HC Deb 17 July 1849 vol 107 cc467-72

The House went into Committee on this Bill; Mr. Bernal in the chair.

On Clause 20, giving compensation to the officers of the Palace Court being proposed,


said, he objected to the clause, because he could not agree to any compensation being granted to these officers. His hon. Friend the Member for Middlesex had stated yesterday, that the court was illegal; and, indeed, he could not himself help thinking that it was unconstitutional to tax people as that court had done without the consent of Parliament. Landowners, merchants, manufacturers, and shopkeepers were not compensated when new laws were made affecting their respective interests; and he knew not why such peculiar and tender concern was felt for the interest of the lawyer. If these gentlemen bought their places at an extravagant price, they did so upon speculation, and they ought, therefore, when the Legislature thought fit to alter or abolish the court, to take the consequences, in the same way that other persons did in other kinds of speculations. He must, therefore, again protest against compensation being granted to persons in the condition of these Palace Court officers. He would repeat the objection which he took yesterday to the Treasury being authorised to estimate and determine the amount of the compensation. The objection which he made was not a vague one, for when the Treasury had such authority given before, large sums were awarded to persons in the shape of com- pensation, when they had suffered no loss whatever. The officers, as had already been stated, had received compensation under the Act passed to abolish imprisonment for debt; and during the four years that had elapsed since then, they made more money than they did during the four years previously, He should mention, however, that there was one exception to this: the deputy prothonotary had received during the last four years 266l. less, and to show in what way the Treasury compensated persons, they gave him 1,400l. The Treasury were often extremely penurious and paltry—indeed so much so, that no gentleman in his private capacity would act so scurvily; but here was an instance of a very lavish and culpable expenditure. How could they be called upon to trust to the Treasury, after such instances of lavishness and disregard of the public interest, to decide upon the amount of compensation? The plan of referring the matter to a Select Committee was much better than that; it was more constitutional, and the House would have it more in their own hands; whereas if it were left to the Treasury, they might afterwards complain, but in vain. He must protest against this mode of proceeding—against those persons being compensated who had already been compensated more than enough. He should test the opinion of the House upon this point, for he felt convinced he should receive the support of the House, and that the sense of the country would be with him.


hoped that his noble Friend would not press his Amendment. It was quite clear that his noble Friend was desirous of abolishing the Palace Court; but if he succeeded in obtaining a majority against the clause, it would defeat the Bill altogether. Many Acts of Parliament had recognised the sale of these offices; and vested rights could not be abolished without giving the parties in whom they were vested, compensation. He had understood his noble Friend also to object to the manner of giving compensation, and that he would rather have that question referred to a Select Committee of the House than to the Treasury. Now, he (the Attorney General) believed that if the legal claims of the parties demanding compensation were to be strictly investigated, he was providing the best tribunal that could be devised. In a Select Committee of the House there was a divided responsibility, and Members of it were exposed to influences to which the Treasury was not subjected. His noble Friend said that he would not trust the Treasury, because, on a former occasion, they gave officers of the Palace Court too large a compensation. But his noble Friend should bear in mind that the Treasury was bound, under the Act of Parliament, to settle the amount of compensation within a certain time. It was alleged that the officers of the Palace Court would suffer by a loss of business in consequence of the operation of the Act, 7 & 8 Vict., whereas it turned out afterwards that their business increased. The present Bill, however, provided that compensation should not be calculated upon anything that occurred afterwards. He hoped, therefore, that his noble Friend would withdraw his opposition, as he was quite sure that he would be very sorry if the Bill were lost.


objected to sending the question of compensation before the Treasury. The Six Clerks in Chancery were receiving compensation equal to the incomes of Peers of the realm. They had already received 130,000l.; and not only would they continue to get compensation at this extravagant rate, but their executors were to receive it for seven years after their death. He should, therefore, prefer the question of compensation to be referred to a Select Committee.


said, that the Legislature itself had fixed the scale for compensating the Six Clerks for the abolition of their offices. One word to the noble Lord he would now address, being certain that if the noble Lord would but look at the matter a little more clearly, he would see that he was really mistaken as to the facts on which he grounded his case against the Palace Court. As for what had been said about the "illegality" of the court, there was absolutely no sort of ground for such an imputation. It had been even affirmed that the Crown had had no authority to establish this court at all; but he begged to affirm that the Crown had an undoubted power to establish, under certain forms that were resorted to by it in this instance, any such ancillary court in aid of, or within, the jurisdiction of the common law. What were the facts? There had formerly existed an ancient court for the trial of causes of a limited and small amount, and in which the parties were officers of, or connected with, the Royal household. That old court having been abolished, another court was erected under letters patent granted by Charles II. for the trial of similar causes arising within twelve miles of the city of London, and for the benefit of all other parties, not for those exclusively connected with the household. Under the same authority by which the offices of the Palace Court were constituted, the right of those originally appointed, and of their successors, to purchase and to sell them, was clearly defined, and had been since repeatedly recognised and confirmed by constant practice. Therefore, the right of present holders to compensation in the event of the offices themselves being abolished, was unquestionable, and he was satisfied that the Treasury, on being appealed to, would entertain, without scruple, the question of such compensation for them. But then, it had been attempted to be shown that in a certain instance—(for it was not denied that very large sums had been paid from time to time for these appointments)—an excessive compensation had been already granted to the officers of the Palace Court, and that now, therefore, they were precluded from setting up any further claim. Nothing was easier, how-over, than to show that the transaction referred to could not in the least affect the present rights of the parties interested, to the compensation he must insist upon being due to them. Prior to the establishment of the county courts, the Palace Court, he would venture to affirm, had exorcised a jurisdiction which had been found of the greatest benefit to that portion of the public interested in such classes of causes; and for some years before those now courts were created, the Palace Court had tried and determined at least one-fourth of the whole number of such cases coming before the law courts. But he wished to be clearly understood as limiting his argument only to the title of its officers to compensation; for he had always been of opinion that whenever the county courts were established, the Palace Court ought to be abolished. Now, it was perfectly true that when, by the abolition of arrest upon mesne process, one part, and a very principal part, of the business and fees of the Palace Court was abolished, compensation was made to a specific amount for the loss sustained, and that subsequently the other portion of its business had very extensively increased. Surely the noble Lord would not contend that that compensation for a certain specified loss was to be held to satisfy their title to compensation for the abolition of their own offices? The two interests were not the same; the one had little or nothing to do with the other. The parties had, to all intents and purposes, a freehold in these offices which Parliament was called upon to abolish; and the question now was one of compensation for that freehold sort of property. It seemed to be supposed, that because he some years ago had had the honour to fill one of the offices in the Palace Court, therefore he was now speaking on behalf of compensation to others from some sort of fellow-feeling; but he protested that he was only advocating the claim on grounds of fair dealing and equity, which he was quite certain would be acknowledged by the Treasury—a department to which the arrangement of this matter might be much more advantageously referred than to any other, and who, he was convinced, would comply with the principle of the claim.


would beg to ask the learned Attorney General one question: it had been stated by the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down, that the officers of the Palace Court received a certain compensation some few years ago, on the abolition of arrest upon mesne process; and he admitted at the same time that since that period the other portion of the business of the court had very much increased. Now, what he (Mr. Henley) desired to know was, whether since or at the same time that larger powers had been conferred on the several new courts having jurisdiction over small debts, any similar extension of powers had been given to the Palace Court? [The ATTORNEY GENERAL: Certainly not.] As that was the ease, he could not press the point, which, had the hon. and learned Gentleman's answer been in the affirmative, he should have been supplied with against this claim of compensation for loss of offices.


did not consider that the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Abingdon, with all his ingenuity and ability, had made out any case to found the claims he had been advocating. As to the fact of that hon. and learned Gentleman's having formerly held an office in the Palace Court, everybody must be satisfied that he felt and intended that such a circumstance should not in any degree interest his advocacy on this occasion. Still it was possible that without being aware of the fact, it had influenced the learned Gentleman's better judgment. Perhaps he had been one of the parties who prepared the Bill under which compensation on the extinction of arrest by mesne process was granted, as one of the officers of this very court?


No, I was not at that time. But I was Solicitor General, I think, if that will answer your purpose.


trusted, at any rate, that the Committee would not be led away by anything which had just been stated from the opposite benches to sanction a clause for giving compensation to the holders of office in a court whose very existence had long been felt to be a grievance, and the abolition of which was so loudly demanded by public opinion. According to the showing of the hon. and learned Gentleman himself, compensation had already been granted to these parties to the tune of 7,000l. for the alleged loss to the business of the court occasioned by a particular measure of legislation; and the consequence of that measure had been, on the other hand, to improve the value of its other business by about 10,000l.

Question put, "That Clause 20 stand part of the Bill."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 52; Noes 2: Majority 50.

The House resumed. Bill reported.

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