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New Clause—(Signature Of Summonses, Etc, By Justices Not To Be Required)

Volume 65: debated on Monday 20 July 1914

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(1) Notwithstanding anything contained in any of the Summary Jurisdiction Acts or in the Indictable Offences Act, 1848, or any other Statute, requiring justices to sign informations, complaints, summonses, convictions, orders, and certificates, it shall be lawful for all or any of such processes or documents of a like character (except warrants of apprehension, warrants of distress, and warrants or orders of commitment) to be issued under the official seal or stamp of a Court of Summary Jurisdiction.

(2) The provisions of Section twenty-nine of the Summary Jurisdiction Act, 1879, as to rules to be made thereunder, shall extend to this Section and to the alteration and adaptation of forms for the purpose thereof.

Clause brought up, and read the first time.

I beg to move "That the Clause be read a second time."

It has been suggested to me, partly by my own experience and partly by representations made by those who have special connection with the administration of justice. The object is to make it unnecessary for summonses issued by direction of a justice to be signed by that justice. Many Members of this House will know that the necessity for signing summonses often leads to a considerable waste of time and some misapprehension. It may happen that a large number of summonses, say a hundred, may be issued for rates at one and the same time. They are issued in the ordinary course by the direction of the magistrate, and he has to sign every one. It means a great waste of time and trouble, and it would be just as well if the justice could sign a general authority for the whole of the summonses, and the clerk could then affix the seal of the Court to the different summonses. There is also this inconvenience: The recipient of a summons very often fancies that the magistrate who signs it is personally responsible, and he writes to the justice whereas he should write to the Court. This is a matter of ordinary machinery, and I hope this opportunity will be taken of adopting this Clause and thereby saving a good deal of time and temper without the least loss of efficiency.

This Clause was moved in Committee. It was there discussed, and it was eventually withdrawn. The objection then raised to it, which I venture to repeat now, is a very simple one. It is to the signature being affixed by a stamp. If such a stamp were used by the clerk it might be used by anyone, and any clerk employed by a clerk to the justices might affix the stamp. If this signature were of the nature of a mere ministerial act, I do not think it would be a very serious matter to allow the stamp to be affixed by the clerk, but it is very far from being so. The magistrate has to exercise discretion, and it is only proper that such discretion should be exercised by the person on whom the duty is imposed of issuing summonses, because unless a magistrate did exercise the discretion it might happen that a person might be continuously worried by the issue of summonses on most trivial matters. As a matter of fact, some people complain of the annoyance to which they are subjected by the issue of summonses, and this provision is some protection for the magistrate who has to sign them. If it were a mere ministerial function performed by affixing a stamp, the objection which now exists would be done away with. These reasons satisfied the Committee, and I trust they will also satisfy the House, that the existing law should be continued. However inconvenient it may be on certain occasions, it does not, on the whole, constitute a very serious difficulty.

4.0 P.M.

Clearly the right hon. Gentleman has not fully apprehended the effect of this Clause. The effect would be that the magistrate would still direct the issue of the summons as now, but the mere ministerial act of putting a signature and seal at the foot of it would be performed by somebody else. I do not propose for a moment that the duty of directing the issue of the summons should be performed by anyone but the magistrate. It is a question of signing or affixing the seal when once the issue has been directed. That, surely, is a mere ministerial act which might very well be performed by a clerk, and the right hon. Gentleman is not right in as suming that the seal might be misused or affixed by anyone in the office. I am not convinced in the least by what the Home Secretary has said.

The point as put by my hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Cave) in his explanation seems to be a very simple one, and I do not understand what harm the right hon. Gentleman can do if he accepts the new Clause. It does not relieve the magistrate of the responsibility of issuing summonses, but merely relieves him from signing all the summonses. That is an exceedingly good thing to do, and I cannot see any harm in it. Does the right hon. Gentleman suppose that the clerk to the magistrates will put the seal upon the summonses without having previously obtained the sanction of the magistrate? Unless the right hon. Gentleman fears that that may be the case, I see no reason why the new Clause should not be accepted. No doubt, in a Court of Summary Jurisdiction, the actual signing of the summonses does not generally take up very much time, but at times, especially in boroughs, there is a good deal for the magistrates to do in signing large batches of summonses and a variety of documents. Speaking as a magistrate, I have often seen things signed without anybody knowing what they are signing, but I always ask myself what I am doing before I sign anything. Sometimes documents are put before us by the clerk and signed without proper inquiry as to what is taking place. I do not say the seal should be affixed without the authority of the magistrates, but that authority can be obtained without putting the magistrates to the inconvenience of signing a large number of documents. I suppose the right hon. Gentleman cannot reply again, but the right hon. Gentleman beside him (Mr. Ellis Griffith) is also learned in the law and quite qualified to speak on this subject, and perhaps he can tell us why such a very simple Clause as this is rejected.

Question, "That the Clause be read a second time," put, and negatived.

The next proposed Clause (Abolition of sentence of death in case of persons under the age of eighteen years) is beyond the scope of the Bill. That objection also applies to the next one (Amendment of 35 and 36 Vict., c. 65, s. 4, with respect to weekly payments), to the next (Service of process on soldiers of the Regular forces), and to the next (Power to clear Court and proceedings in camera).

On a point of Order. Which of the Amendments on page 38 are in Order?

I have not come to them yet. This matter has come up rather suddenly, and I have not had time to look into all of them. I do not think any of the new Clauses relating to amendments of the bastardy laws would be in order on this Bill, as the bastardy law is a separate law from this.

May I call your attention to the fact that various Amendments which would have the effect of altering the bastardy law very materially were accepted in Committee? Some were discussed and some even put into the Bill.

Then we may have to strike them out. The Clauses (Abolition of privilege of peerage) and (Meaning of "man" in certain enactments) are also beyond the scope of the Bill. Mr. Wedgwood.

Hon. Members are not entitled to move Clauses standing in the name of another hon. Member.