HC Deb 16 July 1849 vol 107 cc398-403

having moved that the House resolve into Committee, with the view of agreeing to a Resolution whereon to found a Bill upon this subject,


said, that doubtless the Bill now before the House contained several very useful Provisions; but he must altogether protest against any compensation being given to the officers of the Palace Court, on any supposed ground of right arising out of the losses which they might sustain from the measure now before the House. He wanted to know why the House should be so very tender of the interests of lawyers; nor could he understand why they, at all events and under any circumstances, must have compensation? He would put a case. Suppose a man, in times long since passed away, was the owner of a very good inn and posting-house, and that in consequence of the establishment of mail and stage coaches his business happened to be somewhat injured—would he be entitled to compensation merely because the people of this country thought proper to improve their means of locomotion? Again, suppose the property in a great coaching-house happened to be destroyed by the establishment of a railway in its neighbourhood, were railways to stand still until this innkeeper was compensatied? Nobody ever thought of compensating such parties. Now, the existing courts of this country in which small debts might be recovered, were found to be slow, inefficient, and expensive. Other modes of administering justice were resorted to, and, amongst the rest, county courts were established. As a matter of course, the officers and practitioners in the old courts suffered more or less; but it was not everybody who suffered that could be said to have a fair title to compensation. Men who have had great, exorbitant, and, above all, unjust gains, were exactly the people who ought on no account to be compensated; and, so far from receiving compensation, they ought to rejoice at not being made to refund the unfair profits which, to the disgrace and injury of the country, they had too long-enjoyed. It would be in the recollection of the House that about ten days ago they went into Committee on this Bill pro formâ, and that some new clauses were introduced. Now, he wished to recall the attention of hon. Members to this fact, that the original proposition was, that all the details of the measure were to be submitted to a Select Committee of that House. Since then a new principle had been introduced, a new clause had been inserted, authorising the Lords of the Treasury to make whatever compensation they might deem necessary. Perhaps it was not then the proper place for him to propose any Amendment on that point; but if they went into Committee he should certainly bring it under the notice of the House, and he hoped he should succeed in showing that no such extraordinary powers ought to be vested in the Treasury.


replied, that it would not be necessary for his noble Friend to delay going into Committee, inasmuch as the whole of the question to which he referred was still open to discussion.

The House then resolved itself into Committee; Mr. Bernal in the chair.

The ATTORNEY GENERAL moved the following Resolution:— That the Commissioners of Her Majesty's Treasury of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland be authorised to grant compensation, out of the Consolidated Fund of the said United Kingdom, to such persons as are legally entitled to any franchise or office in the Court of the Marshalsea of the Household of the Kings of England and the Court of our Lady the Queen of the Palace of the Queen at Westminster, and Her Majesty's Court of Record for the honour of Peveril and additional limits of the same, and who may sustain any losses by the abolition of their offices under any Act of the present Session.


said, he should resist the proposed compensation on higher grounds than those which had been taken by his noble Friend the Member for Marylebone. He should resist compensation, because he held that the original institution of the court was illegal and unconstitutional. It imposed taxes and fees upon Her Majesty's subjects without the consent of Parliament. The court was originally supposed to be necessary for the purpose of settling disputes between members of the Royal Household, but it soon came to exercise domination and tyranny over every person who resided within twelve miles of the court. This, however, did not take place until this country came under the dominion of a Stuart king. By the 12th of James I its jurisdiction was thus extended; and for further strengthening its hands, letters patent were granted in the 6th of Charles I., although in several cases which he might mention, and with which, of course, the Attorney General was much more familiar than he could possibly be, the superior courts reversed the decisions of the Palace Court, and, both directly and by implication, pronounced against its legality. He might mention most especially the case of "Fysche v. Wagstaffe," in which not only the judgment was reversed, but the schedule of fees condemned. During the Commonwealth, however, things went on somewhat better. Lawyers and legal abuses were pretty well swept away, and this court, amongst other corruptions, disappeared. In the days of Charles IL, however, the Palace Court was revived, with its six attorneys and four counsel. There were documents in the British Museum which established beyond all possibility of doubt that the parties then interested in the revival of this public wrong, gave a bribe of 1,000l. to Lord Chancellor Hyde to promote the reconstruction of this court. Chancellor Hyde put the 1,000l. in his pocket, and the letters patent were issued forthwith; from that day to this the Palace Court went on, blooming in all its corruption and villany; and if it had not been for Mr. Jacob Omnium, and the spirit which he roused, the bloodsucking attorneys of the Palace Court—["Hear, hear!"]—yes, he would repeat it, for he could, by perfect proof, justify such an epithet, and he should never apologise for having used it—the bloodsucking attorneys of the Palace Court might have gone on indefinitely plundering the citizens of this great metropolis and the country for twelve miles round. He did not deny that the kingdom at large and the city of London in particular were exempt from this intolerable nuisance. It was limited to persons residing within twelve miles of the court, and not within the city. But let the House for a moment consider how that operated. Why should the national treasury pay for a matter which concerned three or four counties almost exclusively? Why should the people of Yorkshire be taxed for the good of the metropolis and its vicinity? That, he confessed, appeared to him a fatal objection to the principle of compensation in the present case. Parliament admitted that a police-rate for Manchester ought not to be charged upon the nation; then why should the nation compensate these lawyers? When the county courts were established, the business of lawyers was diminished one-fourth by the agency of that change; but who thought of giving them compensation? The number of writs issued was one-third less; but who thought of compensating the parties who gained by the issue of writs? Although, in the year 1846, there was treble the number of writs issued from the Palace Court, yet, by the 7th and 8th of Victoria, all the officers of that court succeeded in getting a certain amount of compensation! These officers, he found, consisted of the knight-marshal, the steward of the court, the deputy-steward, the prothonotary, his deputy, and the crier. It appeared that the knight-marshal gave 200l. for his situation. [The ATTORNEY GENERAL: Much more.] Yes, but that was the regulation price. It was nothing to him if 2,000l. were given for it. The counsel paid, he would say, 200l., the attorneys 100l. They might give, if they pleased, 2,000l. for the goodwill of the business; but that was not the point. A captain of dragoons might give 3,000l. and upwards as the regulation price of his commission, but he might not be able to get hold of a commission for much less than 5,000l.; and if he were put upon half-pay, be the difference that he paid little or much, no account was taken of it. He was treated merely as having paid the regulation price. But these lawyers, with the influence that they possessed, did not hesitate to come forward in that House, and impudently ask for that which was without ceremony refused to military men. He held in his hand a letter from a gentleman who had not long since been in treaty for the purchase of one of the places in Palace Court, and amongst other things he stated that counsel gave very large sums for the privilege of practising in the Palace Court. The fee he believed was 300l., and such further sum as might be agreed on in the manner of arrangements made between ingoing and outgoing tenants. This gentleman was asked 2,000l. for the goodwill of the office; but, anticipating that the Small Debts Act would sweep away the court, he declined the proposal. He (Mr. Osborne) maintained that, so far from these parties having any claim to compensation, they were already overpaid. The knight-marshal and judge of the court, who had a complete sinecure, received before 1846 about 214l 2s. 10½d. a year; his compensation for loss of fees consequent on the Act 7 and 8 Victoria, c. 96, was 60l. is. 2d., cash down, and an annuity of 306l;. 14s., and in 1848 the fees of that officer were 714l The deputy-judge, whose income prior to 1846 was 242l., received au amount as compensation under the 7th and 8th Victoria, and in 1848 his emoluments were 742l. 16s. 4d. The prothonotary, whose office was a sinecure, received prior to 1846, 245l. 18s. 2d. a year, and, having received a sum of money as compensation for loss of fees, his emoluments in 1848 amounted to 780l 6s. 3d. The deputy-prothonotary, who had an annuity of 414l. 18s. 7d. for loss of fees, received in 1848 no less a sum than 2,846l, and it was therefore not surprising that that gentleman had been an unwilling witness. Mr. B. E. Willoughby, one of the attorneys of the court, received, prior to the establishment of the county courts, 850l. 5s. 3d. a year in fees; he obtained 1,900l. as compensation under the 7th and 8th of Victoria, and in 1848 his fees amounted to 1,547l. 9s. 6d. Mr. M. B. Miller, another attorney, was stated to have received 750l. as compensation in 1846, and his fees had increased from 300l. 17s. 2d. annually to 1,444l. 18s. 4d. in 1848. Mr. Mark Sheppard, another of the attorneys, entered the court in 1844, paying 100l., and having levied fees in each of the two succeeding years to the amount of 728l. 10s. 8d., and received 240l. as compensation: he was, in 1848, the fortunate receiver of 3,537l. 11s. 10d. Then he (Mr. Osborne) found that the number of writs issued in this court in 1846 was 2,231, and 409 causes were tried by the four barristers of the court. Taking each debt at 8l., which he should think below the average, the amount involved was 17,848l. The profits of the barristers and attorneys would be, on 1,822 undefended cases at 5l. each, 9,110l., and on 409 defended cases at 20l. each, 8,180l.; and yet these persons had now the assurance to call upon the House to compensate them In 1848 the number of writs issued was 6,535, and the four barristers tried 1,064 cases. He thought, then, from the great amount of business which had been thrown into the Palace Court, that these officers had had ample time for feathering their nests well. He altogether objected to referring this question of compensation to the Lords of the Treasury, and considered that the matter should be left for the decision of a Committee of that House.


wished to know whether there would be any opportunity afforded of discussing this question afterwards?


said, there would.

Resolution to be reported To-morrow.

House resumed.

Back to