HC Deb 10 April 1850 vol 110 cc131-52

Order for Second Reading read.

MR. FITZROY moved the Second Reading of this Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill he now read a Second Time."


said, that he had before admitted that a great desire existed in the country for an extension of the jurisdiction of the county courts; but he wished to state to the House the grounds on which he thought that they ought to be at least cautious in adopting the Bill of the hon. Gentleman opposite, and in doing so he should wish to call to the recollection of the House the former proceedings which were taken in reference to the Small Debts Act. That Act was not hastily passed, and the limitation of jurisdiction was one which was approved of by the Select Committees in both Houses of Parliament to which he believed the Bill was referred at the time when the measure was first brought forward. A Bill similar in its provisions was proposed to Parliament by the Government of Lord Melbourne, in 1841, and subsequently by the Government of which the right hon. Member for Tamworth and Lord Lyndhurst were Members, with the same limitation as to jurisdiction. The Government by which the Administration of the right hon. Baronet was succeeded, saw no occasion to depart from the conclusions at which the Governments of Lord Melbourne and the right hon. Member for Tamworth had arrived; and with the general consent of both Houses of Parliament there was enacted a law giving jurisdiction to the county courts over small debts, but containing a limitation of the jurisdiction to debts under 20l. He was far from saying that this was to be considered as a final limitation, and that it might not be desirable that some extension of the jurisdiction should take place; but he thought that such a change ought not to be hastily adopted, especially when it was accompanied by other alterations in the law, which would render those courts no longer applicable to the mere recovery of small debts, since they would approximate to the procedure and process of the superior courts at Westminster, the expenses of which were almost a bar to the prosecution of small demands. The limit of 20l. was not an arbitrary limit. It was adopted as answering to the limit which was fixed at the original constitution of the county courts, regard being had to the alteration in the value of money since that time. It was adopted, also, with a reference to the rule established in the superior courts, that a new trial ought not to be granted when the sum in dispute was under 20l., unless some point of law had been wrongly ruled. The hon. Gentleman opposite, the Member for Lewes, now moved to extend the jurisdiction of these courts from 20l. to 50l., and in actions of tort from 5l. to 20l. He (Sir G. Grey) begged the House to bear in mind that it was asked to assent to a Bill which was virtually an abolition of all restriction or limitation in the extent of the amounts to be recovered before these courts, for it had been intimated that a further extension would be proposed, if the experiment of debts under 50l. was found, after a short trial, to be successful; and this, too, was to be accompanied with increased salaries to the judges and officers of the court. They must, therefore, by such a proceeding, incur a great additional expenditure; and if the fees received in the county courts were insufficient, they would throw a heavy burden on the Consolidated Fund. It might be a fair subject for inquiry before a Committee whether 20l. should be the limitation of jurisdiction for these courts; but he thought the House would act most injudiciously and improperly to adopt this Bill of the hon. Gentleman, not only with an extension of the jurisdiction of the court, but with the other provisions to which he had alluded. With respect to the provision in the Bill that the salaries of the judges should be increased, he must remind the House, that by the present law the maximum salary of a judge of one of these courts was 1,200l. In the first instance the judges were paid by fees, but it was directed that after a certain period the Government should commute these fees into fixed salaries. It had been found that the duties of the judges did not vary in amount to any great degree, for although some might have to decide a greater number of causes, others had to travel over extensive districts to visit the different courts under their jurisdiction; it was, therefore, thought that there should be an equality in their salaries. After due consideration, the salaries of the judges of these courts were fixed at 1,000l. a year each, and experience had shown that that amount was amply sufficient for the purpose. The hon. Gentleman proposed to take the maximum salary, allowed by the present law, and make it the minimum salary, so that he would at once increase all the salaries from l,000l. to 1,200l. a year, while the maxi- mum salary proposed to be given was 1,500l. a year. It was also proposed that there should be an increase in the salaries of the clerks, who were far more numerous than the judges; and owing to the different nature of their appointments, there had hitherto been some difficulty as to commuting their fees for fixed salaries. According to the present law the maximum salary to be paid to one of these clerks was 500l. a year; and the hon. Gentleman proposed in his Bill that it should be extended to 800l. a year. At present, in all cases where the clerk's fees exceeded 500l. a year, they were paid that salary; but this was only the case in about fifteen instances. In all the other courts the fees were considerably below 500l., and they were still in the receipt of their fees. Inquiries were now and had been for some time going on into the subject, but at present they could not adopt any uniform rate of salary instead of fees. In the fourth clause, it was proposed to enact that an action might be brought in the court of the district in which the plaintiff resided or had resided within six months of the time of the summons being issued. This would materially alter the jurisdiction of these courts, for a plaintiff might take out a summons in Cornwall to bring an action against a person residing at the other end of the kingdom, by which much hardship might be occasioned. The hon. Gentleman, moreover, appeared to feel that they could not safely extend the jurisdiction of these courts, unless they could secure the attendance of a learned bar to watch the proceedings. The hon. Gentleman proposed in the fifth clause, with the view of attracting a bar to these courts, to do away with the present limitation of 1l. 3s. 6d. as a fee to a barrister, and that the Lord Chancellor for the time being should be allowed to regulate the fees to be taken by barristers and attorneys, a provision which, in addition to other proposed alterations, tended to increase expense, and alter the character of the courts. An appeal also was to be given, but altogether different in its nature and effect from a new trial in one of the superior courts. He would only add that he thought the House would act imprudently if it adopted the Bill. If, however, the Bill should proceed, he should object strongly to the increase of the salaries of the judges of these courts, as he believed they were amply sufficient for the purpose at present; and he should propose other amendments in the Bill, in order to preserve the essential character of these courts, on which their efficiency and popularity depended. With the view of testing the opinion of the House, he should move as an Amendment that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words "upon this day six months."


seconded the Amendment.


said, it was notorious under the old system, that debts under 20l. could not be recovered; but this could be done by a cheap, simple, and ready process at present. The question then was, whether they should not concede to the almost unanimous voice of the country, and extend the jurisdiction of these courts to debts to the amount of 50l. When the question was last before the House, he asked his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, whether he would advise any client to go into a court for the recovery of a debt of 50l., if he had to go to one of the superior courts. His hon. and learned Friend did not answer, but he was quite sure what would be the advice that he would give. A party could bring an action for 50l., if contested, and gain it, he would not say with the loss of the whole amount, but with a great portion of it taken away for the payment of his own additional costs. The right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary said that it would be proposed next year, by the hon. Gentleman who brought in this Bill, or by some other hon. Member, to extend the jurisdiction of these courts indefinitely; but this was surely an argument in terrorem, for the same thing might have been urged as a ground against the Bill for the recovery of debts under 20l. He thought it was an admirable thing that a man could get judgment for money owing to him in one of these courts at a reasonable charge, and within a comparatively short time; but he could not do this without great anxiety and serious expense in one of the superior courts. He knew also in some of the superior courts that a decision on a trial had been given on the part of the Judge on pitiful quibbles, which would have been scouted in one of the county courts. In a case in which he was engaged as counsel, the whole case was put a stop to by its being overruled that a mere literal error in copying on the part of an attorney's clerk was fatal to the case, by which the plaintiff was saddled with heavy costs. He should be prepared to show when the proper time came that the practice and proceedings of these inferior courts might advantageously be extended to the superior courts. The real question was, whether they would allow parties having debts of 50l. owing to them to recover them or not? He should give his cordial support to the second reading.


felt this to be another step to do away with trial by jury in civil cases. As had been before stated, if the argument was good in this case, it was equally so for stretching the jurisdiction of the courts to debts of 1,000l. From the earliest times the decision of causes in this country had been left to a jury as to the facts of the case, and to a judge as to the law. This might be comparatively unimportant in undefended causes for 50l., 100l., or 1,000l; but in any disputed case, whether for 20l., 50l., or 100l., they ought to have a jury to decide on the matter of fact. The chief argument which he had heard in favour of the Bill was, that the proceedings in the superior courts were expensive and complicated in every case, and were prolonged to an unnecessary extent. Now, all who knew anything of the practice of the courts were aware that for one case decided in, fifty were settled out of, them by the opinion of counsel. He believed it was the very worst mode of proceeding that could be adopted, for one person to decide both as to the law and facts of the case. As to the expense of carrying on a suit in one of the superior courts, he could speak from experience of the operation of four different systems of law. The Dutch law at the Cape of Good Hope far exceeded the cost of English law. In point of complexity, length, and expense, it was more than double the charge of a suit in our courts. This was also the case with regard to the French law in Canada. He had been recently engaged in the proceedings previous to the adjudication of a case before a court of law in Prance, the costs of which were such that he would venture to say that it could have been decided at half the expense on this side of the water. He would appeal to his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General as to the accuracy of his statement on this point. He might be told that he had a personal feeling in the matter; but he would state that persons in snch a position in the profession as his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, and his other learned Friends around him, as well as him- self, had a direct interest that the superior courts should have their attention directed entirely to the more important legal questions which might arise. He believed others might suffer by such a change, but it would have a contrary effect on persons in rather extensive practice. He was far from saying that the administration of the law in the superior courts might not he amended, and he should be glad to see many things done to reduce the expenses of suits; but he believed the Government alone would effectively do this, and it would be a mere waste of time for any private Member to attempt to do so. He would more particularly call the attention of his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General to the expense of the proceedings in the Judges' Chambers, which were enormous, and which ought not to be allowed to exist for an hour. When the Judges were not on circuit the fees were not so heavy, but immediately they went on circuit they were increased to an amount which was enormous. It was a most monstrous anomaly not to allow the Judges 'clerks to receive fees at other periods, but immediately circuit commenced they demanded them. He bad heard an instance of the clerk of one of the Judges having received from this source such a large sum as 2,000l. The House had given these persons salaries of 500l. a year, which he could not conceive was not am-ply amply sufficient for that class of persons, and they ought not to be allowed to exact fees. Some provision in this respect ought to have been made in the Act abolishing the payment of the officers of the courts out of fees. Again, the payment of all fees in trials at nisi prius should be got rid of; but there might be some difficulty in this matter which he was not aware of. He could not conceive why in the proceedings before the Judges sitting in banco there should be no fees, while in those at nisi prius there were very numerous fees. His right hon. and learned Friend the Member for Hull would recollect a case of this kind which came under their notice; it was an undefended action tried on circuit, and although it did not occupy above a minute, the fees amounted to 5l. He was sorry the suggestion of Lord Langdale had not been adopted, by which all the officers of the courts of justice would be appointed by the Government, as other public functionaries, and would be made responsible to it for the due discharge of their duty. He believed by such an arrangement they might do away with an expenditure of several thousands of pounds. If the House attended to such suggestions as those he had made, he was satisfied they would try actions as cheaply in the superior courts of Westminster Hall as in any other way. He really believed the administration of the law might be made as cheap in this as in any other country in the world.


thought if any arguments of great weight had been used to convince the House of the necessity of acceding to the second reading of this Bill, they were those which had been adduced by the hon. and learned Gentleman who spoke last; for in the latter part of his speech he went into details which were new, at any rate to him (Mr. Christopher), if not to the House, as to the abuses which existed in the administration of the law in the superior courts. This Bill went to a considerable extent to remedy this state of things, and it was a measure called for from one end of the country to the other, with the exception of certain gentlemen of the legal profession in Westminster Hall; it was, therefore, the duty of the House to sanction its second reading. His right hon. Friend the Home Secretary had stated some grave objections to certain clauses in the Bill, such as the proposed increase in the salaries of the judges of the courts. In that objection he entirely concurred. He wished to call the attention of the House to the state of things which existed in Scotland. In each county in that kingdom there was a judicial officer, who had more extensive power than they gave to a judge of a county court in England, but who only received half his salary. He alluded to the sheriff-depute of the county. That judge was allowed to take cognisance of debts—not of 20l. or of 50l.—but of debts of any amount whatever. His attention had been more particularly called to this Bill by several of his constituents, who complained that, in consequence of the expense of recovering debts in this country, many small traders were obliged to forego debts of 40l. or 50l., or reduce them under 20l., so that they might get speedy redress at a moderate charge. He spoke, of course, under correction of the legal authorities around him, but he believed that under the County Court Act either of the parties could demand to have a jury empanelled, and that the judge, on such application, was obliged to summon a jury. He did not agree with those who thought there was not sufficient experience of the former measure to justify the present proposal, and he thought that as the experiment of the 20l. courts had proved so satisfactory to the country, the House was perfectly able now to judge whether the principle should be extended. If there ever were a case that called for the interference of the House, it was the present. For his own part, if these means of recovering a debt of 20L were so advantageous, he should say extend the principle further, and enable parties to recover debts of 100l., or even 500l. Any objections to details might be settled in the Committee; and as he believed the measure to be a good one, he should give it his cordial support.


said, he wished to insert a piece of evidence for quoad valeat in support of some of the positions of the hon. Member who last spoke. He remembered some years ago hearing an eminent Member of that House, and City banker, declare that any man alive should sue him to the amount of 500l., and he would make no resistance. There might have been a portion of hyperbole in this declaration, but it looked very much like a state of things which might be amended, and which it would be difficult to make worse.


said, the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department had repeated the question which he had put before, where was the House to stop as regarded the amount? Let the jurisdiction of the county courts be increased to that amount within which it was notorious that no sane man would go into Westminster Hall. The expense of proceedings in the county courts could never approach that of the superior courts. The country was beginning to open its eyes to a great deal of the absurdity of special pleading. The last ten volumes of reports were full of cases, the decisions in which turned on nothing but points of practice, without reference to the great principles of jurisprudence. The question of salaries was not material to the merits of the Bill; it might safely be left to the Committee. He believed that if the Bill passed, its working would be found so advantageous that some of them would live to see many causes of that class in which the hon. and learned Gentleman the Member for Pontefract was interested, no longer tried in the superior courts. He would be glad to see such reforms proposed by members of the legal profession; but as they would not originate them, others must come forward. It was, perhaps, too much to expect gentlemen who had spent a great part of their lives in legal studies to confess that a large portion of the science to which they had devoted their lives was mere mystification.


said, it behoved the House to be cautious in their proceedings with respect not only to this but to other Bills now before them relating to the administration of the law. The House seemed disposed to make rather a rapid progress in this sort of legislation, both with respect to property and with respect to crime. There was a Bill before them giving magistrates an extensive summary jurisdiction over juvenile offenders, by which it was proposed to raise the summary jurisdiction over accused persons from the age of 14 to the age of 16. His own experience had shown him, that many crimes were committed by persons about fifteen years of age, which rendered this proposition a matter for serious deliberation. There was also another Bill, originally part of the same measure, but it was divided into two, by which even adults in cases where the value of the property was less than a shilling, were to be subjected to the same summary jurisdiction. There appeared then a disposition in the House to increase the jurisdiction of the magistrates beyond what it now was, and without resorting to trial by jury. Now, it was proposed to extend the jurisdiction of the county courts—not, he admitted, without trial by jury—but to increase it from 20l. to 50l. It was true there had been petitions in favour of this measure; but then it was perfectly well known that when an Act of Parliament had worked well, very many persons could be induced to sign petitions in favour of the extension of its principle who Were not at all aware of the true bearings of the question, and therefore it was the duty of the House to consider well what would be the real effect of the Bill. One objection he had to the measure was, that it would do away with a great deal of the benefit of the County Courts Act. Parties satisfied with that Act Would soon become dissatisfied with the operation of this Bill. Without any disrespect to the judges of the county courts, he must express the apprehension, that with the power of appeal given by the Bill, the decisions of those judges would not give satisfaction in one case out of ten. Such were the impressions conveyed to his mind by conversations on the subject with a considerable number of intelligent persons. He thought that Bills of this consequence and magnitude affecting the law of property, ought to be brought in by the Government of the day; and in saying this, he, of course, meant no disrespect to the hon. Member who had charge of it. The right hon. Baronet the Home Secretary had stated the main objections to the Bill, and he (Mr. Denison) would vote with him; not that he would object directly to the extension, if he thought it would work satisfactorily to the country, but because he did not think the country had had sufficient experience of the existing Act, to enable them to decide upon the expediency of extending it. The two other Bills to which he had alluded, ought also in his opinion to have been brought in by the Government.


said, no commercial man would recommend a client to go into the courts to recover 100l He would like to hear the hon. and learned Attorney General contradict that statement. Not above one in a hundred commercial disputes ever came into the law courts, partly because of the expense, and partly because the case might be decided on a technical point, rather than on the question at issue.


said, he should vote with the right hon. Gentleman the Home Secretary against the second reading, on the ground that if the Bill passed it would effectually destroy the existing county courts, which were working very well. He conceived it impossible if they were to overlay the judges of those courts with larger sums and business and interests of a more extensive character, and with cases to be conducted by counsel, that they could pay the proper attention to smaller cases, and he believed that decisions as to smaller sums would be hurried over. He doubted, therefore, whether that system which worked well now, would continue to work satisfactorily to the class of persons who now approved of and benefited by it. The arguments in favour of the Bill might be good as applied to the superior courts, but they were not arguments for taking the business from them and giving them to other courts; for how could the enormous expense of keeping up our courts of law be justified, if now by legislation it was to be decided that they were unfit to do the business of the country? The hon. Member for Bridport was mistaken, if he supposed that those complicated commercial cases he alluded to, and which were now submitted to arbitration, would be brought into these county courts. But the great objection to the Bill, let hon. Members say what they would, was, that it would knock up trial by jury. This optional jury was the best mode that could have been selected to knock up the system altogether. There was another objection to the Bill. By a recent decision in one of the superior courts, attorneys were secured in their charges, not in the county court, but for getting up the case; and thus the door was opened to all sorts of preliminary expense before the cause could be brought into court. There was the effect of the system also upon imprisonment for debt, which was no slight matter. By the returns it appeared, that the number of persons imprisoned for debt in England, in 1845, was 2,490. In 1846 the County Court Act came into operation, at the close of the year, and the number of debtors imprisoned got up to 3,874; and in 1848 the number was 8,782, an enormous increase in so short a period. Was the House disposed hastily to extend such a privilege? Under all the circumstances, he was disposed to vote against the second reading, but he did not in so doing pledge himself against voting for some future extension.


would cordially support the second reading of the measure. He agreed with what had been said of the caution that should be observed in dealing with these matters; but he thought when they had gathered that throughout the whole country there Was But one unanimous opinion as to the excellence of these courts, the Souse would not be wanting in caution if they enlarged their jurisdiction. He could not see any great difference in dealing with the sum of 20l. and the sum of 50l. It was much the same thing; and if the courts had worked so well, why not extend their jurisdiction? He did not concur with those who objected to the measure as having a tendency to abrogate trial by jury; nor could he agree with the hon. and learned Member for Pontefract, as to the value of trial by jury in civil actions. No man entertained a more profound estimation of the value of trial by jury in criminal cases; and in civil cases no doubt a jury might be had in certain localities to render most efficient and essential service. A jury in Westminster-hall, or Guildhall, presided over by one of the superior Judges, presented one of the finest specimens of judicature in the world, and he could not well imagine a more complete tribunal. But if he regarded the ordinary run of juries, such as were had at the assizes in the country, he must own that many years professional experience had not raised his confidence in them; and he thought that a single judge, a man of experience, education, and knowledge, would decide causes much better. When Gentlemen talked of the importance of trial by jury, they forgot that in the principal courts of this country—the courts of equity—property in its masses, and in its most important relations, was dealt with without the intervention of a jury? Besides, the Bill allowed a party who desired it to call for the intervention of a jury; and it was a striking fact that parties very rarely, if ever, availed themselves of this right under the existing Act. An hon. Gentleman had observed, that the presence of a bar was important, and had a beneficial effect as a check upon the judge. He admitted the truth of that; but it should not be forgotten that the Bill provided for the presence of barristers in cases of sufficient importance to call for their assistance, and consequently there would be always some members of the bar likely to be in court. The Bill also gave the power of appeal to the superior courts; so that the judge of the inferior court would always be kept in check by the consciousness that his decision might be appealed against and revised. Another objection was, that if the jurisdiction was extended, these courts would have to deal with matters beyond their competency, and the interests of the parties might be thereby prejudiced. But if points of law were likely to arise, the Bill enabled the action to be brought in the superior courts; subject only to the condition that, if the judge who tried in the case in the superior court thought the case was not of sufficient importance to have been brought there, the plaintiff would not get his costs. With regard to the appeal, it should be open to the plaintiff as well as the defendant to appeal; a very little alteration would render the Bill complete in that respect. Besides, the existing Act gave power to remove causes to the superior courts by leave of a judge; so that the means were given to remove questions of magnitude and importance; and the operation of the Bill would be therefore limited to the class of cases in which there ought to be cheap, easy, and quick administration of justice. The expense of proceeding in the superior courts could never be reduced to the same rate as in the inferior courts; and even if the process of the superior courts were simplified, the difficulty would still remain, that, except in London and Westminster, justice throughout the country was administered by them at intervals of twice a year only. There were long periods during which, with the best cause of action, a person could not recover a debt; a year might pass away, and if there were a question as to the admissibility of evidence, or on any point of law, a second year might elapse before the case was ripe for decision. This appeared to him to afford an unanswerable argument in favour of a cheap and summary mode of recovering debts. When his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Pomfret said that the administration of the law was as perfect as it could be made, he concurred with him so far as the tribunals were concerned. The character of no judges could stand higher than that of the English Judges; but when that remark was extended to the law itself, he denied it. It was a delusion to say that we had a simple and well-ascertained law. Look at the multitudinous volumes of statutes and reports in which the law and the decisions of the courts were contained; why, it was a very serious expense to any man to take in the reports of the ordinary sittings of the courts from day to day. Know the law, indeed! when you constantly saw one court differing from another, aye, and Judges differing from one another, sitting in the same court. It took the life of a man to make himself thoroughly conversant with the law of England. To the subject the law of England was a sealed book, and he could not stir a step in the ordinary concerns of life without the assistance of lawyers. This was not a state of the law in which a man should get up in the House of Commons and eulogise it. He looked upon it as a thing deeply to be deplored that these things could be alleged by him with truth; but he thought it was one of the best signs of the times, whatever the hon. and learned Member for Pontefract might say, that the lawyers as a body were becoming deeply sensible of the defects of the system, and anxious to correct them. The best proof of this was, that legal reformers were to be found in the law officers of the Crown; the hon. and learned Solicitor General had distinguished himself pre-eminently as a law reformer, and the hon. and learned Attorney General himself also stood for- ward in that capacity, for he had given notice of a Bill for simplifying and altering the law of pleading. He rejoiced to perceive that that there was a great tendency to simplify and improve the law. When the hon. Member for Oxfordshire called on them to beware lest they should legislate too rapidly, he quite agreed that they should do nothing for the amendment of the law without being sure that they were treading on safe ground; but he could not wonder at the disposition which existed on the part of the public and the House to legislate rapidly, because all must feel that the period of legal reform had been too long delayed, to the infinite suffering and distress of the people, and he feared it must be added to the no small disgrace of the Legislature. He would only say, in conclusion, that the Bill had his cordial approval and support; and, though there might be some details, in which it was capable of receiving improvement, he believed it would be on the whole a most valuable amelioration of the law.


said, notwithstanding the imputation which had been cast out, that members of the legal profession were biassed by selfish interest in their views respecting this measure, he should not shrink from openly and candidly stating his opinion of its merits, being, as he was, utterly indifferent to any such imputations. He felt so perfectly satisfied that, if this Bill were to pass, it would violate the rights of the subject, that he should be regardless of his public duty if he were not to offer it his decided opposition. If the House thought it consistent with their duty to pass this measure, upon them let the responsibility rest; but being convinced that if the Bill passed there would be a general outcry against the administration of the law, he warned them that they would, most probably, have to retrace their steps. He wished to observe, with respect to the suggestions his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Pontefract had offered to himself and the Members of the Government, for the reformation of the methods of proceeding in use in the superior courts, that the subject had not escaped the attentive consideration of the Government. Every one familiar with the practice of those courts must feel that it was deserving of consideration. The arguments of the hon. and learned Member for Haverfordwest were directed, not to the immediate question raised by the Bill, but rather to the general system of legal procedure and conduct of business; and it would be time enough to discuss these subjects when the hon. and learned Member should bring forward any measure which might propose to modify them. The hon. Member for Bridport complained that many causes were lost, upon technical objections, but it should not be forgotten that the nature of those objections was matter of opinion. What one person might call technical, another might describe differently. The hon. Gentleman had asked him whether he (the Attorney General) would advise any merchant in the city of London to bring an action for 100l. in one of the superior courts? To that he replied, that if the issue involved points of mercantile law, unquestionably he would; and if the hon. Gentleman asked him whether he would advise such an action to be brought in any of the county courts, he should say, certainly not. To try a question of mercantile law for 50l., 80l., or 100l.—though working satisfactorily as a court for the recovery of small debts—a tribunal of that sort was utterly inadequate. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for Southampton, by way of meeting this objection, had urged that the Bill gave power to the plaintiff to sue in any court he liked on application to the Judge; but no such option was given to the defendant. Did not his hon. and learned Friend think it very hard that a wealthy merchant might sue a poorer person in the superior court, availing himself of the provision in the Bill, whilst the defendant was practically debarred from following him? The arguments urged on behalf of those who supported the Bill had been directed, not to show the advantages of extending the sum forming the subject of action to 50l., but to the general question of the jurisdiction of the inferior courts; and if they were good for an extension to 50l., there was no reason why they should not be good for 100l, or any other sum you chose. He contended that the safe limit for all practical purposes was 20l., being the sum below which a person could not be arrested. He wished to make no imputation whatever on the gentlemen connected with the county courts; he admitted their popularity, acting as they had done for suits under 20l.; but he suspected that the clause for the regulation of salaries, by which the salary of the judge was to be increased to the minimum of 1,200l., and the clerk to be paid by a salary instead of by fees, had had a great deal to do with this Bill. Circulars had been sent round, signed by a clerk, to the mayors of boroughs, inclosing the form of a petition which prayed for a salary, and suggested that the officers of these courts should be largely paid. He would read a part of this circular, to the following effect:— I supply you with a short form of petition; but as every semblance of collusion should be avoided, and as that is best secured by each petition being prepared in the locality whence it emanates, it is advisable not to adopt the exact terms of that sentence. There are loud complaints in many districts against the fees now exacted, and hopes have been held out by the Government that the schedule will be revised, a percentage to be levied instead, and the of officers to be paid by salary; but the result of calculations made by the Treasury shows that this could not be effected without increasing the jurisdiction. The petition accompanying this circular set forth— That the officers' fees are at present unequally levied in various districts; your petitioners, therefore, pray that business fees be repealed, and a poundage charged instead thereof. Your petitioners think that all public officers should be paid by salary, and especially those connected with courts of justice, in order that they may be maintained without reproach. Your petitioners see no reason why a regard for the privileges of the bar should be an obstacle to the increase of the jurisdiction of these courts; when the individual interests of all other classes have been required to be abandoned for the public good, the immunities of the advocate can have no peculiar claim to an exception. This document emanated from a gentleman whom he knew to be a clerk in a county court, and who apparently had a notion that by this Bill some 400l. or 500l. a year might be added to his in—come—it was dated from Furnival's-inn. He believed that the motives to which he had alluded had had a great deal to do with the promotion of this Bill; but it was satisfactory to him to hear that there was a general concurrence in the House against the increase of the clerks' salaries, and that, whatever might be the fate of the measure, a clerk who could not be content with 500l. or 600l. a year, need not expect to obtain 1,200l. The judges, of course, could have no desire to have the minimum of their salaries fixed at 1,200l., as they were perfectly prepared to discharge the duties of their office at the rate now fixed. He presumed, therefore, whatever might be the result of the proposition now made, no alteration would take place in the salaries. He now proceeded to the question of jurisdiction. It was proposed to raise the jurisdiction for small debts to 50l. It must not be supposed, however, that the only matters brought before the court, on which it would have to decide, would be simple cases of contract debts. Cases of mercantile law, underwriters' policies, and other complicated questions, would come to be determined by it; every question arising upon title up to the value of 50l., actions for assault and battery, or breach of contract, involving important questions of evidence, cases of obstruction to light or injury to property might also be determined, so that a machinery designed to provide an improved process for recovering small debts might be converted to very different purposes. So sweeping was this general measure, that not only would it take the jurisdiction from the superior courts up to 50l., but every manorial, local, and district court would be affected by this Act of Parliament. Even those such as the court at Liverpool, possessing a perfectly efficient bar and officers, would be abrogated. Very ingeniously did one of the clauses, without distinctly specifying what would be its effect, abolish every one of those inferior courts; because, if you recovered less than 5l. in those courts, you lost your cause. Again, the Bill offered a premium and temptation to perjury by allowing persons to be witnesses in their own cases. It might be desirable to adopt that course in small amounts; but he warned the House to pause before they extended it to large sums, where the temptation might be too strong to be resisted. At the last assizes indictments for perjury were preferred in many places against parties who had given evidence of this nature. It was proper that there should be an opportunity of examining every party as far as the production of books or documents went; but no man who had had experience in the profession, acting as arbitrator, had ever examined a plaintiff or defendant in their own case unless positively driven to that course. He stated it advisedly upon the observation of one of the most experienced men in the profession, the late Mr. Vaughan Williams, who declared that his uniform practice was, never to examine the parties, because the temptation was irresistible to the plaintiff and defendant to swear point-blank against each other. He believed, in fact, that this would turn out a mere plaintiff's court. The Bill would shake the security of the courts, and destroy the opinion of the public in the purity of the administration of justice. It was a matter, therefore, of considerable doubt and danger. There were many cases brought before a court of this nature in which no proceeding would have been taken unless the party had known that he was to be sworn in his own case; but very often there had been an opportunity of contradicting him, and the result had gone against him. There were cases, also, in which parties had yielded to a demand utterly unfounded, rather than subject their wives or themselves to an investigation of this kind. Again, many persons were encouraged to make demands, simply because the case was to be brought into court. In spite of what had been said on the other side, he considered it of the utmost importance to have a bar present in court. You required the check and control of the bar. He had seen over and over again a Judge who was about to pronounce his decision on a matter, checked by the opinion of the bar, reconsider it, and arrive at a different conclusion. You wanted a bar, constantly and vigilantly attending, not merely through expectation of profit, but with the view of learning their profession. It was the assent or dissent of the public, and of lawyers uninterested in the cause, which acted as a check on the judge; but in these courts there would neither be a bar nor the press. But, after all, it was not the amount of the jurisdiction that constituted the chief objection to the Bill in his eyes. He feared that the local nature of the interest at stake would prejudice the judge, for here they had a judge not changing from one circuit to another, but constantly residing in one neighbourhood. That objection was fatal to the Welsh jurisdiction formerly; it was abolished, yet they were about to create another open to the same objection. It seemed to him that the Bill was full of objections, and being satisfied that it would skake the confidence of the country in the courts of justice, he called on the House to pause before they agreed to this extension of jurisdiction upon arguments which might carry the principle to an unlimited length.


supported the Bill. The speech of the hon. and learned Gentleman who had just sat down was characterised more by declamation than by argument, and for himself he concurred, with one single exception, in the arguments employed by the hon. and learned Member for Southampton, in the able speech which he had addressed to the House. Without hesitation, he (Mr. Aglionby), asserted that those who had tried the county courts were satisfied with them, and wished to see their jurisdiction extended. He could not defend the circular which had been read by the hon. and learned Attorney General; but he asked whether a measure in all respects wholesome was to be upset because an injudicious clerk of a county court chose to send round an improper circular? He placed no weight on the perjury part of the question. The power of examining plaintiff and defendant had been given to arbitrators, and he was convinced that the possession of that power had been found of great advantage. For his own part, he believed that no danger was to be apprehended from allowing plaintiff and defendant to meet face to face in the witness-box. He heeded not the warning, and gladly took his share of the responsibility which the hon. and learned Attorney General threw upon the supporters of this measure.


gave his cordial support to the second reading. He could not understand the course pursued by the Government on this occasion, when, on the previous evening, they had brought in a Charitable Trusts Bill, which placed under the jurisdiction of those very county court judges charities to the amount of 30,000l. per annum, whilst they now hesitated to trust them to decide upon cases of property to the amount of 50l. What a relief would this Bill be in the case of the small shopkeeper who had owing to him perhaps a debt of 50l. If he attempted to recover it in the superior courts the proceedings would, even when successful, cost 10l.; whereas in the county courts he could recover for as many shillings. If he had yielded to private solicitations he would not have supported the Bill; but believing, as he did, that it would benefit the community at large, he should give it his hearty support. With regard to what had been said about the chances of perjury, he believed that that was more likely to occur in the smaller class of cases than in the larger.


said, that the hon. and learned Attorney General had not given a very clear answer to the question which had been put to him by the hon. Member for Bridport, whether he would advise a client to go into the superior courts for a debt under 100l. The hon. and learned Gentleman had stated that he would not advise him to go into a county court in such a case; but he had not given a satis- factory answer with reference to the superior courts. He (Mr. Hume) would also appeal to the hon. and learned Gentleman to say whether any complaints had been lodged against the proceedings of the county courts as now established? He believed that early, speedy, and economical decisions were what the community at large wished for, and, believing that this Bill would facilitate that object, he supported it.


, in reply to the first question of the hon. Member, said that it would depend upon the nature of the demand, and the particular circumstances of the case, whether he would advise a client to go into any of the superior courts for a debt under 100l. With respect to the other question, as to whether there had been any complaints lodged against the administration of justice in the local courts, he declined to give any answer.


replied. He considered it was unworthy of the high position of the hon. and learned Attorney General, as the representative of the law of this country, to undervalue, as he had done, the expression of public feeling in favour of this measure. There was no evidence whatever that any of the petitions which had been presented to the House had been got up by the party to whom the hon. and learned Gentlemen had referred. He would ask whether the petitions which had been presented from Greenwich and the Tower Hamlets in support of the Bill could possibly have received so many signatures as they exhibited if there had been no stronger feeling in its favour than what could have been created by a clerk of a county court? The argument of the hon. and learned Attorney General appeared to be directed solely against the courts as they now existed; and if the hon. and learned Gentleman really felt so strongly against these courts as he professed to do, why did he not bring in a Bill to repeal their jurisdiction as it now stood? With respect to the right of appeal which the Bill contained, he begged to say, that when he introduced the measure last year, he was told by the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Home Department that it would be an excellent one if it was accompanied by the right of appeal. [Sir G. GREY: Quite the contrary.] He (Mr. Fitzroy) certainly so understood the right hon. Gentleman, and so had the gentlemen who took down their proceedings; for he was so reported in all the papers. He (Mr. Fitzroy) believed that it would be far better if the right of appeal were left out; but he had introduced it on the express understanding that the Government would not otherwise consent to the introduction of the Bill.

Question put, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 144; Noes 67: Majority 77.

List of the AYES.
Adair, R. A. S. Hall, Sir B.
Aglionby, H. A. Hall, Col.
Alcock, T. Halsey, T. P.
Arkwright, G. Hardcastle, J. A.
Barrington, Visct. Harris, R.
Berkeley, hon. H. F. Headlam, T. E.
Blackstone, W. S. Heald, J.
Blandford, Marq. of Henry, A.
Bramston, T. W. Herries, rt. hon. J. C.
Bremridge, R. Heywood, J.
Bright, J. Heyworth, L.
Brockman, E. D. Hildyard, R. C.
Brown, W. Hodges, T. L.
Buck, L. W. Hornby, J.
Buller, Sir J. T. Howard, hon. J. K.
Busfeild, W. Howard, P. H.
Buxton, Sir E. N. Hume, J.
Carew, W. H. P. Kershaw, J.
Castlereagh, Visct. King, hon. P. J. L.
Cavendish, hon. G. H. Knox, Col.
Chatterton, Col. Lacy, H. C.
Christopher, R. A. Langston, J. H.
Christy, S. Lennox, Lord A. G.
Clay, J. Lindsay, hon. Col.
Clay, Sir W. Lopes, Sir R.
Clive, H. B. Loveden, P.
Cobden, R. Lushington, C.
Cockburn, A. J. E. Mackie, J.
Colebrooke, Sir T. E. Meagher, T.
Collins, W. Manners, Lord J.
Colvile, C. R. Matheson, Col.
Conolly, T. Meux, Sir H.
Cotton, hon. W. H. S. Mitchell, T. A.
Currie, H. Moffatt, G.
Currie, R. Molesworth, Sir W.
Darner, hon. Col. Morris, D.
Deedes, W. Naas, Lord
Dod, J. W. Norreys, Lord
Douglas, Sir C. E. O'Connell, M. J.
Duckworth, Sir J. T. B. Packe, C. W.
Duff, G. S. Patten, J. W.
Duncan, G. Pechell, Sir G. B.
Duncombe, hon. O. Perfect, R.
Egerton, W. T. Peto, S. M.
Emlyn, Visct. Pigott, F.
Evans, J. Pilkington, J.
Ewart, W. Pinney, W.
Fitzwilliam, hon. G. W. Plowden, W. H. C.
Forester, hon. G. C. W. Plumptre, J. P.
Forster, M. Pugh, D.
Fortescue, hon. J. W. Rendlesham, Lord
Fox, W. J. Ricardo, O.
Fuller, A. E. Richards, R.
Gibson, rt, hon. T. M. Romilly, Col.
Gooch, E. S. Sandars, G.
Greenall, G. Scholefield, W.
Grenfell, C. P. Sibthorp, Col.
Grenfell, C. W. Sidney, Ald.
Smith, J. B. Waddington, H. S.
Sotheron, T. H. S. Walmsley, Sir J.
Stafford, A. Walpole, S. H.
Stuart, Lord D. Walter, J.
Stuart, Lord J. Watkins, Col. L.
Stuart, H. Wawn, J. T.
Thicknesse, R. A. Westhead, J. P. B.
Thompson, Col. Williams, J.
Thornely, T. Willoughby, Sir H.
Townley, R. G. Wilson, M.
Townshend, Capt. Wodehouse, E.
Tyrell, Sir J. T. Wood, W. P.
Vane, Lord H.
Vemey, Sir H. TELLERS.
Villiers, hon. F. W. C. Fitzroy, H.
Vyse, R. H. R. H. Mullings, J. R.
List of the NOES.
Armstrong, Sir A. Lascelles, hon. W. S.
Baines, rt. hon. M. T. Law, hon. C. E.
Baring, rt. hon. Sir F. T. Lewis, G. C.
Bouverie, hon. E. P. Lockhart, W.
Boyle, hon. Col. Long, W.
Brotherton, J. Lygon, hon. Gen.
Chaplin, W. J. Macnaghten, Sir E.
Chichester, Lord J. L. M'Neill, D.
Childers, J. W. Martin, S.
Cowper, hon W. F. Maule, rt. hon. F.
Craig, Sir W. G. Moody, C A.
Dalrymple, Capt. Morgan, H. K. G.
Denison, E. Morison, Sir W.
Denison, J. E. Mulgrave, Earl of
Divett, E. Napier, J.
Dundas, rt. hon. Sir D. Newdegate, C. N.
Ebrington, Visct. Paget, Lord C.
Elliot, hon. J. E. Palmerston, Visct.
Fellowes, E. Parker, J.
Fergus, J. Power, N.
Fordyce, A. D. Rich, H.
French, F. Romilly, Sir J.
Grace, O. D. J. Russell, F. C. H.
Greene, T. Seymour, Lord
Grey, rt. hon. Sir G. Sheil, rt. hon. R. L.
Grey, R. W. Somerville, rt. hon. Sir W.
Halford, Sir H. Spooner, R.
Hatchell, J. Strickland, Sir G.
Hawes, B. Tufnell, H.
Hayter, rt. hon. W. G. Wall, C. B.
Henley, J. W. Wilson, J.
Hobhouse, rt. hon. Sir J. Wyvill, M.
Howard, Lord E. TELLERS.
Howard, C. W. G. Hill, Lord M.
Jervis, Sir J. Bellew, R. M.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read 2°, and committed for Thursday, 2nd of May.


asked whether, after the demonstration of the feeling of the House which had just been made, the Government would persevere in opposing so salutary a measure?


said, he should feel it to be his duty to object to any increase of the salaries of the judges; but he could not undertake to say whether any further opposition would be given to the measure by the Government.

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