HC Deb 02 June 1819 vol 40 cc845-9
Mr. C. Grant

observed, that in bringing in a bill to regulate the Fees in the Court of Chancery in Ireland, he had to claim the indulgence of the House, as this was a matter of great importance to the sister country. Some years since commissioners were appointed to inquire into the fees paid in the courts of chancery and exchequer in Ireland; those fees had long been a matter of complaint, and were carried so far as, in many instances, to impede the ends of justice. On inquiry, it was found that a scale of fees had existed in 1734, and had been acted upon up to 1767. Since that period the expenses had greatly increased, in some instances so much as 50 per cent. The right hon. member proceeded to state instances of the abuses found to exist. One was, that of charging the stamp duty on a sheet containing 72 words, instead of 90 as was formerly done. The next was fictitious attendances. A master in chancery had the power of issuing summonses to bring parties before him in taxing costs, but the fourth summons only was compulsory. By constructive attendances, however, the party was charged with the fees of the three first summonses, as if he bad been examined each time; and not only was there a charge by the master in chancery for each constructive attendance, but also by the solicitor and six clerks; so that the party had in fact to pay three sets of fees for three several attendances which had never taken place. In one case a six clerk had made a charge of 1297 constructive attendances. He did not mean to cast imputation on the masters in chancery, but he thought no officer should be allowed to regulate the fees in which he was himself a participator. There were two remedies which might be applied to this evil—one was by the orders of the Court, and the other by an act of the legislature. The lord chancellor and the master of the rolls agreed with the commissioners in the principle of their report, but they differed as to the remedy to be applied. The commissioners advised that the taxing bills of costs should be removed altogether from the masters in chancery, and vested in two officers appointed for the purpose with fixed salaries, but without any profits arising from their office. The lord chancellor and the master of the rolls advised that the masters should still continue to tax bills of cost, but with a fixed salary for this particular duty; instead of the fees which they now receive. The only question for the House was, which of those plans was the better calculated to remedy the grievance allowed on all hands to exist. The commissioners were entitled to the attention of parliament, and so were the opinions of the law officers immediately connected with this court. By the bill he was about to introduce, the recommendation of the latter was adopted. One object of the bill was, to compel those words which can be expressed by figures to be so written, and not allow them to be spun out for the purpose of increasing the number of sheets. Another was, to make a sheet consist of 90 instead of 72 words. The present mode of examining witnesses was, by commissioners, two being appointed by each party. Those commissioners, who were generally solicitors, generally managed to have a number of examinations to make in the same place, which, however, did not lessen the expenses of their clients. His bill vested in the lord chancellor the power of appointing twelve barristers to act as commissioners on such occasions, at a fixed rate of charge. It might be urged, that this bill would go to injure the gentlemen who now derived profit from those fees, and who accepted, or perhaps purchased, their situations under the impression of such fees being continued. His intention was, to propose, that the parties should have a compensation for the difference between the salary to be given for the discharge of this duty, and the sums to which they would be entitled by the existing regulation. Here the hon. member quoted the opinions of lord Hardwicke and Mr. Justice Willes in support of this part of the bill. The amount of this compensation might be regulated on ascertaining what the business done by the masters or tax clerk would produce, if the existing regulations were still in force. The commissioners were of opinion, that a moderate stamp duty on bills of costs would make good this compensation. He proposed that the salaries of the masters in chancery should be 800l. a year each, which would make no more in the whole than 3,200l. a year. The additional expense on the bills of cost would be freely paid by the parties when they found themselves relieved from the much greater charge of the present system. He was the more anxious to press this, in order to show those connected with the administration of justice in Ireland, that the eyes of parliament were upon them, and that it was intended to follow this up, by a series of measures for reforming the minor courts of justice in that country. He concluded by moving, "That leave be given to bring in a Bill for the easier and better Administration of Justice in the Court of Chancery in Ireland."

Mr. Martin

, of Galway, seconded the motion, though he would have preferred adopting the plan recommended by the commissioners.

The Earl of Carhampton

disapproved of the principle adopted with regard to compensation.

Sir J. Newport

felt happy in being able to say that the commission appointed to inquire into courts of justice, had been productive of the most beneficial effects. The labours of the Irish commissioners had indeed been productive of the most valuable results to the public. They had had to contend with every thing which official prejudice could suggest to thwart them, and every thing which interest could put in practice against them. It might be instructive to look at the different manners in which the inquiry was conducted in the three kingdoms. The address which he moved, was carried by one vote on the 28th June 1814, and the commissioners were appointed in March 1815; and he was sorry to say that two masters in chancery were appointed among the English commissioners for inquiry into abuses, many of which were alleged to exist in the offices of the masters in chancery. Six valuable reports had been received from the Irish commissioners, and the results which were of the utmost importance to all who had at heart the due administration of justice, were in possession of every member of the House. The Scotch commissioners had given in five reports, containing in many parts very useful suggestions, and why these suggestions had not been proceeded on, it remained for his majesty's ministers to account to the House. From the English commissioners, however, two reports had only been received in five years. The right hon. baronet proceeded to detail some of the reductions of expense which had been effected, and complained of the unjust principle on which the allowances to the different officers had been augmented, in consequence of which the Six Clerks, who, in England, had not more than 300l. per annum each, derived in Ireland from 400l. to upwards of 1,100l. per annum. It was evident, that if this inquiry had not been gone into, the doors of justice would have been shut to a great part of the public. He congratulated himself therefore on having brought forward this subject, and he had to thank the House for the support which they gave him. To show the enormous nature of the fees in the court of chancery, he might mention that in one case the fees for docketing, enrolling, exemplifying, and registering a decree, amounted to upwards of 800l. If compensation was afforded at all to the various officers, it ought only to be for fees established by such a length of practice, as to remove all suspicion of the party receiving the compensation being himself accessory to any addition to the fees, officers ought not to derive advantage from their own misinterpretation of Statutes to the injury of the public.

Mr. Leslie Foster

, as one of the Irish commissioners, entered into a statement of several of the reforms recommended by them. By the present bill, nearly one-half of the time and money formerly spent by suitors in the court of chancery would be saved. With respect to compensation to the various officers, he had to observe, that many of the officers of the Irish court of chancery were purchasers of their offices under existing laws for valuable considerations, and if any thing ought to be the subject of compensation, it struck him that these offices ought. Scarcely any difference of opinion had existed between the commissioners and the lord chancellor, except on one subject. The commissioners recommended two additional masters in chancery for the business of taxation alone, on the general principle, that officers connected with the business of the court ought to have nothing to do with the taxation. The lord chancellor, however, conceived that taxation might be more beneficially entrusted to an officer previously acquainted with the history of the cause. He still retained his former opinion, but he bowed to superior authority; and he hoped the House would be disposed to receive the benefit as it was, standing as it did, on the recommendation of the lord chancellor and the commissioners, and would not endeavour to enter into the details of the business, with which they could not grapple. The present bill would effect a greater improvement in the court of chancery in Ireland than had ever, he believed, been effected at one in any court of justice.

Mr. Valentine Blake

thought the remedy proposed worse than the disease. Vested rights were those of all others which that House protected. He was fearful that sufficient time would not be afforded for the consideration of the measure in question; and as to the report alluded to, what it principally recommended was, the assimilation of the proceedings in the Irish court of Chancery to those of the English Chancery court.

Mr. V. Fitzgerald

said, in despite of the gloomy anticipations of the hon. gentleman, he hoped the House would not postpone the bill. Were they to understand, that the lord chancellor and master of the rolls in Ireland wished the bill to be postponed? This bill came before the House with their recommendation, and it was known that they were anxious the bill should now be proceeded in.

Leave was given to bring in the bill.