§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I beg to move the Second Reading of this Bill. It forms part of an attempt to improve the administration of justice in England and Wales. The system which we have inherited, splendid and satisfactory as it is in many ways, needs overhauling from time to time, and of late years it has been subjected to much criticism. If an analogy were permitted, it might be said that the ship of the law is sound, the hull is in good condition, and the crew, we hope, are competent, but on its long voyage it has contracted growths which impede its progress and impair its usefulness. It wants cleaning. Over and above that some of the machinery, very useful in its time, has become obsolete. It is no longer wanted. It only adds to the burden without increasing the efficiency. Such machinery can be scrapped without disadvantage.
It will not therefore surprise your Lordships that the Government should bring proposals for its improvement before the House. The main subjects of complaint are the delay in the trial of Common Law actions in the King's Bench Division in London; the expense of litigation generally to the litigant, and the burden of jury service thrown upon members of the public who have no interest in the Courts of Law and who are forced to neglect their businesses to attend. First, a word about delay. Figures have from time to time been given to your Lordships which show that too long a period elapses (in some cases as much as ten months) between the time when a Common Law action is set down for trial in London and the date when it comes on for hearing. Every year more than 1,000 such cases are pending on the 1st January, several hundreds of which ought, if the system were working smoothly, to have been disposed of during the previous twelve months.
What is the reason? Is it that the Judges are too few in number to do the work which the community needs, or is it that, as the law now stands, their time cannot be used to the best advantage?
1044 Is it possible that, with proper alterations in the procedure, and by devising some methods of shortening trials without doing injustice, the Judges would be freed from the less useful part of their present duties, and so be enabled to keep pace with the demands that the public make upon them? The question as to which of these is correct has given great anxiety. It would be wrong, particularly in these hard times, to appoint more Judges until our organisation has been examined and, if possible, improved and brought up to date. It was to make such an examination that last December the Business of Courts Committee was appointed with very wide terms of reference, under the Chairmanship of my right honourable and noble friend Lord Hanworth, the Master of the Rolls. Permit me here to place on record the great debt which the public and the profession owe to him for the great pains and trouble which he has taken in this matter. It is unnecessary for me to remind your Lordships of his experience both as a great advocate, as a Law Officer of the Crown, and as a Member of Parliament. For this Committee we also had the assistance of a second member of your Lordships' House, my right honourable friend Lord Wright, and other eminent members of the Bench and Bar and the Solicitors' branch of the profession.
The Committee has not yet finished its whole task, but it purposely made an Interim Report which has been available to Parliament as a White Paper. This Report was unanimous, and in it the Committee made a number of recommendations capable of being immediately carried out. These recommendations were brought before a meeting of the Council of the Supreme Court Judges, of which every Judge of the Court of Appeal and every Division of the High Court is a member. The Council discussed and approved many of these recommendations, and sent a report to the Home Secretary. One of the recommendations was for a shortening of the Long Vacation. Some surprise has been expressed that nothing of this character appears in the present Bill, but this surprise is due to a misapprehension. Under the Supreme Court of Judicature Act of 1925, if the Council of Judges make a report or recommendation as to the shortening of the Long Vacation, effect can be given 1045 to it by an Order-in-Council. The Judges have recommended that this year, at any rate, the Long Vacation shall end upon the 30th of September, which is a Saturday, and it is hoped that next week an Order will be submitted to His Majesty in Council under which it will be provided that this year the Michaelmas Term shall begin on October 2. The effect of this will be that thirty-three Judges will be working eight extra days and, as the normal number of days upon which a Judge works in a year is about 190, this means more than the services of an extra Judge.
Other recommendations are in process of being carried out by the Supreme Court Rules Committee and the Rules will, in due course, be laid before your Lordships' House. There are, however, some proposals which require legislation, and the object of the present Bill is to ask Parliament to pass such legislation. The first reform recommended by Lord Hanworth's Committee, and approved by the Council of Judges, is the abolition of the grand jury. The reform is carried out by Clause 1 of the Bill. As many of your Lordships will doubtless remember, grand juries were suspended during the War and, as far as is known, not a single case of injustice occurred by reason of their suspension. After the War there was a tendency to return to thestatus quo ante, and some things were restored which perhaps had been better left in abeyance. There are not wanting many people who think that the grand jury was one of them. Lord Hanworth's Committee have considered the matter exhaustively both from an historical and practical point of view, and have given reasons for the abolition of the grand jury which your Lordships will regard as cogent.
Consider what happens in an ordinary criminal case. The man is charged with an indictable offence. He is brought before a bench of magistrates, who hear witnesses for the prosecution and give the defendant an opportunity of showing his defence. If there is no prima facie case, the man is discharged. If the magistrates are satisfied that, on the evidence, there is aprima facie case, they commit him to trial at Quarter Sessions or Assizes; but, as the law now stands, this is not enough to enable him to be tried. Many dwellers in his county or borough are summoned to the first day 1046 of Quarter Sessions or Assizes to ensure that a grand jury of 23 persons will be available. These persons hear the same witnesses for the prosecution all over again, the latter having to be brought there for that purpose, and it is only when the grand jury have agreed with the magistrate that there is aprima facie case (as they generally do) that the man is tried by the Judge and petty jury.
The number of cases thrown out by grand juries is infinitesimal, but the inconvenience is very remarkable. Take a big Assize—say, for example, London, Manchester, Liverpool, Leeds, Birmingham, or Cardiff—where there are sometimes as many as 100 people charged. Supposing there to be four witnesses in each case, it means bringing 400 people to the first day of the Assize to repeat the evidence on which aprima facie case has been thought to be established, and then they are all dismissed and have to come up again when their particular case is reached. It may be that there is a different constable in every case, and so large numbers of constables are taken from their duty on the first day of assizes. Is an intermediate inquiry by the grand jury really necessary? It imposes a burden upon a large number of persons who are summoned as jurors. In the year 1931—the last statistics available—it was calculated that 22,272 people were summoned for this duty in London and the provinces. In these days we have many experienced Stipendiary Magistrates and many experienced Justices, and with their knowledge and with a vigilant Press it hardly seems necessary that for the second time a tribunal should decide if there is aprima faciecase to be tried. What perhaps is very serious is that, as has already been pointed out, an army of witnesses is summoned for the inquiry before the grand jury, and then they must wait about, perhaps for a day or two, till the case comes on before the petty jury, or else go back to their homes and return for the trial—a constant source of irritation to witnesses.
All this means expense. Statistics are difficult to obtain, but there is reason for thinking, according to the Hanworth Report, that of the sums allowed from public funds for witnesses in criminal trials at Quarter Sessions and Assizes, more than one-third would have been 1047 saved if there had been no inquiry before a grand jury; and this takes no account of the other expenses incurred by the witnesses themselves, or of the losses caused to them by the dislocation of their private business, or of the costs to local funds caused by the attendance of the police. Lastly, there is the time of the Judge. The time occupied by the charge to the grand jury in most cases, and by the interventions of the grand jury with their findings upon the bills is not, in individual cases, great, but in the aggregate it is by no means negligible, and every hour of a Judge's time is valuable.
What harm would be done if the grand jury were to go? The answer is, I submit, "None at all." The presumption of innocence is one of the safeguards of our liberties. There is nothing in this Bill to weaken that safeguard in any way whatever. All it provides is that when a bench of magistrates have solemnly declared, on the sworn evidence, that there is a prima facie case against the person charged, he shall be put upon his trial—a trial which, as your Lordships know full well, is a model of fairness to all the world. In subsection (4) of Clause 1 there is a saving for the Middlesex grand jury. That stands on lather a different footing. It is summoned before a trial at Bar in the King's Bench, and is rarely summoned. There are a few Statutes under which trials must be held in the High Court. Your Lordships will recollect that it was under one of these that a bill of indictment was presented against the famous Governor Eyre in 1868. Under these proposals, if a Bill should be presented under any of these exceptional Statutes, a Middlesex grand jury will be summoned to deal with it, and the power to throw out the bill may be exercised in the future as it has occasionally been in the past.
The object of subsection (1) is to fix a time, not too early and not too late, when the formulation of the charges must be regarded as complete, and the prisoner knows exactly to the last letter what are the counts in the charge which he has to meet. The proposal is that this time should be fixed by the certificate of the clerk, made after the Judge has had an opportunity of considering the indictment himself. Subsection (2) contains the safeguards. No one is to be indicted unless he has been committed 1048 for trial by the magistrates. That, broadly speaking, is to be the general rule. But there are two small exceptions. Under the present law, a private person has a right to present what is known as a "voluntary" bill of indictment against a person, in which case the grand jury hear the evidence without any previous examination by the magistrates. There is the safeguard that the grand jury may throw out the bill, and there is a further safeguard, in some cases, under what is known as the Vexatious Indictments Act, 1859. It is proposed that where there is no examination before magistrates, the prosecutor must obtain the direction or consent of a High Court Judge. Then, lastly, a person may be committed for trial for perjury by the Judge of the Court in which the perjury is committed. That is the present law, and we are preserving it.
So much for the grand jury. Let me now pass quite shortly to the other provisions of the Bill. In Clause 3 a proposal is made to cheapen and simplify the procedure for settling disputes about Death Duties. There are many cases where no question of fact is really in controversy, and the sole point is what duty is payable, having regard to the construction of the documents and the Statutes. It is difficult enough to pay Death Duties now-a-days, but it is still worse to have to pay a large bill of costs on top of them. This clause will enable any person who is alleged to be chargeable, or who is kept in uncertainty and cannot wind up his testator's estate, to come direct to the High Court on an originating summons and get a decision more easily and cheaply and speedily than he can under the present law. Clause 4 enables the Crown to take proceedings in the County Court in proper cases. This change was recommended by the Committee on Crown Proceedings, in 1927, and the recommendation has been repeated by Lord Hanworth's Committee. Many claims of the Crown, not only in revenue but in other matters, could be commenced and determined more cheaply and more speedily in the County Court. There can be no doubt that this clause will remove an injustice which presses hardly where the subject is either being sued for a small sum or is a poor man.
1049 Clause 5 relates to writs of certiorari, mandamus and prohibition, and here I must apologise for being very technical, though I will endeavour to be very rapid. These are the proceedings by which the High Court exercises supervision over inferior tribunals of all sorts. The jurisdiction is of great importance, but the procedure is antiquated and absorbs an unnecessary amount of judicial time. Before the case comes on for trial there is an application before a Divisional Court consisting of two or more Judges, made by one party in the absence of the other, but armed nevertheless with all the panoply of the law—solicitors, King's Counsel and junior Counsel. Then when an order has been obtained calling upon the other side to support the decision of the inferior court, the hearing itself comes on. It is tried in what many people regard as rather a topsy-turvy way. Without using technical terms, it may be stated that instead of the plaintiff beginning by proving his case in the presence of the defendant, the defendant has to begin by disproving the plaintiff's case, which has been sought to be established in his absence. What is proposed in effect is that leave to bring the proceedings should be obtained through a Judge in Chambers, and when leave has been obtained the plaintiff should make out his case in the usual way in the presence of the defendant. There will be one appearance before the Divisional Court instead of two. This will save the time of the Judge, make for expedition and diminish the expense to the parties.
Clause 6 contains a reform of the jury system which is of the greatest importance. It is a reform recommended by Lord Hanworth's Committee and approved by the Council of Judges. It relates to the trial of Common Law actions in the King's Bench Division—that is to say, between one person and another, in which there is usually a claim for damages for some alleged breach of contract or for some alleged neglect or other civil wrong. These are the cases which have clogged the wheels of justice and. given, rise to complaint of delay. Accidents, especially motor car accidents, will happen, and contracts also give rise to endless dispute. When these differences arise there ought, no doubt, in a well-conducted State, to be a tribunal to 1050 try them and to try them with skill and impartiality without undue delay and expense. There are eighteen Judges part of whose business it is to try such disputes and there is reason to think that they could try the eases without delay but for one factor. Under the Rules of Court, as they stand, either party in most of these cases can insist on summoning a jury. When the case is tried with a jury it takes possibly two or three times as long to try, which is a serious matter. Your Lordships were informed a few weeks ago that 70 per cent. of the common jury actions tried in this country—in London and all over the country at Assizes—and 57 per cent. of the special jury actions are running-down cases. An excessive proportion of the King's Bench Judges' time is spent in trying running-down cases, and if they were tried without a jury the judicial time saved would be very great indeed.
Let me remind your Lordships that, although the jurisdiction of the County Court is limited, many running-down cases are tried by County Court Judges all over England and Wales without juries. I always try to avoid giving your Lordships statistics, but permit me to give you one figure. In 1931 the total number of all cases tried in the County Courts was 25,721 and of these only 486 were tried with a jury. Such a reform as is suggested would also be in the true interest of the parties. Time is money—the time of the jurymen, the time of the litigants, the time of the witnesses—and if such cases take on an average half a day, instead of a day and a half, a great advance will have been made in cheapening the cost of, and preventing delay in, litigation. Thirdly, there are the rights of the unfortunate jurors. When you come to think of it, it is a strange power that the ordinary litigant possesses of being able to compel a large number of busy citizens to leave their avocations, practically without recompense, and to compel the selection of twelve of them to hear the facts of a private dispute when there are Judges there whose business it is to hear such disputes when called upon to do so. If it were proposed to confer such a power now for the first time, it is doubtful if your Lordships would allow the measure; to pass. But, for historic reasons, the power exists, and the 1051 question is whether the burden cannot be somewhat eased by leaving it to the Judge to decide in what cases a jury should be summoned.
It is not proposed to abolish civil juries altogether. There are certain actions in which a jury is often useful—libel, slander, malicious prosecution, seduction and breach of promise of marriage. The Bill leaves the right to a jury in such cases absolute and unimpaired. In the other Common Law actions, of which the most important for this purpose are running-down cases, it is proposed to leave to the Court an absolute discretion to say whether the case should be tried with a jury or not. This is a matter which might have been dealt with by Rules of Court, but it is one in which Parliament has in the past taken a keen interest and it seems to be more convenient that any debate upon the subject should take place on the appropriate stages of a Bill rather than on a motion to annul a set of rules. Clause 6 has therefore been included in this Bill.
Clause 7 relates to costs in proceedings by and against the Crown. In proceedings between one subject and another the costs are in the discretion of the Court, and the Court usually orders the unsuccessful party to pay the costs of the successful party. That does substantial justice, and, if each party were always to pay their own costs, there would be no check on the bringing of frivolous proceedings and no complete compensation for the person who has really suffered a wrong; but proceedings by and against the Crown have in the past been regarded as an exception. There is an old rule that the Crown does not ask for costs and does not receive costs. In other words, parties pay their own costs whatever the result of the action. In practice there are many exceptions to this rule, as the result of particular legislation or because the proceedings are nominally brought by or against some Minister instead of the Crown. But the general rule still survives, and from time to time bitter complaints are made by parties who succeed in proceedings against the Crown and yet are obliged to bear their own costs.
Clause 8 relates to the Department of the Master in Lunacy. The scope and utility of this Department have been very much increased of recent years. It pro- 1052 tects and administers cheaply and efficiently the property of persons who, from mental disability, cannot manage their own affairs even where the amount of property is quite small. But the work is congested, and the remedy recommended by the Hanworth Committee and embodied in this clause is that there should be more delegation of the Master's powers to properly qualified officers in his Department. Clause 9 saves proceedings by or against His Majesty in his private capacity. Clause 10 provides that the measure shall come into force on the 1st day of September next.
Let me make it clear that there is nothing in the Bill to cut down in any degree the present right to have criminal cases tried by a jury. Every criminal case tried on indictment will in future as in the past be tried by a Judge and jury. The jury proposals are confined to the grand jury in criminal cases and the common or special jury in civil cases. These proposals are vital if the wheels of justice are to run smoothly and expeditiously. Insistent demands have been made that by one means or another litigation should be made cheaper and speedier. This Bill provides an opportunity which will go a long way towards attaining the desired object. The smaller clauses of the Bill are less striking, but when you try to reduce expenditure you should not neglect small economies. The proposals are a beginning, not an end, and I ask your Lordships to inaugurate the reform by reading the Bill a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ LORD SNELL
My Lords, my noble friends on this side of the House desire me to say that they give a general welcome to the Bill which the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has introduced in your Lordships' House. As they understand the Bill the proposals in it are based upon the Interim Report of the Business of Courts Committee and, as the proposals in it tend to improve the administration of justice and to help to achieve that end, we should like to associate ourselves with those who give to the Bill a general welcome. The most substantial change appears to be made by Clause 6 of the Bill, to which the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has alluded, dealing with the ques- 1053 tion of juries. We on this side of the House would like to say that we do not share the enthusiasm of the noble and learned Viscount for the reduction of juries.
There may possibly be cases which this Bill does not provide for where a defendant, an accused person, ought to have the right to a jury. There is, for example, the case of fraud, and it may be that the rights of a defendant charged with fraud should be safeguarded by his right to have a jury. If this were to be done it could be achieved, I am informed, by providing that if a defendant who is charged with fraud desires a jury and the fudge refuses to order one, an appeal shall lie to the Court of Appeal against such refusal and the Court of Appeal may itself exercise the same discretion as the Judge of first Instance. Without such a provision the Court of Appeal would not, of course, interfere with the decision of a Judge on a matter left to his discretion unless the discretion had not been exercised or had been exercised on wrong principles. We make that suggestion to the noble and learned Viscount. In other respects we desire to give hearty support to the Bill.
§ LORD ATKIN
My Lords, I am sorry to trouble you again on the same afternoon, but this is a matter which comes very close to those engaged in the administration of the law and I should like to say one or two words upon it. I should like to acknowledge, as the Lord Chancellor has done, the debt the whole profession is under to the Committee presided over by the Master of the Rolls. The Committee produced a Report which I am certain will have most beneficial results in the administration of justice. As far as the proposals before us are concerned I view the passing of the grand juries with some regret in view of their historical position. One appreciates that there was a time when the grand jury was a real constitutional safeguard standing between Crown lawyers and Crown Judges in prosecutions for political offences, but possibly those days may now be assumed to be over. As far as the clause dealing with the rights of a Government Department to take simple proceedings against the subject in respect of debts due to the Crown is concerned, I have no doubt that was the intention of the Departmental 1054 Committee's Report, but I should have been glad to have seen the other recommendations in the Report in favour of simplifying the remedies of the subject against the Crown carried into effect. It seems remarkable that the only part of this recommendation which has been brought into being is the part which sharpens the weapon of the Crown against the subject and gives no kind of relief, which has been much needed, in respect of grievances of the subject against the Crown.
The only other matter on which I wish to say something is that of juries, and in that respect I am bound to say that I sympathise very much with what has been said by the noble Lord who has just sat down. After all, trial by jury is the traditional way of determining disputes in this country between subject and subject and between Crown and subject, and it is only within the last sixty or seventy years that it ceased to be the only way in which questions of dispute could be determined. It is a right ingrained, as I thought, in the British Constitution and in the British idea of justice, and I cannot help thinking that this reform—no doubt to some extent it is a reform—which has been suggested has gone further than is necessary. It is true it has been approved by the Council of Judges. No doubt they are very good authorities, but no doubt they are under the natural impression that nobody can decide a question of fact better than a Judge. Everybody, however, does not share that view, and I think it is correct to say that the members of the Bar, represented by the Council of the Bar, have disapproved of these provisions and think they go too far.
May I suggest where I think they go too far? I would go further even than the noble Lord who has just sat down. The Bill continues the right of a party in an action for libel, slander, false imprisonment, malicious prosecution and so on. The reason, I conceive, is that those are questions which involve an attack on the character of the litigant and the litigant is entitled to say: "I wish to have my character vindicated before twelve men who more or less know the kind of circumstances in which I live and who are likely to be far the better judges of whether or not what I have done is reasonably honest, being much the better 1055 judges of the ordinary conditions in which the ordinary man lives." If that is accepted in regard to questions of libel and slander, similar issues arise in many other actions. Take an action for wrongful dismissal where the man says he has been wrongfully dismissed and the employer says the man has been guilty of some act of dishonesty—taken a bribe, or stolen his property, or whatever it may be. The issues are the same as in libel and slander. They are questions concerning the man's conduct which, I submit, he is entitled to have determined—to use what is in this connection rather a slang expression—by a jury of his peers, of people in the same circumstances of life who are able to form a reasonable judgment whether he has been guilty of dishonourable conduct or not.
The question arises in other actions—perhaps a case in which a claim is made upon a policy of insurance where the underwriter says: "You did not in fact lose your goods under the policy; you destroyed them yourself; your suggestion of a burglary is one that you manipulated and contrived," and so forth. These are serious charges involving a criminal offence and charges which, if tried as a criminal offence, would necessarily have to be tried by a jury. To my mind it is a great misfortune that the subject should be deprived of having that issue determined by a jury, and I hope that the Lord Chancellor will consider the possibility of adding to what he has included in the Bill cases of whatever description where the character of one of the litigants is put in issue. That would remove, I think, a great deal of objection to this matter, and I rather fancy would meet the objection put forward by the noble Lord, with regard to which my only criticism is that he confined it too narrowly to cases of fraud, since questions of character may be something different from what he ordinarily calls cases of fraud. But that is a Committee point. Speaking generally I should not dream of opposing the Bill, though I do think it is capable of improvement in this direction.
§ LORD DARLING
My Lords, I should like to say a word or two because I have probably had more experience of some of the subjects involved in this Bill than most members of your Lordships' House. With regard to the abolition of grand juries, anyone, I think, who has a liking 1056 for old things must regret to see them go, but one can hardly help recognising that they have survived for a long time any real utility. When they were first made part of the law of the land is lost in antiquity, but in those days there were no magistrates. There was no inquiry before a Justice of the Peace, and committal of the prisoner for trial. There was an inquiry before all the wise men of the county, of whom there must have been a large number in olden days, and if they agreed that a person should be put upon his trial, or should be destroyed and afterwards tried, that happened to him. The grand jury arose out of those practices. Now a man is always brought before either a bench of magistrates or a Stipendiary Magistrate, and he is either acquitted or convicted or committed for trial. As to the grand jury, they invariably act on the advice of the Judge. I do not think I can recall an instance where a grand jury said that there was no true bill unless the Judge had indicated to them, pretty plainly, that they ought to say so. The chief use of summoning grand jurors to the Assizes—I do not say to Quarter Sessions—was that the grand jury themselves might gain knowledge as to the administration of the law. That only happened when, after their work was done, they came and spent some of their time in Court. A good many of them did that, and I have no doubt that they went away very much fortified in deciding whether they ought to commit a man for trial or not. It is, I think, hardly worth while putting so many people to trouble and expense, as the Lord Chancellor has indicated, simply in order that some of the grand jurors may receive what is similar to a University education.
With regard to the other points as to the abolition, in a great many cases, of petty juries, I think my noble and learned friend opposite hardly gave sufficient weight to what the Lord Chancellor has said about the proportion of cases which are mere running-down cases. Who would say that a Judge cannot decide quite as well as twelve people at what pace one car was going when it ran into another, or how stupid a foot passenger was who was knocked down? I think that the Judges I have known are just as capable of deciding those cases as the first twelve people you may get on a jury and expect from them a unanimous 1057 verdict, for unless there is entire unanimity there can be no verdict at all. There are a largo number of eases decided in the Chancery Division without a jury—cases involving thousands of pounds as well as the characters of people. My noble and learned friend said the Bar did not like cases being withdrawn from juries. I am not surprised to hoar that. There are a number of people who practise in the Common Law Courts who are good at addressing juries, and I have no doubt they would prefer to have what they have now, the chance of influencing a jury, if only to failing to agree unanimously to a verdict against them. If people engaged in cases reasonably want a jury the Bill provides for them.
§ LORD MARSHALL OF CHIPSTEAD
My Lords, ten years ago, when Lord Cave's Criminal Justice Bill was before your Lordships' House, I moved an Amendment to the effect that the grand jury at the Central Criminal Court should be abolished. In doing this I had the support afforded by a resolution of the Court of Aldermen of the City of London in favour of the abolition of the grand jury at the Central Criminal Court—of which, I may remind your Lordships, all the members of the Court of Aldermen are Commissioners. But since 1923 thepersonnelof the Court of Aldermen has changed. It was therefore thought desirable that the question should again be considered. And although there have been sixteen changes in that body, the Court of Aldermen of to-day has again expressed by resolution its opinion that the grand jury at the Central Criminal Court is unnecessary, and is a waste of time and energy. I have many statistics and figures with which I need not trouble your Lordships, but, so far as we in the City are concerned, we find it a great burden for men who are not always people of leisure, but include business men, bankers, and merchants, to be called together twelve times a year for the office of a grand jury. It has been argued that the safety of the subject is protected by the grand jury. I venture to think that, inasmuch as representatives of the British Press attend all our courts of summary jurisdiction, they are the best protection for the British public. I therefore on behalf of my colleagues in the City of London desire to express the wish that 1058 the abolition of grand juries at the Central Criminal Court should remain a firm part of the Bill.
§ LORD HANWORTH
My Lords, the Committee which considered this matter had very strong evidence given by those who were responsible for dealing with the police. They were assured of the difficulty which is presented by the fact that witnesses have to attend both before a grand jury and for the purpose of giving evidence at a trial. Certainly we were impressed by the fact that a difficulty has sometimes arisen because witnesses will not give themselves the trouble of carrying through the whole procedure for a trial, including attendance before the grand jury as well as before the petty jury; and our attention was called to some observations and indeed to a story told in the Press of a man who had to prosecute a burglar. He said that he desired to be a good citizen; but next time a burglary took place in his house, rather than ever go to the Old Bailey and be kept in attendance for f period of three weeks, he would say that the burglar had better go free. I do not wish to add more because all I have to say is enshrined in the Report of the Committee.
Only one word about this question of juries. If it is found that reasonable alterations in the Rules can be made, as desired by one or two members of your Lordships' House, well and good; but, as the noble Lord, Lord Darling, has pointed out, there are a number of cases which are now tried in the Chancery Division in which the most serious issues of fraud are presented. They are concerned with the liquidation of companies and the charges which sometimes arise against directors in the course of those proceedings. The Judges have before them a number of cases in which fraud is charged, and yet they deal satisfactorily with them. But, more than that, it must not be forgotten that the only change that is proposed is a change of emphasis, a change rather of the onus, because in all cases it will be left to the Judge to decide whether there should be a jury; and I cannot imagine that any Judge would be deaf to an appeal if it was said that in that particular case there would be a charge which a defendant would have to meet, a charge which would affect his personal character. In those circumstances I feel confident 1059 that the discretion which would be absolutely left in the Judge would be exercised in deciding that there should be a jury.
But I have some recent information which will be of value to your Lordships. We have now completed the first year of a system which was introduced under the new Procedure Rules, and during that time a number of cases have been brought under the new Procedure Rules—a total of 1828 altogether. Out of those proceedings, which were thus commenced, some 728 have been made ready for trial. Now, no one goes to the new Procedure Rules except on his own volition. There is no compulsion to bring him there, and he goes there with the consciousness that he will get a speedy trial, and also with this knowledge that, inasmuch as the Rules are intended to secure a speedy trial, the trial as a rule is by the Judge alone. Out of those cases as many as 358, in which there were claims for personal injuries arising out of motor accidents or under the Fatal Accidents Act, were tried or settled or disposed of by the Court, without any demand whatever being made for trial by jury.
That seems to indicate that in a great number of cases the parties are ready to go before the Judge alone, and I will not refer to the dangers which have already been indicated in the Report as to the possibility of an order for a new trial, should a wrong direction be given to the jury. That was emphasised twenty years ago by the Commission which sat under the Chairmanship of Lord St. Aldwyn, of which the noble Lord, Lord Darling, was a member. They pointed out then the dangers of jury trial, and recommended that the procedure should be altered. It is a point for consideration in Committee having regard to the present system in the Chancery Division and under the new procedure. I think the matter is one which deserves not only careful but somewhat prolonged consideration before we refuse to carry out the terms of the Bill.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I only desire to say a very few words in answer to the various suggestions which have been made. First of all, with regard to the suggestion made by my noble friend Lord Snell, that in addition to the subjects on which a liti- 1060 gant should have a right to summon a jury there should be added those cases where something in the nature of fraud is involved. I need hardly say that that matter will have most careful consideration. Might I tell the noble Lord quite categorically the reasons why we did not put that in, although when we come to Committee these reasons will have to be discussed at greater length? First of all, as has been pointed out, questions of fraud are tried by Chancery Judges every day. Some of the biggest cases which we try are those of misfeasance summonses against company directors, and these trials are conducted with great clarity and great satisfaction by Judges of the Chancery Division. The next reason is this, that hundreds of County Court Judges up and down the country have to try cases of fraud daily. The third point is that if it were a serious case of fraud I can hardly imagine any Judge of the King's Bench Division not saying in his discretion that there ought to be a jury in such a case. On the other hand, supposing there were a case—it is a hypothetical case—where someone preferred a charge of fraud in order to get a trial by jury, and then, when the case came on, said: "I am not going to pursue the charge of fraud," his only object being to get a jury. That is a case which is pure imagination, but it is a matter which has to be taken into consideration.
May I say what a great pleasure it must have been to your Lordships to hear Lord Darling speak on this matter. He has unrivalled experience, and what he said about the grand jury was the best testimony we can get on this subject. What he said with regard to the unanimity of the jury very much appealed to me personally. It is a matter which I have long thought might be debated. I quite agree with my noble friend Lord Marshall, that one of the greatest safeguards to prevent injustice being done nowadays is a vigilant Press. I ventured to make that remark in my opening statement. Experienced Stipendiary Magistrates and experienced Justices of the Peace and a vigilant Press have rendered the necessity for the grand jury quite out of date. With regard to what my noble friend Lord Hanworth said, I agree that the new Procedure Rules show that many people prefer to repose their con- 1061 fidence in the Judge. This matter ought to be very carefully considered, and if there are any exceptions they can be discussed on the Committee stage. I would ask your Lordships that the Bill be now read a second time in order that we may have economy and expedition in the law, a thing which, up till now, we have not been able to get.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.