HL Deb 07 August 1877 vol 236 cc525-8

presented a Petition from the Chamber of Commerce of Liverpool, praying for increased provision for the despatch of the civil legal business of the Liverpool Assizes. The noble Earl recapitulated the leading statements of the Petitioners, who represented the inadequacy of the existing arrangements for transacting the civil business of the Courts of the County of Lancaster.


admitted the importance of the subject, not as regarded the County of Lancaster only, but the Kingdom generally, and he was not, therefore, surprised that his noble Friend should have referred to the statements in the Petition. The question had for a considerable time. occupied the attention both of the Judges of the land and of those responsible for any legislation proposed on the subject. It was, in fact, that very question which had led to the appointment of the Judicature Commission. Ten or eleven years ago the late Lord Derby told him that representations had been made to him of there being what was equivalent to a denial of justice in Lancashire; and it was in consequence of those representations that Lord Derby advised that a Commission should be appointed to inquire into the whole Judicature of the country. That Commission recommended that in Liverpool and Manchester there should be four sittings in the year for the trial of civil causes; that the duration of those sittings should not be limited; and that two or more Judges should sit at the same time for the hearing of those causes when that course should be found convenient. The difficulty, of course, was to provide the requisite number of Judges, and that recommendation of the Commission was not one of the changes adopted on the passing of the Judicature Act. None of the changes effected by that Act had met the evil, which consequently had gone on increasing—and he must add that the question was not now a question as to Liverpool and Manchester only. He had received representations from the county of York to the effect that a Winter Assize for the transaction of civil business was required at Leeds also. At the Winter Assizes for Liverpool and Manchester criminal as well as civil business was disposed of. In 1874 the number of days' sittings at the three Assizes was 72, and the number of civil cases to be disposed of 484. Their Lordships could well suppose that those 484 cases were not disposed of. In 1875 there were 69 days for 459 cases, and in 1866, 74 days for 510 cases. Of these 510 cases, a large proportion were special jury cases, involving questions of great importance and large sums of money. To dispose of those cases in 74 days, it would have been necessary to dispose of one in each of the seven hours of the judicial day. These figures must be enough to show that the present accommodation for the transaction of civil business in the County of Lancaster was clearly insufficient—and, as a matter of fact, the business could not be got through, and arrears must be left. The question, then, was—how was the evil to be remedied? Taking the present duration of the Assizes, if in the place of one Judge they had two or three Judges sitting at the same time for the trial of civil causes, they would double or treble the number of cases heard. There were two objections to that plan, one of which was urged in the Petition read by his noble Friend. The Petitioners objected that it would be extremely inconvenient for solicitors and others who had to transact business that the number of Courts sitting at the same time should be increased. He did not, however, attach much weight to that objection, because he thought that the ingenuity of the solicitors would devise a way of getting over that difficulty; and if only one Judge were to sit, he must be a local Judge and sit throughout the year. But there was another objection which had more in it—namely, the want of judicial power. Of course, if two or three Judges were to sit at Liverpool and Manchester, in order that the business disposed of might be doubled or trebled, they must have more Judges. Where were they to be had? There was a strong feeling both in Parliament and throughout the country that the present arrangements for gaol delivery were not what they ought to be. It was quite obvious that there were many prisoners lying in prison for three, four, and five months without an opportunity of having their cases heard. In that respect there was a great difference in different parts of the country. Within the district of the Central Criminal Court there were in each year 12 sittings for the trial of prisoners, so that except under special circumstances no one committed for trial at the Central Criminal Court had to wait more than a month for his trial. But in other parts of the country persons committed after the month of June had to wait perhaps five months for their trial at the Winter Assizes. There was a strong demand that there should be throughout the country a more frequent general gaol delivery—one every quarter. He thought that desirable, but in order to provide it there must be some additional judicial strength. Again, there were the trials of civil cases in London and Middlesex. He was glad to say, looking at the changes effected by the Judicature Act, that in their Lordships' House, with the exception of six cases in respect of which there were particular reasons for delay, all the causes entered up to the 10th of June last had been disposed of. In the Privy Council every cause had been disposed of; and in the intermediate Court of Appeal, notwithstanding a temporary diminution of judicial strength owing to the illness of two of the Judges, there were no arrears. In the Courts sitting in banco he understood that the arrears were not considerable; and in the Chancery Division since the appointment of an additional Judge the arrears had been considerably diminished. The difficulty arose in the civil business of Lancashire and of London and Middlesex and in the gaol deliveries throughout the country. Out of London, however, the great de- ficiency was not felt continuously, but during the Spring, Summer, and Winter Assizes, which lasted about 20 weeks. During that time there was a considerable want of judicial power. That, as it appeared to him, could be supplied in only one or other of two ways. You might provide that while the Judges of the land should go through the country on Circuit and try the graver criminal offences, the other criminal business should be disposed of by Commissioners. In the minds of many there was a great objection to that course. Without going into the difficulty of drawing the line between the cases to be tried by the Judges of the land and the cases to be tried by the Commissioners, he doubted very much whether it would be desirable to engraft on our judicial system a permanent organization of paid Commissioners who would not be judges. The other mode was an addition to the Judges of the land. He did not deprecate that plan on the ground of expense only, for he thought that nothing was more dangerous than to add to the judicial strength till such a measure was absolutely required. To have too many Judges was an evil in itself. It tended to lower the dignity of the judicial office, and it was likely to cause an undue drain from the Bar. The Government were, however, quite alive to the serious inconvenience arising from the state of things he had described. The subject occupied, and would occupy, the most careful attention of the Government, and should they find—especially after the experience of the Circuits of the present year—that there was not a sufficient number of Judges they would not hesitate to propose to Parliament such an addition to the judicial strength as circumstances might require.