HC Deb 21 February 1839 vol 45 cc754-9
Mr. Barron

rose to bring forward his motion for a Bill to consolidate and reform the Ecclesiastical Courts in Ireland. He would begin by reading an extract from the Report of the Commission appointed to inquire into the constitution of Ecclesiastical Courts in Ireland. It said, Our attention has been directed in a peculiar manner to the official and professional services connected with these Ecclesiastical Courts. The general impression is, that the expense of the proceedings in the different ecclesiastical jurisdictions, compared with the superior courts of Common Law, is unreasonable, and that this impression, as applied to the Prerogative Court, is in a great measure well founded, the evidence sufficiently proves. These evils may perhaps partly be attributed to the abuses of official practice, and the excesses in official and professional charges; but there are other causes inherent in the very from and constitution of the jurisdiction itself, to which they must primarily be attributed. The proceedings are conducted on the principles of the civil law, and therefore enhance the expense. The length of the pleadings, the multiplicity of interrogatories, the mode of examination—frequently inefficient in eliciting the truth—tend to an accumulation of expense from which the proceedings at Common Law are exempt. We feel ourselves warranted in laying these statements before the Legislature, to show how much the subject is entitled to their serious attention. Such was the language of the Commissioners. His attention had for three years been directed to this question, and he had procured the appointment of a Committee of that House upon it last Session. That Committee, of which he was the Chairman, had found the expense and delay of the proceedings in these Courts most oppressive; and consistently with the recommendations of the Committee, and with the suggestions of the Commissioners, that Bill had been prepared (by the highest legal authorities), which he now begged leave to introduce. The Bill was similar in its provisions to the measure which had been brought in by the learned Member for the Tower Hamlets (Dr. Lushington) in regard to the Ecclesiastical Courts of England. The object of its enactment was, first, to consolidate into one court, all the minor Ecclesiastical Courts in Ireland, which were at present established in every diocese in that country. Since the law upon tithes had been altered in Ireland, these courts had none of that tithe business, which formerly was their principal occupation, so that now they were utterly useless. The judges in those courts were clergymen, who had no knowledge of the law, and the Bill would enact, that there should be but one Ecclesiastical Court in Ireland—the Prerogative Court of Dublin. The Supreme Judge in that Court would be appointed by the Crown, as the Judges of this country were. The Judge would have the power of framing rules for the regulation of the Court, and also to call in the aid of a jury to try matters of fact. He trusted that the Primate of Ireland would not give any opposition to the Bill Which he now proposed to bring in.

Viscount Morpeth

would not offer any obstacle to the Bill, after the great pains that had been bestowed upon it by his hon. Friend. He trusted that its details would receive great attention, not only from the House, but the hen. Members for Cashel and Clonmel. He hoped that his Friend would not press on the Subsequent stages of the Bill until the House had had a full opportunity of making itself acquainted with the details of the meas. sure.

Mr. Lefroy

did not anticipate that the noble Lord would have given his assent to the Bill, considering the object it had in view. What was that object? Why, not only to make a revolution in the whole course of proceedings in the Ecclesiastical Courts of Ireland, but to rob of his right of patronage, the head of the Church of that country. He thought, if such a bill was to be introduced, it ought to have been brought forward by her Majesty's Government. He should, therefore, enter his protest against the measure, and he felt convinced that the end of the matter would be, that her Majesty's Government would themselves feel compelled, at a future stage, to give their determined opposition to the measure.

Dr. Stock

would give his support to the bill, considering that it would be of essential service in Ireland.

Dr. Lushington

did not think that his hon. and learned Friend opposite, exactly apprehended all the circumstances of the ease. He did not mean to enter into a particular relation of all the facts connected with the English Ecclesiastical Commission. He would merely remind the House that that commission had been appointed by the Duke of Wellington, in 1828, and had received the sanction of the successive Ministries; had been acceded to by many Bishops and other high ecclesiastical authorities. No important difference of opinion had taken place amongst them, and with regard to the matter referred to, all the Commissioners agreed. Bills founded on their recommendations, had from time to time been introduced, one in particular, by the Government of Lord Grey. The right hon. Baronet, the Member for Lambeth, had also taken up the subject. It was not quite correct to state that the measures had failed from the opposition given to them. The real state of the case was this—a measure founded upon these recommendations had been introduced into the House of Lords, and there was this difficulty felt respecting it: The Bishops were of opinion that it should be preceded by a Clergy Discipline Bill. A measure of this sort had been introduced, but had not passed the House of Lords. With respect to the patronage he would just state, that, having waited on the Archbishop of Canterbury to submit to that Right Reverend Prelate a measure, the effect of which was to deprive that Right Rev. Prelate of patronage to the amount of 12,000l. a-year, his Grace had said, "Give me ten minutes to consider of it;" at the end of the ten minutes he expressed himself perfectly ready to give up the whole—and every one of the Bishops had expressed themselves in the same manlier. He was perfectly convinced of the necessity of some such measure for Ireland. He was perfectly satisfied that until some reform took place in the Ecclesiastical Courts of that country—until a consolidation of those Courts, and a suppression of the minor jurisdiction took place, that a Session would never pass without complaint on this subject. It was impossible that persons not brought up to the legal profession, whatever might be their determination to do their duty, could so deliver their judgments as to secure the confidence of suitors in that Court.

Mr. Shaw

said, that the objection which his right hon. Friend had made, had not been met by the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down. The objection of his right hon. Friend was, that this measure had not been brought forward in such a manner as to claim the support of the House. It was not brought forward by a Member of her Majesty's Government. With respect to the English Bill, mentioned by the hon. and learned Gentleman, it appeared that the measure had been submitted to the Archbishop of Canterbury, and he should like to know whether any such course had been pursued on the present occasion? With all due deference to the hon. and learned Gentleman, he did not think the measure had been brought forward in a way to meet with the concurrence either of the House or of the parties concerned. Had it ever been brought before the Prelates of Ireland, who were so deeply concerned in the subject? He considered that the noble Lord, the Secretary for Ireland, entertained a somewhat similar objection, at least so he interpreted the expression of anxiety made use of by the noble Lord with regard to the presence of the Solicitor General for Ireland, who had been so short a time a Member of that House. If the hon. Gentleman would agree to place his bill in the hands of the Government, he should have no objection to it; and he believed that the noble Lord (Morpeth) would be nothing loath to take charge Of it. This was a measure which required very great care and deliberation, and however competent the hon. Gentleman might be in other questions, it could not be disputed that he ought to have had the ample materials and the extensive professional experience, that would be necessary in one bringing forward a bill for effecting a total change in the Ecclesiastical Courts in Ireland. As the bill in the case of the Charity Commissioners was left in the hands of the Government, he did not see why this measure also should not be so left. If the measure was left in the hands of her Majesty's Government, he (Mr. Shaw) had no doubt that it would receive the most careful and extensive preliminary consideration. In that case, also, it would have a better chance of success. He was also of opinion, that a new arrangement of the Diocesan Courts might be introduced with great benefit.

Mr. Grattan

could not agree with the doctrine of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Shaw), that everything should be left in the hands of her Majesty's Government. If this bill was bad, let it fall—if it were good, why should it not succeed on its own merits. He objected to the right hon. Gentleman's principle, as poor and miserable. He also objected to the corollary he deduced from it. It was in fact, recommending a Member of the House to abandon his independent privilege of introducing bills if' he thought proper. Nor was it necessary that the introducer of a legal measure should be a lawyer. The hon. Member for Roscommon introduced the Medical Charities Bill last year, yet he was not a doctor. Upon that principle, any measure connected with the reform of the Corporation should be left to the right hon. Gentleman, for though he was not a lawyer he was the champion of the Corporation. When the right hon. Baronet the Member for Tamworth introduced his bill for the consolidation of the laws respecting property especially in Ireland, the right hon. Gentleman did not make a single objection on the ground of the mover not being a professional person. He thought therefore, that the right hon. Gentleman should not persevere in his opposition.

Mr. Barron,

knowing how anxious, laborious, and unpleasant a task it was to bring forward a question of this sort, and how difficult it was for a Member ever to bring a private Bill through the House, would at once agree to leave the bill in the hands of her Majesty's Government. Its necessity must be evident from the vast masses of property which had been squandered and dilapidated in consequence of the abuse of the Ecclesiastical Courts. They had had the results of the labours of a commission which had sat for twelve years, to give them information on this question. The learned Member for the Tower Hamlets said, that a commission of the most eminent men in England had been at work upon this subject. True; and it was in consequence of the recommendation of that commission, sanctioned by two Tory Governments, that he had prepared his bill. He had had the assistance of the most eminent men in both kingdoms. The most experienced practitioner in these courts had for months given his undesired, unbought, and unpurchaseable attention to the bill, before he (Mr. Barron) had ventured to bring it before the House. He had merely taken upon himself, with their most able assistance to remedy evils and abuses which had been recognized and complained of by two commissions, by one Committee, and by every lawyer and witness who had any connection with those Courts. He (Mr. Barron) had had painful individual experience of the expense of those Courts, and the impossibility of obtaining justice in them. He was ready to surrender the measure to the noble Lord (Morpeth) and his learned Friend the Member for Cashel. But he trusted, he at least would not be prevented from bringing in a bill merely because he did not happen to be personally agreeable to hon. Gentlemen opposite.

Leave given.