HL Deb 12 July 1949 vol 163 cc1122-93

2.42 p.m.

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, of all the tasks that fall to the lot of a Lord Chancellor—and there are many—by far the most difficult, and by far the most anxious, is that which concerns his administration of the courts of the justices of the peace. I do not conceal for a moment that I am a profound believer in the existing system of the administration of justice by lay magistrates. They dispose of something like 99 per cent. of the criminal cases which we have in this country. I believe it is much better that this work should be undertaken by laymen, rather than by lawyers. I believe that what the public want is that ordinary people like themselves should carry out this work, so long as they are possessed of integrity and a good reputation, which is the first qualification, and a sufficiently high degree of intelligence, which is the second qualification. I believe that we shall command public support much more by entrusting this work to laymen, rather than to a body of lawyers; and, as I pointed out to the Royal Commission, I could not possibly get a body of sufficiently competent lawyers at anything like the price which the Treasury will pay. Though this may sound a paradox, if we can find men of integrity and intelligence, drawn from all Parties and all sections of the community, I believe that we shall best achieve that aim which we all have in common—namely, to put politics completely outside the administration of justice.

When I became Lord Chancellor there were available to me the findings of what was called the Roche Committee—a Committee which had been presided over by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Roche, and of which the noble Lord, Lord Schuster, who had had experience of the working of the Lord Chancellor's office for many years, was a member. I wanted further guidance on this matter. Consequently, one of the first things I did was to arrange for the appointment of a Royal Commission, presided over by the late Lord du Parcq, whose memory we all revere. It is one of the saddest things that when we are discussing the great contribution he made to this subject he cannot be with us. The last Statute dealing with justices of the peace was passed as long ago as 1906. Though you will find thereafter scattered legislation dealing with justices of the peace, sometimes in Statutes dealing with solicitors, sometimes in Statutes dealing with local government, or in licensing, and in various other Statutes, there has been no comprehensive review of the whole problem since that date.

I make no apology for telling your Lordships that I regard this Bill as one of tremendous importance, for I believe that on the sound and pure administration of justice our civilisation rests, and must rest. Although I have said—and I say again—that I think on the whole the administration of justice by these lay magistrates is very good, I am not so foolish as not to realise that there is room for improvement. Therefore, I welcome greatly the work which the Magistrates' Association are doing, and in particular, if I may say so, the lead which they are receiving from the noble Viscount Lord Templewood, in regard to trying to improve still further the standard of administration in our magistrates' courts. It is not the fact that anybody can administer justice merely by the right of nature; he wants training and experience. In the course of this speech I shall have occasion to refer several times to that matter.

I am afraid that I have rather a long speech to make, and therefore without any further introductory remarks I will come straight to the Bill. As your Lordships know, the Bill is founded on the combined effect of the Roche Committee and the du Parcq Commission. As I go through the Bill, I shall point out where we have departed from the recommendations of those two bodies, because I anticipate it is where we have departed from those recommendations that the point of attack may come. Here let me just add that I understand the noble Viscount who leads the House has arranged, at the request of the Opposition, that the Committee stage of this Bill shall not be taken until we return after the Recess. I think that is a wise course. I should very much like to have this Bill as nearly as possible an agreed Bill. I shall certainly do all I can, with reasonable give and take, to see if I can accomplish that. Further, I very much want to get this Bill made into an Act of Parliament during the lifetime of this Parliament.

Part I of the Bill makes provision with regard to individual justices. Clause 1 deals with residential qualifications, and puts county and borough justices on the same footing. The residential qualifications apply both to the time of appointment and subsequently. Broadly, they are that you must either reside in the area in which you are a magistrate, or reside within seven miles thereof. However, there is power given to the Lord Chancellor, if he thinks it desirable so to do, to dispense with that requirement. That is in accordance with paragraph 113 of the Report of the Royal Commission. Clause 2 deals with the disqualification of members of local authorities from adjudicating. If your Lordships would like a reference, you will find it in paragraph 129 of the Report of the Royal Commission. There was previously some doubt on this matter and the Commission thought—and I entirely agree—that a member of the local authority should not adjudicate on any matter to which the local authorities or the officers of the authority, other than the police officers, are parties.

Clause 3 deals with the supplemental list and provides, in accordance with paragraph 110 of the Report of the du Parcq Commission, that on reaching the age of seventy-five years magistrates shall be placed upon the supplemental list. In accordance with the recommendations of that Commission we define the duties of those on the supplemental list. Of course, the figure of seventy-five years is an arbitrary figure. I have known exceptional cases—I think, for instance, of Lord Halsbury and Lord Dunedin—where men have administered justice in the plenitude of their power to a much greater age than that. I think the noble Viscount the Leader of the House will agree that it does not follow that you are "ga-ga" when you reach seventy-five. On the other hand, the trouble is that everybody thinks that his is an exceptional case, and we have to consider whether or not that provision is a wise one. As I say, I am given a five-years' period during which I can extend that age, so that I can be assured that all benches are fully staffed. I have never concealed the fact, however, that, broadly speaking, I think the benches are staffed with too many justices, and that they are too old. There are too many because the more there are the less chance any particular individual has of sitting; and they are too old, think, because when people reach a certain age they are sometimes not quite so resilient as they used to be when they were rather younger.

Clause 3 (4) of the Bill gives me an additional power with regard to the supplemental list. I can place a person on the supplemental list whenever he asks to be placed upon it, or I can place him on it to-day if I am satisfied that his age or infirmity or other like cause makes it expedient, or if I am satisfied that that person declines or neglects to take a proper part in the exercise of those functions. Many Lords Lieutenant and many chairmen of benches have come to me and asked me to use my powers to place on the supplemental list somebody who, they say, is obviously no good—perhaps because he has nothing approaching a judicial mind, or he has not the intelligence to understand what it is all about. It might be well that I should have that power. On the other hand, if I had the power to remove magistrates from the active list and put them on the supplemental list for no clearly defined cause, it might be thought that the magistrates were coming under the control of the Executive, which is the last thing I desire. Therefore I leave that problem to your Lordships. I have not taken that power and whether it is right that I should or should not, I do not know. I am sure that it is wrong that anybody should think that I am seeking to exercise undue control over the sphere of imagination.

Clause 5 deals with the restrictions on the right to practise as a solicitor. I think that calls for no special comment. No solicitor who is a member of the bench ought to practise before that bench. We are trying to make it clear that the principle applies to the same extent both to borough and county justices. Clause 6 deals with the question of payment and expenses. I rather like—and indeed, the Government rather like, as was plainly indicated the other day during our interesting debate on voluntary service—to encourage voluntary service, and we are not proposing to pay justices anything for loss of remunerative time. But in these days, where justices have to travel we think it right that we should have power to reimburse them for out-of-pocket expenses to which they are put. Your Lordships will see that in this clause we take the power to reimburse them for the cost to which they are put in attending classes of instruction—which I hope will be a feature of the magistracy in the future—to teach them their practice.

Clause 7 shows that the restrictions in Scotland are similar to those in England and Wales. I may say here, incidentally, that I have set up an Advisory Committee in Scotland, which is presided over by the Lord Justice Clerk, so that I may obtain advice on typically Scottish questions in regard to such queries as I send them. So far as know, the only recommendation of the Royal Commission dealing with individual justices which is not implemented is that part which deals with the abolition of the ex officio justices other than mayors. That is a matter which, I should imagine, will almost certainly be discussed on the Committee stage. If I were asked to say from my experience whether I could assert that the ex officio magistrates were less efficient than the others, I could not do so. On the other hand, approaching the matter on a priori grounds, if it be the fact—as I believe it to be—that experience is necessary, and indeed that training is necessary, it is obviously odd that a magistrate should become a magistrate for a year and then disappear. If we look at this matter solely from the point of view of magistrates, I can understand that on that a priori ground there is a strong case for saying that the Commission were right in recommending that the ex officio magistrates should disappear.

But there is another side to this question. We must not look at this with too myopic a view. Let me put the other side. These privileges have been enjoyed in the case of mayors of boroughs for well over a hundred years, and in the case of chairmen of rural or urban district councils since 1870 or 1880. Is this the time to abolish these rights? One of the problems of the day is whether we have enough left in local government to attract the best man; and to my mind that is a very real problem. Whether your Lordships think that we are right in coming to the conclusion that now is not the time to take away these ancient rights and privileges is a matter which I leave to you. When we come to another stage of the Bill, your Lordships will find that we do away with the provision whereby a mayor automatically presides over the bench. It may be that that is sufficient, at any rate for the time being, and that we are right in not going further. However, that is a matter which no doubt will be discussed in Committee.

That brings me to Clause 8. This clause, which is the beginning of Part II of the Bill, is undoubtedly the clause upon which the controversy will rage, because I agree immediately that there may be two points of view about this matter. The clause is in two parts. In the first place, we abolish the separate commission of the peace for small boroughs and, as a corollary to that, we abolish the quarter session to which those small separate commissions are attached. Subsection (6), therefore, deals with the officers of quarter sessions. Of course, it is the fact that there is no logical basis for the quarter sessions if the special sessions are abolished. We have not always been logical in this country, and we have sometimes done better when we have not been too logical. But so far as the separate commissions of the peace are concerned—I will discuss quarter sessions presently—I am absolutely satisfied in my own mind that it would be a great advantage to the administration of justice if these separate commissions disappeared.

May I give your Lordships some figures relating to non-county boroughs which have separate commissions of the peace?—I am not talking now about quarter sessions. The figures are set out in the du Parcq Commission Report on page 15 and your Lordships will see that there were 171 non-county boroughs having separate commissions; and 114 of these boroughs had a population of less than 25,000. The du Parcq Commission's Re- port was based on 1931 figures. But—and this illustrates how variable figures are—if you are going to base this matter on a population basis, the 1948 figures show that while there are now only 103 boroughs with a population of under 25,000 there are 154 out of the 171 with a population of less than 50,000.

The Roche Committee, however, who recommended that all boroughs with fewer than 25,000 people and having separate commissions should disappear, did not leave the matter there. Their scheme was to try to bring about the reorganisation of the administration of justice and, in particular to obtain whole-time clerks. The Roche Committee recommended that all non-county boroughs having a population of less than 75,000 should be required to come into the scheme whereby, under the magistrates' court committee, they share the services of a whole-time clerk. There are only three non-county boroughs which have a population of over 75,000: Poole, with 81,000; Cambridge, with 87,000, and Luton, with 109,000. We propose the entire abolition of separate commissions for non-county boroughs and we base this proposal on the status, rather than on population. I have already shown your Lordships how rapidly population changes, and the proposed change has this added advantage.

I know how strongly people will feel about this matter, and that a large number will say, "Whatever you may do to others, please leave our Borough alone." And I have no doubt that some form of gentle Parliamentary lobbying will take place. So it seemed best to base the matter on status, rather than on population. And that brings about anomalies. I do not conceal the fact that Canterbury, for instance, which is the smallest county borough, has a population of about 25,000, whereas Luton, which is a non-county borough, has 109,000. But if we are basing the matter on status, we are basing it on clear and not on shifting ground, because although it is possible that there may be created new county boroughs, under the existing law a population of 100,000 is needed before that can be brought about. I have no doubt at all that if I can carry it through the scheme will bring about greater simplicity in the working, and more uniformity in the administration of justice. If there is a weakness in the present system—and there are undoubtedly weaknesses—I believe we shall find it more in the small boroughs, with their separate commissions, than in any other area. At the same time, in these small boroughs I frequently find people who would serve admirably on a county bench, but who cannot be placed on a county bench because they would be regarded as interlopers who have nothing to do with the county.

I very much hope your Lordships will concur in this proposal. After all, it is founded upon the Report of the Roche Committee, who adopted the figures of 25,000 and 75,000, as I have indicated, and also on the Report of the du Parcq Commission who, whilst making no specific recommendation, indicated that there might be a case for a larger population basis—or even this basis of status. The justices will not, of course, lose their commission if they go off a commission of the peace, but instead of being justices for the borough they become justices for the county. That will enable us to bring under the magistrates' court committee which we are setting up all arrangements dealing with the clerk, staff and so on.

I now turn to the quarter sessions, which I agree is a more debatable point. Ever since the Criminal Justice Act of 1925, of course, any available quarter sessions has been fairly regarded as a kind of trace-horse which can help, because cases can be sent to the next available court even if it is a court in the borough and the offence is alleged to have been committed in the county. Let us look at the facts again and see to what extent this trace-horse principle may be applied. There are fifty-six non-county boroughs with separate courts of quarter sessions, and I have ascertained the number of cases they have dealt with. I have taken the year 1948; I think that is a fair year, and it does not radically depart from previous years. In thirty-seven of the fifty-six boroughs in that year there were ten cases or less—sometimes there was none at all; sometimes there was only one. In eight of these non-county boroughs there were between ten and twenty cases; in five between twenty and thirty; in five between thirty and thirty-five. That thirty-seven, eight, five and five amount to fifty-five; there is only one non- county borough that tries more than thirty-seven cases and that, the right reverend Prelate may or may not be glad to hear is Winchester. Winchester tried in 1948 no fewer than sixty-seven cases. Now what justification is there for preserving the separate existence of these small courts, each with its recorder, its clerk of the peace, and other officers? If you assume the abolition of a separate commission, the raison d'être of these quarter sessions has gone.

I should like to examine the facts a little further for it may be convenient for your Lordships to have these facts when we come to the Committee stage. The greatest difficulty will be caused in Kent and Hampshire. Kent—I am talking now about quarter sessions—is divided into east and west With regard to West Kent the figures are as follows. West Kent Quarter Sessions last year sat for ninety-four court days and they disposed of 292 cases—an average of about three cases a day. If the non-county boroughs in West Kent lose their separate commisions of the Peace, the following three boroughs, all of which have separate quarter sessions, will be affected: Gravesend, Rochester and Maidstone. Gravesend sat on four court days, Rochester for three and Maidstone for four. Between them they disposed of thirty-four cases. So that, if those were transferred to the county, the 292 cases would become 326. I estimate that that would involve a further ten court days per county, which instead of being ninety-four would, therefore, become 104. Here let me say that although, following the du Parcq Commission's Report, I have been slow and reluctant to accept the principle of payment of chairmen of quarter sessions, yet I realise that when such demands as those are made it is inevitable that payment should be given. For East Kent the figures are as follows. They sat for twenty-three court days, including appeals, and they disposed of eighty-two cases. If we abolish separate quarter sessions, the following towns will lose their quarter sessions: Folkestone, which dealt with ten cases; Hythe, one case; Dover, ten cases; Deal, eight cases; Sandwich, four cases; Margate, nineteen eases; Faversham, two cases; and Tenterden, three cases. That is fifty-seven cases in all. That will require an increase of something like 60 per cent. on the twenty-three court days, so that the twenty-three court days will become rather over thirty.

Hampshire is the other difficult case. Hampshire had 257 cases in 1948. It has two non-county boroughs, Winchester and Andover. Winchester disposed of sixty-seven cases and Andover thirty-one, making a total of ninety-eight. If the ninety-eight are added to the 257, quarter sessions will obviously have to deal with 355 cases. Yet how odd this fact is! There is Southampton, a county borough—and perhaps in due course the Lord Chief Justice will explain something which puzzles me—with a population of 176,000, far greater than Winchester and far greater than Andover. It had one case in 1948, three in 1947, and one in 1946. If you want a trace horse, there you have a county borough at hand with its separate quarter sessions doing absolutely nothing, whereas the work seems to be piling up in Winchester. It seems to me that if this reform is carried through, the County Borough of Southampton ought obviously to give greater relief. I suspect that the reason is to be found in the times at which the sessions are fixed. I suspect that what is really needed is to have the sessions, be it at Winchester, Andover, the county or wherever it may be, spread over the area, so that there will be a convenient opportunity to commit a prisoner so that he may be dealt with promptly. If you find that the county borough is fixing its sessions at more or less the same time as the county, then the county borough is not pulling its weight.

I have a few more facts. Essex County Quarter Sessions dealt with 328 cases in 1948 while Colchester dealt with thirty-two and Maldon with one. Accordingly, there will be an addition of thirty-three. Wiltshire dealt with 118, while Devizes dealt with thirty-one and Salisbury dealt with fourteen, so there is an addition of forty-five to the 118. Cambridge Borough dealt with thirty-four, and Cambridge County with twenty-eight. Dorset County dealt with forty-one cases and Poole with thirty-one; therefore there would be seventy-two cases there, instead of forty-one. Bedford County dealt with sixty cases, Bedford Borough with thirty. Hereford County dealt with twenty-one cases, Hereford Borough with twenty-six. Cornwall dealt with fifty-five cases, Penzance with twenty-one. That gives you an indication. I do not see any great difficulty in this matter, so long as sessions are spread out. By means of adjourned sessions, I believe we could solve the problem. Let me here assure your Lordships that I do not want to knock down old things merely because they are old; on the contrary, I want to preserve them. But if I find they are interfering with the suitable and efficient administration of justice then they must give way to modern conditions.

I pass now from a topic upon which we shall surely hear a good deal, to consider the next clause in the Bill, Clause 9, which deals with London. It has been carefully hammered out between the Home Secretary and the Corporation of the City of London. I hope it is agreed that it is necessary to have such a clause to deal with the new proposition that no magistrate who is a member of the Corporation can serve on the bench in a case to which that Corporation or its officers are parties. We also provide for the transfer of the juvenile court to the County of London. That is recommended by paragraph 284 of the Royal Commission's Report; and similarly with regard to domestic proceedings. Clause 10 confers upon me a rule-making power, under which I can lay down the size and chairmanship of a bench. The Roche Committee said that the ideal size for a bench was from three to five, and never more than seven. My Lords, I agree, though with quarter sessions rather difficult considerations arise. There I think it would be justifiable to have a larger bench, if only because one wants to encourage the magistrates to come. But that is a matter which we need not discuss now because it will be in due course dealt with by rules, and of course rules are subject to negative approval made by statutory instrument. The Royal Commission concurred in the recommendation of the Roche Report. That is all I want to say on that topic for the moment, except that I should add, as indeed I think I have said before, that the way in which the magistrates are to elect their chairman is also to be laid down by rules. I am anxious that they should elect their chairman by some kind of a secret ballot, so that they have an absolutely free choice and no one has a vested right to retain the chairmanship, as in practice he has to-day.

Clause 11 deals with the age of the bench in a juvenile court. As I said to the Royal Commission I have always felt that probably somebody of a parent's age is better able to deal with naughty children than is somebody of a grandparent's age. It does not always follow, but it is my own impression from my own personal experience. There again, I am taking power to make rules. The recommendation of the Royal Commission, in paragraph 185, was that everybody should retire from the juvenile court on reaching the age of sixty-five, that the ideal age for an appointment was between thirty and forty, and that nobody over the age of fifty should be appointed to a juvenile court. That strikes me as a pretty sound recommendation.

Then I come to Part III of the Bill, which deals with the magistrates' courts committee. I very much hope that this will function, and function well. I am not sure that it will, but I accept it in the hope that it will. At any rate I think the fact of setting up such committees demonstrates to the magistrates that they are not entirely under the control of the Executive. They are to make their own arrangements; they are to deal with their administration, with their clerks, and all that sort of thing; and they are also to deal with the reorganisation of the areas of petty sessional divisions; and in doing that they must carry with them and consult the county council. This is an experiment which is recommended by the Roche Committee, and we are making that experiment.

The next two or three clauses deal with the qualification of the clerk, the payment of the clerk and superannuation. We may have some little trouble on Clause 15, which, deals with the qualification of the clerk. The Law Society take the view that the clerk ought to be a qualified person, having passed the appropriate examinations. This clause provides that a person not possessing qualification may, notwithstanding that fact, be appointed as clerk if he has served for a minimum period of time and if, in the opinion of the magistrates' courts committee and of the Secretary of State, there are special circumstances making the appointment a proper one. So your Lordships see that it is not likely that anybody without qualification will be appointed. There may be a difficulty, however, in finding suitable people with the right qualifications, and it has been felt that in that event, a man with the requisite length of experience might be appointed, notwithstanding his other lack of qualification. I understand that will be the subject of discussion between the Law Society and the Home Secretary, who is receiving a deputation. But that is the conclusion to which we have come at present.

Part IV of the Bill deals with the administrative and financial arrangements. I am not going to trouble your Lordships with a disquisition on the destiny of fines. Broadly, there was in the past a risk that magistrates might think that the more the fine the merrier, because fines go in relief of the county. That is why all these fines are to go to this central fund, which is available to the whole country, and although Exchequer fines do not go into that fund, the Treasury are under an obligation to pay up to two-thirds of any deficiency there may be in running these courts.

Part V of the Bill deals with stipendiary magistrates, and here we have departed in two respects from the recommendations of the Royal Commission In the first place, the Royal Commission recommended, in paragraph 224, that the Home Secretary should have power to appoint stipendiary magistrates without the request of the local authority—that he should impose a stipendiary upon them. We thought it better not to do that but to make it plain that in all cases the local authority must consent to the appointment of a stipendiary. The other point is this. The Royal Commission recommended that the appointment of stipendiaries should be undertaken by the Lord Chancellor and not by the Home Secretary. I am the last person to seek to gain any further patronage, because I realise what an anxiety it is. So far as London is concerned, I think it might be difficult to separate the appointment of the stipendiaries from particular control and moving them about. We have come to the conclusion, to which I readily concur: that it is better to leave this matter in the hands of the Home Secretary. The noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simon, who is not here at the moment, is in the unique position of having been both Lord Chancellor and Home Secretary, and he told the Royal Commission that on the whole he thought it was desirable that the appointment of stipendiaries should rest with the Home Secretary. There is a stronger case for it in London than elsewhere.

Clause 25 deals with the compulsory retirement of stipendiaries. We propose to retire them as we do county court judges; that is to say, at the age of seventy-two, unless their period of office is extended, as it can be, to the age of seventy-five. Part VI of the Bill deals with probation committees and provides for the payment of members. I am sorry to have detained your Lordships an undue length of time, but this is a very important Bill. It is a Bill which does not. I think, cut across Party lines or anything of that sort. It is a Bill, therefore, which your Lordships are well able to consider and I invite all your Lordships, both this afternoon and in the future, to put your ideas into a common pool. If we can do something to improve the administration of justice in this country, we shall do a most valuable thing in ensuring that the traditions we love are upheld and maintained. I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time.

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

3.26 p.m.


My Lords, I gladly respond to the invitation of the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack to treat this measure entirely as a non-Party one. We are grateful to him for the very clear exposition that he has given this afternoon of the clauses of the Bill, and if I make any criticisms of what he has said or what he has left unsaid, it is not in any disparagement of the way in which he has introduced this measure. Let me say, first, that I regret that this Bill, long as it is, is not more comprehensive. I should have liked to see a Magistrates Bill introduced upon the comprehensive lines of the great Acts of the past, dealing with the Supreme Court and the county courts, covering the whole system of justice in these people's courts. I believe that it would have been good for the world at large to see, set out in a comprehensive form, the basis of justice that we carry on in our people's courts, in contrast to the many injustices that are carried out in the people's courts of other countries. As it is, important as the Bill is, in my view it is incomplete upon many of the great issues concerned and it is over-complicated with a number of details that would be dealt with much better not in the statutory provisions of a particular Bill but in statutory rules to be made under provisions setting up a statutory authority. I shall deal with that question later on in what I have to say.

But let me at this point say to noble Lords, that the result of the way in which the Bill has been introduced leaves out of account two or three questions that seem to me most important in any consideration of the work of magistrates' courts. I take the two most conspicuous instances. Practically nothing is said in the Bill about the selection of magistrates. Practically nothing is said in the Bill about the training of magistrates. Through the Magistrates' Association I have a good many contacts with active magistrates in the country. We have had many discussions upon these matters, and I can tell noble Lords that the two questions that are most in the minds of the active magistrates of the country are, first, the system of selection, and, secondly, the system or the absence of training. There is a third omission from the Bill to which I shall have to refer before I sit down—namely, the omission of any clause setting up by Statute a rules committee, upon lines similar to those of what I understand are the rules committees in the Supreme Court and in the county courts, dealing with the procedure and the methods of justice and a hundred-and-one other details that directly concern the benches of the country.

Let me go back to those three points, and begin with the question of selection. I am sure we are all agreed that, whatever may be the machinery of this or any other Bill, the question that really matters is whether or not we are getting the right people appointed to the bench. I remember that when first I entered politics there were many bitter questions connected with the problem of selection. At that time, the benches were over-weighted with Conservative magistrates. A Royal Commission was set up, and as the result of the sitting of that Commission and of what has since taken place, the balance is now, on the whole, evenly held between the three Parties in the country. I think that if noble Lords will look at the constitution of the various benches, they will find that upon the whole the Parties—assuming that Parties must be represented on benches—are fairly evenly represented. There has also been another change since the sitting of the Royal Commission in 1910, a change that has resulted in there being a much wider field for the recruitment of magistrates than existed at that time. Since 1910, we have seen great development of the social services, the entry of women into public life and so on, and there is now much greater scope for selecting men and women who are totally unconnected with Party politics to sit upon the benches.

These two great changes have taken place, but there is no suggestion in the Bill that the attitude of the Government towards them has changed at all. Lord du Parcq's Commission took the view that although it was practically impossible to exclude political considerations entirely from the selection of magistrates, the time had come to make political considerations count for much less. Before this House parts with the Bill, I hope we shall hear that that is definitely the view of His Majesty's Government. I hope that we shall also hear that it is the desire of His Majesty's Government to make the present system of advisory committees more effective than it is at the present time. I have in mind particularly the need for giving more definite status to the secretaries of the advisory committees. That, again, in the opinion of the magistrates of the country is a very important question, but there is nothing whatever about it in the Bill.

I pass to the second of these omissions, the omission of practically all references to the all-important question of the training of magistrates. Members of the Magistrates' Association are unanimous in their view that all new magistrates should undertake some form of training for their duties. I think they generally accept the view that it is impossible to make this training legally compulsory, but they do feel that no magistrate should sit upon a bench unless he has satisfied the Lord Chancellor that he has undertaken the kind of train- ing that the Lord Chancellor and the Home Secretary prescribe. In this connection, again, not only is there no reference at all in the Bill to the question of training, but, what is much worse than that, there is provision that cuts entirely across it. I refer to the provision to which the Lord Chancellor has just now given a good deal of consideration, for the presence of ex officio magistrates upon the benches.

I leave aside the question of the mayors. It may be that, for historical reasons, it is wise to allow a mayor to sit for his single year of office upon the bench, provided that he does not take the chair. I refer rather to the chairmen of county councils, urban councils and rural district councils. There was a time when politics entered very little into the election of these local officials. Now, in the view of many of us unfortunately, politics enter a great deal into these elections. The result is that nine out of ten of these officials are elected upon political issues. They are elected for a limited period, and they are elected without any conditions relating to age. In any reasonable scheme of training for magistrates, these conditions cut right across the principles we should like to see applied. Our conception of training is, that it would be undertaken with a view to a period—perhaps a long period —of experience upon the bench. Our view with regard to the bench is that it should be kept as separate as possible from Party politics. The presence of the ex officio chairmen brings Party politics in a most acute form upon the bench, particularly in some of the small local areas. Furthermore, we take the view that, whatever we may think is the right age at which magistrates should retire, age considerations should be brought directly into the question as to whether an individual should be appointed to the bench.

In all these three respects, the Government's proposal to leave these ex officio chairmen upon the bench runs absolutely counter to the view of the great body of active and responsible magistrates in the country. Further, a great deal of evidence was given upon this question before Lord du Parcq's Commission. An overwhelming wealth of evidence put before that Commission was against these officials being on the benches. I am not going to worry your Lordships with numerous quotations from the evidence, but let me just allude to some passages. Here I have, first of all, evidence given on behalf of the Trades Union Congress and the Labour Party, of which the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack is a member. One extract reads: We think that the practice of including large numbers of short-term ex officio justices in the commission of the peace should be discontinued. Such persons should be placed on the supplemental list. I pass from the Trades Union Congress and the Labour Party to the chief constables. The chief constables of the counties, cities and boroughs of England and Wales are unanimously against the retention of those officials. I pass from the chief constables to the clerks of the justices of the peace, who equally object to the continuation of these chairmen upon the benches. Further, the Society of Chairmen and Deputy Chairmen of Quarter Sessions are opposed just as strongly to their retention as the societies to which I have just alluded. I hope I have said enough to show the great regret that many must feel that the Government have not included in their Bill what was one of the most important and urgent recommendations of the du Parcq Commission. I say no more to-day, except to add that when we reach Committee stage many of my noble friends and I will put down an Amendment upon the lines upon which I have been making this argument.

I pass from the questions of selection and training to the third of my main questions—namely, that of statutory rules for the conduct of magistrates' courts. Let me begin by saying that I purposely say "magistrates' courts." I hope very much that before this Bill leaves this House we shall all have accepted "magistrates' courts" as the designation of these courts. They are sometimes referred to as police courts, sometimes as courts of petty session. I suggest that their proper name is "magistrates' courts" and that when we speak of them and pass a Bill dealing with them we should so describe them. As to rules, there is this surprising fact: that with the higher courts and with the county courts there is in each case a body of statutory rules dealing with the procedure and the system of justice, and in each case there is a body, presided over it may be by a judge or it may be by the Lord Chancellor, composed of representative persons dealing with the particular body of rules, ready not only to draft the first additional rules, but also to deal with them year after year and make alterations in them.

For years past magistrates have been asking for a similar body of rules for magistrates' courts. The Roche Committee made a recommendation that there should be such a body of rules. If I ran the risk of wearying your Lordships, I could make a strong case for a rules committee, to be composed of representative magistrates, chairmen of quarter sessions, and so on, to advise the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor as to rules. When we reach Committee stage, I propose to put down an Amendment providing for something upon the lines of the rules committee in the higher courts, and I very much hope that we shall have a clause inserted in the Bill that will state clearly the direction on which the rules should be made. The Magistrates' Association attach great importance to this question. Here again I regret the fact that the Government have not included a provision for setting up a rules committee of this kind and possibly putting the first collection of rules into a schedule of the Bill. I understand this actually happened in the case of the Act of 1873.


My Lords, may I explain to the noble Viscount why we have not done that? I myself am willing to consider the point. The existing rules for magistrates' courts are virtually laid down in the Summary Jurisdiction Act, and that seems to me quite different from a committee taking power to make rules to override an Act of Parliament. We must first of all promulgate the rules and then have a committee ready to deal with them. That is the difficulty.


I should have thought, speaking on the spur of the moment, that the other course would have been better—namely, to have repealed the relevant provisions in the Summary Jurisdiction Act, and substituted rules for them. I attach great importance to rules, for this reason—they are elastic. Furthermore, they give the bench a comprehensive view of the way in which business should be conducted. I hope, therefore, that the noble and learned Viscount will keep his mind open on this point, for I can assure him it is a point to which many magistrates attach a great deal of importance.

There are only two further matters on which I wish to say a few words. The first is with reference to justices' clerks. I am fully aware of the difference of opinion about the qualifications of justices' clerks. Some people say they should all be whole-time; others do not take that view. Some people say they should all be legally qualified; others do not accept the need for universal legal qualifications. I myself tend to the view that the legal qualification is a more important condition than that of whole-time. I would have preferred to see the Bill include a clause upon the definite lines of the Roche Committee's recommendation, rather than leave so wide an opening for clerks to be appointed in future without legal qualifications at all. I think the proviso in the Bill that allows for these exceptions is opening much too wide a line of exception. Subject to what is said in the subsequent debate, I take my stand to-day upon the actual recommendation of the Roche Committee upon this subject.

Lastly, I wish to say a word on the question of the abolition of commissions and quarter sessions for small boroughs. I am inclined to agree with what the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor said at the beginning of his speech about the need for paying attention to tradition. I quite see that there is a need to abolish separate commissions and separate quarter sessions in some of the towns where there is really no adequate work either for a court of petty sessions or for a recorder's court. I have in mind some of the small boroughs to which the noble and learned Viscount himself drew attention. To some extent, however, I cannot ignore the claims of history and tradition in the case of some of the more important ancient boroughs. Their courts have been part of our national life for many centuries, and in cases where there is a substantial population I would have been inclined to leave those courts. I would have thought that the kind of compromise that was proposed by the Roche Committee was probably on the right lines. They took the test of population, and put the figure of population at 25,000. That may not be the ideal way of dealing with the question, but we can discuss it when we come to the Committee stage. On Second Reading I should like to make it clear that my view—and I think it is the view held by a large number of magistrates—is that I should be sorry to see so "root and branch" a prevision brought into effect as is at present embodied in the Bill. I should like the boroughs with populations of, say, 25,000, or some number of that kind, left with their special commissions and with their special courts of quarter sessions.

I have covered the points with which I wished to deal in this debate. Let me end by saying that I have raised them in no hostile spirit to the Bill. I am as anxious as the Lord Chancellor to see this Bill put upon the Statute Book, not merely during the course of the present Parliament, as he said, but during the course of the present Session. I hope that when we come to the Committee stage the Government will have taken account of the points I have ventured to raise to-day, and that we shall find when we come to Third Reading that we are in general agreement as to the provisions of the Bill as a whole.

3.52 p.m.


My Lords, to my mind this is a very good Bill. It has been prepared after consideration by expert bodies, many of whose recommendations have been adopted. It is also free from any extraneous ideology which not infrequently affects noble Lords on the opposite Benches. There are very few points which I desire to criticise. I think possibly that supplementary magistrates might be of some use on committees—not judicial committees, but other committees —as they have the necessary knowledge and experience. The point to which the noble and learned Viscount alluded, that of the selection of justices has not been dealt with, but personally I am quite content that that matter should be left alone. The present system has existed for the last fifty years, and has not done badly.

I am convinced that the administration of the law in this country is beyond reproach. Lawyers have a great respect and affection for their own profession, and they are not likely to appoint anybody to a judicial office Who would not do it credit. I therefore hope that failing some Utopian solution—which I cannot at present see—the present system will be allowed to continue. In the presence of the Lord Chancellor and so many ex- Lord Chancellors one does not wish to throw bouquets at them, but I may say that I am old enough to have known personally fourteen Lord Chancellors, and I should have been ready to commit my interests to any one of them. I am glad that the clerks of justices' courts have been given a rather more definite standing. They are invaluable people; they are industrious, courteous and are paid very little indeed. That is really all I wish to say. I hope the Bill will be received in other quarters of the House as an honest endeavour to do a useful and urgent piece of work.

3.55 p.m.


My Lords, some of my friends on the Committee of which I had the honour to be Chairman suggested that I should speak at this stage. I do not know whether in that they were my friends or my enemies. At all events, I will endeavour briefly to comply with their request. A great many things have been said about the Committee over which I had the honour to preside. I wholeheartedly follow the most generous and excellent example of Lord Rushcliffe yesterday, in saying that all the merits of the Report were the work of my Committee, and if there are any defects—as no doubt there are—I take full responsibility for them. If I say less in the observations I am about to make about the Royal Commission presided over by the late Lord du Parcq, whose untimely death we all so much deplore, it is because, after all, there are three members of the Commission who are also members of your Lordships' House—namely, Lord Exeter, Lord Calverley and Lord Merthyr. If, without reproach from the right reverend Primate, I may paraphrase the words of Scripture, I know they are of age, and I am satisfied that they can, and that some of them at least will, speak for themselves.

I welcome this Bill, and I hope your Lordships will give it a Second Reading. I welcome it from two angles—first, because of what it does not do, and secondly, because of what it does. As to what it does not do, I welcome it because it ignores what are sometimes called "stunts," which have been pressed upon the world by self-satisfied and generally clever people without experience of the world—the idea, for instance, of having an unlimited number of stipendiary magistrates. The Lord Chancellor has dealt with that fully and satisfactorily, but I desire to record my entire agreement with him as to the immense superiority of a body of laymen over a single judge or a single stipendiary. They make fewer mistakes—and for a very simple reason. One judge or one stipendiary may get a wrong idea into his head, and there is little hope of its being removed. But if five, six, seven or twelve men sit together, although there may be a crank or a stupid fellow amongst them, there are generally more sensible people who will prevail. I am the greatest possible believer in the lay magistrates and in the jury system. I have known juries right when I myself have been wrong. I make that confession freely. The omissions in this Bill are wholly praiseworthy.

The Lord Chancellor has given an exhaustive review of what the Bill does contain, and I want to say only that in my opinion the centre and very core of the Bill is in Clause 12—namely, the method of appointment of magistrates' clerks. My Committee (I call them mine for short, though they were highly independent) rightly praised the justices' clerks. They are a devoted, able and efficient body of men, taking them by and large, but it is not an undue exaggeration to say that there are some who are not so good as others. The reason why they are not so good as others is because, excellent as lay benches of magistrates are, there again some benches are not so good as others; and as the appointment of the clerk rests at present with each particular petty sessional division, the worst benches appoint the worst clerks. Under such a system you will never get what my Committee desired—namely, an extension of the whole-time clerk system. They generally appoint their own friend or their own neighbour. It is only by some more widely appointed body that you will have an extension of the whole-time system and a raising of the general level of clerks by the elimination of bad appointments. It is for that reason that I and my Committee attached so much importance to those clauses. Of course, we were not quite so unanimous about everything. Doubts have been expressed whether these committees work fast enough, or as well as the magistrates think they can do the work themselves. I think such doubts are mistaken. These committees will do the work as fast as the justices themselves will tolerate, and if the courts had had imposed on them a central system I do not believe they would have stood for it for a moment. I believe that decentralised administration for a matter like this is the very core and centre of freedom, liberty and efficient administration in this country. For those reasons, I am very glad that the Government have decided to include these clauses in the Bill.

That is all I want to say about that matter, except that I want to make it perfectly plain that, while the Committee over which I had the honour to preside recommended an extension of the whole-time system, it never recommended that that should be the only universal system. In my humble belief it never will be the only system. If any Amendment is moved later to make the whole-time system a universal one, I can deal with that matter at greater length then. Of course, there are a number of consequential provisions which follow upon Clause 12. All the clerks and their whole-time assistants will become servants of the magistrates' courts committee, instead of the individual bench. There are some important provisions on finance as to which, like the Lord Chancellor, I will be careful to say nothing. So far as. I can follow them, they are right. I can say that all the more easily because I had little to do with the framing of the recommendations, but left that to those who understood the matter far better than I did myself.

I want now to make a few observations on the departures in the Bill from the recommendations of either my Committee or the Royal Commission. It is unnecessary to go into this matter at length, because the Lord Chancellor has been very candid and, so to speak, has forestalled criticisms which are likely to arise. The noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, has also dealt fairly fully with some of those matters. I would make an observation on one or two, and I can do so more freely with regard to the abolition of quarter sessions, because that did not come within the purview of my Committee. I speak of it merely as one who for fifteen years was chairman of a county quarter sessions, and left only because in the noisy court I did not find my hearing as acute as it is capable of being in the calm solitude of your Lordships' House. I regard these provisions for the abolition of the borough quarter sessions generally as deplorable, misconceived and wrong.

I do not think the Lord Chancellor is entirely wrong in thinking that a heavy attack will be made upon those provisions, and in fact, I can already see the Lord Chief Justice framing himself for the fray. I will say only this. The Lord Chancellor said that the substantial amount of work which has been done in the past by these quarter sessions can now be done at adjourned sessions in counties. But he accompanied that with the declaration that, like myself, where it can be avoided he is an opponent of the payment of chairmen of quarter sessions. I would ask the Lord Chancellor to think again what this scheme would mean. These chairmen are busy people. Many of them are High Court Judges, Judges of the Court of Appeal and all sorts of things, and an extra clay or two days means a great deal. Recorders are doing excellent work for very modest remuneration, and I utterly fail to see the sense or reason of this change.

With respect to separate commissions of the peace, I agree that in these small boroughs they are a mischief administratively, and that they do not do justice. I will give the House some figures with regard to these small borough commissions. They number about 250, and I think about 150 would be abolished —but I speak from, memory in that respect. With regard to ex officio justices, if I may say so the Lord Chancellor seemed a little apologetic about that. It is a little difficult to defend, and I thought that the observations of the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, were very forcible. With regard to the qualifications of clerks, whether they should be solicitors, I am sure your Lordships will hear a good deal more about that, and I can leave it knowing that my noble friend Lord Schuster holds strong views on the subject, and will deal with it both clearly and forcibly.

I want to say one word about the subject of a rules committee for magistrates' courts. I noticed one of the gravest of omissions, both from the Bill and from the Lord Chancellor's speech. I am sure that, as regards the Lord Chancellor's speech, he had not quite appreciated what both Reports had said about this matter and the strong reasons which they advanced. It is dealt with at length in the Report of my Committee, at page 60, and on page 70 of the Report of the Royal Commission, in paragraph 280, where they say that they endorse entirely the recommendations of the Committee on Justices' Clerks. The reason for their insistence on the committee is this. Some of these rules have to be made by the Lord Chancellor, and some by the Secretary of State. Chancellors come and Chancellors go. Far be it from me to suggest that all Lord Chancellors are not good Lord Chancellors, but some of them know more and some less than others about Common Law and magistrates' courts. If a rules committee is necessary for the High Court, in which Lord Chancellors have recently practised, it is much more necessary in connection with magistrates' courts, where either they have never practised at all or practised so long ago that they have forgotten. I think there would be no sacrifice of dignity by the Lord Chancellor or the Home Office in having a proper rules committee, and I would strongly press it on the Lord Chancellor. I hope an Amendment will be moved in that sense.


May I interrupt for one moment? I am entirely in agreement with the noble and learned Lord. I want a rules committee, but it is a question of time: it takes time to draft these rules. It is going to be a very long business, and we have to be careful because we are suspending the provisions of the Summary Jurisdiction Act. I hope to bring in a Bill, but I certainly have no time now.


Could we not have a provision in this Bill?


I do not suggest there should be rules made now or that they should form any part of this Bill. I am suggesting only that the Bill should provide for a rules committee which would hereafter operate. I do not even know, if time presses, whether this Bill should lay down the constitution of that committee. That can be settled by the Lord Chancellor afterwards, but certainly he would be assisted by a committee and it might be provided for in this Bill. The observations that I have made with regard to the Lord Chancellor, and my utmost confidence in him and other Lord Chancellors, apply even more strongly with regard to the Home Office. I am not going to say a word against the officials of the Home Office or about any occupant of the office of Home Secretary. It was the noble Viscount that appointed my Committee—


One good act, anyway!


But during my judicial career I have not infrequently had differences of view with the Home Office and for my part, therefore, I should be very ill content with rules if they were made by the Home Office unassisted by a rules committee.

This Bill provides for the numbers of those who sit at quarter sessions to be settled either by the Lord Chancellor or by the Home Office, without any reference to the quarter sessions. That is quite contrary to the Report of the Royal Commission; and, remembering what a court of quarter session is—the high dignity of the court, apart from its antiquity—that is utterly unseemly. What the Royal Commission recommended was that the quarter sessions should prepare a scheme as to the numbers to sit, and that the scheme should be sanctioned by the Lord Chancellor. That is a very different matter. I am sure that that is an oversight which can be remedied. Quarter sessions would deeply resent the imposition on them of rules and practices as to which they themselves had no say.

There is one personal observation I desire to make. I have ventured to intervene now to recommend your Lordships to give this Bill a Second Reading, and to examine it very carefully in Committee, but I do not myself propose to move any Amendment. Different views prevail as to what those who are authors of Reports, or Chairmen of Committees which make Reports, should do. Some consider that they should take a very active part in season (and sometimes out of season) in impressing on the public that those Reports should be adopted. I do not take that view. I think that after we have reported it is for other people to consider what can be done about it. I do not therefore propose to put down any Amendments, though I shall probably have my say on some of the Amendments moved by other noble Lords.

4.15 p.m.


My Lords, I rise to give general support to the Second Reading of this Bill and also to express a feeling of gratitude to the Lord Chancellor in particular for the lucid way in which he has introduced the Bill. I should also like to congratulate him on the fact that, with all the many duties put upon him, he and his officers have found time to draft this Bill. I imagine that the noble Lord, Lord Roche, is feeling glad that his Report has been rescued from the pigeon-hole and is now in process of being ratified by Act of Parliament. If I may strike a personal note, I should like to say that I served for two years under the noble and learned Lord, Lord du Parcel (whose death we regret so much) and that I gained greatly in knowledge during that time. I looked upon him as my revered leader.

I should like to touch upon one or two points in the Bill. The noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, referred to the advisory committees. Most of our evidence was heard in camera; and the report of the Commission was definite that there was a great improvement in what the advisory committees were doing especially in the appointment of what we call non-political magistrates. I will not digress by giving a definition of what I think a "non political" magistrate is. I am pleased that in this Bill stipendiaries are to receive a pension on retirement. I once served under a stipendiary who was nearer ninety than eighty. There was no pension for him. He was a man of great ability, and I was glad to serve under him; his brain was an alert as that of many young men and his legal knowledge was acute; and all I could do was to give him my physical support on occasions. I must say I am glad we are embodying in this Bill a pension scheme which will abolish what I think is something of a scandal, especially when, of the fourteen or fifteen provincial stipendiaries, I suppose there are only three or four who are entitled to a pension. I believe that these stipendiaries should be put upon the same status as Metropolitan magistrates, and should receive a pension for service well rendered.

Your Lordships will notice that the Bill embodies a recommendation of the Royal Commission that solicitors shall now be eligible for appointment as stipendiary magistrates. I believe the Commission were unanimous that the average solicitor serving in a court gained in experience more than the average barrister (barristers being usually appointed as stipendiaries) who generally come to the court with little personal knowledge though with a good knowledge of the law. I hope, therefore, that your Lordships will give your wholehearted approval to the subsection giving the Home Secretary the power, on petition from the local authority, to appoint a solicitor, the choice being capable of extension to a barrister as well. I am sorry that the general feeling of the Commission, so far as I could judge, was that we preferred stipendiaries to be appointed by the Lord Chancellor of the day rather than by the Home Secretary of the day. I am glad that the justices' clerks are going to receive more recognition and a greater status. In passing, I hope that the courts committees which will be appointed will do much to make the magistrates' courts more efficient.

I come now to the question of the abolition of the smaller courts, usually sitting in an area with a population of about 25,000, and the merging in a county council area of some of these smaller courts. However much we may on grounds of sentiment regret the passing of the smaller courts with very little work to do, if we wish the efficiency of the administration of justice to be greater in the future than it has been in the past we shall have to agree to the abolition of the smaller areas and to the mergers taking place. With your Lordships' permission, I should like to do something which I do not know whether or not your Lordships will like. I want to put myself at your mercy and become a special pleader for one particular town. I hope your Lordships will see to it that this particular town shall, by amendment, be included as one of the towns to be exempted—there are one or two other places, districts and liberties which are to be exempted. I refer to the town of Cambridge. Those of your Lordships who know my background know very well that, to my sorrow, I have no personal contacts with that great town or with that great university, but I want to put forward a few points in the hope that your Lordships will see to it that the present privileges of Cambridge shall be preserved. I do not wish to weary the House, but I would point out that the commission of the peace was granted in the year 1390.




I apologise—1380. Your Lordships know better than I do the sequence of events: the granting of a charter for a university—a university which some of your Lordships in this Chamber will say is the greatest university (or, at any rate, the second greatest university, as the case may be!) in the whole world. But that is by the way. This town has had its commission of the peace. There has been a Recorder of Cambridge since the year 1494. In passing, I would observe that all quarter sessions would be better for being presided over by a recorder, whether in a county or in a borough—but that is by the way. I also happen to know that Cambridge is an assize town, because on occasion, especially when the late Marquess of Crewe was alive, I used to deputise for him in trying to get together a brave little band of Yorkshiremen and Yorkshire undergraduates in Cambridge to hold a festive occasion. Then, I enjoyed the hospitality of the Master of Trinity, and I had the great privilege of sleeping in the Judge's bed, because Cambridge is an assize town. I feel all the more sanctified because I have just learned that the Lord Chief Justice himself has slept in the same bed. I feel all the better for it.

I could go on to recite the qualities of the town of Cambridge. As has been mentioned by the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, its population at the present time is 87,000. The Boundary Commission, which has now been put into the receiver's hands, recommended that Cambridge should be made into a county 'borough. The Home Office recognised the importance of Cambridge, and stated that it should continue to have its own police force. The present magistrates' court sits on five days a week. It deals with more cases than do the whole of the other courts in the county of Cambridge. It has five times more business. In mentioning the five days a week, I leave out of account the matri- monial courts and the juvenile courts, which are in addition to those I have mentioned. In the space of about eighteen months, the quarter sessions had seventy-six cases, which were dealt with efficiently by the recorder. I could go on making references to this great ornament in the building up of the English tradition of which we are so proud.

I ask your Lordships to give the most sympathetic consideration, either by Amendment or in some other way, to this "town and gown" of Cambridge, so that its present status shall be maintained. I mention "status" because the Lord Chancellor in his speech somewhat discounted population and emphasised the word "status." I myself wish to emphasise the word "status". If there is a place in this country which should occupy the highest position by measurement of "status," it is certainly the town of Cambridge, with its associations. In passing, I would say that the town is well equipped with court rooms. I have been into the Guildhall there—a beautiful place, worthy of the town. It has a whole-time justices' clerk and also a whole-time staff. I will not weary your Lordships by further comments, as I shall have other opportunities in Committee of speaking on any Amendments with regard to the Bill. I ask your Lordships' indulgence in emphasising on this occasion that Cambridge should be exempted from the provisions of the Bill.

4.29 p.m.


My Lords, I intervene only for a moment or two this afternoon in order to repeat, with such emphasis as I can, what has already been said by each of the last three speakers—namely, how strongly I desire and hope that the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, who introduced this Bill, will go out of his way to consider the possibility of making certain exceptions in the case of non-county boroughs in order that some of those boroughs shall retain their separate commissions and, as a consequence, their quarter sessions and their honourable and ancient recorders. I listened with the closest attention to what was said so weightily and convincingly by the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, and I am bound to say that at one moment I felt he almost swept my case away by an array of im- pressive facts and figures. But while he was speaking I heard a voice within me saying: "Yes, this is all perfectly right and perfectly reasonable but it is leaving out a very important point all the time, and that is the profound effect on civic life, on civic loyalty and civic sentiment of this continuous removal of its historic institutions." There, almost without knowing it, in this matter we are, I think, going near to killing an already weakened thing.

It would not be fair for any of us to bring up particular cases as particular cases, but where we are discussing such a big question as is contained in Clause 8 of this Bill it is, I think, reasonable that certain instances should be given as to the effect of the proposed deprivation on particular places. The last speaker's remarks in regard to Cambridge were in this sense, I think, perfectly justified, and I hope that I may briefly plead similarly in regard to the ancient city of Winchester. The liberty and privilege of having its own court, quarter sessions and recorder were confirmed to Winchester in the year of the Armada by a charter of Queen Elizabeth. These liberties have been reaffirmed in every Act down to the Municipal Corporations Act of 1882; and this sudden threat of deprivation following on the innumerable powers already transferred to the county in accordance with recent legislation, is causing widespread and deep resentment in this ancient city. It is difficult to see how much of the life of a city is going to be left, if you take one after another all those institutions around which' the life, the loyalty and the pride of the citizens gather. I have been at some pains to try to discover what reasons there are which really justify such an immense change as is proposed in Clause 8. Of course, all reasonable people would recognise that there are many boroughs so small and with such little work that the maintenance of separate courts is an obvious abuse; but when you go beyond that, and take the facts and figures and the reasons put forward, there are some boroughs in regard to which the reasons break down.

It has been said, weightily and authoritatively, that the trouble is that even in boroughs of 25,000 people it is often difficult to find a sufficient number of persons of sufficient integrity and intelligence to be made J.P.s, but in Win- chester that is not a difficulty. There the difficulty is to choose amnog those available. I know some county boroughs, which I shall not name here, where I am sure it is much harder to find people suitable to be J.P.s than it is in the non-county borough of Winchester. If I heard him aright, I understand that the noble and learned Lord Chancellor is conscious of that fact. He therefore turns the argument the other way round and says that there are some non-county boroughs, presumably like Winchester, in which there are so many excellent people who ought to be able to serve as magistrates but who Cannot find a place on the local bench, who ought to be qualified for sitting on county benches; therefore, it is right to abolish the city bench and give them a county bench. I do not think it is really fair to have the benefit of the argument both ways. Surely the answer is to let the city keep its city bench and qualify the other people to serve on the county bench as well.

Again, I have heard the argument that in small places there are not enough J.P.s who are free from all connection with the council. In the case of the City of Winchester there are only two J.P.s connected with the council in any way, and the other eleven are not connected with it. It is said that you cannot get sufficient experience as a magistrate in a small place. But it is possible that you may have had some experience before you came into that particular locality; and anybody who knows Winchester will know that we are fortunate in having people with an immense amount of experience from every walk of life, not only in this country but in every Dominion. In any event, the magistrates in Winchester last year dealt with as many as 783 cases, irrespective of licensing and other such matters.

I have not heard anything put forward as regards the financial aspects of the matter, but I understand there would not be any great saving to the taxes or the rates, and it is difficult to resist the idea that somehow this wholesale deprivation of all the non-county boroughs of these powers is due, perhaps unconsciously, to a desire for administrative ease and administrative tidiness. At any rate, I feel that if this clause were to go through without qualification, we should, almost without knowing it, be striking a well-nigh mortal blow at the life of many boroughs where civic pride and civic sentiment are among the most precious assets of our common life. I say again that I do not want them all kept, but it is not an insuperable difficulty to distinguish some from others. I hope it will not be merely a question of population, but that other factors—age, record, work and the like—will also be taken into account, so that we shall not make England tidy at the price of making it very dull. I do not want to see this colour and local patriotism weakened in our midst. I would plead with the Government to think over this matter, to see whether they cannot make some concession and show that they are alive to quality as well as to size, and to the exceptional as well as to the normal.

4.37 p.m.


My Lords, I venture to intervene in this debate for only a few moments and I will try to avoid going over the ground that has already been covered by other speakers. I ask to be allowed to intervene because I view Part II of the Bill with great apprehension. I need only say that it has raised alarm and despondency at the Bar. Let me assure your Lordships that it has not caused that alarm because the Bar sees some of the emoluments in the shape of recorderships being lost, because, apart from the big cities like Manchester, Liverpool and Birmingham, where the recorder's salary is a consideration, when the recorder of an ordinary borough has paid for taxis, his railway fares and his subsistence, for he is not allowed to deduct income tax, there is precious little left; it is because of the fact that they recognise, as I am bound to say I do, that if this wholesale abolition of recorders' courts goes through it will cause the greatest confusion and difficulties in the counties.

My Lords, as your Lordships are aware, boroughs are divided into three categories. First there is the county borough. There are at least twenty county boroughs in England which have no quarter sessions at all. Then you have the boroughs with quarter sessions and those without quarter sessions. Of course, the boroughs which have no quarter sessions but which have separate commissions are all small boroughs. I agree that they ought to be done away with as separate commissions. I understand, if the figures which have been supplied to me are accurate, that that would do away with 125 commissions straight away. I understand that of the 251 boroughs in England 126 have recorders; so 125 will go outright. But this Bill proposes to abolish no few than 55 or 58—I am not sure which—recorders' courts. I bound to say that it seems to me that the consequences of this ought to be very carefully explored. The Lord Chancellor has told us that the Committee stage of this Bill will not be taken until after the Vacation, and I hope that during that interval real consideration will be given by those who drafted and are responsible for this Bill to what may happen if it goes through as at present drafted.

This question of the abolition of the quarter sessions courts has never been considered, either by the Roche Committee or the du Parcq Commission. I have the authority of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Roche, for saying that they regarded this question of the abolition of borough courts of quarter sessions as entirely outside their terms of reference, and they made no mention of it at all. Abolish small boroughs if you will, but do consider which of these boroughs are doing really useful work with their courts of quarter sessions. I know that there are objections to abolishing or to retaining merely upon a population basis. We cannot, however, it seems to me, in dealing with cases like this, look simply at the question as to whether a borough is an old one or a modern one. The important question, so far as these courts are concerned, is whether it is doing useful work and is relieving the county sessions of a large number of cases.

Remember this, if I may say so with respect: the work of county quarter sessions—indeed, of all quarter sessions—has enormously increased in recent years. When as a young man I first used to go on the western circuit we young fellows attending the Easter sessions in Wiltshire used to think ourselves lucky if there were as many as twelve briefs to be divided between us. I am told that now the average number of prisoners for trial at the Easter sessions at the same place—that is Salisbury—is between forty and fifty. You must approach this question also bearing in mind—please do not think that I am anxious to use a striking phrase or to raise a laugh—that house- breaking has, unhappily, become a major industry in this country. Those cases have to go to quarter sessions. The accused persons do not all plead "guilty." When I hear that in one particular borough only fourteen or fifteen cases have been tried in the year, and that is all that will go to the county quarter sessions, I ask how many of the people concerned in those cases pleaded "guilty" and how many pleaded "not guilty." Nowadays every prisoner seems to be defended—even those who upon arrest make the classical observation "It's a fair cop; I'll come quiet." By the time magistrates have given them legal aid, and they have an enthusiastic young barrister who wants to get on, to defend them, there is a plea of "not guilty." I do not think that I have the reputation of being one of the slowest judges on the Bench, but I know how difficult it is to get through any small criminal case in under two hours. Just think what it would mean if a considerable number of cases from the boroughs were to be added on to the counties.

Of course the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor knows far more about it than I do, but I understand that it is difficult nowadays to get magistrates—at any rate magistrates who will sit. Taxation and other legislation has practically wiped out the old style country gentleman who used to sit on the bench for a week or a fortnight. The younger men who have now to earn a living cannot do it, and the working-men magistrates cannot give up much time to judicial duties. If you are going to put on the county magistrates not only petty sessional cases from the boroughs but, at quarter sessions, all quarter session cases from the boroughs, I believe that very considerable difficulty will be experienced in finding magistrates to sit. Most counties now carry on quarter sessions only because of the public-spirited work of members of the Bar who give their time freely to doing this work, in most cases without remuneration. Many of these chairmen have told me that if this proposal goes through they will feel obliged to resign, because they do not consider they can afford to give the time that will be added to the work which they are already doing.

The Lord Chancellor mentioned the case of Kent. The West Kent Sessions have found it necessary to sit for six weeks throughout the year. They can do that only because there are six King's Counsel who have given their services free to the county. Some of them do not even live in the county, but under the Act of 1925 they are allowed to be appointed magistrates, and they give their services as chairmen of quarter sessions. Now it is proposed to take away the recorders from Maidstone, with a population of 50,000; from Gravesend, with a population of 30,000; and from Rochester with a population of 30,000. So you are adding to the population within the area of the county quarter sessions approximately 120,000. Let us remember also that these borough quarter sessions do a great service, not only by dealing with the cases and the appeals that arise in the boroughs but by fixing their dates at convenient intervals in between sessions of the county, and thus they can now, under the Act of 1925, take county cases.

There is another matter which I do not think any previous speaker has mentioned but to which I think attention should be drawn. Parliament last year passed the Criminal Justice Act, and one of the great differences which it made was that petty sessional benches when they had before them a prisoner in regard to whom such a course seemed appropriate, were empowered to send him forward for sentence. That power was already possessed in regard to Borstal cases. Where magistrates think that Borstal cases should be sent forward for sentence they can do so. Now I find that in many other cases magistrates are making increasing use of the power that has been given them, and in many instances these local benches are sending forward men for sentence at the sessions, not at sessions in the ordinary sense but to the appeal committee of sessions. In most counties that committee is already overworked. It is all very well to say you can sentence a man in five minutes. So you can; I have done it myself. But in the great mass of ordinary cases you ought to take longer. You must go into the facts. You may have a dozen cases sent to a busy court of quarter sessions for sentence, and all that is going to mean more work for quarter sessions.

I know that it is difficult to decide where the line is to be drawn. I believe that the only practical way of dealing with it is on a population basis in some way. Certainly no one wants to retain commissions for small boroughs that have no quarter sessions. I suppose that the ideal way, though perhaps it is not practical, would be to consider each borough on its merits, as was done by Parliament in 1932, when it had to consider from which of the boroughs it was going to take away representation and in respect of which it was going to reduce the number of representatives from two to one. It may be that the adoption of a course like that is too much to expect. But one cannot, I think, say here that merely because a borough has not the status of a county borough its borough court is not doing a thoroughly useful work in the county.

There may be many that can well be abolished. There are many small boroughs with only 4,000 or 5,000 inhabitants which yet have recorders. One was mentioned by the Lord Chancellor when he referred to the number of cases tried in Wiltshire—141, I think, thirty-one at Devizes. Devizes is a town of only 5,000 inhabitants, but it has a recorder who often sits for two days at each sessions to deal with cases that have been sent in because, being a public-spirited man, he has fixed his sessions in between the county sessions. Then take the little place of Tenterden in Kent. That is a tiny place, not much bigger than a village, with an ancient borough court of its own. The gentleman who was recently recorder there is now one of the Judges of the King's Bench, Mr. Justice Slade. He also used to fix his sessions in the manner in which I have just indicated. I do not say that a place like Tenterden ought necessarily to retain a recorder, because it has only some 4,000 or 5,000 inhabitants—I hope that I have stated the number correctly, otherwise my postbag will contain a great many protests saying that it ought to have been 6,000 or something like that. At any rate, it is a very small number. There are up and down the country quite a large number of small boroughs which I think might well be abolished. But there are a great many others which will be affected. Cambridge has been mentioned, with a population of 80,000, and Poole has been mentioned. I have a tender spot in my heart for Poole, for I started my judicial career there as recorder. Poole has 60,000 inhabitants.


No, 87,000.


The noble Lord is right. Both Cambridge and Poole have over 80,000. If we take away the recordership from Scarborough—a most useful recordership in the North Riding, as anybody can see if he looks at the map and sees the rail communications—people will have to go to Northallerton. One might say that many things must be analysed. One might say that the population test is not satisfactory, because population changes; but I believe that it is the only rough test we can make. I am quite convinced that if it is only county boroughs that are given recorders there will be a day of reckoning to come.

4.52 p.m.


My Lords, I do not propose to trespass long on your Lordships' time this afternoon, but as I have the honour of being His Majesty's Lieutenant in one of the biggest counties in England, I feel that I should say a few words, especially as Devonshire has many problems with which this Bill is going to deal. We have large centres of population, such as Exeter and Plymouth; we have ancient boroughs, such as Bideford, Totnes and Dartmouth, whose names stir the blood of every Englishman, and we have smaller towns, such as, Barnstaple, Tavistock and Tiverton. Again we have seaside places, such as Ilfracombe, Torquay and Paignton, Exmouth and Sidmouth, where the population is practically doubled during the summer months. Then again we have very small moorland places, such as Widecombe-in-the-Moor. So your Lordships will be able to appreciate that there are very many problems. Speaking for myself and for my county magistrates, I should like to say at once that we accept the provisions of the Bill generally, in so far as they fall into line with the recommendations of the Reports of the noble Lord, Lord Roche, whom we heard with so much pleasure this afternoon, and of Lord du Parcq, whose loss we deeply deplore and whose assistance here this afternoon I feel would have been of the utmost help. When this Bill reaches Committee stage, which I understand will be in October, we may well have certain points to raise, but it would not be right for me to raise them now, and I would close by saying that I heartily commend the Bill to your Lordships and ask you to give it a Second Reading.

4.54 p.m.


My Lords, as I was a member of both the Roche Committee and the du Parcq Royal Commission, perhaps I may say a few words on the Second Reading of this Bill. Although I was a member of both those bodies, I did not sign the Report of either, for entirely different reasons. I want to deal first with Part II of the Bill, which has already been commented on fully by several speakers. Much has been made of the proposal to abolish the separate commissions of the peace in the small boroughs. I say at once that I entirely agree with the Bill on this point and congratulate the Government on being bold enough to go so far as they have in abolishing commissions of the peace in small boroughs and consequently in reducing the number of recorderships. It is inevitable that it will give rise to a lot of opposition, but wherever we draw the line there will always be hard cases. It does not matter whether it is done on a question of status, of population or of selection, there will always be grumbles and grouses, and l hope the Government will stick to the Bill on this point.

Much has been said about the difficulties that may occur in certain counties, and Kent has been prominently mentioned. The answer is surely to pay the chairman of the Kent Quarter Sessions. If we pay the chairman and the deputy chairman of Middlesex handsome salaries, as we do, and if we pay the chairman of Essex a substantial salary, why cannot we pay the chairman of Kent? If all that has been pleaded about the difficulties that are going to arise in Kent is justified, we ought logically—although I know that the argument is very unpopular—to divide up the work in Middlesex and spread it out among the towns. We do not dream of doing so, and I believe the work in Middlesex is most efficiently done and no trouble whatever is caused. I think that all this Bill will do is to bring a county like Kent to somewhere approaching the position of Middlesex. If it is right to pay the chairman of quarter sessions in Rutland, why is it not right to pay the chairman in Kent? I plead guilty to being one of those tidy people, who are not very popular, and I do not understand why we do not pay the chairman of Kent.

I come to another topic, on which I disagree with this Bill. The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack made out most clearly the case for and against chairmen of urban and rural district councils being ex officio justices; and having, as I thought, completely made out the case against having them, he said that the Bill would retain them. I hope very much that an Amendment will be passed which will have the effect of excluding the chairmen of urban and rural councils. I think a great many people want this. I go a little further and say something which not enough people want, and that is that the mayors should also be excluded. I shall return to this matter in further detail on Committee stage. The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor said he was loath to take away ancient rights and privileges. The Government are not always so loath to take them away. And are they so very ancient? Did not the noble and learned Viscount himself say that they dated back less than a hundred years? Is that so very old?

I welcome the appearance of the magistrates' courts committee. I think it can do much good, particularly in helping in the reorganisation of the boundaries of petty sessional divisions, which can now he done only under some very antiquated Acts of Parliament. A great deal of improvement can be effected, but the Bill stops short, unfortunately, at making the provision of full-time clerks easier than it is. Was not one of the major reasons for the appointment of the Roche Committee that it was desired to have more full-time clerks? Yet, in spite of the recommendations of that Committee, I can find nothing in the Bill which makes the appointment of full-time clerks in any way more likely than it is now. At any rate, there is nothing that compels it, and I am afraid that time will show very little improvement in this matter.

I do not want to deal with a number of Committee points—I reserve the right to come to these later—but I do want to pursue the matter of stipendiary magistrates a little further this afternoon. I am not going to argue the case for a general extension of stipendiaries; that would be untimely and an abuse of your Lordships' patience. But, in passing, I cannot resist the temptation to say this, with great respect to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Roche, and to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack. If the system of stipendiaries is as bad as it is made out to be, why do you inflict it on the County of London, without asking anybody in London whether they want it or not? I leave the question there.

All I have further to say about stipendiaries is on the assumption that there are not going to be any more. I suggest that a great deal of simplicity could be achieved by scrapping all the small Private Acts of Parliament which now authorise the appointment of stipendiaries and by putting into the Bill a general clause stating that all the present stipendiaries shall be taken over and appointments shall in future be made by a central Government department. I want to see all justices appointed by a single department. I do not want it to be the Home Office; I want it to be the Lord Chancellor's department. I want to "nationalise crime." This Government nationalise a good many things, and there is opposition to some of them. I believe the only people who would be adversely affected by the nationalisation of crime are not represented in your Lordships' House! You have nationalised civil law: you appoint your county court judges from London; you pay them, maintain them and house them from London. Why cannot you do the same for your magistrates and quarter sessions?

I put forward the proposition seriously that the administration of criminal law in this country could very conveniently be nationalised. What a lot of trouble it would save! Whole pages could be cut out of this Bill—pages dealing with minute details of the appointment of individual stipendiaries up and down the country, all appointed differently, some with a retiring age of seventy and some with seventy-two, some with contributory pensions, others with non-contributory pensions and most of them with no pensions at all—they just go on till they drop. Surely, all that could be rationalised. This Bill transfers justices' clerks from the magistrates' benches to the magistrates' courts committee. If you can do that, why cannot you say that all stipendiaries in future shall be deemed to be taken over by the Lord Chancellor and employed by him? It would cut pages out of this Bill.

I wish now to refer to the payment of stipendiaries. In my respectful opinion, there is grave objection to stipendiaries being paid out of local funds. It is a matter of principle, and it becomes daily more damaging. There were days, no doubt, when local authorities did not appear in courts at all, or hardly ever appeared in them, but now they appear in a considerable number of cases. I am told that one stipendiary deals in a year with between 400 and 500 cases in which his own local authority is involved, and that local authority is his employer. If he wants a rise in salary he has to go to that local authority and ask for it. It may be that at the same time that he is suggesting a rise in his salary he is dealing with an important case in which that authority is a party. I see grave objection to that.

But that is nothing to the anomaly I will now mention—namely, that the procedure operates only in the country and does not operate in London, which I think is entirely wrong. I have talked and argued about this matter with a number of people, and nobody has ever been able to tell me how that position can possibly be justified. I would like to ask the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack to tell us, either in his reply to-day or on the Committee stage of the Bill, how His Majesty's Government can possibly justify the position in which all the stipendiaries in the country are paid out of the local rates and all the Metropolitan magistrates are paid out of the Treasury. Whichever way I look at it, I cannot see how that can be justified. Dealing with the question of the unsatisfactory position of the stipendiaries who are paid by their authorities, I would like to quote the words of one of them. He says: Good though my relations are, I do find it anomalous and somewhat humiliating to be an independent judge one day and a suppliant the next. I hope that the Government will examine this question of stipendiaries. There are difficult points about their pensions. I do not propose to go into them until the Committee stage, but I do not think the Bill is satisfactory in that respect.

There is one other point I would like to make. I mentioned that I thought all magistrates, including stipendiaries, should be appointed by the Lord Chan- cellor. If that were done it would mean that no more would be appointed by the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster. He appoints all the justices in Lancashire, including at least one (and I think more) stipendiary. I can see no argument for having three different powers for appointing justices. Again, I would like to mention the City of London. This Bill just nibbles at the authority of the City of London, and stops short there. It takes away its powers in juvenile courts, and it takes away matrimonial cases; but it does not do away with the extraordinary anomaly that in the City of London and nowhere else in this country a layman hears cases alone. A great number of authorities have condemned this practice generally. The du Parcq Commission condemned it and said they did not like it, but they would not recommend that it be done away with. I do not for one moment criticise the actions or inactions of the justices of the City of London; I do not suggest that results have not been good. However, I do suggest that this practice should not be allowed to continue when it is condemned everywhere else. I hope that this Bill will be passed—as no doubt it will—but I feel that certain Amendments will have to be made when we come to the Committee stage. I will not detain your Lordships any longer in supporting the Second Reading of the Bill.

5.9 p.m.


My Lords, no one who has ever sat on a Committee with the noble Lord who has just spoken can fail to recognise the extreme interest he takes in this subject, and his real living zeal for justice and the proper arrangements for the administration of justice. If I do not fully agree with all the various far-reaching reforms he has mentioned in his speech, it is not because I do not realise how much thought he has given to them, and how much argument can be adduced in their favour. On the Bill, it is obvious from what has been said this afternoon that the House on the whole is prepared to give a welcome to it, even if it is a qualified welcome. The qualification in my case is, in the first place, somewhat personal, because the immediate effect of the Bill is to drive me from both my offices, and to separate me from the administration of justice and from colleagues with whom I have worked with great pleasure for many years. I cannot but regret that, but I will endeavour to reconcile myself to the inevitable.

In saying that about my colleagues I would like to say what has already been said by more than one speaker, and what I think should be said by each member, either of the du Parcq Commission or the Roche Committee, who has the opportunity of addressing the House. We on the Roche Committee did not desire in the faintest degree to express any censure upon the bench of magistrates, or still less upon the justices' clerks, either as a body or singly. What we had to deal with was a system which I hope the Lord Chancellor will not think me presumptuous for praising, a system which we liked and desired to see preserved. We were trying to make some minor and major suggestions for improvement, but we in no way sought to criticise the system itself. We believe it is eminently suited to the British people, and I personally, having had some experience of the administration of criminal justice in other countries, consider it far better than the brain of man has ever yet devised elsewhere.

All these are really Committee points, but as we have been talking about Committee points all the afternoon it is a little difficult to keep away from them. I must say a word on a Committee point which has occupied most of the afternoon, and that is on the proposal to take away commissions from boroughs which are not county boroughs. I do not know whether the House realises that what the Roche Committee recommended was that the commission should be taken away from those boroughs with a population of 25,000 or less. We never thought of such a wholesale massacre as that for which the Lord Chancellor is now asking. I do not know whether it is realised that what is now proposed takes away the commissions from Maidstone, Cambridge, Luton and Poole—all of them very populous places, and one at least with a population of 100,000. With regard to Cambridge, we have already heard the arguments from the noble Lord, Lord Calverley, and with regard to Winchester, from the right reverend Prelate.

The real point of our proposal was this. We were not striking at quarter sessions at all, and if it be necessary to have middle justice, between the petty sessional court and the assize court, we did not in any way desire to do anything to upset the present system. What we were faced with was that in boroughs of a certain smallness you cannot have either a good advisory committee or a good bench, as I painfully learnt in my long experience. That is a dogmatic statement, and I cannot support it by anything except that for thirty years I had to try to do it and found that it was impossible. As to where that line is to be drawn, I make no dogmatic statement at all. If it is to be at 25,000, or any other number which may be chosen, I am willing to accept it. We thought that 25,000 was the limit beyond which you must not go if you are to have a proper system of petty criminal justice in this country. I am afraid this is lecturing the House, and also proffering myself as a witness, but I do that in view of my experience (which is very great on this subject) much as I regret to differ from my noble friend. With all the reforms which this Bill proposes, with the setting up of petty sessional divisions and the obtaining of whole-time clerks, it is an essential feature that the small borough should lose its commission. I am not saying what constitutes a small borough, and I am not saying that the particular boroughs I have mentioned are small; I am willing to accept any reasonable figure suggested. But on the main principle I am sorry to say that I am sure all the members of the Roche Committee are adamant; they will not waver in their opinion.

I would like to say a word about something upon which the Lord Chancellor said he would not touch; and that is what is called finance. I know that there are noble Lords in the House who are alarmed at the proposal in this Bill. No estimate was offered of what it is going to cost, and I must frankly admit (as we all admitted on the Roche Committee before we finally submitted our Report) that whatever economies might be effected in consequence of it, there must be an increase in the charge. I assume from what has been said, and from the provisions of the Bill (I am not quite sure whether I am right) that not only are all the fines and fees to go to the Exchequer, but included among those fines and fees will be the road money. Years ago a very astute and clever statesman decided that the fines imposed for road offences should go to keep up the roads. Another statesman, even more astute, decided that the roads did not want it, and gave it to the Treasury, who have had it ever since. If we get back that money and distribute it according to need, there would be more than enough to cover all the present expenses of the courts, and instead of some places having a deficit and others a credit there will be an even flow throughout the country.

I fully admit that our proposals will mean additional expense. I think additional expense is necessary. At the present moment there are many clerks to justices who are out of pocket because of the work they are doing. There are many clerks employed as assistants to clerks of justices who receive salaries which, if I were to mention them to your Lordships, would cause your Lordships to blush. Practically speaking, except in the rarest cases there is no system of superannuation, whether contributory or otherwise, which has the result that anyone with experience might anticipate. There is no proper provision for books, so that if a copy of Archbold on Criminal Pleadings is required in a petty sessional court the clerk must buy it out of his own pocket, with no opportunity for reimbursement. If the Home Office issue a circular which is intended to go to all magistrates and sends copies to the clerk to the justices, the justices do not receive the copy because the clerk would have to pay the postage out of his own pocket. All those things ought not to be tolerated, and to put them right must involve further expense. How much further expense we do not try to estimate, but I would say frankly that this Bill does involve expenditure. I say, further, that this expenditure, much as I abhor expenditure, has to be incurred. I think we must face that. I would not like to run away from it, and I do not think the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, would like to run away from it, because I am sure he fully realises the situation.

This is all disjointed, and they are all Committee points, but I think one ought to indicate what subjects are likely to be pursued when, after the Recess, we come to the Committee stage of the Bill. The first thing is a matter which gave us on the Roche Committee great concern—the qualifications of the justices' clerk. I might observe, in passing, that so far as I can see the Bill does not contain any reference to the disqualification of the clerk. One of the matters upon which we laid great stress was the necessity for disqualifying a clerk who did work which we thought incompatible with the position of the clerk to the justices. I do not want to trouble the House with what those were, as it is a matter for Committee. But we think that there are many positions now held, and many occupations now indulged in by clerks to the justices—I do not impute any blame or corruption to them—which do cause the idea, and possibly the right idea, that they are not wholly disinterested in the work which they are doing. As I say, I find no mention in the Bill of the recommendations made in that regard.

Now with regard to their qualifications. There again we had a long argument, we spent a great deal of time about it, and we consulted many authorities. I should like your Lordships to remember, in considering the recommendations of the Roche Report, that there has probably never been any Committee which comprised so many different angles of thought. Every kind of idea was represented there; and although I do not think any of us improperly pursued our own ideas they all entered into the discussion and were thrown into the common pot. And the Report which ultimately emerged was the result of many hours of discussion which brought about a common understanding. Therefore, I think our recommendations should carry great weight.

One of the things on which we laid great stress was that the clerk to the justices should possess a professional qualification. The Bill departs from that. I understand why that is; I know that it is a difficult thing to work out and might be criticised, but I wish to press the matter upon your Lordships. The clerk to the justices occupies a professional position and gives professional advice. The solicitor, from the moment he begins to learn his profession, has to go through a very long period during which he studies not only the law but also many other things, including bookkeeping and office management and several matters of that kind which might easily be learned by an unqualified person. The barrister or solicitor has the particular training and knowledge, the prestige and the standing that are all necessary to the man who is to advise a bench of magistrates. He has to make himself respected by those magistrates as by the people who sit round the court and see him. To be able to do that he must have the kudos of professional training. We did not desire to deprive the qualified man of his non-qualified assistant who has now for many years looked forward to holding the post. We did not want to cut short his hopes, and we made an express provision that he should be considered as eligible, but that no further schemes should be based on length of service as distinct from professional standing.

I do not want to waste your Lordships' time by going over what has already been said about ex officio magistrates and other points. But I should like to reinforce what the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood, said about the rule committee, for we attach great importance to that committee. If your Lordships look at our Report you will see that it is put together as a complete whole, in which the rule committee occupies a commanding position—I am speaking, of course, A the central rule committee, and I should like to reinforce the argument of Lord Templewood on this matter.

I should also like to say that I am very disappointed in another matter. I think other noble Lords share my disappointment in the fact that the Lord Chancellor has not seen fit to follow up the recommendation that the appointment of stipendiary magistrates should rest with him and not with the Secretary of State. I hope nobody will think I am quarrelling with the Home Office, with whom I have worked in amity and friendship for many years; but I am satisfied that no one in the country can have the knowledge and the capacity for the appointment of legal officers that the Lord Chancellor of the day possesses. I suggest that if one looks back at the history of the matter one will see that the Lord Chancellor possesses qualifications which no Home Secretary can ever possess. And while so much patronage rests in the hands of the Lord Chancellor, and particularly in the matter of county court judges (who come from the same stratum as that from which the stipendiary magistrates come) I am sure everybody will agree that the appointment should be made by the Lord Chancellor.

It is laid down somewhere in one of the Reports that the Lord Chancellor should have power to appoint stipendiaries, irrespective of any petition from the locality. I lay stress on that. I do not want to be misinterpreted; but none of us associated in this matter wishes greatly to extend the stipendiary system. At the same time there are many places, particularly on the outskirts of large towns with great new populations, which are not yet organised into a living community; and in such places it is difficult to constitute a proper bench and almost impossible to constitute any civic body which can make such a petition to the Lord Chancellor or the Secretary of State. Furthermore, there are cases—though not many—in which the bench may break down, where it becomes apparent to the central authority that the bench cannot be allowed to go on, either because it is badly constituted or for some other reason. I am satisfied that in these circumstances the Lord Chancellor should have power to suspend the bench and to appoint a stipendiary for a term of years to take their place. That, I am afraid, may be looked upon as the opinion of an inveterate bureaucrat, but I feel that it is a necessary and right corrective for what otherwise cannot easily be mended.

I give this Bill a welcome. I hope that between now and the autumn the Lord Chancellor will think again on this so-called small borough point, and that he will also think again on the question of the qualifications of justices' clerks and on the subject of the rule committee. It would not be difficult to draft a clause taking into consideration the rules which at present govern the courts of summary jurisdiction and incorporate them. It should give power to those committees presided over by the Lord Chancellor to amend and restore those rules. I can think of half a dozen cases in which, if the rule committee had such power, infinite trouble would have been saved—I am thinking now of procedure, rather than of mere committees. If the procedure had been amended long ago the magistrates, in such cases, for instance, as Rex v. Sheridan or Rex v. Grant, could have been saved much weariness and discussion.

5.29 p.m.


My Lords, there is an old Latin tag, Inter arma leges silent which means, roughly speaking, that lawyers should not discuss military operations. It carries an obvious corollary, Inter leges arma silent, which means that military persons should not speak on legal matters. My only excuse for venturing to intervene in this debate is that I am speaking in two purely civilian rôles: as a Freeman of the City of Winchester and as High Steward of the town of Colchester. I hope your Lordships will allow those two rôles to justify my saying a few words in defence of the ancient privileges of those very ancient boroughs.

Two hundred and sixty years ago, the then Mayor of Winchester, one Thomas Wavell, was required by His Majesty King James II to deliver up the charter of the city for revocation. He refused, replying that the citizens of Winchester had committed no offence which would justify the removal of their charter and of the privileges conferred on them by the King's predecessors. I humbly submit that the present citizens of Winchester (which was the capital of England long before London was) have committed no offence which will justify the removal of their privileges of a Recorder and a city court. Winchester has a population of well over 25,000 and therefore comes within the recommendations, as I understand them, of the Roche Report for survival. These are no mere picturesque survivals but, I understand, very real necessities for the convenient administration of justice in the City of Winchester.

To turn to Colchester, which has claims to he the oldest town in the Kingdom, the offices of High Steward and Recorder were both established more than 300 years ago by a charter of King Charles I. The duties laid down for the High Steward were to advise and direct the mayor and commonalty on all specially important business. Having the honour to hold that office, I have been charged by the present mayor and the town council that they regard it as "specially important business" that I should say something in defence of my colleague, the Recorder, and of the charter of King Charles I by which we were both established, the salary of the Recorder being then, I believe, £6 13s. 4d. per annum, and that of the High Steward £10 per annum. As I understand that the office of Recorder of Colchester is eagerly sought after, I imagine that he now receives more than that, but I think I should tell your Lordships that the present High Steward, since he took over his office, has received no more than five dozen oysters!

The City of Colchester has more than 50,000 inhabitants and is therefore doubly within the 25,000 limit. If the court of quarter sessions were removed to Ch[...]lmsford, it would certainly involve the citizens of Colchester in much travel to and fro, with a waste of time and transport, money and man-power. I would not have ventured to say anything had I not been made aware by this debate that there was a very strong body of legal opinion supporting the retention of Recorders. I have therefore been bold enough to add my few words in defence of ancient traditions and privileges, and in humble protest against the modern tendency towards drab uniformity and pin-point specialisation.

5.35 p.m.


My Lords, in rising this afternoon, I wish to draw your Lordships' attention to Clause 2 of this Bill, which has hardly been mentioned in the course of this debate, although in my opinion it is one of the most important clauses of the Bill. It provides that members of local authorities shall not sit in cases in which those authorities are concerned. This introduces an entirely new principle into the administration of justice in this country. It has hitherto been axiomatic that a man should be at liberty to administer justice in any matter in which he was not personally concerned. There are many other forms of interest beside personal interest. For instance, there is political interest, religious interest, sentimental interest and, lastly, there is what I may call administrative interest. This Bill has picked out administrative interest and has concentrated upon that.

But it has not been wholly logical in this concentration, for your Lordships will see that the police are omitted. Let us take the case of a town councillor who is a magistrate and who is also a member of the watch committee. He is brought frequently into contact with the police and he is partly responsible for the administration and efficiency of the police. It is to be held that he is com- pletely and entirely free from prejudice where the police are concerned, and yet he is to be regarded as hopelessly prejudiced where the shops inspector or the inspector of weights and measures is concerned. I can see no justification whatever for this distinction. Obviously this provision about the police has been put in the Bill, not because there is any sense in it but merely because if it were not in the Bill the whole administration of the police in this country would collapse. I shall not say anything about political or religious interests, except this: that there are magistrates who regard it as wicked to consume alcoholic liquor. Those magistrates are allowed to sit in licensing cases and in cases brought against licensees, and they will continue to be allowed to do so when this Bill becomes law.

I wish to take another example of the way in which this clause will operate. Your Lordships well know of the existence of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. That Society has its committees and its inspectors in every area, and those inspectors often initiate prosecutions. It is to be assumed that all persons who support this Society are in full agreement with its aims and objects, but nobody supposes that a county councillor is personally in agreement with all the rules and regulations which the county council has to enforce. A county councillor may not sit in a case brought by a county council inspector, but the chairman of a local committee of the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals may sit in a case brought by his inspector. It seems to me that there is no justification for that differentiation.

It has also been alleged that it is unjustifiable for a member of a rating authority to sit in a case for the nonpayment of rates. Those of your Lordships who know anything about local administration as conducted nowadays appreciate that the rates are fixed in Whitehall, and there are very few pence by which members of a local authority can vary the amount of rates that are levied. But even if the powers of the local authorities were very much greater than they are, I should still say that the interest of a county council in the payment of rates ceases when the rate has once been levied. In a sense, it is true that ratepayers are interested parties in the payment of rates. If a man does not pay his rates then the sum by which he is in default falls upon the other ratepayers, and if that is to be taken as a criterion no ratepayer would be allowed to sit on any case involving the nonpayment of rates. But I can see no justification for making a distinction between the local authority and any other ratepayer in the country. Your Lordships may remember that up to sixty years ago all rates were both levied and enforced by the justices, and although there were many eminent jurists in those days, so far as I know nobody found anything very wrong in that.

I think perhaps your Lordships do not realise the very large number of magistrates involved under this clause. I have been looking through the last printed list of magistrates for my county and I find that out of twenty chairmen of petty sessions no fewer than eight are county councillors. Many other magistrates are county councillors, and many others are chairmen and members of local authorities. Your Lordships may say that it is all wrong that members of a local authority should be magistrates. The people whose names are put forward to my advisory committee are almost all members of local authorities. That is especially true of the Labour Party, and I think it is right. The proper people to be appointed magistrates are, in most cases, those who take an interest in public affairs and who are selected by their fellow citizens to represent them upon the local authority. I do not at all hold with the idea of a magistrate as a person who, on alternate Thursdays, descends from an ivory tower; and if there were any ivory towers left, I should not regard them as a suitable habitation for a magistrate.

I would carry that further, in that it seems to me very desirable that county councillors and other councillors should know how the regulations which they draft and which they are called upon to enforce affect the ordinary citizen. It is also desirable that they should know what are the relations between the officials and the general public. There is, in my view, no way in which they can learn this better than by hearing these cases which are the subject of Clause 2. I do not wish your Lordships to think that I am personally affected by what I am now saying. For many years I was both chairman of a bench and also a member of the county council. I have now ceased to be a member of the county council, but while I held both those offices I always insisted on hearing the cases brought by the county council. I can assure your Lordships—and I think this is important—that if I had any temptation towards prejudice in those cases it was not in favour of the inspectors of the county council, but in favour of the persons against whom the charges were brought, who in most cases were my own neighbours and acquaintances. I believe that is the attitude of most magistrates.

I will not say more on this matter, except that there are numberless ways in which prejudice might conceivably affect the minds of magistrates. We shall never eliminate them. All we can do, and all we can hope to do, is to select the best people we can find to be magistrates and, having selected them, trust them to administer justice fairly, as in the vast majority of cases they do now. If we do what this clause suggests and pick out one possible cause of prejudice from hundreds of others, we shall merely throw the others into higher relief. That is all I want to say about that clause, but there is one omission in this Bill which I should like to mention. There is nothing in the Bill about the removal of justices for misconduct. Your Lordships will all remember a case which took place recently in which the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor removed a Welsh magistrate. I will not say anything about that case, except that your Lordships may remember that it was followed by correspondence in The Times, and some of those who took part in that correspondence expressed some doubt as to whether the noble and learned Viscount was acting within his legal powers. It is surely most undesirable that there should be any doubts whatever upon such a subject, and I regret that the noble and learned Viscount has not taken the opportunity in this Bill to clarify his position in this matter.

5.45 p.m.


My Lords, I hope that even at this late hour the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack will allow an obscure member of his own profession to pay a humble tribute to the lucidity and brevity with which he intro- duced this most important measure three hours ago—and it seems all of that. Having pacified the noble and learned Viscount in advance by that observation, I trust that he will not take me too severely to task if I tell him how fundamentally I differ from him in the view of justices of the peace which he expressed in his opening remarks. Justices of the peace are, of course, nothing more than an anachronism, lust as would be oil lamps or side whiskers, and it is long since time that they were done away with. I agree wholeheartedly with Lord Merthyr's observations in the Report and his further observations here to-day, and, if I may say so with the greatest respect, I think it is deplorable that the Lord Chancellor should consider, and still more voice, the theory that sufficient stipendiaries cannot be found in this country, and make it worse by adding that the reason why they cannot be found (and I am sure he speaks truly) is that he dare not go to the Treasury and ask for the money. For a Cabinet Minister in so profligate a Government as this to put forward that as an excuse for not having justice done, really does appal one. Apparently, in the United States they do not consider it too much to pay lawyers.

I have always held the view, and voiced it in print and otherwise, that justice should not only he done but should manifestly appear to do done. How you can have justice done, manifestly or otherwise, by the butcher, the baker and the candle-stick maker, whom this Government appoint not only to Colonial Governorships but to the office of justice of the peace, I really do not know. No one can blame these gentlemen if they fail lamentably in the execution of their office, because everyone knows—no less the noble and learned Viscount himself—that the laws to-day are so numerous and so complex that it takes a trained lawyer of some ability even to begin to understand and interpret and administer them. How then is it possible for these well meaning, unpaid ladies and gentlemen, serving their country to the best of their ability, as they do—I know all about that part of the business—to do what is now laid upon their shoulders? However, I have little hope that the House will do other than give a Second Reading to this Bill, and as far as I am concerned, in so far as it contains measures which may strengthen this decaying and I think very wrong system, of course I give it my blessing.

There is one point of very great practical importance which has not been dealt with in the Bill, and perhaps the noble and learned Viscount when replying would indicate whether and when he proposes to deal with it—I refer to the disqualification of magistrates' clerks with regard to licensing. As the noble and learned Viscount himself knows so much better than I do, the disqualification of justices in regard to licensing matters is dealt with by the Licensing (Consolidation) Act of 1910, and I should have thought that it would be as well if the disqualification of the clerks were dealt with likewise by Statute. It may, of course, have been dealt with by rule—I do not know. It may also be that the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack has some plan in mind to deal with it at a later stage. I should be grateful if, when replying to the debate, the Lord Chancellor would deal specifically with that point, which, as I am sure he would himself concede, is obviously one of the greatest importance. I will conclude by asking the noble and learned Viscount if he will forgive what would in other circumstances be a flag-grant discourtesy in that I must now leave your Lordships' House. I am not able to wait, as I should in any other circumstances most certainly do, to hear his reply, because I have a pressing engagement which makes it imperative for me to leave immediately.

May I add before I go that I do think it is lamentable that the Lord Chief Justice of England should be put in the position of having to speak after the House has been sitting for some two hours and a quarter and should then have to address very sparsely-filled Benches. This is a matter which has been very much in my mind since I came here for the first time fifteen years ago. I hope that one day the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack and the Whips and perhaps the new Clerk of the Parliaments may be able to devise some means—if necessary by ballot—whereby those of us who can come here only occasionally (but who would like to come here much more frequently, having some sense of our duty) can occasionally be called upon before half-past-five or six o'clock in the afternoon. It becomes a little wearing to sit here, listening to Privy Counsellor after Privy Counsellor, Peer after Peer, speaking again and again at great length and, as Lord Schuster has said, nine times out of ten dealing with Committee points, in the same debates. As the noble and learned Viscount knows well, in the debates on Civil Aviation which we had in this House the same voices, the same speakers, were heard uttering the same incantations again and again, labouring the same points over a period of weeks. That, I suggest in all seriousness—I have, as I say, been in this House for many years; I took my seat before most of the noble Lords opposite received their Letters Patent—is a matter to which serious consideration might be directed.

5.53 p.m.


My Lords, I do not intend to comment upon the remarks of the noble Lord who has just sat down about this House, but I do wish to say one or two words about what he said concerning lay magistrates. I am sorry that he has not waited either for the opening remarks of the succeeding speaker or for the reply of the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack before leaving this House. He said that this present system did not justify not having justice done. Those were the words the noble Lord used. He then started to blame the butcher, the baker and the candlestick-maker for the lack of justice being done. I have the honour to sit on a bench with a large number of lay magistrates—I was presiding over such a bench last Wednesday—and I am quite certain that just as good justice is done by the lay magistrates in this country as is done by the stipendiaries. I very much deplore the reflections made by the noble Lord who has so hastily left this Chamber on the lay magistrates who give so much of their time and take an immense amount of trouble in carrying out the task of doing justice up and down this country.

Perhaps I had better here disclose my interest. At the present moment I happen to be deputy chairman of Dorset Quarter Sessions. If the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack approves—which he may not—I shall be promoted, as I have already been elected to be chairman next year. In my capacity as deputy chairman I want to say a word in regard to the proposed abolition of the quarter sessions and of the office of Recorder of Poole. It is true that Poole is a very ancient borough. Not only has it its recorder and quarter sessions, but it is a county on its own. The Lord Lieutenant of Dorset is always appointed Lord Lieutenant of the County of Poole as well. Poole has had that status for 381 years, since the Charter was granted by Queen Elizabeth. That alone, of course, would not justify a town, even an ancient town like Poole, still having its own quarter sessions if it had deteriorated in size, or if it were only the same size now as it was in the days of Queen Elizabeth. But this town now has between 84,000 and 85,000 inhabitants. I have not the exact figures as we have not had a census since 1931, but I think that is the best estimate that can be made and it is one with which I believe the Lord Chancellor will agree.

The great advantage which accrues by reason of the town having its own quarter sessions is that it relieves the county quarter sessions of quite a lot of work. The noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor was good enough to refer to Dorset. He said that in 1948 forty-one cases were tried at quarter sessions there, thirty-one others being tried at Poole. In the county we sit normally as two courts, which gives us about seven days' work, sitting to try people charged with indictable offences. To that must now be added the very considerable number of times that we sit as an appeal committee, either to sentence people sent to us for that purpose or to try appeals. I anticipate that we shall sit as an appeal committee on at least one Monday a month—it will have to be Monday if I am chairman, because of my having to come to this House. If, in addition to that, we have our work increased by threesevenths—I am working on the relationship of thirty-one to forty-one—I do not know how we shall get a quorum of magistrates to be able properly to fulfil that number of sittings.

I believe, as the noble and learned Viscount who sits on the Woolsack believes, that all sections of the population should be represented on a bench. I do not mind to which political Parties people belong, but I believe that the ordinary wage-earner should be represented on the bench just as much as persons like myself. It is not easy for those men to carry out their duties. I was talking to one of my colleagues on the bench last Wednesday. He had had to take a day off in order to sit and he did not get paid for his time. I must say that I should have thought he might be paid. He said that it would be a matter of extreme difficulty for arrangements of that kind to be made because he is employed by British Railways, and he could not very well make representations right up through the usual channels to have his time off allowed. That is a difficulty which I can well understand in the case of a vast organisation of that sort.

I believe that we should retain a court like the Poole Quarter Sessions because it is our only alternative court in the county of Dorset. If we space the two courts as they ought to be spaced, the Poole Quarter Sessions coming midway between the county quarter sessions, those cases in which magistrates have not been able to accede to requests for bail will not have to wait two and a half or perhaps three months before the man comes to trial. Even in the case where bail is given, we can deal with the case more quickly, and no man likes to have a case hanging over his head for a long time. These are the practical reasons why in my view we ought to retain the recorderships in towns like Poole. Their abolition would place too much strain on the magistrates. It is recognised that the chairman and deputy chairman are not normally required to sit, because they have appeal jurisdiction, but the other justices who help the court of quarter sessions are sitting in their petty sessional courts once a fortnight or once a week. If we take away too many recorders from the large towns, we shall throw so big a burden on some of the magistrates' courts that we may endanger the system of lay magistrates and be thrown back on the Middlesex solution of having a highly-paid barrister sitting as chairman or deputy chairman of quarter sessions.

The provision with regard to county borough status seems to be most unfortunate, because everybody who has studied local authority affairs knows that many big towns are pressing to be county boroughs, and in some cases—again I have Dorset particularly in mind—when a town becomes a county borough such a large rateable area of the county is taken away that it ruins the rest of the county and the county cannot carry on. That was recognised by the Local Government Boundary Commission, which is being abolished. If we take away their recorderships and courts of quarter sessions, that will be another incentive for these large towns to press for county borough status. For myself I hope that we shall go back to something about the 25,000 population figure which was suggested in the Roche Report. I think there is a very strong case for boroughs such as Luton, Cambridge—about which I was going to say a word if that had not been said so well by the noble Lord, Lord Calverley—and Poole, every one of which would have been a new county borough if the recommendations of the Boundary Commission had been put into effect.

Some of the tiny recorderships which have hardly more than one or two cases a year might certainly be abolished without any hardship to anyone, but where there is a court that is dealing with a good many cases and relieving the quarter sessions of the county, there is no earthly reason, unless we want to go in for the kind of completely methodical system which the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, would adopt throughout the whole range of our activities, why we cannot preserve a number of these ancient courts. When I heard the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, speaking, I wondered whether he did not feel most depressed when walking round his own garden and saw the flowers of all different sorts and colours. God was not at all methodical in making flowers and the noble Lord must be upset in seeing that they are not all cast in the same pattern all over his garden. We have a wonderful pattern in our ancient institutions in this England of ours, and unless there is a really good reason for destroying these flowers of our ancient civilisation I hope they will escape the executioner's axe.

I want to mention something which nobody else has yet mentioned and which I hope can be done in this Bill. We could take this opportunity of doing something for the Isle of Wight. Since 1890 the Isle of Wight has been an administrative county, but it was not given a court of quarter sessions and a separate commission of the peace. All cases from the Isle of Wight have to be tried at Winchester Quarter Sessions. There is a Governor of the Isle of Wight, but the custos rotulorum of the Isle of Wight is the Lieutenant for the County of Southampton. The County Council of the Isle of Wight are asking for a separate quarter sessions and a separate commission of the peace, and there seems to me very little reason for depriving them of these rights, which every other administrative county has. From a practical point of view it means that in every case everybody has to come over the Solent and up to Winchester. If a case is tried at a later hour, or if there is a fog in the Solent, as often happens in winter, the people concerned cannot get back to their homes that night. This equally applies to people who come from the Isle of Wight to act as jurors at Winchester. Surely it is time that this anomaly should be put right, and I hope we shall do it in this measure.

I was a little surprised to hear the noble Lord, Lord Raglan, say that a completely new principle was embodied in Clause 2 of this measure. Certainly, in any court that I have ever been in, I have never had a member of the local authority on the bench when his own office was involved in a case. If it happens, as it happens in my own case, that the justices' clerk is also the clerk of the county council, we take the trouble to get an outside justices' clerk to sit under the bench to advise us on any point of law when a case is heard involving the county council. We have always done that, and I thought it was a case of following the old principle that justice should be seen to be done as well as be done. If the offender in the box sees the chairman of the health committee sitting on the bench when the prosecution is being conducted by one of the officers of the health committee, that does not commend itself to him; and it is much better that that magistrate should not sit. I am glad that provision is being made in this Bill to that effect.

Of course, we cannot cater for all cases which the noble Lord mentioned. We cannot provide in an Act of Parliament that if a man is chairman of the local branch of the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals he shall not sit when one of his officers is prosecuting somebody for cruelty to an animal. In most cases I feel that the man himself would say: "I am not going to sit on this case, because this is a society in which I am known to take a great interest, and I have something to do with the appointment of these officers." If the man did not himself say it, one would hope that the chairman of the bench would say: "I do not think you ought to be on the bench in this case." But you cannot put all those cases in an Act of Parliament. Where one can clearly define a case where more people are concerned than in the kind of case I have quoted then I for one welcome its insertion in this Bill.

I am sorry that we are still to have the chairmen of urban district councils and rural district councils as magistrates. A lot of them come just for a year, I do not believe it is right to appoint magistrates ex officio in that way. Indeed I would apply that to mayors as well. If they are the sort of people who would make good magistrates, then let them be created magistrates; and, rightly, they should come more to notice from having held the office of mayor or chairman of the urban district council. You can sometimes see a kind of judicial temperament in a man presiding over an urban district council. If a man has that temperament, by all means let him be appointed as a magistrate later; but do not let him be appointed while he is carrying out some completely different kind of job for which he has been elected.

I should have liked to see recorders and stipendiaries all appointed by the Lord Chancellor—I think the Home Office appointment is an anomaly that we can well get rid of—and in the end it would mean not only better appointments, but a saving of staff. In the Lord Chancellor's office a list of people suitable for all sorts of appointments would be kept, and it would be unnecessary to keep a second list in the Home Office. For myself, I am doubtful—although this is not a provision of the Bill of the advantage in some country districts of having whole-time clerks. It is a great advantage to the people in this country to have an office open all the time in normal business hours. If you are going to have whole-time clerks of the courts you have to open county offices in different parts of a rural county (I am not talking now about a large town where there is enough work for the clerk to do) where there is not enough work to warrant the offices being kept open. I think it is a good thing that a person wishing to issue a summons can go at any time to see the clerk to the justices, and not to find a notice saying, "This office is open only on Thursday," which means that a man who comes in on market day, on the Wednesday, has to make a fresh visit to the town on the Thursday to find the office open. With regard to the qualifications of the clerk, although I can well see that it is not a bad thing to have the solicitor or barrister qualification enlarged by having a man who has for ten years served as a clerk in a stipendiary court, I think when you are dealing with assistants to those clerks—men who have no practical experience in the courts—the definition is rather too wide.

We have been a long time discussing this measure, and I do not want to detain your Lordships any longer, other than to say this. On the whole, as has been said before, we on these Benches welcome this Bill. We will do all we can to co-operate with the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack to improve the Bill, and I hope it will be a completely agreed measure before it is given a Third Reading. With that end in view, possibly we shall be able to discuss some of these matters in private, as well as on the floor of the House, as is so often done with success. Although there are some points which we hope, and, indeed, expect, to see altered in the Bill, we wish it every success and all speed.

6.17 p.m.


My Lords, I am grateful to your Lordships for the reception which, on the whole, this Bill has received. Occasionally it has been either "damned with faint praise" or "praised with faint damns," but, on the whole, I think all your Lordships realise that the broad principle of the Bill is one which commands support. I would like to assure your Lordships with regard to all the points that have been mentioned that if I do not deal with them now it is not that I have forgotten them. I shall certainly look at them very carefully, together with my advisers, and I shall be prepared to deal with them in Committee, or, if necessary, in our talks together before the Committee stage. While I think of it, may I say two things to the noble Lord, Lord Raglan. First of all, he raised the question which excited some interest recently in the Press—at least, so I understand from the noble Lord—about the removal of a magistrate. He regretted that there was not something in the Bill about it. The reason why there is nothing in the Bill about it is because the law is absolutely clear. It is stated in paragraph 95 of the Report of the du Parcq Commission. The noble Lord can take it from me that it is clear beyond argument. The Report says: Justices who are appointed by being named in commissions of the peace hold their office 'at pleasure'; the Lord Chancellor may, as a matter of law, cause a name to be removed at his absolute discretion. There is no shadow of doubt about that. It is, of course, a discretion which one exercises with caution. One may make mistakes.


I hope the noble and learned Viscount will not think I was criticising. I had no intention of doing that.


No. I only say that I do exercise that right with great caution, and if I make up my mind that there is a case for the exercise of that discretion, then I must exercise it. The other point the noble Lord raised was in regard to Clause 2 of the Bill and the disqualification of magistrates who are members of local authorities from sitting on cases in which those local authorities are concerned. Oddly enough the whole legal position in regard to this matter is very doubtful. I asked the du Parcq Commission to clear it up. What they say about it is to be found in paragraph 129 of their Report. It there says: Local authorities and their committees and officials are responsible for bringing a number of proceedings before magistrates' courts, and on occasion these bodies and officials may be defendants. A justice who is a member of an authority is in some instances disqualified from adjudicating in such a case, whilst in other instances the legal position is doubtful. In our view the rule should be simple and intelligible… And they then gave the recommendation which is carried out in Clause 2. At least there is nothing to be said for continuing a system in which the legal position as to whether you are or are not qualified to sit is doubtful. All of us who are judges have from time to time to consider whether we will sit in a particular case or not. We either know the people, or we have given judgment in a similar case or something of that sort. For myself, this is the invariable rule which I apply. Whenever a question arises in my mind as to whether I ought to sit or not, the answer is always "No." By that I mean that if you have the slightest doubt about whether you ought to sit or not, do not sit. I am sure that is a wise principle, and if I were a member of the local authority and the local authority were bringing a case, I should not sit, whether I had a right to sit or not. In fact, there appears to be considerable doubt about that.

The noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, raised the question of stipendiaries. I am not going to say whether I should appoint them or the Home Secretary should do so. In London, as I have said before, a different consideration applies as compared to the country. But the du Parcq Commission considered that matter also, and in paragraph 233 of their Report, under the heading "Salaries," they said: The charging of the salaries of stipendiaries to national funds would infringe the present principle… That is to say, the principle that the cost of the administration of justice is local. Though I confess I thought there was some substance in what the noble Lord said about the position, all I can say for the moment is that I will see that it is looked into. Then I come to the delightful intervention of the noble Earl, Lord Wavell, which made me wish that all legal controversy in this House were conducted by soldiers. He and the right reverend Prelate, the Bishop of Winchester, joined in making a plea for Winchester; and though I was not educated at Winchester School, I do owe allegiance to William of Wykeham, my predecessor in this great office, and if there is anything I can do to help Winchester, within proper limits, I am very ready to do so. So far as the petty sessional bench is concerned, I should like to point out that there will be no alteration. There the justices will sit and foregather just as they always did; they will still sit in the same room and they will still see the same faces. The only difference will be that they will now become justices for the county instead of justices for the borough, and the area of their jurisdiction will be rather larger than heretofore. Therefore, I do not think they need be the least concerned about that. I will say a word with regard to quarter sessions in a moment.

The noble Earl appealed to me also about Colchester, and made me realise how badly paid is the Lord Steward there. I had moving pleas about Cambridge; I heard something about Poole; and had the debate gone on much longer I should have heard much more about many other places. That leads me to reflect that the way of the reformer is rather hard. No doubt everybody will raise a local argument for or against their own borough being dealt with in the Bill, and no doubt one must do everything to preserve the esprit de corps of these towns and do away with the "nationalisation" which the noble Lord, Lord Merthyr, has threatened to have in his garden. He does not plant calceolarias on his lawn—he puts them in beds, if he has calceolarias.

This leads me to say something about the problem of quarter sessions. What I care about very greatly indeed is the abolition of the various petty sessions. I am absolutely confident that if I had that, I should be able to obtain, by and large, a better administration of justice. Frankly, I do not regard the doing away with quarter sessions as nearly as important. But if anybody wants to appeal to me, I am always available. Of course, I am making no promises. There are very many difficulties about removing the separate petty sessional divisions. It was the fact that you had at Tenterden your petty sessional division. You had your Recorder of Tenterden, who hears appeals from what? From the petty sessional division of Tenterden. If you are to do away with the petty sessional division of Tenterden, the Recorder is left in the air, and there is nothing from which he can hear appeals nor from which cases can be committed to him.

It is, however, possible that we might, in certain cases, use Recorders as a kind of trace horse, lest the quarter sessions for the county become too clogged with work. We may be able to send certain work off to certain quarter sessions. If that is right—and I am only thinking aloud for the moment—the test would have to be: To what extent are the quarter sessions really being used? I believe the logical and the right thing to do is what we have done in the Bill. I am bound to say that if we depart from that clear principle, I am afraid we shall get into considerable difficulties. Therefore, I hope your Lordships will not press these hard cases unduly but will rest satisfied with the broad general principles: that, by and large, this is all pro bono publico. There are only a few other questions with which I will deal at this late hour. May I mention the words used by the noble Viscount, Lord Templewood? He wanted to have these courts called "magistrates' courts." I think that is a good phrase, but the trouble is that at the present time they are called various other names by various Statutes. For instance, the Metropolitan Police Court Act, 1839, calls them the "Metropolitan Police Courts," and the Summary Jurisdiction Acts call them "Courts of Summary Jurisdiction." I think some other Acts call them "Police Courts." I like the words "Magistrates' Courts" better than any of those names, and if, without getting the draftsmen into too great difficulties, I get a chance of considering that problem, I will certainly consider it, and consider it sympathetically.

That leads me to say something about the Summary Jurisdiction Acts. I will now reveal to your Lordships the programme which I have mapped out, which is this. I want to take the Summary Jurisdiction Acts and divide them into two parts. They do fall into two parts. There is the part which deals with procedure, which sets out by statutory provision what to-day in the High Court we should set out by rule. There are other parts which deal with substantive law apart from procedural law. The first task—and it is a very large task—is to try to divide the Summary Jurisdiction Acts into two, putting on one side the procedural part and on the other side the substantive law, consolidate the substantive law and bring in a Bill setting up a Rules Committee. It would have to be rather carefully composed—the Lord Chancellor, the Lord Chief Justice and various other people, as we have in the High Court rules committee—to amend and alter the rules from time to time. We should obtain by that means a flexible system. When we found troubles arising we should alter the rules; and that, I believe, is the way to do it. It is not that I am in the least opposed to the idea of a rules committee. I think the idea is plainly right, and I am sorry I forgot to mention it in my opening speech—it was an error of omission. But I have gone into this matter rather carefully and I believe that that is the right way in which to deal with it. I could not possibly undertake to prepare a set of draft rules for this purpose within the next few months. I think we must let the Bill go in this form, but I will promise your Lordships that this is a project which I have very close to my heart.


I hope the Lord Chancellor is not implying in what he says that he has set aside the idea of a provision in this Bill enabling a statutory body and the necessary rules committee to be set up. I am anxious, and so are many of my noble friends, that before we part with this Bill there should be a definite provision in it saying that a rules committee is going to be set up.


The reason why that is not in the Bill is that I had thought, and had been advised, that the other was the better way in which to deal with it. But I will certainly bear in mind the noble Viscount's wishes. The noble Lord also asked about the training scheme, and he seemed a little upset because the Bill contained nothing about it. The reason why the Bill contains nothing about it is that we were going to carry out this training scheme by administrative means. I want to get the Magistrates' Association to prepare model schemes; I want these schemes then to be considered by the various magistrates courts' committees; I want to get the schemes put into operation by the magistrates' committees and then to make it plain that when I appoint a magistrate who has had no judicial experience I will ask him if he will undertake the task of going through this training scheme. I will give him every encouragement I can so to do. On the other hand, it was probably undesirable to make that a definitely statutory requirement; but if a magistrate does not trouble to do this, then of course it is always within my power to see that he is removed from the bench. I intend to do all I can to encourage these training schemes. The only thing I can have in this Bill is power to pay the expenses which magistrates incur in going in for the training. The whole of the rest I can do by administrative action, and that is how I intend to do it.

Much has been said with regard to the retention of ex officio justices. If I may say so, those of your Lordships who are objecting to it on the ground that these justices will be "here to-day and gone to-morrow" and therefore not able to gain much by training, would be in a stronger position when the training schemes are in full swing and we can point with pride to the justices who have gone through the scheme. You will then be able to say, "These people have had all this training but the others have not." I am sure that you would be on stronger ground. However, I quite agree that on this question of ex officio magistrates there is room for differences of opinion which may have to be settled in a normal way.

The noble Lord also asked me what was the position with regard to the politics of magistrates. I have tried to make it plain what my view is. I propounded my view to the Commission, and the Commission deal with this matter in paragraphs 74 and 75 in connection with advisory committees and also with the question of the appointment of justices. What they say exactly represents my view. It seems to me that some people tend to place this question of politics on the bench in a much more important position than is justified. There are several Lords Lieutenant here who will be listening to what I say. I believe that the best way to get rid of politics from the administration of justice is to make it clear that every Party has a fair chance of getting representatives on the bench. Once you have done that, I think you can forget politics. It is, in my experience, the rarest thing—I have hardly ever known a case in which I have even suspected it—for political bias to come into the matter. I should like to read to your Lordships a document I wrote myself which I sent round to various advisory committees, explaining what I wanted them to do. This document was put before the Royal Commission and I think they accepted it. This is the statement which I sent: The Lord Chancellor cannot emphasise too often or too emphatically that the first and much the most important consideration in the selection and appointment of justices is that the candidates should be personally suitable in point of character, integrity and understanding and should be generally recognised as such by those among whom they live and work. He assumes, as indeed he must assume, that only persons who are so qualified are recommended to him by the advisory committee and he will not, in any circumstances, approve the appointment of individuals in regard to whom these desiderata are not fully satisfied. It follows from this that a special responsibility rests with every member of the Committee who commends a name for appointment, to satisfy himself or herself as to the character, qualities, capacity and antecedents of the candidate in question. Subject always to the overriding consideration mentioned above, Lord Jowitt is of opinion that it is impracticable to disregard political affiliations in making appointments. Once an adequate number of suitable persons is available it is of the very greatest importance (a) that they should be drawn from all sections of the community so as to represent a microcosm or cross-section of all shades of opinion, and (b) that there should be no over-weighting in favour of any one section of the community in the matter of magisterial appointments. In carrying out the duty entrusted to him by the Crown the Lord Chancellor finds that political affiliations are a convenient guide to follow but this does not in the least imply that he will only appoint persons who are known to be adherents of a particular political Party. Persons of no known political affiliations or those who are known to be independent of any political Party are included in his appointments. Lord Jowitt wishes, in this connection, to direct the attention of the advisory committee to two quotations with the tenor of which he finds himself in close agreement and sympathy. In a speech in the House of Lords on April 22, 1907, the then Marquess of Lansdowne said: 'I regret as much as the noble and learned Lord regrets that in the result it should prove to be the case that so enormous a preponderance of magistrates in some counties should be drawn from one political Party rather than the other. This is a political misfortune, but it would be a still greater misfortune, if, in order to redress the disparity, incompetent persons were appointed recklessly and in a wholesale manner.' I entirely agree with that. It was a political misfortune that in those days the benches were staffed almost entirely with Conservatives; but it would have been a much worse thing to try to remedy that misfortune by pushing in a number of rather second-rate people who held different political opinions.

The next quotation comes from Lord Sankey in 1932, when he said: It is wrong in my opinion, to regard the office (of Justice of the Peace) as one suitable to be conferred upon persons as a reward for services rendered. It is now fully recognised that the magisterial bench should be fairly recruited from all Parties in the State. That is necessary, not only in the interests of justice, but in order to create confidence in its administration. Local or political service is not by itself any qualification for appointment to the bench, although it is true that the publicity of public life may afford some material upon which to estimate the fitness of a person for magisterial work. Neither is the fact that one political Party in a certain area may have met with considerable success in political or municipal elections a ground for immediately appointing to the bench a large batch of supporters of that Party for the purpose of redressing what has been described as 'the balance.' In remedying one evil it is necessary to avoid the creation of another: and in my opinion overcrowded benches are not consistent with the dignity with which justice should be administered. I hardly think that anybody who had the experience of opening the Lord Chancellor's post bag day after day and seeing the sort of complaints which are made—not from one Party but from all three Parties, or, should I say, "four Parties"; at any rate, from all Parties—could possibly think that you can take the line of disregarding politics altogether. That indeed would be yourself to live in an ivory tower. What you can do is to see that politics do not intrude unduly, to see that they are regarded as wholly secondary elements and to see that, so far as possible, you prevent any body of people having the idea, rightly or wrongly, that because they hold certain political views they are excluded from the bench. If you do that, I entirely believe that you will find that in the administration of justice politics will play no part. To that extent, and to that extent only, am I allowing politics to influence appointment at all, and, in doing so, I am acting in accord with the views of the majority of the Royal Commission. The document I have read to your Lordships as my statement, as my principia, is a document which I put before them and is a document which they endorsed. I have nothing further to add for the moment. If I have left out many points that have been raised in the discussion, I can assure your Lordships that I shall give them all careful consideration.

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