I beg to move, in page 3, line 9, after the word "counsel," to insert the words
which shall be in the discretion of the court".
In this Amendment, I raise the question of the fees which are paid to junior counsel who conduct the defence of poor prisoners. According to the present practice, the fees are settled by Rules made by the Attorney-General, and the existing Rules were made in 1925. They provide for a fixed sum of£3 5s. 6d., that is to say, three guineas for counsel and 2s. 6d. for his clerk, and, unless the case lasts for more than five hours, that is the limit of the fee. After
a period of five hours, an additional sum can be allowed up to£11, but that involves the barrister in question making an application in open court to the Judge, or Recorder, or Chairman, of Quarter Sessions, as the case may be. I think that that is a bad practice.
I only put the Amendment forward as a suggestion to the Solicitor-General, this being, I found, the only way in which I could raise the point. If one is to get the best juniors on a circuit, and to get competent people, it would be wiser, and, indeed, in the interests of poor persons—I am not looking at the matter so much from the point of view of counsel as from the point of view of poor persons—that the panel of barristers ready to conduct cases for poor persons should consist, not merely of beginners who have only been called to the Bar for two or three years, but of people who have been called for some considerable time and have wide experience. If a more generous scale were adopted, or if a wider discretion were given to the court in place of this limitation of the fee to three guineas, the interests of poor persons would be far better served.
It must not be forgotten that very often a barrister may get a case which he has to spend two or three days in preparing. Some time ago, a friend of mine who defended a man charged with murder, and had all the anxiety and responsibility attaching to the defence in a case like that, spent three and a-half days over the defence—it was before the Rules were altered—and at the end of all that time, and after all the work involved, he was paid the large sum of three guineas. I think that, in order to induce juniors to remain on the panel of people willing to act for poor persons, this Amendment, or something of a similar nature, should be adopted.