HC Deb 15 April 1833 vol 17 cc118-22
Mr. Hume

said, as there were strong rumours of very considerable changes in the judicial department, in consequence of some retirements being about to take place, and as some other changes would, of course, follow, he was anxious to remind the noble Lord (Lord Althorp) that the salaries of the Judges had for the last thirty years, been increased to a very enormous extent. When any new appointment took place, he hoped that Government would show that they intended seriously to grant some relief to the country, overburthened by heavy taxation.

Lord Althorp

said, the present Lord Chief Justice of the Court of King's Bench had accepted that appointment upon a considerable reduction of the salary, which was a sufficient proof that the Government had turned its attention to the subject. He was not, however, prepared to give a specific answer to the question of the hon. Member, nor could he see, that the subject was so pressing as to call upon him to bring it particularly forward that night.

Mr. Cobbett

said, he did not know by how much the salary of the Chief Justice of the Court of King's Bench had been reduced, but it ought to have been reduced to the standard which prevailed before 1795, for it had been raised, in consequence of the depreciation which had subsequently taken place in the currency. It was then 4,500l. and it had since been raised to 10,000l. The salaries of police Magistrates, too, deserved consideration. These were originally fixed at 300l. a-year, and were now 800l. He should like to know what that increase had been for? He should like to be told why they might not be brought back to 300l.? It was by such reductions throughout the establishments of the country, that the noble Lord could alone expect to reduce the expenditure of the country to the means of the people. This was what they expected, from the Reform Bill, which would be of no use to them unless it produced economy.

Lord Althorp

stated, that, in 1795, the Judges were in possession of saleable patronage, attached to their office, on which they now no longer had any claim; and it was in remuneration for their loss of that patronage that their salaries had been raised. It should be remembered, that unless the Government paid well, it could not command the services of the ablest lawyers.

Mr. Hume

wished to ask the noble Lord, whether at present the number of Judges was not too great? That number had been increased some time ago because the Judges had too much business to perform, and he understood that at present there was not sufficient employment for the original number of Judges?

The Solicitor General

begged to say, in answer to the question of the hon. Member, that he could assure him as far as regarded the Court to which he (the Solicitor General) belonged, that there was sufficient work there for all the Judges in it; and that, in fact, he believed there was no portion of the labouring classes in London—such as porters, and other hardworking individuals—so severely worked as were the Judges of that Court. He believed, that the other Judges in Westminster-hall were also completely employed, though he could not speak so positively upon that point, as he did not practise in their Courts. With regard to what the hon. Member opposite had said as to the salaries of the Judges, he could assure him, that the office of Chief Justice of the King's Bench was not near so valuable now as it was forty or fifty years ago. That office had been since stripped (he was ready to admit most properly stripped) of such a quantity of valuable patronage—the office of chief clerk, for instance, amongst others—that it was by no means so valuable now as it had been formerly. Under such circumstances an adequate salary must be attached to the office. It would have been much better for the present Chief Justice of the King's Bench to have accepted the office upon its ancient footing than with the salary at present attached to it.

Mr. Harvey

did not know how it might be in the Court of King's Bench, but he believed that there were other Judges not fully employed. He had hoped that one of the improvements to be introduced by that Commission over which the hon. and learned Solicitor General so long presided, would have been to marshal the different causes that were set down for trial before the different Courts. For instance, the 500 or 600 causes that were waiting to be heard in the Court of King's Bench might be spread over the Court of Exchequer and the Court of Common Pleas. At present, while some of these cases must wait a year to be tried, some of the Judges were idle. He thought that an officer should have been appointed whose business it should have been to marshal these cases before the different Courts. The Judges were all equally good, and he could not conceive why the cases should not be sent to them indiscriminately. As to the salaries of the Judges the question was not whether the Judges were paid as much or more than other men, or more than formerly, but whether good Judges could not be got for less than 8,000l. a-year. He would undertake to say, in opposition to the noble Lord, that high salaries did not secure great talents. On the contrary, in proportion as an office was highly paid, it was in general inefficiently filled. It was imputing to the gentlemen of the legal profession an insensibility to all other motives than those of pecuniary interest. He would, however, undertake to say, that the greatest lawyers at all times had been men who thought more of the dignity of their profession than of its emoluments. When it was said that good Judges could not be got unless they were paid very high, he asked, was the honour and dignity of the situation nothing; or were they entirely lost sight of by all the Bar at the present time.

The Solicitor General

said, with regard to what had fallen from the hon. member for Colchester, as to sending causes by rotation to the three Courts of common law in Westminster-hall, that that suggestion had certainly been maturely and deliberately weighed by the Commissioners for inquiring into the state of the law. Though it was an extremely plausible one, there were a great many strong objections to it. The Judges were no doubt all equally good, but then the merits of all were not the same, and it was thought that it would be extremely hard that a man should bring his cause into Court and not know before whom it was to be tried. There was nothing at present to prevent individuals from bringing their causes into the Courts of Common Pleas and Exchequer. He was surprised to hear from the hon. Gentleman, that there was so little business just now in the Court of Common Pleas. This he (the Solicitor General) could state, that there were at present as many remanets in the Court of Exchequer as in the Court of King's Bench. This he could promise the hon. Gentleman and the House, that any measure the object of which would be to facilitate and render cheaper the administration of justice should have his cordial support; and he believed it would have the support of the profession to which he belonged. The House, when it was considering the salaries of the Judges, should bear in mind the innumerable evils that would follow the appointment of a bad Judge, such as new trials, arrests of judgments, &c. He did not pretend to say what ought to be the amount of the emoluments attached to such situations, but he was sure that the House would see that they always should be such as to command the services of the best men in the profession.

Mr. O'Connell

thought that none but practical men could be good Judges, and it would be obvious that they could not be selected from men of small practice. With respect to the marshalling of causes hitherto, if one Court was overburthened, they should be transferred to others. With respect to plaintiffs choosing their own Court, that was at least a hardship upon all the defendants. He remembered a Court in Dublin, before fees were abolished, in which there was a considerable fee upon the record; and in that Court seventy-three plaintiffs out of seventy-four gained their causes. Of course, they all carried their causes to that Court. If any newspaper in Dublin had mentioned that circumstance at the time, it would have been prosecuted. He hoped the time was not far distant when local Courts would be established, not confined to a paltry 20l., but enabled, like the old county Courts, to take cognizance of any cases to any amount. He hoped, also, to see in those Courts that the first witnesses called should be the plaintiff and defendant, even although that would go far to destroy the emoluments of the profession to which he had the honour to belong.

Mr. Charles Buller

thought, good Judges might be got without such very large emoluments. It would be, in his opinion, an improvement, if there was not so great a difference as at present, between the salaries of the puisne Judges and of the Chiefs, which made all the clever men avoid accepting the former, in the hope of getting the latter.

Sir Matthew White Ridley

could not concur in the remarks made by the hon. member for Colchester, that eminent men were induced to look for high situations on the Bench merely from pecuniary motives. He did not see that they deserved such a stigma, when it was well known that many of them were making, at the Bar, double the sum that was paid as salary to a Judge. Mercenary men were not likely to do so. They could not expect to get the ablest men for Judges, if they did not give at least as high salaries as those men would make by following their profession at the Bar.