§ The Attorney General moved the Order of the Day for the second reading of the Bill for Improving the Administration of Justice.
§ Mr. Jones
objected to proceeding with the Bill at that hour. The Bill itself was objectionable in most parts, particularly in those which referred to the Welsh judicature. It was divided into two parts, which were not at all necessarily connected, and between those was introduced a measure not connected with either—namely, the abolition of arrest for debt for any sum less than 100l. Many who approved of one part would disapprove of the other. Indeed, the Bill, taken altogether, was the greatest skeleton of a bill' he had ever seen. It would take six months in a committee to put flesh on its bones. It looked as if the hon. and learned Gentleman had put together all the marginal notes of a whole volume of statutes, and put them together without order or form. Such a bill he had never seen in that House, except it was a Poor-bill which the hon. and learned Gentleman himself had introduced some few years ago, and which, though he had been two years in preparing it, appeared such an abortion when laid on the Table of the House, that it was al- 105 most immediately withdrawn. The Bill before the House was full of absurdities and inconsistencies; he could mention several, but one or two would suffice. The Bill left to the King in Council the power to consolidate two shires in Wales as might be deemed necessary, and thus one sheriff was to act for the two—the sheriff acting in one county, and his sub-sheriff in the other. But he should be glad to know, if the King's writ were to be directed to the sheriff to return a Knight of the Shire for each county, how he was so to divide himself as to avoid the penalties which would fall on him for not attending to each as directed? Then, under this Bill, there was no way by which a person in Wales could levy a fine and suffer a recovery; so that all property would be at a stand-still in that country. On the whole he would say, that a greater jumble of incongruities he never saw put together in the shape of a bill; and if the question of the second reading was pressed at this late hour [nearly eleven o'clock, and when many Welsh members had left the House, not expecting that it would be brought on, he should feel it necessary to move the question of adjournment.
Mr. Secretary Peel
observed, that the opposition of his hon. friend to the Bill was certainly unfair. He raised objections to the measure, and then compared it to a measure on the Poor-laws which had been introduced by his hon. and learned friend some three or four years ago, with which, however, it had nothing whatever to do; and after having made a speech himself, he wished to prevent farther discussion by moving an adjournment. If his hon. friend had objections to parts of the Bill, the committee was the place to discuss them, and it would therefore be more proper to let the Bill go into committee, and discuss them there.
§ Mr. O'Connell
objected to the Bill, and the present was the proper time for making the objection, because it was too late an hour to enter upon the consideration of a measure of such importance There were parts of the Bill which had no connexion whatever with each other; one part relating to Wales, and the other to regulations at Westminster-hall. The appointment of the three Judges to the courts in Wales had no necessary connexion with the courts in Westminster; for if the business were equalized in the Courts of King's Bench, Common Pleas, and Exchequer, 106 there would be no need of any additional Judges. The Speech from the Throne promised legal reforms, and this Bill was the performance of that promise. He agreed, however, with the hon. member for Carmarthen, that it was an abortion, and that it diminished no expense, although it might remedy some delay. It was intended, indeed, to benefit no one but lawyers in first-rate practice. He objected to the Bill, also, because of its abolition of some parts of the Welsh jurisdiction,—for instance, the sending-up every Welshman to the Court of Chancery here, who had any equity business, was an inconvenience to the people of that country, to which they ought not to be subjected, and if the hon. Member did not move, under these circumstances, the adjournment of the House, he would.
§ The Order of the Day for the second reading was read.
§ Mr. T. P. Williams moved that the House do now adjourn.
The Attorney General
said, that if he postponed the Bill from to-night, he did not know on what night or day he could fix, and many Members expected that the Bill would be brought on to-night. The hon. and learned Gentleman who had shown so much zeal in defence of the Welsh judicature as to travel out of his way to make a personal attack on him, which certainly reflected very little credit on his good taste, had himself not pointed out any day on which the second reading could be fixed, if postponed from to-night. The fact was, the hon. and learned Gentleman wished to defeat the Bill altogether; but he might have taken a much more fair and manly course in meeting it on proper grounds. He had objected to the appointment of three Judges in Westminster-hall, as not connected with any alteration in the Welsh judicature, but their appointment would be rendered necessary by the removal of the eight Welsh Judges. He did not think the Bill perfect. He did not say it was so, but if the House would allow it to go into a committee, he had no doubt alterations could be made, which would remove every objection. He was quite ready to divide the Bill into two or three bills, if the House desired it; but even that could not be done until they went into committee. Under these circumstances he did not think it necessary to enter into the principle of the Bill, as he felt the House would not do the mea- 107 sure the injustice to consent to the learned Gentleman's proposal for adjournment, which was only intended to defeat the Bill in an unfair manner.
Mr. T. P. Williams
denied that his object in moving the adjournment was to defeat the Bill—his great objection at present was to the lateness of the hour at which it was brought forward.
Mr. F. Lewis
said, that as a Welsh Member he could not agree with the arguments of the other Welsh Members for the postponement of the measure. The House was now called upon to recognize the general principle of the Bill. As far as he had been able to ascertain the opinions of his constituents, they were willing to enter into the consideration of a measure founded on the allegation that it was desirable to make a change in the Welsh judicature; but then it was absolutely necessary that they should be informed what the proposed change was—what sort of judicature it was intended to introduce in lieu of that at present in existence. As the Bill at present stood, that could not be discovered. It was impossible that the measure could meet with their support unless the right hon. and learned Gentleman took an opportunity of stating the outline and detail of the measure which he intended to substitute for the present Welsh judicature. It was impossible to think of subverting the present administration of justice in Wales, and leaving that country exposed to the introduction of no one knew what in its place. Were the counties to be divided? To such a proposition many of the Welsh counties would object. That one which he had the honour to represent disliked parting with the Assize altogether. Let the plan, however, be distinctly explained to the House, and then only could it be fairly pronounced upon. That could only be done in the committee, when the details would be given, and it would depend upon them whether he supported or opposed the Bill.
was desirous, as a Member for a Welsh county, of saying a few words on the subject. He had no hesitation in declaring, that it was the decided opinion of the best-informed men, professional and unprofessional, in the county which he had the honour to represent, that the time had arrived, when an alteration ought to be made in the Welsh judicature, and when it ought to be assimilated to that of England. This was not a 108 party opinion; it was one which he had formed from a long and deliberate consideration of the subject. But if there were any one measure to which the Welsh were disinclined, it was that which had been proposed by the Law Commissioners, but their plan for dividing the counties, he believed, had been abandoned. There was another proposition which was considered quite as bad; he meant the consolidation with the English counties. To that there were great and serious objections. In the first place, most of the evidence by the lower classes of the people on criminal trials was given in Welsh. He knew that the disinclination of the people to give their evidence in English was attributed not to their ignorance of the language but to prejudice. He would put it, however, to any hon. Gentleman, however familiar with the French language, if he would like to give evidence in that language in France, in a case in which the life of a countryman was concerned? If this were a prejudice, it appeared to him that it was at least a prejudice that ought to be respected. Again, it was highly important that the juries should be Welsh, for an interpreter was a. very inadequate expedient in cases in which the precise meaning of a word or the turn of an expression might involve very serious consequences. That, of itself, was an insuperable objection to the consolidation of Welsh with English counties. He hoped, therefore, that when the Bill came into the committee the right hon. and learned Gentleman would withdraw that provision in it: otherwise he (Colonel Wood) should be under the necessity of taking the sense of the House as to the expediency of expunging the provision by which power was given to his Majesty's Council to consolidate any Welsh county with an English one. Having said this, he would now shortly call the attention of the House to the present state of the judicature in Wales. All admitted that it required amendment, and an amendment which involved the necessity for an Act of Parliament. Even those who advocated the retaining of the Welsh Judges, admitted the evil which resulted from the same judges constantly going the same circuit; and acknowledged that, after a course of years, they must become familiar with parties, or at least that the inhabitants would think that they had become so. That, therefore, was gene- 109 rally allowed to be objectionable. The hon. and learned member for Clare proposed to let the eight Welsh Judges be ambulatory every term, and to let them choose their circuits as the English Judges did. But did the hon. and learned member for Clare suppose, that the evil of allowing the Welsh Judges invariably to go the same circuit had not been before discovered, and that a similar remedy had not been before proposed? The fact was, that it was impracticable to adopt that remedy, because, as the Welsh judicature was one of Equity as well as Law, one Judge might, under such circumstances, hear the commencement of a case, while another was called upon to preside over its continuation, and a third to give judgment upon it when finished. The question also arose—who ought to be a Welsh Judge? Some said a practising barrister. To that it was objected, that merely by inserting fictitious names the opinion of a Welsh Judge, in his capacity of barrister, might in that case: be obtained on a cause upon which he would be subsequently required to give his opinion as a Judge. Then, again, there were no retiring pensions to the Welsh Judges: let their personal infirmities be ever so great, they must go on in their judicial capacity to the last. That was an evil which might be obviated by giving them retiring pensions. But would the House of Commons agree to give these retiring pensions, when they could get a better description of Judges by a cheaper process? The great object was, to let the people have cheap justice at their own doors. As the law at present stood, however, the opulent plaintiff had the power to remove a cause to the nearest English county, by laying the damages at above fifty pounds, and, thereby, to put the defendant to a great expense in transporting his witnesses, in some cases above a hundred miles. What he should have no objection to was this, viz., to leave it to his Majesty's Council to send an English Judge into each county town in the North, and another into each county town in South Wales; there to hold an assize as in Westminster-hall. To this it had been objected that there would be no Bar. It would be time enough to make an alteration on that subject whenever the complaint should be actually made. A special retainer might always be given for a special case. By some means or other he had no doubt that barristers would find, their way 110 into the courts in question, and that there would soon be enough of them. Of this he was perfectly satisfied, that, as far as his county was concerned, if an assize were held by an English Judge in every county town, all opposition to the measure would cease.
§ Mr. Harrison Batley
maintained, that it was extremely desirable that the administration of justice in England and Wales should be uniform, and that a measure to render it so should be no longer delayed.
§ Mr. E. Davenport
was favourable to the principle of the Bill, but was apprehensive that the benefits of it were more than counterpoised by the mischiefs which accompanied it. The hon. and learned Gentleman proposed to give Cheshire the advantage of the Judges of Westminster Hall. So far, Cheshire was extremely obliged to him. It was certainly most desirable to withdraw that rat-trap, the Chief-justice ship of Chester—an office which had been but too frequently the re- ward of a postacy and tergiversation. If, also, the Chief Justice of Chester proved to be worth his purchase, he soon left that post, while, on the other hand, if he turned out a dear bargain, he remained in it for life. One point, however, seemed to him to require explanation. There were three Counties Palatine—Chester, Lancaster, and Durham—placed under nearly the same circumstances; and yet it was proposed to continue their courts to Lancaster and Durham, and to withdraw those of Chester. He wished the hon. and learned Gentleman would show some reason for this. He would not then press upon the House by detailing the privileges of which it was thus proposed exclusively to deprive the County Palatine of Chester; but they were very important; and yet, without the slightest reason assigned, it was proposed to abrogate them; and to substitute expensive and dilatory law at a distance, for cheap and prompt law near at hand. This would be a serious inconvenience; and he trusted that the hon. and learned Gentle- man would allow the County Palatine of Chester, like the other Counties Palatine, to be excused from the operation of his Bill. The petitions, which would presently pour in thickly, would sufficiently apprise him of the general feeling on the subject.
§ Mr. Jones
was not desirous of any unnecessary delay in the consideration of the measure: when he proposed the adjournment, it was far from being with any 111 such view. He had clone so because some hon. Members had gone away who wished to speak on the subject, and because it had been declared too late to bring forward other business, to which the present question did not appear to him to yield in importance. If, however, the House was disposed to go into the discussion, he for one was perfectly ready; but he must protest—[It was here suggested to the hon. and learned Gentleman, that the motion before the House was only to read the Order of the Day.—The Order of the Day was accordingly read.]
§ The Attorney-general moved, "That the Bill be read a second time."
§ Mr. Jones
resumed—the hon. member for Brecon had talked of the practicability of removing a case to the nearest county. That, however, could not be done without a writ of certiorari; and there had been repeated instances in which the application for such a writ had been refused. Even lately an application had been made to the Lord Chancellor, in a case relating to land, which the Chancellor dismissed, on the ground that the question could be-equally well tried in Carmarthen. He considered the time which had been chosen for bringing in the present Bill extremely improper. The Law Commissioners had conceded that the practice of the Courts at Westminster Hall required complete reform. Surely that reform ought first to be effected, before the English practice, "with all its imperfections on its head," was introduced into Wales. There was another curious point. By the annihilation of the existing Courts in Wales, a great many compensations would be rendered necessary. Now the first step ought to have been to bring in a bill for the purpose of granting those compensations. That had not been done. If the present Bill passed, therefore, many persons who had purchased their places would be deprived of them, and would be thrown on the generosity of the Legislature. He had heard the amount of those compensations estimated at a hundred thousand pounds. Was the principle which it was proposed to adopt worth so large a sum? As to the superior advantages of the English mode of judicature, he was at a loss to perceive them. He had heard a great deal on that point; but it was entirely assertion. Two committees of that House had investigated the subject. Now, with all due deference to the learned Law Commission, he must say, 112 that they had not opportunities of obtaining information equal to those which had been enjoyed by the committees. The latter examined witnesses—the former merely proposed queries in writing, to which they obtained answers. Of the treatment of the learned commissioners he had a right to complain in common with others. Fifty queries had been sent to him by the learned commissioners, to which queries he had answered to the best of his judgment, and so much to their satisfaction, apparently, that they sent him a letter of thanks, and fifty more queries, which he answered also. He had not sought the commissioners—they had sought him. What was his surprise, therefore, to find that in the report of the learned commissioners, because he and others differed in opinion from the commissioners, they were described as being either prejudiced or self-interested. If he were so disposed, he might easily retaliate. He might observe, that two of the commissioners were Serjeants at Law, and therefore, that they were interested, because they wished the monopoly of the Common Pleas to be kept up.—He might observe, that others of the commission were interested; because, being on the Northern Circuit, they retained in their Report some of the best towns on that circuit. The fact, however, was, that these learned commissioners were ignorant of all which respected the Principality of Wales. Some of them had never been in Wales; none of them had ever been in a Welsh Court. He found in the Report of these learned Commissioners a memorial, said to be signed by the principal inhabitants of the county of Cardigan. The number of signatures was twenty-three.—Among them he did not find his hon. friend, the representative of the county; he did not find other principal inhabitants; he found the names of four respectable persons, but there were 100 as respectable in the county. But he also found the names of seventeen persons, who were merely fanners and landholders, and whom the learned commissioners, nevertheless, held out as the principal inhabitants of the county. To the memorial from Carmarthen there were the names of five or six persons sent up by the agent of Lord Cawdor; with the remark, that but for the necessity of haste, thousands would have come. When, however, a county meeting was held, only seventeen, hands were held up against the 113 petition praying that the proposed abolition of the Welsh Judicature might not be adopted. It was admitted that many parts of the Welsh Judicature were better than the corresponding parts of the English system; and it was said, therefore, let the excellencies of the Welsh Judicature be introduced into the English. He, however, wished to see those excellencies brought into use before the Welsh Judicature should be annihilated. What was to become of the records of Wales, the very props of property in that country? If the present officers were dismissed without remuneration, they, of course, would no longer attend to their preservation. It would also be a great hardship on a prisoner to be removed fifty or sixty miles farther than he was at present obliged to go, and to be tried at a great distance from all his connexions and witnesses. At present, a Welsh suitor could get a judgment signed the instant it was delivered, and as the action might be commenced three weeks before the assizes, all his trouble and anxiety were over before two steps could be taken at Westminster Hall. The cheapness, too, of the Welsh Courts, might be envied by the people of England. Only last year, a sum of 13,000l. was recovered in Carmarthenshire at the expense of 5l, while, at the very lowest, it would have cost 40l. in Westminster Hall. An action begun in London in Easter Term, could not obtain a judgment before September or November, leaving a dishonest man at liberty all that time to dispose of his property and make off. He did not expect either, like some Gentlemen, to sec a bar follow this Bill into Wales. The rich might carry down a clever barrister, by a special retainer, but that privilege would necessarily be denied to the poor man. Fines and recoveries also were at present levied and suffered before the Judge of the Great Session—that was very convenient; that would be abolished by the present measure, which substituted no equally convenient contrivance in its stead. With the exception, he believed, of two counties, there had been no petitions from Wales in favour of the Bill; and one of them was from a few persons only, constituting the Grand Jury of one county. He trusted that Ministers would not, therefore, force upon the people of Wales an alteration which they heartily disliked. "It is never prudent," said some wise counsellors to Cromwell," to make needless alterations; because we are 114 already acquainted with the consequences of known establishments, and ancient forms; but new methods of administration may produce evils, which the most prudent cannot foresee, nor the most diligent rectify; but least of all, are such changes to be made as draw after them endless alterations, and extend their effects through the whole frame of Government. Long prescription is a sufficient argument in favour of a practice against which nothing can be alleged. Nor is it sufficient to affirm that the change can be made without inconvenience, for change itself is an evil, and ought to be balanced by some equivalent advantage, for bad consequences may arise, though we do not expect them." He trusted that Ministers would comply with that advice, and endeavour to ascertain all the changes which would necessarily follow from their Bill, before they attempted to carry it into effect. At least, he hoped that the present Bill would not be forced upon Wales as a boon, and that Ministers would pause before they annihilated the Welsh judicature.
§ Mr. C. Wynn
did not mean to follow the last speaker through all the details he had gone into, which he thought would form a fitter subject for discussion in the committee. Of the principle of the Bill, he completely approved, though he should wish to have a full explanation of the manner 'in which the Attorney General meant to carry it into effect. The principle was, to complete the union between England and Wales, and give to Wales the benefit of English judicature. At present it was impossible to obtain Welsh Judges without paying them salaries far exceeding the duties they performed. They only executed their offices three weeks in summer, and three weeks in autumn, and for this duty they were paid their whole annual salary, the country deriving no other advantage from them but the little duty they performed in those six weeks. Now he thought, that the only way to make a Judge efficient was, to give him constant employment; for unless he had constant employment, he was likely to forget whatever legal knowledge he might once have possessed. What his hon. friend (Colonel Wood) had said about the power of a rich suitor instituting his cause in one of the Courts of Westminster, had been completely misunderstood. His hon. friend did not mean that the suitor could remove his cause to 115 the Courts in Westminster after it had begun to be heard in Wales, but that he could, if he chose, commence his action at once at Westminster. The hon. Member concluded by saying, that the Bill had been drawn up hastily, and that more time was necessary for its consideration. He, however, thought that the Bill ought to be allowed to pass the present stage, because it was on every hand admitted, that the appointment of the Welsh Judges should not be made in the manner it now was.
§ Mr. Rice Trevor
said, there were obviously great inaccuracies in the Bill before the House; and perhaps it would hereafter assume a very different shape; but he was bound to deal with the Bill as it stood, and so dealing with it, he must declare that he had insurmountable objections to it. It was said, that it was impossible to have three new Judges added to the twelve in Westminster Hall, unless the Welsh Judicature were given up, and so it was to be sacrificed for that change; but he could assure the House that the Principality did not think the change any benefit. It was then stated, that Wales could not, under the present system, have Judges such as she ought to have; but he begged to refer the House to the list of eminent Judges who had distinguished that country, and he would then ask if that assertion was true, If the Government chose to exert itself to find men competent to fill the situation of Welsh Judges, he had no doubt it would find, among the rising members of the bar, a sufficient number of individuals of talent to fill those situations. The removal of the Courts of Judicature would be a great inconvenience and additional expense to all parties concerned in law proceedings. The commissioners said, in their Report, that those who had local interests were not to be chiefly consulted; but if the House were legislating for Yorkshire or Kent, would it not appeal to the members for those counties? He was not one of those who thought very cheap law likely to be beneficial, particularly to the Welsh, who were very litigious; but certainly it ought not to be too dear, nor ought such impediments to be thrown in the way of administering justice, as to give the rich a monopoly of the Courts. Even the cost of letters backwards and forwards, between Wales and Westminster Hall would be found no inconsiderable expense—not 116 much less, probably, than the cost of a suit in the Welsh Courts. Additional expense also would be caused, both to the petty and grand jurors, while the latter would probably lose the opportunity they now possessed to consult over matters that might be useful to their country. He felt himself bound to press these matters, even at that late hour, because they had all been insisted on in a petition he had lately presented to the House. He would not then, however, enter further into the subject; he would only express his hope, that the idea of cutting up or consolidating the Welsh counties, for the apprehension of that had given rise to much hostility towards the present Bill, would be given up.
The Attorney General
could not help admitting that the Bill, in its present state, was very imperfect, but this imperfection arose from the mistake of the printers. Corrections had been made in the margin of the draft of the Bill, which the printer had forgotten to attend to. His design was, to have the Bill read a second time to-night, and to go into a Committee fro forma. He would wish the principles to be discussed when the Bill should be recommitted; and on that occasion he would only state sufficient to prevent the object he had in view from being misunderstood, which was, to put the administration of justice in both countries on the same footing; to allow the Judges of the superior courts to administer justice in Wales, and to make the. King's writs travel there as widely as the wants of the population required them. That was the great object of the Bill, and the collateral regulations it contained were calculated to promote, not retard, the attainment of the principal object. It was perhaps natural that those who thought that multiplying the instruments of justice in every town was the best way to carry justice home to every man's door, should oppose the Bill. He could easily imagine, when it was proposed to make the metropolis the great centre of the administration of justice, whence circuits should proceed over the whole kingdom, administering justice on one uniform principle, that those who liked local jurisdictions, and were attached to the ancient system which existed in the Welsh counties, would be hostile to the alteration. In fact, they were so much attached to their own views, that they proposed to make the English system 117 assimilate to the Welsh. He, however, wished to combine the system, as he proposed to do in the Bill. He wished to abrogate a number of separate jurisdictions, to have a new circuit, and to make such alterations as would make the administration of justice uniform. He proposed, among other things, to abridge the interval between the different terms, so as to afford means more rapidly to despatch causes. Some Gentlemen wished that the Bill should be divided into two parts, one declaratory of the principle, the other regulating the details, and at first that was his own view; but on further contemplating the subject, he found so much difficulty in separating one part from the other that he preferred uniting both into one measure. One hon. and learned Member said, the Bill was intended only to accommodate the Judges; but he knew no bill in which the Judges were less personally considered. It imposed on them more duly than ever was imposed on them, either by the injunctions of the law, or the practice of the Courts. It would abridge their vacation between Hilary and Michaelmas Terms, and between Trinity and Easter Terms, several days, so that they would have to perform their functions from November to the end of August, or the beginning of September, with no other vacation than a few days in December and the month of October. The hon. member for Carmarthen had attempted to undervalue the measure by saying that it was supported by nothing but the recommendations of the commissioners; but he really could not see that the force of that argument applied against the Bill. For who were these commissioners? They were gentlemen of the greatest learning in their profession, without the slightest tincture of partiality, and able to conduct such an inquiry to a correct conclusion. The House, must decide whether or not it would take the recommendations of such men for their guide. The hon. and learned Member, however, assured the House, that the great mass of the population of Wales was in favour of retaining their present Courts; but his own impression was, that the majority of the intelligent part of the people of the Principality were in favour of some alteration. They might differ as to what the alteration ought to be, and therefore the House, having no guide in the different opinions of the people, must determine whether or not it 118 would follow the recommendation, of the commissioners. The praise which had been bestowed on the process of levying fines and suffering recoveries in the Welsh counties was, in his opinion, rather misplaced; for a simpler and shorter method of proceeding was adopted in the Court of Common Pleas, and suitors he was sure, would derive great benefit from the change. He admitted that the Bill at present provided no place for keeping records, but that omission might be supplied, and means taken both to preserve them, and give all parties interested a ready access to them. Objections had been taken to the Bill because it did not provide compensation for those whose interests or rights might be injured by it; but to those objections he would reply, that the principle of the Bill did not go to that object. This must be provided for by some other measure; and he was willing to admit that means ought to be devised to-remunerate those who had a freehold in their offices, as had been done on former and similar occasions. The Bill did not regulate the appointment of Sheriffs, as some hon. Members seemed to suppose, but it provided for the incorporation of Welsh counties to form an Assise. It had been said, however, that if three counties were thus incorporated, there would be only one Sheriff, and what then, it was asked, would be done at an election, when Members wore to be returned for different counties? To this he replied, that the counties of Cambridge and Huntingdon had only one Sheriff, and yet two elections were often held in them, and by a very simple process. The Sheriff sent his deputy to preside at one hustings, while he himself superintended the business at the other: the same might be done in Wales. The sheriff might have two or throe deputies, or under-sheriffs, and as they were now generally professional men, they would be more competent to the performance of such duties than the Sheriffs themselves. It had also been objected to the Bill, that it would cause a considerable increase of trouble to grand and petty jurors, who would have to travel a considerable distance to the Assize town. This objection was perhaps unfounded. As the law formerly stood, each county had to furnish twenty-one gentlemen to act as grand jurors; but by the Bill, that number would be supplied by three counties, so that only seven would 119 come from each county. The labour would, therefore, be diminished, not increased. There would also be another advantage. At present it was sometimes difficult to find a proper person to fill the office of High Sheriff in the small counties, and by having three counties to select from, the chances of obtaining a proper person to fill this important office, would be multiplied. He knew that no changes could be made, even with a view to attain some practical good, without suffering some inconvenience; and being desirous to make the Bill as satisfactory as possible to all parties, he should propose, after the Bill had been committed, that it should be re-committed, and printed with all the details, and proposed alterations, in order to give ample time to discuss every clause. When that was done, he was persuaded that many of the difficulties now in the way of the Bill would be obviated, and then he hoped he should have the good fortune to convince Gentlemen of its justice and its advantages, and obtain their support. It had been asked, why should not each county have its Great Sessions; but he might ask, why should each district be subject to a different jurisdiction, regulated by different rules? In the County Palatine of Chester there is a Court of Chancery; but in twenty-five years, only four causes had been brought before that Court; and the learned Judge who presided in it was quite free from those reproaches concerning an accumulation of business which were heaped on other courts of Equity. The great argument in favour of these local tribunals was their antiquity; which was, he admitted, a venerable authority; but not always conclusive in matters of government and legislation, in which changes of circumstances frequently compelled alterations. He was aware that each Assize town derived some benefit from the Assizes being held in it; in Lancaster, for example, which was perhaps the most inconvenient town for holding the Assizes in all Lancashire, there were many persons who would object to another town being selected, because they would suffer by the change, though the whole county would be benefited. Thus a complaint had been made by the people of Anglesey against the removal of the local jurisdiction from their town, which would lessen their business a little. In four years, however, there had been only three causes 120 tried in Anglesey, so that it was plain that these complaints were not dictated by any views of the public interest, but of private advantage. Such complaints therefore ought not to have much weight with the Legislature, when they were directed against a measure which promised to be of great benefit to the public: at all events, he hoped that the Bill might be read a second time, and he should be ready in the committee to make the details as palatable as possible consistently with preserving, the great principle of the measure, that of regulating the administration of justice on one uniform principle throughout the country.
Sir John Owen
could assure the hon. and learned Gentleman, that the sense of the majority of the inhabitants of the Principality was against his proposed measure; and he could also assure him that the advantage he expected to obtain in the nomination of proper persons to serve the office of Sheriff, would be of trifling moment, for at present there was no difficulty in procuring gentlemen of character and suitable station to serve that high office.
The Attorney General
said, he knew that many persons were of opinion that arrests for debt should not take place for small sums, but he had not included the clause his hon. friend alluded to in this Bill. He had refrained from doing so, not as objecting to the principle it involved, but in consequence of some communications with gentlemen out of doors. A suggestion had also been thrown out, which he thought deserved attention, as it might prevent individuals from resisting the payment of just debts; that was, to make debts bear a legal interest. A clause he thought might be drawn to protect creditors against vexatious opposition; but whether or not he should introduce any general measure on this subject during the Session, must depend on the state of business in the House.
rose merely to defend the Law Commissioners from the charge 121 which the hon. member for Carmarthen had, he was convinced, under some misapprehension of their Report, made against them. That hon. Member had remarked, that in laying out the plan of new circuits, those learned persons, who were chiefly attached to the Northern Circuit, had taken great care to keep all the great towns in that Circuit. Now this was altogether erroneous, for they had actually recommended that either Liverpool or Manchester should be taken from it. The Commissioners certainly had not consulted the convenience or the profit of the profession, for they had proposed that the Assizes for the county of York should be held both at Wake field and York; and that the Assizes for Lancashire should also be held at two places, thus materially augmenting the trouble of the Bar, without adding to its emoluments. The commissioners had also recommended an alteration of the Terms. The interval between Michaelmas and Hilary Terms at present generally extended from December 24th to January 23rd, and this interval the commissioners recommended should be reduced to ten days. They also recommended that the intervals between the other Terms should be shortened, leaving to the Judges, and to all professional men, barely time enough to keep up their knowledge of the law, to read the reports of cases which had been decided in courts where they do not practise, or at which they had not been able to attend. It was impossible for any man to do that with but three weeks vacation in the whole year. His last vacation was only three weeks, and he believed no gentleman who went the Northern Circuit ever had a longer time than that for relaxation, and for studying: business usually commenced about the 18th of October one year, and continued till the 20th of September the following year; and the interval between those periods was the only time allowed to recover from the fatigues of an arduous and laborious profession. If that system be continued, professional men must necessarily abandon every other species of literature, every other kind of learning; lawyers would do nothing from year's end to year's end but draw pleas, and address juries; and would be not very competent to fill the high office of Judge; though it was from them alone the Judges could be selected. With respect to the Bill, it had his entire concurrence—and seeing in it nothing at all in- 122 consistent with the plan he should shortly submit to the House, to bring home justice to every man's door, he should give it his support.
§ Mr. O'Connell
thought this a piebald, patched-up measure, which would do no good whatever. Me objected to it on the very ground that the Attorney General supported it. He approved of local jurisdictions, and thought it was a great evil to have all law and all justice confined to Westminster Hall.
§ Bill read a second time.