HL Deb 14 February 1933 vol 86 cc671-5

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. It is, I regret to say, a very technical Bill, but I am glad to think that it is entirely uncontroversial. As the passing of the Bill will affect the commercial communities of several important European countries I think it necessary to give your Lordships rather full details. The Bill owes its origin to a substantial grievance suffered by litigants in this country, mainly business men, when they recover judgment against a defendant whose assets are in a foreign country, and that grievance is this: they find it very difficult to enforce their judgment in the country where the assets are. This arises not from any lack of comity in the foreign country, but from differences between their law and ours as to the precise conditions under which the judgment of the Courts of one country may be enforced in the Courts of another.

In some countries a foreign judgment is enforced quite readily if it comes from the Court of a country which itself grants similar facilities; in other words, if there is reciprocity. But when we are asked here whether we in England grant similar facilities, though our answer could be "Substantially, yes," yet we are obliged to answer "Technically, no." In the first place our law requires a fresh action to be commenced on the foreign judgment, while what the other country expects is that their judgment should simply be registered here and then enforced like one of our judgments. Secondly, the rules of our law which deprive the defendant of the right to go into the merits of the case all over again are not to be found 'in any Statute. They are rules of the Common Law and it has proved to be difficult to satisfy foreign Courts that these rules really exist and are rigidly enforced over here. In practice hundreds of foreign judgments are enforced in England every year by a summary procedure without a fresh trial of the merits of the case, but very few of our judgments are enforced by foreign Courts and then often after trying the case all over again, the Court not being satisfied on the point of reciprocity.

I must now indicate very briefly the history of this matter. In April, 1918, a Committee, which was presided over by Lord Sumner, recommended that provision should be made by Statute for the reciprocal enforcement of judgments pronounced by Courts in different parts of the British Empire. The result was that effect was given to the proposals of the Committee by the enactment of Part II of the Administration of Justice Act, 1920, which gave this reciprocity between England and our Colonies. There has now been an experience of the working of these reciprocal arrangements over a period of more than ten years—it is believed with universal satisfaction. But between 1920 and 1929 a continuous stream of communications was received at the Foreign Office from solicitors and merchants in the United Kingdom complaining of the unfairness of the present position under which their foreign creditors were able to enforce against them in the English Courts judgments given against them in foreign Courts while they were unable to enforce English judgments obtained against their foreign debtors in foreign countries.

In March, 1929, a letter was written from the Foreign Office to Lord Hailsham, then Lord Chancellor, in which Sir Austen Chamberlain, after contrasting the great difference between the treatment of foreign judgments in the United Kingdom and of British judgments in foreign countries, expressed the view that the existing position was unsatisfactory and invited his Lordship's attention to the communications received at the Foreign Office. As the result of that Lord Hailsham appointed a small Committee to go into the matter and the Committee made a Report dated June, 1929, in which they recommended a system of reciprocity, and endorsed a suggestion made in the letter from the Foreign Office to the Lord Chancellor, that before any Bill was drafted or presented to Parliament to enable conventions to be concluded informal negotiations should take place with one or two foreign countries, in order to ascertain whether it would be possible to proceed along the lines suggested, and consequently, whether legislation of the kind suggested would enable the desired results to be obtained.

I am happy to inform your Lordships that these informal negotiations took place with France, Belgium and Germany, and that those countries would welcome reciprocal arrangements such as those to which I have been referring. After the matter had been thus investi- gated it became clear that the remedy in this case lies in making a series of conventions with foreign countries, but the question what provisions to include in them and what procedure we should adopt here to give effect to them was an exceedingly complex one. I accordingly, in November, 1931, appointed a Committee to consider these questions, under the Chairmanship of Lord Justice Greer. The Greer Committee reported on December 12 last and the Report has been laid before Parliament. I should like to take this public opportunity of thanking the Lord Justice and the Committee for the time and thought which they have given to the matter.

The Committee was a highly expert one, as befits such a technical matter, and it has been able to make its recommendations in an exceedingly practical form. It has drafted not only a Bill but also a series of conventions which, in the opinion of the Committee, might suitably be made with France, Belgium and Germany. It has also drafted a series of Orders-in-Council which, if the conventions are made, would make them enforceable in this country; and lastly, they have drafted a set of Rules of Court which would complete the machinery for enabling the judgments to be enforced. With this material before us we may be confident that the scheme of the Committee is an eminently workable one. The Bill before your Lordships is word for word the Bill which the Committee recommended. It involves very little alteration in the substance of our law—that is to say, the conditions under which we propose to enforce foreign judgments under the Bill are substantially the same as under the Common Law. The change in procedure consists merely in adopting the system of registration, which has already been in force for more than ten years as regards judgments given in the Dominions. Litigants, merchants in this country, have much to gain and nothing to lose by the Bill. Under the new system litigants in the convention countries will be as fairly treated in the future as they have always been in the past, when their judgments come to be enforced in this country.

For a, few moments only lei me direct your Lordships' attention to the various clauses in the Bill. Clause 1 gives power to extend Part I of the Act to foreign countries giving reciprocal treatment. Clause 2 deals with the application for, and effect of, registration of foreign judgments. Clause 3 provides the Rules of Court necessary for the purpose of carrying out this. Clause 4 is a saving clause, and deals with cases in which registered judgments must or may be set aside. Clause 5 gives a power to the registering Court, on application, to set aside registration. Clause 6 provides that foreign judgments which can be registered are not to be enforceable otherwise. Clause 7 gives power to apply Part I to British Dominions, Protectorates and mandated territories. Clause 9 gives power to make foreign judgments unenforceable in the United Kingdom if there is no reciprocity. Clause 12 provides for the application of the Act to Scotland and Clause 13 for its application to Northern Ireland. This Bill, my Lords, will be of very great assistance to the commercial community. I think we have got it in absolutely good order, and I beg to move that it be read a second time.

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

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