Summary Jurisdiction (Appeals) Bill.

Orders of the Day — Solicitors Bill. – in the House of Commons on 12th May 1933.

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As amended (in the Standing Committee), considered.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the Third time."

12 n.

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

I do not intend to take up the time of the House by a long speech, because I spoke at, I fear, considerable length on the occasion when the Bill was first considered, but I should like to explain to the House the alterations which have been made in the Bill. I brought the Bill before the House, in the first instance, as a skeleton; it has been filled in by the Committee upstairs in such a way as to make it, I believe, a living and organic measure. The flesh which has been put on the bones of the Bill came from the Departmental Committee which considered the question, and I cannot express how greatly I am indebted to that Departmental Committee for their findings. We have accepted every finding of the Committee except one, where they made the question of costs dependent on the means of the appellant and respondent. We have limited it to a question of the means of the appellant. The two main alterations in the Bill are these. In the original Bill we did away with all the recognisances for a person on appeal. As the Bill now stands, it is limited to recognisances to appear and prosecute the appeal with diligence. It was thought by the Committee that it would be unwise to entirely do away with recognisances, but the effect of the change is to alter recognisances from the present high average level of £50 to a sum of £5. If that is to be achieved I realise that it must depend on the discretion of the justices who fix recognisances; but I believe a great advance will have been made in the regulation of appeals to Quarter Sessions.

The second alteration deals with the question of legal aid. In the Bill as first introduced it was provided that if an appellant was without means he should obtain legal aid on appeal. It has been thought wise to limit legal aid on appeal only to questions where the appellant is appealing from 'a conviction. This will exclude all bastardy appeals. It required a great deal of consideration before one could exclude so many of these appeals, but I think that a strong case can be made out for excluding bastardy appeals. They are not primarily a criminal matter, they are in the nature of civil actions, and the law of the land has never allowed a civil action to be financed by the State or a local authority. Personally, I hold the view that bastardy cases and appeals should be taken entirely outside the sphere of courts of summary jurisdiction and put into the sphere of the county court, but I know that all Members of my profession do not share that view, and I expect there are some Members of the House who do not share that view. In any case I will not pursue the subject because it is outside the scope of the Bill. These are the two main changes.

Let me add one word of thanks to the Home Secretary and to the Under-Secretary for the sympathetic help they have given in the consideration of the Bill, and also express my pleasure that the god parent of my Bill, who was absent from his place through illness during its first stages, the hon. Member for Cambridge University (Sir J. Withers), has now recovered and is here to-day at what I believe is not the christening but the confirmation of the Bill. We owe a great debt to him as a member of the Departmental Committee, and I feel that it is entirely through his efforts in pressing for this reform for so many years in the past that we are now discussing the Third Reading of this Bill. I hope that the House, having been so friendly towards this Bill on previous stages, will now give it a Third Reading so that it can become law.

12.5 p.m.

Photo of Mr Walter Greaves-Lord Mr Walter Greaves-Lord , Lambeth Norwood

I wish to support the Third Reading of the Bill and to express my congratulations to the hon. Member for the success which has attended his efforts in connection with this very important subject. I think I am right in saying that it is one of the first things that I myself raised when I came into this House many years ago. It has been a crying grievance for a very long time, although a great deal of that grievance was underground and was not seen publicly. The progress of this Bill to its present stage has been very rapid. Thanks and congratulations are due to the Government for the way in which they have tackled this question. Those of us who have been associated with the question have raised it on several occasions. We tried in vain to get from previous Governments anything beyond a sympathetic remark which led to nothing. We tried to get Governments to inquire into it, but we got only promises of a very vague character. Last year we got a very definite promise of the appointment of a Committee from the right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel), who was then Home Secretary, and later that promise was implemented by the present Home Secretary.

That Committee was composed of men of unrivalled experience in connection with these matters; and it is a source of pride to those of us who belong to the Northern Circuit that one of our greatest leaders, Sir Francis Taylor, was able to act as chairman of that Committee and bring its labours to such an excellent result. We know how on That Committee he had magnificent support from the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cambridge University (Sir J. Withers).

Let me say a few words about the provisions of the Bill. There has always been a feeling, even among those who are most enthusiastic in support of the Bill, as to the possible risk of frivolous appeals. Many of us think that that was not a very big risk, but at the same time there were very few of us who would venture to say that there was not a risk. The committee in their report have found a procedure which will contribute very largely to minimise that risk. They have done away with the serious evil of the recognisance, the recognisance which was entered into not merely to prosecute an appeal but also to carry out any order that might be made by quarter sessions, which meant, of course, the payment of costs. The result of that was that recognisances were of such a nature as to be a complete bar to appeal in the case of poor people. The committee very wisely did away with that type of recognisance, but by providing that there shall be a recognisance I think they have brought home to possible appellants the fact that entering upon an appeal is a serious matter not to be taken lightly. A recognisance, it is true, is to prosecute the appeal, and the extent to which that recognisance can be demanded is limited by the means of the appellant. The fact that the recognisance has to be entered into will make people think before they enter an appeal, and with the good sense of the great population of the country my opinion is that the 'solemnity of entering into a recognisance to prosecute an appeal will be quite sufficient to deter people from lightly entering upon frivolous appeals.

Without full provisions regarding poor persons this Bill might have failed in its object. One is happy to feel that we have in the Bill now complete provision for support of the appellant of slender means. If ever there was a Bill for poor persons, this is such a Bill. It is a part of the State's duty to see that, however poor a man may be, the gates of justice are not closed to him. With the Bill in its present form those gates will be ever open to him, and there will be complete provision for his being properly and adequately represented before the Appeal Court. My hon. Friend has said something about the application of these conditions to cases of conviction. From experience I do not think that any great harm will come from the fact that the powers are so limited, because in the other cases he has spoken of, bastardy cases, as far as I can make out wherever there is a real case for appeal there are societies who make it their duty to look after such appeals. I do not think that there is serious risk that a woman in difficulties will be without adequate representation on such an appeal. Of course with regard to convictions it was absolutely essential that this help should be given, and the provisions in the Bill render it possible to give that help, and no appellant and no appeal will fail for want of proper assistance being given to the court which has to try the appeal.

With regard to the rest of the provisions I think that everyone concerned with the administration of justice is thankful to the Government for having inserted in the Bill provisions which will make for the convenience of parties. The procedure of quarter sessions sometimes results in the delay of appeal trials. Under this Bill ample provision is made to avoid delay. Provision is made by which appeals may be brought to trial within a reasonable time. Speed rather than haste is of vital importance, and the Bill provides ample opportunities for there being no delay of any sort in the administration of justice. It is a matter for congratulation that we are now removing that grievance. It may be rather a sad reflection that it has taken a very long time indeed to get the grievance removed, but we may now congratulate ourselves upon the fact that it is being removed. The last possible obstacle to the poor person getting complete justice is removed by the Bill.

12.15 p.m.

Photo of Mr Barnett Janner Mr Barnett Janner , Stepney Whitechapel and St George's

I rise to support this Bill, not because I am entirely in agreement with all that has been said that this provides completely and amply for all the difficulties that exist, but because I feel that the work which has been undertaken by the hon. Member who introduced the Bill, and the support which has been given to it by the Government, should command the full approval of all who are in this House, and that certainly we should give an opportunity to this Measure to be put into operation, so that at a later stage, possibly, we may get the other difficulties removed. In the course of the Committee stage I raised a number of questions on Amendments, but for certain technical reasons and in order to assist this Measure to pass through the House, and not because I was convinced that those Amendments were by any means unnecessary, I withdrew the Amendments.

It is only right that, in the first place, mention should be, made of the fact that in this House not only have the Government, but very prominent Members of my own party from time to time have urged the necessity of a Measure of this description. The right hon. Member for Darwen (Sir H. Samuel) has fel[...] for many years that the position with regard to the procedure in respect of appeals in the courts of summary jurisdiction requires amending, and he has on numerous occasions not only stated this in the House but in public, and has certainly exhibited a very keen interest in it. Another hon. Gentleman on these benches moved a Motion for legal reform which I had the privilege of seconding, and on which occasion I referred at length to this evil which existed, and the necessity of improving the conditions that prevail.

We all feel that the time is ripe for an amendment in respect of appeals from courts of summary jurisdiction. We have always felt that it was an absurdity that when 600,000 cases came before the courts of summary jurisdiction, only some 200 or, at the outside, 300, actually went to appeal. In proportion to the number of cases that go to appeal from other courts, it is ludicrous to believe that out of so many persons who are brought before the court, there are so few who honestly believe themselves to be dissatisfied with the decision of the tribunal. I am not entirely satisfied that an appeal from a court of summary jurisdiction to a quarter sessions is altogether the best manner of settling the difficulty, because it is perfectly clear that a court of summary jurisdiction sometimes contains men of much greater legal knowledge on the bench than on occasions one finds at quarter sessions. It is also perfectly obvious that on innumerable occasions there are sitting in the courts of summary jurisdiction men of extreme knowledge in the law. Indeed, I understand that among them are included one of our Judges and also men of equal standing and knowledge in the law.

I am not satisfied that the extension of seven days for appeal is itself sufficient in regard to lodging the appeal. I certainly think that the opportunity of a longer time should be given and that it would be found in practice that at least 21 days should be given to enable a person to decide whether he ought to appeal from a conviction which has been registered against him. After all, many people are prepared to bear convictions, even although they may be wrong convictions, to avoid the trouble and expense of proceeding to appeal, and they ought to be given an ample opportunity to decide whether it is better to bear those we have,Than fly to the possibility of being relieved of those evils. I am not convinced that a layman would be sure as to the persons on whom to serve the notice of appeal. The Bill says that a man has to serve the clerk of the court, and he has to serve the opposite party. There are many cases in which the opposite party is not so clear to the layman as one might hope so that the individual could serve his notice in a proper manner. I am also not convinced that the solicitor ought not to have the right to appear at quarter sessions. I am not sure that it can be incorporated in the Bill later on, but it is obvious that in many cases—with the greatest respect to my learned Friends in this House and outside—the solicitor's knowledge of a case which he has been conducting in a lower court is not only greater, because he happens to have better experience, perhaps, of that type of case, but also because he has been in the court at the time the case was taken, he knows the atmosphere which prevailed, and not only knows what has been said, but how it has been said.

Photo of Mr Robin Turton Mr Robin Turton , Thirsk and Malton

They have the right to appear at quarter sessions if quarter sessions so decide. It is entirely a matter for quarter sessions.

Photo of Mr Barnett Janner Mr Barnett Janner , Stepney Whitechapel and St George's

I know that, of course, but it is a question of the quarter sessions themselves deciding as to the right of a solicitor to appear or not. I should like to say, in response to my hon. Friend, that I am not aware of a large number of cases in which quarter sessions have granted that right to a solicitor. In my own experience I must say that I cannot recollect a single case in which I have actually seen it done. I have heard of it. It is a matter of regret to me, but one which I feel compelled in the circumstances to concede for the time being. Then there is the question of bastardy appeals. It means much to the individual concerned. There are many cases in which a conviction and its incidence are of a very much less serious nature to a person. There are cases in which a person has an affiliation order made against him, and I certainly think that that is a matter which in the future should be given consideration again. Possibly if another hon. Member has the good fortune to be successful in the Ballot, he will take advantage of the opportunity to introduce a further Bill in order to cope with that difficulty.

There is also the difficulty in respect of cases stated. I have on a previous occasion explained my views with regard to that and it is not necessary to delay the House upon it on this occasion. But the complicated procedure which is involved in connection with cases stated ought to be modified—indeed it might almost be put out of existence—so that the poor person would have an opportunity of appealing in that manner as well as under the provisions of this Bill. These are a few of the difficulties which present themselves and which will, I fear, continue. There is also the question of recognisances and what has satisfied some of my hon. and learned Friends in that respect does not entirely satisfy me. It is all very well to say that recognisances are to be fixed at such a rate as is reasonable and in accordance with the means of the person concerned. But that condition applies also to fines and maintenance orders. There is a provision which says that the court must fix maintenance orders or fines in accordance with the means of the person concerned. I am not sure whether that rule is not honoured more in the breach than in the observance.

Photo of Mr Barnett Janner Mr Barnett Janner , Stepney Whitechapel and St George's

Well I do not wish to offend the susceptibilities of my hon. Friend as I am a member of the same profession, and I will withdraw any suggestion that it is not generally observed. But I think there are cases in which that rule is not observed and the same thing might prevail in connection with these recognisances. Then, I had hoped that there would be something in the Bill to enable persons to appeal direct to a judge in chambers. That proposal does not seem to meet with the approval of some of my hon. Friends but after all a judge in chambers must be considered to have a full knowledge of the law and a considerable amount of experience and to be able to give a decision of a reasonable and just nature. Something might have been done by this Bill to give an appellant the opportunity of going to a judge in chambers with what the judge might consider to be a reasonable objection against a decision of the lower court. The portion of the Bill which deals with relief to be granted to poor litigants is of extreme value and I am convinced that a large number of people will benefit considerably from it. Taking the whole matter on balance I hope that hon. Members will facilitate the passage of the Bill and that the opportunity will be taken, on a future occasion, of rectifying the errors and difficulties which I have pointed out by a, further Bill extending the provisions of this Measure in other directions. I congratulate the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton), not only on having introduced the Bill, but on having accepted suggestions, which though they may not have complied fully with all his desires, go a long way towards meeting them.

12.30 p.m.

Photo of Sir Douglas Hacking Sir Douglas Hacking , Chorley

It may meet the con- venience of the House if I make a short statement on behalf of the Government at this stage. I do not intend to follow hon. Members who have spoken earlier, in a detailed consideration of this Bill. I desire only to deal with one matter and that is the expense of the Bill. It will be recalled that when the Bill received a Second Reading I warned the House on behalf of the Government in regard to the possible cost of the Measure. I made a request to the Departmental Committee which was considering the question of appeals from decisions of courts of summary jurisdiction to investigate the problem of expense. I have here a copy of their report and I find in paragraph 16 the following passage: We have no doubt that you will wish us to give an estimate of the cost to public or local funds which our recommendations may be expected to involve. It seems, however, that it is impossible to furnish any such estimate since there is no material from which it is possible to anticipate the number of appeals by poor persons which may result. That means that nobody can give even an approximate idea of the cost of the Measure. In consequence of that statement, and in consequence of the failure of the Home Office to get any approximate estimate, the Government desire to make it abundantly clear that although they will do nothing to-day to prevent the Bill from reaching the Statute Book, nevertheless, as the cost is so uncertain, the operation of the Measure must be in the nature of a trial rather than a definite and permanent piece of legislation. If there should be a large number of frivolous appeals or if the cost for some other reason proves to be excessive, then the Government reserve to themselvs the right to introduce and pass into law any necessary amending legislation at a later period. I give this warning not in a spirit of hostility to the Bill, but rather in a spirit of hope and belief that the Measure will not, in practice, prove to be an extravagant one. It is the earnest desire of the Government that the Measure should be reasonable in cost and at the same time of real benefit and assistance to those who feel compelled to take advantage of its provisions. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Thirsk and Mahon (Mr. Turton) will accept that statement in the good faith in which it is made. In conclusion I join with other hon. Members in congratulating him on the successful termination of his determined efforts.

12.33 p.m.

Photo of Mr John Withers Mr John Withers , Cambridge University

I take this opportunity of thanking again the hon. Member for Thirsk and Malton (Mr. Turton) and the hon. and learned Member for Norwood (Sir W Greaves-Lord) for the kind words they have said in regard to my action in the past, in bringing in a Bill similar to this, though in a slightly different form. It was on that original Bill that the Home Secretary promised the Departmental Committee which afterwards considered the matter and upon which I served. The only question to which I desire to refer on this occasion is the question of frivolous appeals. If everybody were to appeal it would be a serious matter indeed and would cost the country a great deal, but the Departmental Committee came to the conclusion, after considerable discussion, that in all probability the Bill would not result in any such large cost. As has been pointed out already the recognisances are not done away with absolutely but only in so far as the payment of the costs of the other side is concerned. There is a certain amount of formality which has to be carried out and which means, as I think, that the bona fides of the appellant will have to be vouched for by somebody else.

Therefore, I think myself that the result will not be a very great expense to the country. Those who support the Bill quite appreciate what the right hon. Gentleman has said, and, of course, if it turns out that the Measure is abused by the making of frivolous appeals in a great many cases, the whole matter will have to be reconsidered and some way of checking the frivolous appeals adopted. I whole-heartedly support the Bill.

12.36 p.m.

Photo of Major Abraham Lyons Major Abraham Lyons , Leicester East

As one who has had the pleasure of being associated with the hon. Member for Thirsk (Mr. Turton) in introducing the Bill, I want to say how much the consideration and sympathy of the Government have been appreciated. While endorsing the observations that have been made by my hon. and learned Friend the Member for Norwood (Sir W. Greaves-Lord), it is clear that this Bill goes almost the whole way to remove an anomaly which, for a long time, has been wholly indefensible, and while it opens the gate to everybody to get the justice to which they are entitled in this country, it does indeed take away one of the very last remaining stigmas that exist in connection with the administration of justice in this country. The points that have been raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Whitechapel (Mr. Janner) are, I think, wholly unnecessary apprehensions on his part. The time to appeal is quite adequate, and the injustice about which we have complained so long arose, not from the time in which an appeal had to be made, but in respect of the onerous and very often intolerable conditions which were placed upon people who might desire to appeal against convictions which they thought were wrong. It was tantamount to giving to the summary courts the right of barring any appeal against the decisions which they had given.

With regard to the suggestion that the Bill might have incorporated similar treatment in relation to cases stated, I think it only right to say that there is no likelihood whatever of injustice arising in respect of the decisions of these summary courts upon which it is desired to have a case stated. It is a different class of conviction altogether on which cases are stated. I think the Solicitor-General dealt conclusively with those points in Committee and showed that the suggestions were entirely without foundation. This is a Bill which, I hope, will go through speedily, and while again expressing gratitude to the Government for what they have done to assist my hon. Friend, who so courageously and skillfully introduced and piloted this Bill, one quite appreciates that it will have to he watched so as to see whether appeals are made that are frivolous. I think the restrictions which still exist would prevent too free a flow of appeals.

I certainly feel that what has been put into the Bill is the best and fairest safeguard that could have been devised to give justice to the citizens of this country and at the same time to watch such interests of the State as must be watched and as are not inconsistent with the administration of true justice. Of all courts where there ought to be a ready appeal from decisions which convict a man in this country, I think the police court stands first. That right of appeal has for a long time been blocked, and this Bill will give a new chance to those who have not got the facilities and are barred by existing restrictions, and will give to everybody the same standard of justice. I am glad to have been associated with this Bill in some small measure, and I express the hope that it will become the law of the land in the course of a very short time.

Question, "That the Bill be now read the Third time," put, and agreed to.

Bill read the Third time, and passed.