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

We will, of course, give further consideration to this matter in the light of the strong views expressed by those hon. Members who have spoken on the Amendment. In saying that I must not be taken as holding out any promise that we shall be able on further consideration to give way. I do not want to mislead my hon. Friends into withdrawing their Amendment now in the hope that we have given any kind of definite undertaking about this matter. I am not in a position to give an undertaking about it, and we have attached great importance to this principle.

I thought I had dealt with the suggestion which was made that the effect of this provision in the Bill, if we pass it as it now stands, would result in only those who have failed in practice as solicitors seeking appointments as justices' clerks. I do not think that is true at all. I do not think that experience in other occupations where a similar kind of problem has arisen has shown that to be the case. In many walks of life, in commerce, in the Civil Service, in banking, solicitors are employed as legal advisers. I have had a lot to do with them and I should be very far from thinking that they are the failures of their profession.

Some people, for reasons which appear good to them, may prefer the comparative security of the more placid life of a salaried and pensioned, but important officer of justice to all the risks of the hurly-burly of competitive professional practice. It is by no means true to say that the people who prefer that other course are the failures in their profession. Very often they make their decision at an early stage. They think, perhaps for family or other reasons, that they would prefer that kind of occupation to going into the competitive practice in their pro- fession. I am quite sure it would be wholly wrong to say of the hundreds, I suppose thousands, of solicitors who occupy salaried appointments that they are failures in the legal profession. That really is completely untrue.

It was said, quite truly, that unqualified clerks do sit, and will continue to sit and take courts in those towns in which more than one court is sitting at the same time. In Liverpool, and in Manchester—in both of which places I had a lot of experience—that was the case. But what is done in those circumstances so far as my experience goes, is that by consultation between the stipendiary magistrates, whom one generally finds in these large provincial centres, and the qualified clerk, arrangements were made to ensure that cases likely to involve legal problems were taken either by the stipendiary, sitting with an unqualified clerk, or by the lay justices, sitting with a qualified clerk. A really difficult case, by which I mean a case involving points of law, is taken in a court where there is somebody with legal qualifications.

9.0 p.m.

I admit it sometimes happens that the qualified clerk is away ill and the unqualified clerk has to sit and take the court. That may happen in the best ordered courts, but that does not prove that the system works completely satisfactorily. We think that is an undesirable situation to arise and that we ought to minimise it as far as may be. My hon. Friend the Member for Tynemouth (Miss Colman) raised the question of the eligibility of those who have joined the service since 1945, expecting perhaps that they would be entitled in the course of time to become appointed as full justices' clerks, who will under the Clause as at present drafted not be able to get the 10 years' qualifying service by 1st January, 1945.

I will undertake—and I hope that this will be a concession which will at least meet the views of some members of the Committee—to consider putting down an Amendment on Report stage so as to take account of war service on the part of those who joined this service as assistant clerks in 1945, or to extend the date by a year or perhaps two years so as to bring in a few more of the present assistant clerks. That, no doubt, will assist us the better to get over the interim period before we get a new flow of recruits from those who have been able to take their articles whilst acting as assistant clerks.

What I venture to think that in the end this Clause will do—and this is the long-term purpose of it—is to ensure very largely the advantages both of experience and of qualification, because the bulk of the recruits, I believe, will come from those who have gained experience as assistant clerks and have taken their articles with the qualified clerk to the justices whom they have been assisting. I can assure the Committee that we shall do all we possibly can to facilitate the making of arrangements whereby those who enter the service of justices' clerks are able to take their articles as cheaply as may be and become qualified whilst they are serving in the capacity of assistant. I hope that the Committee will feel that they may now adopt the Clause as it stands and that my hon. Friends will be prepared to withdraw their Amendment.