Orders of the Day — Clause I. — (Appointment of legally quali fied chairman and deputy chairman of quarter sessions.)

– in the House of Commons at on 22 July 1938.

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11.14 a.m.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

I beg to move, in page 1, line 7, to leave out from the beginning, to "apply," in line 8, and to insert: Within six months next after this Act shall have come into operation, and thereafter within three months after a vacancy in the office of chairman or deputy chairman of the court of quarter sessions shall have occurred, the court of quarter sessions for a county shall. The general objection that has been advanced time after time, both on the Floor of the House and in Committee, to the way in which this legislation is being approached, is that, instead of having a bold, constructive scheme of reorganisation, the Government have contented themselves with shreds and patches applied almost haphazardly from point to point. The particular objection we have to the Clause as it stands is that in this instance the Government, quite apart from their general policy of shreds and patches, have not even applied a whole patch at the time. The position is quite adequately expressed by a sentence or two of the speech of the Attorney-General last week on the Supreme Court of Judicature (Amendment) (No. 2) Bill. He said, dealing with general objections that have been made: In spite of these criticisms—and we realise that there are many criticisms which can be urged—I do not think that those who urge them always realise the difficulties of solution or that they give sufficient credit for the amount which has been done—piecemeal, if you like, but if you are going to build a structure of this elaboration and complexity there is something to be said for doing it gradually and not making a sweeping reform at once."—[OFFICIAL REPORT, 14th July, 1938; col. 1692, Vol. 338.] Our objection here is not that they are not making a sweeping reform at once, but that they are not making even this small piecemeal reform at once. The general purpose of the Clause is to provide machinery which will enable a good deal more criminal work to be sent to courts of quarter sessions instead of to the assizes, thus relieving the Judges on assize of a good deal of criminal work, and allowing them to deal with the congested civil business on assizes more quickly—and the way in which civil business on assizes is now dealt with amounts almost to a public scandal—and, as a result, to get the Judges back to London as quickly as may be in order to deal with the shockingly congested state of the civil list in London. It is the opinion of everyone that we cannot extend the jurisdiction of quarter sessions, which already deal with very important cases, if we leave the constitution of quarter sessions as it is, and it is the opinion of everybody, without exception, who has had any time to consider this matter, that there ought to be a legally-qualified chairman of quarter sessions.

I am not going to take the time of the House by going into all the reasons. They have been dealt with before. In any event, where there is no controversy about the advisability of having a legally qualified chairman, there is no need to take time in advancing the arguments in its favour. But one would have thought that, in those circumstances, it would have been an easy thing for the Government to legislate for a legally-qualified chairman at all quarter sessions, so as to enable them to proceed, even in the piecemeal fashion which they prefer, with the reorganisation of the legal system of this country. But what does the Clause propose? Instead of making it compulsory for quarter sessions to have a legally-qualified chairman, it makes it optional. It allows quarter sessions which decide to have a legally-qualified chairman to have one, and allows those who do not desire it to do without. The result of accepting the Clause, without the Amendment which we would like to see made in it, would be that, for the first time in the legal history of this country, you would have existing side by side parallel systems of the administration of the Criminal Law; so that if your case is being tried in one part of the country you get one standard of the administration of justice, and if it is being tried in another part of the country, you get another standard—a secondary standard and an inferior standard.

The ground upon which the distinction is made as to whether a man charged with a quite serious criminal offence is to have the advantage of a first-rate system of justice or a second-rate system of justice is purely geographical and arbitrary. No one thinks that that is a good system. When the matter was discussed in Committee, it was admitted, on behalf of the Government, that they did not think it a good system. The Solicitor-General said expressly that no one contemplated the continuation of this double system permanently. But the Bill contemplates it. There is nothing in the Bill to enable it to be brought to an end. If we passed it now, no one could say that at some future time we might not amend it and bring this absurd double system to an end; but there is nothing in the Bill as it stands to bring it to an end. The Government say it is as well to have a preliminary period, but this is not said in the Bill to be a preliminary or a trial period. There is no way under the Bill of determining that period. Where everybody is agreed that the present sysem is wrong, there is no reason why there should be a period of experimentation at all. There is no need to establish, for the first time, this dual system, merely for the purpose of allowing it at some time to be brought to an end. It has been said that there are practical difficulties, but I see none, and I hope the Government will not insist on making some half a dozen bites at a very small cherry, but will swallow it whole.

11.23 a.m.

Photo of Mr Clement Davies Mr Clement Davies , Montgomeryshire

I beg to second the Amendment.

I propose to follow the example of my hon. Friend and to be equally brief. Before I deal with the Amendment, may I express the very deep regret I have always felt with regard to these matters that more of the laymen—if they will allow me so to call them—of this House do not take more interest in these matters? They seem to think that these are matters which concern lawyers only. But we lawyers are only giving the benefit of our experience to the House. These matters do not affect us very much; but they do affect our client, the costs he is put to, and the kind of justice he is getting. I wish the laymen of the House would take a much keener interest in these matters. As the hon. Member said, everybody who has considered this question of the jurisdiction of quarter sessions is agreed that nowadays, whatever be the jurisdiction exercised by quarter sessions they should be presided over by experienced qualified lawyers, whether banisters or solicitors. That is quite apart from any relief which may be given to the Judges going on assize, by relieving them of cases which they now are called upon to try.

As I have so often mentioned to the House, I was privileged to be a member of what is known as the Peel Commission. The purpose of that Commission was to inquire into the delay in the King's Bench Division. We discussed that the other day. There is continued delay in the trial of actions in the King's Bench Division, amounting now to a positive scandal, both on assizes and in London. When we were considering it on the Peel Commission we felt that the assizes could be relieved if the jurisdiction of the quarter sessions were extended. We all felt that we dare not extend it unless we had a qualified judge. Therefore, we said that, in any event, there should be a qualified chairman. On page 71 of our report, paragraph 209, we said: ''We are, however, very strongly of opinion that all chairmen of quarter sessions should possess legal qualifications. A little later we deal with the salaried chairman. There is no part of this Bill dealing with salaries. It has nothing to do with whether a chairman is paid a salary or not, but only with the question of his qualifications. We say: In those counties where it is not desired to have a salaried chairman, we recommend that only a chairman with the legal qualification thus defined should be eligible for appointment. Whether he is paid a salary or whether he is not, he ought to be a qualified chairman. Apparently, that is also the view of the Government, and, if that is their view, why not do it? Instead, in this Bill, unless they accept the Amendment, they propose to say "Let each county come along and ask the Lord Chancellor to appoint a qualified man. If the county do that the Lord Chancellor will appoint him. If the county will not do that, they will continue with their late chairman and the Lord Chancellor will not have any power at all to make a recommendation, still less an appointment." Let there be one group for the whole country. Let the Lord Chancellor appoint in every instance, and, before he appoints, let him consult the county as to what their views are and find out what persons are properly eligible. It is beyond me why the Government adopt the attitude they do of this half-measure and leave two jurisdictions, as the hon. Gentleman the Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman) has said.

Let me take my own county. I am now the chairman of quarter sessions, possessing the legal qualification, I hope, which will recommend itself to the Lord Chancellor. There will be in the county of Montgomery an extended jurisdiction. Merioneth has a layman and Radnor has a layman. It would be perfectly easy to appoint somebody with the necesssary qualifications from the North Wales circuit—they would be only too willing to do it if asked—for Merioneth, and from the South Wales circuit for Radnor. If there is any other difficulty, they have only to approach those who already possess the qualifications and are acting in one county, and ask them whether they will take the other county as well. My own sessions never last more than a day, and usually about half a day. Fortunately, crime is practically nonexistent in Radnor, and the same applies in Merioneth. For example, if I were asked "Would you also take Merioneth?" "Certainly." "Would you take Radnor?" "Certainly." It would mean only an extra day. There are no practical difficulties at all. Therefore, for the sake of one uniform system covering the whole country, I hope that the Attorney-General will accept the Amendment.

11.29 a.m.

Photo of Mr Donald Somervell Mr Donald Somervell , Crewe

The Mover and Seconder of the Amendment, with clarity and brevity to which I would pay my tribute, have put their argument in an attractive way. They say, as everyone will agree, that the ultimate ideal is legally qualified chairmen and uniformity throughout the country, and they ask, why not; therefore, do it by compulsion now? The answer to that is that the system of quarter sessions is a very old one and it is rooted in local tradition. There are, as the House knows, many quarter sessions which to-day have legally qualified chairmen. This has been brought about by such people as my hon. and learned Friend- the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies) and others being willing to undertake this work and this position, and the increase in the number of legally qualified chairmen, apart from this Bill altogether, has been definite, substantial and steady.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

The qualified chairman has not been under the same definition of "legal qualification" proposed by this Measure.

Photo of Mr Donald Somervell Mr Donald Somervell , Crewe

Never mind that for the moment. I was saying that the nomination of chairmen with legal qualifications has been steady and substantial during recent years. The main purpose of this Clause is, as the House knows, to enable the local authorities and the quarter sessions, if they so desire, to have salaried legally qualified chairmen. There are many areas already in which there are chairmen with legal qualifications, and there are chairmen in a number of districts without legal qualifications but who, with very long experience on the Bench, are acting as chairmen under the existing jurisdiction with very great competence and efficiency. If the House accepts this Amendment it will say to these chairmen, "Although you have fitted yourself by 20 years' service on the bench for the position of chairmen, although you have been chosen by those who do this work to be chairman, and although no one has the slightest complaint against the way you do your work"—and indeed some of the unqualified chairmen may be doing their work just as well as, I might almost say better than, some legally qualified chairmen—"you cannot continue to serve." I think it would be contrary to the feeling of this House that these men should feel, in spite of all that, that they should be compulsorily removed from their office at this time by an act of this House.

There is another point of principle which might appeal to some right hon. and hon. Members. The acceptance of this Amendment would compulsorily bind the local authority as to salary where they had not got someone willing to act. I do not stress that point, but the first point is one which will commend itself to all Members of the House. That is the basis upon which the Bill has been introduced, and I think it is the basis agreed upon by the majority of the Court of Appeal Committee. My hon. and learned Friend read some sentences which he Construed in a different way. I do not want to have an argument about that. It may be that they were not quite clear, but I believe that this was the procedure which they intended, because they say that power should be given to appoint a salaried chairman. That implies, I think, that it should be voluntary because if you made it compulsory and you could not get a qualified unpaid chairman, then there would be no question of getting power to pay the salary: you would have to pay such persons as were available.

We believe this is the right method. We do not believe that the day will be long postponed when all quarter sessions will have legally qualified chairmen and full jurisdiction. I can give the House this assurance, that the progress made in obtaining legally qualified chairmen will be kept constantly under review by my Noble Friend, and if counties fail without reasonable cause to obtain legally qualified chairmen he will, of course, consider asking Parliament for further powers. We believe that under the Bill the process of obtaining legally qualified chairmen will go on, and that it will go on with the good will, which is very important, of the members of quarter sessions, and that the day will not be far distant when, on a voluntary basis rather than compulsorily, each quarter sessions will have a chairman with the necessary legal qualifications and with the extended jurisdiction. I hope that I am not unduly optimistic. In view of these assurances, I hope that hon. Members will see their way not to press the Amendment.

11.37 a.m.

Photo of Mr Clement Attlee Mr Clement Attlee , Stepney Limehouse

I am speaking as a layman, because I have been so long away from the Bar and I had so little practice there. It seems to me that the Attorney-General is looking at this question from the point of view of the quarter sessions people, and not from the point of view of the litigants. You are going to have this position in counties, that just because you must not upset the feelings of certain chairmen who have been presiding there for years, the quarter sessions in those counties are to have restricted jurisdiction.

Photo of Mr Clement Attlee Mr Clement Attlee , Stepney Limehouse

Well, it will not be extended. Therefore, it will be restricted as compared with the others. The Attorney-General assumes that, necessarily, the people who will be retained will be the good ones, but clearly there have been some unqualified ones. It is a very long time since I attended quarter sessions at the Bar, but I remember there were some persons then presiding who ought not to have been there. I should have thought that the likelihood of the retention of an incompetent chairman of quarter sessions will be just in those places where the general level is low, and where probably personal prestige, and a desire not to upset the old man, will prevent an application, with the result that those who are to be damnified will be the ordinary people of the county, simply in order to pander to the sense of importance of one or two people.

11.40 a.m.

Photo of Major Abraham Lyons Major Abraham Lyons , Leicester East

I should like to emphasise the argument which has been made by the Leader of the Opposition. It seems to me that by this Bill there is a general recognition that county quarter sessions as now conducted are very unsatisfactory. If they are unsatisfactory, I take the view, and I hope it will be the view of those who have proposed the Amendment, that it should be altered in some uniform fashion, and that there should be no attempt made in this Bill to give to some counties a better type of jurisdiction, and a better standard of justice than adjoining counties may have. I should like to tell the House, briefly, what I stated in Committee. I know of two adjoining counties, possessing the same county quarter sessions jurisdiction. In each case the quarter sessions were presided over by a lay chairman. The position in one county became such, however, that the learned county court judge of the district was asked to preside at quarter sessions, and he did preside, and in his hands of course, justice was and is pro- perly and satisfactorily administered. The next county has no legal chairman of the quarter sessions; so far as I know he has no legal qualfications. When a person is committed for trial in one of these counties it is a matter of luck where he is arrested as to which tribunal is going to try him. This House should not subject any person to the risk of having to be tried by a court which is recognised under this Bill as a second-class type of tribunal.

Photo of Mr Donald Somervell Mr Donald Somervell , Crewe

I must protest against the statement of the hon. and learned Member that this Bill will recognise an existing quarter sessions as a second-class tribunal. They are recognised as tribunals with the jurisdiction they have to-day and the work they are doing to-day.

Photo of Major Abraham Lyons Major Abraham Lyons , Leicester East

I did not intend to say that this Bill recognises quarter sessions as a second-class tribunal. If I said that, I withdraw it, and I am glad that the Attorney-General corrected me.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

Is it not perfectly clear that what the Clause proposes to do is to set up two kinds of quarter sessions, one with an extended jurisdiction and one with a second-rate jurisdiction.

Photo of Major Abraham Lyons Major Abraham Lyons , Leicester East

What I intended to say was, that, whatever the position has been up to now, this Bill, for the first time, sets up a kind of dual jurisdiction, giving to some counties, by virtue of the position of its chairman an extended jurisdiction, while in other counties it leaves the jurisdiction untouched. Therefore, it recognises, and indeed creates, two types of jurisdiction. It is very unsatisfactory that anyone who is to be tried for a criminal offence should be able to say: "Simply because I was arrested on this side of the borderline, I am to be tried by a second-class type of tribunal."

I hope that I understood the Attorney-General when he said that the present system is an old one and that it is rooted in local tradition. I hope that vested interest will not be allowed to stand in the way of a proper, easy, accessible, impartial, uniform administration of justice. I do not mind how old the system is. I do not mind whether the chairman of any county council or the chairman of any quarter sessions is going to be offended by the endeavour to promote a better system of justice. I hope the House will not think about persons. I cannot conceive why a man who has been administering justice for a period of years, and who is told that his period is coming to an end, not because of him, but because of the alteration that is required in the whole system of justice—I cannot see why he should be offended. If he is offended because of the efforts to get better justice, then he has no right to preside over any quarter sessions. The Attorney-General says that the system is rooted in local tradition. I do not mind if it is rooted in local tradition. If it stands in the way of a better system of justice, even if it is rooted in local tradition, it should go. I have yet to learn that there is any justification for saying: "We will set up a second standard of justice because, and only because, we do not want to interfere with something that is rooted in local tradition." I hope the House will not accept that type of argument.

Quarter sessions have important work to do. In addition to presiding over trial by jury, the chairman of a county quarter sessions presides over the court of appeal from the one court in the land which affects a large number of people, namely, the police court. You put into his hands the right to say whether or not a man was properly convicted. It is a very important jurisdiction and personal considerations ought not to weigh. I have in mind one instance where something happened in that connection which justifies me in saying that I think a case has been made out overwhelmingly that these important powers should be only in the hands of legal chairmen of quarter sessions, and that legal chairmen of quarter sessions should be in the same position throughout the country.

With regard to the question of payment of quarter sessions chairmen, it is a fact that in many counties the chairmanship is in the hands of legally qualified men who do it voluntarily, in discharge of public duties in the manner, for example, indicated by my hon. and learned friend the Member for Montgomery (Mr. C. Davies). Their numbers are increasing. I think there are only three cases in England to-day where it has been found necessary to seek power to pay the chairman of quarter sessions, namely, Middlesex, Lancashire and Hertfordshire, and in Hertfordshire I think the power has not yet been exercised. But I do not know that the appointment of a legal chairman of quarter sessions is necessarily to be accompanied by any compulsory local expenditure. We are not dealing with the question as to whether the chairman of quarter sessions should be paid, but with the fundamental principle that someone with proper qualifications for the administration of justice should be in charge of these courts, and that we should not have any second-class courts in the country. I do not think that a small sum of money should stand in the way of getting a proper administration of justice, and as Parliament is proposing to alter the system, I think we should alter it in the way suggested by the unanimous report of the majority of the committee. They say: We are, however, very strongly of opinion that all chairmen of quarter sessions should possess legal qualifications.

Photo of Mr Donald Somervell Mr Donald Somervell , Crewe

Will the hon. and learned Member read the subsequent paragraph?

Photo of Major Abraham Lyons Major Abraham Lyons , Leicester East

Certainly. We have been impressed by the steady progress toward the ideal of confining appointments as chairmen of quarter sessions to trained lawyers. We have also taken account of the fact that in many instances persons of legal eminence are found willing to render voluntary service in their counties. We do not, therefore, think it necessary that legislation should be introduced to make the appointment of salaried legal chairmen compulsory in all counties. I take it that the next passage is the one which the Attorney-General wants me to read: We do not, therefore, think it necessary … to make the appointment of salaried legal chairmen compulsory. The Amendment does not ask the House to insist on a salaried legal chairman. All we ask is that, as the Government realise there must be some alteration in the present position, if in one county there must be a salaried chairman to administer justice, the same need is manifest throughout the country. The only objection is that you might offend somebody. There are many counties where it is notorious that the work at quarter sessions is done badly, and in those cases the chairman will use his influence to see that quarter sessions do not apply for the appointment of a legally qualified salaried chairman. He will have the right to say that, no matter how they may be criticised, it is not compulsory, and we will carry on as before. That is the reason why I think the Bill in its present form will seriously interfere with the proper administration of justice. I hope the House will accept the Amendment in the interests of justice, and in order to get a uniform and fair treatment for all accused persons. I do not think the difficulties which have been suggested will arise, and I hope that in the public interests the Amendment will be accepted.

11.51 a.m.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

I shall support the Amendment from my own experience as a lay member of quarter sessions, and also as a member of a committee which from year to year has to Meet and decide whom to recommend to the court as chairman. I do not know whether the Attorney-General has ever acted in that capacity, but I have reached the conclusion that chairmen of quarter sessions are like old soldiers—they never die, and, as far as I can see, they rarely fade away. In the course of my experience I have been responsible for removing the chairman of a petty sessions and the chairman of a quarter sessions. It is an exceedingly painful experience, not for the chairman, because he does not hear, but for the person who has to endeavour to make him understand that his period of usefulness has really expired. This is a very important matter. It is a well-known maxim of English law that justice should not only be done, but should appear to be done. Can it be expected that a man who is being tried for what is, to him, a very serious offence, where his own character is at stake, can be persuaded that he is getting a fair deal when he knows that he is brought before a chairman of quarter sessions who cannot try certain cases because they are regarded by the law as very important? No matter how unimportant his case may be to other people it is everything in the world to him, and to ask him to have his case presented to the jury by a person who has no real acquaintance with the law or the rules of evidence, and all the other technicalities which are essential to the jury properly understanding what it is they have to find, seems to me to be asking him to accept something more than you have a right to expect any man to accept.

When I have listened to a legally qualified chairman explaining to the jury what false pretences are, I have come to the conclusion that false pretences to the law are those things which are not false pretences to the ordinary man, and that what are false, pretences to the ordinary man are perfectly innocent actions in the eyes of the law. I have found it difficult to reconcile the legal definition of false pretences with a common sense definition, and men on a jury must very often, even when they get the best advice in the world, find themselves rather befogged, and if the law is to be explained by a man who is as badly qualified in the law as the defendant himself, it is an intolerable position. This desire to give extended jurisdiction to quarter sessions is partly due to a desire to relieve assize courts of some of the cases which they now have to try.

On another Bill the other night it was made clear to the House that some of those courts are exceedingly overworked and that very great difficulties arise. There may very well be some most hard-worked assize courts which will be unrelieved by this Measure because the local justices, meeting in quarter sessions, either do not want to have this extended jurisdiction or have not the pluck to get rid of a chairman who is regarded by everybody in the district with veneration rather than respect. Amusing as it may sound, when the right hon. and learned Gentleman talks about its being rooted in local tradition, that very often covers a multitude of sins of social prestige and injustice rather than anything that is very dignified or anything that ought to be preserved. I hope that the Government will listen to the appeal that is made by the lawyers in this matter and that they will not disregard the appeal of laymen that the matter should be brought to the end which it ought to have reached many years ago.

11.57 a.m.

Photo of Sir Noel Goldie Sir Noel Goldie , Warrington

In listening to the speech of the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne (Mr. Silverman), I confess that I approached this matter with a completely open mind, but after hearing the speech of my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General, I feel that the information which is necessary in order to come to a decision on this Amendment is not before the House. The question which I asked myself is, in how many cases at the present time are quarter sessions not presided over by lawyers? I am thinking particularly of the part of the country which I know so well. During the last 10 years, I happen to have had as much experience as any hon. Member in judicial work as a recorder in two towns, one of which is among the largest cities in England. I carry my mind back to the days when, as the right hon. Gentleman the Leader of the Opposition told us, things were not perhaps quite what they might have been, days rather before my time, when the clerk of the court asked, "Do you plead guilty or not?" and when the accused said "Not Guilty", the clerk said, "We shall see." Then the chairman, who was perhaps more worthy of veneration than respect, as the hon. Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) said, asked the accused, "Do you wish to say anything to the jury before they find you guilty?" But those days are long past.

When I think of the counties on the Northern and North Wales Circuits, I begin to wonder whether it is necessary to have paid chairmen. In Cheshire, for instance, a member of the bench occupies high office on the staff of another place as Chairman. In Pembrokeshire, for instance, the gentleman who presides is a Justice of the High Court. In Carnarvonshire, until quite recently, it was the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carnarvon Boroughs (Mr. Lloyd George). In Cumberland, although he has recently been replaced by the deputy-chairman, it was the county court Judge. In Westmorland, the quarter sessions are presided over by one who is a member of the Privy Council. The same thing applies in Derbyshire, and a Lord of Appeal presides in Oxfordshire. It seems to me that, throughout the whole of the counties where there is work to be done, trained legal people preside. Therefore, before making this fundamental change, we ought to consider to what extent it is really necessary. If the description of what is happening in other parts of the country given by the hon. Member for Nelson and Colne is true, then the sooner a change is made the better.

I am in favour of there ultimately being legal chairmen. For the last 10 or 15 years, we have been tinkering with the quarter sessions, until the whole system has reached a state in which it is in need of an absolute overhaul. The only county which I can think of which is likely to be affected by extended jurisdiction is Cornwall. I am told that there is very little work at the quarter sessions there, and curiously enough the borough court of quarter sessions is in Penzance. It may be that what little work there is in Cornwall under this extended jurisdiction will go to the Penzance Sessions, and probably the number of prisoners tried there will increase. Where we have gone wrong in recent years is that we have thrust on to the quarter sessions cases which they ought never to be asked to try. The other day I was asked to take a case which was one more or less of attempted murder, but I declined to take it, because I felt that it was my duty to send the case to the assizes. My view is that we must completely reform the quarter sessions.

An Act which we all thought was a most excellent one, but which I must confess in my experience has been a lamentable failure, is that which gave the right of appeal to everybody. What happens under that Act is that there are appeals, not from people who have been wrongly convicted and who ought to have every facility to go to the quarter sessions on appeal, but from old criminals, whose conviction was absolutely justified and who desire to have a second trial. The time of the quarter sessions is taken up with appeals of which the House never thought when it passed that Act. There is a great tendency nowadays to give increased jurisdiction in a different way to magistrates who, as the hon. Member for South Shields said, are worthy of veneration if not respect. What is happening all over the country is that they are trying cases which, when I was a young man, would have gone to the assizes, cases, for instance, of causing grievous bodily harm. The result of not sending these cases to the quarter sessions or to the assizes, with a view to saving expense, is that the charge is reduced and the person is tried in the police court. In my view, the way to deal with the question of quarter sessions is to take away, in some manner or another, a considerable amount of the jurisdiction which has been given, where there are not qualified chairmen. I do not know how many qualified chairmen there are in the country—

Photo of Mr Clement Davies Mr Clement Davies , Montgomeryshire

I can give the hon. and learned Gentleman the figures which were given to us. There are 136 chairmen and deputy-chairmen throughout the country, of whom 103 are qualified, so that the Government are really fighting for the existence of 33.

Photo of Sir Noel Goldie Sir Noel Goldie , Warrington

Let us put the number at 15, because I am certain that in some of the sessions there is no work for a deputy-chairman to do. Consequently, when there are so many qualified lawyers dealing with these matters, I cannot help thinking that the whole question is rather a storm in a teacup. With regard to appeals to quarter sessions, I am convinced that a great mistake is being made. There used to be an appeal from the first magistrates to the whole bench of the county, but now the appeal is from one set of magistrates to another set which is numerically of the same strength. Considering the whole matter, I do not think the Amendment will serve the purpose which it is intended to serve.

12.5 p.m.

Photo of Mr Dingle Foot Mr Dingle Foot , Dundee

There seems to be some contradiction between the last two points made by the hon. and learned Gentleman. He says, I think with a good deal of justice, that we have gone too far in extending the jurisdiction of magistrates sitting in courts of summary jurisdiction, but he also complains of the additional facilities provided for appeals by poor persons from those courts to courts of quarter sessions. I should have thought that the fact that we have put so much work on courts of summary jurisdiction, would have made it all the more necessary to be very careful to provide facilities for appeals by poor persons to quarter sessions. There may be a number of frivolous appeals, but I think there must have been a great number of cases since the passing of the Act which the hon. and learned Member has in mind, where wrong convictions or too heavy sentences have been redressed at quarter sessions and where appeals could not have been brought, but for the provisions of the 1933 Act. It not infrequently happens that courts of summary jurisdiction not only make mistakes in convicting persons but imposing sentences which are too heavy, and the right of appeal to quarter sessions and the right to free legal aid for such appeals under the 1933 Act, is of considerable value.

There is a point which has not. I understand, been raised up to the present. We naturally think of quarter sessions as courts which sit four times a year, but in a great many counties that is no longer the case. Many counties take advantage of the provisions for adjourned quarter sessions. In the County of Devon for example, we have eight quarter sessions every year. We have even more than that, because there are provisions which enable quarter sessions to sit when there is a particular case to be tried. Therefore the service rendered by quarter sessions is becoming of greater importance. As a result of these additional sittings, we are able to give people who are committed for trial on indictment a speedy trial in a way which was not formerly possible. That is something which we ought to bear in mind in considering the Amendment.

Take the case of a man who is charged with one of the offences set out in the First Schedule. If this Amendment is not carried, his position will be this. If he happens to be charged in a county where there is a qualified chairman, within the terms of this Bill, he will not have to wait for the assizes but can go to the quarter sessions or the adjourned quarter sessions. That is to say, he is certain of obtaining a speedy trial, and if he is in custody that may be a matter of great importance. But if he happens to be charged in one of the other counties which have not appointed qualified chairmen, and where it is not open to quarter sessions to try the offences set out in the First Schedule, he will not be able to obtain a speedy trial at quarter sessions. He may have to wait for the assizes in that county, or it may be necessary to commit him to the assize town of some other county. It seems to me that the provision for committal to assizes in another county often involves great hardship, and, personally, I should like to preserve, as far as we can, the system whereby a man is entitled to be tried in his own county. But we should without the Amendment have that anomaly that the man who was in one of the counties—it may be the minority counties—without a qualified chairman, would be deprived of this considerable advantage of a speedy trial at quarter sessions.

The task of a chairman of quarter sessions does not end when he has summed up to the jury. He has a very important function to perform, because he has to decide upon the sentence to be imposed. Very often at quarter sessions there are not many cases in which pleas of "Not Guilty" are entered. There are always a number of pleas of "Guilty," and sometimes people are simply sent up for sentence from courts of summary jurisdiction, perhaps with a recommendation for Borstal treatment. Speaking from my own experience, and having appeared on a number of occasions before courts of quarter sessions, I have noticed that, as a rule, it is the chairman, and possibly one or two people sitting on his right and left, who decide the sentence. Generally, it is obvious that it is the chairman who decides what the sentence shall be.

Photo of Mr Dingle Foot Mr Dingle Foot , Dundee

I think the hon. Member will agree that where there is a large bench of magistrates it is impossible that all of them should be effectively consulted.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

If any of the magistrates feel strongly about it, surely it is usual for them to retire to consider the sentence. I have known of a single magistrate insisting on a very large bench of magistrates retiring in order that the chairman's recommendations might be adequately considered.

Photo of Mr Dingle Foot Mr Dingle Foot , Dundee

That may be so but I think it is comparatively rare for the magistrates to retire in order to consider the sentence. It may happen in some cases but I think, as a rule, it is the chairman who, more than anybody else, determines what the sentence shall be, and that is a function of great importance. It is not merely a question of deciding on terms of imprisonment. He has sometimes to decide very difficult questions. When a young man appears in the dock, he has to decide whether the case is a proper case for Borstal treatment or not. He has to decide whether certain offenders should be put on probation or not, which is not at all a simple matter and, in every case, he has to decide what is the correct sentence. If we are to have lay chairmen who have no particular experience of the law outside their own county courts of quarter sessions—and I suggest that we are bound to have some whose experience is limited in that way—does it not mean that they will not have the necessary range of experience to enable them to deal with questions of this kind and to decide what cases are suitable for Borstal treatment, and so forth? It seems to me that in cases of that kind, it is desirable that we should have someone presiding over quarter sessions who has had experience of a large number of cases, and who appreciates the exact effect of the sentences which he pronounces. For those reasons my hon. Friends and I support the Amendment.

12.14 p.m.

Photo of Mr Robert Morgan Mr Robert Morgan , Stourbridge

I hope that the Attorney-General will give us some guidance upon this very important question. As a Member of the Standing Committee, I heard some rather alarming statements about the different and varying standards of justice applied in different parts of the country as a result of the absence of qualified chairmen. The Attorney-General this morning has given the House an excellent account of the work of the chairmen of the quarter sessions, but if the Attorney-General has even one solitary case of incompetence, then this Amendment is justified up to the hilt. No one should know better that the learned Attorney-General whether there is maladministration of justice in some parts of the country because of the existing state of affairs. In Standing Committee an hon. Member opposite mentioned some alarming cases that had come within his own experience. He is not present to-day. He also made a dramatic statement about a visit he had paid to a prison in which he was allowed to address the prisoners. Instead of the hon. Member talking to them the prisoners talked to him, and some of them were seething with discontent. Here is my point: One of the prisoners said, "If I had been tried in the next county I would have been dealt with far differently." It is possible that different standards exist. The Attorney-General must know whether there is any variation in the standard of justice, and I hope he will give us the benefit of his experience before we vote, as I understand the Amendment will be taken to a division. It is a matter of importance to lay members of the House and to backbenchers that the Attorney-General should speak.

12.17 p.m.

Photo of Mr George Garro-Jones Mr George Garro-Jones , Aberdeen North

I am sure that the House does not wish to be inordinately detained over this proposal, and I rise to make a suggestion which may commend itself to the Attorney-General and to the hon. and learned Members who have moved and seconded the Amendment. The learned Attorney-General gave us only two reasons why the Amendment did not commend itself to him. The first was that it would impose the power to require a local authority to pay the salary, of a full-time qualified chairman. But since the Attorney-General did not himself labour that point—indeed I believe he said he did not attach very much weight to it—I think that objection might be passed over. The second reason he gave was that there were a few cases of unqualified chairmen who by a lifetime of experience had put themselves into a state of qualification to carry out their duties almost equal to that of qualified chairmen. In support of his reluctance to remove these chairmen the Attorney-General said that the proposal would not commend itself to the House.

I would be glad if he would listen to the suggestion I am going to make, because at present there is no one on the Front Bench to hear what I have to say. The Attorney-General is obviously in some difficulty here, and he is going to be in a greater difficulty if he is to resist the unanimous feeling of the House in the matter. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said that it would obviously not commend itself to the House to require the removal of those chairmen who have given a lifetime of service. Obviously it has commended itself to the House, and to me it will appear a very strange thing indeed if, having rested upon that argument, the Attorney-General is not now ready to bow to the obvious and expressed will of the House. I understand that the Lord Chancellor may have something to say about this, and that is quite proper. It is for that reason that I make the suggestion that the Attorney-General should retain power in another place to exempt from the operation of the compulsory qualification of chairmen those chairmen whom he considers to have adequate qualifications without the formal or nominal qualifications. That would not do a great deal of harm, because there would be very few cases in which the. Attorney-General would wish to exercise that power.

I agree entirely with my hon. Friend the Member for South Shields (Mr. Ede) that there are some cases in which the qualified chairmen are looked upon with more veneration than respect, but in my experience some of them are looked upon with even greater apprehension than admiration, and that applies also to their colleagues on the bench. I am certain that the average bench of magistrates will be very sorry to take any steps for the removal of their chairman. I hope that the Attorney-General will see his way to accept this proposal. I recognise that it will involve some amendment of Clause 2, where the extended jurisdiction is to be given only to qualified chairmen, and it will be necessary, in a case where the Attorney-General thinks exemption from qualification to be justified, to consider whether he would be equally justified in giving or retaining the extended jurisdiction. If the right hon. and learned Gentleman neglects to accept this proposal or the Amendment he will be resisting the obvious feeling of the House.

12.23 p.m.

Photo of Mr Donald Somervell Mr Donald Somervell , Crewe

By leave of the House I will speak again on this Amendment.

Mr. Speaker:

The right hon. Gentleman can speak again without permission of the House.

Photo of Mr Donald Somervell Mr Donald Somervell , Crewe

I apologise that my ignorance of the Standing Orders has to be so nakedly exposed. But I would like to make an appeal to the House not to pass this Amendment. As my hon. and learned Friend, the Member for Warrington (Mr. Goldie) said, the area of this Amendment is not very large. Out of the 136 chairmen and deputy-chairmen of county quarter sessions at the time of the Peel Commission, 103 were men with legal qualifications.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

Not within the definition of the Bill.

Photo of Mr Donald Somervell Mr Donald Somervell , Crewe

That is what I understood from my hon. and learned Friend. Therefore we are not dealing with a very large area; we are dealing for the most part with counties in which there is not a great deal of work, counties which at the moment have not the good fortune to have a Lord of Appeal or my hon. and learned Friend, or someone who is legally qualified, willing to preside; but in a number of cases there are men who, if they have not legal qualifications, are doing their work to every one's satisfaction. If the Amendment is passed those men will no longer be able to act as chairmen and the county will have to find someone with the necessary qualification, and very likely it will be found that there is no one available with local connections. That I think is an important reason. The other reason, which is also of considerable importance, is that this is the last stage of this Bill, or the last effective stage.

It is clear to me that the majority of the Peel Commission did not recommend legislative compulsion for the appointment of legally qualified chairmen. You cannot compel a man to be chairman of quarter session for nothing—of course you cannot. If you are to compel people to have legally qualified chairmen you can make that power effective only if there is also power to pay them. You cannot mandamus someone by order to do work for nothing. Under the present voluntary system increasingly you will get these qualified persons. I think it is important, in asking the House to resist this Amendment, to realise that it would be, at this very late stage, placing an extra charge, or potentially placing an extra charge, on local authorities without giving them any power of considering the implications of that, because we are at this very late stage of the Session. The effect of the Amendment would be, if you were to compel particular counties to have legally qualified chairmen if they could not get a voluntary one, that they must get the salaries paid by the local authorities. This Bill has proceeded in all its stages on the basis that it would be by voluntary agreement that powers would be sought to pay a salary to a qualified chairman.

Photo of Major Abraham Lyons Major Abraham Lyons , Leicester East

Is it not right that there are 103 legally qualified chairmen now, each one of them doing this work without any payment whatever?

Photo of Mr Donald Somervell Mr Donald Somervell , Crewe

Yes, certainly, and that is why this problem is such a small one.

Photo of Mr Samuel Silverman Mr Samuel Silverman , Nelson and Colne

If it is small, why bother so much about it?

Photo of Mr Donald Somervell Mr Donald Somervell , Crewe

Because it is introducing a new principle, and nobody knows more than does the hon. Member that it is not the amount of money, but the principle, that is at stake. I can give the House the most categorical assurance that this voluntary basis has not been put in the Bill with any idea of postponing the ultimate realisation of the ideal which we have at heart of legal chairmen for quarter sessions. It is an anomaly to have two courts called by the same name, one with a smaller and the other with a larger jurisdiction, and we hope, just as much as hon. and right hon. Members opposite, to see the day when all quarter sessions will have legally qualified chairmen and when extended jurisdiction is conferred upon them all, but we hope that the voluntary power in the Bill will bring that result about in the minimum of time with the maximum of good will, and we believe that the extra time which will be given by the Voluntary system in the Bill will prove to be time well spent. I therefore ask the House not, at this very late stage, to introduce into the Bill what would be a new principle.

Photo of Mr George Garro-Jones Mr George Garro-Jones , Aberdeen North

What is to prevent the right hon. and learned Gentleman accepting the Amendment and having inserted in another place a power to preserve the office of those chairmen who he considers to be sufficiently qualified without the formal qualification, and thereby bringing within his own control the time when the administration of quarter sessions will be symmetrical in this regard?

Photo of Mr Donald Somervell Mr Donald Somervell , Crewe

I thought the hon. Member had followed my speech and that he would have gathered that I believe this to be the right basis, and, therefore, naturally, I could not accept the Amendment.

12.31 p.m.

Photo of Mr Daniel Lipson Mr Daniel Lipson , Cheltenham

I wish to oppose the Amendment. I am no lawyer, but I have had some experience as a magistrate in the administration of justice and still more experience of county administration. I am one who believes in freedom, and I am opposed to the element of compulsion being imposed when there is no necessity for it. I am satisfied that there are many courts of quarter sessions which would resent Parliament compelling them to do something which they, in their own minds, do not believe is necessary, and I think Parliament ought to allow to those courts of quarter sessions the right to decide a matter of this kind. It is for them to take into account what is necessary for the good administration of justice in their own areas, and if they believe that it is not necessary to be compelled to have a paid chairman, I do not see why Parliament should compel them to have one. It is argued, on the other hand, that this will create a difference between one court of quarter sessions and another. Why this passion for uniformity? It seems to me that the questions to be taken into account should be, first, the amount of work that is to be done, and, secondly, the way in which justice is administered, and I believe that there is no evidence to show that in all areas it is necessary to have paid chairmen.

This Amendment, too, opens the door to a very wide principle, because if you lay it down that it is compulsory to have a paid chairman of quarter sessions, there will be a very strong argument to be used in favour of having a paid chairman of a county council. The work of a chairman of a county council is much more difficult and in every way as responsible as that of a chairman of a court of quarter sessions.

Photo of Mr James Ede Mr James Ede , South Shields

The 1933 Act allows a chairman of a county council to be paid. I was paid myself.

Photo of Mr Daniel Lipson Mr Daniel Lipson , Cheltenham

If this Bill is passed in its present form, it will allow a chairman of quarter sessions to be paid, but it will not compel that payment. I think too that Parliament should hesitate before it deals another blow at the principle

of voluntary service. One of the finest features of the public life of this country is the way in which individuals are prepared to give of their service and of their ability and time to the public cause—[HON. MEMBERS: "Divide!"]—and I think it ought not to be laid down by Parliament that it is of necessity that these people should be paid for their services. Therefore, because this Amendment would compel a great many courts to do something—[Interruption.] On a point of Order, Mr. Speaker. May I claim your protection. I always make a point of listening to hon. Members opposite with every courtesy and consideration, and I think I have the right to claim the same freedom of speech. If there are Members who do not agree with my views I hope that they will adopt the Parliamentary method of saying so. I wish to oppose this Amendment because I believe it introduces an element of compulsion which is unnecessary. It will be resented in many courts of quarter sessions if they are compelled to do something which they feel they need not do, and it will strike a blow at the principle of voluntary service, and open the door to the extension of paid service for a great deal of work which is done well and efficiently by people without any payment whatever.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Bill."

The House divided: Ayes, 103; Noes, 83.

Division No. 316.]AYES.[12.37 p.m.
Anstruther-Gray, W. J.Ellis, Sir G.Mabane, W. (Huddersfield)
Apsley, LordEmmott, C. E. G. CMacAndrew, Colonel Sir C. G.
Astor, Hon. W. W. (Fulham, E.)Fildes, Sir H.Margesson, Capt. Rt. Hon. H. D. R.
Beaumont, Hon. R. E. B. (Portsm'h)Findlay, Sir E.Marsden, Commander A.
Bossom, A. C.Fremantle, Sir F. E.Mayhew, Lt.-Col. J.
Briscoe, Capt. R. G.Fyfe, D. P. M.Mellor, Sir J. S. P. (Tamworth)
Brown, Col. D. C. (Hexham)Gluckstein, L. H.Mills, Major J. D. (New Forest)
Brown, Rt. Hon. E. (Leith)Goldie, N. B.Morgan, R. H.
Bull, B. B.Grimston, R. V.Morrison, G. A. (Scottish Univ's.)
Bullock, Capt. M.Guinness, T. L. E. B.Morrison, Rt. Hon. W. S. (Cirencester)
Cary, R. A.Hambro, A. V.Munro, P.
Channon, H.Hannah, I. C.Nicholson, G. (Farnham)
Chapman, Sir S.(Edinburgh, S.)Hannon, Sir P. J. H.Nicolson, Hon. H. G.
Clarke, Colonel R. S. (E. Grinstead)Haslam, Sir J. (Bolton)Peake, O.
Clydesdale, Marquess ofHeneage, Lieut.-Colonel A. P.Pownall, Lt.-Col. Sir Assheton
Colville, Rt. Hon. JohnHepworth, J.Raikes, H. V. A. M.
Conant, Captain R. J. E.Herbert, Major J. A. (Monmouth)Reed, Sir H. S. (Aylesbury)
Cooke, J. D. (Hammersmith, S.)Hope, Captain Hon. A. O. J.Robinson, J. R. (Blackpool)
Cooper, Rt. Hn. T. M. (E'nburgh, W.)Hudson, Capt. A. U. M. (Hack., N.)Ropner, Colonel L.
Courthope, Col. Rt. Hon. Sir G. L.Hume, Sir G. H.Ross Taylor, W. (Woodbridge)
Cox, H. B. TrevorHunloke, H. P.Royds, Admiral Sir P. M. R.
Crooke, Sir J. SmedleyJames, Wing-Commander A. W. H.Russell, Sir Alexander
Crookshank, Capt. H. F. C.Kerr, Colonel C. I. (Montrose)Russell, R. J. (Eddisbury)
De Chair, S. S.Kerr, H. W. (Oldham)Russell, S. H. M. (Darwen)
Denman, Hon. R. D.Kerr, J. Graham (Soottish Univs.)Samuel, M. R. A.
Despencer-Robertson, Major J. A. F.Lennox-Boyd, A. T. L.Sassoon, Rt. Hon. Sir P.
Dugdale, Captain T. L.Liddall, W. S.Shakespeare, G. H.
Eastwood, J. F.Lipson, D. L.Shaw, Captain W. T. (Forfar)
Edmondson, Major Sir J.Looker-Lampson, Comdr. O. S.Smithers, Sir W.
Somervell, Rt. Hon. Sir DonaldWard, Irene M. B. (Wallsend)Wise, A. R.
Somerville, A. A. (Windsor)Warrender, Sir V.Young, A. S. L. (Partick)
Southby, Commander Sir A. R. J.Waterhouse, Captain C.
Spears, Brigadier-General E. L.Watt, Major G. S. HarvieTELLERS FOR THE AYES.—
Storey, S.Williams, C. (Torquay)Mr. James Stuart and Mr.
Wallace, Capt. Rt. Hon. EuanWilloughby de Eresby, LordFurness.
Ward, Lieut.-Col. Sir A. L. (Hull)Winterton, Rt. Hon. Earl
NOES.
Adams, D. M. (Poplar, S.)Grenfell, D. R.Poole, C. C.
Ammon, C. G.Griffith, F. Kingsley (M'ddl'sbro, W.)Quibell, D. J. K.
Attlee, Rt. Hon. C. R.Griffiths, J. (Llanelly)Ridley, G.
Banfield, J. W.Groves, T. E.Riley, B.
Barnes, A. J.Hall, G. H. (Aberdare)Ritson, J.
Barr, J.Hall, J. H. (Whitechapel)Robinson, W. A. (St. Helens)
Benn, Rt. Hon. W. W.Hardie, AgnesSeely, Sir H. M.
Buchanan, G.Henderson, J. (Ardwick)Silverman, S. S.
Burke, W. A.Henderson, T. (Tradeston)Simpson, F. B.
Cluse, W. S.Herbert, A. P. (Oxford U.)Smith, Ben (Rotherhithe)
Cove, W. G.Hills, A. (Pontefract)Smith, E. (Stoke)
Daggar, G.Hopkin, D.Smith, T. (Normanton)
Davies, C. (Montgomery)Jones, A. C. (Shipley)Sorensen, R. W.
Davies, R. J. (Westhoughton)Jones, Morgan (Caerphilly)Stephen, C.
Davies, S. O. (Merthyr)Kennedy, Rt. Hon. T.Stewart, W. J. (H'ght'n-le-Sp'ng)
Day, H.Lathan, G.Stokes, R. R.
Dobbie, W.Lawson, J. J.Taylor, R. J. (Morpeth)
Dunn, E. (Rother Valley)Leach, W.Thorne, W.
Ede, J. C.Lyons, A. M.Thurtle, E.
Edwards, A. (Middlesbrough E.)Macdonald, G. (Ince)Tinker, J. J.
Edwards, Sir C. (Bedwellty)MoEntee, V. La T.Viant, S. P.
Foot, D. M.MacLaren, A.Watkins, F. C.
Gallacher, W.Mathers, G.Whiteley, W. (Blaydon)
Gardner, B. W.Maxton, J.Windsor, W. (Hull, C.)
Garro Jones, G. M.Messer, F.Woods, G. S. (Finsbury)
George, Major G. Lloyd (Pembroke)Oliver, G. H.
George, Megan Lloyd (Anglesey)Paling, W.TELLERS FOR THE NOES.—
Green, W. H. (Deptford)Parkinson, J. A.Mr. Adamson and Mr. Anderson.
Greenwood, Rt. Hon. A.Pearson, A.

12.44 p.m.

Photo of Mr Clement Davies Mr Clement Davies , Montgomeryshire

I beg to move, in page 2, line 12, at the end, to insert: and, in the case of any county in Wales or the county of Monmouth, a person able to speak the Welsh language. I will deal with this Amendment shortly, because I believe the Attorney-General is accepting it on behalf of the Government. The Lord Chancellor has to take into consideration in his appointment local conditions and any recommendations made by the county. The Amendment proposes that in the case of the counties of Wales, including Monmouthshire, he should take into consideration the ability of the candidate to speak Welsh, so that he could understand those who speak Welsh as well as those who speak English.

12.46 p.m.

Photo of Mr Donald Somervell Mr Donald Somervell , Crewe

I am glad to be able to assist in preserving the sense of harmony which prevails so far as this Amendment is concerned. Perhaps I ought to say with regard to the inclusion of Monmouthshire that I believe there are those who think that the Welsh language is not sufficiently spoken there to make it necessary to go even as far as to say: "Shall have regard to that matter." We have accepted the Amendment in its present form, but it may be that that point may be brought up in another place.

Photo of Sir Charles Edwards Sir Charles Edwards , Bedwellty

Does that mean that the reference to Monmouthsire may be left out?

Photo of Mr Donald Somervell Mr Donald Somervell , Crewe

All I said was that I thought it right to point out that there are people who might make representations at a later stage that Monmouthshire should be left out of the Amendment. I am not proposing to leave it out, but as it had been brought to my notice that there are people who take that view, I thought it fair just to mention the fact in accepting the Amendment.

Amendment agreed to.