HC Deb 19 June 1822 vol 7 cc1145-7
Mr. Lennard

presented a petition from 4,000 of the householders and traders of Middlesex, complaining of the conduct of the county clerk of Middlesex. He knew nothing of the truth or falsehood of the statement in the petition. He had before brought the subject of this court under the consideration of the House. He believed most sincerely, that court was very useful in its constitution, and that if the House could be persuaded to look at the subject, means might be found to make it much more so. He regretted that the petitioners had not confined themselves to a statement of the large amount of the fees, producing an emolument far beyond what was contemplated when the court was instituted; and to the inconveniences arising from the infrequency of the sittings, and the distance necessary to be travelled in order to attend the court; because he feared the very strenuous friends of the county clerk in that House, when they found an attack was made on the clerk himself, would, in their zeal for the defence of the clerk, extend to the court itself, and thereby his cause would be injured. He was convinced that the House Would not long allow such a salary to be received, without being satisfied that all that could be done was done for the suitors. He should again call the attention of the House to the subject next session, and he trusted he should succeed in reducing the large fees, and increasing the time of attendance, and the number of places of attendance. He moved, that the petition do lie on the table.

Mr. Courtenay

said, that the petition did not represent the feeling of the county of Middlesex, but emanated from individuals actuated by the worst motives. He denied, on the authority of the chief judge of the court, that any fees had been taken by the chief clerk, which were not sanctioned by act of parliament. Even if such a grievance bad existed, it was not a subject for the interference of parliament, since there was a specific mode of redress pointed out by the act. Under these circumstances, he should move, that the petition be rejected.

Dr. Lushington

asked, whether it was candid to attribute malignant motives to 4,000 individuals, and to move for the rejection of the petition, upon the unsupported ipse dixit of the party accused? The petitioners did not merely complain of the extortion of fees, but that the chief judge did not sit so often as the interests of justice required. Nearly 18,000 cases were heard annually, and the judge only sat twice a week; so that he must dispose of 180 causes a day. It was utterly im- possible that they, could be disposed of with this extraordinary expedition, consistently with the interests of the suitors in that court. As to redress, by application to the three chief justices, was it likely that suitors in cases under the amount of 40s. could resort to such an expensive mode of proceeding?

Mr. Bennet

thought, the House was bound to inquire into the allegations of the petitioners.

The Attorney General

stated, that the act of parliament specified the legal fees, and in the event of exaction, the remedies. The petitioners should therefore have sought redress in the mode indicated by the law.

Mr. Hume

expressed his astonishment that the first law officer of the Crown should set his face against investigation. They were not the friends of Mr. Heath, who wished to damnify his reputation by the rejection of the petition.

Mr. Wynn

said, that if the petitioners had confined themselves to the grievances, he should not oppose the reception of the petition; but when they attacked the character of the judge, on ex parte statements, he could not consent to let it lie on the table.

Mr. Hobhouse

said, that to reject the petition of the 4,000 persons was, to use a common saying, carrying the joke a little too far. It was, forsooth, to be rejected because it implicated the learned gentleman who presided in the court. But, was not his character much more likely to be affected by a refusal to receive the allegations of 4,000 persons who declared themselves to be aggrieved?

After some further conversation, the petition was ordered to lie on the table.