§ Mr. Elphinstone
In moving the Second Reading of the Arches Court Bill said, I can assure the House, that I shall be as brief as I can in explaining the object I have in view. The House is aware, that there are a vast variety of Ecclesiastical Courts (amounting to upwards of 300) in different parts of the country, and that art appeal lies from one to the other of these Courts, and afterwards to the Court of Arches, which latter Court is the supreme Ecclesiastical tribunal. For instance a Dissenter may be dragged before some peculiar or Archdeacon's Court, for non-payment of Church Rates; having no means of escaping the jurisdiction, he has to go through the whole expense of a suit in this inferior Court; an appeal is then made to the Bishop's Court; here, again, the same process of paying fees is to be gone through. Ultimately, both parties being dissatisfied with decisions in Courts below, an appeal is made to the Court of Arches, and, then, it is probably discovered that the whole proceedings have been irregular and the suit is quashed. It may even be worse than this, for the appeals may be on some interlocutory matter, and then the unfortunate party has to go through the Courts several times. It must be obvious that this system causes great expense and inconvenience to the public. Now, I propose to give to any party who may be so unfortunate as to be entangled in these inferior Courts, whether plaintiff or defendant, the power of declining the jurisdiction of the inferior Courts, and having his cause heard in the Court of Arches, a Court which is invariably presided over by a Judge on whose learning and on whose judicial fitness the public can rely. At the same time, if parties prefer to carry on litigation in a Local Court, I leave them at perfect liberty to do so. The principle on which this Bill is founded has been approved of by every person who has attempted to amend Ecclesiastical Courts. It formed part of the principle of Lord Brougham's Bill, of Sir F. Pollock's Bill in 1835, of Lord Cottenham's Bill in 1836; and it 965 was included in the Bill introduced by my learned Friend the Judge Advocate last year. I introduced a similar measure in the course of last Session. My learned Friend (Dr. Nicholl) objected to my Bill last year (not on principle), because he said it was unnecessary, because Her Majesty's Government were determined to carry their Ecclesiastical Courts Bill. I ventured to tell my right hon. Friend that I was afraid he would not be a true prophet. If Dr. Nicholl had not interfered last year, this desirable improvement might have now been law. If my right hon. Friend makes the same objection this year, I venture again to say, that it is impossible to say what may be the fate of Lord Lyndhurst's Bill; and that it is worse than folly to reject a good measure because another measure may be passed. I cannot help thinking, that my right hon. Friend would adopt a wiser and a more practical course, if he really wishes to carry into effect those improvements in the Ecclesiastical law, of which both he and I have seen the necessity, if, instead of endeavouring in one Bill to make great and violent changes in the law, changes which excite the prejudices of some, and the interested opposition of others—if, instead of introducing Bills containing upwards of 100 clauses, of so complicated a nature that the best lawyer, either in or out of the House, cannot venture to predict what their operation would be on the general law of the land—if he were gradually and safely to introduce specific remedies for the different grievances which may be pointed out by the voice of the public, I will only add, Sir, that every person I have consulted on the subject, whether, in the profession to which I have the honour of belonging, or whether a suitor in these Courts, has cordially approved of the Bill. I beg, therefore, to move the second reading.
§ Sir James Graham
suggested that the hon. Gentleman should postpone his Bill until the Government Bill came down from the other House, which he promised should take place before Easter.
§ Debate adjourned for a fortnight.