HL Deb 29 June 1871 vol 207 cc724-9

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that the object of the measure was to make further provision for the despatch of business by the Judicial Committee. The immediate object of the Bill was to enable the Judicial Committee to deal with the great arrear of causes which were now before that tribunal for hearing—and more particularly with those which came from India. It had been so framed that at the meeting of the Courts of Law in November, immediately after the Long Vacation, an efficient Court would be constituted so as to deal with these causes. He was happy to say that for the last two or three weeks the Judicial Committee had been busily engaged with the Indian Appeals, and that considerable progress had been made with those in the printed list—though the arrears could not be cleared oil before the Courts rose for the Long Vacation. The Lords Justices of Appeal in Chancery had been able to sit on the Committee, together with Sir James Colvile, who was most active in Indian causes; he himself (the Lord Chancellor) having, by the arrangement of the judicial business in this House, been able to attend in the Court of Chancery. There would be no arrears in that Court, and the business before their Lordships had not been for years so little in arrear. The Judicial Committee having been deprived from time to time of the services of five of its Members who formerly were regular attendants—great difficulty had been experienced in securing the regular and continuous sittings of the Committee, and it was evidently necessary to make a provision different from that which had hitherto prevailed. The proposal of the Bill was that Her Majesty should have power to nominate not more than four Judges as additional Members of the Judicial Committee. It provided that two of them should be either Judges of the Superior Courts of Westminster (including the Divorce Court and the Court of Probate), or that they should be persons who, having served the office of Judge in one of those Courts, had retired from their judicial duties. In the first case, the salary to be paid to the two Judges would be the same as that which they now receive; in the second, the Bill proposed that they should receive a salary of £1,500 a-year in addition to their retiring pension. This would make their emoluments £5,000 a-year, which was the salary of the acting Judges of the Superior Courts. It was proposed that the other two Judges should be selected from among those who had served the office of Judge in the Supreme Court of Calcutta — it was the intention that wherever practicable the person appointed should have been a Chief Justice—and that they also should receive a salary of £1,500 per annum in addition to their retiring pension; the salary, in each instance, to be paid so long as they should continue to attend, whenever summoned, the meetings of the Judicial Committee. The Bill was intended to meet the emergency that had come somewhat suddenly upon them, in consequence of the number of appeals from India, and he did not think it would be desirable to assume that the proposal would be of a permanent character, regard being had to the importance of a comprehensive re-arrangement, as soon as possible, of our whole appellate system. But that was a point which could be best discussed in Committee. This was thought to be too large and invidious a power; but the matter could easily be arranged in Committee, and it was hoped that, as the attendance of at least three out of the four Members could be relied on, a quorum would be secured for the continuous hearing of appeals until the existing scandal of arrears had been remedied. The Bill as it now stood proposed that the Lord President should have the power of fixing continuous sittings for the Judicial Committee between November and August, and of making rules for the attendance of the Members at such sittings. Of course, the Bill would not in any way interfere with the attendance, as often as they found it possible or convenient, of the other Members of the Judicial Committee.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a."—(The Lord Chancellor.)


admitted that the Judicial Committee required reform and reinforcement; but he feared that if the present scheme—to many portions of which he entertained strong objections — were accepted temporarily, it would form the model on which the future permanent settlement of the question would be shaped. One of his objections was as to the inequality that would exist between the two classes of new Judges. While the Judges taken from Westminster Hall, with £3,500 pension and £1,500 salary, would receive £5,000 a-year, the Judges from Bengal, with £2,000 pension and £1,500 salary, would only receive £3,500. As to the former he did not think any acting Judge would be induced to transfer himself to the Judicial Committee, for his two clerks, one at £600 a-year and the other at £400, would thus be turned adrift. As to retired Judges they would probably be so advanced in years and infirm as not to be likely to be particularly useful. So niggardly a mode of dealing with this question ought not to be encouraged, and he believed the House of Commons would readily consent to putting all those Judges in a position of becoming permanence and dignity. They ought not to receive less than £6,000 a-year. As to the continued attendance of unpaid Members, it was not likely that those would continue to attend when there were Judges bound to attend and paid for doing so.


said, he regarded the Bill with great satisfaction, for it was the first attempt to deal with an evil that had long been felt. He should have preferred a more sumptuous manner of payment and a larger number of Judges, but was content to accept the Bill as supplying an immediate want, rather than to wait for the fulfilment of more magnificent expectations. The great pressure of Indian appeals, which was a reproach to the Government, would be thus remedied. He apprehended no difficulty in finding two Westminster Hall Judges willing to accept the proposed office, for he believed they would be actuated by higher considerations than the patronage attached to the appointment of clerks, and in any case they would be relieved from the expense and labour of going on circuit, which was a burden greater than the value of any such patronage. He feared that the press of Indian appeals would turn out to be permanent. The value of the property involved in the appeals decided in Bengal between 1863 and 1868 reached the enormous total of £13,390,000—an evidence of the great love of the Natives for litigation, of the enormous wealth of the country, and of the improbability of a diminution in the number of appeals. Indeed, the receipts of the Government of India from stamp duties in a single year reached £60,000. There would be an opportunity 12 months hence of showing what had been done, and provision would no doubt be then made adequate to the exigency. He would advise the President of the Council to decline the proposed power of determining the Members of whom the Judicial Committee should consist; for, in case of ecclesiastical suits, he would be subjected to the grossest imputations. He hoped there would be no delay in sending the Bill down to the other House, and that, there being no necessity for the attendance of his noble and learned Friend on the Woolsack to hear appeals in this House, the Lords Justices would continue to give their useful services on the Judicial Committee.


said, he believed the Bill would be beneficial in its results. It was essential, however, to the proper administration of the judicial system in India that the judicial power should be considerably increased there. He agreed with his noble and learned Friend (Lord Westbury) that the President of the Council would expose himself to calumnious imputations if he undertook the selection of Members of the Court; and he would suggest that a rota should be adopted for ecclesiastical causes, so as to put the operation of personal motives out of the question.


said, he never intended the Bill as a permanent scheme for conducting the appellate business of the Privy Council. No doubt some better machinery for appellate jurisdiction might be devised, but it had been thought that the establishment of an expensive staff of judicial functionaries was inexpedient until there had been some experience—such as the Indian appeals would furnish—of the difficulty to be encountered and of the best mode of dealing with it. He anticipated no difficulty in finding Judges; and, though gratuitous services could not be permanently relied on, he hoped that the unpaid Members of the Judicial Committee would continue to show their public spirit by attending as heretofore.


said, he wished to know whether the principle of a rota, which had been suggested by the noble and learned Lord opposite (Lord Westbury), and had proved advantageous in other quarters, was likely to be adopted in the case of ecclesiastical business? On a former occasion it was stated by the noble Earl (Earl Granville) that in the summoning of Members on all occasions of importance the President of the Council and the Cabinet were consulted; while the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack made the much more satisfactory statement that there was no selection, and that any Member could attend. He should now like to hear from the noble Marquess (the Marquess of Ripon) what the practice actually was.


explained that the two statements were not conflicting. In theory the President summoned the Members, as in other than judicial matters; but he was practically in the habit of informing the Lord Chancellor of those whose attendance he supposed possible. There was no selection, all likely to attend being written to. In the last ecclesiastical cause four or five Members were written to by his own special desire, as he thought they might attend, but all of them declined except one able and excellent Judge, who actually started, but was obliged by illness to return home. He had taken care that in all ecclesiastical suits a summons should be sent to every Member of the Committee.

Motion agreed to; Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.