HC Deb 15 May 1857 vol 145 cc314-8

rose, to call attention to the conduct of the Government in reference to the removal of the Court for the Sale of Incumbered Estates in Ireland to a more convenient site than the present, in accordance with the recommendation of this House." He said, that the House was aware that some years ago the Court for the sale of Incumbered Estates was established in Dublin. Those who were unacquainted with the locality would of course be unaware of the fact that the courts were extremely small and inconvenient, considering the amount of business transacted in them. It was just the same as if a new court in London should be erected at Pentonville. The fact, however, had so pressed itself upon the Irish Bar, that frequent complaints had been made, and an inquiry, he understood, was ordered. First of all there was a lengthened correspondence, and everybody knew what an official correspondence was. It began by a complaint, and ended in nothing. He found the Secretary of the Treasury in 1854 recommending the benchers to be guilty of a breach of trust, and render themselves liable to prosecution, by applying funds for the erection of a court which they had no authority so to apply. Of course they did not do so, but in the meantime the inconvenience and the confusion increased. The next step was to issue a Commission, and the House by this time pretty well understood what a Commission was. It meant, if possible, less than nothing. After that Commission had spent £1,000 or £1,500 in the investigation, the subject was handed over to a Committee, and before that Committee one of the Commissioners, Mr. Hargreaves, stated that the business of the court was expected to be wound up in two years, notwithstanding that there were then estates to be sold the gross rental of which was £400,000 a year. In reply to a question put to him, however, he distinctly stated that in his opinion a complete remedy would be found in the removal of the business to the Four Courts. Petitions had also been presented by the Bar and the solicitors practising in the court to the same effect. The Committee came to a resolution more than thirteen months ago, that the place for holding the courts ought to be changed to the Four Courts; and when the Act was extended, and very properly extended, for two years, a distinct pledge was given that a new court should be erected with all convenient speed.

In spite of this, however, nothing had been done to the present moment; but yesterday the Attorney General for Ireland stated, in reply to a question, that the Government wished to purchase a piece of ground in the neighbourhood of the Four Courts for the purpose of erecting a new building for the transaction of the business of the new Incumbered Estates Court, and a vote of £10,000 was to be obtained for that purpose. He thought from what he saw that the foundation of this new erection would be just about laid at the period when the operation of the courts themselves ceased, and thus the public money would be applied to erect something which, like the Martello towers, it was said were erected to puzzle posterity. This mode of conducting the public business exactly justified the sarcasm of Dickens, that of course nobody was to blame, the same clever author wishing that anybody would find somebody to punish nobody.

Those who complained were referred to a Board, which did nothing but write letters; then they were referred to the Treasury, and there they were now exactly in the same position as when they started.

He believed that a place might easily have been found for the sittings of the Commissioners contiguous to the locality where the rest of the legal business was transacted in Dublin. He had only one more observation to make. The House would recollect that there was a recommendation for the establishment of a court of appeal at a very justifiable expense of £5000 a year, but which would have the effect of saving a retiring pension. The object was that the three Commissioners should sit separately, and that when the judgment of one was appealed from it should be settled by the Court of Appeal. That had not been carried into effect, and now the only course was to appeal from one to three sitting together as before, then to the Court of Appeal, and then to the House of Lords. This multiplied appeals, instead of diminishing expense.


said, the hon. and learned Gentleman's statement that this recommendation of the Committee had been made thirteen months ago, and that nothing had been done since in this matter, was entirely incorrect. The resolution of the Committee was passed on the 24th of June, and very shortly afterwards he brought it officially under the notice of the Treasury, requesting that a sum of £10,000 might be inserted in the Estimates of the present year for the erection of a new court. The hon. and learned Gentleman would accordingly find that item in the Estimates of the present year. Far from being indifferent to the efficiency of the Incumbered Estates Court, he (Mr. Horsman) had taken a part in the discussion upon its original establishment, and continued now, as he had ever done, to feel the greatest interest in its success. He thought at first, as experience had proved, that the establishment of this court would prove the greatest blessing which modern legislation had conferred on Ireland, and he believed it to be the duty of the Government, of Parliament, and of all well-wishers to Ireland to promote by every possible means its efficiency. The hon. and learned Gentleman, however, had approached this subject in a very different spirit, displaying a feeling of animosity towards the Court, and thus endeavouring to damage its usefulness and to injure its character. Some time ago the Commissioners of the Court had in a letter to him (Mr. Horsman) complained not so much of the hon. and learned Gentleman's attacks as of the Government for not coming forward in their defence, and giving them that protection against him which it was their duty to afford to judicial officers under such circumstances. In reply to this letter he had given such an explanation as would naturally suggest itself to the House, impressing upon the writers that the attacks of the hon. and learned Gentleman were not considered of that importance here which seemed to be attached to them by the Commissioners, and he subsequently assured those Gentlemen that, in the eyes of the majority of this House, they would probably stand in higher estimation after having been subjected to the censures of the hon. and learned Gentleman than if they had been the victims of his praise. The title of the land upon which it was proposed to erect the new court was under investigation, and the building would be proceeded with as soon as the preliminary arrangements had taken place. In future, instead of condemning first and inquiring afterwards, he trusted the hon. and learned Gentleman would inquire before he passed judgment, and although by so doing the fire of his eloquence might be abated, the public business would gain most materially.


, said that, however, the right hon. Gentleman might talk of personalities, the great fact still remained, that the business of the Incumbered Estates Court was still transacted in the small and inconvenient courts which were originally prepared for it—that the chief Commissioner sat in a room only fifteen feet square—in a room, the appearance of which was quite undignified, and perfectly derogatory to the interests of jus- tice. He himself could bear witness that a promise was made two Sessions ago that the Incumbered Estates Court should be brought down to the Four Courts. The consequence of the non-fulfilment of that promise was, that all the practice had been left in the hands of one or two persons. His hon. and learned Friend's observations had only tended to show the injury to the Bar and to the public from, the present locality of the court, and consequently were perfectly justifiable. So far from his hon. and learned Friend wishing to disparage the Incumbered Estates Court, he had endeavoured to extend its operation to decrees for sales by the Court of Chancery, but even in that endeavour he had been opposed on every occasion by Her Majesty's Government. When the Secretary for Ireland had benefited that country as much as his (Mr. Napier's) hon. and learned Friend had in the course of his short career in Parliament, he would deserve to be classed among those men who preferred doing good service to their country to benefiting themselves.

Motion agreed to; House at rising to adjourn till Monday next.