HC Deb 10 November 1830 vol 1 cc359-64
Mr. Brougham

said, that before he sat down, he felt compelled to advert to another topic, which was, however, connected with the measure before the House. He believed there was not a single day during the Session, or during the Recess, or during the long vacation since February 1810—when he first entered that House— in which a breach of privilege had not been committed towards the person of the individual who then addressed them. Never, however, was he induced to complain except once—and that rather to oblige a noble person, then in the other House, than from any feeling of his own. An exceedingly offensive expression had been falsely attributed to this individual by the editor of a newspaper, contrary to the report in another part of his paper, and the noble Lord was anxious he (Mr. Brougham) should give him the opportunity of contradicting it, otherwise he would have suffered even that to pass unnoticed; but when there was an attempt made, by threatening letters, to deter a Member of Parliament from doing his duty, he considered himself bound to protest against it. He trusted that it would not be necessary for him to allude to the subject again; but that what he had now to say would operate as a lesson and a warning. He believed the persons who had evinced hostility to him were led on by a false feeling of Corporation-honour, and it was as well to advise them at once not "to lay the flattering unction to their souls" that he would be prevented by a combination of all the attorneys in Christendom, or any apprehensions of loss of practice, from endeavouring to make justice pure and cheap. These gentlemen, when they attacked him, were much mistaken if they thought he would die without defending himself. If the struggle arose, the question would be, whether barristers or attorneys should prevail; and he saw no reason why barristers should not open their doors to clients without the intervention of attorneys and their long bills of costs. He would not be the first to do this; but if he discovered that there was a combination against him, he decidedly would throw himself upon his clients— upon the country gentlemen, the merchants and manufacturers—and if he did not, with the help of that House, beat those leagued against him, he should be more surprised at it than at any misadventure of his life. Several respectable professional gentlemen had called upon him to tell him the meaning of the letter which he held in his hand, but that was unnecessary, for the meaning of it was evident enough. It was supposed, he understood, that he had denied the respectability of solicitors; but this supposition was altogether erroneous; he had done no such thing: he had merely said, that there were malpractices among some solicitors, and in the same sentence in which he had said that, he had said also that there were malpractices among some barristers; but he did not mean, nor could any one, he thought, who had heard him, suppose he did mean, to deny the respectability of either branch of the profession. If this error were removed, there would remain no other ground for combination against him, except that he was endeavouring to make law cheap; and solicitors were very much mistaken if they supposed that it was against their interest to enable men to get law cheap. The word "presume" in his bill, which he understood gave much offence, was to be found as the term used in the old Acts of Parliament. In saying, therefore, "if any attorney should presume," he meant no offence, and would have no objection to change it. He felt that the fact of the attorneys being against it would be a great help to his measure. As for any combination against himself, he cared not for it, but he trusted what he now said would be sufficient. He had received a letter which was not to be misunderstood by a lawyer, though the words were rather vague [Several Members called "read, read."] He said he had rather not read it, because it was signed by an individual whose name he did not think it necessary to mention. Suffice it to say, that he was told the attorneys would take every occasion in their power of marking their sense (these words were underlined) of such conduct. The letter, he understood, was a circular.

Sir Robert Peel

agreed to the Bill's passing through the same stages as last Session, reserving to himself the right of opposing any part of it he thought exceptionable at a future period. He cordially approved of the Bill so far as it related to the facilitating the recovery of small debts; and if, on account of objections to other parts of the Bill, it was ultimately rejected, he would be happy to originate or support a measure which should have in view the object of which he so highly approved.

Mr. Campbell

also approved of the facilitating the recovery of small debts; but he thought the Bill went too far. He would not then, however, state his objections. With respect to the threats held out against the hon. and learned Gentleman, with his profound and varied learning, and his brilliant eloquence, he might defy any combination.

Mr. Tennant

declared he would oppose the Bill. He would not then enter into details, he would only say, that the Bill would make a very great alteration in our Courts, and in the whole administration of justice, and would, he believed, add very much to the expenses of the country.

Mr. Tennyson

approved of the Bill, but wished that the House should come to an early decision, as the plan for the recovery of small debts, involved in it, was of great importance.

Mr. O' Connell

was the friend of cheap justice. He wished Mr. Brougham had turned his powerful mind to the general system, and made a thorough reform, carrying cheap justice home to every man's door. He would also repeat his wish that there was a code, for without that there would be no certainty in the law.

Mr. Brougham

disclaimed any intention of pulling down the judicial establishments of the country. On the contrary, he wished much of them to be preserved; and all he desired was, to reform those abuses which, whether introduced by the change of circumstances, or by defects in the original formation of these establishments, were now found united with them. He contended that his plan was not expensive, except at first starting, but that after it had been once established, the fees would more than pay the expenses. The small Courts in Scotland showed the correctness of this assertion. Now he was upon this subject, he wished to make one observation on an Essay published concerning him and his plans, written in a dialect of our language, which left no man at liberty to mistake the author—a most esteemed and valued and venerable friend of his—and in which he was accused, in direct and unmeasured terms—in terms of vituperation and abuse, that he certainly never expected from such an excellent and venerable person, and that went to charge him with being not only a mock reformer of the laws, but an opponent of all reforms— a person influenced by corrupt motives, and a dangerous enemy to the good of the State. The proof of such a charge was this, and a most curious proof it was:—that although the reforms he proposed might effect a present reduction of the expenses of litigation, yet that, in a few years, the amount of litigation would be so much increased, that the profits of the lawyers would be proportionally augmented. Now with respect to that argument, he would merely say, that whereas in the Circuit which he had now the honour to attend, there had been at the last assizes ninety-seven causes in a particular county, eighty-six of which would certainly have been cut off by his plan; he was so little influenced by corrupt motives, that he wished his plan to be adopted, though it would thus cut off eight-ninths of his business. The other party, however, admitted that consequence to be true, but said, that he expected a still greater increase at the expiration of a few years. He would only answer this by observing, that lawyers were not generally (especially those lawyers who, like him, were approaching the close of their career) men who, with the simplicity of the dog in the fable, in order to grasp at a shadow that seemed larger, quitted their hold of the substance they possessed. He made these remarks not in anger (for he esteemed and valued the author of the Essay too much, and held the charge itself too lightly to be angry), but with a view to show how little foundation there was for it. He did not think that any answer whatever had been made to the plan he proposed.

Mr. Bruce

said, that three new Judges were about to be appointed, but if the plan of his hon. and learned friend were adopted, a great part of the business of the Courts would apparently be taken away, and then, he wished to know, where would be the necessity for their appointment?

Mr. Brougham

answered, that two or three years at least must intervene before the change he proposed could produce all the effects he wished; and when it did, the only thing necessary was, for the Ministers to leave the vacancies on the Bench unfilled. He wished to take this opportunity of asking the right hon. Secretary for the Home Department why one appointment had been made in the Exchequer, at the expense of depriving the Court of King's Bench of a most amiable and excellent man, and a most learned and admirable Judge?

Sir Robert Peel

said, that a part of the plan of the law reforms, was to equalize the fees of the Courts, and thus, as far as possible, to equalize the business of the Exchequer with that of the other Courts.

Mr. Brougham

replied, that the equalization of fees never would produce such an effect. Under present circumstances, to which he need do no more than barely allude, business would not be driven into the Exchequer.

Motion agreed to, and Bill brought in.