HC Deb 17 November 1970 vol 806 cc1028-30
28. Mr. Clinton Davis

asked the Attorney-General whether he will take steps to enable solicitors to be appointed as county court judges.

The Attorney-General

No, Sir. County court judges as such will be abolished by the Bill which was introduced by the Government on 10th November to implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Assizes and Quarter Sessions. The hon. Gentleman will see that the Bill replaces county court judges and other judicial offices by a new Circuit Bench for which only barristers of not less than 10 years' standing will be eligible.

Mr. Clinton Davis

Is it not a gratuitous insult to the solicitors' profession that the right hon. and learned Gentleman should implicitly take the view that no solicitors are fitted to occupy this judicial rôle? Is he not aware that the Beeching Commission recommended that the monopoly enjoyed for so long by the Bar in this respect should not be perpetuated?

The Attorney-General

The hon. Gentleman obviously is rehearsing some of the arguments that no doubt he will put before the House when we come to debate the Bill which has its Second Reading in another place on Thursday, 19th November. What he should appreciate is that appointments to the Circuit Bench, like the County Court Bench, will be taken from persons with wider experience of litigation, law and evidence than those who practise only in the county courts.

Mr. Awdry

Does my right hon. and learned Friend realise that there is a strong feeling on both sides of the House on this matter? Does he not agree that there are some solicitors in the country who are worthy of being circuit judges.

The Attorney-General

I do not wish to anticipate the debate, but I foresee that discussion will arise over this particular provision. The Royal Commission recommendation was only by a majority and was tentative in the sense that it was inclined to this view. Doubtless the House will enjoy the opportunity to debate this matter when we come to deal with the Bill.

Mr. Thorpe

But speaking as a non-practising member of the Bar, and remembering the times when the right hon. and learned Gentleman was my opponent before a learned registrar who was a solicitor and who gave us great satisfaction in according judgment in my favour, may we know a little more about why our brother solicitors should be regarded as second-class citizens?

The Attorney-General

I confess I do not recollect the incident. It is only the victories that stand firmest in my mind. It is certainly not a matter of solicitors being regarded as second-class citizens, but generally a solicitor's practice is different from that of a barrister. Whereas the barrister engages in litigation and continues to do so all his professional life, it is usually the case that a solicitor perhaps starts off by doing some litigation and then usually graduates to the more lucrative and important rôle of senior partner, who never leaves his office.