HC Deb 19 May 1835 vol 27 cc1248-53
Mr. Lynch

rose to move for leave to bring in a Bill to extend the Jurisdiction, and regulate the proceedings of the Civil Bill Courts in Ireland. He would not trespass at any length on the patience of the House, as he did not anticipate any opposition to the introduction of the Bill; and as the alterations which he meant to introduce consisted chiefly of details, such details would be better understood by hon. Members upon the Second Reading of the Bill, when it was printed, than by any explanation of his without a copy of the Bill in their hands. It was universally admit- ted that the Assistant-Barristers' Courts in Ireland were found to be highly advantageous, and most beneficial to the country. By them the poor man was not only made secure of cheap and expeditious law, but what was of still greater consequence, and that which was the end of all law, he was insured cheap and expeditious justice. Those Courts were altogether free from the objections urged against the proposed Local Courts' Bill in this country, for the Assistant Barristers were not resident in the districts over which they presided; they were not in the way of forming local predilections or partialities. By being resident in Dublin, and practising in the Courts, they had an opportunity of keeping up their knowledge of law, of becoming acquainted with the late decisions, and the alterations made from time to time in the law, and of conversing and communicating with their fellow Judges. These Courts worked so well, he thought the jurisdiction might be usefully and wisely extended. At present there was no jurisdiction in actions of covenant, except for payment of money. At present the jurisdiction extended to all actions of debt, on bond, bill, or specially to demands of 20l. Irish currency, and in all actions of assumpsit, quantum meruit, trover, debt for rent upon leases, and contracts in writing to demands of 10l., and in actions for trespass, and in the case, to damages to the amount of 5l. He would extend the jurisdiction in all cases to the amount of 20l., and he would give a jurisdiction in covenant; of course, he would exclude actions of libel, slander, and crim. con. There was at present a jurisdiction in ejectment cases, against tenants over-holding or absconding, but no jurisdiction in cases of ejectments brought on an adverse title. He would give such a jurisdiction in cases where the annual value of the land did not exceed 20l. At present there was no appeal from the decision of the Barrister in cases of ejectments where the decision was against the landlord. He was inclined to give that appeal in mercy to the tenant, as he had understood that the Assistant Barristers frequently decided against the landlord for want of such appeal, and thereby the tenant was put to great additional expense and inconvenience. This jurisdiction in cases of ejectment, was most beneficial for the landlord. He hoped it would be always wisely and leniently called into action by them. He was sorry to say, that the Legislature did not show the same anxiety in giving protection to the tenant, for though there was a jurisdiction given to the Assistant-Barristers in replevin cases, that jurisdiction was tedious and complicated, whereas in the cases of ejectment it was prompt, decisive, and simple. It was his intention to give as simple, and plain, and intelligible jurisdiction in cases of replevin and to extend the jurisdiction in such cases. In his opinion he thought a useful jurisdiction might be given by interfering by way of injunction in cases of waste, and this jurisdiction he would allow the Banisters to exercise when out of the county or district, an immediate opportunity being afforded of applying to dissolve the injunction to the Barrister, either within the district or in Dublin. He would give to the Assistant-Barristers jurisdiction in cases of legacies or shares of intestates' effects. To the poor legatee or next of kin there was, he might say, an entire denial of justice, for his only remedy at present was in instituting proceedings in a Court of Equity; and this jurisdiction ought, in his opinion, to be extended to legacies or shares of intestates' effects, to the amount of 50l. It was not his intention to introduce any system of pleading, nor was it his intention to create any new office. He hoped this jurisdiction might be usefully extended by the Assistant-Barrister himself, and the Clerk of the Peace. He was not friendly to the jurisdiction of granting of probates and letters of administration, and he could not get over the difficulty of there being no safe deposit for wills and testamentary papers. He would much prefer a general Bill being introduced for Ireland respecting the jurisdiction of the Ecclesiastical Courts, somewhat similar to that introduced by the late Attorney-General for England and Wales. He would, however, have clauses prepared, giving the jurisdiction to the Assistant-Barristers; and, if hon. Members thought proper, they might be inserted in the Bill in Commitee. In all cases where it would be necessary that money should be lodged, it should be lodged in the next branch of the Bank of Ireland, or provincial Bank, in the name of the Assistant Barrister, to the credit of the matter. As the duties of the Assistant-Barristers would be increased by this extension of jurisdiction, he thought that their salaries should also be increased; and he thought it would be much wiser if alt fees were abolished. It was not sufficient that the administration of justice should be pure and incorrupt, but it should also be free from all suspicion. When fees were paid, it was difficult to make the poor people understand that justice was not sold, and sold by the Judge. The Assistant-Barrister, lie believed, received from Government 500l. a-year fixed salary, independent of the fees received by them. He would abolish the fees, and raise the amount of the additional salaries, by means of a small tax, payable upon the issuing of the summons to appear. He need not say, that it would always be desirable, but more particularly when the jurisdiction should be increased, to procure the attendance upon those Courts, of respectable practitioners. The solicitors at present practising in them were miserably paid; severe penalties were imposed on them for taking larger fees than those mentioned in the schedules to the acts; and what must be most disagreeable to their feelings, they were compelled to take an oath on the opening of each session, not to take further fees. He would abolish that oath. He would take away those penalties. He would retain the schedules, so that the solicitors could not recover more than the fees therein mentioned; but, at the same time, they ought not to be deprived of receiving more from their clients if they should think proper so to do. This, however, he admitted, was a most difficult question to deal with, and ought to be cautiously approached. In his opinion those Barristers might hold the sessions oftener in the year than they do, with great benefit to the public. In conclusion, the hon. Member said, this was not a party question, and he called upon Members upon both sides of the House, to assist him in his undertaking. He owed, perhaps, an apology to the House for introducing the measure, but when he gave notice, there was no law officer for Ireland in the House of Commons.

Mr. Shaw

agreed with the hon. and learned Gentleman, that the administration of justice ought to be expeditious and simple, but if they went too far, they might instead of extending the jurisdiction of these courts, destroy their beneficial effects altogether. At present the Assistant-Barrister could practise in the courts above; if his salary and his duties were increased, the one might render him independent and the other incapable of practice, and possibly such a change might not be without its advantages. The system, however, had up to the present time worked so well, that he should hesitate to make any change, unless upon very good grounds. He begged, at the same time, to assure the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, that he should be very happy to render him any assistance in preparing a measure to improve the administration of justice in those particulars, and he sincerely rejoiced to see a motion of that sort brought forward free from the bias of any party feeling.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

felt much gratified at the tone and manner in which the proposition had been received, and he hoped that they all would continue to pursue as a common object the realization of the greatest possible amount of good for the country. He wished just to observe, that the alteration of fees payable to attornies practising in those courts was a subject which ought not to be lightly dealt with, fearing as he did, that it might open the door to an indefinite amount of reduction.

Mr. Sheil

had no difficulty in saying that the House and the country must acknowledge themselves indebted to his hon. and learned Friend, for his present exertions to improve the Civil Bill Courts. It was his opinion—nor was he singular in thinking so—that those Courts should have jurisdiction in all matters of equity. Surely the poor man should not be refused justice in cases where he was unable to defray the expense of going to the Court of Chancery or the Court of Exchequer. Ought a man for the sake of a small mortgage, or a 5l. legacy, to be compelled to incur the expense of filing a bill in equity? It was anomalous and absurd. He need scarcely observe, that the Administration Act did not require the deposit of wills, though he agreed that it might be well to have them in every case lodged in the Diocesan Court. He had recently attended the Quarter Sessions at Thurles, where some striking instances came under his observation of the severity of the law in cases of contracts, where the fairest possible claims were defeated in consequence of the contracts not having been duly drawn upon the proper stamps. The Assistant-Barrister then presiding requested him to mention in Parliament his view of the evils resulting from the neglect of the law on that point. If they could get over that and one or two other difficulties, the more the jurisdiction of those courts was extended, the more would the pence of the country be promoted, for in Ireland the greatest evils arose from the delay of justice. He was an advocate for having the Sessions sit every month, or even every fortnight; for the more frequently they sat, the more would public tranquillity be promoted. He had sometimes heard it said, that though justice was slow, it was always sure, but he would have it swift as well as sure.

Leave was given to bring in the Bill.