§ 4.43 p.m.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (VISCOUNT KILMUIR)
My Lords, I rise to move that this Bill be now read a second time. Before I pass to the business now before your Lordships, I should like to lake this opportunity of drawing attention to the loss which this House has suffered in the death of Lord Somervell of Harrow. At the sitting of the Appellate Committee I said something of his legal qualities, which I shall not repeat except to say that they were of a very high order.
I wish to remind your Lordships of a very great legislative achievement of which he was not the least of the architects. Organising a strong and freedom-loving democracy for war is no easy task. There must be a legal basis for the thousand-and-one administrative decisions at home which must be taken at once. The complications and consequent labour enormously increase when that democracy is the centre and mainspring of a far-flung Commonwealth composed of both independent realms and dependent territories. Yet a very high proportion of the necessary powers were so well thought out that they were brought into legal operation by the Emergency Powers (Defence) Act within a matter of hours at the beginning of the last war. Moreover, even in the initial clash ca arms the laws were not entirely silent, because it was possible throughout the ever-increasing pressure of war to invite the courts to say that the Defence Regulations or the Orders made under them wereultra viresor not made in good faith, and were so void.
In this formidable piece of legislation Lord Somervell of Harrow played a great part—as always, quietly, but with that unruffled but unbreakable deter-ruination of purpose which was Characteristic. When I joined him eighteen months after the beginning of the war, the machinery was working well, and took the strain of being geared to the increasing tempo of the conflict. Even after twenty years, I do not think that we should let his work pass without a shaft of memory. Time does not let 958 me recall the many duties which he undercook—for art and for his old school, for example—outside his judicial life, the store of unexpected reading which made his conversation a delight as, indeed, the charm of his friendship. It is enough to say that many will always remember them. My noble friend the Leader of the House has asked me to say that he associates himself with what it has fallen to me to say, and regrets that he cannot be present.
My Lords, this Bill is, in its way, an important one, but it is happily free from the technicalities so often associated with the words "Administration of Justice". Unlike the Bill with a similar title which I had to commend to your Lordships last Session, this Bill is not concerned with the mysteries of procedural law, but with two readily understood questions of administration. Its main object is to allow for an increase in the number of Judges, both of the Court of Appeal and of the High Court. Secondly, it makes some modifications in the pension provisions applicable to the metropolitan magistrates, Masters of the Supreme Court and certain other judicial officers.
Clause 1 of the Bill authorises the appointment of six more puisne Judges of the High Court and three more Lords Justices of Appeal. For very good reasons, Parliament always looks closely at any proposal to increase the numbers of our higher Judiciary; and, as the Minister principally responsible, I share the anxiety of Parliament that no such increase should be made unless it can be shown to be necessary. Your Lordships may be assured that I would not now be moving the Second Reading of this Bill unless I were convinced that the increases for which the Bill provides are really required.
I start with the Judges of the High Court. Under the present law, the maximum number of High Court Judges is forty-two, and there are in fact forty-two Judges now in office. Of these forty-two six are assigned to the Chancery Division, twenty-seven to the Queen's Bench Division and nine to the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division. It is mainly in the latter two Divisions that there is need for more Judges; and, in particular, the pressure on the Queen's Bench Division has 959 become such that recently my noble and learned friend the Lord Chief Justice has represented to me the need for an immediate addition to its strength. As your Lordships are aware, the Judges of the Queen's Bench Division try not only Common Law civil actions, but also many serious criminal cases at Assizes and in London. The volume of crime has, as we all know, increased enormously, but it is not only because there are more cases to try that the time of the Judges is more and more occupied by crime. In the last few years there has been a higher proportion of complicated and involved trials. Your Lordships will have no difficulty in remembering a number of recent trials for fraud, each one of which has occupied the court for several weeks.
Within the last year, the volume of criminal work at Assizes has been such that I have found it necessary to appoint Commissioners of Assize, who are not Judges, on many more occasions than I consider desirable. For example, during this year I have already had to make eleven such appointments, and there was an equal number in 1959. These Commissioners are in nearly all cases leading members of the Bar, in heavy practice, and their appointment as Commissioners, often at short notice, must of necessity be prejudicial, both to the interests of their clients and to the smooth running of the courts before whom they were due to appear. Besides—and this is really of greater importance—a criminal trial which is of sufficient gravity to be heard at Assizes ought to be tried by one of Her Majesty's Judges and not by a, barrister. Where possible, additional Judges have been sent out from London, and in fact during both the autumn and the winter Assizes of last year faux such Judges were sent to help with the despatch of business at Assizes. But, as I am sure your Lordships will realise, this is only robbing Peter to pay Paul, because Judges can be absent from London only at the expense of business in the High Court there. What is more, the greater number of criminal trials is reflected in more appeals to the Court of Criminal Appeal and these appeals are heard by Queen's Bench Judges in London. Obviously, the greater the time that is occupied by their duties in the 960 Court of Criminal Appeal, the less time the Judges can devote to the ordinary civil business of the High Court.
In fact the volume of civil business is also increasing. At the beginning of this term the number of actions for trial in the Queen's Bench Division in London was 90 more than it was at the corresponding time last year—the figures are 828 and 738. On circuit, the Judges (even with the assistance which I have mentioned) have on too many occasions found themselves unable to dispose of the civil cases in their lists, which have had to go over from one Assize to the next. I should not like your Lordships to think that no efforts have been made to stop this happening; on the contrary, my noble and learned friend the Lord Chief Justice has done all that he can. For example, a special spring Assize was held at Durham this year. Nevertheless, the delays in the despatch of civil business have been such that I have received a number of complaints from litigants, the legal profession and the Trades Union Congress. I hope that what I have said has satisfied your Lordships that there is a pressing need for more Judges in the Queen's Bench Division.
I now turn to the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division. Here, there has been no sudden increase in business. In fact, the number of divorce suits is now reasonably constant at between 26,000 and 28,000 a year; but there was a startling increase in the years after the war and, as I am sure your Lordships will remember, my predecessors found themselves compelled to deal with that increase by appointing a number of Special Commissioners who sit more or less permanently to try defended cases. I have managed to reduce the numbers of Commissioners to some extent, but the present divorce rate is still such that the Judges of the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division could not cope with their lists without some assistance, and in fact there are four Special Divorce Commissioners who still sit regularly. The use of Commissioners was never intended to be a permanent institution and their retention was severely criticised in the Report of the Royal Commission on Marriage and Divorce, of which my noble and learned friend, Lord Morton of Henryton, was Chairman. I apprehend that your Lordships will agree with me 961 that the time has now come for their gradual replacement. I emphasise the word "gradual", because I would not wish your Lordships to receive the impression that as soon as the Bill is passed I shall recommend to Her Majesty the immediate appointment of four more Judges to that Division. My intention is to make these appointments over a period of time.
Finally, there is the Chancery Division. Although at present the six Judges assigned to the Chancery Division are able lo dispose of the business coming before them, I feel it my duty to point out to the House that there are signs of an increase in this business, that one of these six Judges is fully engaged in patent work, and another is a Judge of the Restrictive Practices Court, to which he has to devote much of his time. It is, therefore, within the bounds of possibility that before very long there will be a need for another Judge in this Division.
I now come to the position in the Court of Appeal. Under the present law the number of ordinary Judges of that Court—whom we usually call "Lords Justices of Appeal"—is fixed at eight. My learned and noble friend Lord Evershed, the Master of the Rolls, sits regularly in the Court of Appeal as its President, so there are in practice nine Judges available, and this enables the Court to sit in three Divisions of three Judges each. Subsection (2) of Clause 1 of the Bill provides that the number of ordinary Judges is in future to be not less than eight nor more than eleven, and the object of this provision is to enable the Court of Appeal to sit regularly in four Divisions.
May I explain to your Lordships why I consider that this provision is urgently needed? For some years the Court of Appeal has not been able to dispose of appeals at the rate at which they have been set down. The result has been that there has been a steady increase in the number of cases pending at the end of each year and this tendency has been apparent since 1954. For example, there were 96 cases pending at the end of that year; at the end of 1958, there were 180, and a year later the figure was 285. By July of this year it had grown to 351. Your Lordships will readily appreciate that the longer the list of pending appeals, 962 the longer the interval between the decision at first instance and the hearing before the Court of Appeal. In fact, to-day that interval is often twelve months or more, and I am sure the House will agree with me when I say that an interval of this length is intolerable and productive of real injustice both to appellants and to respondents.
The position is unsatisfactory not only because of the delays to which it leads. The present state of affairs means that the Court of Appeal is under constant pressure to get through its cases as speedily as possible. This is particularly undesirable in a Court which is, for the great majority of litigants, the final appellate tribunal and, as such, one which plays a most important part in the development of the law. It is essential to avoid giving any impression that the Court is more concerned with the state of the lists than with the full and mature consideration of the appeals which come before it.
The position would be oven worse than it is were it not for the fact that it has, from time to time, during the Last year been possible to convene a fourth Division of the Court of Appeal with the aid of noble and learned Lords from this House, of High Court Judges, and of retired members of the judiciary. But it is only in exceptional circumstances that this can be done and usually at, the expense of business in this House or in the High Court. For these reasons I submit to your Lordships that it is urgently necessary for provision to be made for a fourth Division of the Court of Appeal Which can sit regularly. The increase authorised by subsection (2) of Clause 1 will enable this to be done. Your Lordships will no doubt observe that the subsection does not require the strength of the Court of Appeal to be maintained at eleven ordinary Judges, so that if in the future the volume of business decreases and the fourth Division becomes unnecessary, it will always be possible to reduce the membership of the Court by leaving vacancies unfilled
My Lords, I have dwelt at some length on Clause 1 of the Bill because of its intrinsic importance. The remaining provisions of the Bill, although important to those principally concerned, are such that I can deal with them shortly.
963 Broadly speaking, they adjust the pensions provisions of certain members of the lower judiciary and other judicial officers so as to make the pension structure more equitable and more consistent. Clause 2 provides that the pension payable to a stipendiary magistrate shall be calculated on his final salary instead of his average salary over the last three years of his service. An averaging provision is suitable for a profession with a career-ladder structure such as the Civil Service, but appointment to the stipendiary bench is normally the final step in a forensic career and carries little prospect of promotion. Other comparable judicial offices carry pensions calculated on final salaries and there is no reason why stipendiary magistrates should not be treated in the same way.
Clause 3 modifies the pensions provisions applicable to Masters in the Supreme Court and certain other judicial officers who at present can earn their full pensions only after 25 years service. These officers are required by Statute to retire at the age of 72, though there is power to extend to 75 in exceptional cases. This means that to earn their full salaries they must have been appointed at the latest at the age of 47. But in practice, as I am sure my legal colleagues will agree, it is not often easy to find suitable candidates of that age, and the result has been that many of them are unable to qualify for full pensions before reaching retiring age. Moreover, they are worse off than any other judicial officers in this respect. The clause accordingly reduces their pension span to 20 years, which is the span applicable to stipendiary magistrates. The detailed provisions are contained in the First Schedule to the Bill.
Clause 4 modifies the pension provisions applicable to future holders of the office of Judge Advocate General. Under the clause, they will be able to elect between a Civil Service pension (as the present Judge Advocate General has done) and a pension on the same terms as are available to an Official Referee. The remaining clauses of the Bill contain the necessary financial and consequential provisions and I do not propose to trouble your Lordships with them.
My Lords, I hope, from what I have said, that I have made it clear to your 964 Lordships that the Bill is not only a useful but a necessary measure. The administration of justice, both civil and criminal, is always of importance, and I am very conscious of the old saying that justice delayed is justice denied. It is apparent that at present justice is being delayed, and I am sure that your Lordships will agree with me that we shall be doing no less than our duty in taking, as a matter of urgency, the steps which are necessary to bring this situation to an end. As to the remaining provisions of the Bill, I hope that I have shown to your Lordships that they cure some not altogether unimportant anomalies and injustices. I beg to move the Bill be now read a second time.
§ Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a. —(The Lord Chancellor.)
§ 5.3 p.m.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, I should like to begin by associating myself and my friends with the tribute which the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor has paid to the late Lord Somervell of Harrow. I remember him when I first entered another place, in 1935, as a very junior Member. He was then the Attorney General and all of us, on both sides of the House, regarded him with affection, as a charming, courteous and friendly gentleman. He was always accessible to the humblest Member in another place and always most courteous in dealing with any intervention that any of us made. In your Lordships House he was true to character, although he was not in the same position of taking an active part in our deliberations. I am sure that he must be a loss to his colleagues and I associate myself with the tribute that has been paid to him.
As the noble and learned Viscount has explained, this Bill is an urgent and vital measure for the administration of justice. In the view of litigants and practitioners, the position has become desperate. The delay in the hearing of actions is such that real hardship is being caused to many litigants, particularly to those—and they constitute a large proportion of the total number; something like 40 to 45 per cent. at the present time—who are involved in actions for personal injuries. They are the people who can least afford the delay yet they are serious victims of it. The noble and learned Viscount 965 gave some instances of the number of cases that are pending hearing. I should like to refer broadly to the time it takes at the present moment to get an action heard. From such information as I have been able to gather, in a normal, simple case it takes, from the time of issue of a writ to the time of bearing, anything from eighteen months to two years. If, unhappily, an appeal becomes necessary, I have been told that it may well be another twelve months before that appeal can be heard. So it may well turn out that from the date of the issue of the writ to the date when an appeal is heard and decided, three years might elapse. That is a complete denial of justice. And I am very glad that action is being taken along the lines which the noble and learned Viscount has set out.
I presume that the appointment of two additional Judges will make a difference. I wonder how much difference the noble and learned Viscount thinks it is going to make. Will it curtail the period by two months or three months? Is it possible to give some estimate? I have had inquiries made to see how this period of about two years which elapses before an action can be heard is broadly constituted. I am told that the period from the date of the issue of a writ to the setting down of the action for hearing may be anything from nine months to a year, and that from the date of setting down to the date of hearing may be another nine or twelve months. As the noble and learned Viscount knows, it is now possible to get a date fixed, once an action has been set down: and a date is normally given for the hearing anything from nine to twelve months ahead. I imagine that by the appointment of additional Judges that particular period can be curtailed, and, as I say, I should be interested to know what the estimate is of the curtailment.
As I have indicated, however, at least half the period between the issue of a writ and the date of hearing is taken up by the preliminary or interlocutory proceedings. If we are to reduce the period in which actions can be heard, it is important to look at that period as well. This matter has been the subject of examination from time to time. The last time it was examined was by a Committee which was appointed in April, 1947, presided over by the noble and learned 966 Lord, Lord Evershed. They sat for six years and presented three Interim Reports, followed by a Final Report in 1953. This Committee performed a colossal task. I need only mention that, apart from the three Interim Reports, the Final Report contained 923 paragraphs, with 13 Appendices and a summary of recommendations of 223 paragraphs. So far as I know, this Report has never been discussed by your Lordships House, and the noble and learned Lord has never been formally thanked by your Lordships. I should like to take this opportunity of being the first to thank him and his Committee for the extraordinary job that they have done. Six years is, on any calculation, a big slice of one's life, and for them to have devoted six years of their lives to this question of Supreme Court practice and procedure is something for which we all ought to be extremely grateful.
This Committee took a good deal of evidence. I think that among the witnesses who appeared before the Committee was the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor, and his predecessor, the noble and learned Viscount, Lord Simonds, many others who are famous in the world of law, and others, again, outside the law. A good many of the Committee's recommendations have been considered and accepted. I may say, in passing, that the main purpose of the Committee was to consider how the cost of litigation, could be reduced. But I think they would be the first to agree that costs and the time which an action takes to be heard go more or less together, and that if you can reduce the costs you ipso facto reduce the period in which a case is heard: because the only way to reduce the costs, short of reducing the remuneration of practitioners, which at the present time is quite unthinkable, is to simplify the procedure.
There were a good many recommendations made by the Committee for the simplification of procedure and for the general speeding up of processes connected with litigation. I am not going into details of the work of this Committee or their recommendations—indeed, it would be quite inappropriate under this measure—but there are one or two that I think are worth mentioning. One is their recommendation that there is considerable delay in connection with 967 vacations. At the present time any proceeding which overlaps the long vacation completely dies for a period of nine or ten weeks. You may say that, to all intents and purposes, all litigation dies during that period of nine or ten weeks, from the time the courts rise at the end of July until they resume in October. lf, for instance (I hope the House will pardon me for going into these small details, but I think they are important) a person is required to deliver a pleading within fourteen days from July 18, in practice he need not deliver it until some time in October, because time does not run during the whole of August and September. It is true that the Committee recommended that only the month of August should not count and that a person should be required to deliver pleadings or take other steps in the month of September. But this has not been acted upon, although it is one of the recommendations.
Incidentally, although I am sure this would be a most unpopular thing to suggest to members of the legal profession and to judges, I see no reason why the courts should not sit in the month of September. Judges are entitled to have a holiday in the month of August. But why cannot the courts sit in September, even if only on an attenuated scale, so that judges could take longer holidays one year and sit on a sort of rota system from one year to another? If they worked at three-quarters or two-thirds pressure, at least the courts would be sitting during the month of September. I know there is a vacation court to deal with emergency matters. If anything unforeseen happens, such as the requirement to get an injunction, you can go to the vacation court and get it. But that is not quite what I have in mind. I think it is worth considering whether it would not be possible for the courts to sit more as a matter of regularity in the month of September, even if only a limited amount of work is done.
The Committee also recommended the extention of the county court jurisdiction. That has been done, and I hope that the result has been successful. County courts can now deal with cases involving up to a maximum of £400. But would it not be possible to increase that limit once more? There has been considerable experience of the workings of county courts; they 968 are working extremely satisfactorily. You enter your summons and you are given a date eight to ten weeks ahead. The parties are expected to be ready for trial within that period; and they are, and the case is dealt with. Noble and learned Lords who have to deal with appeals from the county courts will be able to judge for themselves whether the work of the county courts is satisfactory or not, but my own impression, from what I have been able to gather from my practitioner friends, is that the county courts are working extremely well. If we could extend the jurisdiction of the county court, we could relieve the High Court of a great deal of work. And I may say, incidentally, that since the remuneration of a county court judge is only half that of a High Court Judge, we can afford to increase the number of county court judges far more readily than the number of High Court Judges; and if by extending the jurisdiction we needed more county court judges, the problem would be much simpler.
I feel that this Report on Supreme Court Practice and Procedure is of the utmost importance, and but for the fact that it is now seven and a half years old it would be worthy of a full debate in this House. The Government have had this Report before them for this long period—I do not suggest for one moment that it has been put on the shelf, because a great many of the recommendations, presumably, have been acted upon—and it would interesting if we could be informed as to which of the recommendations have been acted upon; which have not been acted upon, and the reasons for that; and whether it would not be timely now, in the light of changed circumstances since the Committee was in session from 1947 to 1953, to have another look at the proceedings of the High Court and see whether the particular aspect to which I am referring could be further improved.
I have already mentioned the possibility of increasing the number of county courts and the question of the vacations, and there are numerous other points referred to in the Report. If the noble and learned Viscount thought it right, I think it would be well worth while having another look at the whole of High Court procedure to-day to see whether we can carry this matter a stage further. In my own view, the maximum 969 period from the date of the issue of the writ to the time when an action is laid should not be more than nine months. I think nine months is quite long enough. At the present time it might be anything up to two years. As I have said, in the county court you get a return day of eight to ten weeks and the cases are disposed of. Perhaps it would be asking too much to suggest that the High Court should be as expeditious as that, but we still have a long way to go before we can get the time down even to the nine months I have suggested. We shall have to do far more than appoint two High Court Judges. Certainly that is a step in the right direction, and I strongly support it. But I do not think it goes anything like far enough to deal with the evil to which the noble and learned Viscount has himself referred, and that, I am sure, every Member of this House who has any experience of litigation will support.
Finally, on the question of the pensions to which the noble and learned Viscount referred in his speech, I would say that any improvement in the conditions of Masters of the High Court and others will always find a ready echo in my own heart, and I welcome them as far as they go. I believe there has been some criticism in another place that in certain respects they do not go far enough. I think the position of the Masters of the Supreme Court has been referred to. I should like to leave that until a later stage, when we might have a further discussion on the Bill. In the meantime, my own position is that I welcome this Bill. It does not go anything like far enough to deal with the evil, and I hope the noble and learned Viscount will agree that the whole question of High Court procedure should be looked at again, and also tell us whether we can, in the meantime, have an interim Report, possibly in the form of a White Paper, on the steps we have taken since 1953 to improve the procedure.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, I should like to join with the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, and express my regret at the sad death of Lord Somervell of Harrow. I first came into contact with him some 23 years ago, when I was a member of a deputation to him pressing 970 for the institution by the then Conservative Government of a reform which we thought was both urgent and pressing. Needless to say, he did not accede to our request; in fact, it has not been acceded to yet. But he treated us with the utmost charm and courtesy. I have always remembered it as a very good example of how to turn down an embarrassing request in the happiest possible manner. He was in every way a most delightful man, so far as I was able to judge.
The noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack has indicated that civil work may increase. I think that is very likely, because there is an old saying that good times are bad for lawyers. There is something in that, because when times are good people do not want to waste time on litigation, and it may well be that if we are running into bad times—and there are indications that this is the case—then the law will become very active indeed. This Bill gives rise to certain reflections. I welcome it within the limits by which it is proscribed. The Lord Chancellor has been making a number of quiet reforms. He has extended legal aid right up to the House of Lords, and he has developed a scheme for the retirement of Judges of the House of Lords, the Court of Appeal and the High Court. Those appointed after the date of the Bill now retire at a certain age. He has for the first time in history—and this is a considerable step forward—appointed a solicitor to be a Metropolitan Magistrate. I hope that the noble and learned Viscount will not stop there, and that he will go on with the good work, because there are quite a number of legal reforms yet to be made.
The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has referred to the Long Vacation. I, too, fail to see why, in modern conditions, the Long Vacation is necessary. So far as I am aware, no other profession except Parliament and Parliamentarians (if we are a profession), and universities, have a Long Vacation. I can assure your Lordships that it is most difficult to explain to lay clients why the High Court should shut down for the long holiday in the summer. I quite understand that many years ago this was probably necessary. Travelling was difficult, and life was more leisurely. But that is not the case to-day, and I think this is 971 the sort of thing we ought to look at again in the light of modern conditions.
I myself have little experience of the Court of Chancery, but recently there has been some criticism in the legal papers of its procedure. It seems to have got into a very involved and intricate state. To laymen who are not able to appreciate the fine distinctions of the courts, it sometimes seems that they are engaged in a sort of legal square dance, where the music goes round and round but nothing much else happens. We know that this is not so, but I feel that a court like the Court of Chancery, which attracts very fine brains indeed, both of the Bar and of the Bench, rather tends, if it is not careful, to go into abstruse definitions and exact precedents, forgetting sometimes that the object of the exercise is justice—and speedy justice, as has been said both by the Lord Chancellor and the noble Lord, Lord Silkin.
I should like to say a word about the Court of Criminal Appeal, because this is affected by this Bill, although I believe that the noble and learned Viscount has not actually mentioned it. The Court of Criminal Appeal is also staffed, except for the noble and learned Lord, the Lord Chief Justice, by puisne Judges. I have never yet been able to see why this is so. It may have been, of course, because when the Court was first instituted there was a good deal of objection to it in some quarters; and it may be that it was done in this way so as not to involve great expense or to arouse any great hostility to it, as might have been the case if a separate Court had been set up. But I do not see why it is more necessary to have a separate Court of Appeal, with its own staff of Judges, in the case of civil actions than it is in criminal actions, where, after all, not merely property but life itself, or liberty, may be at stake. If there was a Court of Criminal Appeal with its own appellate Judges, it would release quite a number of puisne Judges for their work in courts of first instance.
I come to the question of ate field of selection of Judges. There are in this country some 20,000 practising lawyers. A little over 18,000 practise in the solicitors branch, and some 1,800 practise as barristers. All the Judges 972 and stipendiary magistrates, with the exception of one who has just been appointed, are, in fact, taken from the Bar. It seems to me—as I think it would do to a layman—a little odd that, of the 20,000 practising lawyers, many of great experience, the only Judges who are appointed come from 1,800; and, except for one Metropolitan Magistrate, the 18,000 have no chance, or have not yet had a chance, of exercising their undoubted abilities on the Bench. I did not think at one time, having practised at the Bar abroad where the professions are fused, that there was any need for separate professions, but I have now come to the conclusion that there is a case for separate professions—but only at a certain stage; and that stage should be after qualification, not before. I think there is every reason that we should institute in this country a system by which all lawyers are trained—as indeed are all doctors, dentists and veterinary surgeons—in a common way, with common examinations. They should then be able to decide, when they have passed and perhaps had some general experience, that they would like to become members of the specialist branch, members of the Bar. If this were so, I feel that the noble and learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor would have a very much wider field of selection to choose from than he has at the moment.
I frequently have cause—I have done so only to-day—to meet some of the great firms of City solicitors, and I assure your Lordships that there are men practising in the City of London, in the great City firms, who are the equal of any lawyers anywhere; and I think the work they do, and the contribution they make to the City's expertise, has never been sufficiently recognised. When we think of the City we think of bullion merchants, stockbrokers and so on; but we never think of those great firms of solicitors. Yet I myself know—and I can say this because I am not one of them—that many people, many businessmen, come from all over the world and have their agreements drawn in London because of the great expertise of some of those firms in the City. Yet those men have no chance even of being county court judges—I say "even" but I have great respect for the county court judges. All they can hope 973 to be is to be Metropolitan Magistrates, and that only during the last few months. It was only then that the noble and the learned Viscount the Lord Chancellor decided to extend that Bench to the solicitors.
Finally, I should like to say a word about legal advancement. As your Lordships know, on the Continent young man goes in either to be a member of the Bar, an avocat, or he goes in to be a judge, and he starts on the lowest judicial rung of the ladder and he climbs until, when he is 60 or something like that, he gets to the Court of Cassation, one of the great final courts in his particular country, the court of appeal. I do not suggest that system here, because I do not think it is a good system at all. I believe that it is essential that a man has a good many years practice at the Bar or in the Solicitor's field before he becomes a Judge. I think it is bad to have a man a sort of professional Judge from his earliest professional youth. But there is something to be said for giving judges in the county court, or stipendiary magistrates, the hope of getting on, as it were, in the judicial world—not in every case, (of course, but occasionally. I myself have known some excellent county court judges, first-class men who would have made, I am quite sure, brilliant Judges of the High Court. Yet they have remained as county court judges. I feel that this is a point the noble and learned Viscount might look into; whether it is possible to give those judges of the lesser courts, if we may call them that, an opportunity of advancement to higher places. I know that there have been a few cases in which over the years that has been done, but they are very much the exceptional case, and I should like to feel that such cases were more common and usual than they have been in the past.
I should like just to add this. I have not had the experience in the law that some of your Lordships have had—I suppose that I have been in it now for something like 36 years—but one thing I do notice. I occasionally go into the courts, for old time's sake, to look at the Judges, and it seems to me (perhaps I am getting older) that they are very much more human than they used to be. In the old days there were some terrors 974 —many of us remember who they were—especially in the country court. But the Judges to-day seem to possess not only more wisdom but also a lot of common sense combined with great patience and courtesy. I feel that the judicial system in this country is something of which we can be justly proud. A foreigner said to me the other day, "You know, the great bulwark of your Constitution is your Judges: everybody on the Continent knows that". He said that the great bulwark of the British Constitution is the independent Judges of this country, and I myself believe that in these days, when freedom is being attacked almost everywhere, a free Parliament, a free Press and an independent Judiciary are indeed the very bulwarks of our civilisation.
§ 5.37 p.m.
§ LORD CHORLEY
My Lords, I am sure that the noble and learned Viscount has made out his case for the Bill which is before your Lordships this afternoon. I feel that he has done so, however, in rather a conventional way. I hope he will not mind my saying this. He knows that, equally with the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, I pay a sincere tribute to the work he has done for law reform during his occupancy of his high office. I have had the opportunity of paying tribute to that more than once before in your Lordships House. But it seems to me—and I think this has been reflected in the speeches which have been made—that there is a certain lack of flexibility about the approach of the present Bill to handling the tight situation in regard to litigation to which he and everybody else has borne witness.
The noble Lord, Lord Silkin, has made various suggestions, to which I am sure the noble and learned Viscount will give attention, and in particular has suggested that the jurisdiction of the county court should be extended. I should very much like to support that. The depreciation in the value of money since the last extension to county court jurisdiction took place has been so great that we are back pretty nearly at the position in which we were when I was practising at the Bar 30 years and more ago. The county court bench during that time has improved enormously in calibre, so far as I am able to judge, and that I think is the general view, and 975 the judges there are certainly capable of handling satisfactorily problems involving much larger sums than the present jurisdiction confers upon them.
I have always felt that we are altogether too centralised in our administration of justice in this country— very much more highly centralised than any other country with whose administration of the law I am acquainted. Here and there, it is true, experiments have been made, and I think successful ones. There are two Crown courts, as the noble and learned Viscount knows very well, which work on his old circuit and my circuit, Liverpool and Manchester, and as far as I understand from counsel who practise on those circuits before those courts they are working very well and have made a considerable contribution to the solution of this problem of congestion. I have suggested this before, I think more than once, that similar courts should be established in other provincial capitals, such as Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle and Bristol. They are just suggestions. Even if they were not all given similar courts at once, I am sure that two further experiments of the same kind could lead only to a considerable alleviation of the difficult situation in regard to criminal justice in, and in the neighbourhood of, those great towns.
I entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, has said about looking more widely for recruits to the judicial part of the legal profession. Lord Ogmore speaks as a solicitor, and I, as a member of the Bar, should like to endorse his suggestion. Surely, in the twentieth century it is rather out of date to draw this hard and fast distinction between the two branches of the profession in regard to the highest offices which are open to lawyers practising in this country. Solicitors are eligible for scarcely any jobs apart from masters in the Chancery Division and, I think, registrars in the county courts. We know now that one has been made a metropolitan magistrate. I am sure we are all glad to hear that. But everybody who has practised at all in the law must have come across many a solicitor who he knew perfectly well would have adorned the bench— certainly the county court bench, and quite a number of them the 976 High Court bench as well. The noble and learned Viscount himself in his practice must, I am sure, have known quite a number.
When I was practising in county courts there were several registrars whose work was so admirable that we always made an effort to get our cases on before Mr. Registrar So-and-so rather than the county court judge himself. I always felt that the Lord Chancellor of the day could not have done better than elevate Mr. Registrar So-and-so when the next vacancy occurred on the county court bench. No doubt it is rather more difficult to make a wise choice from the solicitors' profession than from the barristers' profession, because one knows that the Lord Chancellor and those with whom he consults on these occasions are so much more closely in touch with the work done by learned counsel, but I think that if the inquiries were pushed a little further there would not be any difficulty in finding out those men— not only in the City of London but in some of the great provincial capitals, and also working in other parts of London— who are admirably equipped. Often the solicitor has a more practical feeling for the party than has the barrister. I do not say that that occurs mare than just here and there, but certainly I have found it on a number of occasions. I should like to see the present occupant of the Woolsack go down in history as the Lord Chancellor who introduced this most valuable reform.
After all, it is not so long ago that in some of the High Courts an ordinary barrister was not eligible for appointment to the bench— he had to be a serjeant-at-law. It is true that he became a serjeant-at-law without any particular difficulty, because the Inn of the Serjeants was open to receive him on payment of a suitable fee. That shows that there was a time further back in our legal history when even a barrister as such was not regarded as suitably qualified to hold the highest judicial offices, at any rate in certain of the High Courts. That was overcome in Victorian times when law reform was very much to the fore. Is it not possible for disqualification of solicitors to be overcome at the present time, when again we are going through a period of considerable law reform?
There is one other point. I notice that the noble and learned Viscount said 977 in regard to the Commissioners of Divorce who have done such good work over the last few years that it was the intention gradually to appoint High Court Judges to take their place. I am glad to hear that. Some of these gentlemen have, in effect, sacrificed the possibilities of their advancement at the Bar to do this work. As the noble and learned Viscount knows, some of them are men who have held judicial positions in parts of the Commonwealth; but others are men who, in the ordinary way, were practising at our awn Bar. Obviously, a man who has for a number of years been giving the greater part of his time to work of that kind can hardly expect to step straight back into a busy practice in the Temple. Presumably, no arrangements for pensions exist. I am not quite sure about that; perhaps the noble and learned Viscount will enlighten us on it. It would be rather unfair if suddenly they were to find themselves back without any pension rights, again struggling in the profession. Therefore I was glad to hear the noble and learned Viscount say that this change would be gradual. I hope that that will be borne in mind when these appointments come to be made.
§ 5.46 p.m.
§ LORD CONESFORD
My Lords, in supporting this Bill I would add only a few words, if I may, about Lord Somervell of Harrow. For some forty years he was perhaps my closest personal friend. When he became Attorney-General in 1936 he invited me to be his Parliamentary Private Secretary, and for the next six years I enjoyed his company and intercourse with that delightful mind almost daily. For over a quarter of a century he enriched both politics and the law, yet no one, I think, of his friends thinks of him either as a politician or as a lawyer, great though his services were in both those capacities. He had a mind so rich and varied, and was so cultivated, that his companionship was unforgettable. He was a lover of the arts, architecture, literature, painting and sculpture. He was as well loved in his clubs and in the village in Oxfordshire where he made his home, as he was in the spheres where he performed his public work. He had, I think, the best mind and was the most civilised man I ever knew. He was also, I think, the best.
§ 5.48 p.m.
§ LORD PARKER OF WADDINGTON
My Lords, I had not intended to intervene in this debate, but there are three matters to which I Should like to refer. First, I should like to associate myself with the tributes that have been paid to the late Lord Somervell of Harrow. I had the great honour and privilege of being one of his pupils, staying on with him as a devil, and for all those years thereafter until he became a Law Officer of the Crown I had the real privilege of sharing a room with him, day in, day out, and seeing the workings of his mind —and what little I know of the law is entirely due to him. I find it difficult to believe that someone so vital is no longer with us.
My Lords, I support this Bill and welcome it. I think the case for it is overwhelming. It is needed as a matter of urgency, and as a matter of urgency the Government have dealt with it; and I think our thanks are particularly due to my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor. The only other matter I would mention arises out of what the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, said in the matter of delays, because I think it was directed, among others, to accident cases and indeed to the state of the Lists in the Queen's Bench Division generally. There are three periods which are daily my constant concern in that Division. The first is the period between setting down and trial; the second, the period between the issue of the writ and trial, and the third, the period between the accident, the tort or whatever it may be, and the time of trial, The first of those —that between the setting down and the trial— is entirely the responsibility of the Court, and there I venture to think my noble friend has the figures a little wrong.
So far as the present position is concerned (and I went into the matter this afternoon) in the General List the period between setting down and trial is between six and seven months. I believe we should all agree that if that period could be shortened, so much the better; but experience has shown that if the period is reduced too far there are complaints the other way. In October only a year ago the General List gap between setting down and trial was reduced to three months, and immediately the solicitors were up in arms, saying they could 979 not deal with it. I believe experience has shown that something about six months is the happy mean.
So far as the Fixture List is concerned, naturally if a fixture is wanted for a long and complicated case which justifies a fixture, the period may be slightly longer. As the noble Lord has said, it has been as long as eleven months. I am happy to say that it is now seven to eight months. Cases which are asking for a fixture to-day can get on in June or July next. There is a third category of case which I would describe as a "near-miss" to a fixture. In other words, if somebody wants to come on, not necessarily on a fixed day but within a range of three or four days or a week, he can be put in after a fixture. Those cases have been remarkably successful in reducing the gap in that type of case to some four to five months. That period is the responsibility of the law.
The moment one gets down to the period between the issue of the writ and date of trial, one is largely in the hands of the solicitor and the client. True, interlocutory work may take up a little period, but any solicitor and client who wants to get on with a case can do so. Equally, the same is true of the period between the date of accident and the trial. There the delay may occur with the litigant himself, before he goes to the solicitor. That it can be done speedily under our present system is shown, I think, by the fact that only a few weeks ago I myself tried an accident case in which the accident had occurred less than 18 months ago. The result was astounding; it could not be coincidence: all the five witnesses saw the same accident in exactly the same way. That is how it should be done. I mention that only because it is not the fault of the courts that delay occurs between the accident and the time of setting down. For the period of setting down the courts must take full responsibility, but I venture to think that, despite the shortage of Judges, the period is not excessive.
§ 5.56 p.m.
§ LORD LUCAS OF CHILWORTH
My Lords, my intervention in this debate will be brief and very much to the point. As the only layman among this galaxy 980 of lawyers, I would not dare to speak on the aspects of the law with which this Bill is concerned. I was impressed by the words of the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, when he related to your Lordships the impression that the majesty of British law had upon the foreigner. But I am concerned with the dignity of the law, and I wonder what his foreign friend would have said if he had been taken to the Law Courts in this great city of ours and shown the top back rooms where some of Her Majesty's Judges have to work, or the huts in the quadrangle of the Law Courts.
I believe I am right in saying that about 18 new Judges have been added to the List in this last ten years, but we have not had one court. Why is it that some of the courts in the Provinces provided for magistrates would make a High Court Judge in London green with envy? Why do we have to lag so far behind? I cannot imagine that it would not make some contribution in respect of the plea which my noble friend, Lord Silkin, has made in regard to the law's delays. How can the law operate smoothly, efficiently and speedily under some of the conditions under which our Judges have to work? There are exceptions in the Provinces—in Manchester and Liverpool, for example; but look at some of the other Assize courts in the Provinces. They have not even had a coat of paint for 50 years. Why is that? Is it because of money and the fact that in the Provinces it is the ratepayer who has to pay for new buildings, while in London it is the taxpayer who has to pay?
I would ask the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack whether he does not think it would be correct and proper, and money well spent, if the Law Courts in London were rebuilt on modern lines. Would it not help to ease the burden with which the law has to contend at the present time, with facilities which no business firm would ever tolerate? When we look at the buildings which are going up in the City of London for the efficiency of industry and commerce and then look at our Law Courts in the Strand, we realise that there must be something wrong. That is my plea as a layman who is concerned with what the noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, has mentioned—the great tradition of the British judiciary system.
§ 5.58 p.m.
§ LORD EVERSHED
My Lords, I should like, with so many of your Lordships, to associate myself with the tribute paid to the late Lord Somervell of Harrow. When I became Master of the Rolls, nearly twelve years ago, he was then a member of my Court, and for many years I had the enormous advantage of his loyalty and support.
At this time of the evening, I shall not long delay your Lordships, but I should like to say first, as the President of the Court of Appeal, how thankful I am to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack for having brought this matter before us. The pressure of the business in my Court has for lone caused me and my colleagues very great anxiety. The noble and learned Viscount mentioned figures. This morning the number of cases awaiting trial in the Court of Appeal was 374. I will not add to what the noble and learned Viscount has said as to the reasons, save to remind your Lordships that when the number of Lords Justices was increased to 8, in 1938, there were 26 Judges of the High Court, whereas there are now 42. And your Lordships will have in mind, in addition to the county court appeals, the work that comes to us from such bodies as the Lands Tribunal. If your Lordships are interested in comparing figures you will find that the number of Supreme Court Judges, or their equivalent, in England is extremely low compared, for example, to that in New Zealand, in Australia, and. if I may say so, even in Scotland.
I should like also to express to the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, my appreciation for the kind things he said about the work of the Committee over six years—as he said, a long time; and it was all what is called "spare time"—and the Report of that Committee. I should like also to say how greatly indebted I was to my colleagues. Your Lordships will have in mind that there were 23 of them, by no means all from the legal profession, and our recommendations were reached unanimously.
I do not think it right that I should say anything about the matters which the noble Lords, Lord Silkin and Lord Ogmore, have raised, save perhaps this. These noble Lords have suggested that perhaps the courts might sit in September. I hope that your Lordships will 982 not think that the only reason they do not do so is that Her Majesty's Judges will not then sit. As a fact, my Committee considered this matter. At the time, the Long Vacation went on until October 10. As a result of our suggestion, it was reduced, so that the Term now begins on October 1. Although we heard a great deal of evidence, there was no support whatever for any further reduction in the Vacation, and no body was more opposed to any further reduction than the Law Society, representing the solicitors, which pointed out that if they were to give proper holidays to their staffs it would be quite impossible, in the absence of vacations, to prepare properly the cases for their clients.
The only other matter I should like to mention is the question of jurisdiction of county courts. That matter was also put to my Committee, and the figure which now expresses the limit was arrived at after careful consideration of the many problems, which include this one. It is a great virtue of the county court that it is available at a small cost to the small man with a small case. If we increase the jurisdiction too much, we shall put that advantage at risk, because if county court judges tend to take more and more big cases the general standard as regards costs inevitably will increase; and particularly if the cases are such that they require the attendance of leading counsel, who may have to come long distances to the county court. I express no view, of course, on the right conclusion in this matter, but I venture to put that consideration in your Lordships' minds. I say no more, except to express my gratitude to the noble and learned Viscount for bringing this matter on so quickly, and also the hope that your Lordships may feel pleased to give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ 6.4 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
My Lords, I shall take up very little of your Lordships' time. But I should like, if I may, as a member of the Bar, to add my tribute to the memory of the late Lord Somervell of Harrow. I have been interested particularly in the work of the Court of Appeal. My noble and learned friend Lord Evershed has explained the matter to your Lordships. What has perfectly clearly been happening is that since three Courts of Appeal were 983 formed in the year 1938 the work of the Court of Appeal has been going up and up, and the Court itself has been overwhelmed with work. That is clearly no fault of the Court of Appeal, because, as my noble and learned friend Lord Evershed has explained to your Lordships, the number of Judges has been increased; the Court have been given work from the Lands Tribunal and other Tribunals; and they have become over-whelmed, with the result that the position is becoming a very serious one indeed. I should like to add my gratitude to Her Majesty's Government, and particularly to the noble and learned Viscount on the Woolsack, for the expedition with which this matter has been treated. The matter was raised a comparatively short time ago, and now we have a Bill before your Lordships' House. Speaking as a member of the Bar, I am extremely grateful.
§ LORD SILKIN
My Lords, may I just ask the noble Viscount this question? Was not the question of an increase in the number of Judges one of the recommendations of the Evershed Committee? That was seven and a half years ago.
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Evershed, could probably answer that point better than I could.
§ LORD EVERSHED
My Lords, I do not think we went so far as to recommend an increase in the number of Judges. But I may be wrong. Am I?
§ VISCOUNT BLEDISLOE
My Lords, I do not think the Committee recommended increases in the number of Lords Justices in the Court of Appeal.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
My Lords, I am grateful to your Lordships for the mood and generous words with which you have approached this Bill. I have been most interested in the fact that the Bill has produced wider debate than its contents might have appeared to justify and I am very interested in the line that has been taken. Therefore I 984 should like to say one or two words about the many matters that have been raised. But of course I shall not be able to deal with them all, and I hope that noble Lords will just send me a short note to remind me of any point I have missed in which they are particularly interested. I shall try to deal with them, but I should be grateful if noble Lords would do that.
With regard to the first major point of the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, about delay, the position has been clarified by the figures which my noble and learned friend the Lord Chief Justice has produced. But may I just deal with them in the same three categories: first of all, the period between writ and setting down; secondly, the period between setting down and trial; and, thirdly, the problem of fixed dates. With regard to the first period, I think that the noble Lord will agree, and that all noble Lords who have had practice in the law will agree, that that depends largely on the lawyers in charge of the case. But there were two points that I think emerged from the noble Lord's speech. One is the question: Have we a procedure which will enable the case to be taken in hand? Without going into details—it would take some time to develop the point—I would say that we have adopted the Evershed recommendation (if I may put it informally in that way) about the robust summons for directions. It is only on the one point that, on reflection, we did not think there should be automatic discovery in every case; and the noble Lord will see that that is a relatively small point because the Evershed Committee themselves did not suggest it in personal injuries cases. So I think that that is all right.
My noble and learned friend Lord Evershed himself dealt with the question of the vacations. I have turned up paragraph 134, which begins with these words:The general opinion of the witnesses heard by us, however, was that the long vacation should be reduced to eight weeks—that is to say, that it should begin, as now, in the beginning of August and end in the last week in September.And, of course, action was taken on that line. I must say that all the information which has been given to me from the solicitors' branch of the profession is that it would be very difficult if the 985 courts sat in September. It is a difficult matter to stagger the holidays of their staff, and so on. I am always prepared to look at these points again, but I do not think I have had any pressure on this point until to-day's debate.
On the next point, with regard to the period between setting down and trial, the noble Lord, Lord Silkin, heard what the Lord Chief Justice said. It is difficult to estimate the effect of the appointment of Judges. I am hopeful, and I think my noble and learned friend the Lord Chief Justice is hopeful, that we shall get a period of something about six months. As the noble Lord knows, the Law Society has said four months. I do not put that out of the possibilities, but my noble and learned friend Lord Parker of Waddington was more doubtful as to whether that was not getting too low a period, and I shall take that into account.
On the question of the Evershed Report, I would point out that we have not discussed it, but the noble Lord, Lord Silk in. once asked me about it rather informally in the course of a debate on, I think, one of our earlier Administration of Justice Bills. May I put the position very shortly: that effect has been given to their recommendations about the extension of county court jurisdiction and appeals on fact from county courts by the County Courts Act, 1955. Several other recommendations about official referees, the procedure for execution against land and other matters requiring legislation, were dealt with by the Administration of Justice Act, 1956. Recommendations for procedural changes, dealt with by the Rules of the Court, include those relating to summons direction, Admiralty, Chancery procedure, notices of appeal and the like. These matters have either been dealt with or are still under consideration; because, as the noble Lord knows, this is not a static matter: it is a matter as to which you must go on making improvements. Fourthly, as to the recommendations for the improvement of Appendix F relating to costs, that has been implemented by the Supreme Court Rules of this year; and, fifthly, I can tell him that there is a review of the whole of the Rules of the Court going on.
I think I can put it more easily, for once, by saying what we have not done.
986 We have not adopted the leap-frogging procedure: that is, of going in some cases from the High Court to the House of Lords without going to the Court of Appeal. The noble Lord will remember that, in regard to criminal matters, there is now an appeal from the Divisional Court, as well as from the Court of Appeal, to the House of Lords, because he took an interest in that Bill. We have not dealt with appeals at the public expense, and we have not abolished the two-thirds rule for junior counsel. But, apart from that, I think we have really tackled the recommendations. I told the noble Lord when he asked me before that, apart from the leap-frogging provisions, which would require legislation, practically everything else had been done, so this is not one of the cases where the matter has been allowed to rot in a pigeon-hole. It has been very much in my mind.
The third major point which the noble Lord put to me was as to the increase of county court jurisdiction. I will consider that again. I am sure that he, in turn, will consider what my noble and learned friend Lord Evershed said. It is always the difficulty about these matters that it is our pride that the county court is the poor man's court, and one does not want that side of it to be swamped by their taking too many large cases. It is a question of balance, but I will willingly look at it.
The noble Lord, Lord Ogmore, must take it that I do not accept his sombre suggestion that we are sliding into bad times; but I want to deal with the more important of his points. He suggested that the Court of Criminal Appeal should be a separate court. My Lords, I find that very difficult. We have had 52 years of working it in this way. I think it has kept the staffing of the Court of Criminal Appeal of a high order, and there have been Judges who have been dealing with the questions themselves and dealing with the points raised on problems. It is curious that when we had the Bill to which Royal Assent was given at the end of last Session, nobody quarrelled with the composition of the Court of Criminal Appeal as that Bill was going through. So, although I am always willing to look at anything Lord Ogmore suggests, it is not a problem that I have found to be acute up to now.
§ LORD OGMORE
My Lords, would the noble and learned Viscount allow me to interrupt? I was really expressing a genuine wonder, as it were, as to why this distinction had been made. I really did not understand it; and I still do not understand why it is less necessary to have a separate court for those who deal with life and liberty than it is for those who deal with property.
§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR
I think it was rather the other way. Of course, as the noble Lord knows, the Court of Appeal is a comparatively recent development in its present form, because it includes Judges from the Chancery Division and from the Probate, Divorce and Admiralty Division who, during their years as puisne Judges, have not had to deal with crime; and them obviously, there is something to be said for the two courts. But I was rather considering the point that I thought the noble Lord might have had in mind as to why you had separate people who are stamped as appellant in the one case and not in the other. I think there are really two reasons. One is that it grew out of the older courts, and the second is that it has worked well. I have not checked this, but up to the war it would not have provided a full-time court, and I am doubtful if it would even now, although the amount of work has increased. I think they are the reasons, which are largely historical and based on the growth of the courts.
The noble Lord then asked me generally about selection. This is an interesting point, and it is difficult to keep it distinct from the question of the fusion of the two parts of the profession. At the moment the solicitors' branch have not the right of audience in the High Court, and the Courts above it to the House of Lords; and therefore, in the ordinary way, they have not the experience of advocacy in court work from the point of view of someone actually conducting a case. I know that there are exceptions in the field of commercial arbitrations; and there is the other exception of people who work in the inferior courts, like the county courts and the magistrates' courts. But the members, to whom the noble Lord referred, with proper reverence, if may say so, of the solicitors' branch of the profession are not engaged in advocacy themselves, and therefore they have not that training.
988 The argument against fusion that is usually put forward by the solicitors' branch is that it is a good thing to have another kind of lawyer who will give a more detached, objective and independent view of a case than the person who is closely connected with the client. I think that, so long as there is that distinction, it is difficult to fit in the solicitors' branch to the High Court. The noble Lord has said that I have recently made some appointments to the lower courts in London, and before that I had made one in the Provinces. The question of education is, I think, an entirely different one. What the noble Lord has suggested is most interesting; and, indeed, this question is being examined by a lot of wide-awake minds in the profession to-day.
On the other point, that of promotion, broadly I am not against it. I think that since the war more county court judges have been appointed to the High Court Bench than in the rest of our legal history. The noble Lord may remember that only recently I appointed the Recorder of Manchester to the High Court Bench after he had proved himself by five years' excellent work in his former position. So I am not against the noble Lord in principle. I think it is one of the matters which have always to be considered. On the other hand, one of the reasons why this is so important in our system of administration of justice is because of the position of the Judiciary, as the noble Lord has himself said. That, in turn, depends on our being able to take mature and distinguished figures who have made their names at the Bar and have all the independent attitude of mind which the Bar is, I think, admitted to possess. So again one has to keep the balance, but I have nothing against this point.
The noble Lord, Lord Chorley, asked me about more Crown Courts. Actually, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary and I (I helped him with it) have a Committee called the Streatfeild Committee, dealing with arrangements at assizes and quarter sessions, and it is the intention to try to improve the position of work and to avoid delays in the Provinces. Therefore, before I consider any further step, I should like to get their report, which I hope will be out in a few months' time. I think that at Liverpool and Manchester the Crown Courts have 989 worked well; but we have a general problem in the country, and I want to look at the question as a whole.
My noble and learned friend Lord Conesford expressed, if I may say so, in very moving words what we all feel about the loss of Lord Somervell of Harrow; and many others of your Lordships referred to him in very touching ways.
Then we have heard from my noble and learned friend the Lord Chief Justice, as I have already reminded your Lordships, some useful figures; and the noble Lord, Lord Lucas of Chilworth, has dealt with the question of court buildings. I cannot pretend that I have been near the head of the queue with regard to court buildings in my own time. I have got some up, but we are always trying to improve, and the noble Lords who have been Ministers know the intense competition to which one is subjected on that point. But I will bear what the noble Lord said very much in mind. I am very glad to hear what my 990 noble and learned friend Lord Evershed said, and I am glad that he feels that I have helped him. I know also that my noble and learned friend Lord Bledisloe has felt very strongly on this point for some time, and I know he feels that the step will be taken as early as it can.
My Lords, if there are any other points, I hope your Lordships will not hesitate to write me. I shall be delighted to deal with them. In the meantime, I hope that your Lordships will give the Bill a Second Reading.
§ On Question, Bill read 2a, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.