HL Deb 24 June 1901 vol 95 cc1185-7

House in Committee, according to Order.


My Lords, I wish to call attention to Sub-section 3 of Clause 1, which provides that in the case of appeals under the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1897 and 1900, the decision of the High Court shall be final, and leave shall not be given to appeal in any other Court. The Lord Chief Justice, speaking in this House the other night, said that in his opinion there ought to be an appeal. I should like to know whether the noble and learned Lord has considered the matter since the Lord Chief Justice spoke, and whether there are any strong reasons why this Act should alone be excluded from appeal to the House of Lords. It is a very complicated Act, and no one knows better than the Lord Chancellor that there have been a great number of appeals, in which the decisions of the lower Courts have been reversed.


My Lords, the noble Lord is in error in stating that this is the only Act which is excluded from appeal to the House of Lords. Appeals from the county courts are finally decided by the divisional court, and registration appeals cannot come to the House of Lords. In one sense I am rather pleased to find that the House of Lords has become a popular court of appeal, and that it is supposed to be a deprivation of the subject if there is no appeal to this House. When the Workmen's Compensation Act was introduced, the suggestion was that it would be impossible to allow cases to go to the House of Lords, because it would involve such expensive litigation. The idea of an appeal to the House of Lords was negatived as to Ireland and Scotland, but there was a blunder in the drafting of the Bill, and an ingenious person found out that by particular words in the schedule, and not in the body of the Act, there was an appeal to the House of Lords. The courts of appeal are being swamped by the number of appeals, and it was justly considered that the original design of this Act should be pursued, and that an appeal to the House of Lords should not be granted. For myself, I am reluctant to refuse the jurisdiction which this House is considered to have exercised so well. But the other side must be considered, where it is a question of expensive litigation, and where the number of appeals has been the subject of animadversion. Why this particular class of litigation should be made the subject of appeal to the final court of appeal, although it is, generally speaking, for small amounts, is a question with which I am not prepared to deal. I can only say that I will make no proposition myself which would allow an appeal to the House of Lords. I would remind the noble Lord that only last year, when the Workmen's Compensation Act was extended to agricultural labourers, it was expressly provided that there should be no appeal to the House of Lords. It seems to me that this sudden and extraordinary demonstration in favour of the jurisdiction of the House of Lords arises from the fact that in many cases this House has decided in favour of the workman; but I do not know whether the same opinion would continue to exist if it should become our duty, as it may on many occasions, to decide against the workman. The general view is that it is undesirable in small matters to have litigation continued from court to court, thereby increasing enormously the expense of such litigation. This view becomes all the more important in the case of poor litigants. That is the view which has been taken, and I cannot say I entirely demur from it. Much must depend on the general feeling whether or not I accept an Amendment restoring the appeal to the House of Lords. It would, however, seem to me inconsistent with the course we have hitherto taken on the subject.

Bill reported, without Amendment, and recommitted to the Standing Committee.

House adjourned a five minutes past Five of the clock, till to morrow, half-past Ten of the clock.