HC Deb 23 February 1859 vol 152 cc749-55

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee).

Clause 1.


moved the omission of all the words after "Act" in the first line, for the purpose of substituting "from and after the passing of the Act no new Judge shall be appointed for any Manor Court." He wished that these courts should be allowed to die out. No Member of the Government had given the Committee the slightest approximation to the probable amount of expenses. He granted these courts ought to be abolished; but at the same time there ought to be some statement from Ministers as to what the effect of the measure might be. The expense, for aught that appeared, might be £5000, £10,000, or £20,000, and the Committee really ought to be told what the amount was likely to be. It was said that the stamp duties would provide for the expense, but those duties would go into a fund at Dublin Castle, out of which petty sessions clerks were to be paid. The preliminary stamp would be 6d. on each process. Would the Government say that the compensations should all be paid out of that stamp?


said, he had in this Bill followed exactly the course pursued in England, in which, on the establishment of County Courts, local courts were abolished, their officers receiving compensation; and he thought it would be contrary to sound policy to apply one rule to England and another to Ireland. There already existed power in the Privy Council to direct the County Courts in Ireland to hold more frequent sittings.


said, he desired to know if it was to be understood that these courts were not to be abolished until a proper substitute was found to supply their place?


said, there were County Courts in every county in Ireland, and power was given by the Act of Parliament to order them to hold their sittings more frequently, and also to sit in districts where they had never sat before. This would be sufficient for dealing with all cases of importance; whilst there were not less than 570 courts in Ireland which sat every week to settle cases of 20s. and under.


said, the Manor Courts enabled persons to recover small debts every three weeks, whereas if this Bill passed parties would be obliged to go to the Assistant Barrister's Court, which only sat at intervals of two or three months. He thought the latter courts might be made to sit more frequently.


said, that as the life or death of the Bill depended upon the vote the Committee was about to give, he would suggest that the question at issue was entirely a trial between principle and expediency. Now, no one could doubt that the Manor Courts of Ireland were a disgrace to the administration of justice, and that the chief sufferers from them were the poorer classes. He was acquainted with one of those courts, not one hundred miles away from the place where he lived, which was presided over by a person who neither by station nor acquirements was fitted for a judicial office, and it was understood in that court that the party who offered the handsomest present had the best chance of success. He trusted, therefore, that the Committee would not throw over a Bill which every one admitted was necessary and its principle a sound and just one, merely because it would involve some pecuniary cost, especially as Parliament had not hesitated to give compensation for the removal of similar nuisances in this country.


said, he was unwilling that the Bill should be lost simply on financial grounds. It was a measure that was calculated to do great good in Ireland, and he recommended his right hon. and learned Friend to allow the clause to pass.


said, that the Manor Courts in Ireland were not fairly represented by the instance given by the hon. Member for Limerick (Mr. Spaight). There was a Manor Court in his own neighbourhood, which was presided over by a man of ability, high character, and a magistrate of the county, and that up to this moment he had never heard a single complaint against that gentleman's decisions. It would be wrong, therefore, for the Committee to adopt the impression that all the Manor Courts in Ireland were equally worthless and improperly conducted. It was a matter of great importance that a substitute should be found for these courts in the event of their being dispensed with. And whilst the subject of compensation was under discussion he thought it would be only fair to take into account the compensation which ought to be given to the registrars of the courts, who, in his view, had as much right to be compensated for the loss of their offices as the Judges themselves.


said, he did not mean to pass a sweeping censure upon every person who presided in a Manorial Court in Ireland. He only spoke so far as his own experience went.


said, that with respect to what had been said upon the necessity of finding a substitute, he might remind the Committee that in many parts of Ireland Manor Courts did not exist at all, and that in his own neighbourhood, where that was the case, not the slightest difficulty or inconvenience had been felt from their absence. As to compensation, the amount that would probably accrue to the Consolidated Fund from the stamps and expenses which the suitors had to pay, he presumed, upon an average, would be 2s. 6d. or 3s. a case; the Report of the Committee set the average at about 4s. 6d.; so that it was easy to measure by that the slight deficiency which would have to be paid out of the Consolidated Fund. The principle of compensation had been recognized in the courts of this country where a great public advantage had accrued by the expenditure of a not very large amount of money, and it would be rather hard not to apply the same principle in this case.


suggested that the Amendment should be withdrawn; for, if the first clause were rejected, the Bill would necessarily fall to the ground; and the sooner these courts were got rid of the better.


said, that seeing the general opinion of the Committee was in favour of the withdrawal of his Amendment, he would consent to do so.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause agreed to; as were also Clauses 2 and 3.

Clause 4 (Compensation to Seneschals or Stewards of Manor Courts).


said, he would move, as an Amendment, to omit the word "steward" and insert the words "other officers" instead thereof.


said, he had had much experience of these courts, and, in his opinion, there was not another officer besides the seneschal who was entitled to one farthing of compensation. Generally speaking, he believed it would be found that the registrars were clerks in the office of the seneschal or steward, and paid by him at salaries. It would be monstrous, therefore, to award them compensation.


said, he should support the Amendment, as there were registrars and marshals to some of these courts in Dublin.


said, he could not consent to admit the claim of the registrars to compensation unless they could show that they were in the receipt of legal fees that would be taken away from them by this Bill.


said, that if they adopted the Amendment of the hon. Member for Dublin (Mr. Grogan) they would open the door to every officer of the court to claim compensation, and they would never know where it was to cease.


replied, that if the officers of the court had no legal claim, of course they would get nothing; but let not the Committee, by their legislation, do a practical injustice, and shut them out from the possibility of establishing a just claim if they had one.


said, he believed the registrars did not derive any emoluments from fees which were levied according to law. He presumed they were appointed and paid by the seneschal out of his fees. That being so they could have no claim for compensation under this Bill.


said, he had received a letter from the registrar of a Manor Court, in which the writer stated that for thirteen years he had been paid in salary and fees, and that he considered it a hard case that he should now be dismissed from an office which he had expected to hold for life without obtaining any compensation. The proposition of the hon. Member (Mr. Grogan) was a fair one.


remarked, that if Parliament were bound to compensate the seneschal they were also bound to compensate other officers who had an equally legal claim.


said, that these officers were recognized by the Act 7 & 8 Geo. IV., c. 59, s. 5, and that in the list of fees attached to that Act were enumerated those which were to be paid to the registrar as well as the seneschal of a Manor Court.


said, he objected to the use of the word "officer," as that might include the person who swept the floor.


said, he proposed to amend the clause by inserting after the word "steward" the following words, "registrar or marshal of any Manor Court where such officer has been created by the charter of such manor respectively."

Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Amendment made.


said, he should move in line 37 of the same clause, after the word "office," the insertion of the words, "and every permanent president of every Court of Conscience, such as Waterford, whose emoluments may become diminished by reason of the passing of this Act."


said, he must object to the Amendment as one for which there was no precedent whatever.

Amendment negatived.


said, he had to move an Amendment, the effect of which would be to allow the Treasury to inquire into the conduct of the officers of those courts previous to granting them compensation.


said, he had no objection to the Amendment.


observed, that the Treasury, as now constituted, could never inquire into the conduct of these 300 officers of Manor Courts. In fact the Amendment would impose duties on the Treasury which they would not be able to perform.


said, he believed the effect of this Amendment would be to deter those officers who were conscious of malversation from making any application for Compensation at all.


remarked, that he was afraid his hon. and learned Friend took too sanguine a view of the consciences of those gentlemen.


said, he quite agreed in the object of the Amendment, but he felt it would be difficult to make the inquiry proposed, and he would, therefore, abide by the clause as it stood.

Amendment negatived.


said, he would now propose an Amendment to prevent compensation being given for the loss of emoluments and confine it to legal fees.

Amendment proposed to leave out the words "and emoluments."


said, he had followed the words of the English Act, and must therefore oppose the Amendment.

Question put, "That the words 'and Emoluments,' stand part of the Clause."

The Committee divided: Ayes 40; Noes 46: Majority 6.

On the Question that the clause as amended stand part of the Bill.


said, he should oppose the clause altogether. They had a proposition for giving compensation to parties of whom they knew nothing; of the manner in which they performed their duties they knew nothing; and of the amount of compensation to be given they knew nothing. Under such circumstances he must object to its being paid out of the taxes of this country.


said, he must admit that he knew little of the amount of compensation to be given, but he believed the hon. Gentleman opposite knew less. He had followed the precedent set in the English Bill, and he would remind the hon. Gentleman that this measure would secure a great practical boon to the country, which could not be got without compensation to the present officers, which, after all, he believed would not amount to much.


said, he should support the Amendment on the ground that the Committee had no information either as to the number of men to be compensated, or the sum to be given them. The Committee was asked to vote in the dark.


explained that the precedent was drawn from the English Bill, and the compensation was strictly limited to those who were actually in office. The only difference was that greater precautions were taken against abuse. There was no fixed sum to be given, but the Treasury was empowered to inquire into all the circumstances of each court and award them compensation accordingly. There need be no fear that the Treasury would exercise their discretion with a view to the strictest economy.


objected to the expression of the hon. Member for Lambeth, (Mr. W. Williams) that the charge of this compensation would fall upon English taxpayers. It would be defrayed out of the Imperial purse, and would therefore, equally affect both Irish and English contributors to the Imperial revenues.


explained the circumstances under which compensation was given to the Six Clerks in Chancery, to which reference had been made, and the error which was committed in fixing its amount; and argued that no parallel could be drawn between such compensation and that provided for by the clause under discussion.


said, that if these offices were to be abolished their holders, must, in justice, receive compensation, and he should therefore vote for the clause.

Question put, "That Clause 4, as amended, stand part of the Bill."

The Committee divided: Ayes 91; Noes 12: Majority 79.

Clause added.

Clause 5.


said, he moved that the word "two" be substituted for the word "one" in line 24. His object was to give the Petty Sessions Court, which was a cheap and en easily accessible Court, jurisdiction for the recovery of debts to the amount of £2.


supported the Amendment.


said, it was quite a novel proposal to give the petty sessions jurisdiction in matters of contract, except between master and servant and in questions arising out of fairs and markets, but he would agree to the Amendment.

Amendment made accordingly.


said, he would suggest that the court should have the power of awarding costs to an amount not exceeding 5s.


said, he would accept the suggestion.

Clause as amended, agreed to.

Clause 6 postponed.

Clause 7 and 8 agreed to.

committee report progress; to sit again To-morrow.

House adjourned at Five o'clock.