HL Deb 11 June 1891 vol 354 cc140-2

Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.


My Lords, the objects of this Bill are to remove certain limitations in regard to matters which were not altogether settled in the Judicature Acts. The first clause provides for persons who have held the office of Lord Chancellor acting as Judges of the High Court or of the Court of Appeal. The next has reference to the appointment of the President of the Probate, Divorce, and Admiralty Division. When a distinguished Member of your Lordships' House was recently removed from the presidency of the Probate and Admiralty Court, which office he had occupied so long and with, such distinction, it was ascertained that the appointment of a successor was limited in a way that it was impossible to defend, and for which I confess I have been unable to find any reason at all. It was limited by a number of conditions which seriously fettered the discretion of Her Majesty in filling up the vacancy. No member of the Court of Appeal could be appointed, no person could be appointed, though he was a Judge, under such circumstances as would make him Chief of the Court. In what way that somewhat clumsy arrangement was arrived at originally on the passing of the Act constituting that Court I am unable to say, although I have made several inquiries to ascertain the reason of it. It is obvious that Her Majesty ought to be at liberty to appoint such person as she thinks proper, without any such limitations as are prescribed by the Judicature Acts as they now stand. The first object aimed at by this Bill is to get rid of those limitations, and to enable Her Majesty, subject to the conditions mentioned in it, to appoint any such person as to Her Majesty shall seem right. By this alteration a considerable and important change will be effected. The next object of the Bill is to enable the House of Lords in the case of Admiralty appeals to call in persons skilled in nautical matters to assist them as assessors. Your Lordships are probably aware that in Admiralty cases, where questions involving nautical knowledge and skill arise, the Courts of First Instance have the power to call in as assessors persons familiar with nautical subjects. Those cases frequently come upon appeal before the House of Lords; but when they do so come before your Lord ships' House no such power exists as is possessed by the Court which has already heard the case in the first instance, and by the Court of Appeal, of trying those cases with the assistance of skilled assessors. Therefore the other object aimed at by this Bill is to give your Lordships' House, sitting as a judicial tribunal, the power of obtaining the assistance of skilled persons in matters requiring nautical knowledge, in the same way that Courts of First Instance and the Court of Appeal now have power to do. Your Lordships will, no doubt, think these are matters of importance requiring legislation which are dealt with in this Bill, and with this short explanation of its objects I leave it in your Lordships' hands.

Bill read 2a (according to Order), and committed to a Committee of the Whole House To-morrow.