HC Deb 10 July 1833 vol 19 cc469-71
Sir Francis Vincent

presented a Petition from the attornies of Westminster, complaining of the regulations whereby students were entered, and subsequently called to the bar, and praying a Committee of Inquiry into the conduct of the benchers relative to the mode in which students were admitted to the bar. The hon. Member had given a notice of Motion on this subject, but the House having been counted out on the day for which it stood, he felt it his reluctant duty to postpone the question till the next Session of Parliament. The grievance pressed peculiarly hard upon the petitioners. The privileges exercised by the benchers of the different Inns of Court had only this to recommend them, that they had been possessed for a great length of time, and had been suffered to exist through several ages, without any inquiry into the origin or tenure of them, but they were neither founded injustice nor reason, and he knew no cause why such a monopoly should be suffered any longer to exist. He would remind the House of the case of the hon. member for Colchester, and said, that if ever there was a case replete with injustice, it was the case of that Gentleman, and formed a sufficient argument alone for a legislative inquiry into the subject. According to the present custom, the high road to this branch of art, which he might call the highest of all the professions, might be closed to men of talent and genius at the caprice of a body of men who were not responsible to a higher tribunal, and in no degree subject to public opinion. Even the Judges could not touch them with a mandamus, nor were they permitted to interfere in any other character than that of a bencher, or, if they were members only, as visitors. It had been the boast of this country that genius could obtain encouragement and promotion in the worst of times, but it could never be said so with regard to the legal profession so long as this system was permitted to continue. In the case of attorneys, it was a monstrous hardship, as, in many cases, if they were desirous to come to the bar, they were obliged to give up, perhaps a lucrative business, and speculate upon the chances of being arrested in their progress to the bar by the caprice of a set of individuals who had the power to reject them without condescending to assign any reason.

Mr. Philpotts

had been requested to support the prayer of the petitioners, but, he must say, that the powers possessed by the Inns of Court were always considered necessary to prevent the admission of improper persons to the bar. He had investigated the case of the hon. member for Colchester, and he was enabled to say, that a very material circumstance connected with the case of that hon. Gentleman had been kept back from the knowledge of the persons who were inimical to his admission. He thought, therefore, in justice to that individual, a fair opportunity ought to be afforded him of adducing evidence to rebut the charges which had been brought against him, out of respect to his own character as a member of that House, as well as out of respect to the character of the House itself.

Colonel Evans

supported the petition. He had seen the documents in the case of the hon. member for Colchester, and must say, that although the House was to presume that the learned body of persons who presided in the benchers' Court could not be impeached for the course of conduct they had thought proper to pursue on the occasion referred to, still, considering the prominent line in political life which had been taken by the hon. member for Colchester, it was as essential for the character of the benchers themselves, as it was for the vindication of the hon. Member, that all the documents on both sides of the case should be laid on the Table of the House to prevent the possibility of a garbled statement.

Mr. Sheil

considered it a great anomaly that a gentleman who had been a Member of the Legislature of his country for a period of fourteen years, and, indeed, a Member distinguished for his great abilities should be deemed by any set of persons unworthy of holding a place at the bar. It appeared to him a monstrous anomaly.

Mr. Lloyd

thought it a matter of the highest consequence, that the bar should be kept free from suspicion on all occasions; but he conceived the only question was whether this assembly of benchers should be amenable to public opinion or not? He had himself formerly entertained a considerable prejudice against the conduct of the hon. member for Colchester, but he was bound in justice to that Gentleman to say, that after a careful investigation into the whole of the case, he felt assured, that it would require very strong facts indeed to remove the impression on his mind that there was nothing in his case that warranted the exclusion of that Gentleman from the bar. He believed that the benchers, in this particular instance, were actuated by the best motives, but he thought that the error they had committed in this particular instance was an irresistible argument for an alteration of the system.

Mr. Harvey

trusted that the subject would go before the Committee unincumbered by any consideration of a personal character, and would be viewed as a public question.

The Petition laid on the Table.

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