§ Mr. John Smith
presented a petition from the inhabitants of Brighton, complaining of the serious evils which arose from the abuses of the practice of the County Courts. The petitioners alleged, that these courts frequently granted seizures for sums treble the amount of the original debt, and this enormous increase was generally caused by the costs, which swallowed up every thing else. The hon. member stated, that some matters which had fallen within his own experience fully proved the truth of the statements contained in the petition, and among others he mentioned the case of a poor woman, who was sued for a debt of 14s., and an execution being taken out against her for that sum, and for 15s. costs upon it, her goods were seized for a sum considerably exceeding the amount of both debt and costs; her bed, her pillows, and several other articles of furniture were taken from her, and in this case, as in others of a similar kind, nothing was returned. The bailiff, in this case, was summoned before sir David Scott, than whom a more worthy magistrate never existed, and was by that gentleman bound over to appear and answer at the sessions. The bailiff, however, who knew that other charges of a similar kind could be brought against him, decamped before the time appointed for his appearance, and the poor woman had, consequently, been unable to obtain any redress. There was another evil, to which he wished also to allude, and that was, that persons summoned for small debts were sometimes served with the summons only on the night immediately preceding the day appointed for their appearance at the County Court, which was sometimes as much as eight miles from their residence, and where they were desired to appear by attorney. The worthy magistrate to whom he had already alluded had told him, that there were above fifty cases of the kind he had mentioned, and had expressed an earnest wish that the matter should be laid before parliament. With that wish he now most willingly complied; and he should only add his opinion, that the subject was one which loudly called for the serious attention of the House.
The petition was as follows: 298 "The humble Petition of some of the Inhabitants of the Town of Brighthelmstone, in the County of Sussex,
"Sheweth—That your Petitioners have had to deplore the very serious evils which have arisen from the abuses of the County Court for the Recovery of Small Debts; and particularly against those persons, who, from their situation in life are least able to bear them.
"That many of your petitioners have suffered very greatly themselves from having had their goods seized to more than treble the amount of their debt, which had been swelled by large costs, and against which, from the peculiar mode of proceeding, it was impossible for them to have guarded: it being no uncommon practice for a person to receive a summons for an insignificant debt of a few shillings, to appear, by his attorney, at the county court, seven or eight miles off, on the following morning; and, in case of failure, to have an attachment levied against his goods, followed by an immediate seizure.
"That, by these oppressive means, some of your petitioners have been nearly involved in total ruin. That the ordinary costs for defending an unjust or doubtful debt are so great as to be utterly beyond the reach of many of your petitioners, who have no alternative but to submit to the unjust demand, or be subjected, in many instances, to utter ruin.
"That your petitioners are well aware that, owing to the vigilance of a newly-established institution of the town, and to the activity of some of the magistrates, some of the evils have been remedied; but your petitioners humbly suggest they have no security if that vigilance and activity should cease; and they pray may not again be subject to the same oppressive measures; besides which, many of the evils alluded to are irremediable, but through the interference of your honourable House.
"And your petitioners humbly pray that your honourable House will take their case into your most serious consideration; and that you will adopt such measures as your honourable House may deem fit, to put a stop to the recurrence of those grievances, under which many of your petitioners have so greatly suffered. And your petitioners will ever pray," &c.
§ Mr. M. A. Taylor
confirmed what had been stated by the hon. member, and declared, that he believed no persons were 299 ever more infamously treated than those who unfortunately came under the power of the bailiffs of the county courts. He recommended the subject to the serious attention of the Secretary of State for the Home Department. He trusted that he should soon see some measures adopted, that would put an end to the means which these reptiles now possessed of extorting money from the unfortunate.