HC Deb 17 June 1863 vol 171 cc1021-8

Order for Second Reading read.


said, the courts which the Bill proposed to amend were among the most popular and useful institutions in Ireland. Their jurisdiction had grown, from time to time, from a very small one to a very extensive one; and it now extended from £10 to £40, and in some cases reached £100; and it was therefore most important that the decisions and processes should be carried out with a due regard to the interests of the public. But he regretted to say that the system which had theretofore existed, and still existed, was not a satisfactory system. Some hundred thousands of decrees were pronounced in these county courts in Ireland in the course of a year. There were ejectment decrees to the extent of many thousands. That being so, it was found that the sub-sheriff of the county, who executed the process in the name of the high sheriff, was perfectly incapable of discharging his duties in a multitude of cases. Therefore, the plaintiff, at his own peril, had been allowed to appoint the bailiff to execute the decrees of the courts, and this had led to great abuses. It was found that the bailiffs so appointed were men of no property, and bad character; not being responsible to the court, they extorted money from the plaintiff for the execution of the decree. The bailiff thus obtained a large portion of the money for which the decree was issued. For instance, £4 had been expended for the execution of a decree for £20, and in other cases £2 or £3; the plaintiff having no protection. It happened, also, that the bailiff, having no character to lose, after extorting money from the plaintiff, betrayed him to the defendant Having got a large sum of money from the plaintiff to execute the decree, he took a sum of money from the defendant to neglect the performance of the duty for which he had been so highly paid. The bailiff, also, very often did his duty thoughtlessly and recklessly, and consequently, a large proportion of the criminal business of the courts in Ireland was composed of cases of assault and rescue, in consequence of the employment of such men. Complaints of the operation of the system were universal, and it was absolutely necessary that something should be done to protect the poor, and to secure process being properly carried out. As a remedy for the evil, it was proposed that, as in the case of the English county courts, a high bailiff should be appointed in each Irish county court, for the purpose of executing faithfully the process of the court. In England, the high bailiff was appointed by the Judge of the county court, and in Ireland it was proposed that the chairman of quarter sessions should appoint the high bailiff. A salary of £250 to £300 a year would be given to the high bailiff; and in large counties, such as Cork and Tipperary, it might be necessary to appoint two such officers. The high bailiff would be required to give substantial security for the execution of the process by himself and his bailiffs. He would appoint his bailiffs at his own peril, and would be responsible for their default and misconduct as well as for his own; he would be obliged, however, to execute in person every ejectment decree of the Civil Bill Court. They proposed to defray the expense by putting stamps on the process of the court to the extent of the fees payable at present to the sheriffs; and, as a sufficient sum would not be thus obtained, it was also proposed that there should be a progressive rate of stamp duty in proportion to the amount of the debt for which the decree was obtained. In that way a sufficient sum would be obtained to pay the salaries of the high bailiffs. It was desirable in this matter, as in others, to assimilate the law of Ireland to that of England; and as what was proposed had worked well in the latter, there was no reason why it should not do so in the former. That, however, was not the only provision in the Bill. At present, a landlord was precluded from seizing the growing crop of any of his tenants; while a person who had a civil bill decree could seize it. That state of things led to very great mischief—potatoes, cabbages, and so on being often seized for small debts, and the landlord being, perhaps, deprived of his rent. It was proposed by the Bill to abolish the ordinary creditor's right of seizing the growing crop; and he believed the effect of that change would be to protect the landlord, and at the same time benefit the tenant. Among the objections to the Bill was this—that the sheriffs would be injured by the abolition of their fees. As a matter of fact, that was so; but it afforded no ground of complaint, the sheriffs being appointed annually, and having no vested interest. The Bill, if passed, would not come into operation till the following February, when the present sheriffs would go out of office. The appointment of the high bailiff by the chairman of quarter sessions was also objected to. That was a matter which might be considered in Committee. The precedent of the English courts had been followed in that respect, and it was thought better to follow that than to place a number of new appointments in the hands of the Government. He should be prepared to listen attentively to any Amendments which might be suggested in Committee.


said, that in common with every Member of the House he had heard with gratification the clear and lucid statement of his right hon. and learned Friend—but in regard to some essential matters he could not concur in the views expressed by him. He would admit that the process under civil bill decrees required considerable amendment, but he could not concur in the transfer of the administrative jurisdiction from the high sheriff to the officers which the Bill proposed to create. The legal profession in Ireland was, he believed, universally opposed to that change, which proceeded on the erroneous assumption that the civil courts in Ireland resembled those of England. The county court in England was altogether a civil court; whereas these courts in Ireland comprised civil and criminal matters, and the sheriff had to be in constant attendance. If that portion of the Bill passed as it stood, the high sheriff and the high bailiff would both return jury panels at the same sittings of the court, and there would be a collision between them, which would lead to great inconvenience. He was prepared to admit that great inconvenience and injury arose from the practice of executing a warrant to a special bailiff named by the parties, and that practice therefore should be abolished; but he was at a loss to know why that duty should not be confided to the recognised authorities—the high and under sheriffs. The places to be created would, according to the schedule to the Bill, cost the country £11,500 a year; but he had heard it estimated as high as £22,000, and that additional expense was incurred in order to carry out an object which he considered injudicious, inexpedient, and unnecessary. The Bill contained some useful provisions, and with respect to one clause—that preventing the seizure of growing crops under civil bill decrees—he hoped the present Session would not pass without a measure embodying that provision being carried through Parliament. He suggested the separation of that clause from the Bill, and would like to see it made the substance of a distinct Bill, which could be carried, probably, unanimously through that House, With respect to the rest of the matter of the Bill, his opinion was that it was not yet ripe for legislation. It could not be dealt with by a Select Committee, and the Session was now too far advanced to take that course with any hope of passing the Bill this year.


said, he was disposed to agree to a certain extent with his hon. Friend who had just spoken. But there was one point to which the attention of the House ought to be directed, and that was, that it was impossible to throw the duty of executing the civil bill decrees on the sheriff, on account of the smallness of the fees. Now, he could conceive nothing more monstrous than the present system, which allowed the writs to be placed in the hands of persons not duly authorized to execute them, who sometimes committed the greatest enormities. He considered an alteration in that respect essential to the administration of justice in Ireland, and he should be sorry indeed if it were postponed. With respect to the expense, he understood the assent of the Treasury to the increased expenditure had been obtained. No doubt, they ought to do nothing to lower the dignity and power of the sheriffs; but the present Bill was absolutely necessary to avert a great evil, and he had an Amendment which he hoped would reserve to the sheriff his present power and emoluments. He hoped sincerely the Bill would not be postponed.


said, he believed that all persons in Ireland would agree in thinking that it was most desirable to get rid of that class of persons which the present Bill proposed to supersede, and to place the office in respectable hands. He preferred for the purpose a high bailiff, as provided by the Bill, to the high sheriff, as suggested by the hon. and learned Member for the county of Wexford; and he thought the appointment should rest with the Government, responsible to Parliament, rather than with the assistant barristers or sheriffs.


said, that the sooner the monster abuse arising out of the existing mode of appointing bailiffs to execute civil bill decrees was got rid of the better; but he did not approve the plan adopted in the present measure for that purpose. While a constitutional officer like the sub-sheriff was in existence, he ought to be made to perform his duty; and it would be much better to pay to him the money that was proposed to be given to a new officer, and thus get rid of the principal difficulty which had arisen. There were three provisions in the Bill which he regarded as exceedingly valuable. Those were the proposed enactment with respect to the non-seizure of the growing crops, though he should have been better pleased to see a short Bill by itself introduced on that subject—the power taken in the Bill of paying the expenses of witnesses—and the authority given to the judge to amend the proceedings, so that justice might not be defeated by an error arising from mere oversight. Further time, however, was required for the consideration of the measure. There was no analogy between the system of high bailiffs in England and that proposed in the Bill, for the jurisdiction of English county courts was only civil, whereas the Irish county courts had both civil and criminal jurisdiction There was no conflict or confusion of authority in England between the sheriff and high bailiff, but both would certainly arise under the different jurisdiction that existed in Ireland On the whole, he thought the Bill should be postponed till next year; but meantime the Government should deal with the power to seize the growing crops.


said, sufficient notice had not been given of the Bill. It was a subject that the Government ought to postpone until the grand juries in Ireland, who were about to meet, should have an opportunity of giving an opinion on it.


said, the Government deserved credit for dealing with this important subject, but the fact of the importance of the subject was the reason why it should receive great consideration. Although his opinion was in favour of special bailiffs as appointed under the Bill, he could not but forget that the system had been tried in the Act of 6 & 7 Will. IV., c. 74, and had turned out inoperative, or that it was repealed in the very next year. While cordially supporting the main principle of the Bill, he thought that more time should be allowed for its consideration; and he hoped that if they read the Bill a second time, it would not be pressed further during that Session.


remarked that he had received communications from various quarters in Ireland which led him to think that a postponement of the further progress of the measure was desirable.


said, he had not heard any objection to the principle of the Bill. Irish Members were well informed on the subject; they knew there was a great grievance to be remedied, and he hoped they would assent at once to the Motion for the second reading. The details might be considered in Committee.


expressed the hope, that if the Bill should be postponed till the next Session, the question of the seizure of growing crops would be made the subject of a separate measure, to be introduced and passed as speedily as possible.


said, he was glad that the House was unanimous in feeling that the principle of the Bill had been most fairly and ably explained by his right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General. The Bill had been before the House several weeks, having been printed on the 19th of May, and therefore some time had been given to consider it; and if the House would read it a second time, they would postpone the Committee till Monday week. He believed that the cost of carrying out the measure would not exceed £11,500, and the Treasury had consented to the expense on condition of their receiving the fees under the Act. With respect to the patronage which would be created under it, the Government were prepared, though reluctantly, to undertake it in deference to the opinion of the House. The 49th clause was introduced to remove a hardship to which a poor occupier was subject—namely, the seizure of his crops when they were not one-tenth of their regular value. If the measure was not likely to pass, he would consider the propriety of introducing that clause as a separate Bill, but he would not give a pledge to that effect.


said, he did not think the postponement of the Committee till Monday week would allow sufficient time to elicit the opinion of Ireland on the much-debated question. That was a date at which most Irish Members would be absent, attending on their assize duties.


said, the Government would find it impossible to discuss the Bill in Committee on Monday week, owing to the pressure of other business. There were objections to the principle of it which Were worthy of consideration, such as the cost which the working of the Bill must entail on the country, and the additional cost which it must cause to the parties themselves. Then there was the expense of witnesses to be thrown on the litigant parties. Again, the high bailiff would have the power of calling out the posse comitatus, so that there might be a collision of jurisdiction between that official and the high sheriff. He thought the Bill ought to be sent to a Select Committee.

Bill read 2o, and committed.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House."


said, he would move that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee instead of a Committee of the Whole House. The matters in the Bill, especially those which had reference to the duties of sheriffs, required the greatest consideration, far more than could be given to them late in the evening or at a morning sitting. If the Government acceded to his Motion, he would be glad to allow the right hon. Gentleman to nominate the Select Committee.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the words "Committee of the Whole House," in order to add the words "Select Committee,"—(Mr. Longfield,)—instead thereof.


said, he hoped the House would not agree to the Motion; and if the time between the present and Monday week should not prove sufficient, the Government would name Thursday fortnight for the Committee. It would be far better to discuss the provisions of the Bill in a full House than in a room upstairs. The objections which had been put forward would be fully considered by the Government before the House went into Committee on Monday week.

Question put, "That the words proposed to be left out stand part of the Question."

The House divided:—Ayes 40; Noes 36; Majority 4.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill committed for Monday 29th of June.