§ THE LORD CHANCELLOR (LORD SIMONDS) rose to move, That this House, in discharge of its constituted duty to act as the ultimate appellate tribunal in appeals from England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, Orders that a Committee, which shall include all Lords qualified under section five of the Appellate Jurisdiction Act, 1876, as amended by any subsequent enactment, be appointed to hear, during the present Session, such appeals as may be referred to them in order to secure the due expedition of public and judicial business; and that the Committee have leave to report to the House from time to time. The noble and learned Lord said: My Lords, the Motion which stands in my name is one in terms very familiar to your Lordships, because on four or five previous occasions a Motion in the 22 same or similar terms has been moved before your Lordships, and has been accepted. However, I do not want you, for that reason, to accept this as purely formal business. In fact, the procedure which has been introduced by this Motion in the last few years marks a serious breach of the tradition and custom of this House, and I should like, if your Lordships will indulge me, to explain in a few words why it is necessary that the practice which we have adopted during the last few years should, for the time being, be continued.
§ As I say, this practice marks a breach with the past—and for this reason: that it is this House, and not a Committee of it, which is the final court of appeal. It is this House itself which has the ultimate dispensation of the King's justice, and which performs the historic and constitutional duty of the High Court of Parliament—a description which is apt to describe a living reality. But, although that is a truth, yet, as your Lordships are aware, for many years convention and usage have demanded that only those noble Lords who are particularly qualified should sit to hear and determine appeals. Those who sit for the hearing and determination of each case have been chosen from time to time by the Lord Chancellor from the Lords of Appeal in Ordinary (the "Law Lords," as they are sometimes called) and other persons qualified by holding or having held high judicial office. But that did not mean that your Lordships were not entitled to come to the House, to sit and hear the appeals. Indeed, I have known many occasions when noble Lords have attended to hear appeals, and I can remember at least one occasion when the House was crowded for that purpose. But, if other noble Lords came, again convention and usage demanded that they should take no part in the debate. If they had, I know of no way by which they could have been stopped, except by the traditional method that we use here of moving that "the noble Lord be no longer heard."
§ The practice which I have described was the tradition and custom of centuries, but a few years ago events occurred which made a change necessary. They were two. The first of them, to which the greater prominence was given at the time, was this: that in the reconstruction of part of the Palace of Westminster there was 23 such an incurable noise going on that it was impossible for us to occupy the Chamber in which we then sat and to hear counsel at the Bar. Thus, mainly for that reason, for two or three years it was found necessary to remit the hearing of appeals to a Committee which subsequently reported to the House. That nuisance has been cured but the other difficulty has persisted, and persists to this day. It is this. Efficient administration of justice demands that cases should be heard de die in diem at regular hours, and experience has taught us that it is convenient alike for litigants, for counsel and for the administration of justice that sittings should be from half-past ten in the morning to, say, four o'clock in the afternoon, with the usual adjournment at midday. That practice had gone on, as I say, for centuries and had been made possible by the fact that your Lordships' House sat for its Public Business at four o'clock, or thereabouts, so that the Judicial Business could be performed in due course before it was necessary that the House should assemble for its other Business.
§ During the war (and the need has persisted since) it was found necessary for the House to sit two, or sometimes three, days a week at two-thirty in the afternoon. That has made it impossible for us to carry on the Judicial Business in the way in which it should be carried on. Accordingly, last year, and, I think, the year before, when that was the sole reason, a similar Motion to that now before your Lordships was agreed to unanimously in this House.
§ To-day I have to move the Motion again, for the same reason; but in doing so I want your Lordships to consider these two difficulties. They do not outweigh the public interest which compels me to ask your Lordships to acquiesce in this Motion, but they are serious difficulties. The first is this. Obviously, if the House sits at two-thirty and the Lords of Appeal are at that time engaged in their Judicial Business, they cannot do both things at once. I think that your Lordships, remembering the contributions which from time to time have been made by the Lords of Appeal in this House, would regret any step which in any substantial degree precluded their contributions to our debates, particularly when I recall those learned and delightful speeches which our lamented colleague, the late 24 Lord du Parcq, used to make in this House.
§ I know your Lordships will appreciate what I am saying. That difficulty may in some measure be overcome in cases of urgent necessity, and as an exception to the general rule, if the Appellate Committee can adjourn to enable the Lords of Appeal to take their part. But I think the more serious of the difficulties is this (and if I may say so, it is a personal difficulty felt by myself and by my predecessors in this office) that I regard it as one of the primary duties of the Lord Chancellor to take part in the Judicial Business of the House. But it becomes increasingly difficult for him to do so, because he cannot possibly be in two places at once. It is certainly his duty to preside on the Woolsack as often as may be possible; it is equally his duty to preside over the Committee to which appeals are referred. That difficulty may some day be overcome, but I know not how. At present, however, I, at least, am satisfied that the public interest outweighs those two difficulties and that I must ask your Lordships to acquiesce in this Motion.
§ May I say one word more? I know that what I am saying is familiar to many of your Lordships, and that it is only what the noble and learned Viscount who preceded me has said much better previously. I shall be happy if I can follow in his footsteps, in the dignity and propriety with which he has conducted all our business. I would dare to say to him in public what I have said to him in private: that I shall be ever grateful for the abundant kindness which he has shown to me since, rather fearfully, I assumed the high office which he so long adorned. My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name.
§ Moved, That this House, in discharge of its constitutional duty to act as the ultimate appellate tribunal in appeals from England, Scotland and Northern Ireland, orders that a Committee, which shall include all Lords qualified under section five of the Appellate Jurisdiction Act, 1876, as amended by any subsequent enactment, be appointed to hear, during the present Session, such Appeals as may be referred to them in order to secure the due expedition of public and judicial business; and that the Committee have leave to report to the House from time to time.—(The Lord Chancellor.)25
§ 2.52 p.m.
§ VISCOUNT JOWITT
My Lords, before the Motion is put I should like first to thank the noble and learned Viscount for what he has said about me, and to tell him that I concur with this Motion. I think we are confronted with a very difficult problem. The position of the Lord Chancellor is one of great difficulty in these times. In my younger days the Cabinet used to sit once a week, on a Wednesday, and the House never met until four o'clock. The House therefore did not meet and the Law Lords did not sit. on the Wednesday morning, and the Lord Chancellor thus had the opportunity of presiding over Judicial Business on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
The difficulty I found (and I strongly suspect that it is one which the noble and learned Lord will find, too), is that the Lord Chancellor is called away so often to Cabinet meetings, on so many days and at irregular hours, that it does become almost impossible for him to preside over the judicial work except on relatively rare occasions. That, I consider, is a very great misfortune. The most important task of the Lord Chancellor is to appoint the judges, and the best way of making certain you appoint the right people is by hearing them argue before you; then you can form your own opinion and do not need to rely on another person's opinion, however good it may be. I hope that in the process of time we shall get back to the position when we have only one Cabinet meeting, on the Wednesday. Your Lordships will then have to consider whether you are going to adhere to the half-past-two Sittings, or whether you are going back to the old system of four o'clock Sittings. I discussed that matter with various noble Lords in the last Parliament, and the general opinion then was that the volume of work which we have to carry through today is so great that we must for the time being sit at half past two. However, I concur with what the noble and learned Lord has said. I think there are difficulties about the present position, but, on the whole, and with some regret, I have come to the conclusion that the course which he is now proposing, which is equivalent to the course I proposed for so many years, is inevitable and that we must accept it.
§ On Question, Motion agreed to.