Litigation (Poor Persons).

Oral Answers to Questions — Ministry of Information. – in the House of Commons on 4th March 1942.

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Photo of Mr Irving Albery Mr Irving Albery , Gravesend

asked the Attorney-General whether he is aware that poor persons, who have been granted legal assistance and have paid the required deposit, are in some cases kept waiting more than two years without any action being taken on their behalf; and what steps does he propose taking to remedy this state of affairs?

Photo of Mr Donald Somervell Mr Donald Somervell , Crewe

As I have previously stated in the House, I am aware that there has been considerable delay in dealing with these cases, and that the delay is due to the unavoidable shortage of barristers and solicitors. The Law Society has recently inaugurated a scheme for dealing with matrimonial cases to which men and women serving His Majesty's Forces are parties. This scheme has received the sympathetic support of my Noble Friend, who has made Rules of Court to implement it. It is hoped that the scheme will greatly reduce the number of cases waiting to be dealt with. Although the scheme itself only covers cases in which men or women serving in the Forces are parties, there are a large number of such cases and the effect of dealing with them under the scheme will enable the other cases to be more promptly dealt with under the ordinary procedure.

Photo of Mr Irving Albery Mr Irving Albery , Gravesend

May I ask my right hon. and learned Friend whether it is admitted that there are cases which have been waiting for as long as two years, that the poor people have paid their deposits, and that their cases have not been reached?

Photo of Mr Donald Somervell Mr Donald Somervell , Crewe

I would not dispute that for a moment. It was a most unfortunate thing that the very large increase in these cases, due to the passage of the recent Act, coincided with the depletion of staffs in solicitors' offices at the outbreak of war. It has been a very difficult question, and I think these long delays have created great hardships. We have done our best to approach the matter from various angles to try to do what could be done to alleviate the position and expedite the hearing of the cases.

Photo of Mr Irving Albery Mr Irving Albery , Gravesend

May I ask further whether, in any case where it is so desired, the deposit can be withdrawn?

Photo of Mr Donald Somervell Mr Donald Somervell , Crewe

I have not had an example with regard to that. The general case I have had is where it has been desired that the proceedings should continue, and there has been a complaint about the delay.

Photo of Mr James Milner Mr James Milner , Leeds South East

Has not the position been made worse by the fact that staffs in solicitors' offices have been called up in very large numbers?

Photo of Mr Donald Somervell Mr Donald Somervell , Crewe

I think that is the greatest cause of the trouble, although the shortage of barristers causes trouble elsewhere. We hope the scheme will relieve the situation, but the problem is a very difficult one.

Photo of Mr Irving Albery Mr Irving Albery , Gravesend

Will my right hon. and learned Friend have some of the worst cases dealt with?

Photo of Mr Frederick Bellenger Mr Frederick Bellenger , Bassetlaw

Does the Attorney-General know that not only is the delay causing some consternation, but that the excessive costs are complained of, and will he consider the matter with a view not only to speeding up these cases, but also reducing the costs?

Photo of Mr Donald Somervell Mr Donald Somervell , Crewe

If the hon. Member will send me an example, I will look into it, but the complaints have been about the delays.

Photo of Mr Irving Albery Mr Irving Albery , Gravesend

Will my right hon. and learned Friend have the worst cases looked into?

Photo of Mr Donald Somervell Mr Donald Somervell , Crewe

Any improvement as a result of the scheme will involve the cases which have been most delayed being disposed of.