HC Deb 17 July 1832 vol 14 cc499-503
Mr. Harvey

said, he felt great pleasure at an intimation which he had received, that it was not the intention of Ministers to oppose the Motion of which he had given notice. He should, therefore, spare the time of the House, feeling confident, that if any hon. Member should oppose it, he would be allowed the privilege of reply. The hon. Member then moved, that—"An Address be presented to his Majesty, that he will be graciously pleased to direct the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the state and practice of the Law, to examine into the course of proceedings before the Benchers and Visitors of Lincoln's Inn, Inner Temple, Middle Temple, and Gray's Inn, upon the application of persons seeking to become students thereof, or to be called to the Bar, and to report the evidence thereon, with any special circumstances, to this House,"

Mr. Hume

seconded the Motion.

Mr. O'Connell

was desirous of knowing from the hon. member for Colchester, whether the facts stated, relative to the refusal by the Benchers to hear Mr. Youngman, Mr. Rixon, and Mr. Reeves, were correct, or the contrary. These gentlemen had offered to prove to the Benchers the erroneous ground upon which they had proceeded, in the case of Mr. Harvey.

The Attorney General

said, that as the Motion was now put on a general ground, and as he knew what was the feeling of the House on the former discussion, he should not oppose it. He wished the question to go fairly and unembarrassed before the Crown, and he, therefore, recommended that no further discussion should now take place. He thought it but fair to add, that the leading members of the Bar thought that the power of altogether excluding men from being admitted to an Inn of Court, with a view of being called to the Bar should undergo some examination.

Sir Charles Wetherell

asserted, that he had never heard a case in which the Benchers of any of the four Inns of Court had been guilty of abusing the power with which they were intrusted. He thought the power ought to be left, as at present, in their hands. They were in the same situation as heads of Colleges, whom it would be most improper to compel to receive students; or Bishops, who ought not to be compelled to institute; or the College of Physicians, or of Surgeons He must say, that he was surprised that the Ministers should concede this Motion; and, as he thought the Benchers ought not to be deprived of their power, he should divide the House on the question.

Lord Althorp

said, there could be no doubt there must be a discretion somewhere, to admit or reject a candidate for the Bar. In the same manner there must also be a discretion after his admission, in the calling or refusing to call a gentleman to the Bar. The Motion, however, did not go to take away the discretion, but to inquire whether any improper restrictions existed with regard to admission to the Inns, and calling to the Bar. He thought the cases which had been compared to this, were by no means analogous, and he agreed with his hon. and learned friend that the feeling of the House on the former occasion was decidedly in favour of an inquiry of this sort. He should, therefore, offer the Motion no opposition.

Sir Francis Burdett

thought, that the question was one of a very simple kind. There was no need of citing cases, or making comparisons. The question was not, whether the rights now claimed were germane to others, but whether they were germane to common sense. At present, the Judges had nothing to do with the matter, and that was the thing objected to, and which it was the aim of this Motion to remove, and in that manner to provide that no man should be condemned unheard. He asserted that there had been cases in which the Benchers had been guilty of abuse; and, without going further, he would mention the case of his intimate friend John Home Tooke. That was a case in which the greatest possible talent, and the most unspotted integrity of character, availed their possessor nothing against the capricious exercise of the power of a few individuals, who had endeavoured thus to extinguish talent that might have been most advantageously exercised in an honourable and lucrative profession. There had besides been a case that recently occurred, in which the power of the Benchers had been abused. It was against all common sense and common justice that such an arbitrary and irresponsible power should be vested in any set of men; he, therefore, wished to see the subject examined into. He should give his support to the Motion.

Mr. Pollock

thought the hon. Baronet was wrong in attempting thus to introduce a premature discussion on the subject. He himself was a Bencher of one of the Inns of Court; and he took that opportunity of stating that, in his opinion, an inquiry ought to be instituted, and that part of the present practice ought to be corrected. That part related to the power of refusing to admit to the Inns of Court. He did not understand why any one should be kept from becoming a Member of one of these voluntary societies, without having any power whatever to make an appeal against the decision that excluded him. When an individual was once admitted, and was then prevented from being called to the Bar, the Judges had the power to do so, and would give him a fair hearing. That part of the practice, therefore, might be left as it now was. The other, he thought, should be altered. Under these circumstances he hoped it would not go forth to the world that there existed in the Inns of Court practices that were dishonourable, or a course of conduct that was tyrannical. With regard to the case of Horne Tooke, he could inform the hon. Baronet, that the reason why that Gentleman was refused to be called to the Bar was, that he was at the time a clergyman, or person in priest's orders, and was, as such, incompetent to be called to the Bar.

Mr. John Campbell

said, with reference to the second case alluded to by the hon. Baronet, he was ready to acknowledge that the refusal to admit in this case was one of which he could not approve. In a free country, every one of a fair character ought to have a right to be admitted; and the practice of excluding him without hearing, and without appeal, was one which ought not to be endured for a moment. He opposed the Motion, because he thought it unnecessary, since the grievance complained of was already well known; but if any one would bring in a Bill to remove that grievance, it should have his cordial support.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

was strongly in favour of the Motion. He took the same view of the subject as the hon. Baronet. In reply to the observation that the Benchers had never abused their power, he begged to refer not only to the individual cases which had already been mentioned, but to a general resolution passed by the Inns of Court, that no Gentleman who had been connected with the Press should be admitted in order to be called to the Bar. Was not that a piece of tyranny? He approved of that part of the present practice which referred the refusal to call to the Bar to the consideration of the Judges; and he should certainly support the Motion for inquiry as to the other part.

Sir Charles Wetherell

said, that the hon. and learned Gentleman had stated that the Inns of Court had passed a resolution, declaring that no one who had been connected with the Press should be called to the Bar. He could only say, that the Inn of Court to which he had the honour to belong (the Inner Temple), had never to his knowledge passed any such Resolution.

The Attorney General

observed, that as the parties who did so were all dead, and there was no question now of any acrimonious or personal feeling, but of a mere matter of fact, he thought himself at liberty to say that many years ago such a Resolution was passed at Lincoln's Inn, and had been mentioned in that House by his hon. and learned friend Mr. Stephen.

Mr. James L. Knight

would not have spoken but for the tone of the hon. Baronet, a tone which was not at all warranted by the facts. It was quite clear that the Motion must be amended; and in order, then, to accomplish the end in view, a new Commission must be issued under the Great Seal. He denied that the power of the Benchers was capricious, or that it had been tyrannically exercised. It belonged to the highest authorities of the law—men of rank and character—and under it the Bar had always flourished; and the most learned Judges had thence been drawn to dispense the law of the land. If a young man applied to be admitted a student and was refused at one Inn, he might resort to a second, to a third, and even to a fourth; and if, after having remained the usual time a student, he wished to be called to the Bar, and the privilege were refused, he had his remedy in an appeal to the fifteen Judges.

Colonel Evans rejoiced

to find, that there was now a prospect that the matter would be brought to a satisfactory conclusion. He gave his hearty support to the Motion.

Mr. Hunt

hoped that ultimately a Bill would be brought in to remedy the abuse, for abuse it must be called, when under it such men as Horne Tooke, Wooler, and Mr. Whittle Harvey had been rejected.

Mr. Goulburn

was of opinion, that a discretionary power ought to reside somewhere, and that it could not be placed in better hands than those of the Benchers of the different Inns of Court.

Mr. Harvey

, in reply, contended that it was a perfect anomaly to suffer a close and secret court of jurisdiction in England, to which the public had no ingress. It might do very well for Gentlemen who were Benchers, and modestly sung their own praises, to say that there was a power of Appeal to the Judges; but the fact was, that in the instance which had been quoted, the Judges had distinctly refused to hear any witnesses.

The House divided:—Ayes 26; Noes 2—Majority 24.

There not being forty Members present, the Speaker declared the House adjourned.

List of the AYES.
Lord Althorp, Forbes, Sir C.
Briscoe, J. I. Freshfield, J. W.
Burke, Sir John Hobhouse, Sir J.
Brown, Dom. Hunt, Henry
Campbell, John Kennedy, F. F.
Crampton, P. C. Leader, N. P.
Denman, Sir T. Macaulay, T. B.
Evans Col. De Lacy Pollock, Fred.
Fergusson, R. C. Paget, Thos.
Parnell, Sir H. Wallace, Thomas
Russell, Lord John Wason, Rigby
Ruthven, E. S. TELLERS.
Stanley, Rt. Hon. E. Harvey, D. W.
Torrens, Colonel Hume, Joseph
Villiers, Thos. H.
List of the NOES.
Gordon, J. E. Goulburn, Rt. Hn. H.
Knight, G. L. Wetherell, Sir C.