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Salient. An Organ of Student Opinion at Victoria College, Wellington, N.Z. Vol. 14, No. 12. September 20, 1951

Jowitt — The Lord High Chancellor..


The Lord High Chancellor...

Persia—Painting—Peace Housing and the Lords

Member of the Judiciary, of the Legislature and of the executive, hence a complete anachronism, like the duck-billed platypus, quite an historical mammal—thus the Right Honourable Viscount Jowitt of Stevenage, Lord High Chancellor of England, described himself at the beginning of an informal Press conference at which the writer was privileged to be present. So it was that "Jowitt, L.C.," so familiar to law students, immediately stepped out of the pages of the Law Reports and became Lord Jowitt the man—matter of fact, drily humorous, exceedingly intelligent, uncannily perspicacious, not condescending or domineering but polite and quiet, and withal tall, imposing and handsome, with a cultured but unaffected English manner of speech.

His Lordship first made brief reference to the origin of his office—the keeper of the King's conscience—and to his multifarious duties and powers of presiding over the House of Lords, the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council and the Court of Appeal, of making appointments to the County Courts and King's Bench and to the many ecclesiastical livings under his patronage. The keeper of the King's conscience was originally always a clergyman and was in fact the King's confessor. Nowadays such was not the case, and he found the task of keeping the King's conscience often a good deal easier than keeping his own. People have remarked, he said, that if by any misfortune His Majesty were to die and Princess Elizabeth to ascend the throne, then surely the Chancellor would not be expected to keep her conscience! Smiling from a comfortable chair and addressing his questioners as "my dear boy," or "my dear friend," he then proceeded to answer our queries in a clear, laconic and thoughtful manner.

Rearmament and Dufy, Utrillo Etc

The rearming of Germany (and Japan), he said, must be handled with great care, for the question was: which side would Germany take in the event of another war? On the one hand was the fact that Europe would never be strong until Germany were rearmed, and on the other the need for Germany to behave as a good European nation; at all events it was imperative to satisfy the French—they have much to remember: 1870, 1914, 1940—and we owe much to France, a large part of modem culture; and no mistake was to be made: France was still a great nation even though suffering from something of a malaise at the moment; and indeed in his opinion she was worth recognition if only for the impressionist movement which she engendered. (Viscount and Lady Jowitt are both enthusiastic lovers of painting).

Britain The Peace Fighter

Adverting to the question of Britain's power to defend herself and her dominions, he stated that they in Britain of course have conscription, that their inventive genius was as great as ever, that much development is now going on, and [unclear: that there] was many a kick in the old dog yet. He said that a war with Russia was possible put not probable, and it was his belief that-there was not going to be one. There was no getting away from the fact that the Russian army was strong, but if the next three or four years could be got over without war the danger would be very considerably lessened, provided that we are prepared and armed, so that it would not be worthwhile for anyone to start a war. It must be remembered, he added, that we cannot see over the wall into the Russian garden, and that everything there may not be too lovely. The Russians would have no hope of success in war at the present, he stated. As for Communism within Britain, he explained that there, as he supposed was the case here, the danger lay in the communist element in the Trade Unions, and the difficulty was that Trade Union people are happy-go-lucky people and are thus easy prey for the extremely active Communist interests which are present. However, he said that that trouble was now definitely receding in Britain, and was not worsening.

Broken Promises in Persia

Lord Jowitt then turned to the topic of United Nations and Persia. He believed that the fundamental difference between the solutions to world problems of today and those of the past was that we must now rely more and more on International Law, and that reliance on the Rule of force as in the old days was not now possible. Under Clause 32 of the Treaty between the Persian Government and the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (to which incidentally the U.K. Government was not a party) the Persian Government agreed not to interfere with the operations of the company. Now, any Government, he said, is perfectly entitled to nationalise what is its country's own property, but it was not entitled to break its pledged word—and that's what Persia was doing. Nationalisation, he said, is like a drug and goes to the head if not controlled. He added that he was wanted as mediator in the Persian crisis, but was already committed to go to Australia for the Legal Convention; when he got to Sydney, however, it was so cold he would almost have preferred to be sweltering in Abadan.

Nuremburg—sound Precedent

Referring to his onerous task of setting up the Court for the Nuremberg trials, Viscount Jowitt Intimated that his was the unique accomplishment of having drawn up an agreement between the Russians and the Western Allies (formulating the Constitution of the Court and the procedure to be adopted) which had been completely adhered to. He did not consider the Trials a dangerous precedent; they had been a great thing: if you had been there you would have agreed that the punishments meted out were the outcome of fair trials and were only just reward for the moat terrible crimes that had been perpetrated. Hence the notion of creating a dangerous precedent for say the Russians to follow was not worth considering; and in any case, "Would they need a precedent?" he asked.

In The Lords: Free Speech

The Chancellor would not comment on the question of an Upper House in New Zealand, but in Britain, although the House of Lords had lost some of its power, it had gained in prestige, and was still very valuable indeed. It was in its origin and formation a unique institution, but its value lay in the fact that its members have no constituents to whom they are answerable, and accordingly they can, and do, say what they like. It contains sufficient members of great standing to provide experts on almost any subject, and thus, if properly reported, can be a great factor in instructing public thought. It would still be great even if more of its power were taken away. There was much talk at Home of reforming the House of Lords, mainly in the direction of reducing its numbers. He was definitely opposed to an elected Upper Chamber and as far as he could see, why not, in the traditional manner, leave well alone?

What was essential to the House of Lords was its power of delay. He instanced the Capital Punishment Abolishment Bill, which the Lords threw out, and in the delay so caused the Government realised that public opinion was with the House of Lords and accordingly shelved the Bill. In "Money Bills" the House of Lords had no say and indeed there is no need for it.

Note For Mr. Goosman

Lord Jowitt touched briefly on the town from which he derives his title. Stevenage (pronounced Steevenage—as one person present discovered too late) which is the model town-planning experiment and in which he as head of post-war reconstruction, has a particular interest. He explained how London was growing too large and it was decided to throw a ring around it, on which there was to be no building, and outside are towns which axe not to be "dormitory" towns with masses of people swarming into London each day, but having their own factories and places of employment.

The plans were all prepared and "a hell of a lot has been done, a hell of a lot"—but it was all damned slow and there was "a hell of a lot to be done." For in Britain, as indeed everywhere he had been so far on his world tour, there were two major problems—one of which was the housing problem. The other was the cost of living. He expected to find the same in the United States—where he is going after leaving New Zealand. Incidentally, on leaving the United States at the end of his exhausting world tour, he is travelling via the Queen Mary and intends to lock himself up in his cabin to rest for two or three or maybe four days. Yes, he said, in response to a reminder from one of his listeners, he was fully aware that his sailing date coincided with the equinoctial gales.

Elusive Equity

So neared its end a memorable 45 minutes with the man who adorns the office of virtual head of the British and Dominion Judiciary, but whose appointment, unlike that of any other member of that Judiciary, is a political one. Asked earlier if the political nature of his appointment ever embarrassed him, he replied that it could be avoided by common sense—that is, he does not sit on cases having a political flavour—for instance he did not take part in the Australian Banking case. Two things, however, he does regret. One is that on his retirement or resignation or (more important) on the collapse of his political party, the Chancellor is not allowed to return to practice at the bar. Apparently one of his predecessors. Viscount Haldane, had the same regret but no pulling of strings was successful in overcoming the rule. What was more, he was allowed to retain his status of "King's Counsel," but was not in actual fact allowed to be a counsel at all. It was quite possible, he didn't mind saying, for him to earn far more in practice than he receives now (£10,000 p.a.). The other regret is as much Lady Jowitt's as his, and that is that although he site on appeals from the Scottish Courts and although Lady Jowitt is of Scots descent, he is called the Lord Chancellor of England.

One further observation the writer cannot refrain from recording. Earlier Lord Chancellors, as law students will know, were the original fountain-head of that elusive body of rules known as Equity and administered by that home of good conscience the Court of Chancery, and as those unfortunate gentlemen who mark exam, papers in law subjects are no doubt informed many times each year, Equity has been said to vary with the length of the Chancellor's foot. Rest assured then that the Courts of Equity are today ready to beam on all who there seek remedy and relief, for this Lord High Chancellor, this Viscount Jowitt of Stevenage, this erudite lawyer, this quietly shrewd and humorous legislator, cabinet minister, judge, mediator, planner and lover of the arts, is, in more ways than one, a truly great man—from the feet up.

A. G. Keesing.