§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT SIMON)
My Lords, the Bill of which I move the second Reading is a small but important effort to improve the machinery of the administration of justice. Your Lordships are well aware that one of the duties of the Lord Chancellor is to appoint magistrates and to keep general control over the commissions of the peace. The importance of the matter may be illustrated by reminding your Lordships that there are more than 20,000 justices of the peace in this island. I express the confident view that, on the whole, magistrates discharge their duties in petty sessions admirably and are rendering a great service to the country. It is not always appreciated that over 95 per cent. of the criminal charges which are dealt with come before summary courts. I remember being provided a few years ago at the Home Office with another figure, which is of interest to-day, as to the total number of cases involving trial that are disposed of by courts of summary jurisdiction outside London, amounting to over 500,000 a year. I therefore feel confident that your Lordships will agree with me when I say that it is a great work that is being discharged by our unpaid justices.
The instances which occasionally arise, when criticism is directed to a particular decision, either in Parliament or in the 81 Press, or it may be in the highest Courts, are rare exceptions, and every Lord Chancellor in turn, I am sure, has felt, the value of the services which are being rendered as a whole by the magistracy. These rare instances of criticism should not detract from our view of their general usefulness. There are, however, cases in which strong and justified criticism is directed to persons on the bench, sometimes as Chairmen, sometimes as other members, who, in many cases, in years past have rendered admirable services but who, owing to the failure of powers, which is bound in the end to overtake us with increasing age, are no longer well qualified to try cases Successive Lord Chancellors have had this matter brought to their attention, and I have no doubt this experience has been brought to the attention of some of your Lordships also. The Lord-Lieutenants have communicated with me about it, and it is an extremely anxious and difficult business to know how to deal with it.
One of my predecessors, my noble and learned friend Lord Hailsham, when he was Lord Chancellor, sent a circular round to all the benches, and urged that in all cases where a justice of the peace felt himself prevented by ill-health or increasing age, or other incapacity, from continuing to carry on his work in court, he should apply to be put on a supplemental list, with the result that, while the justice would no longer sit to hear cases in court, he would retain his position as a justice of the peace and would be available to discharge administrative duties which fall to that office and which can be very usefully discharged by a public-spirited justice who is not doing other work. Lord Hailsham's suggestion was acted on in many cases with the most admirable results. Sometimes there was a willing acquiescence on the part of the individual to take the course proposed. In other cases it has only been after a good deal of correspondence and even pressure that a justice has taken the course urged upon him, and it is a very invidious business to address yourself to a man who, for years and years, has rendered most admirable service and try to convince him that he is not as well fitted for it owing to age as he used to be, because I suspect that one of the peculiarities of increasing age is that you tend to think that you are just as good at the job as you ever were.
82 That fact, that some of those at any rate have declined to take this suggestion, honestly believing that it is not reasonably made, is undoubted. Every Lord Chancellor has, I am sorry to say, a large post bag dealing with questions of that sort, and has not a very agreeable duty to discharge. I made an effort of a rather different kind last November when I instituted the rule, which has been in some cases quite misunderstood, that in the appointment of new justices, in the appointment of justices henceforth, the justice should give an undertaking that he would resign his position as justice of the peace at the age of seventy-five unless he was asked to go on after that age. I say that this has been a good deal misunderstood, because I find from some communications that reach me, that no less than three errors are made in respect of what I proposed, not, I hope, in consequence of any want of clearness on my part, though it is human to err. It is said that I have made a regulation that all justices should become compulsorily retired at the age of seventy. There are three mistakes about that. In the first place, the proposal I made has nothing to do with justices who were appointed before November of last year; in the second place, the suggested age is seventy-five and not seventy: and in the third place, provision is made for retaining the services of those who have reached that age but who are able, usefully, to continue to discharge their duties on the bench.
Now, my Lords, my experience in the office which I have now held for nearly a year, convinces me that something more is needed. It is of the highest possible importance, not merely that these summary courts should arrive at the correct conclusion, but that the whole of their proceedings should be conducted in such circumstances as give to persons concerned and the public the confidence that the matter is being competently and well done. We must really do something more. It was suggested to me that I might get rid of the difficulty of justices who hang on when they really ought to retire from the bench by removing their names from the commission. Of course, that is perfectly possible, but I am very unwilling to adopt that hard course. For one thing I think removal of a justice's name from the commission is appropriate mainly in one 83 of two classes of case. It does happen that magistrates who have been appointed to the bench and who are entitled to call themselves justices of the peace, never do any work and never attend and discharge their duties. In such a case, I think the Lord Chancellor is right if, after many years of that, he tells a particular justice that he really must withdraw his name from the commission. The other is a rare class of case and very distressing but it does happen, where a justice has been guilty of some really serious offence or misconduct which manifestly unfits him to discharge judicial duties. The only thing to do then is to remove his name from the commission, and that has to be done now and then.
I am most unwilling to use any harsh machinery in the case of justices who have rendered good service and whose only fault is that, like the rest of us, they are exposed to the ravages of increasing age. What this Bill therefore does is to make the supplemental list, which my noble and learned friend Viscount Hailsham devised, into a statutory list which will continue to contain, in the first place, the names of those justices who wish to be transferred to it, and there is also this provision in Clause 1 (3):If the Lord Chancellor is satisfied, with respect to any justice named in a commission of the peace, that it is, by reason of his age or infirmity or other like cause, expedient that he should cease to exercise judicial functions, the Lord Chancellor may direct that the name of that justice shall be entered in the supplemental list kept in connection with that commission of the peace.I am confident that if this power had existed a good many of these difficult and painful cases could have been disposed of with propriety and with effect, and without throwing any undue burden upon the Lord-Lieutenants or the general body of justices in the county who, I suppose, are just as conscious of the failing powers of their colleagues as anybody else can be. There is also a provision that when the justice is put on this list he ceases to have any power to sit on the bench and take part in dealing with cases.
Those are the contents of the Bill and I hope that your Lordships will agree that it is a measure which ought to be adopted. The question has been raised, and very rightly, as to whether this can really be regarded as a war measure because we are 84 now bound to devote ourselves in the Legislature, mainly at any rate, to war measures. I myself would express the strong view that this Bill is more important in the present conditions of war than ever. There are very large numbers of Defence Regulations dealing with such things as black-out, food control and the like, and I could, if necessary—of course I will not—give illustrations to show that there are some gentlemen of advanced age on the bench who seem to think that black-out offences and ration offences are matters of the smallest possible importance and deal with those guilty of them in the most light-hearted manner. I therefore claim that it is desirable to make this improvement in the administration of justice even in the midst of war.
I would only make one further observation. I realise quite well that the exercise of these new powers which the unfortunate Lord Chancellor has to assume will require much sympathy and much discretion. I am very far from suggesting that advancing years necessarily disqualify everybody for public work, whether judicial work or otherwise. There are plenty of illustrations to the contrary. Lord Campbell, my famous predecessor, became Lord Chancellor at the age of eighty. Both Lord Campbell and I think Lord Halsbury continued to sit on the Woolsack till the age of eighty-two, and these octogenarians are mere chickens compared with some of those who, at an advanced age, have discharged public and judicial duties with complete command over all their powers and faculties. It is natural that men who have done good work for so many years should wish to continue and everybody must sympathise with their feelings, but after all the first thing is to secure that justice is effectively done and is recognised to be well done. It is for that reason and as a matter of public duty and public policy that I move the Second Reading of this Bill.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a.—(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ LORD ADDISON
My Lords, I am sure that we have all listened with interest to the lucid and, as usual, charming exposition of this little Bill by the noble and learned Viscount, and we all, I am sure, join with him in the tribute he paid in his opening remarks to the vast 85 majority of the justices throughout the country. All of us, I think, know from experience that apart from their work on the bench numbers of them act as friends of the people on hundreds of occasions every year outside the court. Perhaps some of them have rendered more conspicuous public service in that way even than on the bench. But amongst 20,000 justices—the number is surprisingly large—it would be a marvel if there were not some people who had crept into the list and had proved themselves not to be so desirable as others. It is clearly necessary that the kind of power which it is proposed to take in this Bill should belong to the Lord Chancellor's office.
I think the noble and learned Viscount might have gone beyond black-out and food regulation illustrations to find occasions on which magistrates, some few conspicuous exceptions, have exercised their functions in a strange manner. The noble Viscount sitting beside me, Lord Cecil of Chelwood, has more than once called the attention of your Lordships to the strange sentences sometimes imposed on people guilty of motoring offences, and I have myself sometimes wished that sentences had been more severe in some cases, or anyhow had been imposed with a greater measure of consistency. The Committee over which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Alness, presided had some remarkable illustrations brought before them of the strange variation of sentences imposed for the same offence in different parts of the country. This is by way of an aside, but there are amongst the 20,000 justices a few who do dispense justice in a, strange manner and it is no good pretending that they do not.
I just wonder whether the words of subsection (3) cover what the Lord Chancellor in his explanation states to be desirable. I see that the only causes on account of which the Lord Chancellor can place justices on the supplemental list are "age or infirmity, or other like cause." Judging by some of the cases to which he referred, it would manifestly be desirable that certain persons should not actively be exercising judicial functions, though it could scarcely be said that this was so because of age or infirmity or other like cause. It does seem worth while considering whether the limitation of the powers of the Lord Chancellor by those words is 86 not a little narrower than it ought properly to be. The alternative reasons to age and infirmity have to be some "other like cause," whatever that phrase may mean. While we are all conscious of the disability of advancing age, I dare say some of us are tempted to fancy some-limes that we are still doing things as well as we were doing them years ago. It is obviously necessary that the Lord Chancellor should have these powers.
Whilst I am on my feet on this subject, I would ask the Lord Chancellor if he could find time to consider a little more closely the method of appointing magistrates. It has often caused, and it still causes, great dissatisfaction in some places. Well, I have been a Party man myself and everyone of us here has too, but for all that I think it often happens—in fact it is true to say that it constantly happens—that the Advisory Committees seek to divide their favours according to the political predominance of the political Parties in a particular district, so that an entirely suitable person who has not been active in any political Party is often ruled out for that very reason. My noble friend on my right shakes his head, but I know this is correct, otherwise I should not have mentioned it. It docs occur that in some cases entirely estimable persons, who have rendered excellent public service but whose political affinities are almost unknown' to anybody except themselves, are not taken account of because they do not happen to be known as holding Labour, Conservative or Liberal views and are not marked as such. That is not right. There ought to be a rule to secure the disinterested selection of a greater number of people who should properly be justices because they have rendered good public service, but who do not get through under the Advisory Committee system.
I think the Lord Chancellor might well consider the revision of the method of selection. On paper it seems all right, but in fact it is not working out as satisfactorily as it ought to be. We are all anxious that in the different districts where there are men and women of outstanding merit, entirely apart from political considerations, who have real experience in social matters, they should, if they are suitable, be appointed to these offices. These last observations, I agree, would, owing to the rules, be accounted 87 irregular in another place, because the point is not material to the Bill which is before us, but I think it is very appropriate to the subject matter of the Bill.
§ LORD MOTTISTONE
My Lords, I know that I can speak on behalf of my noble friends in this part of the House, when I say that we entirely accept this Bill as being an admirable measure and one which is long overdue. The powers of the Lord Chancellor are mysterious, but they did not seem to be adequate to the noble and learned Viscount and to many of his predecessors. I am glad of the opportunity to correct a misapprehension into which my noble friend on my left, Lord Addison, has fallen with regard to the appointment of justices, on recommendations made to you, my Lord Chancellor, by Lord-Lieutenants after consultation with the Advisory Committees. For more than twenty-two years now, I have been advising you and your predecessors, with the help of the Committees, and far from it being the case, as a general rule—and here I speak with some experience not only of my own but of other great counties—that a man who takes little part in politics but who has rendered valuable service otherwise, is excluded under the present system, the exact reverse is true. Certainly, in my own county and in all the counties I know of it is quite the other way. We are so anxious to recommend without political bias, as indeed we are ordered to do under the advice of a Royal Commission under which we work, which was set up by the noble and learned Viscount's predecessor, Lord Loreburn, that it is just the people who are not closely identified with Party politics who do get through the net.
There may be some exceptional cases of which my noble friend has knowledge. If so, I should be very glad if he will tell me of them afterwards. I can assure him, after twenty-two years' experience, that the people who get through the net are those who have rendered admirable service and who have not been very closely identified with any of the political Parties. My noble friend opposite nods his head; I am sure that he will bear me out. I hope it will always be as I have said. The people who can best exercise judicial functions are those who have not been exposed to any risk of having their judgment a little bit biased, after, perhaps, 88 close association with Party politics. I venture to make this clear and, having said that, I cordially support this Bill.
§ THE MARQUESS OF LONDONDERRY
My Lords, I should not like to differ with my noble friend who has just sat down. I do not. I do not doubt what has been said as to provisions in this Bill having a certain value, but I am not really sure that there is any necessity for bringing in the Bill at all at the present time. I regret that the Lord Chancellor has thought it necessary to begin by saying that it is a very small Bill and after that preliminary to say that it is of vital importance, especially in war-time. I should be glad to know what, exactly, the Lord Chancellor thinks will be the result of the Bill. So far as I can see, the suggestion in it seems to contain some of the elements of what I would call a black list. I feel that its effect will be that some of those remarkably good justices who have not suffered from what the Lord Chancellor called the ravages of old age—the conscientious ones—will consider that they have no right to sit on the bench any longer and will send in their resignations. I should say that if this Bill is passed you will find among the 20,000 many who will say: "Sooner than that my name should be put on the black list I think I had better retire gracefully now." The whole administration of justice in this form is one of the best of our great traditions. The noble and learned Lord Chancellor has not said that there is a great demand for this Bill by reason of gross miscarriages of justice, and I am inclined to wonder why it has been necessary to introduce it.
There are a great many things which the Lord Chancellor could himself do, as controlling justices of the peace. I should have thought that when he realised the difficulties of the Lord-Lieutenants who are at the head of the Advisory Committees, he might find some other way, or some supplementary way, of assisting them. If he would select a certain number of magistrates himself, I think that would have a very good effect. I entirely agree with what my noble friend opposite said about non-political magistrates. Those are the people, as he knows, of whom we try to get hold at once; but I have never felt that the composition of the Advisory Committees really gave altogether satisfactory results. As we know, these Committees are divided on 89 political lines, and in those counties where there has been a political change, or perhaps where there is an overwhelming preponderance of one political Party, the Advisory Committee changes, but the discussion goes on. The discussions in these Committees are, as we well know, of a most amicable character, but naturally the element comes in of giving one thing on one side and one on another, and that sort of thing cannot be claimed to be altogether for the benefit of the justice that we seek to dispense by means of these people. I suggest, therefore, that the Lord Chancellor should have a much wider discretion in making selections himself.
There is another point with regard to the appointment of magistrates which I should like to mention. The idea is prevalent that the letters "J.P." confer a social distinction on those who are able to use them. We know perfectly well that the Lord-Lieutenants receive letters from all sorts of people, and in a great many cases the political services of those people are enumerated; they expect to receive a reward by being able to place the magic letters "J.P." after their names. I see no way of getting over that conception of the matter, and I should like to do away with the letters altogether. It is difficult to get young men to serve. They move about a great deal and they are very busy, so that the dispensing of justice falls on men of maturer years. If you look into the whole history of the matter, I think you will find that the magistrates have carried on remarkably well and that the justice which has been dispensed by them has been of the highest description.
I repeat what I said at the beginning: I regret that this Bill has been introduced. There is one technical point which I should like to mention and with which no doubt the noble and learned Lord Chancellor will be able to deal. It seems to me that he has forgotten that there are women justices. In subsection (4) (b) of Clause 1 we find the words:a court consisting of any justice or justices of the peace sitting in his or their capacity as such.I do not knew whether it should be "his, her or their," or whether "his" is held to comprise both "his" and "her." Naturally I am not offering any opposition to this Bill, but I think it is unnecessary, especially at this time.
§ LORD JESSEL
My Lords, as a member of the Advisory Committee in London, I should like to say a few words about this Bill. In the first place, there has always been a good deal of comment in this House on the age of judicial authorities, and I well remember a very interesting discussion which took place on a Bill which sought to limit the age of certain Judges who would sit on the Privy Council. Examples of extreme age were brought forward, and finally I believe that the age was fixed at severity for those who did not come from this country. As the noble and learned Lord Chancellor rightly points out, it is not possible to tell anything at all about a man's judicial capacity by his age. He instanced the case of Lord Campbell, and the later case of Lord Halsbury. I well remember as a boy the reverence in which one of the Vice-Chancellors, Vice-Chancellor Bacon, was held. He was eighty-three years old, and did not seem to pay very much attention to what was going on, but he really did pay attention to it, and his decisions were reversed much less frequently than those of anyone else. I remember a little story in this connection which may amuse your Lordships. A colleague of his was going into court when an egg was thrown at him, and someone remarked, "That must have been meant for his colleague, Bacon."
With regard to this Bill, we have really followed out this practice in London. In 1922, under the guidance of Sir William Collins, our Vice-Lieutenant, a committee was set up to examine this question, and it was then decided to make two lists, of effective and non-effective justices respectively. After a certain time the matter was considered again. It was then decided that it was somewhat derogatory to have two lists, and so everyone was put on one list. The only difference was that in the case of those regarded as non-effective the name of the petty sessional division was omitted. I venture to recommend that course to the Lord Chancellor. Most effective justices belong to a petty sessional division and, if there is only one list, there is nothing derogatory at all about it. Those justices who are not able, on account of age or infirmity, to go to the ordinary petty sessional divisions can do a great deal of useful work in signing pension papers, looking after lunatics and doing the 91 various other things which justices have to do. The result of these circulars from our Lord-Lieutenant, Lord Crewe, who I am sorry to see is not in his place to-day, was that a great many justices resigned when their attention was called to it. That was a very good thing, because in London we are not supposed to appoint new justices except for death vacancies, and this gave room for younger men to be appointed to the petty sessional divisions.
I was very glad to hear the noble and learned Lord Chancellor say that his preliminary statement had been misunderstood, because in the first instance one would gather from the Press that every justice at the age of seventy-five—an age which I am approaching myself—was going to be removed at once from the bench. I am glad that the noble and learned Viscount has dispelled that illusion. My noble friend Lord Londonderry suggested that the Lord Chancellor should himself select. I do hope that he will not do so. I remember very well an instance when a former Lord Chancellor recommended someone, I am afraid owing to political pressure, and this man appeared a few weeks afterwards on the charge of selling a motor car for which he was paying by instalments. The man's name had never come before the Advisory Committee, and it was gently hinted to the Lord Chancellor concerned that it would have been better had the name come before the Advisory Committee, which would then have found out all about the man in question. I am sorry to disagree with my noble friend, but I know of this instance as a fact.
As regards those who never attend, that is a rather delicate question in this House. There are many of your Lordships who never attend this House; I have seen some take their seats who thereafter never come here. One does not get any notice when one is elevated to this great assembly, but when you are made a magistrate you are asked to give a pledge that you will attend. I am sure that this is quite out of order, but I cannot help thinking it would be a good thing if, in the case of your Lordships' House, some notice were sent round to members because it might lead some of them to make a casual appearance instead of leaving the work to be done by the select few I see around me to-day—some of them asleep!
92 This Bill is quite a good Bill. I hope we have got rid of the idea of a black list. I come to Lord Addison's remarks about politics. There is no place in London where politics are more keenly fought out than here, but we have now got a method which is rather good and that is, in the nomination of new justices of the peace, we send up the names of some who are Independents. That does give a loophole to get people appointed who are not so closely associated with politics as some of those who are eager and foremost in the fray. The initials "J.P." are extremely valued. Many men are as proud of being justices of the peace as they would be if they belonged to your Lordships' House; but I think it is rather a pity that some other means have not been devised of rewarding political services, especially in the County of London, where, except for the licensing part of the work, there is very little ordinary petty sessional work to be done. It would be much better if some other system could be devised of rewarding people who have done good political or good local government work instead of making them justices of the peace. I am sure it hampers very much the Advisory Committee, who feel they have to give somebody something because of his political activities. However, as the noble Lord, the Leader of the Opposition, said, that is really outside the Bill. We have had this practice in London for a good many years, which works extremely well, of issuing a notice calling the attention of justices who cannot attend. Such a notice always produces a good effect. This is a necessary and good Bill.
§ VISCOUNT HAILSHAM
My Lords, as my name has been mentioned by my noble and learned friend on the Woolsack, I should like to express my warm welcome to the Bill and also to the observations with which my noble friend introduced it, particularly his commendation of the valuable work which the unpaid justices are doing. I do not think that is sufficiently appreciated in the country, and I am very glad to have the Lord Chancellor's commendation of it. I started the supplemental list, and in the vast majority of cases the supplemental list does work. A vast number of men who become incapacitated for their judicial work do accept this invitation to be transferred to the supplemental list, which does not involve any stigma upon them. 93 It does not involve ceasing to be justices. It does involve their not being summoned to sit at petty sessions.
My noble friend Lord Londonderry expressed a fear that this would become a black list. The Lord Chancellor has taken great pains to prevent that in his definition in subsection (3) of Clause 1, to which Lord Addison called attention. He limits the power to remove justices to the supplemental list to cases where the justice is prevented from exercising his judicial functions by reason of age, infirmity, or other like cause. That is a very wise limitation, because there are other powers, which the Lord Chancellor has in reserve and which, in extreme cases, he can exercise, for removing a man who has been guilty of misconduct. It would be a great pity to include in the supplemental list any person who had to be removed from any other cause except that of failing powers. I resist the temptation to follow ray noble friends in their irrelevant discussion on the methods of appointment, although I have some views on and some experience of that matter, but I should like to welcome and endorse the Lord Chancellor's Bill and his observations in introducing it.
§ VISCOUNT MAUGHAM
My Lords, will your Lordships allow me to add a few words on this question, which is one with which I have personally some acquaintance? It has been said by the Lord Chancellor that there are some 20,000 justices of the peace in this country. That is an estimate. I would add another estimate which your Lordships should bear in mind, and it is that, of that number, only some 8,000 regularly attend to the business of either petty sessions or Quarter Sessions, so that there are a very large number of justices—certainly half the total number, if not more—who do not attend these two important courts. That leads me to say this, that I hope very much that the name suggested for the supplemental list by my noble friend Lord Londonderry will not be accepted in the circles which this matter concerns. The term "black list" would seem to be a hopelessly inaccurate one to apply to those justices who cease to attend, because they are on the supplemental list, because after all, I hope my noble friend does not take the view that there is anything discreditable in either old age or 94 infirmity. That can be the only possible reason for transfer. There is no stigma to be attached to the fact that, by reason of old age or infirmity or some kindred cause, a man is no longer thought fit to sit at petty sessions or Quarter Sessions.
It seems to me there is great weight to be attached to the Lord Chancellor's observations as to the administration of justice in these important courts. They are important courts; they go back to the year 1375. They arc courts where two or more justices must sit, and they administer justice in an enormous number of cases, as the noble Lord has told us. But it is not sufficient to say that justice is almost always—not quite always but almost always—administered in a satisfactory way. There arc cases, as I know very well from complaints that came before me when I was occupying the Woolsack, where some of the justices suffered from one of the most obvious infirmities of old age—namely, that they are deaf—and the sort of complaint that came to the Lord Chancellor's office was that somebody had been convicted of some offence by a bench consisting of, or at any rate containing, old gentlemen who were unable to hear what the witnesses were saying.
I imagine that in a great number of cases that was exaggerated. They were hard of hearing; they showed it in the usual way; and they had to be assisted by the clerk to know exactly what a witness, perhaps in some dialect, was saying in the box; but that sort of thing saps the confidence of those whose fortune it is to be brought before such a bench. They do not feel that they have been properly tried, because they do not feel that they or their witnesses have been properly heard. That is the sort of example that I think makes it necessary, or at any rate most desirable, in the interests of the country, that justices of that kind should no longer attend at courts which require two or more justices to be present.
I would add this point, that it is a complete mistake to suppose that the duties and the privileges of justices come to an end because they no longer attend petty sessions or Quarter Sessions. Those are courts where there must be two or more justices, but there are a great number of functions which can be performed, and which are performed, by single justices, duties and functions which are not to be 95 taken away from them by the provisions of this Bill if it becomes law. In those circumstances, I think there is a very strong case for such a measure, and, having had to do my best in administering the powers of the Lord Chancellor in this respect—only one of the many onerous duties that fall to the Lord Chancellor—I would make this observation: I cannot imagine that anybody who puts himself in the position of a Lord Chancellor would think it right and fair that, if there comes before him the case of an old gentleman perhaps over eighty, perhaps over ninety, and perhaps nearly approaching 100, who has become subject to some natural disability and who yet declines to resign, the Lord Chancellor should in that case have no opportunity except to remove this distinguished public servant after a long career of properly performing his duties from the commission of the peace as if he were a malefactor or some person who had committed some disgraceful offence. That is a horrible position for the Lord Chancellor.
I have taken the extreme cases, but supposing there is a much more moderate case. One may become deaf at under seventy years of age, and one may consider that one is perfectly able to continue to perform judicial duties. While for the reason I have given that is not so, yet with many complaints coming that a particular justice is "as deaf as a post" and ought no longer to sit in cases which are of great importance to the people who come before him, that justice declines to go. What is the Lord Chancellor to do? I think it is wrong to prevent the Lord Chancellor having the power of suggesting that magistrates should be put on a list in which they will continue to be justices of the peace. They will continue to be J.Ps., and to have all the honourable distinction in their county or their borough of that position, and yet will not be able any longer, to some extent, to sap the confidence in the administration of justice in the district where they are justices.
Like my noble friend Lord Hailsham, I will not trespass upon the difficult question of the appointment of justices, except to say that for my part, during the whole time I was Lord Chancellor, I never heard the smallest suggestion that independent people with any claims at all had any difficulty 96 in being made justices of the peace, and I can assure the noble Lord that not one single justice of the peace in my time was appointed for any political reason, nor was he refused or not appointed, so far as I knew, because he was an independent person. On the subject matter of this Bill I will only say that I fully support what has been said by my predecessors in office, and I hope your Lordships will approve it unanimously.
My Lords, I would like to say one or two words upon this subject, though I naturally hesitate to do so in the presence of the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor and the ex-Lord Chancellors who have already spoken; but my experience as a common magistrate for over thirty years both in London and in the country, has enabled me to come to some conclusions, and it may interest your Lordships to hear of the experience of an ordinary justice. What the noble and learned Lord who has just sat down has said, is really more than half the crux of the whole matter. It is deafness that is the chief disability. Deafness is the great trouble on the bench, and it has seemed to me that the man who gets deaf is the person who is most unaware of his disability. He sits on the bench, very often as Chairman, and, instead of being aware of the real explanation, that he himself is deaf, he thinks the witness is dumb, and you hear him saying: "Speak up; come up here; why don't you speak louder?" Naturally that upsets a witness, and it also upsets the opinion which is felt by the lookers on of the way in which justice is administered. Of course you may have a man at the age of sixty who is deaf, and another man at the age of eighty who is not deaf; if there could be some system by which an independent agent could inform the Lord Chancellor who was deaf and who was not, I think we might make some improvement.
The noble Marquess made one remark with which I cordially agree, and that was in reference to circulars. Two or three years ago we had a circular which came to the bench of which I had become Chairman in succession to the noble Lord, Lord Jessel, asking us to try and get people to go on to the supplemental list. I passed the circular round to all the forty-eight magistrates of my bench in London, but the only person who resigned was the 97 best magistrate on the bench. This year we sent round a circular from our own court, to try and reduce the number of notices that are sent cut to men who never attend at all. I need hardly say that very few of the magistrates come to the court. We sent out a circular and three of them responded and said that they did not wish to have any more notices. Circularising is not much use. I feel certain that this Bill is a proper one, and that it will do good both in London and in the country.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I may perhaps be allowed to say a few words in reply. We have had an interesting debate, and I am not without hope that the searchlight which has been turned upon this part of the Lord Chancellor's duties may have earned for me and my successors an increasing measure of sympathy, for undoubtedly this is a most difficult duty, and one which has to be quite fearlessly performed.
I must say one word on what my noble friend Lord Addison said was an entirely irrelevant matter. I should like to state what is the actual practice. As your Lordships know, the Commission which was set up in 1908 or 1909 and which recommended the system of Advisory Committees was largely due to the complaint, whether ill or well founded, that there was a wholly undue proportion of magistrates who were of one particular political complexion. I served on that Commission as a member, and I remember the evidence and the arguments very well. Unquestionably the change which was introduced as a result of the recommendations of that Commission was a most valuable change. The Lord-Lieutenant in his county is assisted in sending up recommendations for new appointments by an Advisory Committee, which the Lord Chancellor appoints, and there is a well understood convention as to the way in which these recommendations should be made. The presence of the Lord-Lieutenant in itself secures of course very effectively the cutting out of many recommendations which might be improper.
It certainly is not the case, I can assure my noble friend Lord Addison, that those who may be called non-political candidates are at a disadvantage. I have frequent occasion to look at some list from 98 one county or another, and I find that the Lord-Lieutenant often indicates those whom he regards as being non-political candidates. Such a mark against one's name is a good mark, because it suggests that the name is that of a candidate who is likely to be acceptable all round. It is quite true, and I think it is inevitable, that there are also names put forward of people largely because of their services in the political field; but the Advisory Committee is so constituted as to secure that there shall not be an undue representation of one political point of view against another; and I really think the system docs what can be done to bring up proper recommendations to the Lord Chancellor.
That does not end the matter, because the Lord Chancellor has the duty himself of making such investigations as he can. My own practice is that if I get a direct communication suggesting the name of A or B as a possible justice of the peace I reply, or somebody replies for me, that that is not the system under which we work. There are exceptional cases in which one replies that the name will be sent for the consideration of the Lord-Lieutenant and the Advisory Committee. My view is that we really have got a system which is a great improvement on what went on before, and I do not see at the moment how it is going to be improved. My noble friend Lord Addison said there was dissatisfaction. Let us be frank about this. A good many people would like to be made J.P. Some of them perhaps are well qualified to be J.Ps., but some are not. It is quite natural that a man should feel disappointed if his name is not put forward, but I am bound to say that such information as I have and such letters as I receive rather go to show that the disappointment is more extreme in the case of a man whom you may call a political candidate than a man who is a non-political candidate. It is a difficulty we have to put up with, and it is to be got over by good feeling and good nature and tact and reasonable firmness.
As for the Bill itself, I would respectfully join in asking the noble Marquess not to put the rubber stamp of "Black List" on this supplemental list. It has never been so regarded since my noble and learned friend Viscount Hailsham started it. It is not a dishonourable 99 operation that a man should retire from the field—rude donatus—when he can no longer actively perform his judicial duties. A great number of gentlemen, and ladies too, have accepted the fate that advancing years do not make it appropriate that they should endeavour to listen to evidence which they cannot hear. As regards the point of gender the Interpretation Act provides that in any Act of Parliament where use is made of the masculine gender it is to be assumed in all proper cases that it also covers the feminine. The draftsman would naturally be extremely distressed if I were to disregard that rule.
I think that what I have said will satisfy your Lordships as to the need for this Bill, but I have provided myself with a certain number of instances. I do not wish to point to any particular place, or still less to give any particular name, but I will give two or three examples of the kind of difficulty with which I am actually faced. There is the case of a magistrate—perhaps I had better not give his actual age, but it is a very advanced age—about whom complaint was made largely on the ground of deafness. Complaints about him were not only received from private individuals but from various public authorities, as well as from his fellow magistrates. This gentleman did not agree with the suggestion that he should retire, and though I think he has ultimately been good enough to accept the suggestion, it has only been after long and most trying correspondence. Then there is a case of another justice who in the past has done excellent work but is now over ninety 100 years of age. He sat not only in the adult but in the juvenile court, and his deafness was a real handicap to his doing the work which I am sure he wished to do in the public interest. I know of a case in which three members of the bench, who owing to advanced years were suffering from incapacity in one way or another, willingly agreed that they should be put on the supplemental list, but it then appeared that there was another member of the bench who was even older and even deafer, who would not move. Thereupon these gentlemen not unnaturally said they really did not see why they should be removed, when there was somebody else who more obviously needed the same transfer. Well, all that is very undignified, and it is very discouraging to the reputation of local justice. I admit also that it is very unpleasant to the Lord Chancellor that he has to be the person to deal with this.
I hope I have satisfied the House that the situation must be dealt with, and in these circumstances I say again, with great respect to my noble friend the noble Marquess, that this is a small Bill, but none the less I think that to correct small defects in the machinery of justice is quite an important matter. I feel, moreover, that it was never more important than now to make the whole mass of the people of the country feel thoroughly satisfied, so far as may be, with the way in which those in authority are discharging their duties.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
§ House adjourned.