HC Deb 23 February 1859 vol 152 cc744-9

The House in Committee.

Question again proposed,— That provision be made, out of the Consolidated Fund of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, for the payment of Compensations to Seneschals or Stewards of Manor Courts in Ireland whose offices may be abolished by any Act of the present Session.


said, it was not his intention to oppose the Bill on this subject. He thought it a good measure, and one which would receive support, whether carried in this Session or at a future time. The Courts to be abolished were held under ancient charters and patents, and, according to established precedent, the Committee would have to grant compensation to the Judges of the Courts if they were abolished, and he was at a loss to understand how they could calculate the compensation, except upon the full emoluments of the offices. Before they passed this Resolution, therefore, they ought to have before them a statement, showing what the financial effect of the measure would be. In 1842 a return of the Courts was moved for, and was afterwards presented, and it showed that in thirty-two counties there were about 193 of these courts, but no return was made respecting those in the County Cork and six other counties. The emoluments, it appeared, were very considerable, and if this measure were passed, it would be essential that they should provide compensation for all, whatever the number of Judges might be, and he believed they considerably exceeded 200. The course he would suggest was this: that in order to save the large burden which would inevitably fall upon the finances of the country, the House should merely pass a measure to prevent any Judges being appointed in future to these Courts, and, in the meantime, should provide for the extension of jurisdiction of the County Courts. Until that were done, it was absolutely essential that these Manor Courts should be preserved as they now existed. They could easily provide for the extension of the County Courts and Assistant Barristers' Courts, and make their sittings more frequent and the expenses of those Courts less. The County Courts of England and those of Ireland, let it be remembered, were not analagous in their jurisdiction and the manner in which it was exercised. If such a proposition as he ventured to suggest were carried out, in a few years these Manor Courts would disappear, while they would avoid having forced upon them claims for compensation. The delay might enable them to mature a well-considered plan fur the extension of the County Courts in Ireland, and the assimilation of them to those in England.


said, he must confess he was surprised at the course taken by the right hon. and learned Gentleman relative to this measure. He should have thought that if any Motion would have met with unanimous approval, it would have been that before the Committee. He had heard described by the most eminent Judges in Ireland the evils that arose from the present system of Manor Courts—perjury, falsehood, and perverse litigation. The late Mr. O'Connell had denounced them, and the Lord Chancellor of Ireland (Mr. Napier) had declared them to be a nuisance to the public which required abatement. The Commission which had considered the subject had not directly recommended their abolition, but there could be no doubt of their opinion that it was desirable to make the County Courts more widely available, and to get rid of the Manor courts as soon as possible. The seneschal, who was appointed by the lord of the manor, might be a man without learning—nay, devoid even of education or of principle—he might be incapable of determining the value of evidence, and ignorant of the law which he sat to administer. In the face of such evils did it become a man who had held the high office of Attorney General for Ireland to put in what might be called a dilatory plea, because he feared the finances of the country might be endangered? The objections urged by the right hon. and learned Gentleman did not exist, for by the 14 & 15 Vict., c. 87, it was provided that the Privy Council in Ireland might increase the number of places in counties where the assistant barristers should sit, so that, if the people desired it, extension of jurisdiction could be made under that Act. Moreover, by the existing law the magistrates had power to decide disputes concerning wages up to £10, and disputes at fairs up to £5; and this Bill proposed to give them the decision in cases of small debts, up to 20s., with an appeal to the County Court Judge. He submitted that a more sensible, reasonable, or useful provision could not be made on behalf of the poor. It was, in fact, a measure for the better administration of justice to the poor. Government and Parliament existed for the administration of justice, and they could not apply a small portion of the finances of the country—to which, it should be remembered, all contributed—more wisely or more beneficially than in giving to the poor that justice which they could not obtain in the present extortionate courts, which were originally nothing better than privileged plunderers. Would the Committee, then, hesitate to do for Ireland that which they did for this country when they established the English County Courts? Compensation had been granted to displaced officers in England, why, then, should not a similar course be taken with regard to Ireland, especially as the stamp duties, which it was intended to impose on the processes that would be issued, would be more than sufficient to cover the compensation? Why, it had been asked, was not a statement of the amount of compensation brought forward? He had abstained from expressing his intention to introduce the measure, lest returns should be manufactured as the basis of claims. The word "emoluments" had been objected to. All he could say was, that he found it in the English Acts, but that if it were thought desirable he would put it out. He had provided that the Chief Secretary should have power to order all papers connected with these local courts to be deposited in a certain office, and his object was not only to preserve the documents, but to enable those who wished to ascertain what the actual working of any court had been to do so accurately. In conclusion, the Attorney General said his only object was to substitute good courts for bad ones. There was no way of getting rid of the seneschals except by giving them compensation; and he had no doubt that the Gentlemen at the Treasury would take care to give them no more than they deserved, and perhaps the amount might turn out to be a great deal less than they expected.


said, he once had the honour of holding the office of seneschal of four of these courts for extensive manors, and he never realized more than £50 a year out of a court. The amount of compensation could not, therefore, be very large. But one of the principal evils that came under his cognisance was this—that the disappointed suitors in the County Courts invariably came for a re-hearing to the Manor Courts.


said, he was quite willing to admit that the principle of the Resolution followed the principle of the County Court Bill for this country. With regard to the County Courts, it was found necessary to clear away the whole of the local courts, which would only have stood in their way, and therefore nobody could disagree as to the necessity, when they were erecting new and superior courts, to clear away all the inferior tribunals. When this principle was introduced in England, the local courts were cleared away by degrees, as the other courts were established, so that the opportunity was not taken away of trying small causes without furnishing a much better tribunal than formerly existed. With regard to the amount of compensation, he thought it was very moderate. But the chief point to which he wished to advert was particularly applicable to the Resolution now before the House. It appeared that this charge for compensation was to be made on the Consolidated Fund. Now, he felt it would be much better to alter this and make it a vote of Parliament—to take the charge off the Consolidated Fund and charge it on "moneys which shall be voted by Parliament for the purpose."


said, there would be no objection on the part of the Government to make the suggested alteration.


Then the question will be that the Motion be withdrawn.


said, he would beg to ask on what ground it was to be withdrawn? He wished to take the sense of the House on it.


replied on the ground that instead of providing for the compensation out of the Consolidated Fund it was to be provided out of money to be voted annually by Parliament for the purpose.

Motion by leave withdrawn.

On a Resolution that certain stamp duties should be changed on forms of process.


said, it was monstrous for the Committee to be called on to vote these stamp duties in the dark. The Committee did not know either the number of officers, their emoluments, or the sum to be voted for compensation. When he objected to the compensation given to the Six Clerks he was assured by the legal advisers of the Crown of that day that the amount would not be more than £600 or £700 a year, but the suns had proved to be just as many thousands.


said, the hon. Gentleman was under some mistake. The stamp duties were on the processes issued by the magistrates with regard to cases under 20s.


inquired how the stamp duties were to be applied?


said, they would go to covet the expenses.


said, on the contrary, they would go into the fund which provided for the petty sessions clerk, and the public would get nothing from them.


remarked that every suit for more than 20s. must go into the County Courts when the Manor Courts were abolished, and would there pay fees and stamps. The stamps mentioned in this clause were to cover the expenses of the small claims in the Petty Sessions Court.


The fees do not now go to the clerks; the clerks are paid by fixed salaries. We are fighting with a shadow. I do believe that from the quantity of business driven into the County Courts an ample fund will be realized to pay all the compensations; but, even if there should be a deficiency, I do not think we ought to hesitate to impose the compensation upon the Consolidated Fund.


said, he wished to ask whether the suitor in the Petty Sessions Court was not subjected by this Bill to a double payment?


replied in the negative.


observed, it was evident that the stamp duties must be granted.

Resolved—That the following Stamp Duties shall be charged on Forms of Process to be served on Defendants under the said Act:—

s. d.
For every original Proof 0 6
For every Copy thereof served 0 6
For every Certificate on Appeal 1 0

Resolution to be reported To-morrow.