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Friday, 20 July 1906

Mr WATSON (Bland.) .- When the Judiciary Bill was under consideration, I was one of those who voted for the appointment of three Justices to the High Court Bench in opposition to the original proposal for five. I did so with a view to seeing how far the work of the Court - in the light of experience - might be found to justify its greater numerical strength. I do not admit that any error was made by myself or by others who voted similarly under the circumstances which then existed, but I must say, after the lapse of nearly a couple of years, that the work of the High Court has increased far beyond my own expectations. Consequently, I see no objection to strengthening the number of its Justices. A great deal has been said in reference to the wisdom of confining the work of the Court to its appellate jurisdiction. [ do not at all sympathize with that suggestion. Certain original jurisdiction has been conferred upon that tribunal by the Constitution, and it seems to me that to prevent suitors from going direct to the High Court with their original complaint would increase the expense to litigants unnecessarily. The more direct the path to a final decision in respect to these causes of action the better for the community as a whole. The same argument applies to the right of appeal - referred to by the honorable and learned member for Angas - from the decision of a single Judge of a State Supreme Court to the High Court. I do not pretend to criticise for a moment the legal aspect put forward bv the honorable and learned member, but, in my opinion, the interests of suitors will be better served if they are able to obtain a final determination from the High Court without appeal to the Full Court of a State. Therefore, it seems to me that we can look forward with 'some degree of equanimity to a material increase in the business of the High Court, because it should mean a corresponding decline in the business brought before the States Supreme Courts. In the long run, I believe that the strengthening of the High Court to such a degree as will inspire universal confidence, will lead not only to an increased volume of business, but to some economy being effected in connexion with further appointments to the Supreme Court Benches of the various States. If the practice which the decision in the case of Parkin v. James permits should become general, there will' be a disposition on the part of the various States to so alter their judiciary Acts as to allow the High Court to be approached more directly than it can be in cases which are not covered by that decision, and thus the cost of_ litigation will be materially cheapened. For these reasons, I think that we are justified in adding to the strength of the High Court. When I am asked how many new Justices we should appoint, I confess that I am not in, a position to offer any advice of value. I do know that I have received complaints from, solicitors, and other members of the legal profession in Sydney regarding the delay which has taken place in the hearing of cases - more particularly of cases in original jurisdiction. In two or three instances this delay has practically amounted to a denial of justice. I have in my mind's eye one case which could only be determined by the High Court. It involved a matter affecting the action of the Commonwealth Government in its own sphere, and practically the High Court was the only tribunal to which the aggrieved person could have resort. Yet some three or four months ago he was informed - although he is a poor man - that there was no possibility of his case being set down for decision earlier than October. That meant a delay of nine months at least, and possibly a year. That is a condition of things which, it seems to me, we have no right to permit to continue. When I am asked whether it is proper to appoint one or two additional Justices to the High Court Bench, my reply is that I am prepared to rely upon the advice tendered by the Chief Justice, who, after a very careful consideration of the position, has recommended the strengthening of the Bench by the appointment of two extra Justices. I think it is well that we should err on the side of strength rather than that of weakness, so far as the High Court is concerned. The principal expenses of such an institution do not, as a rule, consist of the salaries of the Justices. . The mere bringing of the machinery into operation involves considerable expenditure, and the question of whether or not we ought to incur an expense of £3,000 or£6,000 in respect of the salariesof one or two Justices, is comparatively trifling compared with the magnitude of the issues involved. We have every right, I think, to rely upon the sound judgment andgood faith of the Chief Justice. His career on the Bench has been such as to commend him to all sections of the community, and we ought to be prepared as a Parliament to place the most complete reliance on his advice, as to the number of Justices necessary to enable the Court to deal adequately with the demands made upon it. In view of these facts, I am prepared to vote for the Bill as it stands, believing that it will be found in the long run that the stronger the Court the greater the economy, and, from the point of view of the taxpayers, the greater the satisfaction to those whose misfortune it is to be compelled to go to law.

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