HL Deb 13 November 1946 vol 144 cc65-7

2.40 p.m.


My Lords, I beg to ask His Majesty's Government the question of which I have given them private notice—namely, whether they have any statement to make on the recommendations made in the Second Interim Report of the Denning Committee on Procedure in Matrimonial Causes.


My Lords, the Government have considered the Second Interim Report of the Denning Committee and have decided to adopt the proposals made in Part I of the Report recommending that the High Court jurisdiction in divorce should be maintained both in London and in the provinces and that the County Court Judges should be appointed as Special Commissioners of the High Court with unlimited jurisdiction in divorce. Part II of the Report recommends a large number of reforms in the procedure and practice of the Divorce Court and the Divorce Registry, most of which are designed to expedite the hearing of suits and to reduce costs—two considerations to which the Government attach the highest importance. My noble friend the President of the Divorce Division, who is of course especially concerned, is at present studying these procedural proposals in detail. In view of his great experience and knowledge of these matters, I should be most unwise to commit myself to any particular procedural proposal until I have had the fullest opportunity of discussing with him the implications involved.

I should like to add a word of thanks to Mr. Justice Denning and the members of his Committee for the rapid progress they have made. They have obviously brought a sense of urgency to their consideration of the matters arising under their terms of reference which seems to me entirely related to the plain facts of the present situation. Between 35,000 and 40,000 petitions for divorce will be filed this year, as against 25,000 for 1945, and in 1947 the numbers may be even greater. The Denning Committee issued their First Interim Report within a month after they had been set up. I remind your Lordships that they recommended a reduction of the waiting period between decree nisi and decree absolute from six months to six weeks. Their recommendations in this regard were immediately adopted, and with the help of the Lord Chief Justice and the President of the Divorce Division I was able to make the recommended alterations within a week of the Report being in my hands.

It will not be possible to proceed with quite the same celerity with regard to the latest proposals of the Denning Committee, and in particular I must see that divorce is not disposed of at the expense of the ordinary County Court work, which in some areas is very heavy indeed. I hope that by January we shall have all the County Court Judges playing a part as Commissioners of the High Court in disposing of divorce cases in London and in the provinces. I am glad to be able to tell your Lordships that the Judges have assured me of their whole-hearted co-operation in the new scheme.


My Lords, I am very much obliged to the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack for his answer. Perhaps I may be permitted to ask him one further question. As I understand it, all these proposals can be put into force by purely administrative action. In view of their novel and far-reaching character, would he agree that they should not be implemented until your Lordships' House has had an opportunity of discussing them? If that was so, and it met with the approval of your Lordships, I would put down a Motion at the earliest opportunity to afford that chance to the House.


My Lords, might I be allowed to associate myself very fully with the thanks expressed to the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chancellor, for his answer. This is a matter with which I have had occasion to deal in your Lordships' House before to-day, and I hope the noble and learned Lord will agree to a Motion being put down.


My Lords, I should like to support that.


I also would very much welcome a debate, and I anticipate no difficulty in seeing that a debate may take place fairly soon. I may say that this is a matter which is causing me the greatest worry and the greatest anxiety. I should, therefore, fully welcome a discussion from your Lordships in order that I may be reinforced and strengthened in the very difficult decisions I have to take.