HC Deb 17 March 1853 vol 125 cc314-6

said, he wished to ask Her Majesty's Attorney General a question, of which he had given him notice. It related to the codification of the Statute Laws, and was of some importance to these countries generally, but particularly to Ireland. In order that the House might properly understand the bearing of his question, it would be necessary to preface it with a few short statements. The Ante-union Statutes of Ireland occupied twenty large folio volumes, called the Irish Statutes at Large. The Ante-union Statutes of England were contained in eighteen quarto volumes. The Post-union Statutes of the United Kingdom filled twenty immense quartos. Of these Post-union Acts, some were common to the three countries, whilst some were peculiar to England, some to Scotland, and some to Ireland only. For his own part he had always advocated a complete and entire identification and amalgamation of the laws of the three kingdoms; and, paradoxical as it might appear, he would, as an Irishman, prefer to be subject to inferior laws in common with England, than to superior legislation confined to Ireland alone; and for this plain reason, that in the one case ho could confidently calculate upon future improvement, whilst in the other he would possess no sufficient guarantee against an immediate change for the worse. It appeared from recent statements, made in the other House by the Lord Chancellor, that a codification of the Statute Laws was the chief measure of legal reform proposed to be initiated by the existing Government during the present Session. The Lord Chancellor, when referring to this measure, had stated that he computed the number of Acts in the English Statute books was 14,408, independent of the Irish and Scottish Acts, which he calculated would make up a total of about 20,000 printed Statutes. In his elaborate speech upon legal reform, delivered on the 14th of February last, the Lord Chancellor had expressed himself in these words:— I believe the work of consolidation can be done; but you have a right to ask me how. What I propose is a very simple course. To employ a Commissioner to act under my own immediate superintendence, having further, the co-operation of two or three Gentlemen well skilled in the subject, and whom I shall, as it were, retain in the case to give their whole time to it. I believe this work of codification is as much called for, and will prove as beneficial to the whole community, as any measure which the ablest legislature has ever passed."— [Hansard, cxxiv. 634.] Again, on the 15th of March, the same learned functionary stated— He had done his best to secure the services of. a few of the most efficient men, whose services could be obtained, with reference to the proposed codification. He did not wish to commence before the Easter recess, but he had put matters in such a train that in the first week of next month the work could be commenced. Now, he could not collect from the statements of the Lord Chancellor whether he intended that the proposed codification or consolidation should extend to the Statute Laws of Ireland or Scotland. He presumed the course would be to employ legal Commissioners, to be paid under a Treasury Minute. He considered it of great importance that the Statute Laws of Ireland should be included in any general measures of codification; and he thought it also important that persons well acquainted with those laws should assist in conducting it. The Lord Chancellor of Ireland, and Irish barristers, were not only conversant with the twenty folios of Irish Statutes, but they were also presumed to know, and actually did know, a great portion of the Acts of Parliament comprised in the thirty-eight quartos called the English Statutes at Large. But the Lord Chancellor of England and English barristers were neither supposed to know, nor did they, in fact, know anything about Irish Acts of Parliament. Under these circumstances, he wished to ask the hon. and learned Attorney General whether the codification of the Statute Laws proposed to be made by the present Government under the superintendence of the Lord Chancellor of England, will embrace the Statute Laws of Ireland or Scotland, as well as those of England; and whether it is intended that the Lord Chancellor of Ireland and the Lord Advocate of Scotland, and that members of the Irish and Scottish bars, as well as of the English bar, shall assist in conducting such codification?


In answer to the hon. and learned Gentleman, I have to state that, since he gave me notice of the question which he has now put to me, I have had an interview upon the subject with the Lord Chancellor, from whom I have ascertained that this scheme will provide for the consolidation of the Statutes relating to Ireland and Scotland, as well as those relating to England; and that, although at the present moment—the arrangements being merely preparatory and provisional—no members of the Irish or Scotch bars have been called in to assist in the codification of those laws, yet that it is the intention of the Lord Chancellor that eventually members of those bars shall be added to the gentlemen selected to aid in that codification.