Letter to the Editor of The Times from John Coleridge, 1st Baron Coleridge, June 5, 1891

Letter to the Editor of The Times from John Coleridge, 1st Baron Coleridge, June 5, 1891
by John Coleridge

Baron Coleridge, then Lord Chief Justice of England, sent correspondence between himself and a law student to The Times for publication.

To the Editor of The Times.

SIR,—I shall be much obliged if you can find room for these letters in your Monday paper.

Your obedient servant,

COLERIDGE. 1, Sussex Square, Hyde Park, W., June 6.

37, Temple, E.C.,
June 5, 1891.

MY LORD,—Since it appears there is little or no chance of gaining admittance into your Court without a ticket, I now formally apply for one. I base my application on the ground that although a Judge is indeed absolute emperor over his Court, yet his power does not extend to the selection of what body of people shall represent the "public" in cases which are not heard in camera. Although a Judge has the undoubted right to take such measures as to insure the convenience of those having business in the Court, even to the exclusive issuing of tickets of admission, yet such tickets should be distributed impartially to all applicants. I have no personal knowledge that such has not been actually the case. This I know, that I have been told that Lady Coleridge has distributed most of the tickets among her friends. I say this, not because I in any way wish to be insulting or disrespectful to a lady, but simply as a statement of fact as to what I heard a Templar say. I also say it in order to call attention to a fact I am sure your lordship will admit to be true, and that is your lordship's personal friends have no more right to represent the public than the friends of John Smith. It would seem that this ticket-issuing, or rather its distribution, has practically resulted in the above-mentioned undesirable outcome. I also maintain that if there is room in the well of the Court, any member of one of the Inns of Court has a prior right to a seat therein over an ordinary member of the public—whether provided with tickets from the Judge or not. This system of admittance by tickets only, if tolerated, will practically confer on the Judge the power of selecting his audience—a right which up to now, I labour under the impression, has not been conferred on them either by statute or any other law. It is not within my province to find fault with your lordship for taking the best means in your opinion to insure the comfort of those who are bound to be in your Court, any more than to do so with reference to the degrading of the Bench to the level of a grand stand; but I consider that no one, by virtue of holding a ticket of admission, has the right to take precedence of those who are standing much nearer to the door than he is—in other words, no member of the public having no locvs standi in your Court has the right to have the seat kept reserved for him, the first 72 members of the public who present themselves at the public gallery have the right to be admitted. I say 72, because I believe that is the number which can be accommodated in the public gallery of your lordship's Court. I believe I am not wrong in saying that there is no denying my assertion. The Court, so far as I know, takes no notice of the difference between peer and pauper in the question of admittance therein. If John Smith, labourer, is in front of Lord Knows Who, and there is only one seat vacant in the public gallery, the peer has no prior right to occupy that seat. Your lordship probably knows all this better than I do, yet in the face of recent events, it is well to mention all that I have. I respectfully propose to your lordship that orders be given to the official at the door to admit members of the Inns of Court (on presentation of their cards of membership, or on their otherwise satisfying them of the person being such), giving them precedence over members of the public possessing a ticket which, strictly speaking, gives them no more right to be admitted than a piece of waste-paper. If the tickets only admit by "courtesy" and not by "right," then I claim, my Lord, that such courtesy should be extended first to members of the Inns of Court.

Be that as it may, but since admission to the Court has been by ticket, I think I may safely conclude that as many tickets as there are seats have been already distributed. If that is so, in order to show such distribution did not practically amount to a selection of the "public" among your lordship's friends and acquaintances, one or other of my alternatives should be acted upon. Either the members of the Inns of Court should be admitted by virtue of their membership, or a ticket should be sent to one who has not the honour of being a friend or acquaintance of your lordship's—to wit, to me. As I have said before, I deny the right of anyone to "reserved" seats in a Court of justice. A member of my Inn, in palliation, said that the tickets were not sold, but granted gratis to all applicants. I hope that is so. Armed with a ticket of admittance I hope to be able to gain an entry, taking my chance with others similarly armed. Supposing the possessor of a ticket issued before the trial commenced is absent, his seat should be kept vacant. If he is late, an earlier ticketholder should occupy the space allotted to him when present. On these grounds I respectfully ask your lordship to issue tickets over and above those already issued, so that there should be no appearance of the Court being reserved for a few personal friends.

Your obedient servant,

L. Tallien A. M'vane. To the Right Hon. J. D. Lord Coleridge.

1, Sussex Square, W.,

June 6, 1891.

Sir,—I have hesitated whether to take any notice of your letter; but it has become the custom to assume that anyone has a right to accuse any other person of anything, and that if that other is not at the trouble of replying to the accusation he must be taken to admit its truth. It is very inconvenient just now to spend valuable time in replying to you; but in such a matter as the public administration of justice it is perhaps better to submit to the inconvenience.

No one except the Sovereign and the Judges has any right upon the Bench; but it has been the immemorial custom for the Judges to extend the courtesy of a seat there to peers, Privy Councillors, and any other persons whom they may choose to invite. I speak from a personal recollection of more than 50 years. It is a discretion I shall exercise as my illustrious predecessors have exercised it, when and as I think fit, and with which, except by Parliament, I shall permit no interference.

The statement as to my wife, which you profess to have heard from "a Templar," is absolutely untrue. It seems that some Templars can be like other men—inaccurate.—and that other Templars can forget what is usually considered due to a lady. It is equally untrue that the Bench has been filled by my personal friends. My wife has had at her disposal three seats, and three seats only, including her own. The majority of persons on the Bench have been unknown to me, even by sight, but they have been persons to whom, for one reason or another, it seemed proper to grant the privilege. Exactly the same observations apply to my own small gallery and to a portion of the gallery opposite the Bench. The rest of that gallery and the whole of the body of the Court has been absolutely free, but I have given strict orders to prevent overcrowding, so that the quiet and orderly trial of the cause shall be secured; with the further direction that the utmost available space shall be given to members of the Bar in costume; and that the reporters for the Press, who keep the public informed of the proceedings in Court, shall be able to perform their important duty, as far as possible, in ease and comfort.

I believe that my orders have not been wholly ineffectual, and they will certainly be continued. When the Court is full my orders are to exclude everyone. There are thousands, I daresay, who would like to hear the trial of an interesting cause; but it is, in my opinion, far more important that those who do hear it should be comfortable (so far as comfort is possible in the Royal Courts of Justice), and therefore quiet and orderly, than that a few more persons—it may be 100—should hear it at the expense of the comfort, the quiet, and the order of the whole audience. I have acted before now on these views; and shall certainly act on them now and whenever it may be my fate to preside at the trial of a case which excites public interest. I can make no alteration in your favour.

As the person you refer to as "a Templar" and yourself may perhaps repeat your mistakes, I shall send your letter and my answer to the newspapers.

I am, Sir,

your obedient, humble servant,

L. T. A. M'Vane, Esq.