HC Deb 06 February 1850 vol 108 cc398-402

said, he would shortly state the nature of the four Bills which he was about to ask leave to introduce for the amendment of the law in Ireland. The first Bill was for the purpose of regulating process and practice in the superior courts of common law in Ireland. The Act 2 William IV. was passed in order to produce uniformity of process in England; and the principal object of this Bill was to extend to Ireland provisions as similar to those existing here as the circumstances of that country would admit. In England, when a personal action was commenced, a writ of summons was issued, and the defendant was bound to appear within four and plead within eight days, the consequence of which was, that judgment was speedily obtained if the case went to trial; or if the defendant did not appear to plead, it went by default. In Ireland the proceeding was much more tedious. The first step was a capias ad respondendum requiring the high sheriff himself to take the body of the defendant, and produce him on the first return day of the ensuing term. Upon the defendant, however, applying to an attorney, he learned that he need not appear till eight days after the return day; and if in the meanwhile the term expired, then he need not appear till eight days after the return day of the next term. The effect of this was to produce great delay, and many consequent evils. If, for instance, the writ issued on the last four days of Trinity term, the defendant need not appear until the eighth day of Michaelmas term; and if the greatest despatch were not used, it would not be necessary to plead for twelve days subsequently to that period, so that it would not be possible to give notice of trial or obtain judgment before January or February. This gave the dishonest debtor an opportunity of disposing of his property in the mean time; and it was with the view of extending the provisions of the Uniformity of Process Act, that this Bill was proposed. He believed there was considerable difficulty in serving processes. The person employed made an affidavit of service, and the attorney verified that he believed the process had been sewed. This was a course which led to great abuses. In this country persons had been found to make affidavits, believing they were mere matters of course, when no service had been effected. The Bill proposed that the process servers of the civil hill courts should be employed for a small fee in the superior courts. There might be, and were, objections to this, and it was proposed simply as a remedy against the present evil. Another provision in the Bill was to establish uniformity of practice amongst all the courts in Ireland. At present there was considerable disagreement between the practice of the various courts, which, in point of fact, amounted to little more than a snare upon the practitioner. It was considered in Ireland a desirable thing that there should be continuous nisi prius sittings, and it was proposed to effect that object by providing that all the puisne judges should sit each term in rotation, except during those days when a full court was requisite, which would bring it to the turn of each judge about once every three years. It proposed, also, that there should be uniformity of process in the different courts of Ireland. The offices of all the courts were to be consolidated, with the view of having the writs served out with facility, and a saving in the expense of officers would thus be effected. Another object was to produce an equalisation of business between the various courts. In the seven years ending 1848, he found that the number of processes in appearance was—in the Queen's Bench, 70,393; in the Exchequer, 78,250; in the Common Pleas, 23,749. The writs of restitution were—in the Queen's Bench, 31,674; in the Common Pleas, 8,809; in the Exchequer 4,059. The causes under trial were—in the Queen's Bench, 729; in the Exchequer, 1,161; in the Common Pleas, 107. It was a very desirable thing that the judges of the latter court should have full business, in order that those of the other courts should not be overwhelmed. The measure, however, would not equalise the criminal business which belonged to the Queen's Bench, nor the revenue business which belonged to the Court of Exchequer. There were many minor details into which he would not enter; but he proposed to allow some time to elapse before the second reading of the Bill, during which the matter might be well considered by the parties interested, in all its bearings. He had received, but only to a limited extent, opinions from the Irish Judges upon the provisions of the Bill. One or two of these dignitaries stated objections to certain points with respect to which the opinion was not at all unanimous; but as regarded the greater portion of the Bill, he thought that no material difference of view existed amongst the functionaries in question. In conclusion, he had only to acknowledge the courtesy of the hon. and learned Member for the University of Dublin, whose purpose it was to have brought in a Bill of this description last year, but who upon being made acquainted with his (the Solicitor General's) intention to introduce the present measure, at once wrote to him, expressing his satisfaction that Government had taken the matter up, and placing at his (the Solicitor General's) disposal all the information which he had collected on the subject.


would throw out a suggestion to the learned Solicitor General, that in framing this Bill, some provision for the serving of legal process during the long vacation in Ireland, between the 12th of August and the 5th of October, should be made in it.


said, he would give the suggestion his consideration.


said, he felt in common with a very large portion of those who were interested in the law reform of Ireland, the great services which the hon. and learned Gentleman had rendered by devoting so much of his time, ability, and industry to the removal of those legal impediments which so seriously stood in the way of agricultural improvement and the advancement of trade and commerce in Ireland. He (Mr. Sadleir) quite agreed in the principles which had been stated by the hon. and learned Gentleman. If he had anything to complain of with respect to the present Bill, it was that the proposed reforms were not more extensive. With reference to the question of service, he thought the hon. and learned Gentleman had been happy in the selection of those parties to whom he intended to confide the service of law process in Ireland. They were men who were appointed after a careful investigation into their previous life and conduct, and they were vigilantly watched over by the assistant barristers in each county. But one of the greatest and most serious evils connected with the service of law process in Ireland was the gross injustice that arose from the fact that, as the law now stood, it was wholly impossible to effect a service of law process upon a certain class of debtors in Ireland. He alluded to those who might be possessed of landed revenues in that country, and who might avail themselves of the premium which the present law held out for absenteeism. There was no speedy process for reaching persons of that description. With reference to the dreadful delays which took place in Ireland, and, perhaps, in this country too, with respect to the disposal of new motion trials, he wished the hon. Gentleman could devise some plan by which those new motion trials could be taken in the first instance, and not hang on from year to year. He Was happy that in the projected amendment of the law, the practice of compelling attorneys practising in the law courts in Ireland to be continually making affidavits would certainly be diminished, and he could wish it were done away with alto- gether. With reference to actions of ejectment, he did not know whether it was contemplated by the present Bill to simplify the process by which parties proceeded by ejectment to obtain repossession of their land in cases of non-title or of non-payment of rent. Nothing could be more vexatious, more tedious, or more inconsistent with plain justice, than the present procedure in actions of ejectment; and if it were possible for the hon. and learned Gentleman to introduce anything into the present Bill which would lead to the simplification of proceedings by which parties could regain possession of their land when necessary, it would be conferring an immense advantage, not merely upon the landlord, but the tenant-class in Ireland.


expressed a hope that the Government would consider the propriety of extending to Ireland the system of county court jurisdiction which had been established in this country.


said, that although he would not pledge himself to all the details of the measure proposed by the Solicitor General, he believed that it would be generally regarded by all parties in Ireland as very great boon. He considered that if measures of this kind were carried out in a fair spirit by both sides of the House, they would conduce very materially to the welfare of that country.


thought that England also had some claim to improvement in the administration of her laws. In Ireland the Solicitor General would earn a great name for the improvement of the law of property, and there were many circumstances which rendered it important that similar measures should be introduced for the improvement of the law in this country.

Leave given.