§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading, read.
§ LORD CAIRNS
, in moving that the Bill be now read the second time, said, that the object of the measure was to consolidate the existing Acts which regulated the procedure and practice of magistrates' and petty sessions courts in England. Their Lordships, he thought, would be aware both of the magnitude and the importance of the task which he had undertaken. There were, he was informed, not less than 10,000 acting magistrates in England and Wales, and nearly 1,000 magistrates' or petty sessions courts, and considering the number of persons interested in them, and the number of cases, small in themselves, but important as regarded their consequences decided by them, their Lordships would see the desirability of collecting in one statute the whole of the law and procedure applicable to such tribunals. The only general Acts which at all resemble consolidation Acts, governing the proceedings before justices, were the Acts generally known as Jervis's Acts, which were passed nearly a quarter of a century ago. Those Acts were not complete Acts of consolidation, and were imperfect in many points of detail, and did not give that facility in the administration of justice which was expected of them. Moreover, various circumstances had since necessitated alterations both in the law and procedure of the courts. Although in England we had not as yet any consolidation of the law of procedure, yet in recent years a consolidation of the law in this direction had been accomplished in Ireland and Scotland—in the former country in 1851 by the Petty Sessions Act, 14 & 15 Vict. c. 93; and for Scotland by the Summary Procedure Act, 27 & 28 Vict. c. 53. The present Bill was originally introduced into the other House in 1865; but, after 261 it had made some progress, the state of Public Business necessitated its withdrawal. Considerable attention had since been paid to the matter with the view of simplifying it as much as possible. Although responsible for the measure in this House, their Lordships were well aware that he had no claim to be its author; but it might be satisfactory to them to know that it had been prepared under the superintendence of Mr. Oke, chief clerk of the Lord Mayor's Court, who was well versed in the subject, and had had large experience both in that court and other petty sessions courts in the country in matters of this description. If their Lordships consent to give the Bill a second reading now he should propose its committal pro formâ on Friday week, for the purpose of rectifying some errors in printing and in the arrangement of the clauses, so that after Easter it might go through Committee in the regular way.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2ª"—(The Lord Cairns.)
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
said, that the Bill was one of considerable magnitude as regarded the number of its clauses. His noble and learned Friend was quite correct in stating that the last attempt at amalgamating the Acts relating to magisterial procedure was introduced in the other House in 1865, where, however, though it had the cordial support of a large number of acting county and borough magistrates, of the Justices Clerks' Society, and of the Jurisprudence Committee of the Social Science Association, it was not proceeded with; and since that time no further proceedings had been taken. Since the introduction of the present Bill he had made inquiries at the Home Office as to the necessity of such a measure, the result being that no complaint had been made by magistrates of the working of the Acts passed 23 years ago by Lord Chief Justice Jervis, which consolidated all the then existing statutes respecting magisterial jurisdiction. He could not find that any serious defect or impediment had arisen. The Bill contained one new provision to which no objection could be offered—especially as it had been for some time in operation in Ireland—namely, one giving police magistrates the power of keeping order in their courts. Although this pur- 262 ported to be a consolidation Bill, he was informed, as the result of a cursory inspection of the measure by a competent legal authority, that care had not been taken to preserve the language of the old Acts. It was most important that this should be done in a consolidated Act, for the language of every Act was subject to criticism and legal investigation, very few being so fortunate as not to require judicial construction, and when such a construction had been definitively settled, it was very undesirable to deviate from the phraseology, as this might necessitate further argument and a new decision. He did not object to the second reading; but he would suggest the reference of the Bill to a Select Committee, as a Committee of the Whole House was hardly competent to discuss a Bill of this character.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
thought that, considering the number of Peers on Select Committees and the number who usually attended the House, the latter were the more select body. If, as appeared desirable, the Bill were referred to a Select Committee, he would suggest a departure from the inconvenient practice of having it a very large body. Three or five Peers would form a sufficient Committee.
§ Motion agreed to: Bill read 2ª accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Friday the 31st instant.