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Tuesday, 12 December 1905

Mr HENRY WILLIS - I heard the Prime Minister interject that it cost£2,000 to conduct a case before a Victorian Committee.

Mr Deakin - That was the cost to one side only.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - No doubt a great many witnesses were called, and a number of legal men employed ; but, probably, had the case been heard beforethe High Court, the cost would have been ten times as much. The Prime

Minister shakes his. head, and I must admit that he knows more about these matters than I do; but the Minister of Home Affairs admitted that the procedure of the Court of Disputed Returns is very expensive, and should be cheapened. Still, the Chief Justice will not alter it unless compelled to do so by legislation. He will retain the present procedure, and endeavour to uphold the dignity of his Court. Personally, I would almost rather resign my seat than contest a disputed election before the High Court, if a great deal of evidence had to be called, and the totals were close. Courts do not favour the statement of cases by litigants themselves, and the High Court would probably extend very little sympathy to any legislator who appeared before it. No doubt, justice would be done, but the litigant would probably be advised to employ a trained lawyer, in order to save time.

Mr Webster - The Court would not suggest that.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - It is a common thing for Justices to make such a suggestion, and if a litigant pleads that he is a pauper, the Equity Court will see that a lawyer is assigned to him to conduct his case.

Mr Webster - Where does that happen?

Mr HENRY WILLIS - In New South Wales., and in every other British community. If a litigant appearing before the Equity Court says that he is a pauper, a barrister is appointed to plead his cause. I have had a great deal of experience, and, although I have been mostly on the winning side, I know that it costs a good deal of money, even to win a suit.

Mr King O'Malley - And a great deal more to lose.

Mr HENRY WILLIS - It is ruinous to lose, and it seems to be almost ruinous to win in the High Court. I hope that the Government will recognise the feeling of the Committee in favour of a change, and will propose the substitution for a Court of Disputed Returns of a Committee of nine members, selected by Mr. Speaker, making the maximum amount to be awarded as costs £50. The honorable member for Riverina does not make that sum the maximum, but if it were made the maximum, it would preventabuses of the kind suggested by the honorable member for Dalley, where impecunious and pettifogging . lawyers take up cases on " spec," in the hope of getting heavy costs out of a wealthy opponent. I think that a Committee would do justice to all parties.

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