HC Deb 16 June 1863 vol 171 cc1000-3

said, he rose to move a Resolution, "That it is expedient to make such alterations in the Assize and Circuit arrangements as would secure a more speedy trial in the country of country causes." His aim in proposing that Resolution was to carry out the objects of the Commission of 1857, which had inquired into the subject, and had made several recommendations, by giving to the country districts and to towns more frequent opportunities of trying their causes. In the country there were but two assizes in the year, while in London and Middlesex there were no less than ninety-six sittings—thirty-two for each of the three courts; so that a suitor in Middlesex had forty eight times more opportunities of having his case tried than the suitor over the river in the county of Surrey. This was an extraordinary anomaly; and it was also an anomaly, that whilst county courts sat twelve times a year, causes involving more than £50 could only be heard in the country twice in the year. The Great Charter of King John provided that trials of ejectments and other local causes should take place four times a year, and by a statute of Edward I. and others it was provided that there should be three Assizes in the year. But the tendency of modern times had been to concentrate legal business in London. In 1648 there were 452 causes tried in the county of Oxford, and from 1780 to 1849 the average was only 132. The tendency towards Lon don monopoly had at last produced dissatisfaction in the country, where suitors must either wait half a year, or incur the expense of coming to London; and nothing was more common than for defendants to settle on any terms rather than incur the cost and inconvenience of a trial in London. The Manchester Chamber of Commerce had adopted a memorial declaring that the present system involved a denial of justice, and that it ought to be maintained only on weighty and undeniable grounds of public security, and it was owing to such memorials from various law societies and towns in the country that the Commission to which he had referred was appointed, and inquired into the expediency of having a third assize in the country generally. The Commissioners would have recommended additional assizes, but what restrained them was, that they felt that to accomplish this change additional Judges must be appointed. The Incorporated Law Society of London reported, that considering the long interval of eight months between the summer and spring circuits, it was submitted that there should be a third circuit, and that the terms should be reduced to three by either Easter or Trinity term being abolished. One great objection to the present system was that of having assizes held in so few towns, which necessitated taking parties and witnesses far from their homes; and it was calculated that taking witnesses more than thirty miles doubled the cost of a trial. If that were so, there would be an enormous saving if assize towns were more numerous, and if there were three circuits, which would prevent many country causes being set down for trial in London. The saving which would as a result be effected would more than counterbalance the expense of increasing the number of Judges. At the time the Commission had made its Report there was an impression that the Common Law Judges had not very much work to do, and it was even contended that their number ought to be diminished. The fact was, however, that the business in the superior courts had so increased from various causes that the Judges had now more work than ever to get through, the result being that scarcely any of the courts in Westminster had its full complement of Judges available, some of them being obliged to sit in the Divorce Court or to attend at the Privy Council or elsewhere. Indeed, the great wonder was, seeing how wide was the extent of their duties, that the number of Judges had not long since been increased. In England, which possessed the largest commercial and manufacturing population in the world, there were only fifteen Common Law Judges, whereas in Ireland—where, in his opinion, the number of Judges was far from being too large—there were twelve Judges, although the population was so much less; the number in the superior courts in Scotland being thirteen for a population of only 3,000,000. Now, nothing could be worse in a country than that its Judges should be obliged to get hurriedly through their work, for, according to the old maxim, "Haste was the mother of injustice;" and everybody, he believed, but the Chancellor of the Exchequer, was satisfied that the number of Judges in England ought to be increased. The expense of creating additional Judges would not be more than £10,000 a year, while that expense would be more than made up for by the saving which might be effected as a consequence of the augmented facilities which would be given for trying causes in Yorkshire and Lancashire alone. The inconvenience of the present system bore with especial hardship, he believed, on the inhabitants-of Yorkshire, who had to go great distances to York to have their causes tried. Now, when they were about to expend so large a sum on providing a refuge for all the animals in the British Museum, it was not, he thought, unreasonable to ask that some £10,000 or £12,000 a year should be laid out in securing the services of a few more Judges to meet the wants of the country in the direction to which his Motion pointed. In 1857 it was intended to issue a commission for the trial of causes at the winter assize in Yorkshire, but that intention was abandoned in consequence, as was stated, of Lord Campbell having "informed the Secretary of State that the Judges were of opinion that parties would not be properly prepared for the trial of civil causes in December." The only difficulty really was the want of more Judges, and he hoped that the public would not be deprived of the accommodation which was so much needed on account of the small additional expense which such an increase would occasion.


said, that some alteration like that proposed had become of vital importance to the north of England, and particularly to such places as Sheffield. From that town they had to travel fifty-five miles to York to try their causes and their prisoners; whilst in Lancashire, which was a much smaller county, they had three assize towns. The expense was not at all to be estimated in comparison with the immense advantages to be derived from the change proposed. There was no place in the United Kingdom suffering from so great a disadvantage in this respect as the west riding of Yorkshire; and he appealed to the Attorney General, who was well aware of the inconvenience, to assist in its removal.

Motion made, and Question proposed, That it is expedient to make such alterations in the Assize and Circuit arrangements as would secure a more speedy trial in the country of country causes."—(Mr. M'Mahon.)


said, he should support the Motion, The population of Yorkshire amounted to 2,000,000, upwards of three-fourths of whom resided in the West Hiding. Thus Leeds had a population of 207,000, Sheffield 185,000, Bradford and Halifax each over 100,000, and many of the other towns had populations of 50,000 or 60,000; and the small number of assizes in the West Riding and the few places in which they were held amounted to a great substantial grievance and hardship. The vast amount of manufacturing and commercial transactions necessarily led to a great deal of legal work, and the present state of things involved, to a considerable extent, a practical denial of justice, owing to the want of due facilities for the administration of justice. He hoped the Government would seriously and immediately take the subject into consideration.


rose to speak to the Motion, when—

Notice taken, that 40 Members were not present; House counted, and 40 Mem-not being present,

House adjourned at Ten o'clock.