HL Deb 11 November 1918 vol 31 cc1154-7

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, in moving the Second Reading of this Bill I think, although I have had to frame it in a manner that perhaps may look a little complicated, that the object of it can be expressed in a very few words. It is intended to remedy a defect in the Irish County Court procedure which prohibits one County Court Judge from acting for another if that other happens to be unable to attend to his duties by reason of sickness. Explained in those terms it becomes a simple matter, but perhaps it is necessary that I should explain shortly the necessity for this short Bill. It is not a very ambitious Bill, nor will it, I think, altogether cure the undoubted grievance which exists, but it will go a long way and I think remedy a grievance that has been very prominently brought before my notice during the five years I had the honour of occupying the position of Lord Chancellor of Ireland.

Under the Irish County Court system, which is largely different from the English, in the year 1851 barristers of ten years' standing—who by the Statute are not styled County Court Judges but Chairmen of Quarter Sessions—were appointed to administer civil and criminal jurisdiction in Ireland in a number of cases. With regard to the civil jurisdiction it is roughly very much the same as the jurisdiction exercised by the English County Court Judges, but with regard to the criminal jurisdiction it is quite a different matter. The Chairman of Quarter Sessions, as he was called under the Statute, was made permanent Chairman, and in that way he practically administered the greater part of the criminal work of the county.

The result of placing the Judge in that position is that primarily his sittings have to be fixed not as in England, for the convenience of civil business, but with regard to the Quarter Sessions for the trial of criminal cases. In the Statute these barristers—who continued to practise at the bar, and whose position, I think, was not unlike that which obtains in the Scottish system—sat to discharge criminal business in the months, roughly speaking, of January, April, June, September, October and sometimes November. A Judge or Chairman is not allowed to discharge any duties in an adjoining county, unless in some very exceptional circumstances which one need not bother about. He is confined to his county, and primarily he discharges the duties of the Chairman of Quarter Sessions. He sits in a number of very small towns, and when the criminal business is disposed of he disposes of the civil business.

The practical position of affairs is that some County Court Judges have all their time occupied while others are temporarily occupied in one town. In an adjoining county another Judge might be at that period unoccupied. Owing to the system adopted by the Act this position of affairs is quite unavoidable. Matters went on until 1877, when an Irish County Court Act was passed and the title and position of these barristers were altered. They were created County Court Judges, but their position was not exactly the same as that of English County Court Judges. As I have explained they were exercising criminal jurisdiction, partly owing to the fact that the offices of Recorders of cities in Ireland—officers that still remain in England—were all amalgamated with the office of County Court Judge. Accordingly, we have now a series of permanent Judges who are very much in the same position as Superior Court Judges with regard to their tenure of office.

Each Judge discharges duties in his own county. Each finds that he is not intended and not allowed to travel outside. The grievance is a simple one. A Judge, like anybody else, falls ill, and the only method at present by which a substitute can be appointed is for the Lord Chancellor of Ireland to nominate under his hand a practising barrister of ten years standing. That is similar to the provision in the English County Court Act, but here I think the duties are discharged by the nominee of the County Court Judge himself. The Lord Chancellor, having so nominated the practising barrister to discharge the duties of a County Court Judge during illness, has then a very unpleasant duty indeed to discharge. He is bound, under Section 9 of the Act of 1851, to "dock" the salary of the unfortunate County Court Judge of a sufficient sum which, in his opinion, will recompense the deputy for his services.

The injustice of the thing is very evident. A Judge falls not very seriously ill, but so ill that he cannot discharge his duties for a couple of days. In an adjoining county, perhaps in two or three counties, there is one or more County Court Judges who could very well discharge his duties, but they are prevented by the Statute from doing so. A Judge cannot be taken from one county to another, and the result has been, as I think, a decided grievance amongst the County Court Judges in Ireland. To remedy this the Bill proposes not what might be a very controversial matter, to enable one Judge to discharge, without any distinction, duties in another country; it merely proposes to amend the section of the Act of 1851, by which practically only practising barristers who had to be paid out of the Judge's salaries are appointed, and to enable the Lord Chancellor, if he thinks that it would not interfere with the proper discharge of the duties of the other County Court. Judge, and with the consent (which is essential) of the other County Court Judge, to nominate him to discharge the duties of the Judge who has fallen temporarily ill. Of course, it might not effect a cure in every case, but it will undoubtedly ameliorate the situation which has existed, I think, largely by accidental omission from the County Courts Act of 1887, and to that extent I commend it to your Lordships as being eminently reasonable and non controversial. It became essential that the Bill should also provide that the Judge and Recorder who should be appointed to discharge the duties of another Judge and Recorder not ill should not receive remuneration for so acting. It appeared to me to be well to avoid anything which would look like dealing with a money matter, which I take it cannot be regularly done in your Lordships' House. That is the position of this Bill, and I beg to move.

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


My Lords, inquiries have been made in regard to this Bill by those who are best competent to deal with it, the authorities in Ireland. My noble and learned friend who has just moved the Second Reading of course speaks with a unique authority as to the practice in Ireland in these matters, and I believe that the statement he has made is perfectly accurate in every particular in regard to it. The power to appoint a deputy County Court Judge rests with the Lord Chancellor. The deputy has to be a practising barrister of at least ten years standing and the deputy's remuneration is fixed by the Lord Chancellor and paid out of the salary of the County Court Judge. I believe that is the present state of the law. The proposal made by the Bill is that the existing law should be supplemented by enabling the Lord Chancellor to appoint as deputy any other County Court Judge who consents to act, but that County Court Judges who will discharge these additional duties should not have any remuneration for doing it, and that these additional duties rendered necessary by the illness and unavoidable absence of a County Court Judge should be discharged by calling in in this way the assistance of his brother. I am afraid that as this matter comes from Ireland it cannot be regarded as non-contentious. The General Council of the Bar of Ireland have held a meeting to consider the Bill, and have passed a resolution condemning it and recording their unanimous opinion that the proposed change would dissolve the bussiness of country courts and Assizes and would result in causing inconvenience, delay, and hardships to the litigants and to the members of the legal profession with no corresponding benefit to the public. That is the view of the General Council of the Bar of Ireland. The Irish Lord Chancellor and the Irish Law Officers were consulted in the matter by the Chief Secretary, and they have expressed the opinion that the Bill is not a satisfactory measure, and the Irish Office concurs in that opinion. For these reasons I hope that, in spite of the very clear and lucid statements made by my noble and learned friend, the House will not give this measure a Second Reading.


It would be useless for me to waste the time of your Lordships' House by pressing the Bill to a Second Reading if the view of the Government is, as it appears to me to be, against me. Accordingly I ask the leave of the House to withdraw it.

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.