HC Deb 22 July 1970 vol 804 cc690-714

10.58 p.m.

The Attorney-General (Sir Peter Rawlinson)

I beg to move, That the Maximum Number of Judges Order, 1970, a draft of which was laid before this House on 9th July, be approved. We are asking the House to give approval for power to be given to increase the maximum number of judges within which my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor can make appointments when and if necessary.

Under the terms of this Order there are three different categories of judge. There are the Lord Justices of the Court of Appeal, the maximum number of which the Order seeks to increase from 13 to 14. Secondly, there are the puisne judges of the High Court, and the Order seeks to increase their number from 70 to 75. Thirdly, the Order seeks to increase the number of county court judges from 105 to 125. The purpose is to ensure that the Lord Chancellor can provide a sufficient number of judges to deal with what I fear is an ever increasing scale of business, both civil and criminal.

Different considerations affect the different categories of judges referred to in the Order, but I emphasise that the numbers set out are maxima. The machinery for this Order comes from the Administration of Justice Act, 1968, which was introduced by the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones), which set up maxima. The Act enables the maximum number of judges to be increased by Order in Council to be laid before and approved by the House—a procedure which the House may think was a very sensible innovation of the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South in that Act.

It is proposed to increase the maximum number of judges in the Court of Appeal to 14. Since 1964, appeals set down have increased from 618 in that year to 948 in 1969, an increase of over 50 per cent. In the first half of 1970 the number was 473 compared with 467 in the first half of 1969.

To deal with the business of this court, in which in 1969 there were delays of eight months, which have now been reduced to five months, it is necessary to sit in four divisions for the hearing of civil appeals—that is, four divisions of three, or 12 lords justices. The view is taken that three to four months is probably the appropriate time from the setting down to the hearing of an appeal.

For the future business of the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal, the Lord Chief Justice needs two, and frequently three, lords justices for sitting in the Court of Appeal, Criminal Division. Therefore, with an establishment of only 13 lords justices and the Master of the Rolls, the Master of the Rolls has been obliged to use a law lord when he has been able to obtain his services or a retired lord justice. This will not, and cannot, continue. We are, therefore, satisfied that the establishment of 14 is clearly necessary. That will permit 11 lords justices and the Master of the Rolls to sit in the four divisions and permit three to sit in the Court of Appeal, Criminal Division, as is frequently necessary.

The second category deals with the puisne judges. The existing establishment is 70, the present strength 66. That figure of 66 includes judges on special tasks and assignments, like Mr. Justice Scarman with the Law Commission and the inquiry in Northern Ireland and, for instance, Mr. Justice Roskill, who is engaged in the airport inquiry, which deprive the courts of their services.

As I have said, the trend of business is ever increasing and in 1969, 12.8 per cent. more time had to be spent by judges and commissioners trying crime on circuit. The estimate is that the 66 will not suffice in 1971 and there may be need of an extra five, making a maximum of 71. If that trend continues into 1972, therefore, the suggestion is that the maximum should be raised from 71 to 75.

The House may like to know the estimate for the Queen's Bench Division on assize. Thirty-two judges will be needed for both civil and criminal business on assize. The inclusion of the one or two judges at the Old Bailey, the two judges in chambers, one judge sitting in the Commercial Court, three in the Criminal Division of the Court of Appeal and the Divisional Court of the Queen's Bench Division, and with eight sitting in the civil courts in the Royal Courts of Justice, making a total of 17, gives a total of 49 judges of the Queen's Bench Division, 10 Chancery Division judges and 12 Probate, Divorce and Admiralty judges. That estimate alone totals 71. It is wise that we should have room to create more if the business in 1972 increases as it has in the past.

It is estimated that the extra-judicial activities in which judges are called upon to participate, such as sitting on commissions and committees, is probably equivalent to two full-time judges sitting throughout the year. The House should appreciate that apart from trying cases in the civil and criminal courts, the judges are called upon to perform such extra tasks from time to time. Last year, the use of commissioners was equivalent to one judge sitting continuously. Commissioners can be of the greatest assistance and help, particularly when a crisis arises, as when long cases have to be heard at different assize towns and there arises a sudden need. This rôle is also useful for the testing, as it were, of persons who might be suitable for judicial appointment. Obviously it is more desirable that a litigant should have his case tried by the appropriate judge, and I may say that my noble Friend is very conscious of the need to maintain the quality of the Bench, but it is, I would suggest, this need to have elbow room to meet the ever-increasing trend of business that makes it necessary to increase the maximum, and it is better to do it now, in my submission, and, therefore, to provide, within reason, for speedy trial.

The third category is that of the county court judges. There the maximum now is 105, and there are actually 105 in post, but nevertheless, in 1969 there were 1,000 occasions when they were obliged to use deputies or retired judges. The county court judges' sittings have increased by 6.5 per cent. due to the increase in divorce and also in ordinary business, and it is estimated that at present the time of 12 county court judges is occupied as deputy chairmen of the Greater London Sessions and the Commissioners of the Crown Courts in Liverpool and Manchester, and it is estimated that in two years' time this will be increased to 14.

I appreciate that the abolition of the judgment summons procedure introduced by the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the facilities of the various Administration of Justice Acts introduced by the right hon. and learned Gentleman will provide some relief, but the Divorce Reform Act, 1969, and the Matrimonial Proceedings and Property Act, 1970, will put on judges additional work, and there has been an increase in their jurisdiction, and it may be that that jurisdiction will be further increased. Therefore, extra judges will be needed in 1971 and 1972, as I have said, to meet this graph which is ever increasing.

Judges will, of course, only be made as the need arises, and the legislation which has been forecast in the Queen's Speech for the future organisation of the courts of assize will call for full-time circuit judges to a number in excess of the maximum of the county court judges now proposed in this Order. If that legislation is accepted those judges will, of course, be included in the circuit judges.

So I would ask the House to accept that it is convenient to have sufficient judges by 1972 to meet the contemplated changes, and it is right that we should give power to have these men and women, if it is necessary, so that the business of the courts can be more speedily and better conducted.

11.8 p.m.

Sir Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)

The right hon. and learned Gentleman has explained with clarity to the House that the justification for the increase in the number of judges proposed in this Order is the increase in the volume of work of the courts. Obviously, that has to be coped with, or the alternative is an increase in delays in bringing cases for trial and in the hearing of appeals.

It is clearly important, first of all dealing with the Court of Appeal, that its work should not fall behind, and I have little doubt that there is ample justification for increasing the maximum number of Lords Justices of Appeal by one. It is obviously undesirable that litigation should drag on and on and on, and even more undesirable that there should be long delays in the hearing of criminal appeals, because, in that sphere, justice delayed can indeed be justice denied, particularly when one bears in mind the considerable number of appellants, whose appeals subsequently succeed, who remain in custody during the period of waiting appeal, and it is an appalling thought that an innocent man should suffer that fate when there are no arrangements under our system of administration of justice for compensating him for that misfortune. The right hon. and learned Gentleman has given the House vivid statistics which show the massive increase in appellate work.

As I understand it, one of the serious delaying factors in the Court of Appeal, particularly in the Criminal Division, is the difficulty of obtaining transcripts of shorthand notes. I do not know whether it would be convenient for the learned Attorney-General to inform the House tonight of the present state of play. It is a matter which gave us great concern when we had responsibility for the administration of justice, and I would welcome any information on that which he can give.

It may also be relevant to the matters we are considering and the factor of delay if the right hon. and learned Gentleman could tell the House what effect the changes in arrangements for legal advice for prisoners have had on the number of criminal appeals. When the Lord Chief Justice announced these new arrangements he hoped that the effect would be to discourage hopeless appeals, and it would be convenient if the right hon. and learned Gentleman were able to give us the information and if we could be told what has flowed from those changes.

The proposed increase in the number of High Court judges from 70 to 75 is large, particularly when the House remembers that the number of High Court judges now in post is only 66. The noble Lord the Lord Chancellor in another place has said that it may be necessary to increase the number of High Court judges between now and the end of 1971 by as many as five judges. That seems to be a large increase in a comparatively short space of time.

I observed from the speech of the right hon. and learned Gentleman that it is contemplated that the use of commissioners will continue. There are peak periods for judicial work needing the services of judges, and at that time of the bunching of cases the use of commissioners is very valuable. I ask the right hon. and learned Gentleman whether it is necessary, at any rate in so short a space of time as the noble Lord the Lord Chancellor has indicated, that there should be so many full-time judicial appointments to the High Court Bench.

Again, there is a large jump in the number of county court judges, from 105 to 125. Is it contemplated that there should also be a massive increase in the number of county court judges in an equivalently short time? Is this increase linked with the implementation of the Beeching recommendations? I should be grateful if the right hon. and learned Gentleman could give the House an assurance that the active steps taken by the previous Administration to implement Beeching are being continued, particularly in view of the saving of time which we greatly hope that the Beeching proposals will achieve.

I do not want to introduce any controversial element, but I hope that the energy and pressure which the previous Administration manifested in dealing with the grave problem of delay in the hearing of cases will be continued. In view of the facts that the right hon. and learned Gentleman has disclosed, and which we were aware of just over a month ago, I welcome the Order.

11.15 p.m.

Mr. F. P. Crowder (Ruislip-Northwood)

I am sorry that a matter of this importance has been raised so late at night. We are all proud of our judicial system and, being so proud, the time is coming when the public will have to be asked to pay for it. It will not cost a great deal, but there are a large number of courts in the High Court of Justice, in the Strand, which are for ever empty because they are not manned by judges, owing to the fact that judges are not available; they are out on circuit, trying criminal cases.

I should like to give the House an example. During February of this year the Old Bailey, being over-filled, took one of its cases into the Strand. I happened to be engaged in that case. During one afternoon it so happened that the defendant had perforce to look through some papers. At about five minutes past three o'clock in the afternoon, in the middle of the busiest time of that term—mid-February—I took a stroll round the High Court. There was nothing else to do. I was astounded at the number of courts lying idle and empty.

Accordingly, being of an inquisitive frame of mind, I put down a Question to the right hon. and learned Member for—I believe—West Ham, South—

Sir Elwyn Jones

Yes, and I have been since 1945.

Mr. Crowder

I knew I was right. I am very much obliged to the right hon. and learned Gentleman. I asked him what the position was. The Question was: How many courts are now available for use in the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand; and how many of those courts were empty and unused during the month of February 1970? It may be thought that the month of February is particularly important because it could be called a mid-term month. It does not touch into the Christmas Vacation or the Easter Vacation; it is right in the middle. That is the time when one would expect the power house of British justice to be running at absolute peak, having regard to what has been said about the disgraceful delay that exists in respect of litigants in our courts. I received the following Answer from the right hon. and learned Gentleman: Forty-eight courts are available. Six of them are substandard, of which two should be used only in an emergency. —we have not had an emergency since about 1810— During the month of February, 1970 there were 71 occasions when, for various reasons —good Parliamentary language, this— (including other calls on judicial time or illness) —why all the judges should be ill in February, I do not know— the satisfactory courts were not used.'—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 26th March, 1970; Vol. 798, c. 523.] That is 71 judge-working days lost in the High Court of Justice in the month of February when many of the courts were empty, idle and unused.

I do not know who is responsible for this, but perhaps I can provide a solution. The previous Government, to whom devaluation was always dear, appointed no fewer than 193 Queen's Counsel in the short time they were in office. It is interesting to note that the number of Queen's Counsel practising over the past five years has been 208, 209, 221, 236 and 262, respectively. One would have thought, with 71 courts lying idle and nobody doing a hand's turn in them, that of those hundreds of Queen's Counsel one or two could have been asked to take a fortnight off and to try criminal cases, where men had been awaiting trial for anything from six to eighteen months.

Over the past few years the administration of justice in that respect has been an absolute disgrace. Who is to blame it is difficult to say, but the Lord Chancellor's Department could have filled those empty courts. The Lord Chancellor could have appointed some Queen's counsel who were out of work—and there are occasionally out-of-work Queen's Counsel. I hope that I have not yet joined that category, but the day may come.

The most disgraceful case, from the point of view of delay in which I have ever been engaged, was a so-called "queer-bashing" case, which was tried at the Old Bailey in January this year. Those boys were only 16 or 17 and the offence with which they were charged had taken place in August or September last year. Many of them had no bad records, and they were sent back to their jobs, which they did perfectly well for six or seven months, after which they were sentenced to Borstal. That is an absolute disgrace to our judicial system. The sooner this Government do something about it the better.

11.21 p.m.

Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)

I support what the hon. and learned Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Crowder) said. I was also engaged, as a solicitor, in the case which he mentioned. I remember the consternation of those engaged in defending these youths at the inordinate delays, which, as he said, were a disgrace.

But this is not an isolated occurrence. It is not in the least extraordinary to find people held in custody, in London at all events, for periods of up to four months. There are also cases—I have more than one at the moment—of people on bail and awaiting trial for more than a year. That situation should not be allowed, and that is why I welcome the Order. But I am not sure that it will have a real effect in the criminal courts, which is where we should look first. I hope that my pessimism is confounded, but I doubt it.

It is extraordinary that, at a time when the House is considering the appointment of more judges, when there is an obvious urgency in dealing with this situation of delays, the Attorney-General, and his predecessor, for whom I have a high regard, have never given a thought to enlarging the range of people from whom the judiciary may be appointed.

If more and more judges are appointed there will be a severe strain on the Bar. Has not the time come for appointments to be made, particularly to the county court bench, from the branch of the profession which I represent, the senior branch? I should have thought that the days of monopoly enjoyed by the Bar must come to an end if we are to get rid of these delays.

There are about 250 to 300 senior appointments, and there are 2,000 practising barristers and 22,000 practising solicitors. Is it seriously suggested that solicitors are unable to provide from their ranks a number of suitable judges, particularly for the county court? If it is, it is a serious rebuke to a number of solicitors who have been appointed to the stipendiary bench and have carried out those duties with great distinction and ability quite recently.

It is certainly not the experience of other countries that solicitors are unqualified to undertake these jobs. In the United States, for example, academic lawyers are appointed, and they serve with distinction. In Scotland, where there is a separate profession, solicitors are frequently appointed as sheriff substitutes. They have no limit on their jurisdiction in civil cases, and a very wide jurisdiction in criminal cases. In Australia, where there is a separate profession, solicitors are eligible for appointment to the bench, and have been appointed. Indeed, the Chief Justice of Queensland is a solicitor. Here the majority of county court cases are tried by registrars who are solicitors, and since 1957 it has been possible for solicitors to be a deputy judge of the Mayor's and City of London Court.

The time must have come when this antiquated monopoly of the Bar should be broken down. The Bar perpetuates a very serious and unnecessary restrictive practice, and it does so on the ground that solicitors do not have the wider experience that is required for appointment to these positions.

Mr. Ian Percival (Southport)

On a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. At the risk of seeming to be one of the profession referred to which is operating a restrictive practice, may I ask whether the question where the persons appointed should come from is in order on this Order?

Mr. Deputy Speaker (Sir Robert Grant-Ferris)

The only things in order are what the Order says. I think that if the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) adheres to those things he will be in order.

Mr. Davis

I certainly hope that I shall not at this very early stage of my life in this Parliament break the Rules of Order too much. I hope that I shall not even bend them too much. All I am trying to argue is that solicitors, because they come from a wide spectrum of society, because they have a very wide understanding of the problems that are dealt with in these courts, deserve a parity of esteem with the other profession, which they do not enjoy now.

This argument has been carried on for some time. The Law Society—

Mr. Deputy Speaker

Order. Perhaps the argument has been carried on almost long enough now, and the hon. Member ought to adhere to the strict terms of the Order. I have given the hon. Member some latitude. I hope that he will be satisfied.

Mr. Davis

I am much obliged to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I conclude by saying that, while I welcome the Order, I hope that the Government will give some consideration to the points which I have made, because there is simply no evidence that standards would deteriorate if the members of my profession were appointed to some of these positions.

11.28 p.m.

Sir John Foster (Northwich)

I apologise for being a few minutes late. I thought that the House would be sufficiently interested in cinematographs for that business to last half-an-hour.

One would be tempted to vote against the Order on one ground, namely, that it is a great pity that there is the necessity for these judges, but the necessity is obvious. There are delays, and there are about 300 remitted civil cases at Birmingham. There is no doubt about the necessity for the Order, but from what does the necessity arise? In my submission it arises from the fact that we have a very cumbrous legal system which spins out both criminal and civil cases in an unnecessary way—unnecessary if one altered the procedure.

Under the present procedure all the lawyers work consciously, and as quickly as the system allows. When I was much younger I was secretary to a number of law reform committees. In those days there was a very much smaller number of judges, there were the same complaints about delays in the system, and the same argument was used—we ought to have more judges. Various Lord Chancellors appointed business of the courts committees, Government Commissions, and the like, to study these matters. After the war we had the Evershed Committee. They all came to the conclusion that nothing much could be done under the present system: one could not save much in costs or time.

Therefore, if one pursued the tactic of voting against the something which was necessary, defeated the Order, and so forced the Government to reform the law, it would be a mischievous way of proceeding, and one can only enter a plea with the Government to look seriously at the way in which the procedure of the courts is fashioned.

One can compare the Anglo-Saxon method—and here I treat the English and the American systems as the same—and that operating in France. Running-down cases comprise 75 per cent. of court proceedings. In England we have a day on which there is the hearing, so assuming that it is a serious case in which the plaintiff has been seriously injured, we have the witnesses to the accident, an accountant to prove his earnings, technical witnesses to prove that a car going fast causes more serious injuries than one going slowly. If there is bad blood between the doctors, we cannot have agreed medical evidence. This is done all on one day. Everyone has to be in court—solicitor, junior counsel, Q.C.—everyone. In the last few years we have had fixed days, but in my young days we had not even that. It is enormously expensive to have all these people in attendance in court. They all charge by the hour—like taxi drivers, and every so often the "clock" registers another advance.

In France, a case is broken up by the judge, who studies the dossier. When he wants legal argument, he calls in the lawyers to deal with a point of law. It is all much less expensive. English cases are slow and expensive, and in France our system is looked on as being contrary to natural justice. The French courts do not admit that our procedure is in accordance with human rights, because the length of the procedure produces expense, and the expense puts procedure out of reach of poor persons and within reach of those who can afford it.

As I say, it is a great pity that we waste our advantage of having strong judges, who can sit alone, who are incorruptible, and who, taken by and large, are intelligent men. It was, I think, a defamation of judges when someone said: "He was courteous. He was slow. He was always wrong. He had all the qualities of a great judge." In many countries on the Continent the judges sit in droves of three, five or 15, because it is a separate profession. The waste caused by our procedure makes very little sense in the context of the modern world.

Consider a complicated fraud case in the criminal courts. The Bloom case was due to last for six months. In such cases the jury are not allowed pen or pencil. They cannot always hear what happens. They are not allowed to take notes, while the lawyers have prepared their case for weeks beforehand. Obviously, there should be a mixture of paper and oral work, and the length of cases could be cut down. If the length of cases were cut down we could save manpower. In America they make the mistake of having 225 probate judges in Kansas alone. We have the advantage of a small judiciary, relative to population, and judges with great qualities, and we waste those judges and their time largely by having cases which can be strung out.

I join in the plea made by the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis), that consideration should be given to the appointment of solicitors. In some cases it might be said that their training in advocacy was not suitable for some of the appointments, but there must be many solicitors who are entirely suitable for the High Court and the county court benches. I would also like to see more masters appointed, sometimes solicitors and sometimes barristers.

The reform of our judicial procedure is long overdue. For these reasons, I hope that while the House will obviously approve this Order, hon. Members will at the same time bear in mind that our whole judicial procedure, quite apart from the substantive law, needs a drastic overhaul.

Mr. Crowder

A few moments ago my hon. and learned Friend said that juries are forbidden to take notes.

Sir J. Foster

They do not have the opportunity.

Mr. Crowder

They do have the opportunity. There is a long case about a motor car fraud being heard at the Old Bailey, and the new notebooks came in today. The result is that when the jury retire, all the notes will be different and the jury will be out considering their verdict much longer than they need be, but at least they do take notes.

Sir J. Foster

I accept what my hon. and learned Friend says, and I am glad that jurors are allowed to take notes.

11.36 p.m.

Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Kensington, North)

I am delighted to find myself in complete agreement with the hon. and learned Member for Northwich (Sir J. Foster) and my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis). As the hon. and learned Gentleman said, we desperately need to reform our procedure. The trouble is that we have all the parties, the witnesses, expert witnesses, leading counsel, junior counsel and solicitors turning up in court for cases which frequently are settled, adjourned or disposed of in some other way. The reason for this state of affairs, with the next cases queueing up behind, is that we have insufficient judges. The whole procedure in the court offices is governed by the overriding rule that in no circumstances must one of the judges be kept waiting for a moment. This is a desperately false economy.

We do not have enough judges, and there are eminent people in the legal profession who could equally well be judges and might just as well be paid out of public funds as judges, rather than as leaders waiting for their cases to be called and being paid out of the Legal Aid fund. I welcome the Order, although I do not think that it goes far enough. We need far more judges to enable us to institute the type of procedural reforms which the hon. and learned Member for Northwich proposed.

I also associate myself with the views expressed by my hon. Friend the Member for Hackney, Central about the appointment of solicitors particularly to the county court bench. Some solicitors may be sufficiently qualified and suitable to sit on the High Court bench; I do not think there are many of them, but certainly there are many solicitors who in some ways are better qualified than are some members of the Bar to sit on the county court bench. It is the very nature of a solicitor's practice and experience that he should sit listenting to inarticulate people explaining their problems, and that is exactly the sort of situation that a county court judge has to deal with.

As solicitors, our hackles may rise when we have to do this sort of thing day after day, particularly if we have a working-class practice, but it is the kind of experience which is essential in the county court. We have excellent county court judges. We have some who tend to be extremely impatient with inarticulate people between whom they have to decide issues, and some of the experience that solicitors have is a better preparation than can be obtained at the Bar for this job of sitting on the county court bench.

Finally, though it comes badly from Members of the House, who are about to rise for a three-month Recess, I suggest that consideration be given to shortening the court vacations. The courts rise for nearly as long as the House does. From the point of view of litigants, the availability of judges, and the number of judges needed to cope with the volume of business, it is desirable to shorten the vacations. It would cause uproar in solicitors' offices and barristers' chambers, because we rely on the vacations to catch up with some of our business, but we need to learn to put our own house in order. If the vacations were shorter, a greater volume of business could be conducted and cases could be dealt with more speedily and more satisfactorily than happens at present when cases, even the most urgent of them, that arise today will almost certainly not be dealt with until October.

11.41 p.m.

Mr. Ian Percival (Southport)

The hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) raised a big and important issue, in which he was followed by the hon. Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann). I do not propose to follow them on that issue, first because having myself raised the question whether it was in order it might be unseemly if I were to develop it and, second, because it is a subject which is much too important to be debated as a side wind on an Order such as this.

It is a question on which all the lawyers in the House should get together in the coming months. It is a question which has been under discussion for a long time, and we should continue to discuss it. I should not like either the hon. Gentlemen or the House to think that because I have not followed them with a detailed rebuttal of what they said I agree with it. There are definitely two points of view and two sides to the argument, and I hope that the House will have the opportunity to discuss it in full before long.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northwich (Sir J. Foster) raised other interesting questions. Again, I do not propose to follow him on those, but I should not like him or the House to think that it is because I agree with them that I do not refer to them. I agree with some of them but not with all of them. There is room for a speeding up of the procedure.

However, one thing is certain. There are now many more criminal and civil cases to be dealt with and many more cases which are contested which would not hitherto have been contested but which are now contested because the contestants have legal aid to enable them to fight the cases. Whatever else may help to speed up the disposal of those cases, one thing that will certainly contribute to it is an increase in the number of judges, if the time of the judges is used efficiently. In the last Parliament we introduced a little more flexibility into the assize system. I hope that full use will be made of the increased flexibility.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northwich referred to the arrears at Birmingham. In some towns there are clearly identifiable fields and areas in which there are long delays and where something needs to be done. They are by no means universal. In some areas the disposal of cases is going speedily and well.

At Lewes Assizes last week a 20-day case was put over to the next assize because it could not be taken at this assize. It will never be taken at "this" assize, unless a judge can be sent specially to try it. I hope that what my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor has in mind in increasing the numbers of judges is that it will give the Lord Chief Justice a number of additional judges who can be sent to hold special assizes or who can be sent to places to assist in dealing with a long backlog of cases or to deal with cases of the type to which I have referred.

I hope that my noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor will not be slow to use the powers which, I hope, we shall give him tonight. Obviously, if we have more judges, and they are used efficiently, this must contribute to a reduction of delays. It has been a matter of surprise to some of us in the House that the Lord Chancellor of the Labour Administration did not appoint even the numbers which he could have appointed. It was surprising that there was talk of lack of judge time and we could not catch up with the delays because there were not enough judges while there was at the same time a slack not taken up. Four judges could have been appointed without this Order.

Since four judges could have been appointed without the Order, I inferred that the purpose of the Order was that the extra number who could be appointed would not be limited now or in the near future to that four but that the Lord Chancellor would have power to appoint more than those four, and appoint them, perhaps, in the fairly near future. I hope that he will not hesitate to use the power we shall give him tonight. Whatever else we may do in addition to what we are doing here, it is manifest that the Order itself ought to make a material contribution towards what we all want, that is, a reduction in the present delays.

11.47 p.m.

Mr. Edward Lyons (Bradford, East)

We have heard calls for solicitors to go to the bench. It is unfortunate that no women counsel have entered the debate to suggest that women might be preferred rather more often for the bench. We have only one female High Court judge, Mrs. Justice Lane, who is utterly delightful. She is not only delightful, she is fair minded, she is courteous, she is patient, and she is inevitably right.

I suggest that those who have charge of judical appointments might look among the female of the species in the law to see whether there are those who can be brought on fairly soon for promotion to the bench. Although many men make good judges, sometimes one feels that the rocks of prejudice are only marginally hidden by the urbanity with which they perform their office, and it seems to me that there may be a case for promoting more women, if they are to be found. I understand that there is at present not one female county court judge in England and Wales, which is rather sad.

I welcome the Order, but with this reservation. I came into the House in 1966, and I have since then heard this kind of debate every year or two because the matter is dealt with on a piecemeal basis. We keep coming back here to agree to an extra two or three judges in addition to the current total. There never seems to be any real, deep planning of what the trend requires, of how many judges we really need. We are assured on each occasion that the new increase will do the job, but two years later we are in the middle of another debate and are told that the courts are short of judges. We are told of court delays. The same speeches are being made on the same facts now as were made in 1966, although the number of judges has materially increased. I wonder how much research there was into the whole question of our judicial requirement and the ability of the Bar and its available manpower to fulfill the present and future requirements of the Bench.

The pressure caused by the present situation upon some judges has the effect of making them treasure speed as the prime judicial virtue. There are judges who are an embarrassment to justice because they take the view that they are proving themselves more able at their jobs the faster they can get through their list. No one should feel that he has not had a fair trial because of the speed upon which some judges insist. The more judges there are, the less the pressure, and the less the pressure the less will speed be regarded as a prime judicial virtue.

I do not feel, however, much as I welcome the Order, that it provides in itself a method for curing our ills in this regard. For every new judge trying criminal cases we need additional juries. There may be free courts in London, but in the provinces more courts cannot be stuffed into the existing buildings, and the conditions of juries, for example, are often very poor. In fact, they are primitive.

We have a shortage of solicitors. They cannot cope when sessions all come together. I do not think that the problem would be enormously alleviated by the introduction of the Beeching Report, because they have not the manpower to deal with so many cases and so many courts running together.

We should like to see a thorough inquiry into the requirement for new court buildings and the number of solicitors we are likely to require, of barristers and judges, so that we do not have the impression of dealing piecemeal with a serious problem, the administration of justice, every second year in the House. I predict to the new Members present that they will be here on at least two more occasions in the next four or five years for a similar debate when another order is produced increasing further the number of High Court judges, and my solicitor friends in the House will once again be able to make similar speeches to the deaf ears of all the barristers in charge of the law in the House on the need to introduce more solicitors into our judicial process.

11.54 p.m.

Mr. Michael Havers (Wimbledon)

It is a pleasure to find the measure of agreement that exists in the House tonight. I was pleased to hear an hon. Member opposite speak of the obsession in the courts and among those who administer them about the waste of a judge's day. This obsession is far too over-emphasised. When there is unexpectedly a plea of guilty in a criminal case, or there is a settlement in a civil case, that is not a wasted day. The result of the obsession is that the courts are usually overloaded with cases. Counsel, solicitors, witnesses, including expert witnesses like doctors, have to hang around, quite often the whole day, and their case is not reached. I should be happy to see this obsession taken from those who are inclined to overload the lists.

The delay which exists, particularly in the criminal courts, is always a great worry. I cite two examples without identifying the cases. In a criminal appeal in which I was engaged a short time ago, there were nine months between the date of conviction and the date of the appeal. The appeal lasted two days and the Lord Chief Justice, having allowed the appeal, said that if all the information had been known, this man would never have been convicted. But he spent nine months in prison awaiting appeal, the reason for the delay apparently being difficulties in getting the transcript. I echo the remarks of the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) who asked questions about delays in getting transcripts.

The other example concerns a case at the Old Bailey two years ago when a girl of absolutely good character, who had never been in any sort of trouble and who was refused bail every time she applied, was arrested in May. The trial started in November and she was acquitted on 23rd December, having spent all that time in custody, another example of delay.

The judges have a huge amount of extra judicial duties. Judges of assize, who sit long hours, may have to prepare a detailed summing up and review evidence and often work, particularly in the last few hot months, in very unpleasant conditions under great pressure. They often have to go back to their lodgings and deal with a huge number of applications for leave to appeal. It is only recently that applications for leave to appeal, because there are so many, have been sent out to judges of assize, and they have to spend a number of hours each week on this work. This is in addition to the long hours which they work at assizes. Those of us who practise at assizes—and I know that this is a view which is shared by solicitors with experience of assizes—have seen the strain which is imposed on Her Majesty's Judges of Assize by these extra duties.

In a sense, the position has become ridiculous. In some assizes on the southeastern circuit we shall have as many as four assizes operating at once. A short time ago we had six judges, including commissioners, sitting on the southeastern circuit at one time. A great duty was imposed upon them and upon those who have to sit as officers of the court. Accordingly, anything that will lessen the strain and which will mean that justice is more quickly and more efficiently done must be welcomed.

I listened with interest to my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northwich (Sir J. Foster) who spoke of the French system. My only comment about that is that at least our system allows for justice to be seen to be done, and I suspect that the system of which he spoke does not.

Sir J. Foster

In English law, if there is a plea of guilty, it is accepted and troubles like the Christie case happen. In French law, the prosecution has to prove the case even if the person pleads guilty.

Mr. Havers

I shall leave it there; it may be wiser to do so.

The subject of appeals is always a worry. I do not think that we now have the position which existed at the turn of the century, when appeals against the decisions of one judge were always allowed. I used to play bridge with an admiral who was the grandson of that judge and he told me that as a boy of eight or nine he was having tea with his grandmother when she said, "Jam for tea today, John, Grandfather has been upheld in the Court of Appeal". That had remained in the admiral's memory for many years.

I should like to comment about county Court judges sitting at quarter sessions as judges. This may be just a personal view, for I have not found anybody to support me, but I think that the county court judge is the man who gives people quick justice, who often deals with litigants appearing before him in person. He is meant to be the man in the local town to whom anybody can go when he is in trouble, in debt or needs help. It is, I think, wrong that a county court judge should carry out criminal jurisdiction as well.

If a litigant in person who is due to appear before a county court judge as plaintiff or defendant or as debtor reads in the newspaper that morning that that judge sentenced somebody to 10 years' imprisonment at the county quarter sessions the previous day, it will destroy the relationship which used to exist, because it was quite rare until comparatively recently for county court judges to have criminal jurisdiction. I would prefer that they stayed as county court judges, a job which they do extremely well, without any taint of perhaps becoming part of the establishment, part of the criminal jurisdiction.

I welcome the Order and hope that it will be fully implemented at the earliest possible moment.

12.1 a.m.

Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg (Hampstead)

I came to listen to the debate and at one stage I thought that it might be dangerous to take part in it. But the voice of the ordinary man has not been heard in this debate. We have heard the barristers and the solicitors, but we have not heard those who normally have to pay their fees.

As a mere layman who until recently has been a justice of the peace and who, incidentally, has been in some demand in some quarters of the House to witness the declaration of election expenses of even learned members of the Bar, I have noticed when sitting in court that on many occasions solicitors presented their cases so much better than barristers. Solicitors should be eligible for and should be appointed to one or two of the posts which we are debating.

Clearly the extension of legal aid has put an additional burden on the courts. The constant increase in crime is imposing a similar burden. The hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. Edward Lyons) prophesied that within a couple of years we should be asked to approve a further Order and should again be listening to the solicitors stating their case for preferment to the bench and the barristers arguing against it. Perhaps the non-legal Members, who are in a majority, will decide to take a hand in this issue, because very many of us have a fairly strong feeling that the legal profession could well do with amalgamation into one section. I know that that will upset a lot of my hon. and learned Friends and hon. and learned Members opposite. The division into two separate sections is the one thing which unites them. On the narrower point raised by the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis), there will be a fair amount of support on both sides of the House from people not engaged in the legal profession.

12.4 a.m.

The Attorney-General

With the leave of the House, I should like to reply to some of the points which have been raised.

We have heard about jam for tea and an admiral who was an acquaintance of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wimbledon (Mr. Havers), and in view of what the hon. Member for Bradford, East (Mr. Edward Lyons) said, there must be certainly one judge who would be blushing if she knew the delight in which she was held by one member of the Bar.

I do not propose to deal with the wider issues or to argue with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Northwich (Sir J. Foster) about the distinctions between the adversary and the inquisitorial method of trial. I have the belief—it may be old-fashioned—that if the ordinary man in the street were given the chance to choose where and how he would have his trial, he might well prefer the system of justice which is administered in this country, which has the merit, as my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wimbledon said, of being seen to be done and of giving to the person who is either accused or is a party the rights which, I believe he should openly have.

The various matters which have been raised in the debate certainly indicate that there will be delights ahead when we deal with the legislation, which has been foreshadowed in the Gracious Speech, following the Beeching Report concerning the administration of justice on circuit and assize. We shall clearly have many exchanges across the Floor of the House and elsewhere, across the normal party line and across the professional line, when we deal with those matters. I assure the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) that the Government are pressing on with the putting of those proposals into law and the introduction of the legislation which has been promised and which, I hope, will be introduced later this Session.

My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) put his finger on the problem that there are many more cases and that what is needed are many more judges to deal with them. I certainly accept that. The need for the improvement of procedure should be constantly under review. Many hon. Members have referred to it. During the past few years, through the assistance of both sides of the House, steps have been taken to try to improve the methods of presentation of cases and of the procedure at trial. This is a matter which should be continually pressed ahead.

The present position, however, is that there is this increase of business. The way in which it must be dealt with in the immediate situation is to increase the number of judges. It is hoped and believed that the various improvements which will result from the Beeching Report will bring in train with them a better and more efficient administration of justice which will cut out many of the problems and objections which can be pointed to in some aspects of the administration of justice.

I agree with my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Wimbledon and the hon. Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann) that the idea of the waste of judges' time is pernicious and is less fashionable than it used to be. As both hon. Members have pointed out, the importance of justice is to those to whom justice is being administered, and it is they who should be largest in everybody's consideration to ensure that their position is first considered.

With regard to the points raised by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood (Mr. Crowder), I appreciate the position which arises in the High Court in the Strand. There are, of course, difficulties, as my hon. and learned Friend appreciates, in transferring criminal cases to those courts. There are difficulties with regard to the provision for juries and for security, but it is right that my hon. and learned Friend should draw attention to the fact that, whenever possible, all court accommodation should be used and should be made available so that the business of the courts can proceed.

Sir Elwyn Jones

It is the case, is it not, that the courts in the Strand are increasingly used, when the opportunity exists, for the trial of criminal cases?

The Attorney-General

I confirm that. It happens wherever possible, as the right hon. and learned Gentleman knows. The recent long fraud cases, for instance, have been conducted in the courts in the Strand. This practice can continue to apply.

However, as I pointed out when I was moving approval of the Order, in London, if we take away those judges who are sitting in the Central Criminal Court, who are sitting in the Court of Appeal, and in Chambers, only about eight judges are available to try the civil cases in the Strand. This is because so many are needed to go out on assize.

The point raised by the right hon. and learned Gentleman about transcripts is a very considerable problem. There is no doubt about it. Shorthand writers do give priority to transcripts required for criminal appeals, but this is something which does need a great deal of attention, and I can assure the right hon. and learned Gentleman and my hon. Friend the Member for Ruislip-Northwood that it will be considered and pressed, to see what additional improvements can be made so that appeals are not delayed in this way.

With regard to the use of Commissioners as I have said, the real use of Commissioners is to deal with the peak periods, or the bunching of cases to which the right hon. and learned Gentleman referred, when there are suddenly series of very long cases in different parts of the country, which have to be dealt with, and somebody has to be sent down to try them. Commissioners will be used in that respect, and usefully used in that way, and they must continue to be so used.

I think practically every hon. Gentleman who has spoken in this debate has agreed—and even, I am sure, my hon. Friend the Member for Hampstead (Mr. Geoffrey Finsberg), who referred to himself as an ordinary man, though, of course, he is a justice of the peace, appreciates—that what we must have is men able and trained in the matters of litigation and of trial, to be able to go out into the country to deal with civil and criminal lists, and this is why it is thought at this time that we should project forward, as far as it is safe so to do, into 1972, because it is by 1972 that, it is hoped, the full Beeching, as it were, may be in operation. We project forward with this Order to help the position till that date. It is for this reason that we seek the approval of the House for this Order to make these increases.

I can only add that all the other matters which have been raised by right hon. and hon. Gentlemen on both sides of the House will certainly be studied with considerable care and attention, not only because they showed the shape of things to come but of the importance and interesting points which right hon. and hon. Gentlemen have raised. I ask the House to approve this Order.

Question put and agreed to.

Resolved, That the Maximum Number of Judges Order 1970, a draft of which was laid before this House on 9th July, be approved.