HC Deb 17 April 1826 vol 15 cc276-80
Mr. Abercromby

rose to present a petition from Mr. George Farquharson, of the Strand, which stated, that the petitioner had been employed for upwards of twenty years by the suitors and solicitors of the court of Chancery, in taking notes of the proceedings of that court, and that he was now in the employment of a morning newspaper. That on Friday, the 14th instant, the day on which the New Court of Chancery in Westminster-hall was opened for business, he, the petitioner, following his customary avocations, applied for admission to that court, but was told, to his surprise, by the officers of the court, that he could not be admitted, and that the reporters were in future to be excluded; and the petitioner, after stating the loss which such a measure would be to the public, and the hardship of his being deprived of his employment, if such exclusion were persisted in, concluded by submitting his case to the House, in order that the liberty which he had enjoyed for so long a period might still be continued. In presenting this petition, the learned member said, he thought there must have been some misconception between the petitioner and the persons by whom he had been excluded. If otherwise, he certainly thought it extremely hard, that the court of Chancery should be exclusive in adopting a measure which had not been acted upon by the other courts, where reporters were not denied the right of being admitted. It was not necessary at present to state the benefits which resulted to the public from the practice of giving publicity to judicial proceed- ings, as its good effects were sufficiently apparent; but it might be requisite to state, that the suitors of the court of Chancery in particular were extremely anxious to obtain accurate reports of the cases in which they were interested, and it would be hard if, by any new measure, that accommodation should be denied them.

The Solicitor General

said, that if any person connected with the public press had been excluded from the court of Chancery, he was confident that such exclusion did not originate with, and was not sanctioned by, the head of that court. There was no accommodation, however, in the new court for reporters to sit.

Mr. Scarlett

said, that a more contemptible court of justice than the New Court of Chancery there was not in the kingdom. There was no adequate accommodation for the gentlemen of the bar, and in every point it was a most inconvenient court. There were no means of accommodation for the public, not to speak of reporters. With respect to the court of King's-bench, all he could say about it was, that every defect of the old court seemed to have been scrupulously copied, for the purpose of transferring it to the new court; and, as to the court of Exchequer, although from its size it was certainly the most commodious of the new courts, its internal arrangements were by no means improved. Indeed, as he had just remarked with respect to the King's-bench, every defect of the old court was scrupulously continued. The bench was awkwardly situated, and the seats for counsel being on one side only, occasioned much inconvenience. Then, as to the gallery behind the bench, which had been copied from the old court, he never yet could see the use of it. The only improvement which had taken place in this court was, that in point of space it had been considerably enlarged. He would not allude to the useless passages which surrounded the courts, or the senseless ornaments by which the walls were decorated; but he would venture to say, that a greater waste of money had seldom taken place than in the making of these new courts. He was sorry to say that the suggestion he had made last year, to appoint a committee to manage the improvements, had not been carried into practice. The passages that ran parallel from Westminster-hall were of no use whatever; and he wondered at the wild- ness which could have induced men to adopt such fantastical plans as those which had been put into execution in the new courts at Westminster. He was sorry to say, that the public had been put to very great expense, and that the accommodation which they were to receive in return was by no means adequate.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

said, that after the strong language used by the hon. and learned gentleman who just sat down, he felt called upon to say a few words, as well for the satisfaction of the House, as for the sake of rescuing the reputation of the professional gentleman by whom the new courts were built, from the unmerited censure with which he had been assailed. Five or six years ago, when the building of those courts was contemplated, it was understood to be indispensably necessary that they should all open into Westminster-hall. The site of them being therefore particularly prescribed, and the space within which they were to be erected exceedingly limited, the wonder was, how so much could be accomplished within so circumscribed an area: hence the professional character of the architect was placed under the influence of circumstances of peculiar difficulty. In executing a work of that nature it was not to be expected that he could succeed in giving universal satisfaction. It was impossible for Mr. Soane to consult all those gentlemen in the legal profession who had formed themselves into a sort of committee to arrange the building; but he had frequent communications with the judges. He had consulted them over and over again, and all their suggestions he had carried into execution; and all the alterations they recommended he effected. With respect to the hon. and learned gentleman opposite, he had the honour to attend him over the works; he had directed Mr. Soane to call upon him and explain all the plans, and had flattered himself that the learned gentleman was quite satisfied that every alteration suggested had been carried into execution, that was not incompatible with the wishes and opinions of the judges of the courts. With respect to the passages alluded to, he thought, that so far from their being objectionable, they were indispensable as a means of communication. It was, therefore, very hard to throw such blame on the architect. Mr. Soane's hands were tied up; so inadequate to the purpose was the space allotted. He did not believe that any other man in England could, out of such space, have afforded so much accommodation; and it was a little too much that the reputation of a distinguished architect should be destroyed by severe animadversions in that House.

Mr. Scarlett

disclaimed any idea of casting aspersions on the character of Mr. Soane.

Sir M. W. Ridley

expressed his disapprobation of the mode in which public works were carried on. When a public building was about to be erected, plans and models ought to be submitted from the various artists generally. The thing should be thrown open to the public; for, according to the existing state of things, it was impossible for any architect to be employed, unless he was connected in some manner with the Board of Works, as it was called. There should be a fair competition thrown open to the talents of the various artists. Let them only look round the town, and see the abilities which the various public buildings, churches, &c, had called forth. For example, there was the new church at Chelsea. Had it not been for that opportunity, the talents of the distinguished artist who erected that beautiful church might have passed unnoticed. He did not mean, in the slightest degree, to dispute the talents of Mr. Soane, or to detract in the least from the acknowledged merits of that individual; but he thought it would be a considerable improvement if public works, like those of a private nature, were open to a fair competition.

Mr. R. Colborne

said, that with respect to plans and models, none but young artists could present them, for the more experienced and distinguished were occupied so constantly, that they could not have leisure for such a course.

Mr. Holme Sumner

considered the new courts to be very inconvenient. They might with more propriety have been erected on the other side of the Abbey; but he did not consider Mr. Soane at all to blame, as he had acted under the direction of others. It was certain that the courts were inadequate, and that they were by no means suited to the public convenience. He considered, however, that they might be rendered commodious, and he regretted that the report of the committee, who had taken the trouble to suggest considerable improvements, had not been attended to. Amongst other suggestions, in consequence of several complaints having been made, it was proposed to add twelve committee-rooms to those already provided. Two committee-rooms, however, were only added, and the consequence was, that considerable inconvenience existed from the want of those rooms. He intended to move that the committee of improvement should be revived.

Mr. Abercromby

was rejoiced to find that his impression that no order had been given for excluding reporters from the court of Chancery was correct. The presenting of Mr. Farquharson's petition would, in all probability, have the effect of preventing the authority of a judge from being abused by those who said, they acted under his directions.

Ordered to lie on the table.