HC Deb 18 February 1868 vol 190 cc924-6

said, he wished to renew a Motion to which the House agreed during the last Session— That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire and take evidence as to the Law and practice relating to the summoning, attendance, and remuneration of Special and Common Juries, and to report to the House as to any alterations which ought to be made therein. The Committee, over which he had the honour to preside, sat four times; but, owing to the late period of the Session at which it had been appointed, could not complete its inquiries. They therefore reported the evidence they had taken, and recommended the re-appointment of the Committee in the next Session. Without wishing to anticipate any definite conclusion that a Committee of this kind, if re-appointed, would be likely to arrive at, he would yet say that from what he had read, and from the private communications he had received, these four facts appear to be notorious—Firstly, that the number of persons liable to serve upon juries in the county of Middlesex was considerably less than it should be, owing to the imperfect manner in which the lists were made out; secondly, that the notices given to those persons were, generally speaking, so short that the greatest inconvenience arose both to jurymen and suitors; thirdly, that the uncertainty as to when the services of these gentlemen were required operated disadvantageously to the certain and punctual trial of causes; and fourthly, that the same individual was liable to serve repeatedly upon juries in a very short space of time, and not unfrequently was summoned for the same week in three or four different Courts, He would cite three cases, two of which he had gathered from the public journals; the third was one among many private communications which he had received bearing upon this subject. The first case he took from The Times of December 5, 1867. It was that of "Murley v. the South Eastern Railway Company"— In the course of the day bitter complaints were made by various special jurors of the mode in which they were summoned, the short notice given when they will be required to attend, the frequency of the occasions on which they are summoned, &c. The Lord Chief Justice said the present system was most unsatisfactory; but that a Committee had been sitting, which, with the assistance of Mr. Erle, the Associate, who had studied the question carefully, would, his Lordship trusted, materially relieve the evils complained of. One gentleman on the jury just sworn said he had served fifteen times in the last year, and three times during the last month; and once he had been fined £10 for not attending. The second case occurred on the 1st of February, 1868— Upon this case ("Keen v. Hartnoll") being called on, it appeared that there were only ten of the twenty-four special jurymen who had been summoned in attendance, and the counsel declined to pray a tales. The Lord Chief Justice said it appeared in this case the trial had been postponed in consequence of the non-attendance of jurors, and the parties had been put to unnecessary expense. A juryman complained that he had been summoned at ten o'clock the previous night to appear in court at ten o'clock that morning, and when he arrived he found the cause withdrawn. The Lord Chief Justice said that it was a matter in which he had no power to interfere; but he heard from Mr. Erle, the Associate, that this subject had been brought before a Parliamentary Committee, and it was probable some rule would be laid down. He added that he would not fine any juryman who had received so short a notice. He would now read an extract from a letter he had received from a literary gentleman, dated February 17, 1868— I have been called upon to serve in six cases during the last seven months. This implies, with the allowance on the average of four to five days for the delay in bringing on the causes after the date fixed for attendance, of a month's duty out of every seven; or, if I refuse to attend; to a possible fine of £60, or, on the twelve months, of more than double the rent of the house I inhabit. The point to be ascertained is, are there so few special jurymen in the country, or so large a cause-list, as to justify the summoning officers in laying such a tax in time or money upon any inoffensive dweller in the land? With reference to the question of expense, he believed, if the same system were pursued in Middlesex which was followed in other parts of the country, a very great saving would ensue; and since he came into the House a statement had been handed to him which, with the permission of the House, he would read. It was as follows:— We have 100 special jury causes for trial at these sittings at the Guildhall during Hilary Term. Juries will be actually summoned in about half (not less) of these, that is—1,200 summonses will be served; and the costs (at £7 8s. in each case) for striking, attendances, &c., will be altogether £370. In the country, on the other hand, if one panel of thirty-six jurors were summoned, each panel to serve for three days, 180 summonses would suffice, at a cost which certainly ought not to amount to £50. These figures had been supplied to him by Mr. Erle, the Associate of the Court of Common Pleas, who had paid much attention to this subject, and without further trespassing on the time of the House he might be allowed to say that if he were allowed the assistance of a Committee like that of last year for perfecting this inquiry, he hoped that means would be found to remedy an inconvenience from which the public in the county of Middlesex had for a long time past extensively suffered.

Motion agreed to. Select Committee appointed, "to inquire and take evidence as to the Law and practice relating to the summoning, attendance, and remuneration of Special and Common Juries, and to report to this House as to any alterations which ought to be made therein."—(Viscount Enfield.) And, on March 11, Committee nominated as follows:—Viscount ENFIELD, Mr. SOLICITOR GENERAL, Mr. DENMAN, Mr. HUDDLESTON, Mr. HEADLAM, Mr. FRESHFIELD, Mr. HASTINGS RUSSELL, Mr. TURNER, Mr. Alderman SALOMONS, Mr. WHATMAN, Colonel WILLIAM STUART, Mr. CHARLES WYNN, and Mr. Alderman LUSK:—Power to send for persons, papers, and records; Five to be the quorum.