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Friday, 20 July 1906

Mr SALMON (Laanecoorie) - - When the institution of the High Court was first brought before Parliament, it was proposed that five Justices should be appointed, but the proposal met with such opposition that the number was reduced to three, and the first Judiciary Bill was amended in the direction of limiting the jurisdiction of the High Court, with a view to saving expense. I supported the reduction of the number of Justices from five to three, and now join with the honorable member for Parramatta in deploring the fact that the establishment o,f the Federation, and the consequent transference of the control of various public Departments to the Commonwealth authority, has not resulted in a proportionate diminution of expense to the States. We are not altogether to blame for this, because we have not gone beyond the powers conferred upon us by the Constitution, and have had some regard to economy. The greater portion of the blame undoubtedly rests with the States authorities. Many of us who urged the acceptance of the Constitution anticipated, not only greater efficiency, but also a substantial reduction in cost, through, the transference of public services from the control of the six States authorities to that of one Commonwealth authority, and it is very much to be regretted that the saving effected has been so small. It is, however, evident to all who have taken the trouble to consider the question that there is urgent need for granting assistance to the Justices of the High Court. Parliament is largely responsible for the present state of affairs, because, in addition to the work for which the Court was appointed, it has, as has been pointed out by the Chief Justice, considerably increased the work of its members bv passing, the Arbitration Act. I am very loth to believe that- the increase in the number of Justices provided for in the Bill is absolutely necessary at the present juncture, and I feel that it will be less necessary, as time goes on, because I presume that Parliament does not intend to materially increase the jurisdiction of the Court. We are, however, at present faced with the fact that the Court has rather favoured litigants, who have been disappointed by the decisions of the Supreme Courts, and has acted, not only as a Court of Appeal, but, to a large extent, as a Court of Reversal. This has made appeals extremely popular, and, therefore, in my opinion, the work of the Court has been heavier than it will be in future, when it gets into thorough working order, and when - I say this with all deference - the States Courts exercise more care in dealing with the questions submitted to them. I do not wish to reflect on the States Courts. Thev have in the past done admirable work.

Mr Mcwilliams - Mav it not be that the High Court should give more care to. the questions submitted to it?

Mr SALMON - Perhaps so; but I am disposed to say that the case is the other way about. I have every confidence in the High Court, and, while not possessing the professional knowledge necessary to enable me to offer an authoritative opinion upon its decisions, yet, speaking as a layman, I may say that, in my judgment, they have in most cases been just. The saving grace of common sense appears to have been shown more frequently in the High Court than in the States Courts, so far as the cases which have come under my notice are concerned. The passing of the Arbitration Act will place an enormous amount of work on the Justices of the High Court, but that work has not yet been undertaken. The rules of the Arbitration Court, which were urgently desired by those interested in the Arbitration Act, were a remarkably long time - several months - in the framing, and I believe that it will not be until towards the end of the year that cases arising under the Act can be dealt with.

Mr Isaacs - If there had been another Justice, one very important case could have been heard some time ago. '

Mr SALMON - I understand that the time of the three Justices is fully occupied with the ordinary work of the Court, and that, therefore, the special work falling to (hem under the Arbitration Act has not yet been undertaken.

Mr Johnson - Does the honorable member argue that there is an accumulation of arrears owing to the slowness of the Justices in framing regulations?

Mr SALMON - No. What I have said is that up till now the work of the Court has been exceptionally heavy, because it has been thought that litigants who have been unsuccessful in the Supreme Courts are likely to obtain reversals of verdicts from it.

Mr Johnson - I was referring to the rules of Court.

Mr SALMON - Even if the rules of Court had been available, I very much doubt whether any cases would have been dealt with, even bv this time.

Mr Isaacs - There has been no delay in issuing the rules of Court.

Mr SALMON - There has been considerable delay in issuing the rules of Court for the Arbitration Court. I have reason to know that, because I have bean in communication with a very important trade union, which has been endeavouring to have a case brought before the Arbitration Court.

Parliament is bound to make such provision that in the highest Court of the Commonwealth undue strain shall not be imposed on the Justices who have placed upon them the very grave responsibility attaching to a final Court of Appeal. I know that the Justices have been compelled from time to time to delay proceeding with cases already opened in order to enable them to deliver reserved judgments. Thus, much valuable time has been lost, and litigants have been put to much greater expense. Therefore, I think that we should do something in the direction of strengthening the Bench. If, however, we appointed two new Justices, it would not be possible for us to reduce the strength of the Bench in the event of the volume of work decreasing to such an extent as to justify that course. It would be an unheardof thing to throw back into the ranks of the legal profession a gentleman who had occupied a position on the Judicial Bench.

Mr Isaacs - The Constitution would preclude that from being done.

Mr SALMON - Exactly. Therefore, I urge that we should proceed slowly The States have not done all they should have done to cut down expenses, and I have always urged that we should set them a good example bv practising the greatest economy consistent with efficiency. If we increase the number of Justices to five we may be regarded asl committing an act of extravagance. If, on the other hand, we .subsequently find that we have erred in providing for too small a number of Judges, the mistake can easily be corrected before any great hardship has been inflicted upon the public. I realize that the High Court has to perform more important duties than fall to the lot of any other Court in the Commonwealth. I also appreciate the fact that the Justices should not be driven at a high rate of speed. We cannot expect efficiency in any piece of machinery, however constituted, if it is driven at an excessive rate of speed. Therefore, we should provide a sufficient number of Justices to carry on the work of the Court with the highest degree of efficiency. I think we have improperly imposed on the High Court the dutv of travelling about from State to State in order that causes mav be heard with the least possible expense to litigants. The necessity which, their Honours are under to move about from Court to Court subjects1 them to a very heavy strain, and must interfere very much with their work. When they have frequently to travel considerable distances by train and steamer, their intellectual powers must become impaired. This is an additional reason why we should afford some relief for the Court, which undoubtedly has a tremendous accumulation of business on its hands. I intend to vote for the second reading of the Bill, but when we reach the Committee stage I shall be prepared to consider an amendment in the direction of reducing the number of additional Justices provided for. If we appoint two extra Justices, we may find that we have added a fifth wheel to the Court coach, and I think that before we take any such extreme step some arrangement should be entered into with the States Governments with a view to their exercising greater economy.

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