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Judicature (Ireland) Bill

Volume 180: debated on Friday 16 August 1907

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Order for the Third Reading read.

Motion made, and question proposed, "That the Bill be now read the third time."

said it would not have been necessary for him to detain the House on this occasion had he been allowed a few minutes in the debate on the Committee Stage. This Bill had had a very chequered career. It was introduced at the beginning of this year, and when it came before the House a few days ago, as appeared to be the case with nine-tenths of the Bills which had been brought forward at this period of the session, they were informed that it was an agreed Bill, and was to go through without discussion. He entirely declined to accept the Patronage Secretary's view as to what was an agreed Bill. If any arrangement was made between the two front benches to allow the Government to get certain Bills his view was that any person who had any legitimate criticisms to make should be allowed to make them. On condition that they should be allowed to discuss the Third Reading they acquiesced in the agreement not to discuss it last night. The operation of reducing the number of Judges in Ireland had been going on ever since 1877, and in "1887 and subsequently he under-stood that a number of vacancies occurred which were not filled up. The question whether there was any immediate necessity now for reducing the number of Judges was a very open one. The Bar Council and the Incorporated Law Society were of opinion that the present number of Judges, was only just sufficient to keep pace with the amount of work which had to be done. There were only nine Judges, and as two were needed for every circuit there ought to be a minimum of ten. Two or three years ago a vacancy occurred, and the Unionist Government stated that they did not intend to fill it up, and that the money saved would be utilised for the purposes of the Labourers Act. That arrangement was acquiesced in by the predecessor of the present Chief Secretary, who told the House that he intended to carry out that pledge and that he would not fill up this particular vacancy. In the early part of this year the Chief Secretary came down to the House from Ireland and announced that, owing to what he described as the extraordinarily congested state of affairs which existed in the Land Commission Department, it was absolutely necessary without further delay to make Mr. Dodd, who was at that time a Member of the House, a Judge, for the purpose of dealing with the enormous number of appeals pen ling before the Lard Commission, He thought it was very interesting to look back now on the language used on that occasion by the Chief Secretary. He said—

"He was happy to say that the new Judge was well qualified for his post. The whole urgency of this matter rested on the necessity of getting rid of these arrears on fair rent appeals. In this matter he would describe himself as a middle-aged man in a hurry to settle the land war in Ireland by working the land Purchase Acts at what might he described as the high-water mark of Treasury complacency.… Applications had been made for large sums of money, but because of judicial delay 7,000 fair rent appeals were pending in the Court, and unless these appeals could be settled, and settled quickly, the tenants of Ireland would be wearied to the last degree with the delay… It was with the object of disposing of this congestiou that Serjeant Dodd had been appointed. This had been called a job, but he did not care what it was called so long as the work was done… Therefore the most that could be alleged against the Government was that the operation of economy had been suspended in the face of a great public emergency."
It would be seen from this that the ostensible and strongly urged reason for the appointment of Mr. Justice Dodd was that the Land Commission Court had come to an absolute deadlock on account of the large number of rent appeals still pending. The Land Purchase Act of 1903 was in the Chief Secretary's opinion in immiment peril by reason or the enormous aggregation of work undisposed of. If that were so, one would have expected that Mr. Justice Dodd would have devoted his official time to dealing with these arrears of appeals, which was the avowed object of appointing him. And one would have imagined also that since the Government had now brought in a Bill to reduce the number of Judges by two, there would have been no necessity for Mr. Justice Dodd to be put to the ordinary work of the High Court. The other day a question was asked what Land Commission work Mr. Justice Dodd had actually performed, and how far he had assisted in reducing this terrible mountain of appeal cases which was supposed to be blocking the way. The reply was that—
"Mr. Justice Dodd has disposed of 372 appeals, but the number is very much larger, many cases having been withdrawn or settled. Up to 1st inst, the learned Judge had sat in the King's Bench Division on twenty-two days. He also went on circuit as Judge of Assize. Mr. Justice Dodd is at present the Vacation Judge, and he will also preside at the Commission at Green Street for the trial of criminal cases. These duties fall to him in consequnence of his appointment as a Judge of the High Court."
The Sum and substance of the reply was that Mr. Justice Dodd had spent five-sixths of his time in the High Court and not in the Land Commission Court, from which circumstance they were entitled to assume, notwithstanding that the Chief Secretary had said that the appointment was urgent, because of the arrears of business in the Land Court, that the work of the High Court was more urgent than the work of the Land Court. Mr. Justice Dodd was appointed to meet a grave crisis according to the Chief Secretary, he was to devote his whole energies and time to clearing off the arrears in the Land Court, and yet when once on the Bench he was quietly allocated to other work which was in all probability of a more urgent character. Yet in the face of these facts, they were asked to pass a Bill which said that the next two vacant Judgeships in Ireland should not be filled up. He submitted that the Government were themselves debarred by their action from putting forward any such argument. They had the fact that M. Justice Dodd instead of being used for this urgent purpose had been used, presumably, for a more urgent purpose, namely, the purpose of carrying on the ordinary legal work of the Judges of the High Court. In face of their action in this matter, he did not see how the Government were justified in making this reduction. Rut he believed that this determination on the part of the Chief Secretary to reduce the number of Judges was resorted to simply from a desire to facilitate the work of the Land Act of 1903 and the Labourers Act. He had to cast about for money with which to carry out those Acts, and did not very much care whore it came from. He looked in all the corners he could think of and took money whore he could find it, and apparently some brilliant person had pointed out that probably they could save several thousands of pounds by doing away with two Judgeships. He (Mr. Craig) had not thought at the time that there was any justification for the reduction of the number of Judges, and he believed that no justification existed now. He thought that the action of the Government and the Chief Secretary in appointing Mr. Justice Dodd showed plainly that they themselves did not think that the number of Judges at present was too great for the proper discharge of the duties which fell to the High Court of Justice in Ireland. He did not intend to force the House to a division on the Third Reading of the Bill, but he must enter his protest against what he considered a most irregular, or at least a most peculiar, proceeding on the part of the Government when they appointed Mr. Justice Dodd, for the reasons which they said necessitated that appointment.

Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read the third time, and passed.