THE DUKE OF ST. ALBANS
My Lords, I wish to call the attention of Her Majesty's Government to the question of the payment of fees by complainants in summary jurisdiction cases; and to ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will introduce a Bill authorising the Justices, in their discretion, to make an order remitting such fees as cannot be dealt with under the 14th and 15th Vict. chap. 55, sec. 12, or under the 8th section of the Summary Jurisdiction Act, 1879. I would point out that though in Summary Jurisdiction cases when the costs are paid by the defendant the complainant receives the fees paid and payable, yet in many cases where the defendant goes to prison the complainant is fined to that amount. It is true that under the 14 and 15 Vict., chap. 55, section 12, the Magistrates have power to remit fees for poverty or other reasonable cause; but in most counties it is understood that the reasonable cause is. to be either poverty or some cause ejusdem generis. In Notts and Norfolk the Magistrates are advised that this Act would not legally allow them to remit the fees in the event of the defendant going to prison in cases of trespass, assault, poaching, or of a colliery owner convicting miners of infraction of rules. I understand that this has also been considered to be the meaning of the Act in several of the northern counties, but I am told that in Huntingdonshire the words " reasonable cause " are understood to cover a variety of circumstances. If that is also the legal meaning of the Act, further legislation is unnecessary; but one does not require to be a lawyer to recognise that those various readings in different counties cannot all be correct, and they seem to show that the law on the subject is some what vague. It is desirable there should be uniformity of procedure among Magistrates in the different counties, and therefore I trust 1017 I am not presumptuous in asking the Lord Chancellor to give an opinion as to the right interpretation of the Act as regards the words " reasonable cause," which are no doubt vague. I confess it seems to me, if the Magistrates had power under 14 & 15 Vict. to remit costs the provision in the 8th section of the Summary Jurisdiction Act, which enacts that in the case of a fine not exceeding 5s., an order shall not be made for payment of any costs by the complainant unless the Court thinks fit to expressly order otherwise, appears to have been unnecessary. I have seen a circular which has been sent round from the Home Office calling attention especially to the payment of these fees, and pointing out how very disproportionate in many cases the amounts appear of fines levied in regard to the questions involved. 1 cannot help reminding your Lordships that in these cases of summary jurisdiction the procedure presses very hardly upon poor persons. They have often, in the first place, great difficulty in collecting the half-crown which is necessary for the summons; then they have perhaps to spend a day or the best part of one in getting the summons, and a second day when it is heard before the Magistrates. On that ground it seems to me that the matter is worthy of consideration. To illustrate my meaning I would quote two cases which lately came before the Magistrates, in both of which the defendant was convicted. One was a case of stealing two penny loaves. In that case all the fees were paid by the Local Authority, and being a felony, the complainant's witnesses also. The other was a case of grievous assault, and, the defendant going to prison, the complainant had to pay the costs. That is to say, the defendant was sent to gaol and the complainant was punished, to the extent of a heavy:payment. I do not know whether this is the law, it is certainly not justice, and I have ventured therefore to ask the question which stands in my name.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I have some difficulty in fully explaining this matter without going into it at greater length than the noble Duke probably desires, but I am afraid I must do so in order to make my answer intelligible. The policy of the law with 1018 reference to the minor offences which are tryable by Justices at Petty Sessions has left us very much in the position in which all offences against the law used to be; but with respect to felonies and serious offences this has long since passed away. That is to say, the public obtained justice at their own expense. With regard to the minor offences which come before the Courts of summary jurisdiction the position is still the same, and it would be a very wide question of policy indeed to say whether that should be altered. Personally I am disposed to think it is somewhat illogical that anyone should be put to any expense for the performance of a public duty. That is only my private and pious opinion upon the subject, and I cannot, of course, expect that everybody will take that view. Speaking generally—I will come to the specific question asked, in a moment— the position is this: The noble Duke, I think, confuses two quite separate things, costs or fees and expenses. To some extent, no doubt, fees are expenses of administration. If the arrangement made were carried out with regard to these fees, they would go to the Chancellor of the Exchequer instead of being paid to the Magistrates' clerk. As the noble Duke is aware. some time ago the system by which fees went to the officers engaged in the administration of justice was altered, and the fees go to the Exchequer. So much for the fees.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
They did, as a matter of fact, go to the county, but they go now to the Exchequer. The Acts of Parliament on the subject are two. By the Summary Jurisdiction Act of 1879, which I do not understand the noble Duke to say has been the subject of doubt, the very question raised appears to be determined by the language of the Statute itself, which says that—Where a fine adjudged upon a conviction by a Court of summary jurisdiction to be paid does not exceed 5s.then, so far as the Court does not think fit expressly to authorise it,An order shall not be made for payment by the defendant to the informant of any costs;but it goes on to provide that—The Court shall, as far as they think fit to expressly order, otherwise direct all fees pay- 1019 able or paid by the informant to be remitted or repaid to him, and the Court may also order the fine or any part thereof to be paid. to the informant in or towards the payment of his costs.I confess it seems to me impossible to make the construction applicable to that section clearer by any words of mine. I think it means exactly what it says. The answer to the question which the noble Duke has put upon the Paper seems to me to be this. He suggests that some learned persons have expressed their view that the Magistrates ought not to remit the expenses or fees paid by informants unless there is a special reason for it. It seems to me the Act of Parliament says exactly the reverse, and that they shall receive the penalty unless an express order to the contrary is made in the matter. So far the Legislation seems to be clear. But with reference to the earlier Act, there you are dealing with a different subject matter, and upon that I think the question does not admit of so easy a solution, because there you have general words in addition to the enumerated classes of things. That is supposed to limit a great deal the operation of the general words expressing what the noble Duke has. rightly, I think, described as the principle of ejusdem generis. Although I do not deny as a matter of reasoning that the question is not so easily solved, and I will state why in a moment, practically the question does not seem to me to be of much importance, except that the Magistrates, it is said, take different views of it. I do not think so for this reason; that the only case which the noble Duke has given as an illustration of the necessity for a revision of the law, is one which is expressly provided for by the Act. As a matter of reasoning and language, I entirely agree with what the noble Duke has said; but I should have been glad had a concrete case been cited, for when he illustrates his statement of the necessity for new legislation on the subject, I can only repeat that the very example which he gives of the difficulty persons have in collecting the money to enable them to pay the fees for taking out summonses and so on, and not being in a position to take the required steps satisfactorily, is the specific thing which is provided for by the Act. I confess, before being called upon to express an opinion 1020 upon the true construction of the language, I should have been glad if the noble Duke had given us a concrete illustration of what he calls " the other reasonable cause," in addition to poverty which would induce Magistrates to interfere. It would, I think, have been more convenient to give a case which would have shown whether or not those words would include it. I do not deny the usefulness of prescribing a course which would enable Magistrates to take a uniform view; but may I be permitted to observe that it would be much more convenient if we were to raise that question in a Court of Law, so that it might be properly decided. If it should be decided that there can be no reasonable cause but poverty that is one thing, but it may involve a question of policy whether it is desirable that anything but poverty should excuse an informant from the necessity of paying the required fees. It is desirable, therefore, that they should have that subject under their consideration. Supposing it should be decided that it is only poverty that can be regarded, that is one view, and that would induce uniformity of practice among the Magistrates. I said I would in frankness deal with the noble Duke's difficulty, and I agree the question is not free from doubt, but I do not wish to commit myself in any way in case the question should come before me in my judicial capacity. What is the genus, of which there is one example given? I confess I feel a difficulty upon those words " poverty or other reasonable cause." Of course if those words are intended to be disjunctive, and any other cause may be deemed reasonable by the Magistrates, the difficulty is solved: if it means any other cause ejusdem generis with poverty I confess I am at the present moment absolutely hopeless of being able to give a true solution of it, because I am unaware what the causes ejusdem generis with poverty are. If it is poverty, that is one thing, but the Statute seems to consider there is another thing, and I cannot say that I am able to cut down the one by the other. Certainly, as far as my own opinion goes, it seems to me the true construction of the Statute is that poverty shall be one cause undoubtedly, and it is left to the discretion of the Magistrates to say what to their mind is beyond that 1021 a reasonable cause for taking the course prescribed. I have only further to say that I give that answer to the noble Duke with the full reservation to myself of the right, after hearing argument, of deciding exactly the other way.
§ House adjourned at Six o'clock, to Thursday next, a quarter before Eleven o'clock.