HC Deb 06 May 1834 vol 23 cc678-80
Mr. O'Dwyer

moved, pursuant to his notice, for leave to bring in a Bill to restrain parties from proceeding in the Superior Courts in Ireland for the recovery of debts under 10l. There was already in force in England, statutes restricting parties from commencing actions in the Superior Courts when the amount was recover blew in a Court of inferior jurisdiction, and he merely desired to extend that salutary principle, under circumstances which he would shortly state. There was existing in Ireland, as the House were acquainted, civil Bill or Assistant-barristers' Courts, an institution analogous to those local Courts which it was proposed to introduce into England, and from whose introduction he anticipated most useful results to the people. The Assistant-barristers' Court had a very extensive jurisdiction in certain cases affecting property, and it was also very efficient for the recovery of small debts; simple contract debts to the amount of 10l. were recoverable there, at the inconsiderable expense of a few shillings. Parties, however, were not precluded by the establishment of this Court from resorting to the Superior Courts for their remedy, and he much regretted this defect in the law, as he knew that the process of the Superior Courts was frequently turned to the purposes of oppression and rapacity. Before the Civil Bill Courts were established, debts to the amount of 10l. were recoverable in a summary way, by English Bill or paper petition, before the Judge of Assize, and the third section of the Act of George the 2nd provided, that the defendant should not be obliged to appear out of the county where he resided before any Judge upon summons or process. Thus the plaintiff had his remedy at a small cost, and the defendant had his protection, if the humane intention of the Act were not frustrated. Subsequent Acts relieved the Judges of this business, and transferred this summary jurisdiction to the Assistant-barristers. There was thus created, at the expense of the State, a cheap Local Court—a competent tribunal, and one where justice could not fail to be obtained. He contended, that a vindictive plaintiff should not be permitted, unless at his own peril, to leave this Court of easy access, and select the important process of the Superior Court as an instrument of oppression. He knew instances where actions had been commenced in the Superior Courts of Ireland for sums varying from thirty-seven shillings to three pounds. These were actions for tithes. Why should the law permit such a power of oppression to exist? What protection did the law afford the miserable defendant, living in a remote part of the country? Had such a person the means of defending himself? Most assuredly he had not. Judgment was obtained, no doubt—execution issued, no doubt—the costs that were accumulated were levied, no doubt—and for what purpose? Surely not for the simple object of recovering a debt, for the process of the Assistant-barrister would effect that; but with the worse motive of crushing a defendant by the ponderous applications of those powers which should not be used upon every small occasion. It was a singular anomaly, that by an Act of recent date, for the regulation of Manor Courts in Ireland, a seneschal was enabled to remit the costs when the decree was for a sum under forty shillings, and that the Superior Courts, at least in their practice, did not evince the possession of any power to discourage vexatious actions brought for a similar amount. His Bill was very simple and very brief. It merely enacted, that when an action was brought in a Superior Court for a sum less than ten pounds, or where a verdict was obtained for less, the verdict should not carry costs; and he also proposed, that in such cases, where there was a verdict for the defendant, he should be entitled to full costs. The Bill should not extend to any debt where title of freehold was concerned. There were some other provisions, giving effect to the Bill, which he should not recapitulate. He hoped, he had laid some grounds to induce the House to permit him to introduce the Bill; and he was most certain, that its effects would be most beneficial to the poorer classes in Ireland.

Leave was given to bring in the Bill.