HC Deb 21 June 1836 vol 34 cc695-6
Mr. Pryme

begged to call the attention of the House to the Act of 1833, for the amendment of the law which referred it to the Judges to make certain rules relative to Pleading, subject to the approbation of that House. The most important perhaps of these rules was that which called on all parties to plead specifically and distinctly, and to put their defence plainly upon record. Notwithstanding this salutary provision there had been a clause inserted in many Acts that had passed, such as Acts relating to fisheries, omnibuses, and many others, for the purpose of allowing parties to plead the general issue, and yet give special matter in evidence. The plain English of such a clause was, that the defendant was to be enabled to take advantage of the plaintiff by surprise, that he was not to let him know his case till the hour of trial, and then he was to be permitted to bring forward evidence of which he was not aware, and which, had he been aware of it, he would have been prepared with evidence to rebut; and by these means the defendant was, perhaps, enabled to snap a verdict contrary to the real merits of the case. He had just heard that the hon. and learned Member for Exeter (Sir W. Follett) had it in contemplation to propose a Bill to remedy this evil. Had he been aware of the fact sooner, he would have taken an opportunity of conferring with that hon. and learned Gentleman; but at present he would content himself with moving, "That it is contrary to the spirit and intention of the Statute 3rd and 4th Wm. 4th, chap. 42, sect. 11, and to the rules of the Judges founded thereon, to introduce into Bills a clause enabling persons sued for any act under the same, to plead the general issue, and to give the special matter in evidence."

The Solicitor-General

expressed his entire concurrence in all that had fallen from the hon. and learned Gentleman, and he believed that he would receive the thanks of the profession and of the public at large for having brought it forward, There was indeed some feeling amongst the public, against what was called special pleading, but it was only amongst those who did not understand that the whole object of it was, that the plaintiff should distinctly state his ground of complaint, that the defendant should as distinctly state what he had to allege to the contrary, how much of the complaint he admitted, and how much he denied, so that both parties should know what was the real question to go before a Jury, and be prepared with evidence accordingly. At the same time he must say, that the evil which the hon. Member proposed to meet was one which this House always had the power to meet. The Resolution he proposed only went to affirm that the House would in future meet it; and he thought that having brought the subject before the House, and the feeling of the House being evidently most strongly against the custom which he wished to put an end to; and as the Resolution would only hamper the House, and might produce great inconvenience, the hon. Member would feel it unnecessary to press it. He (the Solicitor-General) was quite sure that in future they would have all their eyes about them, and endeavour to prevent the continuance of the practice.

Mr. Pryme

After what my hon. and learned Friend, the Solicitor-General, has said, I beg to withdraw my motion. My only object in bringing it forward was to give the House an opportunity of expressing their opinion upon the subject.

Motion withdrawn.