HL Deb 17 May 1900 vol 83 cc381-3

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Lord Chancellor if he concurs in the judgment of the Lord Chief Justice in the matter of the Birmingham Daily Argus; and to ask if the judgments and Judges of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council are on the same footing as those of the rest of the Courts of Law of Her Majesty. The judgment of the Lord Chief Justice consists of two parts, and it may safely be assumed that the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack concurs in that part which refers to some ribaldry which was published by the Birmingham Daily Argus, the literary offence of which was alone sufficient to explain the sentence passed. I will quote from a daily paper the other part of the judgment, which I hope has also obtained the assent of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack. The Morning Post of Thursday, 29th March last, said— It will be more appropriate on this account to consider Lord Russell's judgment than to go back on the case which was closed yesterday. A consideration of this kind is due, because a careless reading of the case might create the impression that Judges are sacrosanct personages whom it is not lawful to criticise. Nothing could be further from the truth, as Lord Russell scrupulously stated. 'Judges and Courts,' he said, ' are alike open to criticism, if reasonable argument or expostulation is offered against any judicial act as contrary to law or the public good.…. But the Lord Chief Justice, so far from contending that a judge is exempt from criticism, even allowed that Mr. Justice Darling might fairly have been criticised on that occasion. 'His warning [to the Birmingham press] may have been unnecessary,' ran the judgment.' In 1896, † when I criticised in this House judgments of the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council on Hindu and Mussulman Law, the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack censured me, and he did so in terms which were not in accordance with the statements contained in the † See The Parliamentary Debates [Fourth Series], Vol. xlii., page 227. judgment of the Lord Chief Justice. wish to know exactly what ground I stand upon, as there are other judgments since 1896 requiring criticism. I would submit to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack that what he then said was spoken in the heat of debate, and perhaps as the easiest and readiest answer to what I had urged against the judgment of the Judicial Committee, whereas what has been said by the Lord Chief Justice has been spoken judicially from the Bench. I would also ask leave to remind the noble and learned Lord that, if he does not concur with the judgment of the Lord Chief Justice in what concerns the judgments or Judges of the Judicial Committee as well as those of other of Her Majesty's Law Courts, that would be postponing the dignity of the Woolsack and the House of Lords to that of the Judicial Committee, and in effect it would be giving to the Judicial Committee the invidious privileges of the Star Chamber from which it is lineally descended, and possibly conferring upon it the odium which all Englishmen feel for the memory of the Star Chamber.


I confess that I was wholly unable to understand the noble Lord's question as it stood upon the Paper, but he has explained himself. The noble Lord, on the occasion to which he refers, thought fit to comment upon and condemn in somewhat severe terms a judgment which had been given by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council; but I am not aware that anybody suggested that the noble Lord had thereby exposed himself to a process for contempt or any other form of procedure. I adhere to the opinion I then expressed as to the extreme inappropriateness—to use the mildest word—of commenting in this House upon a judgment which had been given in the regular course of law by Her Majesty's Judges. I protest against being asked whether I concur in what the Lord Chief Justice said in the case referred to, and I should have declined to answer it except that the noble Lord would suggest, from my declining to answer, that it was obvious I disagreed with the Lord Chief Justice. For that reason only, I will say that I heartily and entirely concur in what was said by the Lord Chief Justice. My remarks on the former occasion to the noble Lord, and the observations of the Lord Chief Justice, are absolutely reconcilable with each other.