HC Deb 11 July 1856 vol 143 cc684-708

Order for Committee read.

Motion made and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


said, it was his intention to move a resolution condemnatory of the principle of throwing a largely increased charge on the Consolidated Fund on account of the County Courts. He apprehended that its adoption by the House would not interfere with the progress of the present Bill, but would simply delay the carrying out of the proposed alterations in reference to the fees until another Session. It would be perfectly competent to the House, after adopting the Resolution of which he had given notice, to resolve themselves into a Committee on the Bill. He might as well, however, state to the House the reasons which had induced him to adopt this form of Resolution. The financial changes contemplated by the Bill were dispersed through its various clauses, and as it would have been impossible, by any question to be raised in Committee, to submit the subject fairly to the House, he had endeavoured to gather together the various results of the proposed changes into one general Motion. The additional charge intended to be thrown on the Consolidated Fund by this Bill was £170,000 a year. At present the fees paid by the suitors discharged the entire expenses of those Courts with the exception of £25,000 and a further sum of about £13,000, which by Act of Parliament was charged on the Consolidated Fund. Besides the additional charge of £170,000 contemplated by the Bill as it now stood, there were further additions contemplated by various Amendments, of which notice had been placed on the papers, giving salaries to Judges and their clerks amounting to somewhere about £45,000, which must be taken into account. If these were not adopted the whole charge of the County Courts when the Bill was passed would amount to £208,000, of which £170,000 would be imposed by the Bill, and if these were adopted the total charge would be about £253,000. Now that, it must be borne in mind, would not be merely a permanent charge, but, in all probability, would be a growing one. An annual charge of £170,000 was equivalent to voting away £5,000,000 of the public money; an annual charge of £208,000 was equal to £6,500,000, and an annual charge of £253,000 to about £8,000,000, so that in a financial point of view it was no light question which the House was called upon to decide. It was no excuse for passing over the financial considerations, to plead that this was a measure of law reform. So far the financial part of the question had not been adequately considered. The measure had been sent down from the other House, framed by certain eminent Peers connected with the legal profession, whose susceptibilities with regard to the liability of the Consolidated Fund were of course not so great as those of the House of Commons ought to be. The financial changes contemplated by the Bill had been treated quite as a secondary matter, but they ought not so to be viewed in that House. As yet there had been no distinct understanding arrived at as to the mode in which they were to proceed in dividing the charges of litigation between the public and the suitors. He was not prepared to deny that there was much to be said in favour of a revision of the present arrangement, but it ought to be done deliberately, and it should be after a careful review of the relations between this subject and other subjects connected with our judicial system. All he asked of the House was the right of reconsidering the subject. There was a doctrine which was greatly in fashion with some classes of the community, to the effect that inasmuch as litigation was a misfortune, its evils and annoyances ought to be borne, as far as possible, by the public. To that doctrine he most distinctly demurred. It was one which would greatly tend to foster litigation. Although some persons were involved in litigation perfectly reasonably and for the defence of their right, in many suits both parties were, and in most one was, unreasonable. Even if it were not so, why were the costs of misfortune to be borne by the community? why should not the evils and anxieties of life appertain to those upon whom they fell? By placing them upon the public you removed the stimulus to the exercise of individual prudence, and discouraged the self-command and self-denial which led men to take calm and dispassionate views of their own position and interests. With regard to the particular case of County Courts there were many circumstances which might be urged in support of the argument that the present state of things called for some modification of their arrangement. It was said that the State paid the salaries of the fifteen Judges who sat in the Superior Courts in Westminster Hall. That was true, but it was also true that suitors were made to contribute largely towards the expenses of those Courts. Besides, those Judges did not stand in a position with respect to the public similar to that of County Court Judges. Their services were required for carrying on the whole of the superior criminal jurisdiction of the country; and they had also to discharge the constitutional duty of rendering advice and assistance to the ultimate Courts of Appeal. It might also be urged as a reason why the Judges of County Courts should be paid out of the public funds that in Scotland the salaries of the sheriffs who presided in the small debts' courts of that kingdom were so paid. But it must be remembered that those sheriffs, like the fifteen Judges, were concerned in the administration of criminal justice. What he ventured to submit to the House, and at the same time to impress upon it, was, that this subject ought to be deliberately examined and considered by the House in connection with the state of the judicial establishments in Westminster Hall, and with the manner in which the charges of those establishments were divided between the public and the persons engaged in litigation. There was at present a strong impression on the public mind that these establishments were considerably larger than was necessary. The Judges were provided with most liberal salaries, backed by most liberal pensions. That, he considered, was perfectly proper. It appertained to the independence and the dignity of the Bench, and he did not believe that there were five men in that House who would wish to alter it; but that was no reason why the dignified occupants of those offices should not be fully worked, or why there should be a greater number of such officers than the nature and extent of the public business justified. The labours of the Judges had been greatly relieved by the creation of a body of not less than sixty County Court Judges, and the tendency of legislation was further to reduce their labours; and it was therefore but just to the people of England that, before imposing upon them a charge so heavy as was contemplated by the Bill under consideration, the House should examine into the state of those establishments, and should place them on such a footing as the interests of the public required. They were there to vote the money of the people of England, which was collected from the earnings of the mechanic, the artisan, the peasant, and the factory worker, and they had no duty more sacred than that of not voting sums which were disproportioned to the purposes to which they were to be applied, and of seeing that they did not impose upon the Consolidated Fund new charges without examining whether the expenses for kindred establishments could not be reduced. The only ground upon which his Motion could be opposed was, that this was a matter of extreme urgency; but such an objection would not be well founded, because all the necessary reforms in the procedure of the County Courts and in the costs of processes might be agreed to without the decision of the question of who should be the parties to bear the charge. That question was certainly not an urgent one. The course which he would suggest for the adoption of the Government was, that they should, during the recess, consider this very important subject, especially in connection with the position of the fifteen Judges; should fix a proper scale of salaries for the Judges of County Courts; should ascertain the lowest cost at which the business could be done; and should then, upon their responsibility, submit to the House a proposal as to the manner in which the charge should be shared between the public and the suitors. The Bill amounted to no such, proposal.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word— That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "it is not expedient to impose, at the present time, upon the State a charge so heavy as one hundred and seventy thousand pounds per annum, towards the maintenance of the County Courts," instead thereof.


said, that the Bill now before the House was founded upon the Report of a Commission specially appointed to inquire as to what changes might be made in the County Courts. The Commissioners were directed to inquire whether any reduction could be made in the fees paid by suitors in those Courts, and into the general cost of the proceedings. The Commissioners stated— We now proceed to consider a question which is preliminary, but essential, to this branch of the inquiry—that is, whether the County Courts should be self-supporting. We are of opinion that they should not. To compel the suitors to pay fees sufficient to support the establishment appears to us unjust in principle, as that which is for the benefit of the public should be supported by the public; but we fear that at present financial reasons will render it impracticable to reduce the fees in strict conformity with the principle we have enunciated. We think, therefore, that the suitors should pay an amount of contribution sufficient to remunerate the clerks and high bailiffs of the Court, and that all other expenses of the establishment—such as Judges' salaries, buildings, stationery, and other matters, should be borne by the public revenue. They then gave a scale of fees, and recommended a reduction in the sum heretofore paid by suitors of £124,000. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) had not stated any special reasons, applicable at this particular time, why the principles laid down by the Commissioners for the County Courts, and already recognised in the Superior Courts at Westminster, should not be now acted upon, and he did not see that any reason had been shown for further inquiry into the principle whether suitors who were least able to pay the costs should pay expenses from which the richer suitors in the Superior Courts were exempt. His right hon. Friend said this was a heavy charge, but he did not see how the House would be more competent to deal with the question in a future Session, since they had now the advantage of the assistance of the Report of the Commission. His right hon. Friend said there were special reasons why the Superior Courts of law at Westminster should be maintained at the public expense which were not applicable to the County Courts, because the Judges transacted all the criminal business of the country. But the Equity Judges received their salaries from the same source, and they transacted no criminal business. Their attention was exclusively devoted to suits in which property was concerned, and in which the suitors were persons of wealth, or, at all events, of some means. The Judges of those Courts were maintained exclusively at the public expense, and he did not see any distinction between the Equity Judges, who transacted exclusively civil business, and the Judges of the County Courts. His right hon. Friend said that there were now more Judges in Westminster Hall than were required for the business that devolved upon them. He was not aware of the grounds upon which his right hon. Friend came to the conclusion that the number of Judges could be at all diminished, nor could he conceive why, upon that account, the House should not do justice to the class of suitors interested in the County Courts. If the House were to cut off two, or three, or four of the Judges of Westminster Hall, that would not affect the business of the County Courts or the duties performed by the Judges of those Courts, nor did he see why the House should postpone an act of justice to the suitors in the County Courts until they had instituted an inquiry into a matter of a totally different nature. He conceived that the proper course was to go into Committee on the Bill. There might be reasons for making changes in the table of fees, but he hoped the House would not be induced to make those Courts self-supporting, and to throw the whole burden upon the suitors.


said, he hoped the Government would not give way upon the Bill. Of all the means to give relief to the oppressed, none was done at so little expense as by the County Courts Act. The last thing they ought to do would be to refuse a little money towards the relief of the oppressed. The business of the Courts was not only great, but increasing. Since 1851 it had increased a hundred fold. When, with the concurrence of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford the Government had voted so many millions, they surely should not refuse a sum of £100,000 for such a purpose. The right hon. Gentleman had told them to wait; he was a theologian, and therefore knew that procrastination was the root of all evil. No persons concerned with justice were so much wronged as the clerks of the County Court Judges, for they were less remunerated than any other portion of the same class. The Bill was intended for the middle classes, and he trusted that it would not be rejected.


said, that the Resolution of the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) was founded upon the totally mistaken principle that the Judges of those Courts ought to be paid in part by fees from the suitors. The only sound principle was, that that expenditure should be looked upon as part of the public service. Remembering the reckless manner in which money was not unfrequently voted away by that House, it was shocking that there should be so much reluctance in granting the necessary supplies for that most important of all services—the administration of justice. He would certainly vote against the Amendment.


said, he should support the Resolution. He approved of the reasonings of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for the University of Oxford, and thought that by acting upon the Report of the Commissioners the House would place itself in a false position. It was, he believed, dangerous to make justice too cheap.


said, that a proposal to throw upon the suitors the entire charge of those Courts looked not unlike an attempt to make men forego their rights and submit to imposition rather than incur a serious expenditure. Such a proceeding was not to be tolerated. The doctrine, that the charge of maintaining the Courts of law should be thrown on the litigant parties was open to grave objection, for the community at large, and not merely the person who succeeded in a case, derived benefit from the administration of justice. It might be that the expenditure on account of salaries and superannuations in the Courts at Westminster Hall was excessive; and, if so, it would be well to inquire into it; but the question had no manner of connection with that now under consideration, and should not be mixed up with it. It was not to be denied that the fees at present exacted from suitors in the County Courts were too large, and altogether out of proportion with the amounts involved in litigation. That evil the Bill would correct, so the House, in his opinion, would do well to go at once into Committee on it.


said, he fully approved of the Resolution. They were culled upon to pay £170,000 a year, and if the right hon. Gentleman (Mr. Gladstone) divided the House upon the propriety of considering the County Courts without pledging themselves to pay the sum, he would go with him. After so much money had been voted, it was more than ever important to consider such a sum as £170,000. He objected to it as a guardian of the public purse.


said, that from the speech of the hon. Gentleman, it would be supposed that the £170,000 was to be taken from the pockets of the people. That certainly was not the proposition. The proposition was to limit the power of granting money to the County Courts to £170,000. They should consider that in those courts was transacted the greater part of the litigation of the country. The amount in each case was small, but the aggregate was enormous. The courts were courts of litigation for the poor. The Resolution made a difference between courts for the rich and courts for the poor, and gave the favour to the court for the rich. [Cries of "No, no!"] That, however, he repeated, was the effect of the Resolution.


said, he must deny that the Amendment was fairly susceptible of any such interpretation as that sought to be put upon it by the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield. If any distinction were made between the rich and the poor as regarded their courts, the House would desire to make it in favour of the latter. But what said the Chancellor of the Exchequer to the proposal to saddle the Consolidated Fund with this enormous charge? It was, above all things, important to know how it was regarded by the financial Minister. For his own part, he (Sir H. Willoughby) had serious misgivings that if they went on throwing such heavy burdens on that fund, it would break down and become bankrupt at last. The expense of our judicial constitution was enormous. We paid more for allowance and compensation than other countries paid for their entire judicature. That arose from the mixture of payment by money and payment by fees.


said, that all persons were gainers by a cheap administration of justice, and that to maintain cheap justice was one of the reasons for which that House existed. If the Judges in Westminster Hall were too numerous and too well paid, by all means reduce them; but let not the poor of the country be called upon to pay larger sums than they ought to pay in judicial fees.


said, the question was not one of cheap justice, but of what proportion of the expense of the County Courts should be borne by the suitors and by the country respectively. It was not the poor alone who were benefitted by these tribunals—the rich often availed themselves of their advantages; and if the fees now unnecessarily proposed to be reduced were still retained, it was his belief that nobody, from one end of the country to the other, would lose a night's sleep in consequence.


said, that 999 out of 1,000 debtors were induced to pay their debts from a knowledge of the facilities offered by those courts for enforcing just claims; and it was not fair that the unfortunate creditor, who was put to the trouble and expense of substantiating his claim in one of those tribunals, should be subjected to an additional charge for their maintenance. The burden ought to fall upon the public at large, to whose rights the existence of those courts operated as an effectual protection, It would, moreover, be a flagrant injustice while the cost of the Superior Courts—resorted to exclusively by the rich—was defrayed by the public, to insist on the tribunals frequented by the poor being supported by the suitors.

Question, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question," put, and agreed to.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

House in Committee.

Clauses 1 to 4 agreed to.

Clause 5.


said, he wished to move, as an Amendment, at the commencement of the clause to insert the words "any special pleader of ten years' standing may be appointed a Judge of a County Court, and." Some of our ablest lawyers had been taken from special pleaders, who were especially versed in the law of evidence.


said, he must object to the Amendment. Special pleaders, he apprehended, would introduce technicalities, and not act on the principles of the Bill. There was a provision in the former Act that they should be qualified for the office after they had been called to the bar for a limited period.


said, he would add to the Amendment a proviso that they should be first called to the bar.


said, he had no objection to fix a particular time after their call to the bar.


said, he did not think it was desirable to introduce special pleaders in any way. They were only persons who undersold the barristers, their very existence was of recent date, and they did not choose to observe the regulations of the bar.


said, that on referring to the existing Act, he found that special pleaders were eligible after they had been called to the bar for seven years. He hoped that would satisfy the hon. Member for Sheffield.


said, he would beg to ask whether the hon. and learned Gentleman would have any objection to another principle, which was not to exclude attorneys and solicitors. Those parties were admitted in Scotland; and one of the ablest Judges in that country, Mr. Sheriff Barclay, of Perth, was only a solicitor. He should move that a solicitor or attorney of ten years' standing might be qualified to be a Judge of a County Court.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


said, he should oppose the Amendment. The attorneys had quite power enough in the profession as it was. A single instance did not make a general rule, and he thought the line between the bar and the attorneys should be maintained definite and distinct.


said, he hoped the hon. and learned Attorney General would adopt the Motion. He knew of no power attorneys possessed except that of selection in delivering briefs to counsel. There was no comparison on the part of barristers with a class of attorneys with whom he (Mr. Hadfield) was acquainted for a knowledge, not only of evidence, but of the law in all its departments.


said, he would not discuss the fusion of the two branches of the profession proposed. So long, however, as the judicial bench in Westminster Hall was recruited from one branch of the profession, he thought it was best to keep up the distinction, more especially in the County Courts. On those short grounds he opposed the Amendment.


said, many of those gentlemen who were now Judges of the County Courts had been originally attorneys. It was but natural, however, that barristers should oppose attorneys.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.


said, he objected to the power the clause gave to the Judges, in case of absence, to allow another Judge to act for them.


said, that the clause did not increase the power already existing in that respect. It only prescribed the mode of appointment.


said, that it would seem to sanction the notion that these Judges had so much of their time unoccupied that they could supply the convenience of other Judges, and do their work.

Clause agreed to; as were also Clauses 6 to 19 inclusive.

Clause 20 (County Courts shall not have jurisdiction to try any action for criminal conversation, but that, by agreement of both parties to a suit, all other actions may be tried in such Courts).


said, he wished to ask on what ground actions for crim. con. were excluded from the jurisdiction of the County Courts? He also wished to know why, in the case of causes beyond the jurisdiction of County Courts, the consent of both parties was required for their trial in those Courts?


replied, that County Courts were established in order to afford a cheap and speedy means for the recovery of debts, and for the administration of justice in certain cases; but if jurisdiction was given to those Courts over all causes which were now cognisable by the Superior Courts of Common Law, he apprehended that it would be necessary to establish a subordinate set of Courts to determine the class of cases which were at present within the jurisdiction of the County Courts.


said, he always understood that County Courts were established with the avowed object of bringing justice home to every man's door. If, then, there was in any case a right of action for criminal conversation, why should not the means of redress be open to the poor man as well as to the rich? The poor man felt the injury he sustained in such a case quite as keenly as the rich man, but, under present circumstances, his poverty prevented him from obtaining justice.


said, he would remind the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield that the damages laid in cases of criminal conversation were frequently of enormous amount, and that great delicacy of judgment was required on the part of the Judges by whom such cases were tried. He thought, therefore, that the jurisdiction of the County Courts should not be extended to cases of that class.


said, a man could bring an action for libel in a County Court, and on what ground was he precluded from proceeding for criminal conversation in such a Court?


said, he did not see why, if cases of libel and seduction could be tried by consent in County Courts, the jurisdiction of such Courts should not be extended, with the consent of the parties to actions for criminal conversation.


said, he thought it would be most dangerous to give County Courts jurisdiction in cases of crim. con. Under such a system facilities for collusion would be afforded, and plots of that kind might easily be carried out to fruition in County Courts.


said, he was of opinion that cases of collusion would be more likely to occur in the inferior than in the superior Courts, and he thought, therefore, that it was desirable to reserve the jurisdiction in actions for criminal conversation to the Superior Courts.


said, that the clause would give jurisdiction to County Courts, by consent, with respect to all actions in Courts of Common Law; he should, therefore, move an Amendment giving County Courts similar jurisdiction with respect to suits in equity.


said, he should oppose the Amendment, which was negatived without a division.


proposed an Amendment, to extend the jurisdiction of the Courts beyond £50, without consent of parties, which was also negatived.

On the Question that Clause 20 stand part of the Bill,


said, he should oppose the clause, and hoped the Committee would strike it out, as in the event of its being agreed to it would clash with the clauses which he intended to move at a future stage.


said, he hoped the Committee would adopt the clause as it stood. The Commissioners were unanimous in their opinion that the jurisdiction of the County Courts should not be extended to any other causes than those mentioned in the clause without the consent of the parties to the suit.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 21 (Cases may be removed from the jurisdiction of the County Court, in which a set-off was admitted against the original account exceeding £200).


said, he should move to strike out the words "provided the amount of the claim exceeds the sum of £200." He did not see why, if the actual sum in litigation was only £10, whether the set off was £200 or £2,000, the County Court should not deal with such cases. If the clause were agreed to in in its present shape, it would exclude all running accounts from the jurisdiction of those Courts.


said, he would accept the Amendment.

Clause, as amended, agreed to; as were also Clauses 22 to 72 (C) inclusive.

Clause 72 (D), Salaries of Judges.


said, he considered the present would be the proper time to move the Amendment of which he had given notice for equalising the salaries of the County Court Judges at £1,500, instead of at £1,200 per annum, as proposed in the Bill. Those Courts occupied now a most important position, and he thought that the public interests required that every precaution should be taken to insure that the Judges should be highly qualified. The task he now had to perform was simplified by the admission contained in the Bill—that hereafter the salaries of the Judges ought to be uniformly of one amount, therefore he need not dwell on that point. A recent Act gave power to the Treasury to assign to them a salary not exceeding £1,500 a year, and not below £1,200. That discretionary power on the part of the Treasury had been condemned by the Lord Chancellor and by the country at large, and was wisely surrendered by the present Bill. The question now was, whether the salaries should be equalised at the amount of £1,500 a year, or, as the Bill proposed, at £1,200. When the first County Courts Act was passed in 1846, jurisdiction was given to the Judges of those Courts only in cases not exceeding £20 in value. A salary of £1,200 was assigned to them, but they were left free to add to their income by following their profession as barristers. In 1850 the jurisdiction was extended to cases of £50 in amount, and of course the business of the Courts was greatly increased. The next Act, in 1852, regulated the salary of the Judges, so that it should not exceed £1,500, or fall below £1,200, but by the same Act the Judges were restricted from following their profession as barristers. In the exercise of the discretion given by the Act the Treasury decided, in 1854, that a very considerable number of the Judges—he believed one-third—should receive the maximum salary of £1,500 a year, on the ground of the rapidly increasing duties of their office. Since then not less than six or seven Bills had been passed adding to the labours of the County Court Judges, and he now appealed to the House to decide whether it was not important to the interests of the country that the income of the Judges should be fixed at such an amount as would secure the services of men qualified to discharge the increased duties with efficiency. He would now give the House some idea of the amount of business done in these Courts by stating that, in 1851, not less than 441,000 plaints were entered for sums amounting in the whole to £1,624,916, of which £618,000 were received during the year to the credit of the suitors, and £615,000 were actually paid over. He might safely say that since then the amount had greatly increased. Considering that the Judges were obliged to abandon their profession as barristers, to take residences in the country, and to support properly their social position—considering also that the business of the Courts had greatly increased, he thought that the higher salary of £1,500 would not be more than a reasonable remuneration for the duties they had to discharge. Let the House compare the salary he now proposed to give with the remuneration given to some other legal functionaries. The senior Commissioner of Bankruptcy received £2,000 a year, and the other Commissioners £1,800 each. The first Insolvency Commissioner received £2,000 a year, and the subordinate Commissioners £1,500 each. The duties discharged by the County Court Judges were fully as important to the public as the duties discharged by those officers, and required an equal degree of capacity, professional knowledge, and experience. The Chairman of the Quarter Sessions Courts in Ireland received from £800 to £1,000 a year each, and were allowed to practise at the bar besides. Now, should not gentlemen qualified to fill the office of a County Court Judge, and having the dignity and station of that office to maintain, be put upon, at least, as good a position as the Chairman of the Quarter Sessions Courts in Ireland? Now, let the Committee consider for a moment the objections that were raised to the proposed increase of the salaries of the County Court Judges. It was in the first place contended that their labours were not so great, and their time not filled up to such a degree in the discharge of the duties of their offices as to entitle them to a higher amount of remuneration than that which they at present received. His answer to that objection was that such a rearrangement of the districts in which those Judges presided might be effected as to occupy their time to any extent which might be deemed to be desirable. The next objection which was urged to any increase of salary was, that those Judges held other situations from which they derived considerable emolument, and a case had, he believed, lately occurred in which a learned gentleman who presided in one of the County Courts held at the same time no less than three recorderships—namely, those of Plymouth, Devonport, and Wells. [Sir G. GREY: There is no salary attached to the last-mentioned recordership.] He was glad to be corrected by the right hon. Baronet; but he must say that he regarded the combination of different situations in the person of a County Court Judge as in principle most objectionable; and, being of that opinion, he saw no reason why such combination should be permitted to stand in the way of the change which he proposed. It was also urged in opposition to that change that it was totally unnecessary, inasmuch as no difficulty was ever experienced in finding in Westminster Hall barristers who were ready to accept the office of County Court Judge at a salary of £1,200 a year. That was a proposition which he was not prepared to dispute; but he must at the same time maintain that, in order to uphold the public interests, the real question in connection with the subject to be considered was, not whether barristers ready to accept the office at that salary could be found, but whether the services of men of high professional qualifications could for that amount be secured. He considered that such would not be the case, and, therefore, he felt justified in pressing his Amendment.

Amendment proposed, in page 21, line 4, to leave out the word "twelve," and to insert the word "fifteen," instead thereof.


said, that before deciding whether the salaries of the County Court Judges should be raised to the amount proposed by the right hon. Gentleman, there was a preliminary question to be decided—namely, whether the salaries, if increased, should be placed upon the Consolidated Fund or provided for out of the fees included in Schedule C? In proposing the sum of £1,200 per annum, the Government had been under the impression that it was an adequate salary for the County Court Judges. The only means of determining the correctness of that impression was by seeing whether persons competent for the discharge of the duties could be obtained for that sum. His (the Chancellor of the Exchequer's) noble and learned Friend the Lord Chancellor, who of course had better means of knowing whether that was so or not than any Member of that House, was of opinion that the salary of £1,200 a year was a remuneration sufficient to insure the public the services of barristers fit for the duties of the office. There was an allowance, too, for travelling expenses, which was a considerable addition to the receipts of many of the Judges, and which probably more than covered the exact expenses to which they were subjected. Her Majesty's Ministers had acknowledged the principle that the amount of the salaries of the County Court Judges should not be left to the discretion of the Treasury, by proposing that a uniform rate of £1,200 a year should, in their regard, be adopted; and, therefore, the only question which the Committee had to determine was, whether that sum should be increased to £1,500 per annum. He could not help observing that on many occasions lately the functions of the House of Commons and of the Government seemed to be somewhat inverted. The House of Commons used to be a check on the prodigality of the Government in proposing votes of money for the discharge of public duties; but lately, without going so far as to say that the Government had acted as a check on the prodigality of the House of Commons, it certainly had been frequently their function to resist the pressure put upon them by the House for the imposition on the Exchequer of allowances for pensions, salaries, and the like. The whole charge for the County Courts imposed on the Consolidated Fund, if this Amendment and the Amendment for raising the salaries of the clerks were carried, would be actually greater than the charges of all the Superior Courts of Law and Equity put together. If the proposition were adopted, it would be very desirable that there should be a clear understanding that, in case there should be any redistribution of districts and a diminution of the number of Judges, those Judges whose duties might be thereby increased would have no right to complain of a breach of contract. It should also be understood that if, in consequence of future legislation, any additional duties beyond those involved in the increase of districts, should be thrown upon the County Court Judges, they would have no claim for any further increase of salary on that account. He further thought they ought to give their whole time to the public, and not to be permitted to hold any other office concurrently with that of a County Court Judge. There was another point connected with the subject which he thought deserved the attention of the Committee. At present County Court Judges were not within the General Superannuation Act. The police magistrates of London were engaged in the performance of extremely onerous duties, for the discharge of which they received only £1,200 a year, subject to an abatement of 5 per cent per annum under the operation of that Act; and they, moreover, upon their retirement, were entitled only to the superannuation allowance which the Act afforded; whereas the County Court Judges received their salaries free from all annual deduction, and were entitled to a retiring pension equal in amount to two-thirds of their salary, even though the Treasury should think proper to sanction their retirement after the lapse of a single year. In a clause about to be considered an addition would be proposed to the salaries of the clerks or registrars equal to about £30,000 a year, and if that increase as well as the present proposed increase of the right hon. Member for Droitwich were agreed to, an additional charge of £45,000 a year would be thrown on the Consolidated Fund. The Committee would have to consider, in the event of their agreeing to those two augmentations, whether, instead of throwing them on the Consolidated Fund, it would not be desirable to raise them by means of fees. If the Committee thought they ought to be charged upon fees, he would point out that about a sufficient sum would be obtained by raising the first item in Schedule C (for every plaint) from 6d. to 1s. in the pound. The Committee ought to consider the effect of the numerous additional charges from time to time thrown upon the general taxation of the country. A Bill had already passed by which an additional charge of least £100,000 a year had been imposed on the public Exchequer, and by the Bill now before the Committee, about £170,000 more would be thrown on it, making £270,000, or in round numbers £300,000. If the proposed Amendments should be carried a further sum of about £50,000 would be added, making an annual charge thrown upon the public purse in the course of the present Session of £350,000. He would remind them that the fees of which he had suggested the increase were paid by persons who engaged in litigation in order to obtain their rights, and who would not probably complain of a little additional taxation, but would acquiesce in it without much difficulty. On the other hand, if the sum he had named were raised from the general taxation of the country, they must have recourse to taxes which had a very limited area of incidence, for although many taxes were doubtless paid by the general consumer, yet many, such as the income tax and the assessed taxes, were paid by a comparatively small portion of the community. He wished the Committee therefore to bear in mind the nature of the taxes from which the Consolidated Fund was fed, and not to do that which, instead of affording relief to the general public, would be certain to give rise to a feeling of discontent.


said, he was sorry the right hon. Gentleman did not offer a more decided opposition to the proposition. It had been stated that upwards of £600,000 was the amount recovered for creditors in the County Courts; and if he divided that amount by the sixty-two Judges, it gave an average of £6,000 for each. He thought that £1,200 a year was an ample salary for the recovery of such a sum.


said, that there were three scales of payment for chairmen of Quarter Sessions in Ireland, ranging from £500 to £1,000. He should decidedly object to the payment by fees.


said, that the principle of giving £1,500 a year had been affirmed in the case of sixteen or eighteen County Court Judges. Upon what principle had that been done? On the principle of the number of causes heard. But that was a most fallacious test, because in London the Judges had but to leave their houses in the morning and return to them in the evening. But, in other districts, the County Court Judges had to undergo the exertion of passing through the country. He was, therefore, opposed to the distinction of salaries. If there was any objection to increasing the salary from the Consolidated Fund, he thought it might be done, as had been alluded to by the right hon. Gentleman (the Chancellor of the Exchequer), by increasing the fee from 6d. to 1s.


said, he was one of those who objected to the increase of the salaries of the County Court Judges, and he regretted that the observations of the Chancellor of the Exchequer had not been more decidedly opposed to the Motion of his right hon. Friend opposite (Sir J. Pakington). No private Member of that House could move to increase a Vote in Committee of Supply, or a tax to be levied upon the people; and why, because there was a technical defect in the application of the rule, should he be allowed to propose the augmentation of a charge upon the country which the Executive Government declared to be sufficient to secure the proper discharge of the duties for which it was intended to provide? The Bill now before them had been introduced into Parliament with the sanction of the head of the law, who had the best means of information, and necessarily had the strongest sympathies with the learned members of that profession, and he, in the name of the Executive, announced that £1,200 a year was a sufficient salary for a County Court Judge. Her Majesty's Government would have done no more than their duty had they taken their stand upon that declaration of the Lord Chancellor, and had submitted to the House that it would not be wise for it to reverse the relative positions of the two powers. His right hon. Friend (Sir J. Pakington) had somewhat misunderstood the argument of those who opposed the increase. That argument was, not that there were in Westminster Hall many lawyers who would take the office of Judge of the County Court for £1,200 a year, but that there were plenty who wore able and competent to the discharge of that office who would be content with such a salary. That the gentlemen who filled those offices were fully competent to the discharge of their duties was an admitted fact, and was fully proved by the popularity of their Courts; that they were not men who, from patriotic motives, engaged to discharge those duties for inadequate remuneration was equally true. On the contrary, they were in general gentlemen who passed from a precarious income of a much lower amount to a certain and permanent salary of £1,200 a year, with the power of retiring upon two-thirds of that sum in case of well-certified bodily incapacity. It was right in the House of Commons to reduce the demands upon the public purse that might be made by the Government, but he would not believe that the House of Commons were about to take the functions of the Government out of its hands, and insist upon an augmentation of the burdens of the people.


said, that when the question was raised in the early part of the Session by the hon. and learned Member for Sheffield (Mr. Roebuck), he (Sir G. Grey) asked the House to abstain from coming to a hasty decision, and to wait for a Bill which the Government had in preparation, when the question might be properly raised. He now repeated what he then said, that the Government adhered to the principle of fixed as against fluctuating salaries. He then stated that the Government thought a salary of £1,200, and a liberal allowance for travelling expenses, a sufficient remuneration for the duties which the County Court Judges had to perform; but he added that the Government might have made an error in forming an opinion, and it was for the House to decide, with a full knowledge of all the circumstances, upon the proper fixed salary for those Judges. His right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer had weighed the various considerations which applied to this question. His right hon. Friend said, that, in the opinion of the Lord Chancellor, the most competent men in Westminster Hall were candidates for these appointments. He (Sir G. Grey) might also state that he received applications for the office of police magistrate, the salary of which was £1,200 a year, from men who were fully competent to discharge those duties, and who would be also qualified, as he believed, to fill the post of Judge of the County Courts. But the Government knew that a strong feeling existed on the part of many Members of the House, and they anticipated that their proposal might not be successful, and that the House might adopt the proposition of the right hon. Baronet (Sir J. Pakington). He would candidly say that one of the greatest difficulties that pressed upon him was the arrangement made by his right hon. Friend (Mr. Gladstone) when Chancellor of the Exchequer, by which a certain number of these Judges received a salary of £1,500 a year. He believed that that arrangement was a great error—that it was based upon a fallacious calculation, and that it had produced dissatisfaction among those not included in the number. He was not a Member of the Government at that time, but it seemed to him that that arrangement was the strongest argument for the increase now proposed.


said, that his right hon. Friend ought to be aware that the Motion for raising the salaries of the County Court Judges did not originate with the Treasury, but was pressed upon it by the noble Lord now at the head of the Government, who was then Home Secretary. He (Mr. Gladstone) did not consider himself permitted to consider what was a fit salary for County Court Judges, or he should have decided that question without hesitation. His was simply a Ministerial duty. The Act of Parliament had prescribed the path in which he was to walk, since the salaries of the Judges of those Courts were fixed between £1,200 and £1,500. If blame there was, his hon. Friend (Mr. Wilson), who was then Secretary to the Treasury, shared the taunt of his right hon. Friend (Sir G. Grey) with him. His hon. Friend would remember that, on referring to the Act of Parliament, it was not believed that they had a discretion, since it appeared to be the intention of Parliament that there should be varying salaries. That was simply a question of the construction of an Act of Parliament which was now going to be repealed. As the Judges affected by this decision had only a life interest, he was surprised to hear that that arrangement constituted so serious a difficulty in the way of the right hon. Gentleman.


said, it was distinctly stated by the Government that the Lord Chancellor had come to the determination that £1,200 a year was a sufficient salary for these Judges, and that there was no difficulty at that salary in getting plenty of persons fully qualified to fill those offices. When the Judges were first appointed it was uncertain what their duties would be. Fresh duties had since been put upon them, but no one had said they had more than they could do: they must, therefore, have had an easy time of it at first. Seeing that the Government thought that fit men could be found at the salary offered, he should not feel justified in going against the Government, whose duty it was to decide the question. If the Government proposed to give too much, it was the duty of the House of Commons to hold their hands; but it was not the duty of that House to make the Executive Government spend more money than they declared to be necessary. He regretted that the Government had not spoken with greater firmness against the proposition.

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

The Committee divided:—Ayes 185; Noes 63; Majority 122.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 72 (E). (Registrars to be paid by salaries.)


said, he would now beg to move the Resolution of which he had given notice, relative to the payment of Registrars.

Amendment proposed, in page 21, line 12, to leave out the whole of the clause after salaries, and insert— And the principle on which the said salaries of the Registrars shall be fixed and regulated, shall be that the Registrar of each Court in which the plaints entered do not exceed the number of two hundred in a year, shall have an annual salary of one hundred and twenty pounds; and that in Courts where the plaints exceed two hundred in the year, the salaries shall be increased by sums of five pounds for every twenty-five additional plaints up to one thousand plaints inclusive, and then by sums of four pounds for every twenty-five additional plaints, and that such salaries shall be confined to proceedings within the ordinary and Common Law Jurisdiction of the Court: Provided, That no Registrar shall be paid a less salary than one hundred and twenty pounds per annum.


said, he thought no justice really cheap that was not well administered. In his opinion, it would be much better to charge a small extra fee on each plaint in order to secure the services of a competent Registrar than, by reducing the fees, to run the risk of having an officer unable or unwilling to discharge his duties.


said, that the rule of the House was, that while the Government were responsible for the fixing of the specific amount of any Vote they proposed, no private Member could move the increase of that amount, although it was competent for him to move that it be diminished. It was true that local fees and local rates did not come within the same category as taxes paid into the public Exchequer, yet both these classes of imposts were equally levied from the Queen's subjects, and also equally entitled to the vigilant guardianship of that House. The proposal for the remuneration of the clerks of County Courts contained in the clause now under consideration was founded on the recommendation of the Commissioners specially appointed to inquire into the subject. Those Commissioners stated their opinion to be that the suitors ought to contribute a sufficient sum to remunerate the clerks and high-bailiffs of the Court, while other charges should be defrayed at the public expense; and they suggested a scale of salaries for the clerks, commencing with £65, and ending with £1,020, thus exhibiting a considerable increase on many of the existing salaries. If the proposition of the hon. Gentleman were adopted the recommendation of the Commissioners must be set aside, and the country would be saddled with a burden of £60,000 a year, instead of one of £30,000—the extent of the fair and reasonable addition to the income of the clerks proposed to be made by the Bill. He therefore hoped the Committee would not accede to the Amendment.


said, he regarded the opinions of many Members of that House, who were fully acquainted with the subject, as deserving of even greater weight than those of the Commissioners referred to by the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer. The rule restricting private Members who might wish to propose the increase of taxation was no doubt very excellent when not pushed to extremes; but an exception ought to be made in its application in a case like the present, where the proposition of the Government would render those Courts inefficient.


said, he thought the right hon. Gentleman the Chancellor of the Exchequer was under a misconception with respect to the Commissioners; it was his belief that they had not entered into the question of the remuneration of the Registrars at all. That was a totally different question from the last, and certainly the Amendment should meet with his support. The Bill had gone hastily through the House, mainly out of deference to the Commissioners; yet he believed that the Commissioners had never inquired into the duties or the salaries of the officers of the Court.


said, the scale of salaries in the Report of the Commissioners was prepared by some Gentleman connected with the Treasury. He protested against it at the time, but as there was a strong desire on the part of the Commissioners that they should concur in the Report, he did not press his objection, but he still protested against so low a scale.


said, he entertained a strong objection to the unconstitutional proposal of leaving the amount of salaries of a large class of professional men to be fixed and regulated by the Commissioners of the Treasury. Considering the nature and extent of the onerous duties of the County Courts clerks, he thought that the minimum of remuneration proposed in this clause of the Bill was much too small. It should be considered that the clerks, under the existing law, were required to keep open an office daily from ten to four, and to give proper attention personally or by their clerk to all persons calling for information and official aid. He had made himself acquainted with the details of a County Court clerk's office, and he could say that this book-keeping involved considerable labour and attention to detail, for not only were the entries of the proceedings numerous, but when judgment was carried by a plaintiff the payments were often made in very small instalments extending over a lengthened period of time, and required the utmost attention and accuracy. He earnestly hoped the House would concur in doing justice to a body of men so useful to the suitors and the public as the County Court clerks.


said, the objection of the hon. Member for North Warwickshire (Mr. Spooner) was entirely removed by an Amendment, of which he had given notice, to fix the salaries in strict conformity with the recommendation of the Commissioners.

Question, "That the words 'to be' stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided:—Ayes 73; Noes 162: Majority 89.


said, in adopting the sense of the Committee as evinced by the division, he would now beg to propose an Amendment to the effect that all Registrars in Courts where the plaints issued exceeded 200 per annum should have an annual salary of not less than £120, with an addition of £5 for every twenty-five plaints up to 1,000, and beyond that number £4 for every additional twenty-five plaints up to 6,000, making in the whole £1,080 per annum, and when the plaints exceeded 6,000 in number then the salary to be fixed by the Commissioners, with the consent of the Lord Chancellor.

Clause agreed to.

Clauses up to 71 inclusive were agreed to.

House resumed; Committee report progress.