Clause 20. — (Qualification of Justices' Clerk.)

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 12:00 am on 7th December 1949.

Alert me about debates like this

Photo of Mr Hartley Shawcross Mr Hartley Shawcross , St Helens 12:00 am, 7th December 1949

Cheap justice very often is bad justice. One ought to have regard to the question of principle not to the incidental result that it might possibly cause some additional expense. We have given a great deal of thought to this, and, of course, one of the main purposes of this Bill is to implement in principle the recommendations of the Roche Committee, which gave very prolonged and very careful consideration to the matter. I have—and I do not suppose the position has changed very much—practised myself a good deal in these courts both in the north and the south of England. It is impossible to under-estimate the growing importance of the magistrates' clerk in the administration of the justices' court.

My hon. Friend the Member for York referred to what I said about unqualified clerks. I do not recede from that or add to it. Some are good; some very good indeed, and under the Clause as it stands these very good clerks, who have had a prolonged period of experience, will be retained. They will be saved. On the other hand, some are not so good. I do not want to say anything further on that aspect of the matter which might seem to cast any general reflection on the unqualified clerks, who undoubtedly discharge their duties to the best of their ability. But as time goes on the work of the clerks in these courts is tending to become not only more varied, but also more difficult and more technical.

The truth is, of course—and I have often adverted to this fact—the law is becoming more and more complex and detailed owing to the methods of law making which we have. We add one statute to another, making minor amendments in the previous one with the result that in the end, in particular fields of law, one may have to look through as many as 40 statutes in order to ascertain what is the law about that particular matter. I have said that is a shocking state of affairs, and I think it is.

It is so also in regard to reported cases. The list of reported cases, to which a clerk may have to refer, is growing year by year, and year by year it will become necessary for the clerks, if faced by any problem of law, to look at more and more statutes and more and more cases until we are able to go much further than we have been able to go so far in the matter of consolidation of the statute law. And even after the consolidation and codification of the law these difficulties will inevitably go on increasing.

It is entirely unsatisfactory, where there are legal arguments conducted before the magistrates on an increasing scale—some of the modern cases under modern statutes are of great complexity and difficulty, and it is by no means always the case that those are heard before the stipendiary magistrate but are often heard by lay magistrates—which may go on for two days with quotations from many authorities and references to a number of statutes, that at the end of the day a decision may have to be given by an unqualified clerk, who has never previously had his attention drawn to the branch of the law which is under discussion.

I went into an office the other day, and I was shocked to see a book entitled "Law without Lawyers." It seemed to me a most unfortunate publication. In a court of law it is impossible to administer justice in that way. I am quite sure the Roche Committee, if I may say so with the utmost respect, were right when, as a result of their studies, they came to the conclusion that it was undesirable that unqualified clerks should go on. The figures which my hon. Friend gave in regard to the number of unqualified clerks rather suggested that the magistrates are themselves coming to the same conclusion, because I gather that the proportion of qualified clerks is now appreciably higher than the figures that were previously presented to the Committee.

The only other point—and it is a substantial point—that was raised by my hon. Friend the Member for York was in regard to the difficulty of recruitment. That is an important consideration and one which we have very much in mind. One of the ways in which it is hoped it will be met is by providing that unqualified men who become assistants to clerks will be able to take their articles with the qualified clerks and in the result, during the course of the time that they are acting as assistants and drawing their salaries, they will be able to study the law and in time gain their qualification and so become able in due course to succeed to the position of a full justices' clerk. That is something new and something which I think will provide a considerable attraction to this service. I do not think it is right to say—