HC Deb 15 March 1821 vol 4 cc1263-5

Lord Althorp moved the second reading of this bill.

Mr. Lockhart

agreed in the principle of the bill, because he conceived it was not proper that the superior courts should be occupied in deciding causes, where the property in dispute, whether money or chattels, was of trifling value. It was also a great hardship on the suitor, who frequently lost 30l. or 40l. in endeavouring to recover a much smaller sum. The noble lord meant to remedy this evil by creating a sort of county judge—a barrister—who, with the aid of a jury, would be able, four times in a year, to determine causes of a certain value. Now, he conceived, that a new tribunal was wholly unnecessary. In his opinion, if the powers of the courts of quarter session were amplified, the duty could be done more constitutionally. This would be a much more respectable and efficient tribunal—more under the aggregate eye of the country, and attended with less expense to the public. He hoped the noble lord would explain whether there was any foundation for the rumour, that it was intended to pay the judges in these courts by allowing them a fee of 6d. for each cause. It was evident that such a regulation was quite incompatible with any thing like the respectability, which ought to attach to the judicial character. It was not his intention to oppose the second reading of the bill; but if it went into a committee, he should certainly oppose it in toto, or move such an alteration as would prevent the appointment of barristers to the offices of judges in county courts.

Mr. F. Palmer

hoped the House would not agree to the suggestion of His hon. friend of throwing the business in ques- tion upon the quarter sessions. The increase of business in that direction had already become very inconvenient.

Mr. Chetwynd

conceived it necessary that some change should be made in the constitution of the county courts. The poor had great reason to complain of the impositions practised on them by the country attornies under the present system. As to the quarter sessions, they had already sufficient business; and if the House, by adopting the suggestion of the hon. gentleman, should overburthen the country magistrates, the consequence would be, that no gentleman would accept the office, and the country would be obliged to have recourse to that greatest of all curses, a stipendiary magistracy. At the same time, in the present distressed state of the people, he could not consent to any additional burthens on the county-rates, and therefore he should oppose that part of the bill which proposed to provide salaries for the judges by the imposition of a new rate.

The Attorney General

had no hesitation in saying, that he thought the plan of the noble lord extremely objectionable. It went to establish a perfectly novel jurisdiction, and one that would be attended with heavy expense. The noble lord proposed to establish no fewer than 80 tribunals, with a barrister at the head of each. The salaries of these judges, considering that their time was likely to be occupied exclusively by the business of their courts, could not be averaged at less than 500l. a year, which amounted to no less a sum than 40,000l., exclusive of the salaries of 80 clerks. The plan of paying the judges by allowing them a fee for each cause was too degrading to be entertained for a moment; and therefore their salaries must be paid out of the county-rates.

Lord Althorp

said, that as the opinion of the hon. and learned member was unfavourable to the bill, he feared there was little chance of its ultimate success; but he would press it to a second reading, in the hope that he should be able to alter the bill so as to render it free from objection.

The bill was read a second time.