« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
the P.M.L.'s letter exposing the various fallacies involved in this contention and threatening proceedings procures not only compensation but renewed employment on recovery.
The next applicant for advice is a fat, alcohol-sodden woman in a man's shepherd's plaid cap, with silver bangles pinching her bare red wrists. Her husband had been out of work in England and a lady had paid his passage to Canada ; he was now out of work there too, and wanted to come back, but couldn't pay his return passage. Could she by law get the money out of the lady who paid his passage out ? No? Well then she should send her children to the workhouse, and a good riddance, and out she flings and bangs the door.
Then come two costermongers, who bought some scrap-iron and old shop-fittings from a firm not far from Covent Garden on Thursday. They spent Friday in breaking their purchase up and getting it ready to take away, were told to come to remove it not on Saturday but on Monday, hired a large cart and horse for that purpose at 78. 6d., and on turning up on Monday were told that in the meantime the stuff had been sold to a higher bidder. Here correspondence proved futile ; the unscrupulous tradesmen would not believe that litigation would really be within their opponents' reach and determined to brazen it out. Eventually the costermongers were instructed how to conduct their own case in the County Court, which they were perfectly capable of doing. One of them, indeed, had only too rich a flow of natural rhetoric and logic, and had to be urged to prune his flowers of speech a little, and to remember to let the Judge get in a word here and there.
Next comes a man whose little girl had been knocked down and bruised by a motor bus. Having ascertained, as far as we can, that the driver really was to blame, we send a letter to the Bus Company couched in moderate terms, which quickly brings in the amount of the doctor's bill and a reasonable solatium for shock and torn clothes.
Lastly appear two women who want 'separation orders.' The first, when closely questioned, can charge her husband with nothing more serious than bad language, occasional bouts of drunkenness, and one or two night-long absences at some place unknown. She is told that at present she has no case which would entitle her to a separation. The other has more substantial grounds of complaint, and she is instructed how to make her application and what points to emphasise in telling her tale to the magistrate,
And so ends an evening in which none of the cases encountered are in any way out of the ordinary. Occasionally the P.M.L. is faced with really intricate legal puzzles, and sometimes he hears stories replete with all the elements of romance or melodrama; but the former would probably only interest the reader mildly, while to reveal the latter might constitute an indiscretion ; besides this, what is wanted is to give an idea of the ordinary work of the P.M.L., even at the risk of dulness, and not an anthology of curiosities culled from his experience.
The only unusual thing about the evening described is that it afforded throughout such very plain sailing. If all the problems encountered were as easily solved as
as those narrated, the organisations already in existence would be almost sufficient and practically the only improvement required would be an increase in the number of workers. But frequently cases present themselves which cannot be disposed of without litigation and which the client hiinself cannot conduct in person, either on account of infancy, inadequate intelligence, or deafness, or because some point of law has to be argued. In these circumstances, as things stand at present, if no money is forthcoming from any source it is exceedingly difficult to take further steps. It is true that many very charitable solicitors exist and there are many generous barristers who are ready to hold a brief without receiving a fee. Moreover, contrary to the general opinion, there is no professional rule which prevents them from doing so. But it is at present very unusual for legal work to be done gratuitously; and the P.M.L. is naturally very reluctant to trade upon the generosity of his professional friends. At any rate to do so often would be to kill the goose which lays the golden eggs; and so, only too frequently (especially if the issue is in the least degree uncertain), the case has reluctantly to be abandoned.
It is therefore manifest that there is need for some scheme by which the present state of affairs can be improved upon. We have come to look upon it as a matter of course that the poor should be provided with gratuitous medical assistance if duly qualified persons are ready to offer it; why should he not also have gratuitous legal aid when he needs it, especially as the latter could be provided at about the thousandth part of the cost of the former ? Nor would the gain be all on one side. Besides their primary object the hospitals also serve the very useful secondary purpose
of assisting the training and education of the medical practitioner,
and in the same way it would be much to the advantage of the budding barrister if he too could have the benefit of what might be called a legal hospital system. It is but too well known that every dusty chamber in the Temple contains at least one potential Cicero or Hortensius eating his heart out for the chance of a display of his forensic pyrotechnics. Moreover his opportunities are getting rarer and rarer; formerly every barrister in considerable practice used as a matter of course to devil' his cases in the County Courti.e. get a younger and less busy man to take them for him-whenever they clashed with another more important professional engagement. Now he dare not do so; if he is not certain that he will be there to conduct the case himself the solicitor insists on the brief being returned,'so that he himself can dispose of it to someone whom he or the lay client is anxious to feed. It is thus becoming increasingly difficult for the tiro at the Bar to get any practice at conducting a case in court unless he himself has outside interest.
Obviously, therefore, he would jump at the chance of pleading the poor man's cause gratuitously. Here then we have one party with a commodity which he is very anxious to dispose of and another who badly needs it. Surely, by all the rules of Political Economy, they ought to be brought in touch with each other and it should only be a question of how this can best be effected. I would propose some such scheme as the following.
There should be a Central Office at which is kept a rota of the names of all barristers willing to conduct P.M.L. cases in Court gratuitously. For the reasons already given, it is quite certain that the list could readily be made a very long one by a notice sent round the Inns of Court requesting all who cared to, to send in applications to be enrolled on it.
The list would then be worked through alphabetically. If Aeschines could not take a case on a particular day he would miss his turn, which would automatically pass to Brougham; the next case would go to Cicero, the next to Demosthenes, the next to Erskine, and so on till the circle worked round to Æschines again. In all probability no young barrister on the list would have more than two cases a year, but he would be very glad of even this amount of practice at getting on to his legs in Court; and, if business of his own intervened, his place would be taken by the next on the list. In this manner the work required to be done by the Bar would be easily provided for.
How to supply those services which can only be performed by à solicitor presents a somewhat more difficult problem. What would be aimed at would be a rota of solicitors managed on the same lines as that of the barristers; but such a list would, I fear, be greatly more difficult to fill. Lack of work is of considerably rarer occurrence among solicitors than in the sister branch of the profession, as the new recruit generally makes a direct entry into an office where work already exists; and a busy practitioner cannot be expected as a matter of course to sacrifice his valuable time to the unpaid service of the poor. However, no great amount of solicitor's work would ever be entailed in P.M.L. cases. The facts are, as a rule, the essence of simplicity, and these with the law would be got up by the P.M.L. himself, who would personally confer with and instruct the barrister who is to conduct the case. Thus the solicitor would be spared all the task of getting up the brief (which need only be a 'back-sheet') and his labours would be confined to lending the machinery of his office for the performance of such tasks as serving writs, subpoenaing witnesses, watching County Court Lists, etc., etc. There are seldom many, if any, witnesses in a P.M.L. case besides the litigant himself, and the taking of proofs '-a luxury and not a necessity-could almost invariably be dispensed with. Repayment of out-of-pocket expenses would be guaranteed from the fund which will be dealt with later, and it is possible that the authorities would countenance some arrangement by which the solicitor would, if the case was successful, receive a moderate sum for remuneration, to be paid as costs by the unsuccessful opponent. If a sufficient number of solicitors sent in their names, the turn of individuals would only come round at long intervals. In the circumstances, it surely would not be unduly optimistic to hope that a reasonable number of solicitors would send in their names as ready to allow their clerks occasionally to perform the services in question, especially if the scheme received the sanction of the Law Society.
A central P.M.L. office would have to be established which would control the rotas and to which the P.M.L.s for the various Settlements would apply for legal assistance, if they had duly satisfied themselves that the particular case in question could not otherwise be satisfactorily dealt with. The application once made, the Central Office would automatically allot solicitor and counsel to the case. The cost of this office would be extremely sinall. Only a very exiguous staff would be required, and it is possible that some such organisation as the Cavendish Club would lend a room for the purpose gratuitously. Failing this, the required accommodation could be procured at a very low rent.
But, however small would be the expense thus incurred, some regularly organised fund would be necessary to cope with it. Again, as litigation would almost invariably be in the County Court, the disbursements for Court fees, etc., would be very small and would as a rule, together with any small out-of-pocket expenses incurred by the solicitor, be eventually repaid by the other side. But the necessary sum would have to be put down by someone in the first instance; and, where the client himself is too penniless even for this, the necessity for some regular fund upon which to draw would again manifest itself. A fund would therefore be indispensable; but, as has already been shown, the expenses would be small, and there ought to be no difficulty in meeting the financial problem either by annual subscription or by collecting sufficient capital for & permanent endowment.
It may be objected against the proposed organisation that the possibility of a free use or misuse of the machinery of the Courts would encourage a quarrelsome and litigious spirit among the poor. But this danger would be met by the P.M.L. himself, who never takes up a case unless he is satisfied that his client is in the right—that is to say, that he has merits as well as law on his side 1
I have no wish whatever to claim originality for the scheme above outlined. As has already been said, the whole subject has recently been before the Cavendish Club, and it is more than probable that very similar proposals may have been placed before it by one or more of its members. I am, moreover, well aware that only the roughest and most impressionist of outlines have been given. The main work of developing the scheme still remains to be done by filling in the details, and no doubt many alterations could be made which would vastly improve it. Perhaps the difficulties would be better met by a scheme totally different from that suggested. The present writer holds no brief for any particular proposal; and his sole object is to show that, useful as is the work done at present by the P.M.L., he needs some solid organisation upon which to fall back in cases where the means within his control are insufficient to procure his client his rights ; if definite shape has been given to
1 The present proposals after all merely involve the extension of a principle which has already obtained the sanction of the powers that be, by the institution of in forma pauperis procedure, which would be an excellent thing were it more widely known, and more easily set in motion.