16 MARCH 1872, Page 9

JUSTICES' CLERKS' FEES AND SALARIES. called, 6s. 8d.,"—and so on.

Thus, when the old woman is asked whether she has anything to say, and replies, " No," the clerk is credited one shilling for her " Statement," though, if she had stayed away and let judgment go by default, she would, absurdly enough, have saved this shilling in the costs, by disregarding the summons. But in the main these fees, like the items in our lawyers' bills, represent in their totals a reasonable remuneration for the work done. At the same time, though the total remuneration may be no more than fairly represents the work, it is but a common- place of administration to say that a public officer had better be paid by salary than by fees ; and there are special reasons why the case of the Justices' Clerk should be no exception to the rule. As Lord Campbell goes on to say, after the words just quoted :—" It is of the utmost importance that the clerk should have no improper motive or bias on his mind," and as it rests with him, as to most petty offences, to decide whether the information shall be taken on which the subse- quent proceedings before the magistrates depend, it is obviously desirable that he should neither have, nor be suspected of having, any self-interested motive for creating work and fees for himself as each case comes before him. Nor does it conduce to the dignity of his office, either in his own eyes or in those of the public, that instead of being paid by a regular salary proportioned to his services he should be left to collect his fees for himself in driblets, and often from very poor people, from whom they can only be wrung by the powers of distraint or imprisonment which the law requires the justice to exert for the purpose. And there is also the farther evil that in certain cases—very petty, but for this reason very hard—these costs, which go to swell the total penalty imposed, are out of all proportion to the offence. Thus in such a donkey-straying case as we have referred to, in which the breach of the law has been most trivial, and committed by some poor old creature who keeps her- self off the parish by the help of her donkey, and with hardly more resources than those of the donkey itself, a total fine of sixpence would have fully vindicated the law. Yet the justice must either enforce the payment of the five or six shillings costs in addition, or he must ask the clerk to forego his legal claim from charity. To the liberality and kindness of the Justices' Clerks on such occasions we bear ready witness ; but the magistrate is in the painful pre- dicament that he must either inflict a really unjust and oppressive though legal sentence, or he must be charitable out of another man's pocket ; for it would not be seemly for him to pay the money himself, and thus pass a public censure upon the law he is administering. Or again, the offender may be sent to prison instead of being fined ; or the complaint may be dismissed on some technical ground not implying that it was not well founded ; and in these cases the applicant for justice and the protection of the law must himself pay all the costs of the application and hearing. A drunken husband may be sent to gaol for beating his wife, but she must pay the clerk's fees herself, although her brutal husband has already drunk her and her children into starvation.

The gain to the effective administration of justice if the Clerk were paid by salary, and if the magistrate could remit fees on account of poverty or other reasonable cause, was re- cognized in an Act passed in 1851, which gives power to the justices of any borough or county to make regulations, with the sanction of the Home Secretary, by which the clerks' fees shall be collected for the use of the borough or county in question, and the clerk be paid by a salary from the borough or county rate ; and the Act further provides that where a clerk is so paid by salary, the magistrate may remit any fee otherwise payable to such clerk, for poverty or other reasonable cause. These provisions of the Act are permissive, not compulsory. Out of one hundred and seventy-nine boroughs in England and Wales, it appears from a recent Parliamentary return that twenty-eight have adopted the payment of Justices' Clerks by salary instead of fees, either under this or their own local Act. And as these twenty-eight boroughs include almost all the largest cities and towns, the system may be said to be substantially accepted in the boroughs, notwithstanding the apparent con-

trast in the numbers. For one Birmingham, collecting £7,064 in fees, and paying its clerk a salary of £2,100, or a Liverpool, collecting £6,454, and paying £3,117, may be set against a good many Bodmins or Liskeards leaving their clerks to remunerate themselves out of the £34 15s. 6d. or £36 6s. which they severally received in the last year of the re-

turn. Of the counties, eight pay their justices' clerks by salary instead of fees ; they are Flint, Leicester, Warwick, Surrey, Glamorgan, Northumberland, and Northampton. The adoption of the provisions of the Act is or has been under consideration in many other counties, but their movement is slow, not only from the wonted conservatism of the rural districts, but from the great fear of throwing any additional burden on the rates which very properly weighs all the more with county magistrates at Quarter Sessions because they can add as they please to those rates, without any power of resistance on the part of those who pay them. But time and reason and growing experience are on the side of the reformers; while it is found that wherever the change has been adopted, or even proposed, the clerks are generally in favour of it. It is found also in fact, as it is obvious in reason, that there will be no new burden imposed on the ratepayers if the fees are properly collected. Though the remission of fees in the cases we have referred to would be the greatest possible relief to the persons concerned, its greatness is in relation to their poverty, not to the actual amount remitted. And apart from such remission, the fees will be the same, whether collected for the clerk's own behoof or for that of the borough or county, if proper diligence is shown in the collection. The clerk will not have his former interest in every detail of payment ; but he can be required to keep proper accounts, and a periodical revision of his salary will be a security for his taking care that these accounts show the work done and the payments made with accuracy. And the reasonable expectation that such will be the case is confirmed by the facts where the fees have been commuted for salaries. In the boroughs there has been in almost every case a gain, sometimes a very consider- able gain, to the ratepayers by the change ; and in the counties there has been, according to the Return just laid before Par- liament, again in Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, and Surrey, and a loss so small as to be quite inappreciable to the ratepayer in the other four counties mentioned in the Return. In Northamptonshire a farther security is taken for the due collection of all fees in the interest of the county and its ratepayers, by the adoption of a system of payment by stamps, analogous to that which has been in operation for some years in Ireland. Under the auspices of Mr. Hunt, the late Chancellor of the Exchequer, an Act, " The Local Stamp Act, 1869," was passed for this par- pose, the provisions of which may be adopted by any borough or county which already pays its Justices' Clerks by salary under the Act of 1851 ; and though it has not yet been adopted except in Northamptonshire, we cannot doubt but that this is because it is not yet known and understood more widely.

The payment of Justices' Clerks by salary instead of fees being thus desirable, and sufficient experience having been ob- tained as to the best mode of effecting the change, it is time that the Legislature should now require, and not as heretofore merely permit, its introduction throughout the country. And this object the Bill of Sir David Salomons will effect, if it becomes law, with the amendments proposed to be introduced. We are able to say that those amendments will remove the prin- cipal defects in the Bill as originally brought in ; and discus- sion—perhaps in Select Committee—will no doubt complete what still remains to be done.