§ Order for Second Reading read.
§ MR. HADFIELD
said, he rose to move the Second Reading of this Bill, its object being to open the practice in the High Court of Admiralty to all Serjeants and barristers-at-law, attorneys, and solicitors. In the Probate and Testamentary Administration Bill of last year he had proposed a clause which met with the approbation of the House, and was passed, declaring that no compensation ought to be given to the proctors for any alleged loss they might sustain by the opening of the Admiralty Court. When the Bill went up to the other House, that clause was struck out of the Bill without his knowledge. When that Bill became an Act he was greatly surprised to find his clause omitted. He had received information upon which he 1145 could rely that it was the proctors themselves who induced the late law officers of the Crown to urge the striking out of that clause, and it was accordingly struck out in the Upper House without any discussion. The Bill of last year allowed the enormous sum of £72,000 as compensation to the proctors, and now they wanted £10,000 a year additional as compensation for opening the Admiralty Court to the profession at large. Those were the circumstances which induced him to move the second reading of this Bill, which provided against any such arrangement. He considered that this large sum of money in the shape of compensation was an imposition upon the country. The opening of the Admiralty Court to the profession generally was not worth that sum of £10,000. He considered it would be better to continue the monopoly than assent to such an arrangement. He should be happy to resign this Bill to the Attorney General if that hon. and learned Gentleman would but take it in hand.
§ MR. MALINS
was quite sure that the House would not desire to proceed with this Bill under a misapprehension of the facts. Hon. Members would recollect the circumstances under which the Probate Administration Bill was amended, so as to give compensation to the proctors for the destruction of their business which they considered that measure would occasion. During the passage of the Bill, but at a late period of the Session, the hon. Member for Sheffield proposed a clause, the effect of which was to open the Admiralty Court to the profession, without giving the proctors any compensation. As, however, the Bill itself did not relate to the Admiralty Court, it was strenuously objected the clause of the hon. and learned Gentleman was quite inapplicable. The Attorney General of the day, however, reluctantly gave way, and permitted the clause to pass. He (Mr. Malins) then contended, that if that Court were to be opened, compensation should be allowed to the proctors who would suffer by such an arrangement as well as to the proctors immediately damaged by the Probate Administration Bill. The Bill, however, left the House with the clause of the hon. and learned Gentleman added to it. It was, however, omitted in the House of Lords, and, in contradiction of what had been stated by the hon. and learned Gentleman, he could say that it was struck out on the representation of the Judge and officers of 1146 the Court, to the effect that such a clause ought to be accompanied by many provisions which could not be inserted in the Bill then before Parliament. The Bill, as amended, came back to that House and was duly considered. The hon. and learned Gentleman, it appeared, had relaxed his usual vigilance, for he took no notice of the alteration that had been made in the measure. Now, he proposed that the Admiralty Court should be opened to the profession at large, to which no one objected, but at the same time he refused to give the proctors who would be damaged by such a measure any compensation. The hon. and learned Gentleman was under a great misapprehension when he thought that there was any burden thrown upon the country by the provisions for compensation in the Probate Act. The country did not suffer to the amount of a single farthing. By the Probate Administration Bill one-half of the fees usually paid to the proctors was now constituted a fund, from which the amount of compensation granted them was paid. He asked, upon what principle should the proctors who suffered by the opening of the Admiralty Court be deprived of compensation when those whose business was destroyed by the Probate Administration Bill were provided for? The proctors connected with the Admiralty Court had received no compensation, because the Bill which had passed last Session did not apply to their case. As there was no objection to opening the Court to solicitors, he would not oppose the second reading; but he would oppose the Bill in its subsequent stages, if the injustice in refusing compensation to which he had referred were perpetuated.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, he should not oppose the second reading of the Bill. The object of the measure was to open the court to barristers generally, and to solicitors. With regard to the first of these objects no difference of opinion existed. It was universally admitted it was for the public interest that the court should be thrown open to advocates of all classes. Perhaps, however, an objection might be made to opening the court to solicitors; and then came the question of compensation. It appeared to him that it would be inconvenient to enter into a discussion of that question at that moment; and he would, therefore, suggest that the whole matter should be loft to Her Majesty's Government. The subject was under the consideration of the Government, 1147 and inquiries were being made into the facts on which claims for compensation would be made. He would remind the hon. and learned Gentleman (Mr. Hadfield) that it was the Government, and the Government alone, who could carry a compensatory clause through Parliament with a due regard to the public interests on the one side, and to the rights of individuals on the other. He hoped the hon. Gentleman would not proceed further with the Bill till the Government should have announced their intentions; but in the meantime he would consent to the second reading.
§ Bill read 2°, and committed for Wednesday, the 13th April.