§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT SANKEY)
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Its object is to effect some small reforms in legal procedure which have been long overdue. The best way to describe its purpose is to take each clause separately and deal with it quite briefly. The first clause relates to appeals from the decisions of official referees. Of all the letters which reach a Lord Chancellor on the subject of reforms of the law none are so numerous as those which demand a reform of the system by which litigants can drag each other from Court to Court by way of appeal. This clause is intended to make a beginning in the direction demanded and in the most glaring of all cases. Your Lordships are familiar with the nature of the jurisdiction of official referees and the many appeals possible. Cases are referred to them which require prolonged investigation and there are more opportunities of appeal than in any other class of case. The remedy suggested in this clause is twofold. In the first place it makes the decision of the official referee final on questions of fact. Then as to questions of law: in the first place the clause reduces the number of appeals from three to two by providing that the first appeal should go direct to the Court of Appeal and not to the King's Bench. That by itself does not seem enough. Appeals to the Court of Appeal would take an immense amount of time, even on questions of law, if there is not a further simplification. The Bill provides, therefore, that where there is a question of law for appeal, the official referee should be asked to state what it is, in the same way that magistrates and arbitrators can now be asked to "state a case." The matter will then be reduced to manageable proportions, and can be satisfactorily dealt with by the Court of Appeal, and, if necessary, on a further appeal by your Lordships' House. So much for Clause 1.
The remaining clauses deal with quite technical matters in the administration of justice. Clause 2 is designed to enable the High Court to issue grants of representation in cases where a deceased person has left no property in England belonging to him, but where, neverthe- 812 less, there is need for a personal representative to attend to his affairs. There may, for instance, be property abroad, or it may be that an ex gratia grant is payable to the deceased person's representative, or there may be Court proceedings in which representation is necessary or desirable. Such cases, I am glad to say, are not numerous, but their occurrence gives rise to very serious difficulties owing to the present inability of the High Court to issue a grant in such circumstances. The purpose of Clause 3 is to enable appropriate directions to be given to limit the accumulation in the Probate Registry of notices as to applications for grants of representation, for as the law stands at present those documents have to be kept, so far as I can make out, for ever, and there is no power to consign this accumulation of formal records of short-lived utility to the waste paper basket.
Clause 4 is intended to facilitate the introduction of a long-sought reform, designed to mitigate the delays and expenses now experienced in the administration of the estates of deceased persons, by a system of issuing at the lowest economic rate copies of probate or letters of administration for registration with companies holding assets of the estate. At present what happens is this. The law requires such a document to bear the large seal of the Principal Probate Registry, at a charge which precludes any prospect of success with the intended reform; and the proposed enactment would admit of the use of a smaller and less expensive seal for the purpose under consideration. Clause 5 is intended to meet a point raised in another place last June. Under Section 84 of the Law of Property Act, 1925, questions whether a restricted covenant should be removed are tried by an expert tribunal. It was pointed out that this tribunal has no power under the Act to award costs in such cases. This causes considerable hardship in cases where improper attempts are made to get restricted covenants removed. The clause gives the tribunal the necessary power to award costs. All these suggestions will make for economy and expedition in the administration of the law. They may seem small reforms but they are worth doing, and I am glad to have this opportunity of asking your Lordships to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ THE EARL OF HALSBURY
My Lords, there is only one question which I would like to put to the Lord Chancellor. He pointed out that under Clause 1 appeals from the official referees were more or less on the lines of what was done in arbitrations. There is a particular form in the Arbitration Act. I am not going to suggest that it is a good one to put in this Bill, but only wish to ask if it has been given consideration. The parties to an arbitration can, during the hearing, ask that a point of law should be taken before a Divisional Court, and then, the arbitrator having got a ruling by the Superior Court, the matter comes back again to him. I am not sure that I approve of it but I remember a case where, the arbitrator having put part of the ruling in his award, the award was set a side by this House on the ground that it was bad in form.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I remember quite well the case referred to by the noble Earl—the Underground Railways case—and we had that in mind when we decided that this should not be put in the Bill. After the decision of the Court had been put into the award the Superior Court said that the award was bad upon the face of it because the decision was bad. I know that we felt rather deeply on that matter at the time.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.