§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ 3.46 p.m.
§ The Attorney-General (Sir Peter Rawlinson)
I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
Nine months ago, in May last year, at the urging of my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Huntingdonshire (Sir D. Renton), the previous Parliament debated the Report of the Royal Commission on Assizes and Quarter Sessions which had sat under the chairmanship of Lord Beeching. The Royal Commission had been set up in 1966, and it reported in 1969. On that occasion, the Motion was to welcome—not to take note of—the recommendations in the Report. The Motion was moved by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones), and from the other side of the House then, I joined in that welcome. Today, from this Dispatch Box, I have the privilege of moving the Second Reading of the Bill, which is, in effect, the legislative implementation of the Royal Commission's Report.
In that full debate in May, 1970, the recommendations were warmly welcomed, as they had been generally warmly welcomed by the legal profession and by outside interests, as a substantial and necessary solution to the problems which were besetting the modern administration of justice, in which we must always remember the necessity to balance the need for thoroughness in the procedures which lead up to and constitute a trial, whether criminal or civil, with the need for appropriate speediness in bringing a cause or issue to trial.
I have no doubt that our ancient system, which served so well so many generations and may in certain areas be working well, overall no longer fits the needs of our modern society with its different centres of population and a vastly increased amount of judicial business.
The story began in 1966, when the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, the former Lord Chancellor, initiated the Royal Commission. He saw the need, and he instigated the Report. I pay a tribute to 273 him, and to the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South for the parts which they played in preparing the proposals which we are debating now in the Bill.
In June, on the change of Government, my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor, with characteristic energy, determined to translate those recommendations into law as soon as possible, and, with great pressure on his able staff—he even pressed into service some of my small staff, and the right hon. and learned Gentleman will know what that means—the major feat of preparing the Bill was accomplished. All were jointly determined that the Report should be implemented as soon as possible, and accordingly the Bill was introduced into another place in November. 1970.
The system of fixed assizes at fixed places and of quarter sessions is unable throughout the country as a whole to cope adequately with modern pressures. But certainly I do not forget, and I am sure that many hon. Members will not forget, that in certain areas it has worked well. The problems we face in the administration of justice in England and Wales are not so desperate as under other systems in other countries. I well remember on a visit to the United States in 1962 the late Mr. Robert Kennedy telling me of the problems that were then faced there, which no doubt have greatly increased. Last week I heard from Commonwealth colleagues at the Commonwealth Conference in Delhi how desperate is the situation in other Commonwealth countries. So although the need for change in our system is proven we should appreciate how well the system has served us.
The purpose of the Bill is to harness the strength and advantages of the old system to a modern flexible adaptation of it to meet our present needs. The increasing load on the criminal courts has become intolerable, and the situation is now much worse than it was a few years ago. The Bill provides—we certainly hope—a long-term solution, but it is essential to take immediate, short-term measures to alleviate the position until its proposals can be implemented on 1st January, 1972, as the Government hope.
274 Therefore, a new Assizes Order under the Administration of Justice Act 1970 came into force on 1st January this year. It will have the effect of discontinuing the assizes at more than 12 small towns where the volume of business no longer justifies the holding of assizes, and where judges' time and travelling time were used up.
An immediate programme to tackle criminal cases has been undertaken both in London and Liverpool. At the Central Criminal Court, at the Old Bailey, at the end of December there were about 640 cases outstanding awaiting trial. That was an improvement on the position at the end of October, when the number was 701. At the Liverpool Crown Court on 22nd December there were 141 trials outstanding. Again, this was an improvement, because at the end of October there were 180. The position at Middlesex Sessions and the Inner London Sessions is marginally worse. At Liverpool the use of two extra courts has had a significant effect, reflected in the figures I have just given.
The great problem is in London and the areas around it, where there is an enormous incidence of crime, which seems to be particularly concentrated in and around the Metropolis. By June it is hoped to have 10 additional courts operational. Two courts are being used in the Royal Courts of Justice and one at Victory House for the Inner London Sessions. The programme for the next 10 to 15 years is being actively pursued. A system of hearing pleas at the Old Bailey between 4.15 and 7 p.m. twice a week has been introduced, and this has dealt with all the outstanding pleas.
In 1970 the number of commissioners sent out on assizes was increased by about 50 per cent. over the previous year. This month about 13 commissioners are out. But it is not easy to improvise courts or to acquire extra staff, and there is more to a criminal trial than merely the provision of the judge and a room. Every effort must and will be made to do what is possible. But the real problem must be tackled by implementing the Bill and the reorganisation of the courts system.
The legislative provisions are not the whole story, because within the framework of the Bill the administrative support; the proposals of the Royal Commission as to the pattern of presiding 275 judges, one of whom in practice will always be in a particular circuit; the circuit administrators; the boundaries of the six circuits; and the location of the court centres; can all be provided by administrative action, and they can and will be changed in the light of experience.
The first main proposition in the Bill is that the old criminal courts should be abolished and their jurisdiction merged into a Crown Court to try all criminal business above the level of the magistrates' court, served by a two-tier judiciary of High Court judges and circuit judges. This will have an effect on civil business, which so often cannot be reached in a present-day assize because of the amount of crime the judges have to try. Civil business will be taken on a separate time table.
The other main proposition is the creation of a unified court service for which the Lord Chancellor will be responsible. The central Government are therefore taking responsibility for organising, financing and accommodating the courts. By administrative action they will be able to concentrate the business into a smaller number of centres, which will be chosen taking into account their accessibility and the convenience to the litigants and the public. Administrative action can also deal with the related organisation of the court service into circuits and the supervision of the organisational side by the circuit administrators and of the judicial side by the presiding judges under the direction of the Lord Chief Justice. I stress that the supervision of the judicial side will be solely and wholly under the judiciary.
I now turn to the details of the Bill. The last 24 pages—the whole of Schedule 11—are taken up by whole or partial repeals, which is one comfort when we consider the Bill's size.
Part I consists only of three Clauses. It abolishes assizes and quarter sessions and provides for the Crown Court to be part of the Supreme Court with flexible locations for the High Court.
Part II sets up the Crown Court with the jurisdiction of assizes and quarter sessions and the appellate jurisdiction of the quarter sessions. I draw attention to Clauses 4 and 5, because they contain a departure from the Royal Commission, 276 in that by the Bill justices of the peace will sit as full members of the Crown Court under a professional judge for appellate proceedings and committals for sentence, and in other proceedings as allocated by the direction of the Lord Chief Justice with the concurrence of the Lord Chancellor. These would probably deal with what the Beeching Report called thelower band offences".It was felt that the justices play a valuable rôle now with their extended knowledge and training and that the help they would give to the professional judge in, for instance, matters of sentencing was important. So, by Clauses 4 and 5, the court will consist of the professional judge and the justices of the peace.
Part III establishes the new bench of circuit judges and recorders. It will be appreciated that the High Court bench remains as it is, Those judges will try the most serious cases. Then there comes the appointment of circuit judges who will sit in the county court and in the Crown Court, and who will be made up of the county court judges and of the official referees and all full-time judges of the criminal courts, including the Recorders of London, Liverpool and Manchester, the Common Serjeant of the City of London, the additional judges at the Central Criminal Court, and the whole-time chairmen and deputy chairmen of quarter sessions in Greater London, Cheshire, Durham, Kent and Lancashire.
The Vice-Chancellor of the County Palatine of Lancaster will also become a circuit judge and his jurisdiction will now merge with the High Court. The facilities for a High Court chancery action will continue to be available in Lancashire. The Vice-Chancellor will retain his title, as will the Recorder of London and the Common Serjeant, whose salaries will continue to be paid by the City of London in its long tradition of generous contribution to the administration of justice in London.
The circuit judges will be appointed by Her Majesty on the recommendation of the Lord Chancellor. Those eligible for appointment will be recorders who have held office for five years and barristers of ten years' standing. The eligibility for appointment as recorder will be that of 277 being a barrister or solicitor of ten years' standing. They will be appointed for a limited term and be required to sit for a fixed period and frequency. As the Bill stands, they will not have a geographical title, but that is a matter on which the Government would be interested to hear the views of the House.
It was envisaged by the Beeching Commission that there will be more recorders than there are at present, but existing holders of judicial appointments are given adequate safeguards in regard to their salaries and pensions, and the basic conditions of service of the circuit judges will be comparable with those of the present day county court judges.
Part IV of the Bill concerns officers and accommodation. It gives to the Lord Chancellor power to appoint Supreme Court Masters and Probate Registrars. This change was recommended as long ago as 1915 and now, in 1971, it is being carried out as it seems appropriate that such appointments should be made by a Minister responsible to Parliament.
Clauses 27, 28 and 29 deal with staff and accommodation and I will return to this subject later. Clause 30 deals with the appointment of advisory committees. These are to be established to assist and advise concerning the courts and the working of the courts in the particular areas concerned. It is thought that the association of local people, with their experience of how the local courts are working, will be invaluable. It is for that purpose that such advisory committees are to be established.
Part V deals with the summoning of jurors, which will now be by the new court service. It also takes account of the recommendations of the Morris Committee and improves and simplifies the law concerning juries. Clause 39 provides for majority verdicts in civil actions in the same form as was established in the Criminal Justice Act, 1967. However, in a civil action where there is a jury, the parties will still be able to consent to a matter without a majority decision. It will he laid down what is to be the exact number of the majority. Clause 40 abolishes the special jury.
Part VI deals with the merger of the Durham and Lancashire Palatine Courts with the High Court and the reconstitution of the Mayor's and City of London Court as a county court. Clause 46, 278 whose provisions were not in the Beeching recommendations, gives a right of appeal from the Patent Appeals Tribunal in place of the prerogative order of certiorari.
Clause 43 deals with the abolition of certain local courts with the resounding and ancient titles of the Tolzey and Pie Poudre Courts of the City and County of Bristol, the Liverpool Court of Passage, the Norwich Guildhall Court and the Court of Record for the Hundred of Salford. There is also the abolition of certain offices.
Clause 45 enables ancillary matters in divorce and under the Married Women's Property Act to be transferred from the High Court to the county court, and Clauses 47–51 deal with matters of costs, for which the central Government now bear full responsibility. There is now also a provision for the divisional court to have power to make an order for costs, which previously it did not have.
In reply to a Written Question on 16th December, I set out the provisional proposals with regard to the circuit boundaries but I emphasise that these are provisional and we are certainly prepared and are anxious to hear any suggestions which hon. Members may make concerning that matter.
As regards the location of the courts, my noble Friend is considering detailed recommendations and is inviting suggestions. He will have the Beeching recommendations in the forefront of his mind. There will be three tiers of courts. The first tier will deal with civil and criminal cases, the second with criminal only and the third with circuit judge crime only.
It is the firm intention that the staff of the existing courts—the courts which are abolished by the Bill—should receive fair and equitable treatment. They will be invited to transfer to the Crown Court so that their experience and expertise will be available to the new court service. We hope to attract the local authority staff, and existing staff will be invited to continue in their present positions where practicable or transfer to new posts. Where existing salaries are higher than in comparable civil service grades, existing pay and incremental progress will be retained and the transfer of staff will be with the least formality possible.
Accommodation is one of the most crucial factors. The responsibility, as was accepted by the House in our debate 279 on the Beeching Report, must now be centralised. So, under Clause 28, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State for the Environment will provide courts on a national basis. He will acquire certain buildings previously used by abolished courts, although, for the Old Bailey—the Central Criminal Court—the Common Council of the City of London will be under a duty to provide accommodation, and has again generously agreed to do so.
Schedule 3 deals with the transitional problems. It gives a right of user for all existing accommodation for ten years, during which period those buildings suitable for long-term use will be acquired. Then the responsibility of the local authorities will cease. For three years sheriffs, will remain responsible for judges' lodgings, after which the Secretary of State will take over the responsibility.
The matter of lodgings for judges is sometimes raised in debate in this House by certain hon. Members. It is essential for a judge to be able to have the privacy which is necessary and which enables him to avoid approaches which are often attempted. He must have privacy in which he can do his work. It is right to have such lodgings in centres where there will be perhaps not only the High Court judge sitting but also the circuit judge, so that there is opportunity for closer contact of the circuit judge with the High Court judge, avoiding the isolation of the county court judge which sometimes happens now. If this is possible, it will be of great advantage. There is no doubt that a substantial programme of building courts will be necessary and there can be no swift solutions. But here is a framework for the better use of existing buildings and the better co-ordination of building programmes.
I turn now to an issue which attracted much discussion when the Bill was in another place and before it reached another place. It is now dealt with in Clauses 12 and 21. As right hon. and hon. Members will be aware, Amendments were moved in another place and later withdrawn when my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor undertook to arrange a meeting between representatives of the Law Society and of the General Council of the Bar with a view to reaching a reasonable and sensible settlement for re-conciliation 280 between genuinely held, but differing, opinions.
The meeting discussed the right of audience and eligibility for the circuit bench. Following that, in another place my noble Friend moved Amendments which are understood to be acceptable to both branches of the profession and, what is more important, which seem to be clearly in the public interest. They are now incorporated in the Bill in Clause 12.
The Lord Chancellor may direct that solicitors may appear in any proceedings in the Crown Court, or any such proceedings as may be specified. A direction can apply to all places where the Crown Court sits, or to a particular area, region or circuit. The Lord Chancellor may take into account any shortage of counsel in the area in question, and he may take into account the rights of audience formerly exercised by the solicitors and any circumstances affecting the public interest.
When considering whether and where the Crown Court should be open to solicitors, my noble Friend gave an assurance that he would have high regard to the views expressed by the Lord Chief Justice as to the type of proceedings, particularly, of course, to those mentioned by the Lord Chief Justice himself, namely, appellate proceedings and committal for sentence.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)
I should like the Attorney-General to clarify one matter. As he said, it was the Lord Chancellor's own Amendments which were accepted in the other place. Is it not right, however, that the Law Society has not expressly given its concurrence with these proposals?
§ The Attorney-General
All I can say is that these Amendments were moved by the Lord Chancellor after he had had meetings with the Law Society and with the General Council of Bar. As a consequence of what my noble Friend said, the two noble Lords particularly interested and with particular experience and knowledge of their branch of the profession withdrew their Amendments. I understood and hoped that it was with the agreement of both branches of the profession that we greeted Clauses 12 and 21.
By Clause 21, solicitors become eligible for recorderships and recorders of five 281 years' standing then become eligible for the circuit bench. I sincerely hope that this solution will commend itself to the House.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
I am sure that the Attorney-General does not seek to convey the wrong impression, but he may be causing embarrassment to the Council of the Law Society if it is not clearly understood that it has not expressly committed itself or the profession to the compromise which has now emerged.
§ The Attorney-General
I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman can speak for the Law Society. All I have said is that it was after a meeting between representatives of the Law Society and the General Council of the Bar that the Lord Chancellor moved these Amendments which I commend to the House.
All of us, regardless of to which branch of the profession we belong, though we get some hard knocks in the House, are proud of our profession and of our participation in the administration of justice, which is what a lawyer's job is all about, or ought to be all about, and we all seek to assist in one rôle or another. All of us with integrity have in mind the public interest. There is a shortage of practitioners on both sides of the profession and putting the dividing line where now suggested will ensure that the public interest is best served.
I have read with interest the interim report of the committee under the chairmanship of my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) which consisted of distinguished barristers and distinguished solicitors. It reveals what can be done by sensible men from both sides of the profession and I have noted their general acceptance of the proposals now in the Bill.
There has been disagreement which has been marked by some angry words. I hope that they can now be forgotten. By far the majority of practitioners in each branch of the profession have many close personal friends in the other branch and they have a high professional regard for the quality, skill and work of each other. I sincerely trust that in future we shall be able to build upon that common regard by combining to improve upon the system of the organisation of 282 our profession which, as I recently heard in Delhi, is so much admired overseas.
The quirks, if that is the right word, of electoral results have made it possible for all of us, lawyer and layman, who served in the last Parliament and now in this to play a part jointly in a radical change of the courts system. The administration of justice is a matter which affects the lives of many citizens, not only litigant and accused, but witness and juror, court reporter and officials, lawyer and judge. It is a prime responsibility of the State and of society to pay the greatest regard to the manner in which fallible men seek to administer justice. All who engage in the administration of justice, therefore, all those who establish new procedures, as we are establishing new procedures, bear great responsibility.
The influence of English law, English court procedure and of the integrity of English lawyers and judges throughout the world should not be forgotten or ignored. We now need to make a substantial change in our procedures, but I am confident that the Bill will preserve all that is best in the long tradition of English justice while introducing a centralised and flexible system to fit the new circumstances of the day.
§ 4.18 p.m.
§ Sir Elwyn Jones (West Ham, South)
When the noble Lord the Lord Chancellor spoke on the Bill in another place, he characteristically referred to himself as the legatee of a partly finished work. The right hon and learned Gentleman the Attorney-General has been good enough today to re-echo that sentiment by acknowledging the Labour parentage of the Bill. For my part, I gladly congratulate the Lord Chancellor and the dedicated members of his staff and, indeed, the right hon. and learned Gentleman and the members of his staff—I will not say that they were hi-jacked and I will not say that they were dragooned, but they were persuaded to take part in this Herculean task—on their success in having ready for debate and consideration in this Session of Parliament this considerable Bill of 56 Clauses and 11 Schedules. Candles must have burned long and late in the Lord Chancellor's Department to enable this to be accomplished. The fact that I undertook in May to try to achieve that, had we 283 been returned, in no way diminishes what has been done.
We debated the Beeching Report last May as the right hon. and learned Gentleman has reminded the House. It was then generally welcomed. Its proposals depend fundamentally on the acceptance of the principle that there should be a single authority for the administration of the higher courts, to replace the present multiplicity of authority, that that authority should be undertaken by the Lord Chancellor and that he should in future be responsible to Parliament for delays and defects in the system. It will be the burden and duty of the right hon. and learned Gentleman to deal with those matters here in this House.
As I understand it, this Bill and the administrative and staff measures which have been and are being introduced give effect to that principle and will achieve that pattern of responsibility. One of the results of these major changes will be that we may well hear far more in future in the House about the working of the courts and the administration of justice, and I do not think that that will be a bad thing.
We are grateful to the right hon. and learned Gentleman for guiding us through this Bill. As he has said, it makes major changes in the structure of our courts and is not simply the result of reforming zeal. The fact is that the present system is in serious danger of breaking down. The rigidity and formality of its procedures, its inflexibility, the division of responsibility for its working and its complexity—all of these defects make one wonder sometimes how the reputation of our country for the quality of its administration of justice has been able to survive so long. That that is so is a tribute to those who actually run it. The Bill is a major piece of nationalisation, but I had better not spell that out too clearly or the learned Attorney-General might lose some of the support which presently exists behind him.
For instance, it is the case that court accommodation is now to be, with the exception solely of the Central Criminal Court, a responsibility of the central Government. The Attorney-General has indicated that a new, unified court service under the control of the Lord Chancellor will be responsible for the servicing of the 284 higher courts and the Crown Courts. In the light of all this, it is reassuring that in regard to this matter at any rate the members of the Government have kept their ideological principles under control.
I understand that some courts actually make a profit, but I will not identify them or they may be in danger of being hived off by the Government in accordance with their well-known principles in these matters.
Some of us have spent some of our happiest professional days in some of the courts which are to disappear and will have nostalgic memories of them. I see sitting opposite the learned Solicitor-General with whom I have tarried for many a day and night in some of the courts that will operate no more. They were not always comfortable, they often lacked the barest essentials. I well remember one famous court on my circuit where the boilers of the court were immediately below the Bench. There was one occasion on a warm April assize day, on the first day of the assizes, when the assize judge found the sweat pouring from beneath his wig. He ordered that the next day the boilers should be damped. Because of some error that was not done and when he appeared the next morning there was the same heat in the same court from the same boilers. The gentleman responsible was summoned from the vestry deep below the dock and was asked: "Who is responsible for roasting Her Majesty's Judge of Assize?" The man replied: "The Standing Joint Committee, My Lord." That kind of experience we have all no doubt met in different periods of our circuit lives.
It is high time that there was a unified and centralised responsibility for the provision and maintenance of all buildings in which the administration of justice is conducted. I hope that this Bill will be only the first stage of the restructuring of our courts, that it will be the beginning not the end. Nevertheless it was clearly right that we should proceed in stages, with what the right hon. and learned Gentleman used critically to call "piecemeal reform" in the days when he sat on this side of the House. I have always taken the view in law reform that half a loaf is better than no bread. It was right to start restructuring with 285 the higher courts where, perhaps, the need is greatest. As the right hon. and learned Gentleman has told us, there is an acute shortage of buildings and accommodation for assizes and quarter sessions. The state of accommodation for magistrates' courts is worse—and I say that knowing that I may well bring upon my head the wrath of the hon. Lady the Member for Tynemouth (Dame Irene Ward) who rightly pressed this matter upon the previous Administration.
It is a serious matter because it is in the magistrates' courts that the citizen will have his first and often his last taste of what courts are like and how they are administered. The magistrates' courts in London are perhaps as bad as any, and it says much for the quality of our magistrates who run them that such good results emerge from them. The Bow Street Court, for instance, is out of date, it is cramped and quite inadequate for the amount of work that has to be coped with. One of my colleagues was appearing there recently in a long committal case, lasting ten days. On three of the days they were able to sit at Bow Street. On two days the hearing was transferred to the Guildhall Justices Room in the City; on another day they sat in a court in North London, at Stoke Newington—
§ Sir Elwyn Jones
No doubt an admirable place, but it meant that the chief magistrate, the clerk, the usher, the typist, the parties and their lawyers and witnesses had to trail around because there was no room at Bow Street. This state of affairs is quite intolerable. The country must face the fact that it has been getting justice on the cheap. We shall have to pay a high price for the necessary buildings to see that justice can be administered properly without the intolerable strain which it imposes at present on those who have the responsibility for its administration.
I hope that the next stage will be an inquiry into the whole structure and staffing of the magistrates' courts, which in some places are grossly overworked while in others there is perhaps too little work to do. Reduction of the work load and other means of dealing with parking 286 and similar motoring offences are urgently needed, and I understand that some work is already being done in that direction.
Court procedures in the high courts and perhaps in the lower courts call for thorough re-examination. It is quite a long time since this was done for our civil courts or indeed our criminal courts. "Justice" has just produced an interesting report on the prosecution process in England and Wales which has some radical proposals recommending, in essence, the adoption in England and Wales of the Scottish system in which decisions to prosecute are made and prosecutions are carried out by procurators fiscal who are wholly independent of the police. The right hon. and learned Gentleman may well be looking at that report sympathetically in due course. Ideas of this kind were certainly formulating in my mind when I was in his place. The problems are difficult, but this is a matter which I think we should look at.
Having indicated some matters which might have been done in conditions of perfection and which might have been ready for introduction in the Bill, may I say that for what the Bill contains—and it is a major Bill—we are most thankful. The main quality of the scheme of the Bill is its flexibility. It is hoped that it will eliminate a good deal of the waste of time involved in the business of moving from assize to assize for short sittings in scattered places. But it is vital to maintain the fundamental principle that the law must be brought to the people and not the people to the law. There must not be a total concentration on centralisation.
It is gratifying to see that the Bill provides that the Crown Courts can sit anywhere. I hope that the civil courts will not be over-centralised and that the needs of litigants in remote places will be borne in mind. I have been particularly requested to ask whether the abolition of the Palatine Court of Lancaster may result in their being no longer available for Liverpool and Manchester a continuing chancery court where chancery cases can be heard. The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department is very familiar with the value of a continuing court of that kind in that area and he will know of the existence of the able chancery bar there 287 to man the courts. I hope that we shall have an assurance about that matter.
Clause 2 provides that theSittings of the High Court may be held, and any other business of the High Court may be conducted, at any place in England or Wales.Those places will bedetermined in accordance with directions given by or on behalf of the Lord Chancellor.Perhaps the Minister will indicate whether there will be one set of directions or a series of ad hoc directions. Will Pariament have an opportunity of discussing them?
I hope that the proposed arrangements will mean that it will be possible for interlocutory work to be done outside London, particularly first stage appeals, without litigants having to come to London from remote places for them to be heard.
A very large number of points arise from the Bill which we shall discuss in Committee, but perhaps I may be permitted to mention some of them today, particularly those which seem to me to be very desirable. I think it right that responsibility for meeting prosecution costs for indictable offences, including those tried summarily, together with certain defence costs, is to be transferred from local to central funds. I hope that that will put an end to the undignified disputes which we have had from time to time between some local authorities and the Department of the Director of Public Prosecutions about who should pay such costs—disputes which, to my dismay, led to litigation even recently. To my greater dismay, some of those disputes emanated from my own circuit. However, I think that they were resolved without public battle being waged. The decision in the Bill is clearly right.
What are the defence costs which are still to be paid from local rates? Might not that be discriminatory against ratepayers in an area where an important criminal court is situated?
I turn to a provision of the Bill which I commend, namely, the provision about the introduction of majority verdicts in jury trials in civil actions. I believe that I am right in recollecting that the Attorney-General voted against that change in respect of juries in criminal cases. I therefore assume from his support 288 of this proposal in respect of civil courts that conversion has taken place. I am sure that he will agree that experience has shown that the working of majority verdicts has been very satisfactory on the whole. There is an indication that time has been saved and a number of retrials have been avoided. It may well be that a number of results satisfactory to the administration of justice have been achieved as a result of instituting majority verdicts which might not otherwise have arisen. It is quite intolerable that the obstinacy or wrong-headedness of one juror may cause the retrial of a case which has lasted days, if not weeks.
I note from Clause 15 that a Crown Court rule committee is to be set up and thatCrown Court rules shall be made by the Lord Chancellor together with any four or moreother people. I remember bitter complaints and criticisms being made about that matter when I sat on the benches opposite. It was suggested that that provision in relation to county court rules constituted the Lord Chancellor a kind of veto-bearing Molotov who should not be treated with such a power. Whether it is thought that we can trust one Lord Chancellor with a veto but not his predecessor, I do not know; but I am sure that nothing so ungenerous would influence the right hon. and learned Gentleman's mind, and I mark this down as yet another conversion.
Clause 30 provides for the setting up of advisory committees, which are recommended in paragraph 325 of the Beeching Report and which we welcome. The Bill—and I do not say this by way of criticism—is silent on the new administrative set-up of circuit presidents and circuit administrators who were appointed to get the machinery going. It would be interesting to learn from the Minister how their work is progressing.
Clauses 12 and 16 relate to solicitors' rights of audience and qualifications for appointment as circuit judges. As the House and the country know, this matter has been the subject of very sharp controversy in another place and in the Press—controversy which I fear has frequently done little good to either branch of the legal profession. I do not wish to stir up the embers again. My view throughout has been that the Bill is concerned 289 with restructuring the courts and not with reconstituting the legal profession and that it is, and always has been, an inappropriate instrument for the latter purpose.
The relationship between the Bar and the solicitors' profession is a delicately balanced one. I happen to believe that the existence of an independent Bar performing the specialist functions which it does at present is a vitally important element in our administration of justice and a valuable safeguard of the liberty of the subject, and that it is in the public interest to maintain it. If the balance is unduly disturbed, fusion may become inevitable. I do not think that would benefit the public, and very few solicitors want it.
However, having said that, in my view the formula that is proposed in the Bill has the merit of flexibility, and I am content that its application in given courts and circumstances should be left, as it is in the Clause, to the unfettered discretion of the Lord Chancellor to be exercised on the lines that he has indicated in another place. I do not think that any attempt to change the formula by amendment or further legislation would be likely to improve the situation. I hope, therefore, that the House may be disposed to give the formula its support.
As to Clauses 16 and 21 relating to the appointment of circuit judges and recorders, as has been pointed out, their effect will be that solicitors will be eligible for appointment as recorders, and after five years of part-time judicial experience they will be eligible for whole-time membership of the circuit bench. This measure, coupled with the ease with which a suitably qualified solicitor can now transfer to the Bar and proceed along that road to judicial appointment will, I hope, eliminate any sense of resentment the solicitor's profession may have had in the past. If as a result of this change some new talent becomes available for the circuit bench, that will of course be in the public interest.
That is all I propose to say about that part of the Bill today. It is a package that has emerged after considerable discussion and consultation by the Lord Chancellor with members of the judiciary, representatives of the Bar and at any rate with representatives of solicitors if not formally with the Council of the Law 290 Society itself, about which I have no knowledge. I hope that the House will accept the package as it stands and that we shall not find a major part of the debate being spent upon this part of the proposals.
The subject which perhaps ought to be receiving top priority from lawyers at this time is the question of the unmet need for legal advice and help which I fear still exists in abundance in the neighbourhoods where the majority of our fellow countrymen live and work—in our large cities and towns. I feel sure that every Member of Parliament representing a constituency in those areas from experience in his surgery can testify to the depth and extent of this unmet need.
It is gratifying that the Law Commission in its last report drew attention to the extent of the unmet need for legal advice, and commended work on research that was being directed to it. Since that report we have heard of the generous Nuffield Foundation grants for research in this field on a national scale. A number of institutions like Bedford College, London, are similarly researching. Some of us recently visited the North Kensington Law Centre where a tiny group of dedicated men and women are doing a remarkable job in that area of need. The centre is, however, short of money, and, unless it gets more help, as the latest issue of the New Law Journal points out, the centre:… will have to cut down on the small claims with which it now deals in large numbers, for example, where mail order firms are demanding sums that are not due to them and in criminal cases where criminal legal aid has been refused. The non-implementation of the Law Society's £25 scheme is clearly denying the centre an important source of income which it might otherwise have enjoyed.That non-implementation has been the deliberate decision of the Government, and I promise the right hon. and learned Gentleman that the pressure to have that decision revoked will be continuing and relentless, because the need is very great.
Lest the public think that lawyers are concerned only with demarcation disputes, perhaps I may be permitted to inform the House of some of the work that has been done by the Society of Labour Lawyers. I hope that I shall not be thought guilty of political partisanship if I do so, because I know that the Society of Conservative Lawyers has shown the same active 291 concern. In December, 1968, the Society of Labour Lawyers, after a thorough study of the problem, proposed in "Justice for All" an experiment with local legal centres in poverty areas. This would enable those lawyers who wished to do so to do salaried legal work as a social service. I notice that the right hon. Gentleman the Prime Minister, in a recent address to Conservative lawyers commended that as a desirable activity, so I hope that we may get some support from the Government and the other side of the House for this.
The proposals made by the Labour lawyers were initially given a somewhat lukewarm reception in professional quarters, but now there is a good deal of acceptance of them. An organisation has been formed to give effect to two or three of the experiments that are contemplated. Its proposed board of directors, will include my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dulwich (Mr. S. C. Silkin), and Mr. Maurice Finer, Q.C. It will have an advisory committee, of which the chairman will be the chairman of the Law Commission, and which will count among its members, it is hoped, representatives of the Lord Chancellor's Legal Aid Advisory Committee, the Law Society, the General Council of the Bar, the Society of Conservative Lawyers and representatives of various social agencies. It has been working in close co-operation with the Home Office Community Development Project team, and it is expected that this co-operation will continue. It will work in close co-operation with the Nuffield inquiry and will seek to broaden the scope of its work so as to avoid the isolation of legal services from other social services. In that sense, it will operate in conformity with the ideas which are referred to in the Law Commission's Report.
The present need of this organisation is for funds. It is "money, money, money" that is always the cry. It has applied for funds to a charitable foundation, and it is hoped that a grant will enable two or three centres to operate in areas of poverty for at least three years.
If these centres are successful, we on this side of the House hope and will endeavour to ensure that financial support will follow from within the statutory legal aid scheme, and it may well be that we shall have to press for legislation to 292 achieve that. These are important and exciting developments deriving from the inspiration of lawyers on this side of the political fence and demonstrating that there exists among many lawyers a genuine will to fulfil a true social purpose within the community, to seek out the ever-developing needs of the community and to meet them by new and imaginative methods.
I am convinced that co-operation between the two branches of the profession in enterprises of this kind, particularly in collaboration with other social agencies, will do much to refurbish the image of the profession—an image which I fear may well have been somewhat tarnished by the recent controversy.
I apologise for having digressed somewhat into that subject, but it is an important matter and it is essential that the public should know the concern of lawyers that such a need should be met. I warmly commend the Bill to the House and we look forward to considering the matter in detail in Committee.
§ 4.50 p.m.
§ Mr. Edward Gardner (South Fylde)
I should like to join the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) in acknowledging that this is a very necessary Bill, and I wish to congratulate the Government and my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General on the speed with which he and the Government have brought this legislation before the House. I hope that the provisions of the Bill will bring to a conclusion the unhappy, one might almost say internecine, debate which has been going on between both branches of the profession over rights of audience and who is to be appointed to the judicial offices which will be created by the Bill.
I wish to deal in some detail with the Chancery Court of the County Palatine of Lancaster. That court was formed more than 600 years ago in the reign of Edward III. It is one of the two courts in this country, apart from the Chancery Division of the High Court and the county courts, which has a chancery jurisdiction. The Chancery Court of the County Palatine of Lancaster is today regulated by a number of Statutes and has within it the like powers and jurisdiction of the Chancery Division of the High Court of Justice. It is this ancient court which will fall a victim to the provisions 293 of the Bill. This court is about to be abolished by the present Bill, which implements the proposals of the Beeching Committee. I am told with some great authority that there is considerable apprehension among lawyers of both branches of the profession in the northwest of England not so much about the abolition of this particular court but about the absence of any provisions in the Bill to maintain a Chancery Court to serve the north-west of England.
The recommendation of the Beeching Committee which abolishes this court is obviously based on a defective appreciation of the value of the court. Paragraph 364 of the Report says that the Committee appreciated thatthe present position in Lancashire is not as satisfactory as it could be".The Report goes on to recognise thatThe facilities provided by the Palatine Court and by the District Registry of the High Court are popular, but there appears to be little expansion of business …".That is a misunderstanding and a misreading of the situation in Lancashire. In fact, more chancery work is done in the north-west of England than in any other part of the country.
I do not speak with any personal experience of that matter, and I am sure that if my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Miss Holt) has an opportunity of addressing the House she will be a far more authoritative person to speak on this matter than I, but there is no doubt about the demand locally for this court. There is an active and highly esteemed local chancery bar of which my hon Friend the Member for Preston, North is one of its distinguished members. There is no doubt that the demand for this court is very great in this area. Far from business there contracting, the fact is that there is a considerable increase in the number of cases which come before the court. Indeed, since 1965 the number of cases heard by the court has very nearly doubled. The figure has risen from 364 in 1965 to 600 this year.
The Beeching Report also says that there has been few recruits to the local Bar in that part of the country in recent years. Again, I submit that this is a misunderstanding or misreading of the figures and that there is considerable interest among young members of the Bar who would like to join the local 294 Chancery Bar, if there is anything left by way of a practice to hope for.
The vice-chancellor of that court will still be retained, but will become a circuit judge. Instead of having virtually unlimited High Court jurisdiction, as he has now, he will be left with a restricted jurisdiction, which will reduce him possibly to the status of a county court judge. The result will be that the kind of work now being undertaken by the Palatine Court will have to come to London to the High Court, overburdening the judges who sit in the High Court.
There is a suggestion in the Beeching Report that perhaps this situation could be remedied by an occasional visit by a High Court judge from the Chancery Division but, as Lord Justice Cross said in his evidence to the Committee, such an idea would not be practicable. The fear—and it would appear to be a fear which is substantially borne out by the provisions of the Bill—is that once the Palatine Court is abolished, the facilities which have been provided by it and the hopes of Chancery work being done in Lancashire will disappear.
All that I have to ask, on behalf of members of both sides of the legal profession in Lancashire, is whether the Government can give an undertaking that steps will be taken to provide for a court sitting permanently in Manchester, or Manchester and Liverpool, acting as a branch of the Chancery Division of the High Court, so that a judge in such a court could have the formal jurisdiction of the Chancery Division of the High Court.
Finally, with some sadness of heart, I refer to one of the effects of the Beeching Committee's proposals, which are implemented by the Bill, and that is the passing of recorders as they are at present associated with the locality over which their jurisdiction runs. Up to now and historically, they have always been there to represent the law locally. When the new recorders take their place and the old recorders are abolished that kind of geographical civic association will inevitably go. I ask my right hon. and learned Friend, who I thought gave some hope of this when introducing the Bill, whether there is not some way of preserving this old, historic and very valued association 295 between the law and the locality where the recorders at present operate. Perhaps we might have some word from him that would warm our hearts and make it possible for us to think that in the future we can still enjoy that historical association between the civic life of the country and the law.
§ 5.4 p.m.
§ Sir Arthur Irvine (Liverpool, Edge Hill)
I am glad of the opportunity to welcome the Bill. We are witnessing today an important occasion. There is no doubt that the provision for a single Crown Court to replace courts of assize and quarter sessions marks a momentous occasion in our legal history, and many of the changes which follow from that theme and the creation of the new unified court service are very important.
Both sides of the House will welcome the Bill. It is not questions of law which divide us, nor, broadly, questions of legal administration. I am on this side of the House and not on the other side because I want to see a shift of economic power away from those who have had an excess of it in former years. That basic viewpoint has implications no doubt affecting the liberty of the citizen and other matters which have no immediate connection with economics. But it does not follow from the political outlook of any one of us that he should logically take a particular view on issues such as those affecting the rights of audience of the solicitors branch of the profession and other problems of a professional kind. I am always open to enlightenment upon these and other matters, but I see no reason why, on issues of that kind, although they are matters of earnest controversy, there should be a division in the least degree upon party lines.
A feature of the Bill and of the Beeching Report whence it sprang is that each embodies a reasonable approach to a non-partisan subject. A distinguished product emerges from a very distinguished report on this matter. I feel relief that the consideration of the whole matter did not take a more technocratic form than it did. I am glad that it took the shape which it did, and that the element of professional and public interest which I equate made itself felt so much in the history of the matter.
296 Proposals for changes in the pattern and jurisdiction of the courts are affected by changes in their functions. The House should recognise that the courts have shown a remarkable adaptability to the responsibilities placed upon them by recent changes in their functions. Most hon. Members present know this full well, but some of our absent colleagues may be less aware of it. It is now thought apropriate that the courts should consider all sorts of matters, many of which would have been regarded earlier as non-justiciable. I have in mind as examples questions of public interest arising under the Restrictive Trade Practices Act. And now there is the novel issue of irretrievable breakdown in the new Divorce Act. If the Industrial Relations Bill becomes law, there is the new concept of unfair industrial action. One often feels anxiety lest the courts, in this expansion of their functions, should take on too much. Thus far one can say that the court have coped wonderfully with their extended and expanded responsibilities.
When I was called to the Bar 36 years ago there were only five Lord Justices of the Court of Appeal. The number has now more than doubled. There were 19 puisne judges of the King's Bench, as it then was. That number also has more than doubled. It may be an understatement to say that it is widely recognised that standards have been maintained.
The independence of the judiciary must be defended at all costs. The Bill does nothing to encroach upon or invade that all-important principle. The other place was vigilant in this regard.
In Clause 20 there is provision that every judge of the Court of Appeal and every judge of the High Court shall be capable of sitting as a judge of the county court and shall sit as such a judge at such times and on such occasions as the Lord Chancellor considers desirable. But by virtue of an amendment made in the other place, he cannot be required so to do. It can only happen if the judge of the Court of Appeal or the judge of the High Court consents. In my view, it was right that that Amendment should be made. It was an appropriate acknowledgment yet again of the importance attached to the independence of the judiciary.
In the other place, the Master of the Rolls said that under the Bill the Lord 297 Chancellor's Department was bound to become, whatever it is in name, a Ministry of Justice. He pointed to the dangers of getting over-centralised administration. He thought that that risk might be attendant upon the proposals. It is right that this House should watch that point with great care, though one hopes that the anxieties expressed by the Master of the Rolls on the point will prove unfounded.
Earlier in the history of his interventions in another place, the Master of the Rolls had opposed majority verdicts in criminal cases, taking up a position in that regard similar, as I understand, to that earlier taken by the right hon. and learned Attorney-General. The Master of the Rolls has now expressed himself satisfied that the decision to have majority verdicts in criminal cases was right, and he approves the extension of that practice to civil cases in the present Bill. Let us hope that the anxieties that he has expressed on the disparate issue of an over-centralised administration will prove to be unfounded and that later he will feel able to say in that case, too, that the event has proved the correctness of the proposal in the Bill.
The very first importance attaches to having the right relation between Parliament and the courts. In considering the relationship of this House to the Law Commission and to the Parliamentary Commissioner, quite rightly much time has been given to discussion here. One has done one's best to assist their developing relationship. The same considerations apply to relations between this House and the courts. In this Bill, Parliament deals with the structure and pattern of the courts. That is a matter which is manifestly within its own province. At a time when so much in the nation's affairs gives rise to anxiety let us acknowledge that the reputation of Bench and Bar stands firm or is enhanced. Let us welcome this Bill as a valuable Measure in the public interest.
§ 5.14 p.m.
§ Miss Mary Holt (Preston, North)
The Bill should be welcomed since it represents a valiant attempt to modernise the courts and the staffing of them to meet present-clay requirements.
The delays suffered by litigants in civil cases are notorious. They wait months and even years for their cases to be 298 decided. There are similarly scandalous delays in the trials of accused persons. The pattern of the assizes, fixed centuries ago, no longer represents the dispersal of the population. The courts now fail to give speedy justice. In fact, the assize system has become archaic.
The proposals in the Bill that the High Court and the new Crown Court shall sit at such places as the Lord Chancellor directs should make the courts more flexible, provide justice where it is needed, and make better use of judges.
I welcome the provisions that the Lord Chancellor shall provide court accommodation. There is now a distant ray of hope, money permitting, that there will be uniformity and excellence of standards in court accommodation which are not to be found at present. Apart from some new courts recently erected, the standards of accommodation in courts for barristers in respect of both accommodation in court and robing room accommodation, are often deplorable.
In some courts the seats for the Bar are most uncomfortable. A barrister has to be shaped like the letter Z to stand up. The benches are so narrow that papers fall to the ground at the slightest provocation. The robing rooms are dismal and ancient.
In some courts there is no separate cloakroom accommodation for women members of the Bar. I well remember going to Blackburn County Court, where the courtroom is like a stable and where there is no separate robing room for women advocates. I found myself in a room with a man solicitor and, while I removed my hat, he calmly changed his trousers. I had never seen him before, but I can truthfully say "Once seen, never forgotten". Now that the provision of this accommodation is to be in the hands of the Lord Chancellor, I look forward to seeing attractive robing rooms for women barristers.
One aspect of the Bill touched upon by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) is causing great concern in Lancashire. I refer to Clause 41 which provides that the Court of Chancery of the County Palatine of Lancaster shall merge with the High Court. I have to declare an interest in that I am a practising member of the Bar of the court and also have a constituency 299 interest as the court sits in Preston as well as in Manchester and Liverpool.
For many years the people of Lancashire have enjoyed what the rest of provincial England, apart from Durham, has never had—the opportunity of enjoying—being served by a local Chancery Court and a first-class local Chancery Bar. In other parts of the country litigants have all the trouble and fatigue of taking their cases and transporting their witnesses at great expense to London in order to have their Chancery cases tried. We in Lancashire have been able to take our cases to our local Lancashire Chancery Court, which exercises within Lancashire all the jurisdiction of the High Court. There is no limitation upon the Chancery cases tried except a territorial one. Within Lancashire the judge of the court at present has all the powers of a High Court judge.
The court is now to be merged with the High Court. I do not quarrel with the proposal if it means that the jurisdiction of the court will be enlarged to that of the High Court. Such an enlargement is desirable. But if it means that the powers of the court when merged will be less than they are now, I do not desire to see such a change, and nor do the majority of people in Lancashire.
In respect of this court, the Beeching Commission was never properly informed. It is significant that no evidence was given to the Commission by the judge of the court, the vice-chancellor. He was never consulted about it by the Beeching Commission. Only two members of the Bar regularly practising in the court submitted written evidence directly to the Commission. The remainder relied upon the Chancery Bar Association, which gave evidence to the Commission. However, that association represents primarily the interests of the London Chancery Bar, which at all costs is determined to maintain London's monopoly in Chancery work.
The present proposals are causing great concern to the legal profession in Lancashire. A memorandum registering that disquiet was prepared by no fewer than 12 Northern Law Societies and the Lancashire Chancery Bar. It showed, first, that the Lancashire Chancery Bar offers to the public a service of the same high quality as the London Chancery Bar.
300 Secondly, the memorandum showed—this I know to be true that the impression of the Beeching Commission, that the heaviest cases are usually taken in London, is completely erroneous. Cases taken in London are those which the territorial jurisdiction of the court, with its narrow limits, prevents being taken in the Lancashire Chancery Court.
Under the transitional provisions of Part I of Schedule 5 it would appear that the court will continue to exist as a branch of the High Court. But what is causing concern is, first, the suggestion in the Beeching Report that the judge of that court should not have the same unrestricted power to try cases as judges of the Chancery Division, and, secondly, under Part I of Schedule 2, the vice-chancellor is to be only a circuit judge. If so, the people of Lancashire are to be deprived of the equivalent of a High Court Chancery judge which they have so long enjoyed. This would be a most retrograde step just when the work of the court has increased, is increasing, and, if the territorial limits of the jurisdiction are to be taken away, will increase extremely rapidly in future.
People in Yorkshire and Lancashire do not want their Chancery work taken in London with all the expense such a course would involve. It is thoroughly impractical, as was pointed out by Lord Justice Cross and referred to by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde, to have a peripatetic Chancery judge.
My inquiries, made in the highest quarters, suggest that the jurisdiction will be the same as that of the Chancery Division. But I seek from my right hon. and learned Friend an assurance that such matters as company and patent cases will continue to be taken by the Lancashire Chancery Court after the merger, although in the ordinary Chancery Court in London company matters would be taken in the Companies' Court. At present both company and patent matters are within the jurisdiction of the Lancashire Chancery Court, and they have been for centuries.
It is a matter of sad comment on my part that the Beeching Commission was so badly misinformed and misled about the constitution and jurisdiction of the Lancashire Chancery court. I am also extremely concerned about the staff of 301 the court. I hope and trust that their services will continue to be required. I was encouraged to hear my right hon. and learned Friend say that the staff would be fairly and equitably treated.
Subject to certain assurances on these points, in all other respects I welcome and support the Bill.
§ 5.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Bruce Douglas-Mann (Kensington, North)
I am grateful to you, Mr. Deputy Speaker, for calling me so early in the debate. As you know, I have an unavoidable appointment which will make it necessary for me to leave the House shortly. I hope that that will not be considered discourteous.
It is a considerable privilege to be the first solicitor called to speak in the debate. I declare my interest as such. As a practising solicitor, with cases throughout the country, I deeply welcome the Bill. I think that anyone with practising experience realises how badly and acutely it is needed, as previous speakers have pointed out.
The Bill is a great improvement in the controversial respects to which reference has been made by the Attorney-General and the former Attorney-General concerning solicitors. I should like to deal with this relatively controversial aspect first.
I am quite happy with the Amendments which were moved in another place by the Lord Chancellor concerning the powers of appointment of solicitors as judges. I accept that a period as a recorder instructing juries is a desirable experience before a lawyer should act as a circuit judge in serious criminal cases.
However, I am not happy that the Amendments to Clause 12 are adequate. I fear that they reflect a completely mistaken approach, which has been referred to on several occasions as a demarcation dispute to the whole question of the right of audience in the courts. I hope that hon. Members will accept that it is unlikely that many solicitors will be particularly anxious to appear in circuit courts. It is not remunerative; it is not a job which most solicitors wish to do. However, when a solicitor has appeared for a client in the magistrates' court and the case is either 302 committed for sentence or goes to appeal to the circuit court, it seems highly desirable that he should be entitled to represent his client there if his client so wishes.
Solicitors practising in the magistrates' courts will have experience of the unhappy situation when a case has been conducted in the magistrates' court and then goes to appeal. In legally-aided cases it is exceedingly difficult to get an experienced barrister to represent the client. Frequently it is impossible to get the barrister that the solicitor has chosen to represent his client at quarter sessions. Consequently, the brief is passed down the line in chambers, and frequently an experienced solicitor has to sit behind a relatively inexperienced barrister who does not know the case, does not know the client, and does not know the witnesses. A solicitor will hear an inexperienced barrister arguing an appeal, or making a plea in mitigation, in circumstances in which he, by definition, cannot know as much about the case or be in as good a position to present it as the solicitor.
I accept that in general it is not a solicitor's primary function to be an advocate. Although the barrister may be a better advocate, advocacy is not a substitute for the knowledge of the circumstances and the case which the solicitor has. By definition, the barrister, particularly if he meets the client only on the morning when the case is heard, which is almost invariably the case, cannot have such knowledge. This is not a demarcation dispute; it is a matter about which there is strong public interest. The Bar need not worry. The number of cases involved will be very small.
I prefer the Amendment moved in another place by Lord Tangley, but I should be happy to accept the Amendment moved by Lord Dilhorne which would restrict the right of audience in these circumstances in cases of either appeal or committal for sentence to the particular solicitor who represented the client in the magistrates' court.
I hope that the Government will consider that an Amendment on the lines of that moved by Lord Dilhorne can be accepted in Committee.
There are many other aspects of the Bill. I should like to turn in particular to the provision in Clause 39 for majority 303 verdicts in civil cases. I certainly welcome this provision, but I should like to hear why the Government consider it would not be desirable to go much further. In a criminal trial it would be wrong to convict a man on a majority of less than 10 out of 12. But in a civil action why should not the result be determined by a simple majority?
In cases where there are juries, such as libel actions, the terrifying factor for litigants is the possibility of having to pay costs, and it would be in the public interest if all cases which, by definition, have to be determined on the balance of probabilities could be determined on a balance of majorities—a simple majority if necessary—rather than that the litigants should have to incur all the expense of a new trial.
§ The Attorney-General
The hon. Gentleman appreciates that the law at present is that parties in a civil action which is tried by a jury can, by consent, accept a simply majority verdict. This provision also appears in Clause 39.
§ Mr. Douglas-Mann
I appreciate that but, nevertheless, this is not a provision on which litigants are likely to agree in the heat of the battle. It would be better if there were a rigid rule rather than something which the litigant has to decide.
I should like to have seen the Bill contain a provision making rather more mandatory the award of costs in cases in which the defendant is acquitted. It is exceptional for costs to be awarded to a successful defendant. I should have preferred a provision which imposed on the court the duty to award costs to a successful defendant unless the court for any reason thought fit not to do so. The court should have a wide discretion not to award costs, but it should be the more general rule that costs are awarded than that they are withheld.
I shall not seek to follow my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) through a general review of the aspects of the law which need to be considered, but there are many aspects of the administration of justice which require review. I have in mind the provisions for bail and appeals to a judge in chambers, and the unmet need for legal aid and advice. A 304 procedure which I hope will be improved substantially when circuit and Crown Courts are set up is that for the notification of hearings in criminal cases so that the parties and witnesses are aware of them in good time, and not just at 5.30 p.m. the day before when counsel's clerk rings the solicitor concerned and tells him that the case is to come on the following day.
There should be an improvement in the procedure for the issuing of witness summonses in criminal cases. At the moment it is necessary to appear before magistrates who may be hearing the case and explain why one wants a witness, what he is likely to say and why he is reluctant to come to court. The existing provisions for remand require repeated attendance and entail the waste of a great deal of time on the part of the public, legal representatives and of the court. There is also the procedure in the Chancery Division which must be considered. All those matters require continuous review.
I accept the comments of the hon. Lady the Member for Preston, North (Miss Holt) about the unsatisfactory facilities in many courts. The most urgent requirement is not robing rooms but telephones. At Marylebone Magistrates' Court there is only one telephone to serve three tremendously busy courts. This is the only telephone available for lawyers, for the public, and for the Press, with the result that if a witness is required at short notice one may have to queue for ages before being able to get in touch with one's office to make the necessary arrangements.
The Beeching Committee has dealt admirably with the structure of the courts, and the Bill carries out its recommendations. I am happy with that, but we need a standing commission, similar to the Law Commission, to review all aspects of procedure and administration of the law, as well as the substantive law, because, in many cases to the ordinary member of the public the procedure and the machinery for the administration of the law can be of greater importance than the substantive law itself.
§ 5.35 p.m.
§ Mr. Ivor Stanbrook (Orpington)
The Bill is of more fundamental importance possibly than some hon. Members suppose. It affects the climate of opinion in this country with regard to law and order, 305 because every criminal trial is in the nature of a dispute between the defendant and the community. Judges cannot always guarantee the amicable settlement of disputes of that kind, but they can ensure fair settlement in accordance with the standards of fair play that are accepted by ordinary people.
An unfair trial—and there are far too many unfair trials nowadays, being largely the responsibility of the judges themselves—damages those standards and perpetuates a grievance on the part of the defendant, whereas a fair trial, a trial conducted in accordance with proper standards, and known to have been so conducted, is generally accepted, by the dependant, whatever the result. The same applies to punishment for crime. Every punishment by a criminal court reflects the displeasure of the community, and it follows that this must be accurately and fairly reflected in the sentence.
Variation in sentences is bad—and there is scathing reference to this in the Beeching Report—but excessive leniency is worse. Whereas excessive severity can be cured, and is usually cured, on appeal, foolish and sentimental leniency never is, and does great harm. It leads to contempt for the law by criminals, and it destroys the morale of the police and all those involved in the administration of justice. It is useless to raise the maximum penalties for offences, as we sometimes do in this House, and as we did last evening, if judges do not recognise that this sign of public concern about the seriousness of offences is something to which they must give effect. Most fines imposed by criminal courts nowadays are ridiculously low.
The Beeching Report, which has now reached legislative form, expressed the wide range of views which the Commission received, but in its translation to the Bill most of the changes recommended in the Report are more apparent than real, albeit very necessary.
I declare an interest as a practising member of the Bar, but one who is without any judicial aspirations, so I feel that I can express some reservations about the effect of the Bill on the judiciary and about the reduction in the number of part-time judges.
The advantages to the public of part-time judges are not sufficiently appreciated; 306 in particular, the extent to which the institution of recorder utilises the services of those who do not seek whole time judicial office. It is undesirable, as the Beeching Report says, to create a cadre of whole-time criminal judges in the second tier unless they are of high calibre. I know that the object of the Bill is to avoid the creation of such a cadre by mixing criminal and civil work, but at the moment most of the county court judges who occasionally sit in criminal courts are inferior to their more specialised brethren sitting in those courts. The jury is king in the criminal court. The technique is vastly different from that used in the county court, until the new mixed system has been working for some years we shall not get many judges who are equally at home in both jurisdictions.
But the greater difficulty in getting judges of high calibre, lies in the matter of their status which, with all due respect to the opinion of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Liverpool, Edge Hill (Sir A. Irvine) the former Solicitor-General, I believe has declined in recent years. This is due partly but not wholly to financial reasons. One distinguished judge recently was actually convicted of a criminal offence—only a road traffic offence, but a serious one of its kind—and did not resign. That which would have been unimaginable a few years ago. Another recently resigned to take up a more financially rewarding post in the City.
These are both examples of the declining status of judges, and they themselves also contribute to that decline in the public mind. The financial rewards for judges must be higher if we are to start reversing this decline. Only in that way will the abler men be prepared to accept judicial appointments.
There is a reserve of talent available, however. I share the Beeching Committee's distaste for a professional judicial service, but some magistrates, county court judges and quarter sessions judges are well up to the standard of the High Court bench. I hope particularly that the Lord Chancellor will not overlook stipendiary magistrates when appointing circuit judges under the Bill.
One of the main objects of the Bill is the greater efficiency of the courts and the reduction of delays in bringing cases 307 to trial. Perhaps one way of achieving this which does not appear to have been considered seriously so far is the double shift system. The main inhibiting factor in the burden of cases awaiting trial is accommodation. The problems of staffing can be resolved much more quickly than new courts can be built. Most courts now sit between 10.30 a.m. and 4 p.m., which, allowing for the luncheon adjournment, is a total of four and a half hours a day—Beeching recommended that it should be five—I suggest that it would be possible to break the back of the case list problem if two courts were to sit in the same building—one between 9 a.m. and 1.30 p.m. and the other between 1.30 p.m. and 6. That kind of solution has not been considered seriously, but I believe that it should be.
There has been reference to costs. I am sorry that the Bill does not take the opportunity to remedy the injustices to defendants in criminal courts in the matter of costs. All prosecution staff, counsel, solicitors and witnesses lose no money by the trial in which they are engaged. Even defence witnesses are recompensed for loss of wages and other expenses. Only the defendant himself is debarred from claiming his expenses, other than his legal expenses.
A successful defendant may be ruined by prolonged periods in custody awaiting trial or by attendance at the trial. The publicity and humiliation may adversely affect his business. Yet he is not recompensed. There is no power for him to be recompensed. He can get his legal costs and no more—this is all he will be able to get under the Bill. In a civil case a successful litigant can recover lost wages as damages but there is no such concept in the criminal law, and it is about time that we considered such a matter. It adds insult to injury when a successful defendant is refused his legal costs, because there is no appeal against such a refusal. For these reasons, I suggest that the matter should be seriously considered.
§ 5.44 p.m.
§ Mr. David Weitzman (Stoke Newington and Hackney, North)
I suppose that I should declare an interest in this debate. I have been in active practice at the Bar for nearly 50 years and have spent almost exactly 20 years as a silk. So I think 308 that I can claim to speak with some experience about various aspects of the Bill.
The Lord Chief Justice said in another place that as long ago as 1964 he had pressed for some inquiry into the archaic system of quarter sessions and assizes and the more expeditious use of what he called "judge power" in future. A great deal of time is wasted in our present system. A day—or the greater part of it—is wasted when the commission is read. There are also the multiplicity of assize towns, the attendance of a judge at some small place for two or three days when there is little or no work, the arrangements which have to be made a considerable time beforehand when there is no real knowledge of what work there will be, and the rigidity of the system which prevents a judge from trying a case which might take several days because he has to proceed to another assize town.
There is the further difficulty that cases are often heard in places which are not fit to be courts of justice. My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) referred to a number of courts, particularly magistrates' courts, which are not affected by the Bill, but all of us who know the High Court, for example, remember sitting and having cases heard in the Quadrangle—four courts which were not really fit for cases to be heard in. That sort of thing exists all over the place.
I am sorry that the hon. Lady the Member for Preston, North (Miss Holt) is not present, because I was horrified to hear what she said about the conditions of the courts in Blackburn. It is my birthplace, and what she spoke about was a terrible slur on that town.
A much-needed step, perhaps too long delayed, was the appointment of the Beeching Committee in November, 1966. I think that it was appointed by the then Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Stechford (Mr. Roy Jenkins). Its Report was made in September, 1969. It was an excellent one and forms the basis of the Bill. Appendix 7 of that Report shows that 3,000 men and women charged with indictable offences in Greater London, and 6,700 in the whole of the country, had to wait 60 days or more in 1967 after committal before their trial was heard.
309 That is surely a scandalous state of affairs, and I understand that the situation is worse today. Surely that is a denial of justice. The Bill is a much needed and belated attempt—perhaps in many ways a revolutionary attempt—to cure that clear denial of justice. It merges the quarter sessions and assizes, the Central Criminal Court and the Crown Court into one organisation. I understand that there will be two court levels: the High Court judge and the circuit judge.
Clause 4 says that there shall be a Crown Court and, in England and Wales, a Superior Court of Record. The High Court and the Crown Court can sit anywhere and, therefore, trials can be arranged in centres more easy of access to litigants, where the cases can be disposed of.
Clauses 20 and 21 and Schedule 2 set out the persons who are eligible to be circuit judges or part-time judges of the Crown Court. The provision that justices of the peace, who undergo a course of training now, will sit as full-time members of the Crown Court is wise.
A great deal of time was spent in the other place—and much has been said about it here—discussing the claim on the part of solicitors that they should be given audience and be eligible for certain appointments. I shall probably be accused of adopting a partisan point of view in saying that my experience is all in favour of continuing the present system. I am not afraid to make that clear, despite what has been said on the subject.
There is no doubt something to be said for the argument that a solicitor should in certain cases be allowed to follow up and deal with cases with which he has dealt in the lower court, and Clause 12 gives the Lord Chancellor power to so direct.
There is also the claim that solicitors should be appointed to office. I would have thought that the present system, whereby solicitors can change to the Bar, was the proper way of becoming eligible, but I would not quarrel with the compromise that has been achieved. I am all for peace between the two professions, and, after all, Clause 21(2) sets out clearly the power which the Lord Chancellor has to appoint a solicitor of at least 10 years' standing to be a recorder.
310 There is also provision in Clause 16(3) for a recorder of at least five years' standing to be qualified to be appointed a circuit judge. Solicitors should be pleased at this compromise. It is, of course, a compromise, and, as I say, I am all for peace. I hope that it will create peace. The matter is within the discretion of the Lord Chancellor and presumably he will examine the credentials and eligibility of persons for appointment in this way.
The Attorney-General spoke about Part v of the Bill, which deals with juries. He also referred to the Morris Committee. These provisions deal with the summoning of juries, panels of juries, exemption from jury service and other matters. The Departmental Committee on Jury Service under Lord Morris was appointed in May, 1963, and reported in April, 1965. I had the honour to be a member of that Committee and I spent a great deal of time serving on it. We heard many witnesses, took a great deal of evidence and our deliberations stretched over many days' sittings during our two years' consideration of the matter.
Our Report comprised a complete overhaul of the qualifications of juries, and it dealt with kindred matters. Indeed, we made 58 recommendations. Some of them—regrettably, very few—are dealt with in this Measure, and I would like to know why this opportunity has not been taken to consider and implement more of them. It is extraordinary that on so many occasions people in important positions are called on to spend hours of their valuable time considering a problem and then, when they report and make recommendations, a long time elapses before a few, if any, of their recommendations are implemented. Why has this opportunity been missed, particularly when the Bill contains a special part devoted to juries?
Clause 4(1)(b) provides that a court may, if the accused is acquitted, order the payment out of funds for the costs of his defence. For many years at the Bar I have felt that it has been an injustice that an accused person, tried and acquitted, should not only bear the anxiety, humiliation and distress of attending his trial but also in many cases suffer heavy costs and, if he has been in custody, the loss of his freedom, which 311 means additional pecuniary loss. I appreciate that the grant of legal aid mitigates the position in many cases. Nevertheless, if costs were awarded, the Legal Aid Fund would benefit from the order.
I recognise that there are cases where an acquitted person should not get costs, but I submit that the rule should be that an accused person who is acquitted should be entitled to costs as of right unless there is good reason to deprive him of them. I deplore the attitude that seems to be adopted that because a person is accused something must be wrong—that there can be no smoke without fire—and that he should suffer. I trust that this matter will be considered further in Committee.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South referred to legal aid, and it is obvious that many matters affecting this issue need to be examined again. The present system could be improved in many ways, particularly in connection with legal advice.
My right hon. and learned Friend also referred to the need for something to be done about the conditions in which justice is administered. I was rather upset to hear that one of the places to which he referred was in Stoke Newington. As it happens, that is a particularly good court, as perhaps it should be, being in my constituency. There are, of course, many other courts where conditions are horrifying and in which people should not be asked to sit and administer justice.
There is also a case for procedure to be examined. Many problems must be attended to. However, I fully support the Bill. I hope that its passage on to the Statute Book will prove a real help in making our administration of justice more speedy and more effective.
§ 5.57 p.m.
§ Mr. Ernle Money (Ipswich)
I apologise to the House for not being in my place at the commencement of the debate. I had to attend to an important constituency matter.
Like the hon. and learned Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North (Mr. Weitzman) and others, I welcome the Bill, which, I believe, will provide the greatest improvement in our system of administering the law since the major 312 Judicature Act of about a century ago was passed. I also believe that it will set the pattern of the way in which the law in England will work for many years to come and that it will be a most effective pattern.
I have misgivings about certain things concerning the interim period during which the new system will be introduced. For example, I have considerable misgivings about the 10-year moratorium period during which, it is said in the Bill, temporary court accommodation may be used. One mistrusts the phrase "temporary accommodation" because so often in the courts in which one has grown up what was to have been temporary has become virtually permanent.
In the yard of the Royal Courts of Justice there are three prefabricated huts which are still being used. They have been used for nearly all my time at the Bar as Queen's Bench courts. I understand that they were erected as temporary courts during the 1914–18 war.
At the Central Criminal Court we recently had temporary courts carved out of part of the passages, and these have become almost part of the fabric of the administration of justice in that important court. I appreciate that these things have been necessary. Fortunately, at that court we shall see many new courts in the next two years, and this will make more swift and more efficient the administration of justice there.
I hope that over this 10-year moratorium period we shall not have too many temporary courts of the type to which hon. Members have referred. I see in his place the hon. and learned Member for Walsall, North (Mr. William Wells). His jurisdiction at King's Lynn has been named as one of the possible centres for a new district court. I recently had the privilege and pleasure of appearing in a lengthy case before the hon. and learned Gentleman there. I could have spent no more pleasant three weeks, and the justice which was administered was exemplary, not only because my client was acquitted.
The hon. and learned Gentleman will agree with me that, beautiful though the Guildhall court at King's Lynn in which he administers justice is, it is not the ideal court for modern conditions. The cells and the other parts of the court 313 have been described by at least one of the memoranda submitted to the South-Eastern Circuit as being an added punishment which no prisoner should expect to bear as well as any other sentence which might be imposed upon him.
I mention that court in particular because King's Lynn has been rumoured as being one of the centres in which the district court is to sit in the immediate future. Although we are told that a major court is to be built there in the eventual future, the alternative seems to stand between King's Lynn, with its eventual court and its beautiful but thoroughly unworkable present court, from the point of view of the administration of a circuit court, and Wisbech, which has good modern courts but is not on the railway line.
I stress these matters because law is essentially about people. Although we have heard much complaint—rightly—from hon. Members on both sides about the conditions of robing rooms and the inadequacy of telephone provision, it is not the hardships that fall upon the profession that most concern me. It is the hardships that fall upon the public. It is in those circumstances that so often the present accommodation is in many instances thoroughly inadequate. I hope that those who are responsible for the administration of the Bill when enacted will be careful to bear that matter firmly in mind, and also the convenience of the public in the matter of travel.
I immediately declare a constituency interest. The Crown Court for the South-Eastern Circuit under Beeching as it stands has been named for the northern half of the circuit as being Norwich. There is strong feeling not only in my constituency of Ipswich but in many of the surrounding areas that Ipswich would be a more convenient town, and not only for practitioners. Pleasant though it is to stay in the beautiful city of Norwich, it is a city which it is impossible to reach by train from London in the morning before the sitting of the court. Therefore, one must stay there overnight, and great difficulty would be experienced in getting home in the evening. This is a matter which, with the inadequacy of train services in East Anglia, which are being cut down the whole time, would fall very hard on the considerable catchment area around Ipswich. The growing 314 area of population in places like Clacton, Colchester, Hadleigh, Stowmarket, Woodbridge and Bury St. Edmunds has reasonable ease of communication with Ipswich but difficult and lengthy communication with Norwich.
I mention this only as an example. I hope that those responsible for the administration of the Bill when enacted will not merely approach this on the basis of any considerations made during the time of Beeching—on the basis of Norwich being a considerable area of population—but will approach it on the basis of what is most convenient to the public as a whole; because it is the general public that the law is there to serve.
Credit should be paid for the steps that have been taken recently to speed up the administration of justice in many sections, particularly the reform of the Court of Criminal Appeal, as it was—now the Court of Apppeal (Criminal Division)—and the work of the staff there, and the speeding up of criminal cases in many instances by the abolition of committal proceedings and other such matters.
I share the misgivings of many right hon. and hon. Gentlemen with regard to matters of bail and legal aid, but these are matters on which no doubt my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General will expect to be pressed further.
What I am most deeply concerned about is the considerable delay which was built up over the years—certainly in the 14 years that I have been at the Bar—in the trial of civil actions. Over the years it has become nothing less than a scandal that so often, sometimes because of delay on the part of lawyers in both sections of the profession, sometimes because of delays on the part of courts, an old lady, for instance, who has been knocked down on a zebra crossing may find that if the insurance company on the other side decides to fight the case to the last it will be six years before she sees a penny of her damages. This is a state of affairs which the public are not prepared to accept much longer and which the Bill sets out to cure.
I greatly hope that in the administration of the Bill when enacted speed, from the point of view of reduction in the time it takes to conclude trials of this type, will be made a priority and a matter to 315 which the ends of justice rather than the forms of justice are seen to be dedicated.
§ 6.7 p.m.
§ Mr. Peter Archer (Rowley Regis and Tipton)
If I do not follow the hon. Member for Ipswich (Mr. Money) into all the matters which he has raised, he may take it that silence implies assent and that I see no reason to differ from him. No doubt many of the matters will be discussed in Committee; and if he and I are fortunate enough to be selected we may find ourselves in alliance on a number of them.
This is perhaps symptomatic, because there has been very little cleavage among the legal profession about the general principles of the Bill; it has received an almost universal welcome. It is all the more disappointing that that enthusiasm does not seem to have extended to members of the general public, including honourable Members who are not members of the legal profession. The general public appears to be unimpressed by the fact that the intended beneficiaries of these reforms are not the lawyers but their clients; nor apparently are they swept away by the consideration that the Bill is intended to implement the report of a Commission presided over by a distinguished layman.
There is little to indicate on these benches today that we are present at the making of history. I can only rather sadly echo the lament of an eminent and hon. Member in the debate that gave rise to what subsequently became the Supreme Court of Judicature Act, 1873. He was the hon. Member for Dungarvan. I quote from the 3rd Series, Vol. 216, c. 676 of Parliamentary Debates:Mr. Matthews said, the fact of the debate having been carried on in a very thin House was not encouraging to the friends of Law Reform, for though the Bill was one which vitally affected the interest of every subject of the Queen who had to go into a Court of Law, the debate upon it had been addressed to only 12 or 20 hon. Members.I cannot forbear from placing it upon the record that their score was, if anything, a little higher than ours.
It should be a matter of concern to us that hon. Members who are not members of the legal profession look upon measures of law reform not only as not their business but as a positive intrusion into the time of the House which ought 316 to be spent on discussing things. [An HON. MEMBER: "Hear, hear."] Apparently, there is an hon. Member present who gives some support to that view.
Lawyers, both in the House and outside, have always been fair game for the occasional outburst of hatred, ridicule and contempt. This has been an occupational hazard of our profession since long before Shakespeare wrote about it. It is probably well deserved. If there is anything to equal the hatred of politicians for lawyers, it is only the contempt of the legal profession for politicians. Those of us who, unhappily, are included in both categories are everybody's Mick McManus. But, as I say, I suspect that the legal profession has asked for it.
Too often we have regarded it as beneath our dignity to explain to the public what we are doing and why, and it may well be, as one or two hon. Members have observed today, that our image has not been improved in recent months by the somewhat unedifying performance by both branches of the profession of the duet "Anything you can do I can do better". I do not believe that it is to the advantage of either the legal profession or the public if it becomes normal, as it is in danger of becoming, for every criticism of the profession from outside to be ill-informed and hysterical, and for every reply from the legal profession to alternate between a series of smart debating points and a cold brush-off. I hope that the Bill will mark the incepton of a better tempered and better informed dialogue between the legal profession and the public about our mutual concerns and interests.
When it is implemented, the Bill will make possible among the general public a feeling that their interests are of greater concern to the legal profession than they have at times appeared to be in the past. The hon. Member for Ipswich raised several points in that connection. A great deal will depend upon how the Bill is administered when it is on the Statute Book, but there will be—this is central to the whole object—a substantial saving in judicial time. May one hope that some part of that time will be expended in order to let the public feel that their time, too, is of some concern to the courts and to the profession.
317 We all know that lists are compiled on the assumption that some cases will settle and some, for one reason or another, will not be effective, but all too many lists are compiled on the assumption that a far higher proportion of cases will settle or prove to be ineffective than there is any good reason to hope. There is ensuing waste of time, with people having to hang about and come back the next day, not just for members of the legal profession, but for their lay clients, for witnesses of fact, and for many busy experts.
I hope that we shall in the legal profession get away from the general thesis that, whoever is inconvenienced, never in any circumstances should a judge have a spare hour in which he might write his judgments, read the copious literature with which he is expected to be familiar, or even, perhaps, take a walk in the fresh air and spend an hour in reflection. If we are to have a saving in judicial time, let us hope that it will not be thought a waste of some of it occasionally to accommodate the requirements of people outside the legal profession.
I echo the suggestion that this review of the administration of justice might be accompanied by a review of the magistrates' courts. Clearly, no review of local justice can be taken in isolation from the magistrates' courts. In particular, I echo what has been said about court accommodation. Under the Bill, responsibility for buildings, both for the Supreme Court and for the county courts, will vest in the Secretary of State for the Environment, and that will represent enormous progress over the present system, by which assize accommodation is the responsibility of local authorities and county court accommodation is the responsibility of the Lord Chancellor, with such resources as he can command locally. Even now, however, the magistrates' courts will continue to be provided by the local authorities, subject, I understand, to an appeal by the local committee to the Home Secretary if it is not satisfied with the provision made by the local authority.
It must be to the advantage of everyone to have a single local court building which, so far as possible, is purpose-designed. Court rooms ought not to be left unoccupied as they are so often now when they are not required by a particular 318 court, or perhaps even used for the mayor's local charity ball. It would be much better for everyone if we could have courts occupied regularly, according to the needs of the moment, by the Crown Court, by the county court, by the magistrates' court, or from time to time by a local inquiry; and better still if we had our courts purpose-designed and built to meet the needs of litigation. Recently a study was made by a group at the School of Architecture of the University of Birmingham of the way in which courts could be designed, and even standardised, to meet needs of that kind. Let us hope that there will be more imaginative research of that sort in the future.
I have given just one illustration of how everyone is better served by a unified administration. Perhaps the time has almost arrived to consider whether the interests of either the profession or the public are really advanced by the continued dichotomy between the criminal law, for which the Home Secretary is answerable, and the civil law, for which the Lord Chancellor's Department is responsible, with the result that in this House—it happened on one occasion to me—when one puts down a Question about, for example, the comparison between civil and criminal juries, it transpires that no one is very sure who is responsible for answering.
There are many other respects—my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) referred to some of them—in which the dialogue with the public ought to be advancing. He referred to paragraph 96 of the Report of the Law Commission on the need for some kind of centre to conduct social research into the legal profession, against the background of the kind of needs which the profession is designed to serve. My right hon. and learned Friend referred to the study at present being conducted by the Birmingham Institute of Judicial Administration—I gather that it is now to be extended by Bedford College—into the unmet needs of the public for legal aid and advice. He referred also to the report by Justice on the whole of the prosecution process.
I would add one example to those cited by my right hon. and learned Friend. Is it not time that we considered the whole 319 question of training for the legal profession? Is it not time that we considered what subjects are properly included as law? At present, too many people who have, for example, to deal with tribunals relating to national insurance have great difficulty in finding a local lawyer who has any knowledge, by training or experience, of what the Americans call poverty law.
Those are all proper subjects for the kind of dialogue which one hopes to see developing. When my right hon. Friend who was then Prime Minister announced the appointment of what subsequently became the Beeching Commission, I ventured to ask whether the consumer's interest would be represented upon it. I recall that there was some hilarity in the House at that suggestion, but I am not sure that, even interpreted as it was apparently interpreted that afternoon, it was so far from our needs. There are, I believe, many people who have become familiar with the receiving end of our criminal law who have nevertheless a real sense of the distinction between justice and injustice, and who might perhaps be able to give us useful advice about the way in which our legal system functions. Certainly, we have always tried to involve the public in the administration of our law. That is the purpose of the jury system. To a very great extent it is the function of the system of lay magistrates. I welcome the fact that it is now intended, under the Bill, to include lay magistrates in the hearing of appeals as full members of the court. We may very well have to look at both institutions, the jury system and lay magistrates, to see how far they require adaptation to the changing needs of our society. But the public must continue to be involved, and to a much greater extent than it has been, so that the legal system shall be subject to a continual process of consumer criticism and the public shall feel a responsibility for the administration of justice which is not merely confined to hurling abuse from time to time.
Of course, we must preserve a proper balance. The courts are intended to be objective, and they are not to be too easily subjected to every changing fashion of tea-room conversation. It is interesting that at the very time when we in this country are trying to dispense with the technicalities which for too long have 320 obscured from the public what is happening in the legal profession, in Russia some of the best of the legal profession are trying to reintroduce the technicalities, because there the danger has been that they have been too much subjected to interference by public opinion and the political process. Clearly, we must preserve a balance, but there it is important that the public should not feel as remote from the administration of justice as it has in the past.
Clause 30 provides for the appointment of an advisory committee or committees to advise the Lord Chancellor. It does not go as far in that respect as paragraph 326 of the Committee's Report, but presumably that is because that paragraph does not require legislation to implement it. There the Committee expresses the hope that circuit administrators would appoint their own advisory committees, so that those who take part in the administration of justice, and those who find themselves at the receiving end, would be able to indicate to those responsible where the shoe pinched.
I hope that this debate, and the implementation of the Bill, may usher in a happier era in the relationship between the legal profession and the public, when the public will find that its requirements are taken seriously by lawyers in a changing and, in some respects, more demanding, world; when the public, for its part, will be prepared to pay a fair price for the training of more lawyers, the provision of more adequate accommodation, and the provision of necessary legal services; and when the legal profession may find itself recognised for the part which it has played, and which we hope it will continue to play, in the life of this country.
§ 6.23 p.m.
§ Mr. Ian Percival (Southport)
My right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General graciously referred to the interim report of a Committee of which I have the honour to be Chairman. That report started with these words, taken from the speech of Thomas Erskine to the jury in the trial of Paine:If I were to ask you, gentleman of the jury what is the choicest flower that grows upon the tree of English Liberty you would answer, 'security under the law'. If I were to ask the whole people of England the return they looked for at the hands of Government, from the burdens under which they bend to 321 support it, I should still be answered 'security under the law', or in other works an impartial administration of justice.All the members of that Committee and I felt, as I am sure every hon. Member would, that that is just as true today as it was when Erskine said it at the beginning of the last century. It is equally clear that the Bill can contribute significantly to improving the administration of justice which we all hold so dear.
Precisely how it will do so depends almost entirely upon the administration of these provisions. So many of its provisions are enabling rather than specifying provisions. The next two or three years, the early stages of the implementation of the Bill, will be enormously important, because the question of how much the Bill contributes to the improvement of the administration of justice will depend to a great degree upon how the enabling provisions are used.
I was very pleased to hear my right hon. and learned Friend make clear that the supervision of the judicial side of the work will rest wholly and solely with the judiciary. The unification of administration is tremendously important, but the separation of powers is much more important.
I had the privilege of winding up the Second Reading debate on 7th May last year—for the then Opposition. I shall not repeat what I said then, but I should like to make a few comments in the form of do's and don'ts, expressing hopes in the form of do's and don'ts. I start with the things which I hope the Government will do and then I shall mention one or two things which I hope that they will not do. I hope that, as I am sure will be the case, where things are working well an enthusiasm for tidy administration will not lead anybody to step in too speedily. I am sure that that will not happen because there are plenty of areas where urgent action is needed to absorb the whole of the time of the staff available and their enthusiasm.
I hope that, wherever possible, some of those things that are traditional in the law are retained. I do not in the least mind being described as sentimental when I say that, because I believe that a good deal of the tradition, ceremonial, sentiment—whatever we like to call it—we see in the law plays a very real part. It may not be a big part, and it may 322 not be one that can be defined, but it undoubtedly plays a part. I hope, for instance, that the possibility canvassed by the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) on Second Reading when he was Attorney-General that it might be possible for recorders still to be recorders of cities, although they were entirely at the disposal of the circuit administrator, will be fully canvassed. Cities like having a recorder, and recorders like to be the recorder of a city. Some people take a dismal view of that, and there are one or two remarks, I think slightly snide, in the Beeching Report about local pride and so on. I say unashamedly that that sort of approach is wrong. I hope that we shall try to retain such traditions wherever we can without detriment to the advantages to be derived from the Bill.
§ Mr. Elystan Morgan (Cardigan)
Does it not mean that since county and shire boundaries have very little relevance to the watersheds of courts, and since the theme of the Bill is to favour the watershed principle rather than the rigid boundary principle, it would be impossible to tie a recorder to any particular geographical locality?
§ Mr. Percival
I was not suggesting that he be tied. What I was saying was, let him be called the Recorder of, say, Sheffield, and let him be available to the circuit administrator to sit in other courts within whatever area he would be required to sit in anyway. The fact that he is the Recorder of Sheffield, for instance, would not necessarily tie him to Sheffield.
There may be other practical reasons why it is not possible. I am only expressing the view, because I hold it strongly, that if it were possible to find a way in which to maintain this kind of tradition and the pride which goes with that kind of arrangement, I for one should dearly like to see it maintained, provided, and this I think answers the hon. Gentleman's point, that it does not in any way impinge on the benefits which would otherwise be obtained from the Bill, among which I, too, count the flexibility of being able to, use part-time judges in more places than one. As a matter of fact of course it happens already, because the part-time judges by no means sit only in one place, even if they are recorders, and many sit as 323 deputy recorders elsewhere and many part-time judges sit in a variety of places.
In the same vein, although with perhaps a rather more practical basis to it, I venture to hope that every possible effort will be made to maintain and support the office of sheriff, with which goes the office of under-sheriff, and to make practical use of the services which can thus be provided through those offices. We have to retain the offices of sheriff and under-sheriff for the purpose of executing High Court judgments until such time as some other machinery is provided, and I do not think that there is any difference between the two sides about this. Both Lord Chancellors have made it clear that they could not consider implementing the rest of the Payne Committee recommendations for several years and so we have to have sheriffs so that they may have under-sheriffs who can execute judgments. I do not think that we shall get sheriffs for very long if they merely head debt collecting agencies, but, be that as it may, there is no necessity to reduce them to that status, because there are other practical functions which they can perform.
They are being used, for the first three years at all events, to provide judges' lodgings and to look after some of the physical needs of judges in those lodgings, very sensibly, because these are the gentlemen who have the benefit of their own experience and the experience of their predecessors in doing that over the years. They know what to do and nobody has to tell them or supervise them, and they do it well. I for one hope that in that period of three years for which they will be used as independent contractors, I suppose that one may call it, someone will decide that it is a sensible arrangement and that it cannot be done more efficiently or less expensively and should therefore be continued. I hope that that is at least a possibility which will be considered.
Much the same can be said about the summoning of jurors. The hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Elystan Morgan) may take up the geographic aspect of the point which I am about to make. The Beeching Committee expressed the view that we would have to change the system of summoning jurors because the boundaries, the bailiwicks, of the courts 324 would no longer coincide with the areas covered by the sheriffs and so on. I think that is a piece of rather special pleading. In the foreseeable future, the "jury book" will still be the electoral roll and somebody on the court staff will have to say, "On Tuesday week we shall want 100 jurors at Norwich", and that will have to be said to someone whose duty it will be to provide 100 jurors at Norwich on that day. For many years, there may be no practical difficulty in continuing to use the system and the persons who are already doing that work and doing it very expertly and it might be sound practical common sense to do that rather than to disturb something which is working well, at any rate in the early stages.
I come to the dont's. I hope that nobody will be over-enthusiastic about making everything tidy. I cite a specific example. Under Clause 26, the appointment of Masters of the Supreme Court is to be tidied up. That is about all that one can call it. I am not unaware of the fact that in 1915 someone recommended that the system of the appointment of High Court Masters should be changed, but I should have thought that the fact that we have managed to survive for another 55 years without any difficulty and that by common consent that Department works extremely well was good enough reason for leaving it alone. It is difficult to see much reason, other than a passion for tidying up, for changing that. It works extremely well and I ask those responsible to reconsider the decision and to leave that part alone, for that reason and because they have plenty to get on with putting right the things which do not work very well.
I should like to make one reference to Clause 12. My right hon. and learned Friend was so good as to refer to the fact that I have the honour to be the chairman of a committee of lawyers, which consists of four practising solicitors of considerable experience, five practising members of the Bar and two academics. As appears from its report—I am not "doing a commercial" for it, but I should be happy to supply a copy to anybody who would like to see it—we found little difficulty, once we had all pooled our ideas, in coming to an agreed solution. May I offer this hope, that others may feed on that experience and 325 may take the view with us that that is perhaps a much better way to resolve such matters than any other which has been evident in recent months.
Of course one would not expect everybody to agree with every detail of the solution which we agreed in that report, but I hope that it will help to lead people to the conclusion that Clause 12 ought to be left as it is. I am not sure whether the hon. Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann) appreciates that the discretion given under Clause 12 is now about as wide as possible. It is certainly within its scope for the Lord Chancellor to give directions implementing in full the solution which the hon. Gentleman said he would be happy to see implemented, namely, the Amendment as proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Tangley as qualified by the noble Lord, Viscount Dilhorne. That can be done within Clause 12 as it stands.
I hope that any further difficulties which may exist about that part of the administration of justice will be resolved by discussion with the Lord Chancellor and his Department as to the orders which he should make under Clause 12.
I do not want to stir the pot—and I hope that it has been perfectly plain from the way in which I have been measuring my words that the last thing I want to do is to stir the pot—as anybody who has read the report will see. Therefore I shall not say any more. It is tempting to answer some of the comments of the hon. Member for Kensington, North. Nothing is to be served either by making the kind of inter-profession comments he made, or by answering them, and it is because I believe that, that I shall resist the temptation to answer.
I welcome the Bill. I welcome the necessary changes which are coming under it. I do not resile from what I have said, that I hope that the things which work well will be left alone, but I recognise that there will be some big changes. I welcome them because I think that they will lead to improvements. I hope that the Lord Chancellor will be persuaded by the report to make directions as suggested—they are very close to what he has said in the House of Lords—and if he does so, that will bring about substantial changes.
All of this I welcome. What we need now is to take our time about these 326 changes so that we get them right, as far as it is humanly possible to get such things right, and then leave the position alone for a while. It is frightfully important, when we are concerned to ensure that the legal profession provides an adequate service, that it should have some sort of picture of the future for which it can plan, so that law teachers, for instance, can give those who are thinking of practising some kind of indication of what world they are entering, so that those who are practising have the opportunity to make themselves masters of their professions before it is changed again.
In particular in relation to this question of what is to be done under Clause 12, I hope that we will have full consideration of everyone's point of view, followed by implementation of the recommendations of my Committee, followed by a period of stability in which we can all absorb these changes and adjust to them.
I also agree with those who say that this is just a first step. A necessary second stage, which is most daunting when we think about it, would seem to be a similar sort of consideration of the whole of the magistrates' courts organisation. It is an even bigger exercise than the one we are talking of here and no less important. I am sure that lawyers would agree that there is scope for improvement and we hope that that task will be tackled.
That is not all. There is another group of "courts" to be considered. We are rapidly approaching the time when something more than piecemeal consideration of the position of tribunals is necessary. We now have such a proliferation of tribunals that I doubt whether any Member of this House, if asked to guess how many tribunals there are exercising quasi-judicial functions, would get within 50 per cent. of the right answer.
I have no idea at the moment because I have not looked at the Report of the Council on Tribunals recently but it is a very large number. They are now dealing with cases given to them for trial involving difficult and important justiciable issues. Every justiciable issue is important. Every time someone has to decide an issue that is a matter of importance but the tribunals are also getting some very difficult questions involving substantial sums of money.
327 Finally, and here I pick up something referred to by the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South, we have now removed the county courts so much from what they were when they were first invented that we are left without the kind of court necessary to do the work for which the county courts were invented, the small kind of work, disputes about £6 or £8, the sort of case where the amount is so small and the parties to the issue have such little means that we really have to try to provide some more simple and cheap form of justice. It appears that the county courts, which were designed to provide that kind of remedy, have moved far beyond it and left something of a vacuum which we must try to fill.
I welcome the Bill as something which can, and I have no doubt will, make a significant improvement in the administration of justice, not, as my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor said, by way of "reforming abuse" but by way of "improving upon excellence". Let us not underrate the excellence of our own system. Everyone else in the world thinks that it is pretty good and we should never run it down too much, though we should always be looking for improvements. I welcome the Bill for those reasons and, like other speakers, see it as just the first step in an overhaul of all the processes, judicial and quasi-judicial, which play such an important part in the life of every citizen of the country.
§ 6.45 p.m.
§ Mr. Leo Abse (Pontypool)
The House today, while we are discussing the administration of justice, is as usual reasonably full of lawyers and empty of Members. Most of the lawyers here are barristers and while we are discussing the administration of justice this is rather droll. Although everyone would agree that no one is better qualified to talk of justice than the Bar, barristers, as they admit in private in their franker moments, are, administratively, almost illiterate. Like solicitors they receive little legal training in administration. In fact, solicitors receive a little, barristers receive none.
Once they are qualified barristers are immediately ruled, and some would say they are terrified, by their clerks who, if 328 they in turn are up to their tasks, free their barristers entirely from all the menial and challenging tasks of administration. The barrister lacks partners, he lacks personal staff, he is not even, as a determined "loner", required to administer himself, never mind consider administrating anyone else. I do not doubt and I do not dispute that there are doubtless great advantages in the present professional structure, great advantages indeed. It means that, completely undistracted, totally single-minded, the barrister can devote himself, as he does, to the law.
But in administration he is a babe in arms and the community has suffered, suffered from the Bar's conservatism, from its disinterest in administration and its monopolistic mood, leaving it traditionally hostile to the introduction of outside experience and administrative sophistication. No other explanation is possible to explain how it comes about that despite almost eight centuries of protest and complaint against the delays of the tardy lawyer it is only now, in the second half of the 20th century, that we are making a real attempt to liberate our courts from a medieval ground plan.
All of this is only too well documented by the historians and perhaps even better revealed by the stories of tardiness and delay with which our novels are replete. Our old English novels have reflected the mood of the general community in its attitude to lawyers. That the rule of law has so far triumphed is despite not because of the administrative features of our justice. What we should all be doing here today, those of us who are lawyers, is paying tribute to the non-lawyer, Lord Beeching, who has saved the lawyers from themselves. The non-lawyer Members of this House however cannot acquit themselves of responsibility for the long delay in streamlining our courts to meet the real needs of the community.
As has been pointed out, lawyers are forever the target of criticism and raillery in this House. Indeed, Mr. Speaker, it was your other qualities, as was explained by those who nominated you to the Chair, which triumphed over your professional qualifications that brought you to your position as Speaker. All lawyers bear this opprobrium with a patient shrug, as we must, for we understand the motivation. Members of Parliament, by and large, are 329 lawyers manqué. They naturally envy the lawyers' professionalism and so berate them, but when, as now, the opportunity comes to put lawyers in their place Members of Parliament lack confidence and flee from the House.
So doubtless, when I repeat the demand which I made when we first discussed the Beeching Report saying that the proposed changes require the creation of a Ministry for the administration of justice, I have no doubt that I shall again be a lonely voice. The barristers, as they have already shown today with great style, are nostalgically, ever compulsively, in love with their own institutions and I do not doubt that now, as during the debate on the Beeching Report, they will rally to protect the Lord Chancellor and his able Department even though the needs of the community and of this House require that the administration of justice is severed from the judicial, patronage and parliamentary rôles of the Lord Chancellorship.
I believe that the time has passed when we can any longer indulge ourselves in an excess of institutional eccentricity. Obeisance to tradition is one matter; administrative efficiency is another.
We have only to turn to the tasks before the Lord Chancellor and his Department to realise that the manner in which we in this country deal with the administration of justice would be regarded with disbelief and treated with dismay by any large industrial or commercial organisation. It is important that the country understands the extraordinary tasks which are falling on the Lord Chancellor and his Department. The Lord Chancellor has to assume so many rôles that he has to disenjoy a multiplicity of metamorphoses beyond the endurance of any man.
The person who has to supervise this revolutionary Bill starts in the morning as a politician. He is overwhelmed with inevitable Cabinet meetings, Cabinet committees and Ministerial committees. In the afternoon, chameleonlike, he has to change his robe and become the chairman of the House of Lords. Then he often has to break off to see Members of this House importuning him for law reforms. Part of his duties is to see the Lord Chief Justice. He has to see the Attorney-General. It is highly probable 330 that during a typical day in the Lords he has to change his identity as chairman of the Lords so that he may participate in debates in the rôle of Front Bench spokesman.
This is where we are placing the control and overseership of this structure in our legal system. Apart from all this, the Lord Chancellor has to involve himself in the extraordinary patronage at his disposal which was once described by Lord Gardiner as scandalous. He has to recommend the appointment of all the High Court judges, county court judges, the London stipendiary magistrate, the chairmen and deputy chairmen of quarter sessions, all the recorders and all the Queen's Counsel. He appoints all the county court registrars and 15,000 justices of the peace. He has to appoint 500 clergy, which is not a nominal task. It has been made clear that it is done with great care, with a member of the Lord Chancellor's staff seeing everyone on his register, ascertaining the applicant's education, history, aptitude and wishes and no doubt consulting the bishop and churchwardens.
The Lord Chancellor has to arrange the list of cases to be heard by the House of Lords and the Privy Council and he has to be directly responsible for a large number of bodies outside Parliament and the law courts. There is a separate county court branch to assist him in the administration of the county courts. He is responsible for the Public Trustee, who has in his charge hundreds of millions of pounds of members of the public. He is responsible for the creaking Land Registry and the Public Record Office, the Court of Protection, the Lands Tribunal and the pension appeals machinery. He has to look after the tribunals to which the hon. and learned Member for Southport (Mr. Percival) referred—more than 1,000 of them.
The Lord Chancellor is responsible for the Judge Advocate-General's Department and for the Official Solicitor. He has to maintain his judicial comity with the Commonwealth and the foreign judges. Sometimes he wants to sit in his judicial capacity, which I have observed the present Lord Chancellor doing. He does this sometimes during January and October when the House is not sitting. He has to rule on peerage claims. He is responsible for civil legal aid and 331 is involved in the question of legal education. No doubt he will be involved in the new appointments which will have to be made under the Industrial Relations Bill. He is concerned with the rules of the Supreme Court. He has to intervene in the disputes which can arise between the professions. He has to maintain constant relations with the Bar Council.
Is it and can it really be suggested that this is an efficient way in which we should put across this major piece of legislation? It is clear that other tasks will fall, if they are permitted to fall, on the Lord Chancellor's Department before long.
Something must be done about the magistrates' courts. He will have to consider what is to be done with the Home Office concerning these courts. Indeed it is a grave omission from the Bill that it does not cover the courts which do the bulk of judicial business. It is not only a question of the physical buildings. Crime is not local; it is national. It is therefore anomalous that the magistrates' courts should be dealt with on a local basis, with ratepayers often being hard hit by the chance that a major crime has been committed in their area or that the man concerned in the crime has been arrested in their area. There is a need for a national structure of magistrates' courts. The difficulties against which magistrates' courts are battling, particularly in county areas where they can be thwarted by the parsimony of county authorities, need urgent attention.
The need for proper promotional opportunities and mobility for junior staff, the need to be able to move cases from one area to another so that the work can be rationalised and the need for well laid down criteria for physical standards and practices point to the requirement for a national scheme under a Government Department with people capable of being, above everything else, first-class administrators.
I hope that before the debate ends we shall hear something about the Government's intentions towards the magistrates' courts. It was suggested at one time that this matter be referred to the Beeching Commission. But it was evidently considered to be a sufficient task for him to deal with the higher courts.
332 What is intended to be done? Everywhere I go I find magistrates, magistrates' clerks and solicitors practising in magistrates' courts concerned to know whether there will now be an inquiry, similar to the Beeching inquiry, into the magistrates' courts, the organisation of which is basically anachronistic. It is almost inevitable that if we allow this process to go on magistrates' courts will again be vested in a Lord Chancellor's Department. Under the Bill we find that powers of scrutiny hitherto exercised by elected boroughs and town councils, the Home Office, the Minister of Public Building and Works and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, and if we allow this process to continue still more duties will be vested in the Lord Chancellorship.
A substantial spending Department is being created answerable in the first place to a non-elected House of Lords. I do not speak, and I never will speak, in this House as a lawyer. I speak here as a House of Commons man, and I do not like any derogation of this House. The situation is bound to develop where many questions hitherto directed to Ministers directly responsible will have to be directed to the Attorney-General, who will be answering second-hand for the Lord Chancellor. As we have seen during this debate, it is he who will have to answer questions on whether a new court should be set up in Littlehampton. He will have to answer for its size and capacity, and judging by the speech of the hon. Member for Preston, North (Miss Holt) he is quite likely to be asked whether there can be rules to insist that solicitors in Preston do not take off their trousers in the robing room. He is bound to be involved in tasks which are not the tasks of an Attorney-General, and he will not be able to shrug off many of these questions, even if it is his wish, to the greater expertise, perhaps, of the Secretary of State for the Environment.
The ambiguity of the Attorney-General's rôle is even more notorious than that of the Lord Chancellor. The Attorney-General is walking a tightrope between his political and judicial rôles. Governments in the past have fallen when an Attorney-General has toppled. No large business organisation would tolerate such a confusion of identities as is assumed by the Attorney-General and the Solicitor-General. Since the right hon. and learned 333 Gentleman has become Attorney-General we have seen him one day eloquently protecting the interests of the House and giving evidence on privilege in a libel case. We have seen him the next day cross-examining, perhaps not so happily, Rudi Dutschke. Before long we shall see the Solicitor-General leading a plea on behalf of the odious Industrial Relations Bill. Is it becoming to this House, or efficient, that these men should also be responsible for answering for the slow rate of a building in Cwmbach? Is it seriously suggested that any efficiency expert looking at the administration of our courts would not say that the people who are regarded as the titular heads responsible for the administration of justice in this country have an absurd confusion of rôles?
And remember this process of centralisation is only just beginning. Barristers have always assumed a vigorous stance against any move that has ever taken place in the history of this country to diminish the Lord Chancellor's rôle. There is nothing novel in putting forward a plea for a Minister for the Administration of Justice. The great Lord Chancellor, Lord Brougham, who was one of the most reforming of Lord Chancellors, brought in a Bill in the nineteenth century which sought to sever the judicial and legal rôles of the Lord Chancellorships from the political rôles, but failed. Whenever there has been an examination into the issue, as there was under the Haldane Committee at the end of the last war, the unhesitating view has been that there should be a separation of rôles. Of course at that time the Bar Council was most hostile to the recommendations put forward by the Haldane Committee in its famed Report on the Machinery of Government. The Committee was weary of the haphazard development in the Departments responsible for legal affairs. The Bar Council, however, resolutely opposed the separation of rôles, and has recently exhibited the same unfortunate tendency to believe excessively in the value of what is rather than what can be.
I, too, do not want to stir the embers of the recent unseemly public exhibition between the professions, and I will not be tempted by the provocation of any solicitor or barrister Member of Parliament who has spoken, but let no one believe that the present compromise has the full approval of the Council of the 334 Law Society or of the solicitors' profession.
I have had a large number of letters from and personal interviews with solicitors on this issue, and I have said to them that the present position means that there is a wide discretion on the part of the Lord Chancellor to ensure right of audience to solicitors. I have told them to read what the Lord Chancellor has said in the other place. He made it clear that it was his view that his Amendment gave solicitors as much as Lord Tangley's Amendment, and perhaps more. If his words mean what they appear to mean, they are a clear indication that the Lord Chancellor, in exercising his discretion under Clause 12 of the Bill, will open circuit courts to solicitors at least as wide as Lord Tangley's Amendment would have done and perhaps, on the words of the Lord Chancellor, even wider.
The Lord Chancellor is on record as having said that, and the solicitors' profession will naturally rely upon the Lord Chancellor to maintain his word. This is what I have said to all those who are uneasy about the present compromise. I am sure that the vigilance with which the solicitors' profession will be looking at what will happen will be an extra guarantee that the Lord Chancellor and his Department will not overlook the pledge that has been given and which undoubtedly will be honoured.
I have spoken largely to make a plea for a new Ministry to implement the revolutionary changes embodied in this Bill. I am quite confident that I shall receive a dusty answer, but I am at least fortified in one respect. Jeremy Bentham on many occasions put forward pleas for major reforms. Every major reform for which he in his day pleaded has come about, with one exception. That exception is that the Ministry for the Administration of Justice has not yet been created. Despite the views of the Bar Council, the conservatism of both sides of the profession, and the natural tendency for able and skilled men inside the Lord Chancellor's Department to extend their empire, the degree of centralisation that must come about, the complexity involved and the demand by the public and community to ensure that their administration is carried out as economically and efficiently as possible will mean that irresistibly, in the long run, in some form there will have to be a 335 department which will genuinely concern itself with the administration of justice. This would enable the Lord Chancellor's Department to devote its great energies and time to reforming our laws which, in a society moving at such speed and with such acceleration, needs more than ever before a law modernised and groomed to meet the real social needs of contemporary Britain.
§ 7.12 p.m.
§ Mr. F. P. Crowder (Ruislip, Northwood)
I apologise to the House for not having been here earlier, but I have been at Southend Quarter Sessions appearing before the Deputy Recorder—which is what this Bill is all about. I am happy to say that when I saw the Recorder at lunch time he told me that no case at Southend, which is a thriving community, ever has to be passed over from one session to another.
Now that we have had time to think about this Bill and its excellent proposals, it is fair to say that a great deal of heat, worry and anxiety has been engendered by the problem which exists here in London, in particular at the Central Criminal Court at the Old Bailey and at London Sessions.
I declare my interest at once. I am Chairman of Quarter Sessions of Hertfordshire and Recorder of Colchester. In Hertfordshire in particular, with a population of 1 million, we have no such problems. When I was sitting there last week, we were trying cases which had been committed only three weeks ago. There was no delay whatever. On making inquiries one finds the same sort of story all over the country. I feel that the picture has been put in the wrong perspective by the terrible situation which exists at the Old Bailey and at London Sessions, where there has been a tremendous delay.
I should like to know what the Lord Chancellor and his Department are doing about the situation. I have raised this matter in the House on other occasions. I have told the House about what happened in February when a case was transferred from the Old Bailey to the High Court. When we adjourned during the afternoon for only half an hour, I walked round the High Court and found endless courts empty. I put 336 down a Question on the matter, and it was found that during February, in midterm, there were about 77 empty courts. Those courts should and could be used. I appreciate the security difficulties, but many cases tried at the Old Bailey involve no real security element. They may be fraud cases, which do not involve dangerous criminals. Such defendants would be on bail, sometimes for up to 14 months.
I should like to see those empty courts manned—and manned tomorrow morning. There are plenty of Queen's Counsel at the moment. The previous Lord Chancellor appointed an enormous number of silks. I took silk in 1964, and there are now over 200 silks junior to me—which only goes to show the form of devaluation in that respect that occurred under his domain. There must be one or two of those leading counsel who are willing to give a few days to sit and try a case so as to relieve the tremendous congestion in the London courts.
When I first came to London in 1948 there were only four or five courts sitting at the Old Bailey. Today there are about 16 courts. One has only to think of the population explosion, the law explosion, and, indeed, the criminal explosion during those intervening years to appreciate the situation. Of course, the Central Criminal Court and London Sessions have not begun to be up to the job.
It may be asked how the system is made to work throughout the country, as we have now discovered it does work. If I may give an example, we are able to make the system work at Hertfordshire Quarter Sessions, in a county with a population of around a million, which is within 28 or 30 miles of London. The answer is that we have a competent staff and plenty of judges. We have 10 or 12 deputy chairmen, none of whom has ever had to return work. There is always somebody to come down and take their place. Therefore, we are never short of anybody to sit as a deputy chairman. The result is that we get on with the work. We are particularly careful about witnesses, defendants and counsel in that we do not resort to the trick employed in some courts which think they are over-burdened and mark cases "Not before 2 o'clock". One knows that if a case is so marked, in most cases it really means "not today". If that 337 sort of thing occurs, endless people are kept hanging about in draughty corridors all day, and never get called.
My object in raising this matter at a late stage in the debate is to ask the Government to go slow over to quarter sessions as opposed to recorderships. The recorderships time and again have got into trouble because they have not built up a full team of deputy recorders. Great trouble ensues when the recorder feels duty bound to go down and do the work but is not able to do so without injury to his practice. The result is that the cases get clogged up and are often heard during vacations, with late sittings, and so forth. I would not hesitate to say that I would not be sorry to see the recorder-ships go, particularly the small ones—and go early on. But where quarter sessions work with efficiency, I should like to see them preserved within our judicial system.
The quarter sessions mean a great deal to the county concerned. They mean very much to the lay magistrates who play an important part in them. Magistrates get to know the chairman and deputy chairman and meet magistrates from other parts of the county. During the lunch breaks there are business discussions as between magistrates' courts. It provides a very good opportunity for magistrates not only to see that their own quarter sessions are working well, but to see how magistrates' courts at the other end of the county are working, and also allows them time to discuss their problems with the chairman and deputy chairman of the day. I hope that we are not offering up the Bill to the goddess of planning on her altar as a pure planning proposal for planning's sake. That would be a very great mistake.
When dealing with these matters, I hope that the Government will go very slowly indeed. If I might dare to make the suggestion, by all means begin very quickly to eliminate the small recorderships—they are a difficulty and a clog within our judicial system—but do not touch the quarter sessions, which are working, and do, please, invite figures and ask the circuit administrator to report before those quarter sessions eventually have to be touched, because I am concerned about what will happen in the future on these circuits.
338 It all sounds very nice to appoint another 40 circuit judges. Circuit judges, as far as I can see, will only be county court judges called something else. County court judges have been forced, more or less, many of them greatly against their will, to sit at London Sessions and Middlesex Sessions. They sit with judicial charm and gentleness, but they find themselves time and again doing work to which they are completely unaccustomed. I make no complaint on that. Everyone has to learn something new at some time in life. But it takes about three times as long.
A new county court judge, when he comes to take pleas of guilty, particularly if he has a magistrate sitting with him, will retire, and they will read through endless reports. But an experienced criminal practitioner will see the thing in a flash and say to defence counsel, after a nod to the justice if he agrees, "I do not wish to take up your time. Unless you persuade us otherwise, we think that this is a case for probation." Instead of wasting about three-quarters of an hour in the room behind, the work is progressed.
But, naturally, when people are new to the job and have not got the feel of it they do not deal with it with the same expedition as those who have spent the whole of their career in that sphere. I am not suggesting that they make bad judges. Very often they are too good. They are over-lenient and lean over backwards and open the door to the acquittal of people who, in a proper professional criminal court, should have been convicted. Will that work well in the future? At the moment we are pretty careful in our selection of recorders in particular, as they exist today, and chairmen and deputy chairmen of quarter sessions, and one seeks to find people who have tough experience in criminal work and know what it is all about and can deal with it with the firmness and expedition which it requires.
Many circuit judges will not want to try crime and will take no interest in it. Equally, on the other hand, if we appoint a circuit judge who is almost entirely acquainted with criminal work, he will not want to try civil work, divorce and so on.
339 No matter to what court it belongs, on civil work I have always stood by the dictum of the late Mr. Justice Travers Humphreys, who said that most of the civil actions in the High Court could be tried by the usher because they were of no importance, and that criminal actions were what mattered because they affect the liberty of the subject. He said that only as a joke, but there is some force behind it. That is why I would hesitate to see the present system broken up too quickly.
I wish the Bill well. Concerning criminal work in London at the Central Criminal Court, I would ask the Lord Chancellor to find more court rooms. There is plenty of room available in Wellington Barracks. There is also quite an amount of room in St. James's Square, and there is the whole of Westminster Hall, which could be returned to its original purpose if need be. I would ask the Lord Chancellor to appoint part-time judges—I know that the Treasury does not like additional full-time judges—to deal with the work quickly and expeditiously. But on quarter sessions and borough quarter sessions, I would ask him to tread softly, gently and slowly.
§ 7.25 p.m.
§ Mr. Clinton Davis (Hackney, Central)
I join issue with the hon. and learned Member for Ruislip, Northwood (Mr. Crowder) about appointments. I will refer at this stage not to solicitors specifically but to the appointment of the stipendiary bench, in particular, of people who have considerable experience as prosecutors. Too much emphasis has been given to their appointment and too little to those who have operated in the courts as defenders. There is much to be said for the extension of the experience of people who have been engaged in civil litigation primarily. Recent experience indicates that many of them approach their work very conscientiously and well. There are exceptions, but there is little evidence that much of the delay which occurs is due to their inexperience.
It is sad that there has been no layman's opinion expressed in the debate, and it does not look as though we shall hear the voice of the lay Member of Parliament on this momentous matter of a Bill which produces such radical changes 340 and which is all about the public interest. It seems that hon. Members who are not lawyers feel that they must stay away if the lawyers have any property in a debate. This is sad because so many constituents of all hon. Members—not too many, I hope, but a number—are affected by the law's delays. A number of those are affected by delays in the criminal courts.
I do not know a great deal about the position outside London. I was pleased to hear that there is so little delay in Hertfordshire. But there can be no doubt that the situation in the Central Criminal Court and the Inner London Quarter Sessions is scandalous. The fact that the Inner London Quarter Sessions has been able to hive off a number of cases to certain other quarter sessions within the Greater London area has not seemed to produce much effect on the delays. When one thinks about a year's delay in persons coming to trial after committal, something which hangs over their heads for all that period, and the uncertainty produced on both sides by the delay, which necessarily affects the evidence of supporting witnesses, it is a scandal. It is not enough to say that the situation in the United States or France is infinitely worse. It may be worse, but we are dealing with a situation in London about which many hon. Members have made protests over a very long period, and singularly little seems to be accomplished. This is a blemish on our legal system. Even pending the enactment of these proposals, I hope that something effective will be done to get rid of this scar.
Some of the arguments raised, in another place more particularly than here so far, have been contentious. But these are peripheral arguments. The main purpose of the proposals is unquestionably to the advantage of the public as a whole.
My right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones), at the commencement of the debate, was absolutely right to look to the broad aspects of reform which are so essential. It is all very well to reform the administration of the courts. That is vitally important, and the Bill makes tremendous changes. But we must not lose sight of the vast unmet need for legal help in so many parts of the country. For example, in large areas of London 341 there is a shortage of solicitors. That is why the Notting Hill Centre was established and why there is now talk of establishing a similar centre in Stepney. However, I believe that we may be in great trouble if more financial resources cannot be channelled to these centres. It would be appalling if such centres were allowed to founder simply because they lacked the necessary resources.
We must not lose sight of the anomalies which exist because of the narrow limits to which legal aid applies. This point has been referred to already. I will not develop the theme now.
My hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney. North (Mr. Weitzman) spoke of the superb conditions which are supposed to exist at North London Magistrates' Court. My hon. and learned Friend referred to his experience at the Bar extending over 50 years. I join issue with him, however, because, although conditions at the North London Magistrates' Court may have been excellent 50 years ago, my hon. and learned Friend cannot have been there recently.
Conditions are equally primitive in many other magistrates' courts in the metropolis, and I do not mean only for lawyers. For the lay public there is an appalling lack of facilities which should be available. I have in mind such obvious matters as clean lavatories. Some of them are outside, primitive and horrible. The waiting areas are draughty, cold and miserable. I can think of a number of courts which in this regard are a disgrace to the administration of justice in the 1970s.
In every magistrates' court it is essential to have consultation rooms. At Old Street Magistrates' Court there is sometimes a room available, but only sometimes because of the lack of administrative space. At North London there is no consultation room. Anyone wishing to talk to a client has to do so in a narrow passageway where every word can be overheard. That is assuming that the client is not in custody. The facilities available to one to see a client in the cells are equally bad. I cannot see why an advocate who wishes to take instructions from his client should have to be locked with him in a cell. I have spent quite a long time at Tottenham Magistrates' 342 Court banging on a cell door urging that I be let out after having seen a client. That sort of situation is repeated in court after court in inner and outer London. It is vital that we should modernise the administration of magistrates' courts and insist upon good consultation facilities. In addition, there should be facilities for a solicitor to telephone readily and, indeed, for his client to do so.
I turn now to a matter which may be a little contentious. I refer to Clause 4, which deals with the establishment of the Crown Court. I do not disagree with the court's establishment, but I have grave doubts about subsection (7), which preserves the practice whereby the Lord Mayor of the City and any alderman are entitled to sit as judges of the Central Criminal Court with any judge of the High Court or any circuit judge or recorder.
That is a completely anachronistic situation. The Lord Mayor and aldermen serve no useful purpose at the Central Criminal Court. I cannot understand why the practice should be continued. It may be that it is to pacify financial interests in the City, though I do not think that those interests can be pacified in that way. If it is to carry on the pantomime which exists at the moment whereby people who like to wear robes dress up and carry posies, I suggest that it is utterly ridiculous in this modern age to perpetuate such a system. There should be no room in a modernising Bill of this kind for that sort of anachronism.
In Clause 29, again the City of London is sacrosanct from change. The Mayor's and City of London Court is to continue to be known by that name. But it is to be only an ordinary county court. It is not the Lord Mayor's Court at all. I do not begin to understand why the Common Council of the City of London should be given powers which are removed from every other local authority.
As for the retention of the name, I draw the House's attention to Clause 43, where such beautiful names as the Tolzey and Pie Poudre Courts of the City and County of Bristol, the Liverpool Court of Passage, and the Court of Record for the Hundred of Salford are removed for ever. There is no case for retaining the name of the Mayor's and City of London Court. I know that I am being a little 343 contentious when I say this, but sometimes it seems that hon. Gentlemen opposite delight in accepting something which at first was without merit and still continues to be without merit simply for the sake of preserving a curious tradition.
I turn now to Clause 47, which deals with costs. I support warmly what was said by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Stoke Newington and Hackney, North. I disagree with him about some matters, but I agree wholeheartedly that the provision of costs to successful defendants should be mandatory. If an accused person is to a large extent the author of his own misfortunes, a court should have discretion to refuse to grant him costs in the event of his acquittal. On the other hand, one knows from bitter experience of cases where there has been overwhelming evidence that an acquitted person should be entitled to his costs and where the courts have been reluctant to exercise the discretion at present vested in them.
There are other anomalies. I have in mind the person charged in a magistrates' court with an offence where, before the hearing, the prosecution intimates that it proposes not to proceed. In those circumstances, the court is entitled to listen to and grant the prosecution's application, but then it cannot award costs to he accused who may be seriously prejudiced financially as a result. That is quite wrong, and I hope that consideration will be given to altering it.
In Clause 47(4) the court is given discretion to order payment to compensate a witness for the defence. I would like to see that made mandatory as well. People are frequently required to give evidence on behalf of a defendant. It is not a pleasant task to have to attend court. One can lose a good deal of money as a result of having to do so and give up work for a day, or perhaps several days. I believe that the court should always grant some compensation in those respects.
I come now to the somewhat contentious aspects of the Bill. The Attorney-General, opening the debate, said that members of each profession have many friends in the other profession. That is absolutely true. Some of my best friends are barristers. I even brief some of them from time to time. Some of them are in 344 this House and have spoken tonight. There has been a dispute between the professions which has not always been conducted in the most seemly way, but there is a genuine difference of opinion.
What is it about? It is about the way that the public can best be served. The Bar has expressed one view about it and the solicitors' profession has expressed another. This has not been an issue about enhancing the status of solicitors. That really is not an issue, even if at times certain members of the Bar are unnecessarily condescending and patronising towards people whom they call members of the "junior" profession. We are really members of one profession performing different functions.
I repeat, the real issue has been the public interest. That is why solicitors have been putting forward, with some vehemence, their proposals for a limited right of audience at the Crown Court. This was the whole basis of the Tangley Amendment. I hope that the undertaking given by the Lord Chancellor about the manner in which he will exercise his discretion will be honoured. I am not suggesting that the Lord Chancellor will seek to resile from that situation.
We are seeking a limited right of audience. It is, first, the right to attend a Crown Court and to address the court on the question of sentence in cases committed to that court for sentence. It is also right that, as solicitors, we should be able to attend a Crown Court and conduct a case which could have been tried in the magistrates' court. This is a matter about which there is some division. We shall look with keen interest at the way this issue is developed and resolved. I must say that I regard with anxiety the way successive Lord Chancellors have previously exercised their discretion in this matter.
This is also true concerning eligibility for the Bench. I draw my argument on this from the way that successive Lord Chancellors, although they have the right to appoint solicitors to become stipendiary magistrates, have declined to do so. In London we have only two solicitors as stipendiary magistrates. It cannot be right that, amongst the large number of solicitors practising in magistrates' courts, only two should have been selected to serve in this rôle. I think that the two 345 solicitors concerned have proved exceptionally fine stipendiary magistrates. I have certainly heard no complaint about them. I believe that they approach their work judicially in the best possible spirit. I think that there ought to be some indication from the Lord Chancellor of his real bona fides in this matter by extending the number of appointments of solicitors at stipendiary level as soon as possible.
I will avoid going into the more controversial issues about the deficiencies in the present set-up concerning rights of audience. My hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann) developed that theme. We ought to be put on urgent inquiry wherever we see issues of the kind raised by my hon. Friend being manifested. We ought to be concerned about the people who are standing trial, not about disputes of demarcation between the professions.
Concerning eligibility, I hope that we shall find that the same reticence which has been applied to the appointment of stipendiary magistrates will not be mirrored in the number of appointments to recorderships. There can be little doubt that the Bar will be stretched to the limit in view of the large number of additional judicial rôles which it will have to undertake. We do not have many barristers—about 2,400—so I hope that the Lord Chancellor will turn to and select a few of the 22,000 practising solicitors. It is not enough to recognise the principle. That principle has now been recognised, and it is important to implement it. I am quite certain that the Law Society, and all solicitors, for that matter, will be looking very carefully at the activities of the Lord Chancellor in this respect.
Having spoken moderately—more moderately perhaps than I have spoken elsewhere; but, after all, we all got a bit steamed up a few months ago—I believe that we are really talking about a matter of the most immense importance. It is a matter which affects the liberty of the subject, about which I hope everybody is concerned. It affects fair trials and the proper, effective and efficient administration of justice in this country—and there really can be nothing more important than that.
§ 7.48 p.m.
§ Mr. Elystan Morgan (Cardigan)
Although the lay Members of this House 346 do not seem to have given the Bill an euphoric welcome, the "lesser breed within the law" seem to be fairly unanimous in support of its main aims and objects.
The Measure we are considering, as my hon. Friends the Members for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) and Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Peter Archer) have reminded us, proposes the most sweeping and spectacular reform in the administration of justice that English law has seen in the last 100 years, and probably in the whole of our legal history.
The necessity which gave it impetus, as we all appreciate, has been recognised not only by both Houses of Parliament, but by the legal profession, the Press, and by all whose work has brought them into contact with the working of our higher courts.
The system which we are metamorphosing is largely a mediaeval one. I appreciate that the condemnation of mediævalism is an essential piece in the pejorative armoury of the reformer. I believe that its use in this context is classically correct, since our legal administrative system has indeed been erected on foundations which were laid in the Middle Ages.
Apart from the Lancashire Crown courts, which were set up about 14 or 15 years ago, proceedings, by way of indictment, in the provinces have been administered through courts of assize and quarter sessions which were based on a pattern of counties and shires which preceded the Middle Ages themselves.
It is strange and fascinating to remember that our modern assizes have an unbroken lineage with the first itinerant justices who travelled round the country in the twelfth century enforcing the assizes of Clarendon and Northampton, hearing criminal and civil pleas of the Crown, inquiring into estreats wardships churches in the gift of the King, usurers, and so forth. It almost defies credulity to think that despite eight centuries, culminating in the commercial and industrial changes of the modern period, the assize system has remained basically the same. The hon. Lady the Member for Preston, North (Miss Holt) described the system as archaic, and in the circumstances I do not think that that was too strong a term to use.
347 No one with any sense of legal history wishes to see such links broken without good cause, and no doubt such a consideration has weighed very heavily with the aspiring reformers of past decades. The Beeching Report at paragraph 64 puts the problem in this way:It stands out clearly from any survey of the pattern of criminal and civil courts that the system was devised for circumstances which no longer exist and that, in spite of very great changes in the life of the country, in the distribution of population, in the mobility of people, and in national and local government, far too much has been retained only because it is traditional. When change has proved unavoidable, the system has been patched rather than reformed.The Peel Commission which reported in 1936 on "The Despatch of Business at Common Law" wasgreatly struck by the paradox that while many existing assize towns were neither of any great importance in themselves nor, indeed, of any particular convenience as centres, nevertheless 38 out of 50 of the largest towns in England and Wales were excluded from the benefit of assizes.It is, however, ironic to note that the only immediate results which followed the Peel Commission's recommendations were the substitution of Monmouth for Newport as an assize town for Mon-mouthshire, and the exclusion of Newtown in Montgomeryshire from the list of assize towns. The attempts which were made to reform the system all perished on the sharp rocks of local patriotism.
Although the Beeching Commission did not discover any fundamental truths in the assize system which had not already been unearthed by previous inquiries, such as the Evershed Committee, which reported in 1949, and the Streatfeild Committee which reported in 1961, it did show that conditions of delay, unco-ordination and shortage existed in an acute and completely intolerable form.
I do not wish to belabour the point, but I have mentioned the historical background in an effort to show that the onus which lay upon any body of people proposing change in a system which had been hallowed by the affection and respect of our forbears for so many centuries was a very heavy one, but I maintain that they have properly discharged that onus. There is certainly therefore no question of planning for planning's sake, as the hon. 348 and learned Member for Ruislip, Northwood (Mr. Crowder) said.
The solutions which Beeching recommended and which are the main provisions of the Bill are, I maintain, radical rather than revolutionary. The fundamental rationale of the Crown Court is nothing other than an extension to the whole of England and Wales of the system which exists at the Central Criminal Court and at the Liverpool and Manchester Crown Courts where, in each case, there is a complete fusion of assize and quarter sessions jurisdiction.
It may be that there are some persons who see in the Bill the rapacious and sinister hand of central control stretching out to stifle local identity and initiative. That is certainly a natural reaction, and no doubt it is a shining virtue in any man to advocate the highest possible measure of local autonomy, provided that that is consistent with the provision of an adequate public service. I suppose it may be a generation hence that people will wonder how it was that courts were able to be run on a local basis, any more than it would be possible to run, let us say, a telephone service, a postal service or a prison service on any basis other than national and central.
A modern community simply cannot indulge in the luxury of an unco-ordinated patchwork of local systems and at the same time achieve the purpose of making, as Beeching put it,high quality justice readily available at low cost".Despite the fact that the Bill is a centralising agency, in that it creates a new unified court service, I am sure that it will have the effect of making justice more immediately near the people. There are, it is true, to be fewer courts but, nevertheless, the services of those courts will be more readily available to those who have to attend them.
A number of matters which have been mentioned during the debate will no doubt be more fully articulated in Committee. I should like to mention some of them now, and particularly the question of the location of the courts. I appreciate, of course, that it is right and inevitable that the Government should not specify in the Bill the places at which both the High Court and the Crown Court will sit, and those other places where only the Crown Court itself will sit, and the joint effect 349 of Clauses 2 and 4 is to leave this to be determined in accordance with directions given by or on behalf of the Lord Chancellor.
That, of course, is as it should be, but I feel that to the ordinary person the question is certainly not an academic one. However laudable the themes of the Bill might be, what the ordinary member of the public will be worried about is where is the nearest court from which he will be able to get swift and effective justice.
Little has been said so far by the Government to give us an indication whether it is the intention of the Lord Chancellor to cling closely to the plan of the proposed location of the courts which is published on page 93 of the Beeching Report. Earlier in the debate the hon. Lady the Member for Preston, North and the hon. and learned Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) pleaded with powerful advocacy the case for the retention of the Palatine Chancery Court of Lancaster. I remind them—and I say this with the utmost respect to their pleas—that the position in Mid-Wales is very much less tolerable. There we have no court at all to serve the population in an area of about 2,500 square miles. In court terms that area of Mid-Wales is very much a desert.
No doubt there are hon. Members who will say that those distances can be matched in many cases by distances in other parts of England and Wales where there would be the same travelling distance involved for litigants and accused persons. But it must be remembered that, in Mid-Wales there is in many areas an almost total absence of public transport and a journey to a Crown Court could take all day. I do not exaggerate the position to say that the Jack Report of 1961 showed that about 35 per cent. of people then were not served by any public transport. The figure now in many areas of Mid-Wales must be more than 45 per cent.
True, many resort to cars, but it does happen to be, with the exception of Westmorland and parts of Devon and Cornwall, the area with the lowest level of income per head in the whole of the United Kingdom. In other words, people in those areas are less able to afford private vehicles than in any other part of the United Kingdom. As I am sure Lord Beeching well appreciates, he himself is 350 not entirely devoid of responsibility with regard to the absence of public transport services.
It is, therefore, in no sense of loss of dignity for the county of Cardigan that I make this point. It is true that we have also lost the status of having the assize town of Lampeter and have lost thereby that great and historic institution the Cardiganshire jury. But it is from a feeling that there is a large and substantial population in this area which is not served by any court at all for this trial of offence by indictment.
I appreciate that the matter is still, in theory, open, and I trust that the Lord Chancellor will consider that he has no duty to cling slavishly to the proposals of Beeching in this matter. He should allow himself to receive representations from interested parties on this vital aspect of the administration of justice.
Once again, the question of the right of eligibility of solicitors for judicial appointment has been raised, albeit in a restrained form. As one who practised for some years as a solicitor and later transferred to the Bar, I find myself not being partial on the one hand nor impartial on the other. I do not think that there was a great deal of substance in what Lord Wigg described in another place as a "carve-up". I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann), who said that it was not a demarcation dispute. Both sides genuinely believe that their proposals are best suited to serve the public interest. I believe that Clauses 12, 16 and 21 constitute a not unreasonable compromise.
It is true that, at the meeting with the Lord Chancellor on 9th December, the Law Society never entered into any formal or informal agreement on this matter. Nevertheless, I believe that this is a reasonable situation—at the moment. I stress those last words, because I believe that the basic consideration, after all, is the question of the right of a solicitor to audience in the higher courts. That must be regarded as the starting point of thinking in relation to judicial appointments.
After all, it is only from and by a person's performance as an advocate in a court that one can have a fair idea whether that person is properly suited for a judicial appointment. I do not say 351 that it is the sole and exclusive consideration, but it must be the dominant consideration. If that person, therefore, cannot allow himself to be judged regularly, day in and day out, as an advocate, it is very difficult for the Lord Chancellor to decide whether or not he is a person who should properly be considered for judicial preferment.
There is certainly a case for examining the whole structure of the legal profession as a whole, but as my right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones) has said, this Bill deals with the structure of the courts and not that of the legal profession. Unless and until we have such a study, involving an examination of the structure of the profession as a whole, I doubt whether we could got further than we have already gone in relation to the eligibility of solicitors for judicial appointment.
The Bill does not deal directly with the county courts. Beeching was not charged with the task of looking at those courts. In many ways this would have been a great advantage—although there are obvious difficulties. But the Beeching Commission evidently concluded that to continue the rigid boundary between criminal and civil jurisdiction at intermediate level, while exercising fluidity at a higher level, was neither logical nor desirable. I very much welcome the proposal that the fullest use should be made of the county court bench to man the new proposed intermediate criminal courts.
The Beeching Commission gave thought to another question which I believe to be of crucial importance. That was in relation to the possible fusion, in a vertical plane, of the county courts and the civil High Court. The possibilities and the problems which are linked to such a prospect are set out in paragraph 205 of the Report, which says:Since we wished to simplify the structure of the courts, to make them more comprehensible and more flexible in use, we were led to consider, as a counterpart to the single criminal court which we recommend, the establishment of a single civil court of wide jurisdiction and uniform procedure in which the only important variable would be the powers of the judge. We also considered a more modest suggestion which was put to us by several witnesses, including The Law Society, that all civil proceedings might be 352 started in common form, and that, at art appropriate stage in the proceedings, an officer of the court should, after hearing the parties, decide whether the case should be heard by a High Court or a County Court judge. This proposal was not without its attractions because it would provide a straightforward method of deciding by whom cases in the middle range should be tried. We concluded in the end, reluctantly for the most part, that it would be impracticable for us to give effect to either of these possibilities. A partial or total assimilation of the Rules of the Supreme Court and the County Court Rules would have been needed, and this would have involved us in a study for which we are ill-qualified as a body and which would have seriously delayed our Report.I indulged in that fairly lengthy quotation in order to ask the Under-Secretary of State whether the Government have any proposals to set up a study in relation to the county courts. I believe that this is all the more necessary now that Beeching has reported and that legislation on Beeching is in hand.
Furthermore, I would ask the Minister whether he can give us any information with regard to the possibility of further using the provisions of the Administration of Justice Act, 1969, which allows this House, by order, to change the level of jurisdiction of the county court. This was done about a year ago, raising the jurisdiction to £750. I am sure that there are many in the House—particularly bearing in mind what Beeching has to say on this matter, about the saving of about 11 per cent. in judicial time by changing the level from £750 to £1,000—who would wish to know whether the Government intend to proceed in that direction.
My hon. Friend the Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) was forceful in his condemnation of the multifarious duties which lie on the Lord Chancellor. I was so carried away by the torrent of his rhetoric that I am still not sure whether he was pleading for a separation of the powers of the Attorney-General, the Solicitor-General and the Lord Chancellor. I believe, in any event, that there must have been a generous measure of exaggeration in his speech when he suggested that the whole system of the administration of justice seemed to be balanced on the personality of the one figure of the Lord Chancellor.
It is true that the Lord Chancellor, particularly in relation to the Bill, is 353 charged with general supervision, shared in certain matters with the Secretary of State for the Environment, but nevertheless the actual administration at regional and circuit level must surely lie with the presiding judge, his deputy and the circuit administrator. It is also true that the Lord Chancellor is vested with a number of duties which must be regarded as anachronistic in the second half of the 20th century. However, he is an invaluable bridge between the legal system, of which he is the head, and Parliament.
I wish to associate myself with the tributes that have been deservedly paid to my noble Friend, Lord Gardner, in putting the Beeching study in hand. He is the instigator of this Report. Our grateful thanks are due to Lord Beeching and the other members of the Commission for the assiduity and skill which they have exhibited, not only in proposing a practical solution but also in that they have been able to set it out in such a lucid and attractive way. The Lord Chancellor and the Government also deserve our congratulations for having expedited the development of a Bill which they inherited in any embryonic state.
The system of the administration of justice in England and Wales, which has been the admiration of so many, has been rendered obsolete by change, leading to a denial of justice to accused persons and litigants alike. This legislation will, I believe, enable it to be equal to the challenging circumstances with which it is faced.
§ 8.13 p.m.
§ The Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Mark Carlisle)
Although, as many hon. Members have said, this debate has not been the best attended debate the House has seen, it has certainly been a wide-ranging one. We have discussed not only the future organisation of the courts but the question of the costs of the defendant being automatically granted on acquittal and the question of sentencing.
Indeed, the hon. Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton (Mr. Peter Archer) went so far as to ask whether we should be discussing what was law and what was the right rule of law. Thus, although this may have been a poorly attended debate, it has undoubtedly covered a great deal of ground.
354 We have today been discussing the Second Reading of a Bill which, it is generally agreed, is of outstanding importance in the development of our courts system. It is for this reason that I am particulaly glad that a reform which has been described as radical has met with such general welcome from all hon. Members who have spoken.
Like the hon. Member for Cardigan (Mr. Elystan Morgan) and others, I regret that we have heard the voices only of lawyers in discussing a Bill which will have such a great effect on the litigant. However, it is encouraging to note that hon. Members on not only both sides of the House but both sides of the legal profession have found themselves unanimous in welcoming the general basis of these proposals.
As my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General said, we are conscious that a lot of the preparatory work for the Bill was done under the previous Administration and by the previous Lord Chancellor and Attorney-General. We have continued the task of implementing the Beeching recommendations enthusiastically and as quickly as possible.
Before answering the various points that have been raised, I will comment on what seems to be an important aspect of the Beeching Report and of the Bill: the effect that it is likely to have on the conduct of civil litigation in the High Court.
Inevitably, most of the debate that has taken place both in another place and here today has concentrated on the rather radical nature of the alteration affecting the criminal courts and its effect on that side of the system. However, we should never forget that one of the main reasons for setting up the Beeching Commission was not only the vast increase in criminal cases that was occurring and the effect that that was having, but the effect on the trial of civil cases, particularly outside London, with trials—and this is still the position—taking place in a High Court which was dealing with both serious crime and civil matters.
The Government believe that the effect of the Beeching recommendations, implemented by the Bill, will be equally important on the High Court civil work and certainly, as I say, that done at assize. Hon. Members will have personal knowledge of the practical nature of this 355 work and of how criminal work gets precedence, with the result that at many assizes little, if any, civil work is reached.
The Beeching Report said:It is civil cases which are most likely to be deferred from assize to assize, possibly several times, with all the resulting inconvenience associated with delay, distance and uncertainty. The effects are made worse because many of the witnesses in civil actions are professional men such as doctors and engineers who are not easily able to leave their work at short notice to join in the game of chance which the present system involves".My right hon. and learned Friend gave some of the figures for the delay which now exists for cases awaiting trial in the criminal courts. It might be helpful if I gave a few comparative figures for High Court civil work. At the beginning of this present assize there were, for example, in Birmingham 360 cases set down for trial. In Liverpool there were 480 set down. The estimated time between the setting down and the possibility of reaching trial was between 10 months and a year.
In Manchester there were 518, in Leeds there were 249 and in Sheffield there were 69. The latter may seem a small number, but all three High Court judges there are at the moment employed on criminal work, although it is hoped that before the assize ends some civil work may be done. At Bristol 67 cases had to be carried over from the last assize.
I remind the House that although delay in criminal cases is a major matter of concern to society as a whole, delay in civil actions is, to the individual litigant, a matter of equally major importance. We should be unrealistic not to realise, as the Beeching Commission realised, that in addition to that problem there is the fact that many cases are settled because parties cannot afford the delays and difficulties involved in getting their cases tried. It is a reflection of the fact that the system which worked so well in the past is no longer suitable for present-day needs when people are often anxious to compromise rather than allow their cases to go for trial.
§ Mr. S. C. Silkin (Dulwich)
We are all extremely conscious of the point the hon. Gentleman has been making. Will he at some stage in his remarks spell out 356 exactly how the proposals in the Bill will work so as to prevent that situation in future?
§ Mr. Carlisle
I was coming to that. Under Clause 2, with the division of the High Court and criminal work going to the Crown Court and civil work remaining in the civil court, the Crown Court will no longer be tied to going from assize town to assize town but will be able to sit anywhere in the country by direction of the Lord Chancellor.
The locations of the centres for trial of both civil and criminal cases is being considered by the Lord Chancellor. It is hoped that he will be able to announce his recommendations shortly. He is not necessarily slavishly following the Beeching recommendations and is prepared to listen to recommendations, although undoubtedly the Beeching recommendations are an important matter which he is taking into account.
By having fewer places in which civil courts sit, and by not having so many High Court judges going peripatetically round the country, it is intended that the High Court should sit for civil purposes for substantial periods at main centres outside London.
I believe that the fact that the High Court will be sitting for substantial periods at fewer centres outside London, together with Clause 23, which enables circuit judges and recorders to sit as judges of the High Court for civil purposes, at the request of the Lord Chancellor, will have a marked effect on the disposal of civil business, which, it has always seemed to me, has come off badly, because the very dating of the assize and the necessity of clearing the criminal list has meant that often the judges have had to move on before much civil work could be done.
§ Sir Elwyn Jones
Is not one of the worrying points about the new situation the fact that the pressures which presently exist to encourage the assize judge to clear all the civil list he is trying to deal with will not be quite so intense when the new arrangements of continuity prevail? I do not know whether the hon. Gentleman and the Lord Chancellor can bring pressure to bear for the same "productivity" to be maintained outside London when the new arrangements come into effect as exist at the moment.
§ Mr. Carlisle
If the right hon. and learned Gentleman is saying that the practice of filling the list in the last few days of an assize will now cease, that is undoubtedly so. The Beeching Commission referred to the question of the number of cases which are settled rather than tried. Some witnesses before the Commission put the concealed demand of cases to be tried if the judges were available to try them at 100 per cent. Obviously this is an important consideration. I have no doubt that the High Court's being able to sit in more continuous session in fewer major centres will enable civil work to be done continously and contemporaneously with crime, which at present, regrettably, due to the pressure of crime, has often not happened at various assizes.
In anwer to the hon. Member for Cardigan, we have rejected—if that is the right word—the Commission's recommendation that the county court limit should be raised to £1,000, because this limit has recently been substantially increased to £750. The limit can now be raised simply by order of the Lord Chancellor at any time. The Lord Chancellor is keeping the limit under review and did not think it was necessary to deal with it in the Bill.
§ Mr. Emlyn Hooson (Montgomery)
The question of clearing the civil list is troubling many people. Given the continuation of the rate of increase in large scale crime, is it envisaged that there will be an improvement in the civil list position? Is it intended to allocate High Court judges specifically to deal with the civil list? For example, in a city like Liverpool, will High Court judges be allocated to the civil list, whatever the state of the criminal list?
§ Mr. Carlisle
Perhaps we can pursue this question later. I think that I am right in saying that the allocation of any judge to any type of work at any time will be the duty of the presiding judge of that circuit. As I understand it, it is envisaged that in major centres outside London it is likely that High Court judges will be dealing with civil work for greater periods than they have been able to do under the assize system.
I return to the point that under Clause 23 the ability of circuit judges and recorders to sit as civil court judges, which 358 at present a recorder cannot do, should help to alleviate the position, and it is certainly intended that the working of the Bill should have an effect on the delay in dealing with civil cases in the same way as it is hoped that it will have an effect on the delay which exists in the trial of criminal cases.
I believe that the question of fixed dates for hearings of civil cases is a matter of major importance. Much of the criticism of the existing system arises because of the gross uncertainty about the date on which High Court civil actions can be tried. It must be accepted that the inconvenience caused has often been intolerable, particularly to people such as doctors who are called to court and then find that for various reasons their case is not reached.
The concentration of the hearing of civil cases into a smaller number of centres, with the benefit of continuous sittings, should allow the work to flow much more smoothly than at present. Although the number of cases that can be fixed is always limited, probably to a maximum of 50 per cent., it should be possible to give and adhere to many more fixed dates than it is possible to do, at present. Even for those cases which are not fixed, it should be possible to give greater notice of the date of trial than is, unfortunately, possible under the assize system.
I appreciate that the hon. and learned Member for Montgomery (Mr. Hooson) could not, for good reason, be here earlier in the debate. He has referred to these matters as being of major concern. That is so, but I said at the outset that the question had not so far been subject to much debate, and it was for that reason that I thought it right to refer to it straight away.
I come now to the Bill itself, and I shall try to take in order the various points which have been raised. I take first the question of the Palatine Court in Lancashire, which was raised initially by the right hon. and learned Member for West Ham, South (Sir Elwyn Jones), and then by my hon. and learned friend the Member for South Fylde (Mr. Gardner) and my hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North (Miss Holt). With respect, I feel that some of the speeches on this matter and some of the concern outside the House 359 have been based upon a misunderstanding. Whereas the court as such, as a separate court, is to disappear, in practice the position as regards trial of Chancery actions in that part of the country will remain much as it is now. I assure my hon. Friends that I fully recognise the importance of that court, and, as one who is still a member of the Northern circuit, I am sure that my hon. and learned Friend the Member for South Fylde would hardly expect me to do other than agree with him about the high standard of the local Chancery Bar.
My hon. Friend the Member for Preston, North asked for an assurance that the court would keep its present Chancery jurisdiction in Lancashire. It is intended that the court should keep its present Chancery jurisdiction, and it is intended that there should be no change in the sort of work done at present by the vice-chancellor. Under the Bill, the vice-chancellor becomes a circuit judge, and the Chancery work is merged into the Chancery Division of the High Court. But the vice-chancellor will continue to be known as the vice-chancellor, and, after the present vice-chancellor has gone, a new circuit judge in Lancashire can be appointed as vice-chancellor, and he will continue to do Chancery work, it being intended by the Lord Chancellor that the directions which he will give concerning the range of cases to be tried by the vice-chancellor will enable the vice-chancellor to try all the types of case which, in practice, he now tries.
I realise that my hon. Friend the Member for Preston. North is concerned about this matter, and rightly so, for she has great knowledge on the subject, but at this stage I should be grateful if we could take in Committee any further detailed points about which she is anxious. For their part, the Government are anxious that the position shall be fully understood. It is the intention that the directions should be drawn in such a way that the vice-chancellor should be enabled to try all the types of case which, in practice, he now tries.
Next, there is the question of the staff of that court. They will in the main, it is hoped, be taken into the new service. If, by any chance, some of them are not, and they suffer any loss, they will be eligible for compensation under Clause 44.
360 I come now to the question of the future of the magistrates' courts, to which many hon. Members have referred. With respect, I think that the right hon. and learned Gentleman allowed party-political dogma to run away with him a little on this question when, having chided the Government for nationalising the High Court, he promptly went on to say that we ought also, of course, to nationalise the magistrates' courts.
The Government realise that the passage of the Bill calls into consideration the future of the magistrates' courts. However, the problems of the magistrates' courts are in degree substantially different from the problems with which we are dealing in the Bill.
The size of the problem is also different because there are a thousand magistrates' courts in England and Wales now in the hands of magistrates' courts committees. Whilst the right hon. and learned Gentleman rightly said that it was of the utmost importance that where the citizen normally came face to face with the law he should do so in the best possible surroundings, I think that he would also agree that there is a great deal to be said for justice at that level being local justice, with as much local involvement as possible. Undoubtedly any proposal about the future organisation of the magistrates' courts is controversial.
My answer to the hon. Member for Pontypool (Mr. Abse) is that we do not feel that it is necessary to have an inquiry similar to the Royal Commission on Assizes and Quarter Sessions, but the Government agree that the organisation of magistrates' courts requires careful study. We shall consider their future organisation in the light of the views expressed to us and to the former Administration, and will consult those concerned before taking firm decisions. The urgent need is to implement the Royal Commission's recommendations for the reorganisation of the higher courts. That is why all the resources have been concentrated to that end.
I was asked specifically about the directions to be given under Clause 2(2) about the places at which the High Court would sit. We envisage that there will be general directions as to the normal place of High Court sittings, which the Lord Chancellor will settle personally, but that 361 on top of that there will be ad hoc decisions to meet special cases—in other words, a local sitting in a particular town to meet the needs of a case and the witnesses in it. Those directions would not be subject to parliamentary approval.
The right hon. and learned Gentleman asked what the presiding judges and circuit administrators are doing now. The circuit administrators have all been in office for some months. They have been acquainting themselves with the problems of those circuits and are playing an active and detailed part in co-operation with their colleagues in the Lord Chancellor's Department in the planning of the new system. The presiding judges are still sitting in their judicial capacity, but within their more limited time they are also assisting. I am sure that the recommendations of the Beeching Report that have led to these arrangements for both judicial and administrative control of the organisation of court business in the circuits were rightly conceived.
Many hon. Members raised the question of costs. Perhaps we can come back to this in Committee. It is not the intention of the Bill to change the substantive law, and the question of an acquitted person's automatically getting his costs involves a change in the substantive law. The Bill deals with the organisation of the courts, and the question of costs comes in because it transfers to the taxpayer costs formerly paid to the ratepayer.
I have tried to deal with all the points made by the right hon. and learned Gentleman and to answer the general points about the Palatine Court and the organisation of magistrates' courts.
I now come to another important matter raised by several hon. Members, particularly the hon. Member for Hackney, Central (Mr. Clinton Davis) and the hon. Member for Kensington, North (Mr. Douglas-Mann) on the rights of audience of solicitors and the rights of solicitors to be appointed the circuit bench. I cannot put it more clearly than it was put by my noble Friend the Lord Chancellor in another place on 17th December, when he said that he would pay high regard in the implementation of his Amendments to the observations of the Lord Chief Justice and his noble Friend, Lord Dilhome, in coming to any conclusion on 362 any application. It will be remembered that the Lord Chief Justice had supported an Amendment moved by Lord Tangley.
In an effort to stop any dispute between the two sides of the profession from breaking out again, may I remind the House that Lord Goodman said that what had been brought about would effect a great improvement and particularly in the general atmosphere between the two professions. He said that the attitude of the Lord Chancellor and the ready response to his proposals by solicitors would go a long way to put it right.
While I concede to the hon. Member for Pontypool that no clear and firm undertaking was given by the Council to the Law Society or by the Bar Council, the Amendments were moved by the Lord Chancellor as a result of discussions which he had had with both those bodies together. I very much hope that it will be felt, as Lord Tangley clearly accepted, that it was a matter suitable to be left as the Amendments of the Lord Chancellor left it.
I was glad to hear the welcome given by the hon. Member for Rowley Regis and Tipton among many others to the proposal that magistrates should sit in the Crown Court. I believe that it is right that justices should sit as full members of the Crown Court, and I cannot do better than refer hon. Members to the views of the Lord Chief Justice in another place when he pointed out that not only was it an advantage to the magistrates, but was of assistance to the courts, particularly in sentencing, to have justices of the peace on the bench.
I am able to tell my hon. Friend the Member for Orpington (Mr. Stanbrook) that stipendiaries can be appointed as judges.
The hon. Member for Pontypool commented on the Lord Chancellor's position. It was not the first time that he had done so. He will not expect me to say other than what was said by his right hon. and learned Friend the Member for West Ham, South when, in an earlier discussion on the Beeching Report, he said that, whether it was anomalous or not, in practice the position of the Lord Chancellor worked. One of the reasons is that the Lord Chancellor is uniquely placed 363 to act as a bridge between the Executive and the Judiciary.
I conclude by repeating that although this has been slightly shorter than many of our debates and the contributions small in number, the Government are grateful for the various views which have been expressed. I hope that we shall be able in Committee to deal with any matters with which I have not dealt tonight. The need for the proposed changes is undeniable and the Government are anxious to be able to implement the Beeching proposals as soon as practicable. A good deal of planning and administrative work will be required, but the Government hope that implementation will be at the beginning of 1972.
In opening the debate my right hon. and learned Friend referred to the delay in American courts. I had the good fortune to visit America last year and to talk to those involved with court work. These people have seen delays get steadily worse since the time that Attorney-General Kennedy spoke of. Anyone who has seen the trouble, distress and chaos caused by continual long delays in American courts will be anxious to do everything to avoid a system whereby delay becomes a permanent feature in the work of the courts of this country.
The changes in the Bill may cause some to regret the passing of a system which has survived for so long. The visits to the various assize towns which some of us had the good fortune to attend will probably not be available for those coming to the Bar in later years. Although we may regret the passing of such things, few would be prepared to say that such changes were not necessary. The Government are determined to see that all that is best in the existing system is preserved and to alter only those features of our judicial system that require reform to ensure that we can meet the rapidly expanding volume of business.
The main message of the Beeching Report was the need for flexibility and that is the main ingredient in many ways in this Bill. The old system is ceasing to act adequately, not because of any lack of expertise or enthusiasm on the part of those concerned with the administration of justice, but because it has 364 become impossible to adapt it to meet the change in conditions. What this Bill will achieve is a system which will, through its administrative flexibility, be readily adaptable to changing situations and needs. We are entitled to expect that our courts should be efficiently run, and the Government are determined to ensure that they are. I believe that this Bill will assist in the efficient running of those courts.
§ Question put and agreed to.
§ Bill accordingly read a Second time.
§ Bill committed to a Standing Committee pursuant to Standing Order No. 40 (Committal of Bills).