26 JULY 1935, Page 21

The Magistrate as Friend

THE ideal which Mr. Claud Mullins has set himself as a Metro- politan Police Magistrate is aptly summarized in his own Introduction : " A Justice in a busy court once said to me,

' I am a referee in a dog fight.' He was legally correct ; our legal task is to watch the struggle, blow the whistle when necessary, and to decide which side has won. But at the same time there is no legal reason why we should only be referees. There is nothing in ' the law to prevent us from adopting different methods, and a different conception of our function, in husband and wife cases. . . . I regard it as a mediaeval conception that husband and wife cases should be regarded solely as legal issues so far as the court is concerned."

This handbook exposes the haphazard and typically English manner in which the law relating to separation orders has grown up, and it also indicates the reforms which Mr. Mullins has carried out on his own responsibility. How far his efforts have been successful may be gathered from a casual remark in his first chapter. One of the innovations intro- duced into the South Western Police Court is that the proba- tion officer or some other investigator writes to the defendant in a separation-order application, suggesting a private meeting when the difficulties which have led to the application can be freely discussed. " On an average," says Mr. Mullins, " about one-third of the cases in my weekly domestic list make no . appearance in court." . . .

This class of case touches a far wider area and concerns a stratum of society in which intelligent treatment is more urgently required than do divorce proceedings. Mr. Mullins is therefore dealing with a vital aspect of social reform, and what enhances the interest of his book is that, although he writes as an enthusiast of his own schemes, he is shrewd enough to recognize the faults and possible dangers to which some of his experiments are subject. The book is primarily addressed to Justices of the Peace, for, although it should and will attract the attention, of a wider public, it is the magistrate who alone has power to carry its main suggestions into opera- tion. One criticism which this autobiographical record invites is that, with all due respect to the magisterial bench, similar methods in other hands might have disastrous results. The policy which is here outlined might degenerate into a grandmotherly interference with marital intimacies, a de- velopment which would be worse even than the normal methods at present pursued in the majority of instances.

These pages are necessarily provocative, for they challenge directly and by implication our present legal machinery. No one can study this book intelligently without realizing that there must be a new conception of the part which the Court is. to play when dealing with these cases. Mr. Mullins has shown that much can be done without any constitutional change. But that is because his ideas are not confined,to the strictly orthodox horizon. his the personnel of the Court which matters. No one ought to adjudicate in these matters. unless he .is qualified to do so by a humanitarian sympathy, balanced by an experienced knowledge of human nature. Moreover, the magistrate of the future must have a sufficiently generous vision to realize the value of the co-operation of the to Val clergy and other helpers. Mr. Mullins has set the example but there are many traditional influences to be cleared away before his advice will be followed. KENNETH INGRAM.