HC Deb 15 December 1831 vol 9 cc251-3
Mr. Spence

presented a Petition from Joseph Harrington, a Suitor in the Court of Chancery, complaining of the practice and proceedings in the Master's Office. The hon. Member stated, that the petitioner was interested in a will which was the subject of a dispute in the Court of Chancery. The result of the suit, was an Attorney's bill for costs to the amount of no less a sum than 7,000l. The petitioner had paid a part of this bill, which part he considered the whole amount fairly due: but he had been advised that, if he objected to the amount charged, his only remedy was to have the bill of costs taxed. Upon inquiry, however, the petitioner discovered that the costs of taxation would amount to no less a sum than 1,500l.; and the petition set forth the various items which went to make up that sum. Unfortunately this case was not altogether unparalleled in the annals of the Court of Chancery. Only a short time since, a case came before the Master of the Rolls, in which the Brewers' Company were parties. The bill was filed to recover 500l., and the question afterwards arose, who was to pay the costs amounting to 900l. He (Mr. Spence) should consider himself called upon to dwell more on cases of so much enormity, but that he knew there was now the prospect of a speedy and effectual reform of those crying abuses. He was authorised to state, and indeed might state from his own knowledge, that one or more bills would be introduced shortly after the recess, either in that or the other House of Parliament, which he believed would effectually remedy the abuses in the Master's Office. Under these circumstances he did not consider himself called upon to dwell longer on the case detailed in the petition.

Mr. Daniel W. Harvey

congratulated the House on the information just communicated, that a remedy was contemplated for the crying abuses of the Court of Chancery. He suggested that the taxation of costs in that Court should not be left to the Masters, who were Judges with salaries, amounting to 4,000l. or 5,000l. a-year, and ought to be better employed, but that an officer should be appointed, with a salary of 1,000l. whose exclusive duty it should be, to tax the Solicitors' costs. There was another point well worthy of consideration. At least forty per cent, or 3,000l. out of the bill of costs of 7,000l. referred to in the petition, he had no doubt, was expended by the Solicitor in fees to Counsel. Now, if a Solicitor was overpaid, upon the taxation he was compelled to return the amount so overpaid; but, according to the practice of the profession, the Counsel kept whatever they were paid, and were generally paid before they worked. In his opinion, the party ought to be enabled to demand and enforce restitution of all fees improperly paid to Counsel, upon the certificate of the taxing officer. He was happy, however, to believe that the subject was now in the hands of those who would remedy it, and no greater benefit could be conferred on the public, than to make the Courts of Equity equitable themselves.

Mr. Spence

said, the remedy for the abuse of which the hon. member for Colchester (Mr. Harvey) complained, was, to a certain extent, in the hands of that branch of the profession to which the hon. Member belonged. He admitted, however, that the practice of disallowing the fees paid to Counsel on consultations was excessively ridiculous, and called for some remedy, which he had no doubt would now be applied to it.

Mr. William Brougham

was happy to be able to corroborate the statement of his hon. and learned friend, that one or more bills would shortly be introduced, for the purpose of remedying the abuse of the Court of Chancery. The question of costs required, and had obtained, the most attentive consideration. He agreed with the hon. member for Colchester, that the Masters' time ought not to be wasted in taxing costs.

Mr. Hunt

said, that the House had just heard a Counsel, a Solicitor, and a Master in Chancery, but he hoped none of these had any thing to do with drawing up the bills which were about to be introduced; for if they had, he (Mr. Hunt) feared the poor client would remain where he was.

The Petition to be printed.

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