§ House in Committee (according to order).
§ Clauses 1 to 10, inclusive, agreed to, with Amendments.
§ Clause 11 (Constitution of discipline committee).
§ LORD BRAMWELL
said, he should move that the clause be omitted, on the ground that it proposed a complete change in the present method of dealing with a solicitor who was guilty of an offence either against the law of the lend or in relation to his conduct to a client, and also on the ground that it established a tribunal of an entirely novel kind. At present, if a solicitor were charged with an offence which made him deserving of punishment, he was called upon to answer matters in an affidavit; and if the charges were of sufficient gravity and proved, the solicitor was struck off the Rolls or suspended, and a very serious punishment it was. That was all done in open Court, and after discussion. But now it was proposed that this most respectable Society—the Incorporated Law Society—should have the power, not, indeed, of striking a solicitor off the Rolls, but of hearing the case, and of hearing it in private instead of in open Court, the idea being that these preliminary proceedings should be referred to a Council of Discipline. It might be that there were some persons for whom the ordinary tribunals of this country were not good enough, and for whom fresh tribunals had to be created; but be trusted that their Lordships would not, without grave consideration, give to this Society to which 5,000 out of the 15,000 solicitors in England be- 1732 longed, and which, he admitted, had a Governing Body of gentlemen of the greatest respectability, the powers mentioned in Clause 13—namely, of enforcing the attendance of witnesses and the production of documents, of administering an oath, and of awarding costs. He thought that this was a most extraordinary proposition, especially coming from a noble and learned Lord who was not specially given to reform.
§ Moved, to leave out Clause 11 as amended.—(The Lord Bramwell.)
§ LORD ESHER (MASTER of the ROLLS)
said, he did not think that the Incorporated Law Society was a mere private society. It was already entrusted with the examination of all persons who desired to become solicitors, and no person could become one without passing that examination. Besides this, they were the registrars and custodians of the Roll of Solicitors. Although all solicitors were not members of that Society, all were able to become members of it, and there was reason to believe that all the great bodies of solicitors in England were in favour of this proposal. The object of this and later sections was not to substitute a new tribunal for an old one, nor would the present power of the Courts of Law in any way be touched by these provisions. The existing mode of proceeding in regard to striking a solicitor off the Rolls was complicated, dilatory, and expensive, and the object of these sections was to remedy that inconvenience, so that a solicitor who was to be struck off the Rolls should go before the Law Society in the first instance, instead of in the second, as at present. He thought that it was impossible for a case to be conducted more fairly than by the Law Society; and he had thought it right, when it became necessary to bring in a Bill of this nature, to give them these powers, although he had declined to put them with regard to solicitors in the position which Benchers occupied with regard to barristers. By application being made at the first instead of the second step to the Law Society, the number of steps necessary would be shortened. He was sorry, therefore, that he could not consent to the proposal to strike out this clause.
§ LORD HERSCHELL
said, he would suggest the adoption of a middle 1733 course—namely, that the reference should be made in the first instance to a Master of the Court of Queen's Bench instead of to the Law Society, and that his Report should be made to the Court.
§ LORD FITZGERALD
said, he thought that the real objection was that this proposal was to create a Court outside the Superior Courts, and to create a temporary jurisdiction—a private, irresponsible, unsworn tribunal, under none of the sanctions or obligations of an ordinary tribunal. He thought it dangerous and very objectionable that these excrescences upon the powers of the Courts of Justice should be created.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (Lord HALSBURY)
thought that his noble and learned Friend who had just spoken had a little overstated what the clause was intended to do. In the publication of applications for a rule nisi in these cases the name of the solicitor was always suppressed, and nothing was known until cause was shown against the rule. All that his noble and learned Friend behind him wished to do was to get rid of the preliminary inquiry as it was now conducted. The proceedings before the Society would resemble somewhat those before a Grand Jury. He could not agree with the noble and learned Lord that if the Incorporated Law Society declined to interfere that would practically put an end to the case. He had a strong impression that the person who believed himself aggrieved would, nevertheless, proceed himself. On more than one occasion the Incorporated Law Society declined to interfere, and thereupon the aggrieved person, on his own motion, proceeded against the solicitor. He thought it would be possible to find a middle course between the section as it stood and the Amendment, and that it would be well to make the section somewhat clearer than it at present was. At the same time, he considered the new course of procedure would be a great improvement on that at present in force, and he should support his noble and learned Friend, and vote for the clause.
§ LORD ESHER
observed, that all that the 12th clause said was that if the Law Society was satisfied that there was no case they need not proceed further. He was willing to modify the clauses to the extent that the Law Society should have power only to examine persons on oath in all matters before them.
§ LORD BRAMWELL
said that, although it was customary not to name the person against whom the application was made, the application was made in public, and very useful it was, because the knowledge that it might be made, and that the name might get known, must have a very salutary effect in preventing persons from doing what, if the matter was secret, they might do. He could not understand why, when proceedings were taken against a solicitor, his name should be kept secret, any more than the name of a man accused of perjury. His noble and learned Friend who was in charge of the Bill said that all the solicitors in England were in favour of the measure. They might be so to a large extent because, though a solicitor might not be a member of the Incorporated Law Society, he might well wish for an addition to its dignity and importance. But he could assure their Lordships that all the members of the Incorporated Law Society were not in favour of the Bill. His noble and learned Friend said that the matter was now referred to the Master, who gave a sitting for an hour. Well, then, let him give a sitting for a longer time. Because the Master's business was managed badly, why should this power be given to the Incorporated Law Society? His main objection to the clause was that it proposed to create a new Court, not strictly of private persons, he admitted, but a Court which was to act in secret.
§ On Question, "That the Clause, as amended, stand part of the Bill?"
§ Their Lordships divided:—Contents 40; Not-Contents 25: Majority 15.
§ Clause 12 (Applications to be made to discipline committee; report of committee to court).
§ LORD BRAMWELL
said, he contended that a man who considered that he had been aggrieved ought to have the right of bringing his view of the case before the tribunals. He, therefore, begged to move the Amendment standing in his name.
Amendment moved, to add, at the end of Clause 12, the following Proviso:—
Provided that any person who but for this Act would have been entitled to apply to the court to strike a solicitor off the Roll of Solicitors, or to apply to require a solicitor to answer
allegations contained in an affidavit, shall be entitled so to apply although the committee is of opinion that there is no primâ facie case of misconduct against the solicitor, and shall be entitled to be heard if the Society brings the report of the committee before the court."—(The Lord Bramwell.)
§ Amendment agreed to.
§ The Report of the Amendment to be received To-morrow; and Bill to be printed, as amended. (No. 226.)