HL Deb 03 May 1923 vol 53 cc1082-8

Order of the Day for the House to be put into Committee read.

Moved, That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly:

[The EARL of DONOUGHMORE in the Chair.]

Clause 1:

Power to dispense with holding of assizes in places where unnecessary.

1.—(1) If at any time it appears to the Lord Chief Justice of England that there is no business or no substantial amount of business to be transacted at the assizes then about to be held at any place on a circuit and that having regard to all the circumstances of the case it is desirable that an order should be made under this section, he may with the concurrence of the Lord Chancellor, by order direct that assizes shall not on the occasion of that circuit be held at that place, and where any such order is made then, notwithstanding any enactment or custom to the contrary, assizes shall not on that occasion be held at the place specified in the order.

LORD PARMOOR moved, at the end of subsection (1), to insert: "Provided that such order shall not be made to deprive a county of one assize in the year, unless there is no business to be transacted." The noble and learned Lord said: It is necessary for me to explain the Amendment which stands in my name. The purpose of Clause 1 is to provide, first, that where no business has been entered it shall not be necessary to hold an assize. That is right and proper and I raise no question about it. The second point is that where there is no substantial amount of business to be transacted it shall not be necessary to hold an assize. It appeared in the discussion the other day that the word "substantial" brought different ideas to different minds, as one would expect. If the present Lord Chancellor were always to be in office I think the word "substantial" might be a sufficient safeguard. If, on the other hand, the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Haldane, were Lord Chancellor, I think it would be a very inefficient safeguard, having regard to the views which he expressed publicly in your Lordships' House.

I do not want to go again into the general question because I expressed as well as I could my own view of the extreme importance of preserving our circuit system, both from the point of view of the Judges being present from time to time in our county centres, and also in the interests of justice and particularly in the interests of poor prisoners. The effect of my Amendment is that the Order shall not be made to deprive a county of one assize in the year, unless there is no business to be transacted. I suggest that that is a very fair proposal to make for the settlement of this matter. Every one who knows county life and our county assizes will, I am sure, regret any interference, unless there is no business, with the present system of holding two county assizes in each county, which has been followed from time immemorial. If that is to be interfered with and the test is to be made as to whether there is substantial business or not, surely each county town ought to have the benefit of His Majesty's Judges coming on the circuit assize at least once in the course of the year.

I have no wish to dwell again upon a matter which I think carried great weight with your Lordships on a former occasion as regards the whole administration of justice: but it is of importance that our Judges should leave the London centre and go from time to time into these local centres. They not only give an example of how justice should be administered, but they come there in what is called the red gown in circumstances of considerable dignity and, as regards either prisoners or cases to be tried, they give the advantage, which I consider of enormous importance, of a local tribunal near the place where the prisoner lives or where the cause has originated. The Lord Chancellor pointed out on the last occasion, and I thank him for it, that the word "substantial" might apply even though there was only one case to be tried because that case might in itself be, a substantial one. But my fear is for the poor man whose case, from the legal point of view, is not regarded as a substantial one because it does not involve any important point of law or any great sum of money. To him it may be a substantial case, and his whole future may depend upon its being tried under conditions advantageous to him and his getting a verdict in his favour.

I will not labour this, but as a result of my experience as Chairman of Quarter Sessions I think it is of the utmost importance to a poor man who is being tried for a criminal offence that he should be tried in a place which is convenient for him in respect of obtaining witnesses and where, in the event of a sentence being passed upon them, there are friends and others from whom inquiries can be made by the presiding Judge. Both those matters are referred to at length, I think, in the Reports to which the noble Viscount referred us the other day. I do not care now to go back upon the points I then raised. I earnestly hope the Lord Chancellor may see his way to allow this Amendment to be adopted, and then. I think, the interests which I have tried to represent will be fairly protected. I beg to move.

Amendment moved— Page 1, line 17, at end insert the said proviso.—(Lord Parmoor.)


I desire only to say one word. I was fully satisfied with the presentation of the case by the Lord Chancellor, and I understood that his interpretation was one which would entirely meet those whom I represent. But I have since gathered that there is some doubt in people's minds as to the way in which the word "substantial" may be interpreted. Like my noble and learned friend who has just spoken we should all be satisfied if the Lord Chancellor could be made perpetual occupant of the Woolsack, which would be an excellent arrangement for many other reasons.

My noble and learned friend who has moved this Amendment tells us he does so because he is considering the case of the prisoner. So far I am glad to say I have not been in the dock for any offence—at least I do not recollect it—but I have been more than once summoned as a witness at assizes held not in my own county, and the inconvenience is very great indeed, even for those of us who are able to obtain reasonable accommodation for ourselves if we are kept there for two or three nights. But for the ordinary middle class or working class man or woman who is summoned, and may be kept waiting two or three days before being put into the witness box, not only is the inconvenience very real, but the discomfort is considerable, and the cost to them is not small. Therefore, if the Lord Chancellor can see his way to accept this Amendment, which I think seems to be a reasonable compromise, I should be glad, but I welcomed so cordially the line which the Lord Chancellor took in dealing with those of us who are apprehensive as to what the effect of any reform of this kind would be that I should be the last person to desire to be in disagreement with him.


I rise to remind the Lord Chancellor and the House once more that there happens to be in Wales a large number of these small assize towns, and I have always felt somewhat concerned as to the interpretation that might be put upon the word "substantial." I hope, therefore, that the Lord Chancellor will be able to accept the Amendment.


I think there must be some mistake in the drafting of this Amendment, because it proposes to provide that the Order shall not be made to deprive a county of one assize in the year. I suppose the meaning is that it shall not be made to deprive the county of all the assizes in the year. In short, if the first assize has not been held, and the second assize comes on, I think the noble and learned Lord means that this section shall no longer apply, and that if there is some business, whether substantial or not, the last assize shall be held.


On the drafting point—


I am not making any point about that. Taking what I have said as being the meaning of the Amendment, I am afraid I could not advise the House to accept it, because there really is no logic in the Amendment. Each assize ought to be taken on its merits, and if the town has so little work that not only is there no business, or no business to speak of at the first assize, but none also at the second, and none perhaps at the third, that town really ought not to complain if the third assize is not held. I must remind noble Lords that it has happened, and I think has happened even in Wales, that a small case has been sent to the assizes at the last moment in the hope of keeping the assize alive. I do not want to encourage that.

With regard to what my noble friend has said about the word "substantial" I appreciate the point, but this is no remedy for it. If that really be a difficulty this is not the remedy for it, because this would not apply to an assize at which there is something really substantial. It would not really help my noble friends in the difficulty they feel about the matter. I rather hoped from the debate on the Second Reading that my three noble friends were content with the Bill. I trust that, they will not press the Amendment.


Having regard to the view which the Lord Chancellor has taken I shall not ask your Lordships to divide upon this Amendment, but I should like to say a few words in answer to his argument, apart from the mere question of drafting. The possibility to which he has referred in regard to putting down a case at the last moment is really dealt with and met by the first part of the clause. That difficulty arose under the Act of 1908 owing to the limit of time being five days. If you could put the case down a sufficient time before, the difficulty would be adequately met. As to the other matter I feel strongly that a county town where there is some business ought not to be deprived twice in the year—I am not dealing with the mere question of drafting—of the presence of the assize Judge. I have raised the point, and I do not propose further to press the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause 1 agreed to.

Clauses 2 to 10 agreed to.

Clause 11 (Rules of Supreme Court):


The Amendment which I have put clown to subsection (5) is purely a drafting one, and that observation applies also to all the Amendments that I have on the Paper.

Amendment moved— Page 8, line 25, after ("power") insert ("conferred").—(The Lord Chancellor.)


It may be well if I take the remaining Amendments rapidly. Perhaps noble Lords will interrupt me if I am going too fast and they want to raise any point.

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

Clause 11, as amended, agreed to.

Clause 12 (Trial with jury in County Courts and other inferior Courts of civil jurisdiction):

Amendments moved—

Page 8, line 34, leave out from ("jurisdiction") to ("and") in line 36, and insert ("of the court").

Page 9, line 17, at end insert ("and the expression 'equity jurisdiction' in relation to a county court means the equity jurisdiction given to county courts by Section sixty-seven of the County Courts Act, 1888").—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

Clause 12, as amended, agreed to.

Clauses 13 and 14 agreed to.

Clause 15 (Amendment as to registration of deeds of arrangement):

Amendments moved—

Clause 15, page 11, line 14, at the beginning of subsection (5) insert ("Subject to the provisions of subsection (4) of this section")

Clause 15, page 11, lines 16 and 17, leave out ("and subsection (3) of section thirteen")

Clause 15, page 11, line 19, after ("and") insert ("subject as aforesaid")

Clause 15, page 11, line 20, leave out from ("1914") to ("shall") in line 21.—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Amendments agreed to.

Clause 15, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining clauses agreed to.

First Schedule (Qualifications for certain officers in the Supreme Court):

Amendment moved— First Schedule, page 14, lines 9 and 10, leave out ("that period") and insert ("the ten years immediately preceding his appointment").—(The Lord Chancellor.)

On Question, Amendment agreed to.

First Schedule, as amended, agreed to.

Remaining Schedules agreed to.