HL Deb 25 June 1908 vol 191 cc18-22


Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I need not assure the House that I have not the least intention of raising any question with regard to the Act passed last year. It has only been in operation for about two months, and any question of amendment or increased power, or anything of that kind, could only be considered after much longer experience. All I will say with regard to that Act is, and I am sure my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack will agree with me, that His Majesty's Judges are doing their utmost to make it a practical Act, and to work it in a way which will strengthen the criminal law. It is in order that we may get as far as possible perfect equipment for that Act that I have found it necessary to ask your Lordships to allow this Bill to have a Second Reading.

This Bill deals with two practical points only. The Act of last year, for reasons which commended themselves to somebody—I really do not know to whom—did not allow all the Judges of the King's Bench Division to be Judges of the Court of Criminal Appeal. I do not know, and I do not wish to inquire, what the reasons for that restriction were. Since then a Committee has been sitting at the instance of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, and has resulted in the Judges of the King's Bench Division devising a circuit scheme which will enable ten Judges to be continuously in London. The matter is difficult to arrange, but I hope the scheme will work. It will come into operation on 12th October. In consequence, the difficulty of providing for the Court of Criminal Appeal will be accentuated. The new circuit scheme could not be worked if the number of Judges of the Court of Criminal Appeal is limited to eight besides myself. I, therefore, find it absolutely necessary to ask your Lordships to increase the number of Judges of that Court. I see no reason for drawing any distinction in the matter, and, therefore, the first clause in this Bill provides that all the Judges of the King's Bench Division shall be Judges of the Court of Criminal Appeal. Of course, the selection of the Judges who are to sit in the Court of Criminal Appeal must rest with the Lord Chief Justice for the time being. The responsibility is, and must be, his. I think I have given sufficient justification for the first clause in the Bill.

By the second section of the Act of last year the registrar is chosen from one of the Masters of the King's Bench Division. At the present time the work is being admirably done by the Master of the Crown Office, but there is no choice, if it became necessary to appoint a new registrar, outside the ranks of the Masters of the King's Bench Division. I have received a memorial from the Masters as to the impossibility of their doing this additional work. That, however, is not my real reason for dealing-with this matter, because, of course, they must do the work if it is put upon them. My real reason is that I think it is most important that the registrar should be a man skilled in criminal law. The Bill therefore proposes, in Clause 2, subsection (1), to give power to appoint, in the case of any future appointment, a barrister versed in the criminal law.

Sub-section (2) of Clause 2 involves no principle at all. It is that a deputy registrar should be appointed. At present no deputy registrar is authorised by the Statute. Work arising under the Act will have to be done in the long vacation, and it will be absolutely necessary that there should be someone in the office to discharge the duties of the registrar. The Lord Chancellor has already appointed the staff, and it includes a gentleman who has the qualification of a practising barrister of not less than seven years standing, and who is quite competent to discharge the duties. All I desire under this subsection is to give power for a member of the staff already appointed to be allowed to act as assistant registrar. My only aim and object in bringing the Bill forward is to make the body, both judicial and administrative, that has to deal with this Act as efficient as it can be made.

Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a—(Lord Alverstone.)


My Lords, I desire to deal quite shortly with the subject of the Second Reading of this Bill. The House will remember that the Criminal Appeal Act had its origin in this House in the year 1906. The following year it was passed by the House of Commons and became law, the proposals being somewhat varied in the second Bill from what they were in the first. In fact, I do not think the differences of opinion were altogether coterminous with party connections; but there were differences of opinion, and they ultimately resulted in compromise. I have no wish to offer any objection to the Bill submitted to vour Lordships to-day by the Lord Chief Justice, although, of course, when it roaches the House of Commons, it may, if it can be considered, encounter the same various currents of opinion as the Bill of last year and which resulted in the compromise now on the Statute-book.

I would remind the House that the proposal that all the Judges of the King's Bench Division should be Judges of the Court of Criminal Appeal was contained in my original Bill in 1906, but the House of Commons for reasons which we need not speculate upon, objected to all the Judges being members of this Court. If they change their view, I shall not in the least deprecate the change. With regard to future appointments to the office of registrar, I will only say that there is now a very competent registrar, who, I hope, will perform the work for many years to come. With regard to my noble and learned friend's third proposal, the Act says that the Lord Chancellor and the Treasury may provide such assistance as is required. I have provided all the assistance that has been necessary up to the present, and whatever further is required I am prepared, of course, to provide. I think, however, that it is very likely that the House of Commons will be of opinion that if any fresh appointments are made they ought to be made with the sanction of the Treasury and on the responsibility of a Minister answerable to Parliament.

For my own part I should be most happy to be divested of any patronage attaching to my office. I find it by no means the most agreeable portion of my duties. But experience has shown it to be right that those in whom the appointment resides ought to be persons in a Ministerial position responsible to Parliament. Accordingly I suspect that objections will be raised to my noble and learned friend's proposal. At the same time, I desire to recognise the anxiety of my noble and learned friend to make the Act work well, and I should regard myself as most ungrateful if I endeavoured to put any obstacle in the way of any proposals my noble and learned friend made.


My Lords, although there is likely to be no opposition to this Bill I would like to say a few words with regard to the position of the Court of Criminal Appeal. My noble and learned friend the Lord Chief Justice has said that the time has scarcely come for judging of the working of the Act, as only a few months have elapsed since it came into operation. I think, on the other hand, that sufficient time has elapsed to allow of our taking stock of the working of this Act.

When, some forty years ago, I made proposals in the hope of obtaining a Court of Criminal Appeal it was prophesied that it would be impossible to create and maintain such a Court in this country, that there would be a glut of appeals, that many Judges would have to be appointed to administer it, that it would frustrate rather than support the acquittal of innocent people, and that nothing but evil would result. Such prophecies were uttered in both Houses of Parliament; they were even uttered by Judges on the Bench. I now claim, as one who has always had the establishment of a Court of Criminal Appeal at heart, that the experience we have had of its working has proved all those prophecies to be unsound. In the first place, the Act was drawn with singular wisdom and moderation in respect of all matters to which it referred.

I think the country is much indebted to my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack for the part he has taken in devising and passing so complete an Act. My noble and learned friend has in this instance given proof of the great advantage in the administration of the law which is being derived from his occupying his present high position, and how important it is to the public that he should continue to occupy that position. I give that praise because I think it is especially due. The Act has, with the able assistance of the Lord Chief Justice, been wisely administered, and the Judges have set themselves anxiously to the work cast upon them. They have discouraged appeals which ought not to have been made; they have shown that an appellant may have something to lose as well as something to gain, and the consequence has been that there has not arisen any approach to a stoppage in the administration of justice in consequence of these appeals. There has been, on the other hand, a certain knowledge conveyed to the public that justice will be truly administered in this country, and that for the future there is no fear of an innocent man receiving punishment.

On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Monday next.