HL Deb 10 August 1896 vol 44 cc302-5

rose to ask whether the attention of Her Majesty's Government had been called to the case of "Anderson v. Gorrie and Others," the defendants being Judges of the colony of Trinidad, tried in London in May 1894, before the late Lord Chief Justice and a special jury, when, notwithstanding that the jury found a verdict in express terms that one of the defendants oppressively and with malice overstrained his judicial powers to the prejudice of the plaintiff and the wilful perversion of justice, and found a verdict for the plaintiff for £500, the Lord Chief Justice directed judgment to be entered for the defendant on the ground that such an action did not lie against a Judge, which judgment has been upheld by the Court of Appeal; and whether the Government is prepared to initiate or support legislation with a view to rectifying or declaring the present state of the law upon the points involved in these judgments. The House would observe that a Constitutional point—namely, the immunity of the Judges, was involved in his question. It was not his intention now to enter deeply into that question, but he ventured most earnestly to call the attention of the Government and the House to do so. The case, briefly, was as follows:—Mr. Anderson practised as a surgeon in the island of Tobago, afterwards part of the colony of Trinidad. He was a man of considerable standing, having been colonial surgeon, a justice of the peace, and twice elected a member of the legislative body of Tobago. Actions were brought against him and others informâ pauperis irregularly. The colonial Judges were said to have acted oppressively. They demanded excessive bail; they imprisoned him in default of bail, and refused him leave to appeal to the Queen in Council. The affair caused a deal of local agitation, and petitions were sent to Her Majesty's Government. Royal Commissioners were sent out to inquire into the administration of justice in the colony of Trinidad, and on their report, in which they spoke of "judicial persecution," one Judge was removed from the colony and another was interdicted. In order to secure some personal redress, Mr. Anderson brought an action for damages in England against the two surviving Judges—for one of the Judges had meanwhile died—and the jury, after seven days' trial, found a verdict for the plaintiff. The jury declared that the defendant "oppressively and with malice overstrained his judicial powers to the prejudice of the plaintiff, and the wilful perversion of justice." Before this trial came on a Divisional Court had refused to stay the action, and the late Lord Chief Justice, before whom the case was tried, allowed it to go to a jury. The late Lord Chief Justice, in face of the verdict of the jury, directed judgment to be entered for defendant, and the Court of Appeal upheld that judgment. The question, therefore, arose under the law as it was now declared, whether a person having obtained such a verdict that a Judge has oppressively and with malice overstrained his judicial powers to the prejudice of the plaintiff, and the wilful perversion of justice, has any remedy against the Judge, and, if so, what remedy? He ventured to submit that there was no apparent remedy, and he was not prepared to say that such a remedy could or should be devised. It might be that the disadvantages of such a remedy would overbalance the advantages. He was unwilling to suppose that such another case was likely to arise, for the general and well-grounded respect felt by British subjects for the integrity of the judiciary anticipated the great improbability of its recurrence. Still, this unhappy instance was calculated to raise the apprehension that a Judge might again be guilty of similar practices, and if so guilty, would certainly be held not liable to afford personal redress for injuries inflicted by him. It would appear that after these judgments no person in similar circumstances would be allowed to go to a jury. Thus, "Anderson v. Gorrie and Others "appeared to be important as a test case, and the general question of judicial immunity as declared therein was being now taken up, for the matter was becoming recognised as no longer a personal one, but as a question of principle. Pressure had recently been brought to bear upon some Members of the House of Commons by memorials and letters from their constituents, especially from medical men, who were naturally greatly interested in the matter. In consequence a similar, though not identical, question was being put that day in the House of Commons, and it was thought well that the matter should be brought forward in both Houses simultaneously. On being invited to perform the task, he felt it to be his duty to ask the question. He had less reluctance, and indeed, some pleasure in bringing the matter forward, from the thought that it was possible that members of the judicial body might feel inclined to welcome any legislative enactment which should either amend or declare the law upon this point.


said no one could complain of the noble Lord in bringing forward the question, or of the kindly and judicial spirit in which it had been treated. He had some difficulty in answering the specific matter of the question, for the reason that the decision of the Court of Appeal was still open to appeal to that House, and he, therefore, did not want to express an opinion judicially upon it. But, speaking generally, an action did not lie against a Judge at the instance of a suitor who thought himself injured by the judgment of the Judge. The immunity of the Judges from such action was of great importance in the interests of justice. For centuries Judges had been appointed in this country against whom no imputation could be made, and their high character was due in a great measure to their independence, not only of plaintiff and defendant, but their independence of the Government also. There was no pecuniary remedy for a suitor against a Judge, but any Judge could be removed from his office by an Address from both Houses of Parliament.