HC Deb 09 May 1821 vol 5 cc598-602
Sir J. Newport

rose to bring forward his motion upon this subject. He proceeded to explain the circumstances which induced him to bring this question before the House, and pointed out in strong terms the great delay which had taken place since the appointment of the commissioners in 1815. Those commissioners, five in number (two of whom were masters in chancery) had since their appointment received a salary of 1,200l. a year each, making in all a sum of 30,000l. exclusive of allowances to secretaries and other incidental charges. There was also an additional sum due this year of 6,000l. making in all about 40,000l. The commissioners had during that time made but four reports, two on the court of Chancery, and two on the court of King's-bench and Common-pleas. With respect to the reports on the court of Chancery, the lord chancellor, after approving some of the recommendations, was of opinion (after a lapse pf five years from the period of the report being made), that it ought to undergo the most grave and serious inquiry. As to the reports of the courts of King's-bench and Common-pleas, the chief justices of those courts had written to the secretary of state for the home department, informing him that those reports had never been submitted to their consideration, or officially made known to them. The excuse made by the commissioners was, that they had experienced great delay and obstruction in the different offices to which their inquiries led them. This, he contended, was no excuse, for the commissioners had, and ought to have exercised the power of obliging the parties to produce the necessary documents. Under all the circumstances, as the original proposer of the inquiry, he felt a natural wish to place his sentiments upon the Journals of the House; and with that view he should move the following resolutions, founded upon what he conceived to be the facts of the case:

  1. 1. "That it appears, from returns laid before this House, that the commission to inquire into the state of the English courts of justice, appointed by his majesty on the 9th February 1815, in compliance with their address of the 28th of June 1814, was composed of five commissioners, two of whom were masters in chancery; and that they have been compensated for their services by an annual payment pf 1,200l. to each commissioner, 599 amounting on the 9th Feb. 1820 to 30,00l. execusive of the payment of the secretary, and; other incidental charges, and of a further sum of 6,000l. due to the said commissioners on the 9th of Feb. of the present year.
  2. 2."That the commissioners have delivered in four reports; the first, on the court of Chancery, 9th April 1816; the second, a very small supplementary report on the same court, 20th Dec. 1817; the third, on the King's-bench, 5th Jan. 1818; and the fourth, on the court of Common-pleas, 3rd July 1819.
  3. 3. "That it appears, by the statement of the lord chancellor to the secretary of state for the home department, on the 17th March last, that his lordship has adopted some measures, as detailed in that statement, for carrying into effect some of the recommendations contained in the report of the commissioners upon the court of Chancery; and that, in other instances, those recommendations appear to his lordship to require much further consideration, to which consideration (with the advice and assistance of the master of the rolls, and eventually of others of the judges) his lordship now- proposes, at the expiration of five years from the period of its delivery, to submit the whole of, the report.
  4. 4."That the chief justices of the King's-bench and Common-pleas, in their several statements of the 5th and 6th of March last, acquaint the secretary of state, that their lordships attention had not been in any manner called to the recommendations contained in the reports on their courts, nor had those reports been officially made known to them; which reports had been delivered in by the commissioners, on the 5th Jan. 1818 and the 3rd July 1819, to the office under the control of the secretary of state for the home department.
  5. 5. "That this House views with extreme regret the slowness in its progress of a commission instituted for such important objects, and prosecuted at considerable public expense; the obstructions which the commissioners appear to experience in their inquiries, from the reluctance manifested by some of the officers of the court of Exchequer to deliver the returns called for, and to facilitate the execution of the commission, as detailed by the commissioners; the very protracted period of time to which the consideration of some of the measures recommended for regulation of 600 the court of Chancery, and generally of the whole report thereon, has been deferred; and above all, and as highly censurable, the manner in which the two reports on the King's-bench and Common-pleas have been withheld from the notice of the judges of those courts by those public officers, who were officially bound to submit them to their consideration."

On the first resolution being put,

The Attorney General

rose to defend the conduct of the commissioners, who, he said, had been unremitting in their exertions, and deserved the applause and gratitude of their country. One reason which the right hon. baronet had for finding fault with them was that they had only laid four reports upon the table. It was true, that a greater number of reports had been made by the commissioners appointed to inquire into the state of the courts of justice in Ireland; but though eight reports had been made by them, and only four by the English commissioners, the English commissioners had, independently of the greater research which they had displayed, done more in point of fact than the Irish, their four reports containing 586 pages, and the reports of the Irish containing only 400 pages of printed matter. The commissioners had not had power to enforce the making of certain returns from the offices of the Exchequer; but surely no reasonable man would impute that circumstance as a matter of blame to them. He defended the lord chancellor from the charges which had been made against him, and asked, whether it was to be expected that that learned and illustrious person was to postpone all his other engagements to examine into the matters referred to him by this commission? With regard to certain of the reports not having been sent to the judges of the King's-bench and the Common-pleas, he begged leave to inform the House, that according to the words of the commission itself, the reports were to be returned to the petty bag office, and that it was not therefore the duty of the commissioners to transmit them to the judges. The secretary of state was the person who ought to have forwarded the reports to those learned persons; but? he had failed to do so, from an idea that they had been sent to them from some other quarter. He could assure the right hon. baronet, that there was no reluctance any of the courts to correct abuse, where abuse was proved to exist. It was unfair to assume that the labours of the commissioners had not been extensive from the fact that they had not reported many abuses as existing in the English courts of justice. He took that fact to be highly creditable to the English courts, because it proved that no such abuses existed. He felt it his duty to move the previous question to the hon. baronet's proposition, because no case had been made out to support it; because he conceived the commissioners to have been unremitting in their attention to the subject, and because he thought the lord chancellor, and the other parties connected with the charge, had been most harshly and unfairly dealt with.

Mr. Abercromby

said, the gravamen of the charge made by the right hon. baronet was, that the reports had not been communicated to the learned judges until two years after they had been made. He did not know that it was the duty of the secretary of state to forward such reports; but it was a heavy charge against the government, that reports which had cost the country large sums of money, should not be distributed in those quarters where they were likely to prove most beneficial. It appeared to him that the lord chancellor had not done himself justice in this case, for lie appeared to have acted in a great manner upon the suggestion of the commissioners. By the return he had made, it appeared that many things had been done of the description required, but that many remained still to be done. A return so framed was surely incomplete and unsatisfactory.

Mr. B. Bathurst

defended the lord chancellor from any imputation of neglect. That distinguished personage was not responsible for the delay which had occurred. The right hon. baronet complained of the expense of the commission; but was there any novelty in that? There was good ground, perhaps, for the commission into the Irish courts; but certainly nothing had resulted from the extension of the inquiry to the English courts which justified the expense of the undertaking.

Mr. Baring

expressed his surprise at the right hon. gentleman's view of the duties of government; for, according to that notion, there was nobody to take cognizance of a report framed by a commission under the orders of that House. As to the manner in which the inquiries had been conducted, he should only say, that nothing very sanguine could be hoped from an investigation carried on through the means of the officers in the courts themselves. He denied that any of the fees were to be considered as freehold rights; and, as to the duration of the inquiry, it might have been accomplished in seven months as well as in seven years, if ordinary diligence had marked the proceedings.

Mr. Serjeant Onslow

saw no reason for the strictures which had been passed upon the commissioners, nor could he understand how the inquiry could have been conducted, except by the examination of the officers in the respective courts.

Sir. Warre

denied that it was necessary to have masters in chancery on the commission. Four gentlemen inquired into the abuses of the court of Chancery of Ireland, none of whom were masters, yet the result of their labours had been most satisfactory and advantageous.

Sir J. Newport

, in reply, said, that when he had moved the address he had done all that was necessary on his part. It then became the duty of government to carry the object of the address into effect. The right hon. gentleman had argued that government had no right to interfere. But what said the commissioners? They stated that they had performed the duty allotted to them, and they recommended certain measures to his majesty for adoption. Now, who was to carry those recommendations into effect except his majesty's government? The address which he had moved was a general one, referring to all the courts of justice in the united kingdom. And why was it general? Because he was unwilling to appear invidious by selecting any particular court. He was determined to place his resolutions on the journals, because, in other cases, when resolutions proposed by him had been negatived, he had found that their principle was recognized several years afterwards, in consequence of their being placed on the journals.

The previous question was then put upon the four first Resolutions, and negatived. Upon the fifth, the House divided; Ayes, 56. Noes, 72.

List of the Minority.
Abercromby, J. Barrett, T.
Althorp, lord Carter, J.
Bennet, hon. H. G. Crespigny, sir W. De
Bernal, R. Curwen, J. C.
Birch, Josh. Calcraft, J.
Blake, sir F. Concannon, L.
Barbara, J. H. Colbgrn, R. N.
Davies, col. Russell, lord W.
Ebrington, lord Russell, lord J.
Folkestone, lord Rumbold, C.
Gaskell, B. Rice, S.
Gordon, R. Smith, W.
Grenfell P. Smith, J.
Guise, sir W. Smyth, J.
Hobhouse, J. C. Stewart, lord J.
Hume, J. Stewart, J.
Hutchinson, C. H. Tierney, rt. hon. G.
James, W. Tavistock, marq.
Mackintosh, sir J. Wood, M.
Maberly, J. Wyvill, M.
Martin, Jas. Wilson, sir R.
Monck J. B. Warre, J. A.
Milton, lord Wynn, C. W.
Milbank, Mark Whitbread, W. H.
Newport, sir J. Williams, W.
Orde, W. Newman, W.
O'Callaghan, J. TELLERS.
Palmer, C. F. Baring, A.
Phillips, G. Macdonald, J.
Pares, Thos.