it is most regrettable, but it has had to be adopted, as the learned Attorney-General has indicated, for a considerable period in the last few years.
I must say that there was one part of the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman which caused me some anxiety. This Bill takes power to create six more High Court judges. The right hon. and learned Gentleman made out a very strong case for this Bill, but then indicated that the present intention was to appoint only two more High Court judges. I say quite frankly that I do not think that that will be a large enough number to alleviate the situation. I do not believe that it will be a large enough number to avoid the necessity of sending commissioners regularly on assize. I do not believe it will be a large enough number to avoid the necessity of the appointment of commissioners to try defended divorce cases, and I hope that the time may soon come when defended divorce cases cease to be tried by commissioners. I note that the Lord Chief Justice has expressed the view—
§ Mr. Scholefield Allen
When making that remark, does the hon. and learned Gentleman mean to include county court judges who are acting as commissioners trying divorce cases?
§ Mr. Manningham-Buller
No, I do not. There are others who are not county court judges but who are trying defended divorce cases. I do not wish to make any personal criticism, but I think it is quite wrong that they should sit day after day trying defended divorce cases of great importance to the litigants concerned.
The Lord Chief Justice has expressed the view that the smallest number which 1710 would meet the requirements of the situation at the present time is four, and I see from the Interim Report of the Committee on Supreme Court Practice and Procedure that it is stated that three extra judges are required in London, and three more on circuit, making a total of six. Then the Committee go on to say that—the equivalent of two judges would be secured by the adoption of our recommendation for shortening the vacations and increasing the hours of work in London.Both these recommendations have been adopted. The courts now sit later in the afternoon, to the greater inconvenience of those who have to come from the courts to this House, which is unavoidable, and the long vacation has been shortened. Therefore, one finds that the Lord Chief Justice is saying that four judges are required now, it is also the considered view of the Evershed Committee; and I certainly express my view, for what it is worth, that nothing fewer than four will achieve the object stated by the learned Attorney-General, which has met with support from both sides of this House. Indeed, my doubt is whether four will be really sufficient at the present time. I think that four more judges would enable us to avoid the appointment as a regular practice of commissioners, but I doubt very much whether it would give us one spare judge—I nearly used the phrase " judge power," following the bad example set by the right hon. and learned Gentleman, but I avoided it —which will be required if this programme is to be started and any progress made with it.
It is of vital importance that steps should be taken to implement the recommendations of the Evershed Committee with regard to fixing dates for trials. I agree with the right hon. and learned Gentleman on that subject, and I would draw attention to the view expressed by the Joint Committee of the Bar Council and the Law Society on that subject. They said that no single step would be likely to achieve greater results in reducing the cost of litigation, and I entirely agree with them. My feeling is that, if the powers given by this Bill are used only to create two more judges, it really means that more time will have to elapse before progress is made with regard to fixing the dates of trials.
1711 In this connection, one must have regard to one further fact, which I do not think the right hon. and learned Gentle- man mentioned, and that is the practice —I am not sure that it is not a growing practice—of asking the judges to take on extra judicial duties, either as chairmen of tribunals or committees, duties which occupy a great deal of their time and which sometimes mean that they are un- able to sit in court on particular days. In considering whether two or more appointments should be made, that ought to be taken into account.
This Bill is concerned only with the numbers of judges, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman made some observa- tions with regard to the salaries of His Majesty's judges. I agree with what he said in drawing attention to their in- adequacy, but I do not think that the Second Reading of this Bill is the right time to debate that subject, and I there- fore propose to reserve my observations upon the inadequacy of judges' remunera- tion to a future occasion. I do assert, however, that a strong case for the revi- sion of their remuneration now exists, and I think the same applies in perhaps a lesser degree to county court judges. The right hon. and learned Gentleman pointed out that the maximum number of county court judges now is precisely what it was in 1871, when the population of the country was half what it is today. Again, I think the practice of regular appoint- ments of deputies to the county court judges is to be deplored. I am a little intrigued to know why the maximum number of the increase in county court judges was limited to five, while that for High Court judges was put at six, but I really would not press that minor point.
I believe that the appointment of more judges, both in the High Court and in the county courts, should mean a speeding- up of the hearing of cases, to the great advantage of the administration of justice and to the benefit of all who have the misfortune to have to bring matters before the courts of our country. For these reasons, I welcome the Bill.
§ 4.19 p.m.
§ Mr. Scholefield Allen (Crewe)
I have little knowledge of the situation in regard to the Chancery Division or of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division, but I have some knowledge of how things 1712 are proceeding in the King's Bench Division, and particularly with regard to the administration of justice on circuit, more especially on the Northern Circuit. As the hon. and learned Gentleman has rightly said, it is of supreme importance that justice should not be long delayed. At the moment, that excellent advice is certainly not being carried out on circuit. The trial of civil actions on the Northern Circuit is being delayed far too long. In pre-war days, as the hon. and learned Gentleman will know, we had two judges on the Northern Circuit, one the " red judge " doing criminal work and the other doing civil work. It was the normal thing to have three- or four-week assizes alternating, and in those days, without exception, the " red judge " finished his work after about the tenth day, or certainly after the first fortnight, and thereafter there were two judges doing civil work at Liverpool and Manchester.
The result was that one had six working weeks of judicial time at Liverpool and Manchester devoted to civil cases. I do not know whether the non-legal Members of this House are aware of the fact, but that is no longer the case at either Liverpool or Manchester. Indeed, during the last few assizes, instead of the civil judge getting help from the " red judge," he actually sat for periods of well over a week, and sometimes for a fortnight, assisting the " red judge." The position, therefore, is that the civil work is lagging behind.
There has been a large increase in crime in the last few years, and this has resulted in a great deal of discussion from the social point of view, but its effect upon the administration of justice has hardly been discussed at all. The judges have spent nearly 50 per cent. more time on criminal work in the last few years than they spent before the war. It is unfortunate that that condition has now existed in Liverpool and Manchester for over two years. After my last three visits to the Northern Circuit I considered that I should speak personally to my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General on this subject. I pointed out in detail exactly what had been happening on the Northern Circuit, and I think he agreed that the position was not all that it should be. Therefore, we must, as he has said, have another judge at Liverpool and Manchester.
1713 I have heard it suggested by those who do not take part in the administration of justice, or who are perhaps qualified but non-practising lawyers, that we ought to sit longer hours. At assizes, we almost invariably sit long hours. Last December, one of the judges at the Manchester Assize sat on a case in which I was concerned every day from the Tuesday to the Friday until 7 or 7.30 p.m., and then sat on Saturday as well.
It is no unusual thing—again, as the hon. and learned Member knows—for Saturdays on the Northern Circuit to be occupied by criminal and civil cases. Very often the layman looks at the time of the sitting of the court, which is 10.30, and, if he himself starts work at, say, 8.30 or 9 o'clock, considers that rather a late hour for judges to commence their work. But one has to remember that a great deal has to go on before 10.30 in the morning. On circuit, conferences and consultations often start as early as 9 o'clock, and sometimes even earlier, and if one has four or five cases with which to deal, even starting at that early hour it allows less than half an hour per consultation, which is barely sufficient.
Indeed, sitting at 10.30 a.m. gives little enough time, and if the judge sits late in the evening, the opportunity of seeing clients and having consultations with solicitors after the court rises, disappears. Furthermore, the work does not finish when the court rises because the next day those engaged in litigation have of course to read their briefs.
§ Mr. Scholefield Allen
It is not surprising, however, that this congestion exists when we remember that there are the same number of judges—or perhaps one more in the King's Bench Division today as there were 80 years ago when the population was half what it is today.
There is another aspect of the matter which I do not think has so far been mentioned. In 1907, the Court of Criminal Appeal was established, and from that date onwards that court frequently had three judges sitting together several days a week. At the present time, owing to the large number of criminal appeals consequent upon the larger amount of crime, that court is sitting even longer, and there has been 1714 no real access of judicial strength to make up for the great amount of extra work.
I could not agree more wholeheartedly with what has been said from both sides of the House with regard to the appoint. ment of commissioners. However admirable these gentlemen may be, they are not popular with litigants. Whether they are popular with solicitors, I cannot say.
§ Mr. Scholefield Allen
I hear someone murmuring, " They are not," and they are certainly not popular with litigants. Many a litigant has said to me, " I want the real judge," the implication being that the commissioner is not a real judge, and in some senses he is not. It is true that he is judging a case, but he is not one of His Majesty's judges learned in the law. and many litigants think that they are getting a second-class deal. Therefore, as I say, I support what has been said on both sides that the appointment of commissioners, except in emergency, is not a good practice, should not be a general practice, and should cease as soon as possible.
I believe that the reform of all reforms long overdue in our legal system is the reform of fixing days for the trial of civil actions. This was one of the chief recommendations of the Evershed Committee. and it is particularly desirable at assizes. I remember one case within the last 12 months—and my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne will probably remember it too—which was put in the list on Monday. The litigants and the witnesses came from a farm and farm cottages in the country some miles from Preston. Those people had to rise at 5 a.m. in order to begin their journey on foot, to take a bus ride, get a train from Preston to Liverpool, and get to the court at 10.30. They did that journey on the Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday, and even then their case was not reached.
That is the kind of thing that has been happening. It is perhaps an exaggerated case, but it is not uncommon for a case to be in the list for two, three or three and a half days before it is reached. The corridors of St. George's Hall in Liverpool, where the judges sit, is something like the Division Lobby on a night when the Conservative Party come from a cave 1715 in order to attempt to defeat the Government. I am not exaggerating when I say that, on occasion, it is almost impossible to walk up and down the corridor. As we get to the end of the assize there are 17, 18, or 19 cases put in the list and all the parties on each side troop up and down that corridor waiting, waiting, waiting. One cannot blame the judges when one considers the pressure of work that exists today, but I believe the object, or one object, is to try to force settlements. It is a very successful way of forcing settlements, but it is a most undesirable thing.
One reform that is necessary is the Evershed reform—the fixing of days for trial. It must necessarily waste judicial time, but I believe that would be offset by a much greater saving of time by counsel, solicitors, doctors, expert witnesses, business men and witnesses who have no interest in the litigation except that they actually observed some accident or were dragged into it. Thousands of pounds a day are wasted in the corridors of St. George's Hall. But we must have these crowded lists as long as we have this shortage of judges and we do not have fixed days.
I am sorry to see that it is stated in the Financial Memorandum to the Bill:It is unlikely that more than two such appointments will be required immediately.I am certain that four—I would say six —judges are necessary today if this essential reform of fixing days is to be carried out. It will cost more to the Treasury but we have a kind-hearted lawyer there now. We have my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer who has had experience in these matters. Without much argument from the Lord Chancellor or the Attorney-General he ought to be able to appreciate that this reform, though it would cost the Treasury more, would save the community hundreds of thousands of pounds a year. That is a consideration which should be offset against what, after all, is a paltry sum in our vast Budget expenditure. I hope that, armed with this Bill, the Lord Chancellor will press on to achieve immediately this most desirable reform.
§ 4.33 p.m.
§ Sir Arnold Gridley (Stockport, South)
I would hardly have ventured to intervene in this Debate but for the fact that 1716 I am one of the very few laymen serving on the Evershed Committee. We have sat now for nearly two and a half years. I think our various meetings total between 250 and 270 and, so far as I can see at the moment, it will be some considerable time before we ultimately finish our deliberations and present our final report. As a layman I am very conscious of the fact that I have contributed very little of value to the proceedings of that Comimttee. On the other hand, I have learned a very great deal about legal proceedings of which I never had knowledge before.
There is one point which the Attorney-General did not touch upon today, but to which I attach importance when we consider the number of judges that the Lord Chancellor should have it within his power to appoint. If I am correct in my memory, I believe it to be a fact that there are certain assize towns which are visited annually by one judge. He has to try both the criminal and the civil cases. If there is a large number of criminal cases, the civil list may not be completed. The unfortunate litigants find that the proceedings have to be carried over from one assize to another, which means very serious delay and considerably increased cost. If that difficulty which persists today is to be overcome, it is obvious that more judges will be required to cope with the work. It would certainly be very beneficial if two judges were sent to an assize, one to deal with criminal business and the other to deal with the civil cases.
We have taken a mass of evidence from all who could possibly contribute to the solution of the problems set before the Evershed Committee. We have also had the advantage on one occasion of obtaining the views of the Attorney-General himself. Perhaps that is one reason why we are having this Bill so soon after the Interim Report. It is certainly urgent that more judges should be appointed. They are working long hours, longer hours than the Attorney-General himself thinks desirable, and they should be relieved. They cannot possibly be relieved until more " judge strength," if I may use that term, is available.
I hope that one difficulty, which has yet to be faced, namely, the lack of adequate assize court accommodation will not necessarily deter the Lord Chancellor 1717 from appointing at least four judges without undue delay. According to the evidence we have received from all over the country, it does seem that not only will there have to be more judges, but more assize court accommodation must be made available. That is a matter which ought to receive urgent attention. At present, some of our temporary law courts are hardly appropriate buildings in which the proceedings of the High Court should be conducted, but we have to do the best we can in the abnormal circumstances of today.
I agree wholeheartedly with every word that has been said about the immense value of introducing the fixed day system wherever practicable. We have received overwhelming evidence to the effect that if only that could be introduced in civil cases—it may not be possible in criminal cases—it would be one of the best methods of reducing the cost of litigation to the litigant.
I do not think that at this stage I have anything further to say on this Bill, and I imagine there will be no difference of view about the Bill in any quarter of the House. It is an urgent necessity. The fact that the parties are so equally divided in the House is perhaps one reason why there is this early opportunity of bringing forward a non-controversial Measure. I hope a Second Reading will be given to it promptly.
§ 4.40 p.m.
§ Mr. E. L. Mallalieu (Brigg)
I think it is plain from what has already been said that His Majesty's judges are by no means among the least overworked of the sections of our community. Reference has already been made to the fact that they have been sitting late hours. I know that in this House where hon. Members are not unaccustomed to having all-night sittings, it may be thought that the same procedure might be followed in a court of law. But that is quite impossible with the judge, the legal profession and, indeed, the jurors working at high pressure the whole time.
Even if there were a lingering suspicion that increased hours might effect some saving or give some benefit to the administration of justice in the courts, I think it would be a good thing for this House to pay attention to decisions in the Court of Criminal Appeal where this practice of sitting late hours has recently been criticised as having led already to very bad 1718 results in the administration of justice. Along that line I entirely agree with hon. Members who have spoken before me that there is no possible progress.
The strain on the judiciary has been to a large extent lessened by the system of appointing commissioners to which reference has already been made. Not only is there high judicial authority against this practice; not only is it undoubtedly true that litigants think they have had the the second best when they had a commissioner, but the gentlemen themselves who act as commissioners, as is shown in the evidence in the Interim Report of the Evershed Committee, realise that this system of commissioners is a bad system. It is obviously not easy to act one moment as a judge and the next moment as advocate, doing a sort of " Cox and Box " affair. It is not going to be in keeping with the dignity of the bench if that sort of system is allowed to be carried on.
I know that some fear has been expressed that if the number of judges is increased there might be some dilution of quality on the bench. In my submission, there is little that can be said for that argument, but if there is anything at all to be said for it surely when applied to the system of commissioners. If they are part-time judges it may well be that the standard, through no fault of their own, will be diluted if they were used in any numbers.
I was interested to hear the Attorney-General refer to the possibility of an increased strain on the judiciary as a result of the passage of the Legal Aid Act. Our justice, of which we have been so proud for so long, is now to be brought to the door of every home, certainly to the poorest. It may be that there is a level of income where our judicial system will still not be very freely accessible, but at any rate it is to be brought to an increased number of homes, and certainly to the poorest, and I imagine that it would be in the county courts where this extra strain would be felt even more than in the High Court.
It is unfortunate that it should be impossible—I admit it is impossible at the moment—when increasing the numbers of the judges to increase also their emoluments. After all, they were settled long ago in the last century, and 10 per cent. was taken off those salaries when the civil servants had to suffer a cut of 1719 10 per cent., although judges are not civil servants. I now understand that the higher ranges of civil servants are awaiting an increase in salary, and I suppose the judges will have to wait until these Civil Service salaries are raised.
§ The Attorney-General
If I may interrupt my hon. Friend, I think he is under a misapprehension. That cut was restored.
§ Mr. Mallalieu
My right hon. and learned Friend is quite right. The cut was restored. But now there is talk of an increase in the salaries of the higher grade civil servants. I believe the justice of their case has been recognised, and they are waiting until such time as the national finances will make it possible to grant that increase. I understand that the Civil Service salaries were very much smaller 100 years ago than they are today. Yet that cannot be said of judges' salaries. It is a pity, therefore, that it is impossible at this stage to discuss a Measure which would give such better reward as would remove a long-standing grievance in the judiciary.
I believe there is little fear of a dilution in the ability of the judicial bench if the numbers of the judges are increased. We need not necessarily go into biological speculations as to whether intelligence and ability are lowered when the population increases. If that is so, I suppose it is probable that the intelligence and ability of the judges would be lowered at the same time as that of the rest of the population, but I do not think we need worry about that at the moment because there are undoubtedly so many more people from whom to choose the judges than there were before.
Therefore, I think we can assume that there would be just as high a standard of ability as ever before on the judicial bench, even though the numbers of the judges are increased. In any case, I think we can say without fear of contradiction that since 1945, and probably long before then, there have always been the happiest of appointments to the bench whenever it has been necessary to fill vacancies. I think this House can leave it to whatever Lord Chancellor may be in power and to the general standard at the Bar to see that that standard is maintained in the future.
§ 4.46 p.m.
§ Sir Herbert Williams (Croydon, East)
As one who in no sense is connected with the law and who has never been a litigant, I have listened with interest to this Debate. It has always amazed me that the law has been conducted so inefficiently. We now have this new idea that we should fix the date at which something is going to happen. I cannot understand why this was not done many years ago. I remember some years ago reading a speech by Sir Rufus Isaacs, who I think was then holding the same office as the right hon. and learned Gentleman who is in charge of this Bill. Speaking at the annual meeting of the Bar, he used words to this effect, " A delay in justice is a denial of justice." Those delays certainly exist. There are many people who do not risk going to law because of the delays and the great cost incurred when proceedings do not take place on a known date.
Therefore, while I rejoice that we are going to increase the number of judges, it seems to me that the Attorney-General has roared like a lion and is only bringing forth two little mice. Why should there not be an arrangement whereby two judges will be able to play golf—
§ Sir H. Williams
Why should not they play golf? If there is no particular work for them on a certain day, who is going to mind if they play golf? The Attorney-General himself referred to golf, and I think it is a very sound idea. Every time a Bill has been brought before Parliament to change the number of judges there has been hesitancy and fear lest there should get around som: idea of " jobs for the boys," although this Government is not terrified by that any more, because it is hardened to the idea. This reform should be brought about. l' is monstrous that there should be cases waiting for decisions, with everything ready except a room and a judge to preside over the proceedings.
Reference has been made to judges' salaries. The Attorney-General said that it is 100 years since the present salaries were fixed. Let me take the House back to 1914 and examine the situation. Roughly speaking, the cost of living today is three times as great as it was in 1914.
1721 That is a reasonable comparison. High court judges got £5,000 a year. The basic rate of Income Tax on earned income was 9d. in the £. I have forgotten what the abatement was; I think it was only £70. I think that was the only allowance given to men earning over £700 a year and I am not certain whether they got any allowance at all if their income was over £700 a year. However, judges paid tax at the rate of 9d. on their £5,000 a year and had a net income of about £4,850. Today a judge will receive, net, £2,555. I am assuming that he is a married man with no dependent children.
If we convert that sum to the purchasing power of 1914 we find an income which, in terms of 1914, would be £850. In 1914 it was thought reasonable that a man should have £4,850 a year net; it enabled him to live properly and with appropriate dignity, and I think it is right that a judge should live with appropriate dignity. Quite obviously, on the present salary judges cannot do that today. The only judges I happen to know personally are those who have been Members of this honourable House. Before the war it was possible for a man at the Bar to save a little out of his income, now it is not possible.
I understand, too, that judges are not too well treated as far as their expenses are concerned while they are on circuit. I do not know the exact facts, but I do not think any judge can do a job on circuit unless he has private means in addition to his salary. The probability is that most of them are out of pocket on an income which is quite deplorable in relation to their supreme responsibilities to the community. I think that is monstrous, and I am glad that the Attorney-General mentioned the subject casually, if a little hesitantly.
We ought to pay an appropriate salary. When they fixed very high salaries for judges, our ancestors tried to make the position attractive to men of the highest ability and integrity, and unless we do that we shall come to disaster. The problem will arise in due course as to whether we shall be able to get all the judges we need. I very much doubt whether we shall. This is a serious matter. The only attraction about being a judge instead of a barrister today is the security given by the pension on retirement. It is a fact that most people suffer a substantial loss 1722 in their income on being appointed to the Bench, and the time will come when it will not be easy for the Lord Chancellor to induce able banisters to go on to the Bench. We have, therefore, to face the realities some time or another.
I have no interest in the Bar and I do not expect I shall ever have an interest in it. My only knowledge of judicial proceedings is when I go once a year to Bow Street where the magistrates fine me £1 for travelling at zero speed too long in the street. I have never been engaged in litigation in the county court or High Court, but I watch and read what happens in those courts and I am appalled by the present situation. I look upon this Bill as but a timid correction of what I regard as an abuse of our system of justice.
§ 4.53 p.m.
§ Mr. Sydney Silverman (Nelson and Colne)
It would be altogether out of character for the hon. Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) to make a non-controversial contribution to any debate, no matter how non-controversial the subject. I do not say that in criticism of him at all, because it enlivens our proceedings, but I hope he will not mind if I say, at the outset, that there are two things he said with which I profoundly disagree. One of them was also said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Crewe (Mr. Scholefield Allen), and although it was not actually said by the hon. and learned Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham-Buller), even he hinted at it.
In these days 1 do not regard the emoluments of High Court judges as inadequate. I think it is a wholly wrong view to take for one to suggest that in these days they should be increased. I realise, as other hon. Members have said, that the salaries and allowances they get were fixed a long time ago and that their relative value has diminished considerably in the meantime. But I beg hon. Members to realise that in those days, when the salaries were fixed, society tolerated a degree of disparity of income which society today would not tolerate.
As I have said before, and as the hon. Member for Croydon, East, has said very often, we cannot get a quart out of a pint pot. If we set ourselves to improve the lot of the lower paid section of our 1723 community, we have to remember that part of the cost must be borne by those who, previous to the rectification, received more than their share. If the result was that the salary of the judge was in itself inadequate, there would be a case for increasing it, but it is not inadequate; £5,000 a year is a very handsome sum. The salaries of Ministers of the Crown were fixed at about the same time—I am not sure whether it was not by the same instrument as that fixing the salaries of judges—and no one protests that the salaries of Ministers should be increased.
§ Mr. Silverman
I think the hon. Member is mistaken. The generality of salaries for senior Ministers of the Crown has not been increased, any more than the salaries of judges have been increased, and I think the House would be unanimously opposed to any proposal for increasing the salaries of senior Ministers, which was made for the same consideration as is suggested in the cases of judges.
§ Sir H. Williams
The President of the Board of Trade formerly received £2,000 a year and the President of the Board of Education received £2,000 a year. I believe the Minister of Agriculture received that, too. Junior Ministers received £1,500 a year whereas now they receive £2,000 a year. Today the Prime Minister receives £4,000 a year tax free, two houses and a motor car.
§ Mr. Silverman
I felt quite certain that the hon. Member had heard and understood what I said, although one would not realise it from the character of his interruption. I said that salaries of senior Ministers of the Government had not been increased.
§ Mr. Silverman
As I said before, generally they have not been increased; the case of the Prime Minister is the only exception. The two cases of senior Ministers to which the hon. Member for Croydon, East, referred were cases not of increases in salary but of changes of status when both those appointments were raised to the rank of senior Minister from the rank of junior Minister.
§ Mr. Silverman
Even if the exceptions which the hon. Member mentions were proved to be well-founded, it would not alter the point I was making—and I hope I have his attention because he did see fit to interrupt me. Even if I admitted his exceptions, I am sure he would agree that the point I was making was a valid one—that for the most part the salaries of Ministers of the Crown have not been increased and that the House would be unanimously opposed to any suggestion of an increase. Indeed, if it were argued, I think the case for increasing them, would be a better one than the case for increasing the salaries of judges, because of their more precarious tenure and of the fact that they do not carry the pension which the hon. Member for Croydon, East, himself said was one of the principal attractions to men when they accepted elevation to the Bench.
In days when we are struggling hard to find some equitable way—and so far failing to find it—of raising the income of the lowest paid workers, I do not think it would be an advantageous thing to begin by proposing to increase the salaries of His Majesty's judges. Nor do I think that when a man accepts an appointment to the Bench he is principally concerned with the financial advantages of doing so. even if the financial advantages were to be more real than, in fact, they are.
There is no doubt that most of these men—I do not say all of them—suffer a considerable sacrifice of income when they leave the Bar to go on to the Bench. They do it because they value some other things more. Most of them have made a good deal of money by that time. [HON. MEMBERS: " But cannot save it today."] Oh, I think most of them have made a good deal of money, all the same. However, I think that most of them are attracted by the change of sphere of activity, and they like and appreciate the honour of being appointed. They like judicial work. They regard these things as more important than the loss of financial emolument which does sometimes accompany them.
Nor would I accept the hon. Member's suggestion that we ought to increase the judges to such a number as would enable two of them to be permanently unemployed. I think that would be going 1725 too far. I can—I think the hon. Member can, too—just imagine what play he would make with any suggestion to appoint coal miners on the same principle. It would be an admirable thing that coal miners, and other people, too, should occasionally be able to have a day off from work in order to play golf. I hope the day will come when we shall be able to have such an advantage for judges and everybody else. Certainly 1 am not against it in principle. I think it is a very attractive social target to keep in view.
§ Mr. Silverman
As for the question of " jobs for the boys," which the hon. Gentleman has mentioned before, if he did not mention it on this occasion, it was because of the fact that most of the " boys " belong to his side rather than to the Government side.
The non—controversial part of the Measure—and I think everybody supports it—has for its principal object increasing the number of judges both in the High Court and in the county courts. It is quite impossible for the judicial function to be properly performed if the Bench is inadequately manned numerically, and I am inclined to agree with the criticism of the Financial Memorandum, that it is not proposed to exercise more than a third of the power which the Bill gives; that is to say, that it is not expected that more than two will be appointed to the High Court Bench immediately, rather than six. I do not know whether six are necessary. I am quite certain that two, though it will be a welcome improvement, will go only a small way towards speeding up the process of law as it ought to be speeded up.
I think something ought to be said—one says it with some diffidence because it is a difficult thing to say—about quality. We all agree that we need more judges; but we have to have the right kind of judges. I do not know how many Members agree with me, either those who practise in one or other branch of the profession, or those who have had experience as litigants, or those who.have no experience at all; but I am bound to say that, speaking for myself—I may be wrong: I hope I am—I have a quite clear 1726 conviction that the judicial quality of the Bench is not improving in our time. I do not know what the cause of it may be, and, indeed, I repeat that I may be wholly wrong, but I do form the impression myself that the judicial quality is not improving.
There are many notable exceptions. I should be out of Order in particularising and I do not want to particularise, anyhow. But there is a feeling among a great many people about the judicial quality, not merely the sense of dignity of the Bench—there is plenty of that; maybe too much of it—but the responsibility,—the sense of responsibility with which justices invade provinces which are not theirs, and sometimes almost the levity with which people sitting on the Bench will say, with all weight and seriousness and pontificality, things which do not bear analysis at all —like the learned judge the other day who said "facts speak louder than statistics."
§ Sir H. Williams
On a point of Order. Is it not out of Order to criticise His Majesty's judges except on a Humble Address to His Majesty?
Mr. Deputy—Speaker (Major Milner)
I think that that restriction, which is, of course, a very proper one, applies more particularly to the criticism of a specific judge, and not to a general discussion such as this on the Second Reading of a Bill where I gather the hon. Gentleman is giving an illustration.
§ Mr. Silverman
I used it only to illustrate the kind of thing I had in mind. I had no intention of criticising anybody. If an hon. Member addresses the House and says things by way of generalisation, such as I have said, then it is his duty, as well as his right, to indicate to the House the kind of thing which prompted him to do so.
§ Mr. Manningham—Buller
Surely it must be wrong to illustrate or seek to illustrate an argument of that character by a quotation from something some judge has said with a view to conveying an implication against that particular judge?
§ Mr. Silverman
Perhaps, I may explain. I do not want to be diverted for too long, and the last thing I want to do is to abuse the privilege that a Member of this House has in addressing it, but I think the only thing that would be out of order would be attacking the motives or the intentions or the character or the conduct of a particular judge. I am not doing that at all. I do not think it has ever been out of order, even in a specific case, to say one does not agree with a particular judgment or a particular statement, even if one identifies the judge who made it. I submit that I am perfectly within my rights, and that it is, indeed, my duty, having made a general proposition, to illustrate it by an unidentified quotation, without any reflection on the conduct or motives of the particular gentleman who made the statement. That is all I intended to say, and I do not want to take any further time on the matter. The statement to which I referred was in fact made by a High Court judge and printed in all the newspapers, and that is an illustration of the kind of irresponsible, ill—considered statements—
I understood the hon. Gentleman was not going to carry the matter any further. If there has been an offence, he is certainly making it doubly offensive.
§ Mr. Silverman
I leave it willingly. I do not want to pursue it at all. I said, when starting on this part of my speech, that I spoke with diffidence. When the House is considering, on the very rare occasions on which the House has the opportunity of considering, this question —I do not know how long it is since we had a Bill of this kind—I think the House would not be doing its duty if it did not pay some attention to quality as well as to numbers, and that is the point which I was making. I should be very interested to know whether other people in or outside the profession share my own feeling with regard to it. I say 1728 once more that I may be wholly wrong, and I hope I am wholly wrong, but my conviction is a very deep and clear one for all that.
Now, how are we to see that the quality is got—at any rate, that the quality is maintained, if hon. Members prefer to put it that way. A good deal has been said today about commissioners, and general exception has been taken to their appointment. Some of them, of course, have been people who have had very considerable judicial experience elsewhere, but no experience at home. That has led to a good deal of criticism, and I should like my right hon. and learned Friend, and perhaps the Lord Chancellor, to consider whether a system of probationary commissioners might not be a good thing to introduce into the judiciary. It very frequently happens—any lawyer can think of instances—that a man who was not very distinguished at the Bar becomes a very good judge indeed, whereas others who have been quite brilliant at the Bar have proved rather disappointing on the Bench.
The judicial quality is a very rare thing, and that I think is one of the principal reasons for opposing the increase of hours in the working day of judges sitting in courts. I do not believe it is humanly possible for any man alive to be judicial for more than five hours a day. It is very rare for any of us to achieve that quality for anything like so long. The only way in which to test whether a man has the judicial capacity or not is to try him out. When a man has been appointed to the Bench it is very difficult to do anything about it if a mistake has been made, and I am just wondering whether it might not be a very useful thing to introduce into our judicial machinery a kind of probationary appointment for a year or two years before full confirmation of membership of the High Court Bench is given.
Now I want to say a word or two about something to which nobody has referred much since the opening speech, and that is the county court judge. I entirely agree with my right hon. and learned Friend that the county court is a very important court, and that the administration of justice can be maintained or undermined more quickly in the county court than in the High Court. Far more cases are tried there; they may not be such important cases as are tried in the High Court and 1729 the amount of money in dispute may be less, but they are much closer to the people's eyes and much more important to the litigants than a great many of the cases tried in the High Courts. The qualities required of a county court judge are not less than, and I should have thought they are more than, are required of a High Court judge.
Here I agree with the remarks made about salaries. I do not think we shall get the best type of appointment to the county court bench while the disparity in salaries between the £5,000 paid to a High Court judge and the £2,000 paid to a county court judge remains. I think that there is a much stronger case for increasing the salaries of county court judges than for increasing the salaries of High Court judges. Many a good man will refuse appointment to the county court bench because he regards it as an end of his career; he thinks that if he accepts an appointment to the county court bench all hope of further judicial advancement has gone. Well, of course, by statute it has not; men can be promoted from the county court bench to the High Court Bench; there have been men who have, in fact, been promoted from the county court bench to the High Court Bench. I think the Lord Chancellor would do a great service in strengthening the standing and prestige of the county court judiciary if he did either of those things, and certainly if he could do both: raise the salaries, and make it quite clear that the road to advancement is not barred by acceptance of appointment to the county court bench.
I want to say one other thing, which I say with greater diffidence than ever. The time has gone by when appointments to the Bench should or ought to be limited to one branch of the legal profession. There was for a very long time ample justification for regarding appointment to judicial office as the monopoly of the Bar. In the days when it began and for generations afterwards, there was ample justification for that, but I do not think there is today. I think that solicitors are more in touch with the daily life of the people than most members of the Bar: their legal education is not inferior; their legal experience is not inferior; their judicial quality is not inferior; and I should have 1730 thought the time had come when, even if the general question of the fusion of the two branches is not pressed, at any rate the monopoly of one branch of it in judicial appointments might be reviewed. I throw that out as a suggestion. I think it is one that has a certain amount of urgency when considering getting the best available people for either of the Benches.
That is all I want to trouble the House with. I apologise for having been longer than I intended, although I was interrupted a little. Before sitting down, I do want to say that apart from all these criticisms, suggestions and general ideas, I heartily endorse what everybody else has endorsed—the necessity for this Bill.
§ 5.17 p.m.
§ Mr. Beverley Baxter (Southgate)
I promise to be much shorter in making my speech than the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), because, as a layman, I feel that I should speak very briefly in the presence of so many lawyers. I want to deal with one point, and one only, and that is the salaries of judges. I think we should be quite frank about this business. In the last 100 years there has been only one alteration in the salaries of judges—one short cut under the 1931 economy cuts when judge's salaries were cut with those of other civil servants. For 100 years their salary has remained the same, apart from that. If we are to get the very best men to be judges, their salaries must be considered in relation to the earnings in the whole system of law. Consider what a successful barrister will earn.
§ Mr. Baxter
I will come to journalism in a minute, but I rejoice in the fact that there are outstanding rewards for outstanding men. The present Chancellor of the Exchequer works for a salary far below his intellectual attainments, although it is too much for his political judgment. He earned probably £25,000 a year when he was at the Bar. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Liverpool, West Derby (Sir D. Maxwell Fyfe) could, if he devoted all his time to the Bar today, earn £20,000 or £25,000 a year. By what system of selection and judgment do we decide that a judge, in the whole realm of the salaries and 1731 appointments of successful men, should get only £5,000 a year! A man sitting in judgment should have the maximum of intellectual calm and nervous self—control.
So far, the system has beer to appoint barristers, The chances are that a man who is made a judge has been a successful barrister, if not one of the absolute leaders of the Bar. He has established a certain way of life; quite rightly, he lives in a certain style; he has commitments, which, very often, go in many directions. Then, suddenly, he is offered a salary which will cause him many harassments and will mean his sitting upon the bench in a frame of mind in which he cannot do his best work.
If judges have not had their salaries raised in good times or bad—this does not concern the present Government—they have been badly treated. When the Attorney—General says that the cost cannot be borne at present, he means that the principle cant—161 be carried at the present time; the cost is nothing. To raise the salaries of all county court judges and High Court judges would not amount to £100,000 a year. I think it is entirely wrong that these men should be treated so badly.
I do not think that there is any other point that I want to raise, but, as a layman, I put down this principle: that in a profession where awards are so great for outstanding men, it is not common sense or common justice to say that those who adjudicate on the cases argued by those men shall be rated so much lower, that they are not able to bring to their task the detachment and ease of mind essential to their degree of judgment.
§ 5.21 p.m.
§ Mr. Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
We have had several speeches dealing with the question of the salaries of judges. I should very much have liked to follow on those lines, but I do not think that there is anything in the provisions of the Bill that deals with the question of increasing salaries. I listened to the admirable arguments put forward by the learned Attorney—General, and I do not desire to waste the time of the House in attempting, perhaps ineffectively to repeat some of his arguments.
1732 I desire to draw attention only to one point. A great deal has been said about the benefit that would accrue to the circuit system if more judges were appointed. We have had illustrations of the terrible state of affairs in Manchester and Liverpool and of what is happening there. I do hope that if more judges are to be appointed it will be remembered that in the metropolis, in London, there is a crying need for more judges.
The real problem is here in London, and I would like to emphasise, by way of illustration, this fact: In London begin the term, for example, in January. The judges go away from London on circuit after a few weeks and the High Court of Justice is depleted of judges. Very often we have a long list of cases with probably only two or three courts sitting, with one or two cases on their list—for hearing, and the result is that there is very great delay. The Attorney—General mentioned, for example, that we might get a delay of eight to nine months in the hearing of a case. I am sure that he would be the first to agree and I speak from personal experience that that is not only a usual delay, but that very often the delay is much more considerable.
It is obviously a crying scandal that in London, which gets the bulk of the cases, there should be no courts available to deal with them much more expeditiously. In London, just as on circuit —not only in the county courts but in the High Courts—again and again we have an assembly comprising counsel, lawyers, litigants, experts, business men, and, I would like to add, working people who attend day after day waiting for their cases to be heard. These are real difficulties. They have been emphasised, and I hope, as has already been stated, that the increase in the number of judges will not be limited to the two mentioned in the Financial Memorandum, I trust that the Lord Chancellor will avail himself of the powers given to him, to appoint the full complement of judges which is needed.
I hope that it will be emphasised that the real need is for attention to cases in London, and if a change is made, I hope that it will not be made at the expense of London. I also hope that judges will not be created and sent out 1733 on circuit, but will be available to assist in clearing up arrears so that the work in London does not suffer as it has done in the past. I think that this is an excellent Measure, long overdue, and I hope that it will come into law as quickly as possible. It will pay for the money expended, by the saving of public time and the considerable satisfaction which that will give to litigants and to the business world.
§ 5.25 p.m.
§ Mr. John Hay (Henley)
I think that this Bill has had a general welcome from all parts of the House, and there seems to be only one criticism that can be levied against it, which has already been levied by several hon. Members, and that is that it does not go quite far enough in that there will not be sufficient judges made by several hon. Members, and that ought never to be in short supply. It is important that we should realise that the money which we propose to spend as a result of this particular Bill is going for a very useful purpose. I see that the total amount of money which the taxpayer is paying out on these judges of the High Court and county courts to be appointed is only about £49,800 in any one year. I think that would be a cheap price to ensure that everyone gets the full measure of justice which is his due as a citizen.
I want to say something about the county courts and county court judges who are to be appointed. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) touched on a rather difficult subject, namely, the quality of county court judges. As a newcomer to this House, I do not propose to follow him on the path he has trodden, or I should probably find myself in serious difficulties, but we have been told that the legal aid scheme will at some time be implemented, and there is forecast by the Evershed Report an extension of the county court system. This will put an additional burden on the county court judges.
Few people realise how overworked the county court judges are. A considerable increase in the work imposed upon them has been largely as a result of special Statutes, as the Attorney—General knows. They have had jurisdiction in contract and tort and in the recovery 1734 of land for the last 100 years, but additional functions have been put on their shoulders to discharge. As the House probably recollects, they have jurisdiction in bankruptcy, in the matter of the winding—up of companies, in the Rent Restriction Acts—which occupy a very great proportion of the time of every county court judge—the Landlord and Tenant Act, the Agricultural Holdings Act and workmen's compensation.
All these burdens are constantly being added to by Parliament. For example only the other day, we were considering a Bill which will add more to the work which the county court judge will have to do in the Distribution of Industry Bill. Since the war, the county court judge has also had imposed on him the additional work of divorce, where he exercises the functions of a special commissioner. The result, as I have seen as a practising solicitor, is that to many litigants and people who come before the county court, the county court judge seems to have to rush through his list far too quickly. I believe it is in Magna Carta that these words appear:To no man will we sell, to no man deny, to no man delay justice or right.I think that we have to see that the county court judges appointed are of sufficiently high quality to be able to exercise their judicial functions in all these additional cases that fall upon them. I also hope that in the course of time—a very short time—additional judges not only to the High Court but also to the county courts will be appointed.
May I suggest one other thing to the Attorney—General? I have wondered for some time whether the whole system of county court circuits might not be completely overhauled and examined. I think there is a great deal to be said for completely recasting all these circuits, because it is undoubtedly true that here and there one finds a county court judge having, by reason of the fact that it is upon his circuit, to sit in a particular town where there may be very little work for him to do and one where that work might be transferred to a larger centre of population. I hope that that suggestion may arouse some kind of friendly interest in the mind of the Attorney—General.
For my part, and I am certain I also speak for other solicitors, I welcome this Bill. We all wish to see justice carried 1735 out in the best possible way, and I believe that this modest Measure will go far towards bringing about that desire.
§ 5.30 p.m.
§ Lieut.—Colonel Lipton (Brixton)
One point worth emphasising is that the legal system on which we pride ourselves so much exists not for the benefit or convenience of the judiciary, but for the benefit of the general public. In other words, this is a public service which must serve the interests of people who, unfortunately in many cases, have to go to law to establish their rights. There has been a tendency in some of the speeches we have heard to attach rather too much importance to the convenience of the judicial hierarchy, rather than to paying attention to the needs of litigants. That seems to place the priority the wrong way round.
In so many instances in the conduct of our judicial administration, it is the convenience of the judge that is the first consideration, followed by the convenience of the counsel, then the solicitors and, lastly in this long queue, the unfortunate litigant or witness who may be involved in the proceedings. Here, as in so many phases of our public services, it is the consumer who is entitled to first consideration. It would have been interesting if the Attorney—General had carried his arithmetical investigations a little further and given us the number of hours per annum during which a High Court judge has to sit. That might have enabled us 'to form a better idea of the pressure of work that is being imposed upon the judges.
To those who have referred to the inadequacy of the salaries, I would say that by increasing the number of judges, and thereby reducing the burden of work imposed upon them, we are giving them less work to do for the same rate of pay they are receiving at the present time.
Parliament places our judges in a privileged position, and on appropriate occasions it is correct to argue that Parliament has the right to say what is expected of them. If I may be so bold as to put forward the suggestion, I think that the Lord Chancellor, in deciding who shall be appointed to fill the vacancies we are now considering, might very well point out to the new judges who are coming along, or suggest to them, that 1736 they should resist the temptation to say what the law should be and how it ought to be amended or improved. In a number of instances, these extra—judicial pronouncements are, in my view, a trespass upon the rights of Parliament. It is Parliament that should decide what the law should be. If legal reforms are necessary, and learned judges desire to express their views, I submit that they are more than adequately represented in another place, where sit the Lord Chancellor, the Lords of Appeal, the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls and the President of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division, who can make whatever contributions may be necessary for such reforms in our legal system as may be deemed necessary.
The primary duty of a judge is to administer the law, not to suggest what the law should be. To develop that point a little further, I would suggest that it might be possible to draw the attention of those who are to be appointed to the inadvisability of High Court judges writing articles to the Press, taking part in controversial debates on the B.B.C. and things of that sort, which do not help to strengthen the position of the judges in the eyes of the public generally, and are not conducive to the maintenance of the dignity and impartiality which the average person expects from the eminent and learned men who are given this high honour.
I am more than thankful that I have been able to make these remarks within the rules of Order and without evoking any interjection from learned Members. I feel, however, that these observations ought to be made on an occasion like this, with all due respect to the persons concerned or likely to be concerned. I join with those who have already welcomed the Bill.
§ 5.38 p.m.
§ Mr. Gage (Belfast, South)
I apologise for not having been present for the earlier part of this Debate. I intend, like my hon. Friend the Member for Southgate (Mr. Baxter), to be brief, because I believe that lawyers should be brief in the presence of so many laymen. Like everyone else, I welcome the Bill. It is, I think, a remarkable thing that in a country which prides itself on one thing above all things, and that is on having perhaps the best judicial system in the world, we 1737 should have been so niggardly over the years in relation to it, and that the many people who have criticised the law's delay have been the last to recognise that the only way to put it right is by appointing further judges.
Anyone familiar with the law will know that one of the most trying things about the delays in the courts is the rhythm at which the business proceeds. As we know, in some cases, such as with the long non—jury list, it takes almost a year from " setting down " to trial. What happens is that solicitors get accustomed to that period of delay. They know that when they set a case down they have a year to prepare it. It is, therefore, natural that busy people should take advantage of that until someone raises the cry that the courts are getting behind in their work—perhaps someone in this House—and the expedient is then employed, perhaps at the beginning of the term when there are a lot of judges in town, of putting all the judges down on one list.
Solicitors suddenly see cases melting like snow before a rather wintry sun. They see their cases going into the lists very quickly, and know they are not going to be ready in time to appear for trial. The result is that they ask for the case to be adjourned on the grounds that they are not ready, and the judge not unnaturally says " With all these statements in the papers about delay, it is an astonishing thing to find people coming forward asking for their cases to be adjourned. It is quite monstrous and we will not allow an adjournment." It is not unnatural that criticism like that should he made, but it makes it exceedingly difficult for litigants, and the cause of that is that the rhythm can be speeded up by degrees, but it cannot suddenly be accelerated without causing confusion and upset. The great advantage of this Measure is that by having these additional judges rhythm will gradually be speeded up and maintained in the future at a proper rate, which the judges with their few numbers have not been able to do so far.
There is one other matter on which I should like to touch. I hope that the creation of these new judges will do away with the idea that all of us have known for so many years that the time of the court is more important than the time of 1738 the litigants. Judges—here again, no criticism can be attached—naturally resent being unemployed for an hour or so. In fact, it is better for them to remain unemployed for a short time rather than that the litigants should have to go to the trouble and difficulty of getting expensive witnesses to the court, and then keeping them there for a day or so. I feel that is a most important matter, and very often the expense lies chiefly with the litigant and far outbalances the expenditure of a judge who is idle for a short period of time.
This Measure will be of estimable benefit to assizes. On my own circuit, the south—eastern circuit, which is the only one of which I can speak, one of our difficulties has always been that crime has taken up so much time that it has been impossible to give more than a day or so to the civil work. What happens? If there is a list of about 13 civil cases to be tried, the judge, having come to the end of his crime, puts all those civil cases into the list in the hope that some of them will be settled. He may be able to deal with about half of them, the remainder to go over to the next assizes or to the next assize town. That has been the cause of a tremendous amount of additional expense to litigants.
I have known cases which have been in assize lists for three successive assizes without being heard, and that has been due to the fact that at some towns judges do not get long enough to sit and have not any assistance. We hope that may now be remedied, for it carries with it the difficulty that when a solicitor, knowing there will be a delay like that, puts his case in the High Court list, he always runs the risk of being told it ought to have been tried at the place whence it came.
I should like to say a word about the suggestions made by the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman). I find myself in complete disagreement with him in regard to a probationary period for judges. That would be an entirely undignified procedure. It would be extraordinary to have a judge sitting, if I may say so, with not only the court of appeal over his head, but the thought that if he did not satisfy he might be removed from his position. In fact, there is what might be called a probationary period in existence 1739 at present in the appointment of commissioners of assize. If the Lord Chancellor desires to see whether a particular King's Counsel is the sort of person whom he desires to put upon the Bench. he can appoint him a commissioner of assize, when he has ample opportunity to study him. I can see no necessity for anything of the nature suggested by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne.
There is one thing which the hon. Gentleman said with which I find myself in complete agreement, and that is the disparity between the salaries paid to county court and High Court judges. I take the view that both should be increased, but I entirely agree that the case for increasing the salaries of county court judges is much stronger than the case for increasing the salaries of High Court judges. It is quite right to say that nowadays county court judges try cases of the utmost importance to the litigant.
I suppose about 50 per cent. of their business is taken up with cases under the Rent Restriction Acts. Because the rateable value is small, they are known as small cases, but they are of the greatest importance to the litigant. When I hear, as sometimes I do, cases of what are known as " greater hardship " being tried by county court judges, where the landlord on one side and the tenant on the other are trying to establish a case of greater hardship and the result will determine whether the tenant will be evicted or the landlord fail to obtain possession of the house, I often wonder how the judge can come to a decision, the whole thing is so difficult and heart—rending. There was a very strong case, when jurisdiction was raised some years ago, for the county court judges' salaries to be increased from £1,000 to £2,000. I feel that when one considers present—day circumstances that is a pittance. It is remarkable that we have found such able men as we have to do these jobs at that salary.
I do not think there is any further matter that I can add to what I have said. Like everyone else, I welcome this Measure. In some respects it is the first instalment of the debt which this country owes to perhaps the finest judicial system in the world, and, if I may say so with becoming modesty, to the lawyers who have built it up.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Janner (Leicester, North West)
I do not propose to detain the House for more than a few minutes, but it is rather important that the view of those who are daily in contact with the courts—we have heard some of those views expressed today —and particularly solicitors who have the conduct of proceedings in their hands from day to day and to whom the difficulties of the present day, which arise through lack of a sufficient number of judges, are so well known, should be heard on this Measure.
I am not at all sure that the number of judges which it is proposed shall be the maximum number available for the county courts under this Bill will be sufficient, even after this Bill is passed. I would ask the Attorney—General to consider that point very carefully and see whether it would not be possible, in so far as the expedition of justice is concerned, to enable men who are concerned in cases to be utilised to the best advantage. The trouble in the courts today is not only that counsel and solicitors are delayed, but also that witnesses, who are kept on tenterhooks from day to day, have in many cases left very important jobs in order to come to court. Men engaged in very important industrial work, such as builders, for example, sometimes have to be kept waiting day after day for considerable periods to be called to the court. When they eventually come to the court, they may be kept waiting still further for the hearing. That is a very serious position, and it can be avoided only if the date of the hearing is fixed as nearly as can be.
One appreciates that the date of hearing a case cannot always be fixed precisely. The case is not always heard on the day for which it is set down. This is because previous cases have taken longer than was expected, but the fixing of the day can be done within a reasonable margin of certainty. Even if the judge has to rise earlier because his list is finished, the amount of cost thrown on the country would be very well worth what we get in return. The time and expense saved to witnesses, solicitors and other people would easily outbalance that cost. Not only should we have the additional judges now suggested, but we probably need to have more judges still. The 1741 Attorney—General many consider it advisable to put the limit of these appointments at a larger maximum so as to leave open the possibility of more judges being appointed at the discretion of the Lord Chancellor.
Reference has been made to county court judges and the cases they have to try. The majority of those cases require considerable consideration. Consider, for example, those which relate to rent restriction matters and involve the question of hardship. When deciding such matters, the judge may have to keep his eye on the list which he has still to try and therefore he cannot always give the fullest attention to the case before him. That is undesirable. A judge should have a free mind in regard to time and should be able to give the utmost attention necessary to cases which affect the inmost lives of the litigants who come before him. The judge also has to consider what will happen to people whose cases will have to be adjourned to the next court, perhaps a month later, if he is not able to complete his list. It is therefore highly essential that as many judges as possible should be available, particularly in the county courts. I am pleased that the proposals now before us are a step forward in the right direction. They are obviously acceptable to all hon. Members present.
The other point I1 wish to put relates to help which will be given to counsel, and to solicitors vis—à—vis counsel, when the number of judges is increased. Every practising solicitor knows that you can never be sure of the attendance of counsel. He may be engaged in two or three courts at the same time because a number of his cases happen to be in the list. He does not know in advance exactly when they will come on. Not only solicitors but litigants themselves feel very upset when they cannot have the counsel whom they wanted to appear on their behalf. Increasing the number of judges should enable the lists to be fixed. Instead of counsel taking on two or three cases for the same day, he should now be in a position to decide the case in which he will appear.
It is important that such points as this should be kept in mind in dealing with these matters. We should always remember the practical difficulties which stand in the way of expeditious litigation, and 1742 the undue burdens that they put upon all concerned and upon the country in respect of the time unnecessarily taken up. I think we all agree that this Measure is overdue, that if possible the maximum number of the judges whom it is intended to appoint shall be used, and that a higher limit should be fixed on the number who can be appointed.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ Mr. Marlowe (Hove)
The hon. Member for Leicester, North—West (Mr. Janner) spoke of the kernel of this matter when he said it was undesirable that litigants should be kept waiting a long time before knowing the decision. I could not help thinking that he was speaking with some feeling in that matter. I think that he called forth an echo from some of his hon. Friends, who have that unfortunate experience almost every night of their lives. The hon. Gentleman did what most of his hon. Friends had also done and that is to state categorically their faith in our system of justice, and then to make comments about it which showed that their faith was not quite 100 per cent. He referred to cases in which he said judges were not able to give proper attention because one eye was on the cases waiting in the list. I do not believe that any substantial section of our judges fail to give their minds to the case before them.
I want to take up one or two points made by other hon. Members opposite, including the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton (Lieut.—Colonel Lipton), who said that the result of the Bill would be that judges would do less work for the same pay. That is a complete misunderstanding of the position. The appointment of more judges means that more work will be done, and it is completely false for the hon. and gallant Gentleman to represent that only the same amount of ground will be covered for the same pay for each individual judge. I can only suppose that the hon. and gallant Member did not understand the real effect of the increase.
§ The Attorney—General
The hon. and learned Gentleman is under a misapprehension. I do not share the view about the salaries that some of my hon. Friends do—I have said something about it—but, of course, the increase in the number of 1743 judges will enable judges to work proper hours and not the long hours which they now have to work.
§ Mr. Marlowe
It must inevitably follow that if there are more judges sitting, they will get through more work. I am sure that the right hon. and learned Gentleman does not wish to controvert that point. I am not dealing with salaries at all at the moment. I am dealing with the position that a large amount of the work was covered by commissioners and that it is intended to reduce the number of commissioners and increase the number of judges. Therefore, the argument that they will do less work for the same pay is utterly fallacious.
I want to take up the argument of the hon. and gallant Member for Brixton, who said that he did not approve of judicial comment from the Bench with regard to any particular matter of law or fact upon which they felt inclined to make pronouncements. I know that hon. Gentlemen opposite very much resent it when anyone suggests that a regulation or control which they have put in force is commented upon adversely from the Bench. They are always touchy on this matter. However, I must record my view that it is utterly wrong to make protests against such judicial pronouncements. I consider that if something in the course of a case comes to his notice to which he thinks the attention of the public ought to be drawn, it is right and proper that a judge should make judicial comment on it so that the necessary action can be taken.
§ Mr. Marlowe
I shall have something to say about the unworthy and contemptible speech of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman) in a little while, and will give way to him then. The point I wish to make is one which has been illustrated more than once by the Minister of Health, who deeply resents judicial comment. Only a few days ago in this House, when his attention was drawn to a comment from the Bench with regard to an appeal to the court from the rent tribunals, the right hon. Gentleman, as hon. Members will recall, struck what I call his best Nuremberg Rally attitude and said, " This is the House of Commons," indicating his 1744 disapproval of judicial comment from the Bench.
§ Mr. Marlowe
I will give way to the hon. Member later. He must understand that he occupies quite enough of the time of this House and that some time must be taken by others. I shall give way to him in due course. As the hon. Gentleman will wish in due course to comment on what I have to say about his speech, it will be much more convenient if he first hears it than if I give way now.
The Minister of Health is notorious for not having a great love for the functions of the court. I hope that this addition to the judicial Bench will enable him to reconsider the position of an appeal in the rent tribunal cases, because when there are more judges there will be more opportunity to take those cases to the High Court.
I now want to turn for a moment to what has been said by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne. I am sorry that he has now left the Chamber, but he had due notice while he was here that I would comment on his speech. I want, first of all, to say that he was utterly illogical and inconsistent, because he supported the general principle that commissioners were, generally speaking, a second—best device, and that it was better to have judges than commissioners where possible, and then he went on to advocate a system of permanent commissioners and what he called his " probationary system " which could only be a system of appointing commissioners and then dismissing them if they turned out to be unsatisfactory. He was, therefore, utterly inconsistent in that.
He then misrepresented the position with regard to the suggestion that the number of judges might be increased from the four which may be in immediate contemplation. We are told that two judges are in immediate contemplation, and possibly four, and that the maximum number permitted by the Bill, which is six, might be used if the recommendation of the Evershed Committee with regard to the fixing of dates for cases was put into operation. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne said that he disapproved of that because—this was a complete misrepresentation of the position —it would keep two judges permanently 1745 unemployed. I took those words down because they struck me as being so completely fallacious. It is not proposed to keep two judges permanently unemployed. The idea of the extra two is that they should be in reserve, as it were, so that they can be employed as and when required at any point. The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne attacked my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon, East (Sir H. Williams) and asked what he would think if the same principle was applied to miners. The hon.' Member for Nelson and Colne was deliberately misrepresenting the position in order to make a political point which was totally unworthy of the Debate.
The hon. Member for Nelson and Colne went on to abuse the privilege of speaking in this House by making a general attack upon the Bench which I consider was utterly contemptible, and in particular he made reference to a judge who was identifiable by reason of a quotation which the hon. Member made. I think that, altogether, the speech he made upon that aspect was both offensive and contemptible.
I want to turn now to a Question which we have canvassed to some extent this afternoon, that of judges' salaries. While I take the view that there is a case for an increase in the salaries of both county court and High Court judges, I do not share the view expressed by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne and my hon. Friend the Member for Belfast, South (Mr. Gage) that there is a stronger case for the county court judges than for the High Court judges. I believe that the reverse should be the position in view of the fact that the county court judges have had an increase in recent years. It has been said rather loosely in the House today that it is 100 years since the salaries of the High Court judges were fixed. Hon. Members might be interested to know that the present rates were fixed in 1831. Nobobdy will dispute that there has been a substantial rise in the cost of living since 1831 and a somewhat heavier incidence of taxation since those spacious days. That alone makes it a prima facie case for investigation.
I speak with some feeling on this matter because I have raised it almost every Session since the war and at Question time I have brought up this matter with almost dismal regularity over the 1746 last five or six years. I have always been totally unsuccessful. There is one aspect of it which the House ought to understand fully because it relates to what I describe as a broken pledge by the Government. Last year the Government gave a pledge that the salaries would be increased during that year, but nothing has been done about it. That reinforces my argument that there is a good case for it. The case has been admitted by the Treasury. On 3rd May last year, I put a Question to the Chancellor of the Exchequer about these increases. The Question was answered by the then Financial Secretary to the Treasury. I hope that nothing that he has said in this connection is in any way responsible for his departure from the Government Front Bench.
On that occasion the Financial Secretary to the Treasury assured me that this matter was under consideration and was being dealt with. I pressed him on it and, in a supplementary question, I asked him when these salaries would be put into effect. The right hon. Gentleman the Member for Colne Valley (Mr. Glenvil Hall) replied:Legislation will be necessary, and I think I can promise the House that that legislation will not be long delayed it will certainly he this year."—[OFFiciAL REPORT. 3rd May, 1949; Vol. 464, c. 814.]There could be no stronger admission that the case was justified, because the Treasury were admitting at that time not only that it was justified but that the legislation for it would be introduced last year.
As we know, that legislation was not introduced, and I therefore put this matter again to the Chancellor of the Exchequer on 28th March this year and asked when this promise would be implemented. The right hon. and learned Gentleman, by some of those casuistries which some of us do not follow as easily as he does, explained that what the Financial Secretary to the Treasury had said last year did not mean what everybody else understood it to mean. Nothing could have been plainer when the Financial Secretary said it last year, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer, whose ingenuity is unbounded in these things, proceeded to explain that it did not mean anything of the sort. When I pressed the right hon. and learned Gentleman, he said it was not a promise to introduce legislation to increase salaries and, when we asked what 1747 it meant, he said it only meant that we might introduce legislation last year without in fact putting salaries up. Even if the words were capable of that interpretation—
§ Mr. Julius Silverman (Birmingham, Erdington)
On a point of Order, Mr. Deputy—Speaker, is it in order to discuss the salaries of judges on this Motion?
Mr. Pickthom (Carlton)
We have done nothing else all day.
Mr. Deputy—Speaker (Major Milner)
It is suggested that there would be an increase on the Consolidated Fund for judges' salaries, and it seems to me to be competent, on the Second Reading of a Bill to increase the number, that the salaries paid to those at present sitting or who may hereinafter be appointed should be discussed. That seems to me to be in order.
§ Mr. Marlowe
If the hon. Gentleman who interrupted had been here, he would know that we have been discussing practically nothing else all this afternoon. I can only assume that the hon. Gentleman has had his orders to be in here well before ten o'clock, and that he has just arrived. I might say this to the hon. Gentleman, that I quite understand him interrupting when I am attacking the Chancellor of the Exchequer, but the right hon. and learned Gentleman is quite capable of looking after himself without his assistance.
On this point—and it is a serious point —when a Government spokesman says that legislation will certainly—and that is the word I emphasise—be introduced this year and the legislation is not introduced, we are entitled to know why the Government have broken that pledge. I pray that in aid as strong evidence that the case is made out. There are many other ways in which it is not difficult to prove this case.
On one occasion when I raised this matter in the short moment when it is possible to do so interrogatively in a sup- 1748 plementary question, I brought to the notice of the House a case of which I had first—hand knowledge. It concerned a judge who was trying a prisoner at the Old Bailey. The prisoner was released on bail for the night when the court adjourned at the end of the day. When this High Court judge was on his way home, the position being such as it is he could only go home by bus. He found himself in the bus sitting next to the prisoner he was trying. On the occasion when I last brought this to the notice of the House in the previous Parliament —not this present Parliament, which is a little better behaved in view of the more proportioned balance of numbers—that story brought howls of delight from hon. Members opposite who thought that was a fair example of fair shares for all.
However, I beg hon. Gentlemen opposite to understand the importance of keeping up the dignity of the Bench. It is impossible for a High Court judge to discharge his functions properly if he knows that during the day he will sit on the Bench with a prisoner in the dock before him and later in the evening may be sitting side by side with the prisoner in the bus. [Laughter.] It is the sort of thing which has the distressing effect of making hon. Gentlemen opposite think it is funny.
§ Mr. Marlowe
I do not think it is funny. I think it is tragic that a person occupying that high and dignified position should be forced into that undignified situation. I am bound to revert to the argument of the hon. Member for Nelson and Collie, because here again he grossly misrepresented the position. He argued, why should there be an increase for High Court judges when there has been no increase for Cabinet Ministers? That is not true, because Cabinet Ministers have had an increase by the use of cars placed at their disposal. This goes to the root of the question with which I am dealing now, that is, conveyances home. Cabinet Ministers have cars with drivers, and I suppose the cost of maintaining a car and driver is probably not less than £2,000 a year—
Order. The hon. and learned Gentleman is going far too wide. There must be some limit to the extent of the discussion.
§ Mr. Marlowe
I will not pursue that further, in deference to what you say, Mr. Deputy—Speaker. I was only countering the argument put forward by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne, who misrepresented the position when he said there had been no increase. I say that a car and a driver, which is worth probably something in the region of £2,000 a year, is a substantial increase, an increase which the High Court judges have been denied. It is just because they have been denied that sort of increase that the undignified situation of the incident I have related to the House occurred. If the High Court judges could have the increase comparable to that which Cabinet Ministers have had, and which I rate at least at £2,000 a year—there are, as we all know, other perquisites of even greater value, but I limit it to that—I certainly should not object.
There is really no answer to the case which can be made out for the judges. It is only sought to be defended now by the Treasury on the basis of the wage freeze, which again is an untenable argument. I will challenge any hon. Gentleman opposite to find any trade union member whose wage was frozen at the level of 1831. This is quite a different case and has nothing to do with the wage freeze.
When I last raised this matter the Chancellor of the Exchequer said it would receive attention when the economic circumstances of the country permit. One knows perfectly well that the annual increase would not cost a great deal, so quite obviously the economic circumstances of the country do permit that much at present. What the right hon. and learned Gentleman means, of course, is that he dare not do this because he knows that it will at once break down his wage freeze policy. As I am not a supporter of wage freezing in any form, however, he cannot expect me to help him in that. That is why I feel that we are entitled to press here and now that this very important matter should receive the attention of the Government before many weeks are past.
§ 6.20 p.m.
§ Mr. Eric Fletcher (Islington, East)
The hon. and learned Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe) will recollect that I have in past Sessions of Parliament supported the plea 1750 made on both sides of the House for a reconsideration of judicial salaries, but I do not consider that the case for such a review has been very much advanced by the rather unfortunate speech to which we have just listened.
The hon. and learned Member is far too free in misrepresenting statements that have been made by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on this side of the House. I want to refer to two instances. The hon. and learned Member challenged a remark of my right hon. and learned Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer in the last Session of the last Parliament with regard to a reconsideration of this subject. Personally, I do not think it would be a bad thing if legislation were introduced which did not specifically alter judicial salaries but which gave the Government power to do it by Order in Council, because the amount should be capable of variation from time to time. I certainly thought that the statement by the Chancellor was capable of that interpretation and I should have thought that if legislation of that kind were introduced it would have been quite appropriate. After all, by this Bill the House is merely being asked to sanction a permitted increase in the number of judges. It remains for the Lord Chancellor, with the concurrence of the Treasury, to determine from time to time whether, in fact, those powers will be exercised.
Secondly, the hon. and learned Member made a quite unjustifiable attack on my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health with regard to some observations which, I thought, my right hon. Friend had quite properly made. The hon. and learned Member referred to a Question which was asked a few days ago, suggesting that there should be a right of appeal in certain cases from the rent tribunals, and quoted an observation by one of His Majesty's judges. I have never thought that there was any case for giving a right of appeal in rent tribunal cases. Hon. Members will know that in many cases where a right of appeal exists under the Rent Acts, the appeal is generally entered, not on its merits, but merely in order to gain time. The consensus of opinion of this House and another place was that it was undesirable to give a right of appeal in rent tribunal cases. That was the considered view of this House.
1751 I think that judges are perfectly entitled on occasion to make observations on matters which they regard as of social importance, but it is not fitting for the Opposition then to refer to those remarks in this House as if they were some authoritative pronouncement critical of the Government. It is for this House, as the legislature, to decide what the law of the land shall be, and it is for the judges to interpret it.
§ Mr. Hay
May I remind the hon. Member that in the Question which has been mentioned, I put the suggestion that there should be an appellate tribunal to which local rent tribunals could go, and I supported the case by the very weighty authority of the Lord Chief Justice to which my hon. and learned Friend has referred. I got a very short and, I thought. rude answer.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I thought that the answer which the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) received was very apt. The answer was that this was the House of Commons. The question whether there should or should not be a right of appeal in those cases had been decided by Parliament after due consideration and debate. I certainly agree with the sentiment of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health. I think it is almost an impertinence for one of His Majesty's judges to express an opinion of that kind after this House has so recently reached a decision.
§ Mr. Manningham—Buller
On a point of Order. Is it not out of Order for the hon. Member to say, with reference to a particular judge, that he thinks that an observation of that particular judge was an impertinence?
If the hon. Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher), made that reference as a criticism of a particular judge, I think that that would be so, and the remarks should be withdrawn.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I unhesitatingly withdraw any remark of mine which was intended as being critical of any particular judge. The point I was trying to make was that in regarding the respective func— tions of the judiciary and the legislature, the legislature has its functions and the judiciary has its functions. After Parliament has passed an Act of Parliament 1752 deciding what the law of the land should be—in this particular case as to whether cr not there should be an appeal from the rent tribunal—it seems to me that for the judiciary to criticise the decision of Parliament is a departure from the functions of the judiciary. I hope, Mr. Deputy—Speaker, that in expressing that and in trying—
Order! There has been a great deal of latitude in the Debate, and the hon. Member for Islington, East, has withdrawn the point which he made. I hope that the hon. and learned Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham—Buller), will not proceed with his point of Order, because I do not think that the matter is really of such gravity that it requires intervention.
§ Mr. Scholefield Allen
On a point of Order. Do I understand that His Majesty's judges, county court judges and any stipendiary magistrate may express an opinion however detrimental, about what this House has done, and that this House, even by inference, cannot refer to such opinions?
I did not give the matter that broad definition, but it is clear that the acts of certain persons who occupy judicial offices are not subject to criticism in this House except by means of a substantive Motion. That is the position.
Order! I cannot enter into a discussion with the hon. and learned Gentleman. The hon. Member for Islington, East, is on his feet, and I must call upon him.
§ Mr. Fletcher
I will not pursue the point, but in view of the very severe censure of my right hon. Friend the Minister of Health, and in view of the way in which this matter has been raised, it seemed to me necessary from these benches to say something about the right of Parliament to decide what the law of the land should be.
Having said that, may I add that I have always attached the greatest importance to our having an absolutely impartial, fearless, independent judiciary, and for 1753 that reason in past Sessions I have urged that there should be a review of judicial salaries. I believe it is very necessary that we should be able to recruit and attract to the Bench people of the highest possible calibre and intellectual capacity. Therefore, I have always urged—the hon. and learned Member for Hove will agree —that, judicial salaries not having been reviewed since 1831, there is an overwhelming case for their reconsideration. I sincerely hope that, as a result of the discussion here tonight, the Government will not be afraid of dealing with this long overdue matter.
I, like all other hon. Members, support the immediate objects of the Bill, because I am convinced that in the interests of justice it is very desirable that there should be an increase in the numbers on the judicial Bench. The cost attaching to these proposed additional appointments is practically negligible in comparison with the principle involved. It is now recognised that it is in the interests both of justice and economy that cases in the courts should be tried expeditiously, even though that may mean that some judges are, perhaps, idle for a number of hours a week. That is a much lesser evil than that large numbers of litigants, solicitors and counsel should be kept waiting interminably.
I think it is recognised that one of the greatest contributions that can be made, both to expedition in dealing with matters in the High Court and also reducing costs of litigation, would be a system of fixed dates of trials. Such a system depends upon having a larger number of judges, because it is only if more judges are available that it would be possible to have sufficient flexibility to introduce a system of fixed dates cf trials. I hope that with the passage of this Bill there will be an increased number of judges in the interests of litigants and justice generally.
§ 6.30 p.m.
§ Sir Waldron Smithers (Orpington)
I have heard a great deal of this Debate and, in my opinion, no one has gone to the root of the matter. The wave of crime and the consequent need of extra judges is entirely due to five years of Socialist philosophy which, in practice, has demoralised the people of this country and led to the increase of crime for which the extra judges are necessary.
1754 That great thinker and provoker of thought, Dean Inge, has said:The rights to life and liberty and the enjoyment of property, lawfully come by and conscientiously used, have for 2,000 years been regarded as the natural rights secured by the laws of nature which are older and more sacred than any human enactments. A Government which transgresses these natural rights has no moral claim on the obedience of its citizens.I am not a lawyer, but I think that. broadly speaking, the only job a Government has is to punish the citizens of a country for breaking one of the Ten Commandments. But this Government, in peacetime, in order to secure increasing power over the people, has 25,417 commandments. The consequence is that anyone, even the Attorney—General—who, if I am not out of order, I will describe as the best of a bad bunch—would be a black marketeer, at a pinch. Suppose the law was that a man must not give more than a shilling for a loaf of bread and his wife was starving. If he came to me and said, " Waldron, if you put a loaf of bread through the scullery window every night I shall leave two shillings under the front door mat every afternoon," of course he would do it, and it would be right.
All these regulations, in their attempt to gain power over our people. have made it much easier to break the Jaw and no one realises the amount of black marketing which is going on. That is the reason for the increase in crime and for the increased need for more judges. I hope that everyone will realise that this Bill is a condemnation of the philosophy of Socialism.
§ 6.34 p.m.
§ Mr. Emrys Hughes (South Ayrshire)
I fail to follow the logic of the argument of the hon. Member for Orpington (Sir W. Smithers), who seems to assume that the wave of crime is due to Socialist rule. When I apply that argument to Scotland I find that the wave of crime has receded—
§ Mr. Hughes
It has been seriously argued by hon. Members opposite that we must have high salaries for judges because it is undignified for them to have lesser salaries. The hon. and learned Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe) argued that it was undignified for a judge to 1755 travel in a bus. I assume that if it is undignified for a judge to travel in a bus for fear of meeting people he may have had before him in court, it is also undignified for a judge to walk. What is to become of judges? Are we to incarcerate them in monasteries, or put them in glass cases? How are they to keep in touch with the feelings and emotions of ordinary people?
When I hear high salaries being justified on the ground that they must be paid so as to get people of judicial experience, I want to turn the attention of the House to what happens in Scotland. I do not think the Attorney—General would dare to argue that the judicial calibre—
§ Mr. Hughes
I am aware that Scotland is not in the Bill. If this Bill had applied to Scotland. it would have met with strenuous opposition from Scottish Members, because in Scotland, judges get only £3,600 a year. I suggest that when it is argued that we need to pay £25 a week more to guarantee justice in England and Scotland, hon. Members have a wrong sense of social values. I will not mention Scotland again, but I suggest that even at a salary of £3,600 per year a very large number of capable and experienced applicants would come forward who would prefer this line and remuneration to some of the less lucrative but more hard—worked professions. The Financial Memorandum states:The salary of a puisne judge of the High Court is fixed by statute at £5,000 a year and his pension at £3,500 a year.I believe that the pension rights are rather high. From what I gather, the age of retirement of High Court judges is also very high. They carry on until they are over 90, and I fail to see that a pension of £3,500 a year is justifiable from the point of view of our talking of national economy. The Memorandum also states thatthe salary of a judge's clerk is £650 a year.Why is there so much difference between the salary of a High Court judge and of the judge's clerk? Surely the judge's clerk must be a very experienced person; perhaps he does the hardest work in the court. He certainly needs just as 1756 much food as the judge, and he has to buy his striped trousers and his black coat in the same market. There is no mention of the judge's clerk getting a pension. I ask the Attorney—General to tell us what rate of pension the judge's clerk, who gets £650 a year, gets. I believe that in this Debate at any rate we have got our social values all wrong.
§ 6.38 p.m.
§ The Attorney—General
I can speak again only with the leave of the House, and if I have that leave I shall try not to keep the House too long.
We have had an interesting and, with one notable but not surprising exception, a friendly discussion about this small but not unimportant Bill. I was impressed by the general consensus of opinion that it would not be enough to appoint only two judges in the first instance. That point was made by the hon. and learned Member for Northants, South (Mr. Manningham—Buller), the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) and many other hon. Members on both sides of the House. The reason there is a reference to two judges in the Financial Resolution is that the Lord Chancellor, in another place, gave an express undertaking that there would be an immediate appointment of two; but, speaking from my experience at the Bar, I have little doubt that hon. and learned Members on both sides of the House are right in thinking that it will quickly be necessary to make at least two of the other appointments. When further consideration has been given to the matter and to the views expressed in the course of this Debate, I do not doubt that that view will be taken. After all, it is much better to have a slight margin of judicial strength than to have too few judges. Speaking for myself, my own impression is that we shall need four judges at once, and I hope that it will not be too long before we need the six. It is better to have too many than too few.
We have in the past allowed our administration of justice to be too restricted by misconceived fears as to the expense and cost of having too many judges. My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Crewe (Mr. Scholefield Allen) gave a striking instance of cases which are put into the list, particularly at the assize towns, long before they are likely to be reached; and the waste of time and money and the frustration 1757 caused by overloading lists or by putting cases in before they can be reached is difficult to estimate but it is no doubt enormous. The cost to the State of appointing extra judges to cope with the situation seems to me to be completely insignificant by comparison.
Moreover, I fully agree with the point which I think was made by my hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. S. Silverman), that the result, I do not say the intention, of putting too many cases into the assize list day by day, " cracking the list " it is called on my circuit, is to compel parties to settle cases because they simply cannot afford the time or money or indeed the anxiety of waiting about the courts day after day until their cases are called on. Moreover, I agree with the observations made by my hon. Friend the Member for Leicester, North—West (Mr. Janner) that it is inimical to justice that the judge should have to have one eye on the case he is trying and the other eye on the clock. Cases ought to be brought on quickly in the sense that they ought to come into the list for trial quickly, but when they are under trial there ought to be no sense of hurry and of getting one case through in order to get to the next case or to finish the civil list at the assize.
The hon. Member for Stockport, South (Sir A. Gridley) made some reference to the work being done by the committee and the various sub—committees presided over by Lord Justice Evershed. I should like, if I may without impertinence, to pay tribute to the most important work which is being done by that committee. It is work which involves a large number of people, lawyers and laymen alike, devoting a great deal of time voluntarily to the rather unexciting task of working out a more convenient, more expeditious and cheaper organisation for our administration of justice. The results already have been most encouraging and most useful, and I hope that when the final report is made and comes to be implemented it will result in a great improvement in our general judicial machinery.
The hon. Member for Stockport, South, also referred to the shortage of building accommodation in provincial towns and in London. It is true that one of the limiting factors is the absence, both in 1758 London and some provincial towns, of really suitable court accommodation for additional judges. There is indeed, even at the Royal Courts of Justice, partly owing to war damage, a shortage of courts during the time, certainly a very short time, when all the judges are concentrated in London and before they go on circuit. My own view is that, difficult as the building situation is, that ought not to delay the much—needed increase in the number of judges.
My hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne, the hon. and learned Member for Hove (Mr. Marlowe) and other bon. Members have made reference to the question of the judges' remuneration. I must say of the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Hove that the intemperance with which he put the case in this matter has, I am afraid—and I am really sorry about it because in many respects I share his view about this matter—done great harm to the prospects of increasing the judges' salaries. The point which seems to me to be of importance in this matter, and I have not hesitated to express my opinion about this during several years past, is that the present salaries which are paid to the judges are quite out of scale in comparison with the amounts which are earned in business and in the professions, both national and private. They are out of conformity, as I think I put it, with the general salaries structure of the country. That is significant for the reason—I am not now putting it on the ground of hardship—that the salaries paid to judges ill reflect the high status and complete independence of the judicial office.
I should have thought that quite clearly this is unfortunately not the moment when it will be possible to contemplate immediate increases, and, as I said in moving the Second Reading, when the time does come that the circumstances of the country make it possible to increase remuneration, there are other cases of actual hardship which will entitle them to prior consideration. There are obviously many classes of people in the community who are, on their merits, entitled to higher remuneration than they are now receiving. I should have felt much more impressed by the observations of the hon. and learned Member for Hove if I had heard him make an impassioned appeal, such as he made on 1759 behalf of the judges, on behalf of, for example, the railwaymen, teachers or miners, whose position is causing much greater hardship than that suffered by the judges.
Moreover, I am quite certain, and this is why I said that the hon. and learned Member had done a disservice to the case —and there is a case—for increasing in due time the salaries of the judges, that His Majesty's judges would not at this time wish to give an example of claiming higher remuneration when those in the more humble positions which I have indicated are agreeing to show sacrifice and restraint.
§ Mr. Marlowe
The reason I did not make an impassioned appeal for the miners and railwaymen on this occasion is that this Bill does not relate to them. I made an impassioned appeal on behalf of the judges, and the Attorney—General will recall that at the same time I made it clear that I do not believe in the wage freeze for the miners, railwaymen or anyone else.
§ The Attorney—General
If the hon. and learned Member had listened a little more carefully he would have appreciated that I said that I should have been more impressed by the impassioned appeal which he made on this occasion—his rather intemperate appeal—in respect of judicial saLries—had I heard him on other occasions making equally impassioned appeals on behalf of other people whose position is obviously the cause of much more immediate hardship.
§ The Attorney—General
I do not propose to pursue the matter further, except to add that I should have thought that when the time does come for increasing judicial salaries, there is no doubt that county court judges would be entitled to prior consideration. I agree entirely with the hon. Member for Henley (Mr. Hay) in the emphasis he attached to that matter and the great disparity that exists at present between the remuneration of High Court judges and the remuneration of county court judges.
§ The Attorney—General
Well, no. I am not sure that it is really quite right to draw a distinction between the responsibilities of the two. The responsibilities of all judges are great. It is true that the responsibility of the county court judges may be distinguished from those of the High Court judges by reason of the fact that they do not normally try criminal cases as county court judges, though often they do as chairmen of their quarter sessions, and by reason of the fact that their jurisdiction is limited to smaller amounts of money.
But the cases that come before the county court judges are just as difficult to decide, and just as important to the litigants, as the cases in other courts involving larger sums of money. I do not think it is right to say there is a great distinction between the responsibilities of High Court judges and the responsibilities of county court judges. Both occupy positions of great responsibility, and I was glad to hear the tribute paid to the county court judges who discharge, as I think, a most important duty in a most important court, the status of which ought to receive much greater recognition than it does. I should be sorry if anything was said by the right hon. Gentleman the Member for East Bournemouth (Mr. Bracken) which seemed to disparage the status of what I think is a vitally important court in the judicial system of this country.
§ Mr. Bracken
The right hon. and learned Gentleman really must not attribute those remarks to me. I said there was a difference between the responsibilities of the High Court judges and the county court judges, just as there is a difference between the Attorney—General and the attorney—general who is employed by the Duchy of Lancaster or the attorney—general of the County Palatine of Durham.
§ The Attorney—General
The responsibility of a judge is to administer justice according to the law. Both High Court judges and county court judges have a very difficult task, and I think it is invidious to draw any distinction between either.
§ The Attorney—General
I was drawing attention to the fact that the disparity was perhaps too great and that. if any 1761 priority is to be given the salaries payable to county court judges would demand review in priority to those of the High Court judges.
The hon. Member for Henley has had great experience of appearing before county court judges, and no doubt of instructing counsel before High Court judges, and I think the point he made was very well taken. I would only add this in regard to the question of judicial remuneration: I take, and I have always taken, the view—and I have not concealed it—that I think at the appropriate time the salaries ought to be increased, but we ought not to over—emphasise this point. Perhaps I should add that the judicial office has great attractions other than its pay. It is an office of great importance and dignity and those who accept it occupy a position of great significance in the service of the law and the State. I do not think anybody becomes a judge, or would wish to become a judge, nor would this House wish them to become judges, for the money they get out of the job.
I would say a word about the observations made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Nelson and Colne in regard to the quality of the judges. I can speak only from a personal experience going back to 1924, but one can form some judgment of these matters from the books and reports which one has to read. I cannot share the view that the judicial capacity of the judges, the " judicial quality " I think my hon. Friend called it, is, as he put it, " not improving." I would quite definitely take the opposite view. The appointment of judges has now been taken right out of the field of political influence, and that is a very important change which has been brought about in recent years. I believe that hon. Members on both sides of the House will concur in saying that it is a good thing that it can now be said that judicial and legal patronage is entirely unaffected by political consideration.
The men now being appointed are, compared with previous years, comparatively young men. I think that is a good thing. They are, as I know, selected by the Lord Chancellor with the very greatest care, and solely upon their merits. On the whole, I should have thought that the standard of quality of the judiciary—if it is not an impertinence for me to say so—has increased in recent years rather 1762 than declined. I think that altogether there are 45 judges in the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords. It may occasionally happen that one is appointed who is not quite so good as the rest. It may occasionally happen that one or two may say something which, taken out of its context and lime—lighted in the newspapers, looks rather foolish. I must say that I have had experience of how easy it is to say something which, taken out of its context and limelighted in the newspapers, looks rather foolish. But judges are human, and one cannot expect them to be entirely immune from the risk that at some time they may say something which taken out of its context and reported, may seem a little unfortunate. But I would say that the general standard is very high, and I should be very sorry to think that anyone was inclined to make any general argument from one or two particular cases towards the proposition that the standard is not as high at present as it has been in the past.
There I come back—and this leads me to it directly—to the jarring note struck in this Debate by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Hove. I thought the observation which the hon. and learned Member made about the right of judges to comment on matters of policy, which were for Parliament, was singularly ill—advised and quite unworthy of an hon. and learned Member of this House.
§ The Attorney—General
It is very well recognised, as the hon. and learned Member for Islington, East (Mr. E. Fletcher) so well put it, by the judges and by hon. Members on both sides of this House as a most important principle of our constitutional practice that judges do not comment on the policy of Parliament, but administer the law, good or bad, as they find it. It is a traditional doctrine on which the independence of the judiciary rests. If once that doctrine were departed from, and judges permitted themselves to ventilate from the Bench the views they might hold on the policy of the legislature, it would be quite impossible to maintain the rule that the conduct of judges is not open to criticism or question. I think it most important as a doctrine of our Constitution—which the judges certainly all recognise and 1763 which I should have thought any hon. learned Member of this House would recognise—that the separation of the judicial and legislative functions should be maintained, and that those engaged in the conduct of one should not criticise or canvass the conduct of the other. Each side, the judiciary and the legislature, should show proper respect for and confidence in the other. It is only in that way that the independence of both can be maintained.
§ The Attorney-General
I hope that that tradition will be maintained, and I do not think that it is useful to discuss it further. The observation that struck me most, and I am now going to act upon it, was made by one hon. Member on this side of the House, who said that the quicker this Bill was passed into law the better; and the sooner I sit down, the earlier that result will be achieved.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.