HC Deb 21 August 1860 vol 160 cc1634-8

Order for Committee read.

House in Committee.


said, he wished to call attention to the clauses of this Bill, which had been introduced for two purposes—one to make provision for the relief of persons committed for contempt by the High Court of Chancery, and as to which there could be no dispute, and the other to make provision for the better discharge and greater despatch of the business of those Courts, and for this purpose the remaining Masters in Chancery were authorized to retire upon the usual terms. There were only three Masters left, and they were all more or less incapacitated through age and infirmity for the due performance of the matters pending before them. Now, a great amount of business would be thown upon the Master of the Rolls by this Bill—indeed, had already devolved upon him which he would not have been able to get through but for the able assistance of Mr. Buckley, lale chief clerk to one of the Masters in Ordinary. He had, therefore, framed clauses directing that an additional chief clerk to the Master of the Rolls be appointed, with powers similar to those exercised by the chief clerks of the Judges in Chancery, and that the first chief clerk be Mr. Buckley. Indeed, so great was the amount of work which the House was inclined to throw upon that Court that he had no doubt that before long it would be necessary to appoint a fourth Vice-Chancellor. He should also propose to have the additional chief clerk transferred at the discretion of the Lord Chancellor to any of the Vice-Chancellors, according as might be seen fit. There were other minor propositions which he should make, but he desired to say that the new clauses which he wished to propose had the sanction of the Lord Chancellor, and of all the Judges in Chancery. The clauses which he should propose would not cause one shilling extra expense on the Consolidated Fund, and the fees from the business which would be transacted would pay all the expenses. The chief clerks were very much worked, sitting every day from ten to six, and then having to take papers home with them for the evening. He hoped the hon. and learned Attorney General would give his assistance in passing these clauses.


said, that his hon. and learned Friend had cited high legal authorities in favour of his proposition; but whatever respect the House might be inclined to pay to the opinions of those great functionaries, he trusted they would pay still more deference to the authority of a Committee of their own House. When the Masters in Chancery were abolished, on the recommendation of a Commission, of which he had the honour to be a Member, it was done at great expense to the country, in consequence of the compensations awarded. The Commissioners anticipated that great evils would arise, if the duties of Judges in chambers were handed over to their chief clerks; and they therefore expressed a hope that the Judges would divide their time between the bench and chambers. The business of the bench, however, became so onerous, that the Judges could not give their services in chambers, as was intended; and the consequence was that their functions were performed by their chief clerks; so that the evil apprehended by the Commissioners had actually arisen. It was to be recollected that the clerks of the Judges were persona inferior in station and ability to the Masters in Chancery. He, therefore, thought it was the duty of the. House not to facilitate the means by which the im- portant duties of the Judges should be transferred from themselves to their clerks. The proposal of the hon. Member for Sheffield was to appoint a permanent additional chief clerk to the Master of the Rolls. If the House, agreed to this appointment, they might reckon upon the appointment of an additional clerk to the establishment of each of the other equity Judges, at a great expense to the country. Though he opposed this proposal, he must say that he thought the time had arrived when an additional equity Judge should be appointed to meet the pressure of business in Chancery. The adoption of the step they were now called on to take would be subversive of all hope for the future; and, so far from being an improvement, would be one of the greatest injuries that could possibly be inflicted upon the change that had flowed from the recommendations of the Chancery Commission. Whenever the subject of law reform was brought forward, questions of a personal character invariably cropped up to disfigure it; to prevent the public from regarding it with favour, and to bring discredit on the House itself.


said, he was not on the Committee; but, as he had some acquaintance with the working of the new practice, he felt anxious to state that he did not agree with the views of the right hon. Baronet. No doubt there was a tendency to refer matters to chambers; but less references were made now than were formerly made to the Masters. He thought the time had not arrived for the appointment of a new Judge; for although the Vice-Chancellors at present were fully occupied, there was no arrear of business; but, in the interval between the periods of having plenty to do and having a surplus of business, it might be well to have more chief clerks. The gentleman, who it was intended should be the third chief clerk of the Master of the Rolls, had been doing the duties of chief clerk for three years, in consequence of the illness of one of those gentlemen. The Master of the Rolls stated that if he were deprived of his services, the business of his chambers would fall into arrear. He thought that greater powers should be given to the Lord Chancellor to appoint these chief clerks, if their services should be required.


asked if the services of Mr. Buckley could not be continued, as now, without giving a Legislative sanction to his appointment?


said, he agreed in the main with the observations of the right hon. Baronet (Sir James Graham). Indeed unless it could be shown that an additional clerk was necessary for the Vice-Chancellors, he could not agree that it was necessary to give another clerk to the Master of the Rolls. The Vice-Chancellors' clerks did quite as much work as a single Judge could superintend, and if another chief clerk were appointed for each of the Courts there would be more work than the Vice-Chancellor could adequately supervise. He was not of opinion that the time had come for the appointment of a new Judge, but he did not mean to say that it was far distant, inasmuch as by a Bill now before the House, which would enable viva voce evidence to be taken, the business of the Courts of Chancery would greatly increase. In reply to the question of the right hon. Baronet whether Mr. Buckley's services could not be retained on the same footing as at present—Mr. Buckley was clerk to Master Blunt, who died in 1856. He was entitled to £1,000 a year as such clerk, and three years ago one of the clerks of the Master of the Rolls having become ill, Mr. Buckley offered his services without any additional salary. Since that time he had discharged the duties, and if he continued to discharge them he would not receive any additional salary to that to which he was at present entitled. He thought that, under the circumstances, the services of Mr. Buckley might be retained on the same condition as at present.


said, he had listened attentively to the observations which had been made, and he thought the public were indebted to the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Carlisle for the manner in which he had brought this subject before the House. On the part of the Government he should give a decided opposition to the addition of any more chief clerks, because he thought that the Judges could not properly superintend more business than could be transacted by two chief clerks, and the duties of these clerks should be confined to purely ministerial matters. Every question ought to be decided by the Judges, and the chief clerks ought to give no opinion or judgment in the cases before them. At the same time he admitted that there was a difficulty in depriving the Master of the Rolls of a part of the assistance which he had enjoyed. Mr. Buckley had been employed in the office of one of the Masters in Chancery, and as the business of the different masters had been tranferred to the Master of the Rolls the assistance of one of their clerks should be granted to him. On that ground he thought' the assistance of Mr. Buckley should be continued. He proposed to introduce words providing that Mr. Buckley should only be employed during such time as, in the opinion of the Lord Chancellor, his assistance might be required, and that he should not be entitled to compensation.


agreed so entirely in all that had been said by his right hon. Friend the Member for Carlisle that he would not occupy the attention of the Committee by repeating it. He must state, however, that he was not favourable to the Amendment of the Attorney General; and he must oppose it unless it were fenced and guarded in such a manner that it should not be drawn into a precedent for the appointment of other additional chief clerks in equity, whereby the evil would be perpetuated which they thought they had got rid of, and the termination of which had cost such a great sum to the country; for he feared much that if these permanent clerks were appointed they would become a new crop of Masters in Chancery. He therefore hoped that something would be stated in the preamble of the Bill which would prevent the possibility of this proposed arrangement, with respect to Mr. Buckley, being drawn into a precedent for the appointment of additional chief clerks by the equity Judges. He suggested that the Attorney General should print his clause, and bring it up on the Report.


viewed the Attorney General's proposal with great jealousy. When the Vice-Chancellors were sufficiently occupied in superintending two clerks he did not see how the Master of the Rolls could efficiently superintend three. He thought the time was at hand when the services of a fourth Judge would be necessary, and then the services of Mr. Buckley could be transferred to the new Judge. He thought the reasons for the present appointment, if it was agreed to, should be stated in the preamble of the Bill.


concurred in the suggestion that the reasons of the appointment should be stated in the preamble, and that Mr. Buckley's services should be transferred to the new Judge, if ft new Judge should be appointed.

House resumed. Committee report Progress; to sit again this day,