§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD WRIGHT
My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be read a second time. The Bill is one which I regarded—and indeed still regard—as of a purely non-controversial character. It is a Bill promoted by the Law Society who, as your Lordships know, have most important duties in connection with the solicitors' profession; who keep the Roll, and who are responsible for the admission of future solicitors to articles, for examinations, and for matters of that character. The Bill itself, I am authorised to say, has the support and approval of the Lord Chancellor, and I may add in a humbler sense that I, in my present position as Master of the Rolls, in which position I have duties of some importance to discharge in connection with solicitors, have scrutinised it with some care.
The first Part of the Bill deals with what are called articles of clerkship. As your Lordships may probably know, every future solicitor has to serve a sort of apprenticeship; he enters into articles with a practising solicitor for a certain period. Up to the present time the Law Society has had no means of saying whether the solicitor who takes the budding solicitor under articles is a fit and proper person for that purpose, and no means of saying whether a future solicitor who desires to enter into articles is a person who, by his character and in other respects, is fit and suited to proceed on the first step towards entering the profession. These two matters are dealt with in the first and second Clauses. Clause 1 begins by saying that:No solicitor who has not at some time been in continuous practice as a solicitor for a period of five years shall, without the special leave in writing of the Society, take any articled clerk.1006 And it provides that if a solicitor takes a clerk in contravention of that subsection, the time served under those articles shall not count as a qualifying period, subject to the discretion of the Law Society and in certain events to an appeal to the Master of the Rolls. Clause 2 gives the Society the right to call upon any person who desires to be bound by articles of clerkship to give notice to the Society of his intention not less than six weeks beforehand, and to furnish the Society with evidence as to his character, fitness and suitability in accordance with regulations which the Society may lay down. It also provides that a written consent shall be issued by the Society to that person, and that, if consent has been refused, the time of service by the clerk shall not count as a qualifying period.
Clause 3 merely deals with examinations, and alters the period of time allowed by shortening the necessary years of service in cases where a man under articles has passed certain examinations. In certain cases the time is reduced to four and a half years and in other cases to four years. The next provision is a trifling matter. The Law Society, as registrar of solicitors, is bound to enter the registration on its Roll, and Clause 4 provides that, instead of five shillings, it may charge twenty shillings. Clause 5 is introduced for the purpose of enabling the Law Society, as custodian of the conduct of solicitors and of articled clerks, in certain events to discharge the articles. The two events which are dealt with are these: If
then the Society may order the articles to be discharged, and make consequential orders in the matter, including provision as to substituting new articles.
- "(a) during the term of any articles either the clerk or the solicitor has been continuously absent from the solicitor's place of business for a period of three months or longer; or
- "(b) the Society are for any other reason of opinion that the articles ought to be discharged;"
The next clause of the Bill deals with examinations. It makes some alterations, not, perhaps, apparently very important, but still very useful. For instance, it provides that an examination, which according to the present Act must be either in arts or in law, shall now be accepted as satisfactory for the purpose in question if it is in arts, 1007 law or science. There are other provisions giving the Society power to determine what Universities shall be satisfactory; in other words, what Universities shall be those which are approved by the Society in respect of certain examinations or whatever the matter is. Clause 7 deals with the position of the Society as watching over and securing the education of solicitors. At present every future solicitor, while under articles, must attend a law school, with certain exceptions, which I need not trouble you about, and he must attend the courses at that law school at a period commencing not later than fifteen months after the execution of the articles, subject to the consent of the Society to waive the matter. Then there are some other minor provisions, with which I need not trouble your Lordships in detail.
The second Part of the Bill deals with a number of matters of machinery, purely administrative, with perhaps one exception, and I do not know that I need trouble your Lordships by going through them in detail. There is only one thing to which I think I ought to refer, and that is that in Clause 11 of the Bill, the power of the Society to refuse a practising certificate to a solicitor under certain conditions is extended to include other conditions, two in number. One relates to the case where a solicitor applies for a practising certificate. As your Lordships know, a solicitor, in order to practise, must not only have full qualifications and have been admitted, but must every year apply for and obtain a practising certificate. If he has not done so, and has been without a practising certificate for twelve months following the date of his admission, and then applies for the first time, the Registrar is given a discretion in this clause to refuse that grant, subject to an appeal to the Master of the Rolls. There is a similar provision, which must, I imagine, be beyond any dispute or controversy, in cases where the applicant is of unsound mind. If he is a person to whom the powers and provisions of Part IV of the Lunacy Act, 1890, relating to management and administration, apply, there may be a refusal.
The other matters are, as I have said, purely matters of machinery, of a technical character, but they are very important 1008 in practice, and if the Bill becomes law these small matters will avoid a good many trifling difficulties which are felt at present. The last two clauses deal merely with matters of evidence, or are of a consequential character. I beg to move that the Bill be read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(Lord Wright.)
§ LORD MORRIS, who had given Notice that on the Motion for the Second Reading he would move, That the Bill be now read 2a this day six months, said: My Lords, as the infant lawyer of this House I crave that indulgence customarily extended by your Lordships to one who addresses you for the first time. I believe I am right in saying that I enjoy the distinction, if it be a distinction, of being the only practising solicitor with a seat in your Lordships' House, and that may explain, if it does not excuse, my temerity in even attempting to cross swords with so undoubted an expert and so redoubtable an opponent as my noble friend the Master of the Rolls. This Bill, in my humble opinion, is trumpery in character, loose in draftsmanship, and mischievous in intent. It has seventeen clauses, and I do not propose to weary your Lordships this afternoon by analysing those clauses in detail. I propose to take one or two at random, and I will begin by dealing with Clause 1.
That clause, if I may read it, says:
No solicitor who has not at some time been in continuous practice as a solicitor for a period of five years shall, without the special leave in writing of the Society, take any articled clerk.
If I may for a moment examine the possible mischief of passing a Bill of this character, will your Lordships imagine a solicitor, who has been admitted and has practised his profession assiduously and possibly successfully for a period of three years, being approached by a valued client and asked to take either the son or the nephew of that client as an articled clerk. if this Bill becomes law that solicitor must decline and say: "No, I am sorry, but you will have to wait another two years." But my objection to the Bill is a more serious one than that and goes to principle. It is this, that for a hundred years at least the Law Society has existed, and I suppose for two hundred years solicitors have practised law in this
country, without any fetter or chain whatever on their discretion in this matter. Why the Law Society at this very late date chooses to interfere and say that solicitors must go down to Chancery Lane and obtain the leave, in writing if you please, of the Law Society before taking an articled clerk I confess I do not see. So mach for Clause 1.
The next clause I propose to dwell on, but only for a moment, because as I say it is so trumpery, is Clause 6, subsection (3) of which provides that:
A person shall not … be exempted from the preliminary examination by reason that he has passed, at any date after one year has expired from the commencement of this Act, any examination, unless Latin was one of the subjects of the examination and he satisfied the examiners in that subject.
Why in this year of grace must it be considered necessary for a solicitor to be proficient in a dead language? Had this prevision said that the man in question must be able to analyse a balance sheet, or something of that sort, it might be understandable if his life were to be passed in bringing out companies or conducting running-down actions. But why it should be necessary nowadays for a solicitor to be able to construe Cæsar's "Gallic War" or to show a due appreciation of the Odes of Horace I am at a loss to understand.
§ The objection I have to the Bill once again goes to principle. If your Lordships would look for a moment you would see in my hand the handbook of the Law Society, which gives no doubt a very creditable account of the Society's activities, legislative and. otherwise, for the year 1924. Now glance, my Lords, if you will, at the same book, with the same binding, printed on the same paper for the year 1933, and you will observe that it is nearly twice as large. Only nine years have elapsed in the interval. I am rather afraid that in time to come it will be necessary for that book to be printed in a thin paper edition, and that is what I do not like. We have a spate of legislation, and I think it is a mistake to encourage public bodies, particularly public bodies as knowledgeable as the Law Society, to come here with their domestic fiddle-faddle, asking us to dot the i's and cross the t's for them.
§ If the Law Society should elect to come here with a measure of some consequence—a measure calculated to bring 1010 about perhaps a decline in the number of my professional brethren who unfortunately go annually for a sojourn of penal servitude—I would give such a measure my support. If they would do anything to bring about a curtailment of the activities of a most objectionable type of solicitor, known I believe colloquially as an "ambulance chaser," that would, I am sure, receive the sympathetic consideration of your Lordships. He is at present not only a disgrace to his own profession but a menace to society, victimising hospitals, plundering insurance companies and robbing the public, and not least his own clients. I know for a fact, and I do not think that the noble and learned Lord who introduced this Bill would contradict me, that complaints have been made, and no doubt will be made, to the Law Society from time to time about these pests and about legal aid societies, but I have never heard of anything being done. I have only alluded to one very necessary reform, one activity which is crying out for the attention of the Law Society, and about which nothing has been done. There are others. But we are not asked to-day to deal with that. Your Lordships are asked to give your attention to this rather sorry Bill, and in my humble submission it is not worthy of your Lordships' attention. I therefore invite you to refuse it a Second Reading. I beg to move.
Leave out ("now") and at the end of the Motion insert ("this day six months").—(Lord Morris.)
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT HAILSHAM)
My Lords, I had not proposed to speak on this Bill, and indeed until I saw the Motion for rejection on the Paper it never occurred to me that anybody was likely to raise any opposition to it. We always congratulate and welcome any member of your Lordships' House on his maiden speech, and naturally that compliment we should desire to pay on this occasion. But I do wish that the noble Lord who has just spoken would devote the talents of which he has given such an admirable example this afternoon to supporting some really important measure instead of tearing up a measure which his own profession are practically unanimous in desiring. The noble Lord says that these are trifling matters—domestic 1011 "fiddle faddle" I think he was good enough to call them. But in fact it is not the fault of the Law Society that they cannot alter these things except by Act of Parliament, because it is in existing Acts of Parliament that these rules are laid down. And when they want, as they do, for example, to extend—not as your Lordships might have thought, largely to restrict—those lists of exemptions which are granted from the preliminary examination, or to introduce the preliminary examination for science as well as for law as subjects which would satisfy the examination requirements, they have to come to Parliament because Parliament has laid down what it is that they have to leave out. As to the requirement of Latin, I am not going to embark upon a discussion of the merits or disadvantages of a knowledge of that learned language; but when a solicitor is practising in a profession which has largely to make use of Latin expressions and requires a certain knowledge of Roman law, it is I think at least convenient that before he passes a more advanced examination in his profession he should have qualified himself in the elements of that language.
It is quite true that this Bill does not make far-reaching reforms in the character of those who are allowed to practise a solicitor's profession. But that is no reason for throwing it out. It may be an ample reason for the noble Lord's introducing a measure which would effect some of those reforms, if he thinks it desirable, and I am sure your Lordships would look very sympathetically upon it; but I do venture to suggest that when the Law Society, who are charged with the responsibility of administering the affairs of their own profession, and who are the elected representatives of that profession, come to Parliament and say that, since Parliament has enacted and laid down the conditions governing that profession, they must ask us to make alterations which they are united in believing to be necessary, it would be very ungracious and I venture to think rather undesirable that we should turn a deaf ear upon them, merely because we think that there are other more far-reaching reforms in the profession which at some other stage might usefully be enacted. It is for those reasons that I for my part think that the least we can 1012 do is to give a Second Reading to a Bill which the Law Society have asked us to pass, and if there are in truth any defects—which I do not think the noble Lord has made good—then no doubt they can be investigated at the next stage of the Bill.
§ LORD WRIGHT
My Lords, like the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, until I came down this evening, or rather until I was on my way down, I had no idea that this Bill, of which I have had the honour to move the Second Reading, was anything but a collection of the most humdrum and dreary topics but one at the same time dealing with matters which the Law Society, in administering their duties in connection with solicitors, desired and were satisfied would help them to avoid a good many difficulties from which they have suffered in the past. As the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has pointed out their position is defined in hard and fast terms by the Solicitors Act and other Statutes. I find a difficulty in dealing with an objection which merely limits itself to vituperative epithets, which merely says the Bill is trivial and trumpery; but I can refer to the two specific points which the noble Lord has mentioned. In my humble submission they are neither trivial nor trumpery.
I refer first of all to the provision of the Bill which enables the Law Society, for the first time, to exercise some supervision and control over solicitors who take articled pupils and on the persons who are admitted to articles. As the Solicitors Act now stands, the Law Society have no control over that at all. Their duty is to accept and register the articles which are tendered and, as everybody knows, it is a matter of vital importance that every step should be taken which will ensure a standard of integrity and a standard of efficiency and qualification in all those who become admitted to the very serious and important duties of solicitors. The instance put by the noble Lord who has moved the Amendment is, Of course, not a true defect at all, because the Law Society reserve the right to admit to articles with a solicitor who is under five years' standing if they think it is a proper case in which to do so, and their decision is subject to appeal to the Master of the Rolls. As to the question 1013 of Latin, if this were the case of a qualification for an engineer or surveyor of course it would be rather absurd to insist, on Latin, but, as the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has pointed out, a lawyer is constantly dealing with matters which involve some knowledge of the Latin language, and the very modest requirements of this Bill, if it is allowed to become law, cannot do anyone any great harm, and are necessary, in my submission, for the due qualification of solicitors.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to: Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.