Order read, for resuming Adjourned Debate on Motion [27th May],
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty, that She will be graciously pleased to add to the Commissioners appointed to inquire into the practice and proceedings in the High Court of Chancery, two or more persons not of the profession of the Law, but such as to Her Majesty may seem qualified as men of business to assist in and make more effectual the labours of the Commissioners; and also praying that Her Majesty would be graciously pleased to cause Instructions to be given to the said Commissioners, to direct their immediate attention to the course of business before the Masters in Ordinary of the said Court, so as to report as speedily as may be their opinion as to the proper steps for regulating the business in those offices, in such manner as to diminish the delay and expense to the suitors.
§ Question again proposed: Debate resumed.
The SOLICITOR GENERAL
regretted he was not present when the hon. and learned Member for Newark brought forward the subject. The Motion, he thought, pointed to two distinct matters: one, that the Commission on which he had the honour to serve should be augmented by two Members not belonging to the profession; and the other, that the Commission should be directed to attend to the proceedings in the Masters' Offices, with a view to make an immediate report on the subject. He should shortly state why he conceived the Motion would frustrate, instead of promote, the object which his hon. and learned Friend had doubtless in view, viz., to endeavour as speedily and as effectively as possible to reform the Court of Chancery. A Commission, as the House was aware, had been appointed to inquire into various measures which might load to that reform. Upon that Commission there were now serving seven Commissioners who were all members of the Bar at the time of their appointment, but two of whom had since been promoted to the Bench, viz., the Master of the Rolls and Vice-Chancellor Turner. Now he was quite certain his hon. and learned Friend would not think that the Commission had in say way suffered by the promotion of those learned gentlemen to the offices they so ably filled, seeing that the Commission still retained their valuable services with the additional weight of their judicial capacity. With reference to the proposal to add two Commissioners to the present number, he begged to say, that all experience in matters of this description, whether as respected 1360 Committees or Commissions, showed that the present number of Commissioners was quite sufficient for the purpose of effectual working, and that a more numerous Commission would be less likely to come to a speedy result, because it would be found extremely difficult to get them to meet together and work continuously at the business before them. There was not one of the Members at present on the Commission, who was not earnestly and heartily desirous of Chancery Reform. With respect to the proposal to have two or more members not of the legal profession added to the Commission, he had no doubt that there were many non-professional men perfectly capable of giving the Commission valuable information; but that, after all, when that information came to be arranged and digested, that duty would require to be done by those members who did belong to the profession. He saw no advantage, therefore, that was to be gained from having these non-professional persons on the Commission, seeing that the information to be derived from them could easily be obtained without their being members of the Commission, viz., by their offering their views in evidence before the Commission. With regard to the second part of his hon. and learned Friend's Motion, viz., with reference to the course of business before the Masters, he begged to tell him that the last two meetings of the Commission had been wholly occupied in examining evidence upon that matter; that the Commission was at this moment engaged in considering the subject; and that though he could not promise him an immediate report, he could promise that before Parliament met again the Commission would report not only upon the business of the Master's Office, but upon the whole subject which had been referred to them.
said, that there had been various inquiries into the abuses of the Court of Chancery; but hitherto, at all events, the unlearned public had derived no advantage from them. He remembered perfectly well that when two Vice-Chancellors were appointed some years ago, it was said that those appointments would produce an efficient remedy to the grievances complained of; but to this it was answered that the appointment of two Vice-Chancellors could in no respect diminish the evils arising from the mass of business in the Master's office; and from that time to the present not one step had been taken to remedy that grievance. 1361 He wished now to address himself to the noble Lord at the head of the Government. He did not think that the noble Lord was aware of the extreme grievance of the case. He (Mr. Ellice) had acted with his noble Friend ever since the accesion of his party to office. He had fought under the noble Lord with some zeal in effecting various reforms for the good of the country; but certainly it was a lamentable fact that hitherto they had left the abuses of the Court of Chancery almost untouched. He did not mean to cast the slightest imputation or reflection cither upon the masters, than whom more learned and energetic men did not exist, nor the counsel or the solicitors employed in Chancery cases; but the fact was, the mass of business, the complication of accounts, and the system altogether, was of such a description, that no human labour or learning which the profession could apply to it would be of the least avail—the whole system was such an abomination, that neither the able masters, the learned counsel, nor the acute and intelligent solicitors, were able to give the least relief to the suitors engaged in the court. Some instances of an appalling character had been stated in former discussions of the misery and ruin which had fallen upon persons who had entered that den from which no traveller returned; and, among other things, he had heard it stated that no constested case of a partnership account had ever been known to go into the Master's Office, and come out settled with a report. ["No, no!"] Well, he believed that such cases were, at all events, exceedingly rare. He asked whether it was fit and decent that such a state of things should exist at this time of day in the greatest commercial country in the world? It was absolutely necessary, also, that some means should be found to dispose of the accumulated arrears of business in the Court of Chancery. The appointment of additional Judges would be of no avail if some means were not found to clear off the vast amount of business before the taxing masters. He was told that when judgment was delivered, the Registrar's office was in such a condition that months elapsed before the minutes of the judgment were given. The noble Lord would recollect that during the existence of the Grey Administration, the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Ripon (Sir J. Graham), and himself (Mr. Ellice) sat on a Committee of Inquiry into the state and condition of the Court of Exchequer; that 1362 they found the tally-sticks which wore in use in ancient times for keeping accounts still used for that purpose in the Court of Exchequer; that the Committee were the means of reforming the whole of that system, and at the same time effecting some economy for the benefit of the public. In like manner he conceived that some good might be done in the present case by the addition of some non-professional gentlemen. He did not believe that if they left this reform to the lawyers, they would ever see anything done. That was his conviction; and if next Session he found that he was wrong, he should rejoice in the discovery. They did not need the assistance of great lawyers in a reform in respect to the accounts. The matter was of a plain mechanical nature, and could be settled without the intervention of legal assistance. Lot his noble Friend (Lord John Russell) refer to what had been done in regard to public accounts in other directions. The right hon. Baronet the Member for Ripon, to whom he (Mr. Ellice) always looked as an authority on these points, would remember the reform which was effected in the accounts of the Navy, chiefly by the instrumentality of the right hon. Gentleman himself. A similar reform had taken place in the accounts of the Army; and, in fact, in all departments of administration something had been done to get rid of the old vicious system. As yet, however, no daylight had been permitted to penetrate into this den of darkness—the Court of Chancery. He looked, not to the lawyers, but to his noble Friend, and to the noble and learned Lord who now held the Great Seal, to set themselves to this work, and to get rid of that which was really a disgrace to the ago in which we lived. He had heard it whispered out of doors that a great obstacle to these reforms was found in the Lord Chancellor; but he was satisfied that this was a libel on that distinguished lawyer. That noble and learned Lord felt that his character depended on his mastering his subject; and he (Mr. Ellice) fully relied on the noble Lord at the head of the Government, acting under the advice of the Lord Chancellor, not to permit the question to be any longer trifled with.
The MASTER OF THE ROLLS
said, he had not been unwilling to do what he could towards carrying out such reforms as might be useful in the administration of justice in all its various departments. He admitted that the grievances and com- 1363 plaints which might be urged against the administration of justice in the Court of Chancery were not less strong than had been stated by the right hon. Gentleman. Having been his counsel in some heavy cases, he could state that no man had had greater experience of the evils and abuses which existed. One of those abuses was the mode and system of taking accounts—a system, however, which was not one that could be remedied by employing accountants or a barrister for the purpose. In an Act which passed last Session relative to the Court of Chancery in Ireland, there was a clause relative to accounts which might have the effect of remedying the evil complained of. That evil was, that if, in a partnership suit for example, partners contested a balance on the books, the person who thought that a balance was due from him to the other, asked the partner to whom the balance would be due to prove the first item in his books. These books extended, perhaps, over 1,000 items, and were spread over several years, and if every item were to be proved, and every voucher furnished, the life of man would not be competent to take such an account; and his right hon. Friend was perfectly accurate, notwithstanding that the hon. Member for Newark shook his head, when he said that a contested partnership account never, or very rarely, came out of the Master's Office. He (the Master of the Rolls) had introduced a clause into the Act of last Session, relative to the Irish Court of Chancery, which enacted, that whenever a partnership account was taken, the books of the partnership should be taken as true, and that the man who objected to an item should disprove the items to which he objected. He believed that this was a useful change with regard to consignee and partnership accounts. He was desirous to reform the Court of Chancery as much as possible. Very early in life he had a knowledge of that Court, but at that time the complaints were of the great amount of arrears in consequence of the difficulty of getting decisions. Now that abuse had been remedied, and at this moment, although there were arrears of appeals arising from unavoidable circumstances, of which the illness of the late Lord Cottenham was one, yet, with respect to original cases, there were no great arrears of business, although there was a great amount of it, and the business heard was not that which was many months in arrear. On this subject it was desirable 1364 to correct some mistakes which were prevalent relative to the business of the Court of Chancery. He had observed a remarkably able article in a very able newspaper relating to a cause that came before himself, in which it was observed that a Bill had been filed in 1815, and that a motion to pay money into Court upon it was made in 1851. Now, that case was nothing more than one in which the Court of Chancery was acting as trustee. A person died in 1815, leaving property to his widow for her life, and, after her death, to other parties. She lived till 1849, and upon her death a question arose which had not arisen before, and thereupon application was made to the Court of Chancery, as trustee, and as speedy a decision as could be was come to upon that question, which had arisen only two years before, although the bill, it was true, had been filed in 1815. There was a large class of cases in which the Court of Chancery acted as trustee, and where, from the nature of the trust, questions were from time to time arising, from the devolution of interests, which created fresh questions to be decided, while the public had a notion that this was only one cause, like the running down of a ship, the question whether a carriage was on the right side of the road, or a common action to recover money. The Court of Chancery did not require a fresh suit for every fresh question that arose in this suit. It was necessary for the House to understand this, in order that they might not be misled by the mere statement of dates in these matters. And he believed that it would be one of the most useful reforms in the Court of Chancery that would enable the Court, without the expense of a suit, to act as trustee for marriage settlements, in wills, and in the administration of estates, by a simple application to the Court, and without the necessity for a suit at all. This was one large class of suits. Another was the winding-up cases. He was addressing some hon. Members who were engaged commercially in business, and he would suppose that any one of them intended to put an end to his business, to wind it up, to get in his debts, and then to ascertain the surplus of which he was possessed. He would ask such an hon. Member to say within what time he reasonably believed he could wind up his business. Well, but take the case of that Gentleman dying before he had finished winding up his affairs, and that questions continued to arise 1365 thereupon. It was not in these cases that the evil of the delay was in the Court of Chancery—the delay was a necessary evil in the nature of things, which prevented the possibility of realising all the proceeds of the estate, and dividing the money with the same despatch as if it were a question whether a man were on the right side of the road, or the running down of a ship. The case which he was supposing was in fact not one suit, but a great number of suits, which were necessary to be heard before the Court could ascertain the amount of the estate, and how it ought to be divided. At the same time he wished it to be understood that nothing was further from his desire than to defend the real abuses of the Court of Chancery. He earnestly desired to remove them, and he was quite sure that all his friends who were joined with him in the Commission, felt the same desire. The number of the Commission was seven, and they had formed themselves into sub-committees of two, who took different departments, framing various suggestions for the purpose of considering various branches of the subject, and bringing these suggestions at length under the notice of the Commission at large. These various suggestions were afterwards considered and united together. It was not possible to take up the question at once and altogether; but the Commission were desirous to obtain such suggestions as they were able upon one branch, and to make a report on that, and afterwards to take another branch, and so on. The mode of taking evidence in the Court of Chancery, which he admitted was a great abuse, had occupied the attention of the Commissioners. They had drawn up suggestions of questions, which had been printed and sent to various practitioners, not only barristers, but officers, Registrars, Masters, and Judges, who were requested to give them information. The Commissioners had the advantage of the great experience of Sir E. Sugden, Sir J. Knight Bruce, Lord Cranworth, and others, who had shown the greatest possible desire to assist them. The Commissioners were now on the eve of making a report on the mode of taking evidence in the Court of Chancery. They wore also taking evidence on the mode of carrying on business in the Masters' Offices; and upon this subject they were proceeding in like manner, by means of suggestions and collecting information. His hon. and learned Friend (Mr. J. Stuart) 1366 suggested that two new members (Sir J. Graham and Mr. Henley) should be added to the Commission. Both those hon. Members were qualified to render valuable assistance in any ordinary case; but in these meetings of the sub-committees to take evidence, there were a great number of technicalities which the members of the Commission were intimately acquainted with, and which it was not possible for any lay member to be acquainted with, and it would necessarily take him a considerable time to understand the nature of the question, and the character of the reform that was necessary to be made in it. It was not possible for the Commissioners to attend the whole of the day, but they had endeavoured, as far as was possible, to meet on Tuesdays, Thursday, and Saturdays, from four to six o'clock. Now, would it be possible for lay Members of that House constantly to attend on all the occasions of those meetings? If it would, he should be glad to have their assistance; but he had considerable doubts whether, in the present state of the business, their presence would be of the same advantage to the Commission as his hon. and learned Friend supposed. When the Commission was moved for, he strongly pressed the hon. and learned Member for Newark (Mr. J. Stuart) to be a member of it, but the hon. and learned Gentleman declined. Since that time the Commissioners had made a report, which he believed to be valuable and useful, and stops had been taken for preparing a Bill to carry the suggestions to which he had adverted into effect, though he did not know that it could be brought into Parliament during the present Session. However, in respect to these peculiarly technical matters, which it was necessary to deal with in the Commission, his belief was that, notwithstanding the great intelligence of the hon. Gentlemen who had been alluded to, their presence would not be found beneficial to advance the business of the Commission, at least in the present stage; but when matters had further progressed, then he believed some further advantages might be produced by their being added to the Commission. The right hon. Member for Coventry (Mr. Ellice) had said that the evils of the Court of Chancery were so great, that when a person wanted a bill taxed, he was obliged to wait three or four months, and that six or seven weeks elapsed before he could get an order drawn up in the Registrar's office. He believed that to be true; but if the noble Lord 1367 at the head of the Government came down to the House and asked for the appointment of two new taxing masters, who, he (the Master of the Rolls) believed, to be fully wanted, then a complaint would be made of the creation of additional officers with additional salaries, and it would be said that nothing was being done but increasing patronage. In the Court of Chancery there was a constant struggle to get through the business, which was not adequately performed, in consequence of the terror that that House would be opposed to the grant of additional aid. He thought it desirable to make these statements, being convinced that it was of the greatest possible importance to take up this question seriously and earnestly. He believed that to be the intention of the Government, and the desire of the Commission; and though he was sure that the House would insist on having full information and inquiry on the subject, he thought that the best line which the House could pursue would be to wait a little time before interfering with the proceedings of the Commission, or adding new members to it, to see what course the Commission would adopt. He doubted whether it would be possible to make a report, to be acted on during the present Session; but he believed there would be ready, before the meeting of next Session, a body of information and digested suggestions, which would enable his noble Friend at the head of the Government to bring forward a measure, he would not say for a perfect reform of the Court of Chancery, but for the reform of a great number of the existing evils. A great number of the abuses had been removed; but no one got praise for that, and all that was heard was complaint from those who suffered from the evils which still existed.
§ MR. CHRISTOPHER
thought, after the speech they had just heard from the right hon. and learned Gentleman who had addressed the House, there could be no more cogent reasons advanced for the proceeding recommended by his hon. and learned Friend near him. As to the delays of the Court of Chancery, there could be no doubt on the mind of any one. He had been dragged into that Court against his will on one occasion, and had been kept there six years without any result. After every effort to obtain a hearing at the end of that period, he had obtained one which lasted ten minutes, and he had been told by the Master of the Rolls that the parties had no business to take him into that 1368 Court. It was subsequently nine years before he succeeded in getting the suit terminated. He agreed with the right hon. Member for Coventry, that unless they got rid of the whole system from the beginning, there was no use in appointing new Judges, new Masters, or new officers, and that they should strike at the root of the evil, if they intended to accomplish any real practical good.
§ MR. BETHELL
said, he must express his regret that so much time had been lost in this discussion, inasmuch as there stood in the Orders of the Day for discussion, a Bill which, he believed, would go far to remedy many of the evils which were now complained of. He sincerely concurred in that part of the appeal of the hon. Member for Coventry, in trusting that the noble Lord at the head of the Government would not allow the Session to pass without carrying into effect some of the recommendations of the Crown with respect to the reform of the Court of Chancery. The name of the noble Lord had been associated with many great reforms in the institutions of the country; and he hoped that it would have the additional honour of being connected with the reform of our judicial system. The House must not, however, give way to idle clamour or to unfounded complaints. They must not forget that the jurisdiction of the Court of Chancery had arisen from the narrow and repudiating principles of the courts of common law—courts which had refused to meet the difficulties arising from an extended system of jurisprudence, and which refused to extend their rules so as to meet the enlarged relations and growing requirements of society. The jurisdiction by way of interdict now exercised by the Court of Chancery—namely, by injunction, had always been repudiated by the Courts of Common Law. All these important jurisdictions the Courts of Law had thrown upon the Courts of Chancery; yet while this was the case, the Court of Chancery had been stinted and starved, and four or five Judges were required to perform duties which it would require thirty more properly to perform. On one side of Westminster Hall there were these four or five Judges administering an enormous amount of property; and on the other side of Westminster Hall there were fifteen Judges, whose duties were, in comparison, light. He would therefore ask, was not Parliament responsible for a great portion of these evils, and for a continuance of those evils of which so much complaint had been 1369 made? Lately, indeed, they increased the number of Judges; but in a spirit of miserable economy they not only refused to increase, but actually diminished the number of the Masters. The railway mania, and the immense quantity of litigation consequent upon it, had very much tended to increase the business of the Court of Chancery. Bankruptcy and insolvency, to the extent of many millions, had ensued from over-speculation. None of the business arising out of it was disposed of by the Courts of Common Law; but all was referred to the Court of Chancery. If the Legislature wished to apply a remedy, and facilitate Chancery proceedings, let them put their shoulder to the wheel, and give additional assistance in those departments which required it. The appointment of the two additional Judges (the Vice-Chancellors) had very much increased the labour of the Masters. With regard to the Commission, it had been one of its most earnest objects to suggest some means of facilitating business in the Masters' Offices, and they had a Bill prepared, which he expected would shortly be laid upon the table of the House, which they believed would remedy the evil. The difficulties complained of in the Masters' Offices arose from the centralising system of taking the accounts, and these accounts were necessarily taken through the medium of agents, he would illustrate that proposition by a familiar case. If half a dozen partners in a mercantile house in Manchester or Nottingham quarrelled among themselves, the partnership was dissolved, and their accounts were transferred to the Court of Chancery. The services of the parties themselves and of their solicitors were dispensed with, and agents were appointed, whose interest it was to retard the proceedings as much as possible. Thus, in taking the accounts, an agent was in the habit of saying—" Oh, I am not instructed. I have not got such and such a paper or document—I must send down to the country for further information;" or some other excuse of the kind, with the view of creating delay. In his opinion, the best way to administer justice in this respect would be to appoint some one in the same town, before whom the books and accounts might be laid, and who could be empowered to arbitrate between the parties, and to settle the accounts without resorting to the office in London. But that was not the course which was followed: every thing must be done in London. The solicitors 1370 themselves in the cause were superseded, and they were obliged to employ agents who had loss anxiety and less concern to get through the business than the proper solicitors of the parties. The agents made endless excuses for delays, because they wished to delay. They habitually said to the Master they were not instructed, or it would be necessary to examine some person in the country. The Master was armed with no authority to compel the attendance of parties; and the excuses for delay were much augmented by the matter being removed from the place where all the parties themselves and all their solicitors were residing. The mode in which the Commissioners proposed to remedy the evil complained of in connexion with the Masters' Offices, was to substitute the District Commissioners in Bankruptcy, or the Judges of the County Courts, and to throw upon them a considerable portion of the duties now performed by the Masters. It would be very advantageous to have a third additional Judge appointed, who should sit from day to day in chambers, and dispose continuously of business which could not so expeditiously be despatched elsewhere. Contrast the duties of the Court of Equity with those of the Courts of Common Law, and you would at once see the necessity of making the former more equal to the business which came before them. With regard to the persons engaged in the Court of Chancery, he never met any one, be he Judge, Master, or Advocate, who was not active, zealous, willing and desirous to do all in his power to facilitate the proceedings of the court; and if instead of turning out the Commission for a little sport in that House, the hon. Member for Newark had lent the Commission his assistance, he would have done more to promote the object he professed to have in view. The Commissioners had received a great deal of valuable assistance from gentlemen of the Equity Bar, but none from the hon. and learned Member for Newark. With reference to the two Gentlemen whom it was proposed to place on the Commission, there could be not the slightest doubt of the extent of their information and of their great practical sense and judgment. But were they to join the Commission now, it would be some time before they could even learn the vocabulary in use by the professional persons to be constituted the Commission, and by which alone they could intercommunicate their views upon the technical subjects before them. He thought 1371 it better that the Commission should proceed as it was; but he trusted the House would hereafter join, on the occasion of considering the whole subject of the jurisdiction of the country.
§ MR. HENLEY
said, that the speeches of the three hon. Gentlemen who were Members of the Commission under consideration rendered it perfectly clear that from them the country was to expect no practical reform of the Court of Chancery and its abominations. The speech of the Master of the Rolls—a most unexpected one, certainly, from him—was little more than an apology for the present system of that Court; while as to the speech of the hon. and learned Member for Aylesbury, it was little short of a proposition that the Court of Chancery was a perfect thing; at any rate, he had not indicated in the slightest degree any opinion which could lead the House to suppose that he saw any evils or difficulties in the system of the Master's Offices, against which so much complaint was made; and though the Master of the Rolls had admitted that there was no chance of a disputed partership account ever coming out of the Master's Office, not a word indicated that the system of taking accounts in the Master's Office—a system which, in the eyes of all who knew anything about it, as victims or as observers, was an utter monstrosity, required, in the hon. and learned Gentleman's opinion, the smallest modification. Inquiry! Why, the flagrancy of the whole iniquity was as clear to the public as the sun at noonday. There had been plenty of inquiry. What the public wanted now, and what the public would have, was action—no tinkering up of the rotten system, but a thorough clearance of the rottenness. As to the accounts, little more was needed than that the practice respecting them should be assimilated to that of the Court of Bankruptcy. He called upon the Government to give their most serious and most unflinching consideration to this vital subject.
§ MR. J. EVANS
could hardly believe that the observations he had just heard emanating from the Master of the Rolls were uttered by the same person who, as Attorney General, had so admirably conducted the reform of the Court of Chancery in Ireland. As to the hon. and learned Member for Aylesbury, he obviously considered the Court of Chancery to be quite a specimen of perfectibility all but attained; he had warned the House against 1372 being led away by extravagant clamour and unfounded complaints, and all the hon. and learned Gentleman had got to suggest on the subject was that there should be a further Equity Judge appointed, but not a word as to the Master's Office, except that perhaps it might be as well to make a slight modification of the arrangements in one or two minor particulars. "The railway business has done it all," cried the hon. and learned Member, in reply to the complaints of the ruinous delay of business in the Masters' Offices. Why, there was precisely the same complaint before a railway was over heard of. The same complaint would continue if the last scrip of railway business was removed from, the Masters' Offices. Rely upon it that until the Augean stable in Southampton-buildings was cleansed, no good could be done though you appointed half-a-dozen additional Vice-Chancellors. He sincerely hoped the noble Lord would adopt the suggestions of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Coventry, and would himself superintend this great reform. He had been for upwards of thirty years in practice, but he had never seen the Courts of Common Law so devoid of business as they were at present. In fact, all the business had been transferred to the County Courts in consequence of the expense of the superior Courts. In his opinion, the whole system of the law ought to undergo a full investigation, and the reform should not be bit by bit, but by a comprehensive measure.
§ SIR JAMES GRAHAM
would tell the House frankly that he was weary of inquiry; he thought they had inquired too much, and done too little. For two Sessions he had devoted a large portion of his time, with his hon. Friend the Member for Oxfordshire (Mr. Henley) to an inquiry before a Committee of the House, composed of some of the most distinguished lawyers. There were upon that Committee the right hon. the Master of the Rolls, Sir G. Turner, the hon. Member for Midhurst (Mr. Walpole), and the Solicitor General, and he believed that in their report they were unanimous. They exhausted inquiry upon a very important subject, namely, the payment by fees of the greater part of the officers attached to the Court of Chancery. Incidentally also they inquired into the duties were performed. They presented two reports 1373 —the evidence and the interrogatories were before the House. He had heard the speech of his right hon. Friend the Master of the Rolls with pleasure, as indicating his adherence still to his desire of reform of that Court in which he now filled so eminent and deserved a station; but his final judgment smacked too much of his Court, for he now said that as far as a Bill on the subject was concerned, it would be advisable not to press such a measure with too much precipitancy. The constant cry was, "Wait a little—more delay; let us pause a little longer." Those were ominous words. The Committee reported two Sessions ago, and yet nothing had been done. He really mourned over it. He could not conceive a more fatal omen with respect to any Bill on this subject. There was another matter, though of minor importance. The Lord Chancellor was appointed on the distinct understanding that he accepted the office subject to any regulation that might be imposed as to his staff. The Committee had reported against his seven Secretaries—one of them, the Secretary of Bankruptcy, was spoken of as holding a sinecure of 1,200l. per annum. Twice had that office been reported against; but the Lord Chancellor had still seven Secretaries, and the Secretary of Bankrupts continued one of them. The Committee also reported against his two Gentlemen-at-large, who were paid by fees amounting to a sum of 750l. a year for each; nevertheless the Lord Chancellor has still his two Gentlemen of his Chamber, There were also Chaffwax and Deputy Chaffwax: the Lord Chancellor had still those officers despite the denunciation of the Committee. Those things were indicative how fruitless reports and investigations were if there was not the spirit to act and to reform. There was, somehow or other, and in some quarter or other, such a passive resistance that it overcame the utmost energy to improve; and he would say that the noble Lord and his Administration could not, in public opinion, reap more golden favour than by any act of energy to give effect to the recommendations of authorities so eminent as those to whom he had referred, and before the close of the Session at least to give a sample not only of what was intended, but of what was to be done as to Chancery reform. He certainly was somewhat surprised to hear the hon. and learned Member for Aylesbury's statement. 1374 He said that already a great reform was contemplated by the Commission, by which, he said, that much of the business now transacted in the Masters' Offices might be transferred to the Judges of the County Courts. Now, the hon. Member for Haverfordwest (Mr. Evans) said that there was little to do in the superior Common Law Courts, the business having been transferred to the County Courts. From that he (Sir J. Graham) augured well. The gentlemen in Westminster Hall were beginning to perceive the necessity of setting their house in order; and from this necessity and the new interest which it created, real and substantial reforms might at last be anticipated. He did not wish to comment on the attendance of the Masters; but one abuse more clearly demonstrable than another, and upon which the Committee were unanimous, was the system of hour-warrants. It ought not to continue another day. Sir Edward Sugden, in Ireland, by his authority under the great seal of Ireland, terminated that abuse several years ago; and yet the people of England were still enduring that which the Lord Chancellor, by his own authority, could put an end to.
§ SIR JAMES GRAHAM
Changed, indeed! The form has been partially altered; but the evil itself remains unredressed. He could not say he was satisfied with the attendance of the Masters. They did not go to their offices so early as the Judges, and they left them much sooner. Then ail their business was not in the nature of a judicial proceeding; and he conceived that a great part of it might be done as satisfactorily by persons of much lower standing, and receiving much inferior pay. He was sure that if the Government set about reforming these things in earnest, they would, in a short time, to the gratification of the feelings of both Houses of Parliament, and to the immense satisfaction of the public, obtain a great, extensive, and most satisfactory amendment of this administration of justice. It had been asked, why the Bill recommended by the Committee had not been introduced. He believed the reason to he this: they had as Chairman of that Committee a most amiable and intelligent gentleman, who was now an Under Secretary of State; but, unfortunately, his health broke down during the recess. His health was now happily restored, and if he would now in- 1375 troduce the Bill—and no man was more competent, he believed—it would give great satisfaction; and there was no good ground for supposing that even during the present Session the measure might not he passed into a law. Some such proof was absolutely necessary to demonstrate to the public that Parliament was in earnest in the great task of accomplishing Chancery reform.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
was ready to admit that there were many reforms that might be made in the Court of Chancery. At the same time, it was no great encouragement to make reforms when they found that the complaints remained exactly the same after the reforms had been carried out as they were before they were devised. The complaint as to length of time in respect of Chancery suits had been in a great degree remedied by the appointment of other Judges in the Court of Chancery; and on more than one occasion in the last six years, when he had asked what was the state of business in the Court of Chancery, he was told the causes sot down at the beginning of term were heard before the end of the term. His late noble Friend (Lord Cottenham) declared in the House of Lords, that it had more than once occurred that there was no appeal to be heard. That was a great change from the time they might recollect, when old and valued friends of his complained with great truth of the want of decisions, and of the great arrears of business. There is now, I believe, owing to accidental causes, a heavy arrear of appeals in the Court of Chancery; but I believe, even in this respect, the Court is in a much better position than it was in fifteen or twenty years ago. Another great complaint was the hour-warrants, and the right hon. Baronet the ber for Ripon said, it was too much that that system should go on, and that to that day nothing had been done. Now, if the right hon. Gentleman had inquired, he might have found that two eminent Judges, whose recent loss they must so much regret—Lord Cottenham and Lord Langdale—met frequently on this subject; that it employed much of their thought, and that, more than a year ago, orders were issued with their authority with respect to hour-warrants, making a great change, and he believed the hour-warrants were now set aside by another system, there being now a list of the causes to be gone through by the Masters. Some hon. Gentleman said, "Why not put an end to 1376 the whole system? "It was very easy to say that; but he believed there was no other country in which there was a more complicated system of property, or in which there were more complicated relations with regard to property, than existed in this country. Many persons held land under various and ancient titles, and were connected with commercial transactions of a complicated nature, those transactions being carried on in India, or North America, or in various parts of the world, and the questions brought before the Courts of Equity were, consequently, in many cases, of a very complicated and difficult nature: it is, therefore, absolutely necessary that we should inquire and consider before we make any sweeping changes, so that those changes may be in a right direction, and on a solid foundation. When he was asked, "Why do you not resolve all these questions by one single measure?"—he might reply that it would be as easy to explain the whole Newtonian theory, involving very complicated and intricate propositions, in a few words. The real cause was, that the subject-matter does not admit of so simple a course as some are disposed to recommend. The right hon. Member for Coventry, by way of showing how easily a change might be effected, said, "You have reformed your public accounts; you have taken the advice of able and eminent men, and, instead of a vicious and false system of accounts, you have a very good and efficient system of accounts. Why not put the accounts of the Court of Chancery upon the same footing, and test them by the same rule?" Now, he would ask the House to compare these two things. Gentlemen conversant with accounts laid down a system on which the accounts of the War Office, for instance, should be kept, or on which the general accounts of the nation should be kept. That system was followed. The persons who managed the accounts were required to keep them in a certain form; at the end of the year those accounts were in perfect state; and, if they were not kept in the form in which it had been ordered that they should be kept, the errors of the system were corrected; at the beginning of the next year the whole matter was set right, and the machine went on with certain accuracy. But the Court of Chancery had no such power. If that Court had said in the year 1820, to any number of partners, "You shall keep your accounts in a particular form; you must require vouchers for every 1377 item you pay; and every sale of property you effect, and every lease you take, must be entered according to a certain form which we prescribe;" it was possible that accounts so kept might be very easily an-ravelled. But the fact would be, that these partners had gone on from 1820 to 1850, keeping their accounts according to their own notions and methods, and then when the accounts had become exceedingly complicated, when the parties had got into great difficulties, and were unable to unravel their accounts, they came to the Court of Chancery and asked, "To how much is each partner entitled?" There could, indeed, be nothing more unlike than the case of a public department, where the accounts were kept according to a prescribed form, and the case of the Court of Chancery, which had to decide between parties who had kept their accounts according to their own systems. At the same time, there was no portion of the business of the Court of Chancery which seemed to him so much to require amendment, and which appeared also so obviously capable of amendment, as this matter of complicated accounts. It really was not a question that ought to be decided, as the Master of the Rolls had said it was decided, according to certain rules of evidence, but it was one of those questions that ought to be decided according to the usual method in which men of business managed their accounts. When the Masters in Chancery had decided upon questions of law and of title—matters upon which they could properly decide—he considered that they should then say with regard to matters of account, "Having now laid down the principles of law applicable to this case, appoint men of business to investigate the accounts, and they will treat the subject as men conversant with matters of this kind." He (Lord John Russell) considered that some alteration of the present system in this respect was very much required, and he saw no obstacle that stood in the way of its being adopted. He owned that he thought amendments with regard to other matters might not be so very easily effected. His right hon. Friend (Sir J. Graham) had referred to the question of fees, with respect to which a Bill had been already prepared. He (Lord John Russell) thought, however, it was but right that the Lord Chancellor should have an opportunity of looking into that subject. He had called the attention of the Lord 1378 Chancellor to this question of fees as soon as he received the seals, and he believed that noble and learned Lord was desirous of establishing such a system as would work well for the country. When it was said that no steps had been taken on this subject, he (Lord John Russell) must remind the House that the Lord Chancellor had already abolished fees to the extent of 20,000l. a year. He believed, also, that the office which had been alluded to as that of "chaff wax" had been abolished; and those measures were proofs that the noble and learned Lord was not entirely standing still; and when the right hon. Gentleman spoke of the Lord Chancellor's seven secretaries, it must be remembered that the Lord Chancellor was at the head of an important department, and it was necessary that he—like the Secretaries of State—should have a considerable staff of clerks, in order to the due discharge of the business of each department; and it was also necessary that many of the officers of the Lord Chancellor, as, for instance, those connected with the department of lunacy, should be persons of considerable ability and knowledge. The hon. and learned Gentleman who had brought forward the Motion before the House, proposed that two persons not belonging to the profession of the law should be named by the Crown to be added to the Commission; and if the hon. Gentleman considered that such an arrangement would be of any utility, he (Lord John Russell) would have no objection to it. On the contrary, he thought some benefit might result to the public from an arrangement of that kind, though he did not envy the gentlemen who might be appointed their task. It was, perhaps, however, desirable, that some gentlemen not of the profession of the law should get an insight into the details of a system which, without very great attention, it was most difficult to understand. With regard to the Commission itself, when that Commission made a Report, even if it should be made during the recess, the House might be able to proceed upon a matter which two centuries ago had baffled the genius and the sturdy will of Cromwell.
§ MR. JOHN STUART
was very glad the noble Lord had acceded to his Motion, and he was happy that, by pressing the matter upon his attention, he had in some way contributed to convince him of the propriety of his object.
§ Question put, and agreed to.