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 Reginald Manningham-Buller Mr Reginald Manningham-Buller , Daventry 12:00 am, 7th December 1949

We have all listened to what the right hon. and learned Gentleman has said upon this difficult question, difficult because we all have considerable sympathy with the unqualified clerks, so many of whom have been doing their jobs extremely well, as we know in the bigger cities. However, my view is that the Attorney-General has come to the right conclusion. We cannot have the position where the tribunal and the court relies for its advice as to the law upon someone who is not qualified in the law. After all, if one goes to a doctor one expects a certain standard of competence. One advantage of this legal qualification is that it ought to ensure, and usually does, a minimum standard. Therefore, it is right to aim at that.

It is interesting to note that the Roche Committee were by no means uncertain in their recommendation on this point. They said: Our first recommendation must be the legal qualification of the clerk and we have come to the conclusion after careful deliberation, that nothing but a professional qualification will fully meet the circumstances. A clerkship to justices is a public office. It has become an accepted principle in the public service that appointments requiring specialised knowledge—whether it be in engineering, medicine, architecture or law—should be filled by persons who have the appropriate professional qualification which ensures not only a standard of competence, but also the status and discipline of an organised body. Those words set out the position, and the conclusion to which this Committee should come. Indeed, I do not think we ought to have any hesitation in coming to that conclusion provided—and it is an important proviso—that a sufficient opportunity exists for the unqualified justices' clerk to become qualified. If that exists, if the door is open wide enough to let in the experienced justices' clerk, I shall vote in support of this Amendment with the utmost confidence if it is pressed to a Division.

That is the point to which I have been paying some attention, whether the facilities are sufficient to enable the unqualified clerk to become qualified. In my opinion they are. There is an interval of 10 years, and I understand that at the request of Lord Roche the Law Society in 1939 prepared a scheme for the special examination of justices' clerks to facilitate their entry into the legal profession. In fact, a great number of assistants have already taken advantage of that provision. That is a good thing, and in view of that, and the reaction of the Law Society to the proposal of Lord Roche, one need not fear that the people who want to become qualified will find it impossible to do so.

The question has been raised, to whom can the unqualified assistant of the unqualified clerk be articled? I do not feel that that is really an insurmountable objection. Steps have been taken, I understand, by the Law Society to enable articles to be served to the deputy clerk when he is a solicitor. I am sure that, if necessary, steps can be taken to provide for those exceptional cases. I feel on careful consideration of this difficult problem that the Committee are right to aim at the imposition of a professional status for justices' clerks and I hope, therefore, that the Government will adhere to their decision.