HL Deb 24 June 1920 vol 40 cc792-5

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, very few words of explanation are necessary in moving the Second Reading of this Bill. Its object is to amalgamate the two separate Courts which now exist in the City of London, each having Judges, officials, and a Court-house of its own. The first of these is the Court of the Lord Mayor, a Court of immemorial antiquity having a jurisdiction which in point of amount is unlimited, though territorially it is limited to cases arising in the City of London. The second is the City of London Court, also in its origin of great antiquity since it represents two old Sheriffs Courts—the Court of Giltspur Compter and the Court of Poultry Compter. In its modern form the City of London Court is to all intents and purposes a County Court having its regular place in the County Court system. The Judges of the Mayor's Court are the Recorder and the Common Serjeant, and in addition, for some years past, it has been the custom that these should be assisted by another gentleman who is known as the Assistant Judge. The City of London Court, since the retirement of Mr. Commissioner Kerr, has until lately had two Judges—originally Sir Lumley-Smith and Mr. Rentoul, and then Mr. Atherley Jones and Judge Rentoul. Upon the retirement of Judge Rentoul last summer it was thought that the volume of work in this Court was insufficient at the moment to justify the appointment of a new Judge, and since then Judge Atherley Jones alone has discharged the duties of this Court.

The Recorder and the Common Serjeant and the Judge or Judges in the City of London Court are, by virtue of the Central Criminal Court Act, included in the Com- mission for hearing criminal cases at the Central Criminal Court. It is obvious that if the Mayor's Court and the City of London Court are amalgamated—which is my proposal—the Judges who are available for each Court will become available for both Courts, with a consequent saving of judicial time. If the work of the amalgamated Court increases it will be necessary to fill the vacancy caused by the retirement of Judge Rentoul. Meanwhile the official staff of both Courts will assist the Recorder, tie Common Serjeant, the Judge of the City of London Court (Judge Atherley Jones) and the Assistant Judge, at present Mr. Jackson. It is at present anticipated that it may be possible to close one of the two Court-houses and, by an amalgamation of the staffs of the two Courts; to affect a very considerable financial saving.

Incidentally, advantage is taken, of the opportunity to revise the procedure in the Mayor's Court which at present employs for its process the antiquated form of pleadings which in the High Court came to an end many years ago. The Bill makes provision for the interests of those officials of the Courts who will, or may be, displaced in consequence of its provisions. It has been considered and approved by the Council of the Law Society, and it comes before your Lordships with the warm support of the Corporation, who are at present suffering heavy financial loss through the conduct of the two Courts, and I am confident that its passing will result in increased efficiency as well as economy, and, I trust also, in the revival of the ancient glories of the old and famous Courts of the City of London.

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


My Lords, I welcome this measure. I think it has long been needed, and I hope that its result will be further to strengthen the administration of justice in the City of London. What the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack has said is quite true. The jurisdiction of these two Courts is ancient, and, so far as the Mayor's Court is concerned, it is very extensive. The forms of procedure which it adopts are strangely cumbrous and antiquated. I feel sure that any of your Lordships would appreciate this who have ever heard a common action for debt opened to a common jury in the Mayor's Court and heard counsel explain to a patient and, bewildered body of men that the count was a count of concessit solvere, and had seen the expression on their faces, when all they wanted to be told was that it was a case of a common action for debt, the concessit solvere being on the hypothesis that defendant had met tile plaintiff in the parish of St. Botolph and had there genially confessed that he had had the money—the last thing in the world the defendant had dreamed of doing. On that fiction the process is based and the pleadings are drawn in that form. One sees every old form go with some regret, particularly if you are a person like myself who disbelieves in many of them, but, none the less, this form, I think, has served its time and should pass away.

But the alteration proposed here is one to which I desire to direct the attention of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack, and it is my only excuse for the few observations I wish to make. The jurisdiction of the Mayor's Court being practically unlimited within the area it controls, and the jurisdiction of the City of London Court being strictly limited, this Bill provides that there shall be two distinct species of procedure applicable to cases in the new Court. There shall be the procedure which is applicable to the cases which could not formerly have been brought in the City of London Court but could have been brought in the Mayor's Court and there is the procedure applicable to those cases only that could have been brought within the City of London Court, the procedure for the larger area of cases in the Mayor's Court being that of the High Court of Justice. It seems to me that this is rather a clumsy method of effecting reform, and what I would suggest for the consideration of the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack is that it would be well to have one common form of procedure applicable to all cases, subject to this, that either party may, if he think it right, apply to have the pleadings in the usual more elaborate procedure of the High Court, if the matter be a matter over the normal County Court limit.

I do not like the clause which provides that the procedure of the High Court is to be adopted and to be enforced in lieu of that which was in use in the Mayor's Court for all purposes and cases within the jurisdiction of the Mayor's Court and not within the jurisdiction of the County Court, as it appears to me that it may well give rise to technical problems as to whether or not the right form of procedure has been adopted in any particular case. And if there is one thing which is more hateful than another to any person who is engaged in the administration of justice, it is, I am certain, a foolish technical quarrel as to whether some form has been complied with disobedience to which would in no way affect the course of the case. Therefore, I invite the noble and learned Lord's attention to what I think is a difficulty in the Bill, and would beg him to give it some careful consideration between now and the Committee stage.


I will certainly do as my noble and learned friend suggests. I will convey his criticisms to those who are directly responsible for the conduct of business in these Courts, and I have no doubt that I shall be able to give him a detailed reply or concession.

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