HC Deb 29 March 1844 vol 73 cc1671-4
Sir James Graham

rose to ask for leave to bring in "A Bill for the more easy Recovery of Small Demands in the County Courts of England." The House was well aware, that among the most ancient Courts in the Realm, were the County Courts. There had been, however, one great defect in the constitution of that Court. By a Writ of Justicies, there was no limit placed to the extent to which a personal action could be brought. If a case was to be removed from that County Court to Westminster Hall, by a Writ of Justicies, it was provided that the party should give security for the costs. There was another defect. These County Courts retained all the old cumbrous machinery unchanged, whereas in the Superior Courts, the machinery had been remodelled, in conformity with the recommendations of the Committees of 1839, which were incorporated in all the local Acts establishing such Courts, which had passed since 1839. From the inquiry which he had made respecting the expense of working these new Courts, he thought that their general adoption would be followed by the most beneficial results. The Bill which he proposed to bring in, would enable Her Majesty in Council, to form districts throughout the country, and to bring this Act for the establishment of County Courts into operation in certain localities in which the establishment of such tribunals appeared to be required. The Bill would not interfere with any of those improved systems of jurisdiction which had been brought into operation since 1839. The Barristers and Judges appointed would be paid by salaries, and the Clerks also paid by salaries instead of fees, and were not to have compensation. He now came to the extent of the jurisdiction. By the Bill of 1837, the Court of Requests was limited to 10l. His proposition was, that these County Courts' jurisdiction should extend to the sum of 15l. As to the subject-matter of jurisdiction, it would refer to simple cases of contract debt—damages for a breach of the peace—for unlawful holding of property rendering the party liable to an action of trover. With regard to actions for the recovery of small debts, the summons must be issued seven days prior to the trial coming on. If the defendant should go out of the district the plaintiff would have the option of suing in the County Courts, or in one of the superior Courts of Law. The party, if he required it, might have the benefit of a Jury. The Grand Jury need not consist of a larger number than five persons. The Court would have the power of making an order for the payment of the debt by instalments. The party would have the power of taking out an execution against the body or goods of the person against whom a debt was proved. With regard to the power of removing the case to a superior Court, the party would have the power of doing so upon moving for a new trial, and giving proper securities for the costs. The jurisdiction with refer- ence to the rights of ejectment, would be transferred from the two Magistrates to the Judge of the Court. This Bill introduced no new experiment. The Courts of Request had been found to work beneficially. It was Courts similar to those which it was proposed to extend. He felt confident, if the House gave its consent to the Bill which he was then proposing, it would effect a great improvement, and render cheap the administration of the law. It was his purpose to introduce this measure for the recovery of small debts gradually, according to the wants and demands of certain localities, without incurring any great increase of expense.

Mr. Hawes

hoped the large fees to which persons proceeded against for small debts had been subjected would be reduced. He hoped that those local Acts, which granted so many days to liquidate a debt would be taken into consideration, as he was quite sure it would not only effect a saving in the county-rates, but also put an end to the enormous misery so frequently suffered by families being broken up in consequence of the imprisonment of the head.

Mr. Shaw

said, the right hon. Baronet, (Sir J. Graham) would obtain a good guide in legislating on the subject, by a reference to the practice of the Civil Bill Courts in Ireland. Of those Courts he had never heard a complaint, and he believed they worked well and satisfactorily in every part of that country.

Mr. Warburton

hoped his right hon. Friend would persist in retaining the power of examining both parties in the suit. This was done in the Court of Bankruptcy, which dealt with property to any amount, and he did not see why it should not be permitted in the inferior Courts.

Mr. Cripps

observed, that he did not think that practically any great danger was to be apprehended if there was no appeal at all. At the same time, it was a dangerous principle to say there should be no appeal. With regard to the examination of the parties themselves, according to the Law of Evidence Bill, parties were prevented being examined in great causes, and, therefore, it would be inconsistent to permit their examination in small suits.

Sir Graham

remarked, that there were 120 Local Courts created by Act of Parliament in England; 40 of those 120 had been created since the year 1839, and with respect to those 40, the general limit of the debt to be recovered in them was 15l.; and he had taken this limitation which had been established in 1839, in the most important localities, comprising large and important cities, and towns, and containing dense populations. He must also further observe, that since 1839, and in conformity with the recommendation of the Select Committee to which reference had already been made, power was given to examine the parties to a suit in forty important local Acts, exactly as he proposed to examine them in suits of debt. From the adoption of that principle, in the instances he had stated, no had effects had ensued. He proposed to give execution generally against the person. If to have credit was advantageous to the poor (of which he was not quite convinced,) he was very much afraid that unless there was a remedy against the person, credit would be stopped.

Leave given.

Bill brought in and read a first time.

House Adjourned at half-past twelve o'clock.