THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
, in moving for leave to introduce a Bill on this subject, said, that he hoped the time had now arrived when Parliament would be prepared to remove those material obstacles which had so long obstructed the administration of the law in this metropolis, and to provide the Courts of Justice with a local habitation worthy of the dignity of the country, and of the important duties they had to perform. It was a common thing in this country for questions of great national importance to take a considerable 158 time before they were thoroughly understood, and the present subject was no exception to that rule. It had been before the House and the country, from time to time, for a period of very nearly thirty years, and it was not a little remarkable that the first person who brought it prominently forward in that House, both on the ground of public convenience and public economy, was not a lawyer, but was that veteran reformer and economist, the late Mr. Joseph Hume. Soon after the destruction of the Houses of Parliament, in the year 1836, Mr. Hume took notice of the absolute inadequacy in all respects of the Courts of Law at Westminster, observing that it was impossible to provide suitably for the requirements of the public service for those Courts on their existing site—that the convenience of the public required that all the Law Courts should as far as possible be brought together on a single site—and that the site should be a central one, and in the neighbourhood of those by whom the business of the law was practically carried on. The case which he should have to state to the House in greater detail was thus anticipated by Mr. Hume in a few short sentences. From that time till the present constant and unremitting attention had been given to the subject by those members of the legal profession who were best able to bear testimony to the inconvenience of the state of things; most searching and prolonged investigations had taken place; and that House had on three several occasions appointed Committees to inquire on the subject—namely, in 1841, 1845, and 1862. Those Committees, and especially the first of them, brought together a valuable mass of evidence of great weight and authority. A Royal Commission was appointed in 1860, composed of persons of high eminence, among whom were Sir John Coleridge, Sir George Lewis, Vice Chancellor Wood, and the present Queen's Advocate. They made a complete examination of the whole subject, and presented a Report of the most convincing and satisfactory character, recommending that measure, which he hoped was now to be proposed for the last time, and with success, for the adoption of the House. Let him advert shortly to the nature of the evils which, by the contemplated concentration of the Courts of Law, it was intended to remove. In the first place the actual accommodation afforded by the existing Courts was in all respects insufficient 159 and inconvenient. The Judges were not provided for with due regard to their dignity and the convenient discharge of their duties. The number of Courts was not sufficient for the business to be done; the Courts themselves were not of sufficient capacity; the passages were not sufficient; and the accommodation for the Bar, solicitors, witnesses, and jurors, (not to speak of the public), was altogether inadequate. This state of things had been the cause of constant complaints for thirty years, and during that time the evil had been increasing, in consequence of the augmentation of the business of the Courts, arising partly out of improvements in the administration of the law, and partly from other causes. The Divorce Court and Admiralty Court had recently been added to the other Courts at Westminster, and he was told that the Divorce Court was attended by a very large number of persons, and so utterly was it without proper accommodation for the witnesses, that even delicate ladies were compelled to pace the stone pavement in Westminster Hall, waiting till they were summoned to give evidence. That was far from an exaggerated description of the state of things at Westminster. Now let him advert to the Courts of Equity in Lincoln's Inn. In that place there were two Courts of Appeal, three Vice Chancellors' Courts, and in Chancery Lane there was the Court of the Master of the Bolls. Not the best of these approached to the condition proper for a court of justice, especially since trial by jury had been introduced into Chancery. In truth, there was no adequate accommodation for the persons attending upon business, and this was particularly the case in respect to counsel, jurors, and witnesses. The additional Vice Chancellors had ever since their appointment been lodged only in hovels, for he could call the structures nothing else. He was told that the Courts at Guildhall were not much better, if they were not worse, and he believed that some of his learned friends, better acquainted with that part of the subject than himself, would be ready if necessary to inform the House with respect to it. So much for the want of accommodation in the Courts; but that was the least part of the evil, and now let him take another branch of the subject. The dispersion of the Courts, and their separation from the offices, led to the loss of time—and time, as they all knew, was money. The delays, and the vexations which arose out of those delays, 160 were greater evils even than those proceeding from insufficient accommodation. The practitioners in that branch of the law with which he was most conversant—namely, the equitable branch—found the inconvenience so intolerable that in 1849 they prevailed on the Equity Judges to withdraw from Westminster Hall, and those Judges now sat both in and out of term at Lincoln's Inn. But their brethren of the common law continued to the present day to labour under the whole of that system of inconvenience from which the equity bar had now for some years been relieved. There was a large and important body of the profession who had much business to do in chambers and also in court, and they were put to great inconvenience by having to wait about Westminster Hall until the cases in which they were engaged should come on. In the evidence which he gave before the Committee of 1841, Mr. Baron Martin, then at the bar, drew a most pathetic picture of the state of things in that respect, showing how he had often to remain at Westminster Hall doing nothing when he had a mass of business requiring his attention at chambers, and he expressed his opinion that Westminster Hall was the idlest place in the world. In 1860 Sir George Honyman mentioned that he had at an early period of his professional career attended ten or eleven days with a two-guinea brief in Westminster Hall, while the business of many clients at the Temple was necessarily neglected in consequence. Of course the House would see that the clients—that is the public—as well as the barrister, suffered from the great delay and waste of time arising from the dispersion of the courts and their separation from the chambers of the Bar. But the solicitors, a still more numerous and not less important body, were in a much worse case than the Bar. The Bar had business at Lincoln's Inn, and the Temple, and also where the courts were sitting; but the solicitors, to whom and to their clients it was of the utmost importance that their business should be transacted with dispatch, had business almost everywhere, in the courts and in the offices of the courts, at Westminster Hall, at Guildhall, at Lincoln's Inn, at Chancery Lane, at the Temple, at Serjeant's Inn, and at several different offices, in all of these places each ingeniously cut off from the rest and put into corners. How immense, then, the loss of time and money which must result from the necessity 161 of going about to all these different places. He would quote a few words from the Report of the Commission of 1860, in which they summed up in a most forcible way the effect on the public interest of that evil. After observing that everybody suffered, the Judges, the barristers, the jurors, the witnesses, and others, the Commissioners said—But of all these parties none is ultimately so largely interested as the public itself … Of all the elements of expense in litigation there is none more important than time; of all the sources of vexation attendant on it there is none more bitter than unnecessary delay. If court be separated from court, and courts be at a distance from their offices; if these last be separated from each other; if both are at a distance from the chambers of barristers and the offices of attorneys and solicitors, it is obvious that time must be lost in the transaction of business, at every stage of it, by every one concerned in it,It was, however, unnecessary to dwell further on the nature and extent of the evil he desired to remove, and he would at once turn to the mode in which the Government proposed to deal with it. The remedy was, of course, obvious, because the mere description of the evil itself was enough to suggest that remedy. The courts must be all brought together, with all their various offices, and be placed in immediate proximity to the chambers of the barristers, and to the chambers of the greatest possible number of the solicitors. They must be brought, in fact, to that place, where the whole circulation of the profession had its centre, and that, undoubtedly, was in the immediate neighbourhood of the Inns of Courts. In favour of that view they had the testimony of Lord Cotten-ham, Lord Langdale, Sir L. Shadwell, Sir J. Wigram, Master Farrer, Lord Chief Justice Erie, and Mr. Baron Martin, and other scarcely less distinguished persons; as also that of Mr. Freshfield, and all the most eminent solicitors. Indeed, every solicitor in London and the country had been urging this change upon them for many years, for it was a remarkable fact that the whole body of solicitors were unanimous on that subject. They and their clients knew best where the shoe pinched; and if they all agreed in telling the same story it was clear they could not be mistaken on such a matter. So much for the necessity of concentration. The next question was, on what site ought the concentration of the courts and their offices to be effected? There had, in truth, been only three sites pro- 162 posed for consideration. He would say nothing about that of the Rolls estate once mentioned, because that had been proved to be altogether inadequate. One was the old site of Westminster Hall, but a few words would suffice to dispose of that. Even if they could there obtain space for the requisite accommodation for offices for the courts, and for the necessary improvements of the courts, they would only be continuing and perpetuating the evil of the present dispersion, because they could not take the Temple and Lincoln's Inn to Westminster Hall, but they might have the courts near to those two places. Some persons objected to remove the courts from Westminster, because the associations of the past, both historical and legal, would be lost. The present courts, however, were not remarkable for very venerable characteristics, and putting those associations at their highest value they could not be permitted to stand in the way of the public interest and convenience. It is said that a Turkish commander once gave fifteen reasons why he did not give a salute, the last of which—namely, that he had no powder—would have of itself been more than enough. So in this case, the want of space alone completely disposed of the claims of Westminster Hall. Sir Charles Barry told the Committee that it was an utter impossibility by any conceivable means to obtain space for the expansion that was required, so it was idle to enumerate the other objections to that plan. Then they came to the Lincoln's Inn Fields site. That was first agitated in 1841, and it had been proposed to put the buildings in the centre of the open space there. But there was a great deal of weight in the objection taken by Lord Campbell and other high authorities to that site—namely, that, even if it were adequate for the purpose, they would be blocking up one of the lungs of London, and depriving the metropolis, in a district that could ill bear such a loss, of a great open space for the free circulation and purification of the air. Moreover, the offer made was of a complicated and unsatisfactory kind. The proprietors were willing to give up three and a half acres and no more in the centre of the square, a space much smaller than was necessary for the object in view; and, besides, they stipulated for a great number of improvements in the streets in the neighbourhood of the square, the cost of which might have been £500,000 or 163 £600,000, or not much less than that of the site which it was now proposed to purchase. Yet when that had been done the public would not have had all that they wanted. It was said, indeed, that they might afterwards buy up the neighbouring houses if the new buildings were found insufficient and required enlargement; but then they did not know what they would have to pay for them, and no doubt such property, already sufficiently valuable, would become dearer on account of the new courts which would have been erected near them. But, further, to the common-law lawyers living in the Temple it was obvious that Lincoln's Inn Fields would be far less convenient of access than the site which he was about to mention, and which the Government, under the advice of the Commissioners, proposed to purchase. He referred to what was known as the Strand site, a large space of seven and a half acres—for they were determined not to be cramped in this matter—covered with houses of the lowest description, and situate between Bell Yard, immediately to the west of Chancery Lane, and Clement's Lane, which ran down from Carey Street to the Strand near the corner of Holywell Street. They proposed to clear the whole of that space, from the Strand on the south to Carey Street on the north, and upon that area to bring together all the courts and all their offices, with every species of accommodation that could be necessary for all the purposes of the administration of justice. With reference to the important question of the cost to be incurred, the House had shown itself—he would not say unreasonably—jealous on a former occasion as to the cost of that work, and it had desired that the Government should take every care to satisfy themselves that the estimate prepared was one on which reliance might be placed. He thought he might tell the House that it could rely on the estimates he was about to mention. Sir Charles Barry, and Mr. Cadogan, a surveyor on the spot, had valued the property house by house in 1845; and in 1860 they went into the matter again, and repeated their belief that a valuation might be trusted which placed the total cost of the site, to be taken under the usual compulsory powers, including compensation, at £675,000 and some odd pounds. In 1861 it was valued by Mr. Abraham, who gave evidence upon the subject, at £678,000. Since then Mr. Pennethorne, the Govern- 164 ment surveyor and architect, had again valued the property, having previously carefully gone over it house by house, and his estimate of the cost of the site was £703,000. The House might therefore confidently believe that that estimate would be about the actual cost of the site. With regard to the expense of the buildings, the estimate was £750,000, and they took the total cost of the site and buildings, in round figures, at £1,500,000—a considerable sum of money, undoubtedly; but a sum which, he thought, would be well and economically spent if they obtained for the nation so great an improvement as their proposal contemplated. Before referring to the means by which it was proposed to supply that amount of cost, he would advert, in passing, to the only competing scheme which for some years past had been before the country and the House. In 1859 the Government of Lord Derby thought it right to entertain a proposition made by the Society of Lincoln's Inn. The proposal was to build two new Courts of Equity at a cost of £100,000, for which they were to receive £4,000 a year, the country, in fact, being their lessees. The House would readily believe, that from his knowledge of that Society he would speak with all respect of them and their proposals. They had deserved well, he thought, of all who had any regard to the administration of justice in the country, because for many years they had given, not very good accommodation, for that they had not to give, but such as they could give upon their own ground, when the country did not provide that accommodation; and now they were actuated, no doubt, in the proposal they made by the most liberal and proper motives, but not unnaturally, also, by some regard to their esprit de corps; but the effect of their proposal would be that the courts of equity would be domesticated for at least a century longer, and probably for ever, in Lincoln's Inn. That scheme, he ventured to say, laboured under two very great vices: in the first place, it did not sufficiently provide even for the courts of equity and the offices connected with them; and in the second place, it tended to perpetuate the separation between the courts of law and equity. The scheme would therefore only provide a partial remedy for one existing evil, and would perpetuate the other. It left the courts of the Lord Chancellor, the Lords Justices, the Rolls, and the senior Vice 165 Chancellor exactly as they were, It left all the offices connected with the general administration of the Court of Chancery exactly as they were. All it offered to do was, to build two courts for two Vice Chancellors, with the conveniences necessary for their accommodation, and also chambers for them and the third Vice Chancellor. It did not propose to bring all the courts of equity and their offices together, or to remedy the evils of dispersion which now existed. As to the offices, there was a great waste of time and money by their separation, and if they were all brought together the work would be done more cheaply and quickly. Mr. Rogers had given valuable evidence on this subject before the Commission of 1860, showing that the offices of the Registrars, the Accountant General, and other offices were altogether insufficient, and that it would very much facilitate business if all those offices were brought under one roof. Mr. Parkinson, chief clerk in the Accountant General's office, stated that the present accommodation was altogether inadequate to the business; the books were not secure from fire; and on that site it was impossible to have additional accommodation. The Lincoln's Inn scheme, even for the courts of equity alone, was therefore a mere palliative, and would rather increase the evils which dispersion now produced. It was also a fatal objection to this scheme that it tended to perpetuate what was in itself a very great evil—the separation of the courts of law and equity. The whole tendency of modern policy had been to obliterate all that was arbitrary in the distinction between law and equity, to communicate to the courts of equity such of the powers of the courts of law as could properly be transferred to them, and to the courts of law such of the powers of the courts of equity as they could safely wield. In point of fact, the distinction between these two great branches of our jurisprudence was becoming less and less every year. An approximation and readjustment of their respective powers was continually going on, and in order to make the reforms so sought to be accomplished work well, it was necessary that, as far as possible, the administration of law and equity should take place in courts placed near to each other. The greatest authorities had lamented the division and separation which now existed. Lord Langdale, Sir James Wigram, and Chief Justice Erle, had all expressed the 166 opinion that nothing could be more valuable to the proper administration of both law and equity than to have increased facility of communication between the Judges, as cases in which such consultation was desirable were continually arising. Mr. Sutton Sharpe, a man of great eminence as an equity practitioner, said—I think it would tend greatly to the proper administration of justice that all the courts, both of law and equity, should be together in one place. I think the separation that has taken place, particularly of late years, between the courts of law and equity has been very injurious to the administration of justice.And he described the effect of the courts of law and equity sitting in different places as having been to make the members of the Bar who practise in courts of equity almost members of a different profession from those who practise in the courts of law, very little communication now taking place between the members of the Bar of the two courts. He thought, upon the whole, that the House would adopt the view of the Commissioners, who thus disposed of the Lincoln's Inn scheme—The Lincoln's Inn scheme is founded on the principle of making permanent the present separation of the equity courts from those of the common law and all the branches of the administration of justice…⁛ It is, therefore, inconsistent with the recommendations which we think it our duty to make; and not only so, but it will, if carried into effect, certainly postpone, for an indefinite period, if not practically extinguish, all hope of the general concentration, to which we attach so much importance.He hoped the House would not give encouragement to a scheme of that character. He now came to the question of the ways and means by which the money required for the work was to be provided. First of all he would apply himself to the finance of the matter, and then deal with some questions of principle which some persons thought were involved in the financial arrangements. They required to provide a sum of £1,500,000, though it was not expected that all that sum would be spent, but they took that amount in order to afford some margin. Of that sum, £900,000 was to be provided by £1,000,000 of stock taken from a certain fund in Chancery, called by the Commissioners in their Report the "B Fund." Then the Government, in respect of sites liberated and rents paid for other offices which would be saved, proposed to pay £200,000, the estimated 167 value of the saving to the public. These sums would amount to £1,100,000, and there would remain £400,000, which was proposed to be advanced by the Treasury at 31 per cent, the repayment being spread over fifty years, and being provided for, upon the principle of a redemption annuity, by means of small fees to be levied on proceedings in all the courts—other than the Court of Chancery—which would benefit by the change. The question of principle to which he had referred had relation to the use of the funds in Chancery, but he did not think the House would have much difficulty in dealing with the principle involved. It was not proposed to appropriate the whole of the funds in question, because there were charges now imposed on them which it was not intended to transfer to the public purse, and which charges would have to be paid out of the residue. There were two Chancery funds in substantially the same position, firstly the surplus interest "fund B," which consisted at the present time of £1,291,629 of stock, and secondly, the invested surplus fee fund, which amounted to £201,028, making a total of about £1,500,000 stock. From that they proposed to take £1,000,000, and the first question was, had they any right to take this money? He thought that there could be no doubt that they had a perfect right to take that fund for the purposes of this measure. Its history was this. The House knew that besides the ordinary litigious business of equity the Court of Chancery administered a vast mass of property. As much of this property as consisted not of land but of money was from time to time paid into Court; and, of the sums so paid in, by far the greater part was invested in stock on account of the suitors at their request; and the stock so purchased was in all cases carried to the separate credit of the parties entitled to it. That fund was continually increasing in magnitude, and in October, 1863, amounted to no less than £51,292,000 and odd. That was suitors' stock, and with it he had nothing to do on this occasion. But the same process which brought in that enormous quantity of money, which was so invested, brought to the Court a considerable, though much less, further amount, which was not invested in stock, but which stood as cash to the credit of the suitors' account. These sums might be required from time to time by suitors, or they did 168 not wish to take the risk of investing them in stock, and they were, therefore, in the position of cash which the Court of Chancery held as a banker would hold the balances of his customers. There was thus always a considerable sum of cash in the hands of the Court of Chancery, just as a banker held the money of his customers to be paid at call, to the amount deposited, neither more nor less; and in October, 1863, it amounted to £2,799,608. The Court authorized by the Legislature, and as the instrument of the State, being thus in the position of a banker, found it desirable to manage this money on banking principles. Accordingly, in 1739, when the attention of the Legislature was first directed to the financial business of the Court of Chancery, Parliament authorized the commencement of a system, which had since gone on from time to time, of investing so much of this cash fund as it was not deemed necessary to keep at call. A cash balance, sufficient to meet the probable demands of suitors, and to remunerate the Bank, was always kept at the Bank of England; and the Court, or rather the Government, represented by the Court, invested the rest at its own risk. In October, 1863, there was thus invested £2,820,702, representing £2,464,744 in cash, and there was also £300,000 at the Bank on call. The former sum was invested at the risk of the State, and the income from that investment clearly belonged to the State. It was a banking profit legitimately earned, and was the property of the State just as much as Crown lands or any part of the revenue derived from taxation. No suitor, at any moment, had a right to a shilling of the income derived from the investment of that cash. Parliament, no doubt, had always applied the money in question to purposes connected with the administration of justice, but that was not because there was any obligation so to do arising from individual claims upon it, but simply on the sound and just principle that money raised by the machinery of justice was best and most fitly applied to the costs of the administration of justice. It was from the accumulation of banking profits thus acquired that it was proposed to take the £1,000,000 of stock of which he had spoken. In asserting that no suitor had any right to the money he might fortify himself by the statement of the Commissioners, who in their Report said—Not one single suitor has ever received anything beyond the cash actually paid into Court, 169 or has claimed any portion of the profit to which we are referring. This conclusively proves that such profit was never considered to be the property of the suitors, either by the Court or by the suitors themselves.That statement was applicable to the whole period from 1739 to the present day, and the State had always used the fund as its own, and the stamp of its dedication to the general purposes of the State, in connection with the administration of justice, was set upon it almost as soon as the fund was created. As early as 1774, six years after the commencement of the fund, Parliament resorted to it to pay for the erection of the Registrar and Accountant General's offices, and the Act sanctioning that application of the money specially recited that it was unappropriated, and that it would be no injury to the suitors of the Court if the same should be employed towards raising a fund for rebuilding and erecting the offices in question, and for the purchase of ground necessary for such purpose. If that would properly be done in 1774, why could it not be done in 1865? Again, in 1791, the Master's offices, and, in 1810, the Examiners' and other Chancery offices were paid for out of the same fund; and other charges, such as, if he was not mistaken, the Lord Chancellor's salary, and various pensions and compensations, were placed upon it. He mentioned these things because some eminent persons had suggested doubts as to the propriety of the proposed application of the fund. He would not attempt to conceal from the House that objections to it might be found in the evidence of such distinguished witnesses as Lord Cottenham, Lord Langdale, Lord Justice Turner, Vice Chancellor Wood, and Sir John Romilly—he might also add, that of Mr. Johnson, solicitor to the Suitors' Fund. There seemed to be in their minds a sort of affection for the suitors in Chancery over other suitors. The opinions of those distinguished Judges, Lord Cottenham and Lord Langdale, were stated just before the time when very important changes and improvements were effected in the Court of Chancery. The Six Clerks' office was about to be abolished, and other measures were about to be taken which would involve large compensations. There was, therefore, at that time a large demand for money, and one could not be surprised that those noble and learned Lords should have looked with apprehension on any proposal which would then have had 170 the effect of reducing those funds. But Lord Cottenham, Lord Langdale, and, he might add, Lord Justice Turner and Vice Chancellor Wood agreed that those funds might be legitimately expended for anything that would benefit the suitors in the Court of Chancery. They objected to take anything from them for the benefit of litigants in the courts of common law. Now that was a point which the House would have to consider. Those learned Judges said that in their opinion what ought to be done was this—those funds should be kept in Chancery, and ultimately, when the compensations fell in, and the funds became free, they should be used for the reduction of Chancery fees. Sir John Romilly did not quite go with them in their distinction between the claims of law and those of equity. He (Sir John Romilly) said that what had been formerly done was, in his opinion, wrong; that no courts or offices at all ought to be built out of any part of this money; but that if they built anything at all they might as well build courts of law as courts of equity. In short, Sir John Romilly objected to the fund being applied to the building of any courts at all. Lord Justice Turner thought that Parliament by its action had dedicated those funds to purposes connected with the Court of Chancery, that they were all held in a sort of Parliamentary trust for Chancery, and ought not to be interfered with. In answer to that observation of the Lord Justice, he would respectfully say, that, if Parliament had made such a dedication, it was quite competent to Parliament to alter that arrangement and make another. The Court of Chancery was only one of the branches of a general system for administering justice, and Parliament was perfectly competent—not only legally, but morally—to make such a change. But, in fact, there was no such appropriation as that which was contended for by those who took the view to which he was now referring. It was not till 1852 that any part of the income of these funds was ever carried over to the Suitors' Pee Fund; and, so far from the action of Parliament observing any uniform distinction between law and equity, he found that at that remarkable epoch when it became necessary to provide for the defalcations in the time of Lord Macclesfield, fees were imposed upon all writs issued in the Common Law Courts, and in all other courts throughout the kingdom, 171 although the money to be raised by means of those fees was exclusively due to Chancery suitors. By some of the authorities the Chancery suitors were looked upon as a quasi corporation, or as a sort of abstract idea; but if he were the ghost of a departed Chancery suitor, he would say, "What have I to do with the appropriation of the money? You don't propose to give it to me. If you give it to my representatives I will take it; but if the suitors of the present day or the future are to have it, I have nothing to do with them." If the money were to be given to the old suitors who had contributed the sums invested he could understand it, but they could not have, and were not to have it; it was the suitors of tomorrow that were to reap the benefit by a reduction of the Chancery fees. He could not help thinking that the remarks which the Commissioners had made on this branch of the subject would commend themselves to the House. They had felt it necessary to give it a very careful consideration in consequence of the eminent position of the persons by whom the objection had been put forward, and they said—The argument is founded upon a distinction between courts of equity and courts of law, for which there is no just or solid foundation. All the courts, and all the branches of each court, form together one great system of administering justice, in which all the subjects of the realm have a common interest, and to which, therefore, any funds, from whatever sources derived, if those funds are at the free disposal of Parliament, may be legitimately applied; and we think this may be more confidently affirmed at a time when the tendency of legislation is to assimilate the courts of law and equity, by an attribution to each of powers and functions hitherto exercised exclusively by one of them. If the fund is not the property of the suitors in Chancery, if it is the mere child and creature of legislation, surely it is for Parliament from time to time to decide in what manner and for what purposes it can be most usefully employed. The past application cannot fetter the discretion of Parliament as to the future.… The suitor in Chancery of to-day may be a suitor at law to-morrow, and next week or next month his property may become the subject of disposal by the Court of Probate. The broad principle which we have thus stated—i. e. the substantial identity of all the courts, as component parts of one great system for the administration of justice—has been on several occasions emphatically asserted, and practically enforced and acted upon by Parliament.That, he was sure, could not be controverted. It was reasonable, it was wise, it was just; it interfered with no man's rights, and it was an answer to an argument that 172 had more in it of superstitious reverence for forensic and formal distinctions, than of any better foundation. But putting aside that answer to it, what was the argument? That there should be such an application of the fund as would be beneficial to the suitors in Chancery. Well, this was an application of the fund more beneficial for those suitors than that which those who made the objection contended for. They proposed that those funds should be kept in reserve for the reduction of fees hereafter. Let them see what relief could be afforded to the suitors in this way. The fees levied in Chancery amounted to something over £100,000 a year, and it had been proved in evidence that this sum was only about 8 per cent of the total cost of litigation. The House would see that the funds with part of which he proposed to deal amounted in the whole to a million and a half sterling, which would produce only £45,000 per annum, or not half the amount of the entire sum derived from fees; so that if the whole income of those funds were applied to the reduction of the expenses of litigation, they would only reduce it by less than 4 per cent. It was only in 1852 that for the first time anything was done by Parliament upon the footing of applying the income of the Surplus Interest Fund for the reduction of fees; and they might now ask themselves, before making any further appropriation, which would be the better application even for the suitors in Chancery—not to talk of what would be beneficial to suitors in other courts, and to the public generally—which would be better in a pecuniary point of view, to build courts, or reduce the costs of those suitors by something less than 4 per cent? Who were the best judges of that question? The solicitors. The Master of the Bolls said that with respect to the question of delays, obstructions, and impediments to the administration of justice, caused by the present position of the courts, he did not pretend to be so competent to judge as the solicitors. They were spread through the country, they were in constant communication with their clients, and they were interested in having the business of their clients performed in the most efficient manner possible. The House could have no doubt that, independently of the value to be attached to their opinion as men, generally of high character, from the nature of their practice they were the best judges of the pecuniary value of a measure such as that which he was about to propose. And 173 what did they say? Did they think that taking 4 per cent off the costs of suitors in the Court of Chancery would be a greater benefit to them, than the concentration of the courts of law and equity? Quite the reverse. He should quote from the evidence of Mr. Lake and Mr. Field on this point. He thought every one must admit that Mr. Lake was well qualified to speak on the subject. He was a superior man of business, and besides being a man of experience and ability he brought to the consideration of such a question a just and candid mind. Mr. Lake said—Then comes the question, which is most for the benefit of the suitors?…I think there cannot be a doubt that it is less for the benefit of the suitor to abolish all official fees than to enable his solicitor to attend to his business in a proper wayֵIn my opinion a suitor would save ten times over the amount of any benefit he would gain if all the court fees were taken away … No practical man can entertain a doubt about it for a moment. The suitor would gain far more by the concentration of the courts and offices ֵThat is a much higher duty; it would confer a much greater benefit upon the suitor, and is much more the duty of the Government.Mr. Field said—You must judge of the interests and views of the suitors through their solicitors; and you would find it very difficult to find a dozen solicitors in London, or in the country, who have had anything to do with the transaction of business in the courts, who would not agree that it would be a great gain, and a capital bargain to their clients, if, for the sake of £30,000 a year, they could get such a result.Mr. Field estimated the whole property of the suitors under the management of the Court of Chancery at any one time at £1,000,000 per annum, and then he said that the value of each judicial day saved to the suitors by the proposed change would be £25,000. That was evidence representing, in its general effect, the unanimous opinion of the entire body of solicitors, and he believed that body were more competent to give an opinion upon the subject than all the Judges and the barristers put together, and he was sure their evidence on the subject could be trusted. The machinery of the Bill proposed on these grounds, and in this way, to deal with the existing funds; and the Legislature would be asked to guarantee the suitor's interest against every risk which might be supposed to arise from the withdrawal of the fund. At the same time that risk would be merely nominal, for, in the first place, according to all experience the income of the Court of Chancery would most certainly continue to increase; 174 and secondly, unless all the cash were withdrawn simultaneously—an event impossible to occur unless the country were in a state of convulsion—and all the stock were sold under 87 per cent, there could be no deficiency in the invested fund, which would remain untouched, to represent (as at present) the suitors' cash, with which it had been purchased. Since 1787 there had been seven occasions only when there had been any necessity to sell stock out of that fund; and these occurred between the years 1844 and 1857. The sales then made were made merely for the purpose of keeping up the cash balances at the Bank of England, at an amount sufficient for a reasonable profit to the Bank, as well as to meet the demands of the suitors. The guarantee, therefore, was purely nominal, although necessary for the purposes of justice; and if there should be a deficiency, Parliament would pledge the Consolidated Fund to make it good. The whole annual charge upon the income of the funds operated upon by this Bill amounted, at the utmost, to no more than the whole of that income—namely, £45,000. At the beginning of the present year the annual charge for the terminable compensations payable out of the income of these and the other funds in Chancery amounted to £50,469, and they were falling in, as proved by an average of eight years, at the rate of £3,500per annum. That charge for compensations more than covered the entire income of all these funds. Therefore, if they provided for these compensations they more than provided for the whole of the annual charges upon the funds which they would withdraw, even if the whole £1,500,000 stock were eventually withdrawn. Mr. Finlai-son had expressed his opinion, without knowing the ages of the different recipients, that it would probably take £380,000 to capitalize all the compensations, but taking it at half a million—the outside—to provide for that they would have half a million of stock, equal to £450,000, taking it at 90, and a further sum of about £100,000, the uninvested surplus of the Suitors' Fee Fund, which would leave £41,000 surplus, after paying the capital value of the whole £50,000 compensations, upon the extreme valuation. On the other hand, supposing the compensations were not capitalized, the annuities would run off to the extent necessary to equalize income and expenditure, in eighteen years, leaving £154,000 175 surplus. These reserves would, therefore, be more than sufficient to meet the whole of the charges upon the fund. In addition to this there would also be, when the operation was completed, a considerable benefit to suitors through the reduction of fees, amounting probably to about £15,000 per annum. Under such circumstances, he was sure the House would feel that the present Bill was entirely free from the objections which were made by the Lords of the Treasury and by other persons to the Bill of 1861, at which time there had been no careful inquiry into the estimates. One main objection to that Bill was, that it proposed to throw upon the Government and the people all those annual charges which were by the present Bill provided for, as he had described, out of the £500,000 stock, which was reserved, and not proposed, except for that purpose, to be withdrawn. The £200,000 to be provided by the public was the estimated value of the rents which would be saved, and of the land rendered vacant by the removal of the existing courts and offices; and therefore there only remained the sum of £400,000, which was to be provided for by means of small fees upon proceedings in the courts, other than Chancery, which would be accommodated in the new buildings. About one-half of these fees would probably be imposed upon common law proceedings, and about the other half on those in the Probate and Divorce Courts. The precise amount of those fees, and the manner of levying them, would be fixed hereafter; but it was calculated, that the proportion of the Common Law Courts might be raised by fees not exceeding 1s. 6d. upon every writ of summons, and that of the Probate and Divorce Courts by 6s. 8d. upon every grant of probate or administration on sums above £100, or (if it were preferred) 3d. per cent on the amount. These small and almost nominal fees, which it did not at all follow would for any length of time operate as an addition to the fees now levied in those courts, would be sufficient for the purpose. It was proposed by a Bill to be introduced during this Session to collect all court fees by stamps in cases where they were not already so levied, the effect of which would be that they would be collected with greater facility and security, and he hoped that by these and similar alterations the existing fees might be largely reduced. There were some who thought that the levying of fees in courts of justice was 176 altogether improper, and that the State ought to defray all the expenses of such courts. Whether that was right or wrong in the abstract, this was not the occasion to inquire. It certainly had not been the practice of Parliament to act upon that principle, and it would probably turn out to be one of those things which were beautiful in theory but could never be reduced to practice. Great objections might be made to every species of tax, and if the suitors in our courts were only taxed for purposes connected with the administration of justice, he was by no means sure that they were worse off than other people. Be that as it might, when the County Courts were established in 1846, the cost of their buildings and all their charges were provided for by means of fees which were levied even upon the poor suitors who resorted to those tribunals; and when the Six Clerks in Chancery were abolished, in 1842, provision was made for the compensations which were rendered necessary by additional fees which had since been got rid of. It was, therefore, impossible for any one to argue that that House ought to refuse its consent to a great public improvement because the system of fees was not abolished. And, certainly, if there was any instance in which the principle of the entire abolition of fees was doubtful, he should say that it was in the case of the administrative business of the Court of Chancery. For if the Court of Chancery acted as steward and receiver of very large amounts of property on terms infinitely lower than those which would be charged under any other system of management, he did not see that there was any abstract principle which would make it improper that some remuneration should be received by the State for the care which it took of the property and estates of individuals. At all events, that was the system upon which all our courts had been managed hitherto, and the question for the House now was whether the plan proposed by the Government was of sufficient value and importance to the nation and to the public interest to be worthy of adoption, or whether it was to be stopped or rejected on account of some theories which persons might entertain as to the desirability of a total revolution in the mode of providing for the administration of justice. It certainly was not likely that such a revolution would take place at the present time, nor was it probable that the House would 177 think itself bound for the sake of effecting such a revolution to provide the large sums necessary for these buildings, when they were forthcoming from the sources to which he had already referred. So much as must be raised by the additional taxation of suitors the Government proposed to raise from those courts which would have the benefit of the new buildings, and which had not contributed to the funds which would be drawn from Chancery. He could not believe that the House would be of opinion that this great and important improvement ought to be delayed until they were in a condition to throw the whole expense of the administration of justice upon the public purse; and if it was not to be delayed until then, he felt confident that the House would think that the Government had a perfect right to use the funds which they proposed to employ, and that it would be for the benefit both of suitors in Chancery and of all persons who were concerned in the administration of justice that they should so use them. He now concluded by moving for leave to bring in a Bill to "supply means towards defraying the expenses of providing Courts of Justice and the various Offices belonging thereto, and for other purposes," and he confidently hoped that this Session would see a very great blot removed from the system of the administration of justice in this country, and something like proportion restored between the dignity and magnitude of the justice which the country administered, and the means which were provided by the country for its administration.
§ SIR HENRY WILLOUGHBY
said, he listened with great pleasure to the able and eloquent speech of the learned Attorney General; but he owned that his finance did not inspire him with much confidence, and he trusted that the House would be careful before it came to a decision upon this point. It might or might not be desirable to spend a million and a half or two millions of money in the concentration of the law courts; but he thought the House would be unwise if it disguised from itself the way in which the funds were to be obtained. His belief was that a large proportion must come out of the pockets of the taxpayers, and, if so, the fact ought to be avowed. The cost of the buildings was now estimated at £1,500,000, but the House must not forget that they had on the table a Treasury Minute, in which it was stated that a 178 sufficient allowance had not been made for contingencies. The Board of Works had stated that in their view the cost would be £2,000,000; and they knew, from the experience of the Houses of Parliament, how estimates were exceeded, seeing that though computed to cost £700,000, they actually cost the magnificent sum of £2,500,000. He thought that the expense of the present project was likely to be £2,000,000 or £2,500,000. The ways and means proposed by the Attorney General appeared to him to be most doubtful. Taking the sum to be raised at one million and a half, he understood that £900,000 was to be raised by the sale of certain stock known as "Fund B." Then there was £200,000 from the sale of land. That, in point of fact, would be a vote of public money, and nothing else. The remainder it was proposed to raise by fees. What he wanted to know was, whether there was not on the table of the House a document which showed that the whole income of the Fund B they proposed to sell was actually expended? Speaking from memory, the entire charges were £168,000, and the balance, after the charges were defrayed, was £356. If, then, they sold the principal, how would they provide for the charges? The basis of the scheme therefore failed, and he came to the conclusion that this House must make up its mind whether it meant to pay this sum of money, or, at least, a large proportion of it, out of the taxes of the country. That House had got the reputation of being a very extravagant Parliament. It had increased the expenditure to nearly £67,000,000 a year. Whether this was a proper moment to make an additional heavy burden to the expense borne by the people was a great question which they ought seriously to consider. Except upon public grounds and public necessity, they ought not to vote away so large an amount.
§ MR. HADFIELD
said, that it was not desirable to have the courts of law dispersed over the metropolis, and was also in favour of the codification of the laws relating to debtor and creditor. He agreed with the leading points of the speech of the Attorney General. Again, why should the country be at the expense of putting debtors into gaol for very small sums of money? He did not know whether it would not be better to pay the whole of such debts. He regretted that the Lord Chancellor's scheme of having a Chief Judge in bankruptcy had not been adopted; 179 for he thought that by this means the law of debtor and creditor might have been brought into a manageable form. He thought that if, instead of £1,500,000, as proposed by the Attorney General, £2,000,000 or even £3,000,000 were devoted to the centralization of the administration of laws relating to the commercial interests of the public, the country would be a gainer in more than a pounds, shillings, and pence point of view.
§ MR. SELWYN
said, the real question before the House was not whether there were evils attendant on the present arrangement of the courts of justice—which everybody had admitted and deplored long ago—but how these evils were to be remedied expeditiously and with a due regard to justice and economy. It did not follow that because concentration was desirable the present scheme should be adopted. When he saw that the Attorney General had taken up this measure he certainly expected to have heard some scheme proposed which would have had a chance of passing the House of Commons, and which, as the Government were not willing to propose a direct Vote from, the public purse, would have been consistent with justice and economy. The speech of the Attorney General would have been an excellent prologue to a proposal to vote a million and a half from the public funds, and to such a vote, when due necessity was shown, he should not have been disposed to object. In the latter part of his speech the Attorney General, referring to the Treasury Minute of 1861, admitted that if the objections therein stated applied to the present scheme there would be little chance of it passing the House of Commons. But those objections applied with even greater force to the present scheme. His hon. and learned Friend was obliged to omit all mention of the Report of the Commission of last year, comprising such names as the Duke of Argyll, Lord Kings-down, and the hon. Member for London, because that Report contained statements and also a recommendation fatal to this very scheme. His hon. and learned Friend maintained that the scheme was not open to the objections on the score of economy suggested in the Minute of 1861; but if the Bill were anything like that shadowed forth in his speech, it was even more objectionable than the Bills which followed the Report of 1861. The Bill of 1862 provided that the fees should no longer be reduced at the will of the Lord Chancel- 180 lor, without the sanction of the Treasury. That clause was omitted in the Bill of last year, and he should be glad to hear whether it was included in this, for Sir John Romilly in his evidence before the Committee said this proposal was so unjust that if the House of Commons once understood it thoroughly they never would pass such a Bill. The House did understand it, and rejected the Bill. That clause was certainly a provision against loss of income, because if the fees were left to be reduced at the will of the Lord Chancellor the present equilibrium between the income and the expense might at any time be destroyed, and there would be a deficiency. The House must in the first place consider whether the fund on which the Attorney General built the financial part of his scheme really existed available for the purpose. He ventured to say it did not. By the Treasury Minute issued in 1861 it was estimated that the surplus of income over expenditure in the case of the Suitors' Fund amounted to little more than £3,000. The Attorney General, however, said that the charges upon it were to a certain extent temporary in their character, and that they would be reduced at the rate of £3,500 a year. The same statement had been made in 1860, and now the House possessed the means of testing the accuracy of that statement, by comparing it with the actual result. If the charges be so diminished there would now be an annual surplus of many thousand pounds. But how stood the fact? The matter was investigated by a Committee in 1861, and one of the witnesses—namely, Mr. Johnson, the solicitor to the Suitors' Fund, and who was thoroughly acquainted with the subject—had stated that the total income for the year ending the 25th of November, 1860, was £158,213 7s. 10d. He was asked whether that included the whole income of the Court of Chancery from every source, the Chancery Fund, the Suitors' Fee Fund, and the Surplus Interest Fund, and the answer was that it did. He then added that the total amount of the payments was in round numbers £156,000, and that the excess of income over expenditure for the year ending on the 25 th of November, 1860, was only £1,221 13s. 10d., so that instead of the charges diminishing at the rate of £3,500 a year, there was then only the small surplus just mentioned. The question, however, did not rest at that point, for there was the Report of the Chancery Fund Commis- 181 sioners in 1864, from which it appeared that the excess of income over expenditure for the year ending the 25th of November, 1863, was only £356 16s. 3d. Was not, then, the statement of the Attorney General altogether illusory when he spoke of the sum of £1,000,000 as being available for any purpose whatever? Did not the whole of his argumont fall to the ground when it was seen that there was not only really no surplus, but that the anticipations which had been entertained in 1860 as to the annual increase of the Surplus Fund had failed to be realized? The question came to this, whether such a case had been made out as should induce the Government to ask, and the House to vote, an Estimate of £1,500,000 for this purpose? The supporters of the proposed scheme started with the enumeration of the great evils and inconveniences which were the result of the present state of things. Now, that evils and inconveniences did exist nobody was disposed to dispute, and if a proper remedy for them were proposed by the Government, the House would, he had no doubt, meet the proposal in a liberal spirit. But their present scheme was, he contended, open to the grave objection which he had urged, and that being so, the best way to test the merits of the question was whether such a case for the concentration of our courts of law had been made out as would induce the House to vote the public money for the purpose to the extent which would be required. His hon. and learned Friend did not appear to think that the evils of which he complained were so great as to justify him in asking for a direct Vote from that source. No doubt to concentrate in one spot not only our courts of law, but the various public offices would be a very convenient thing. Mercantile men, for instance, would consider it very desirable that their clerks should be able to step from the Custom House to the Mint, and from that to any other department where they might have business to transact, and that all should be under one roof; but then the point was, whether the change from the existing state of things was one which it was desirable to expend the public money in effecting. His hon. and learned Friend talked about the fusion of law and equity; but he had heard from him no explanation of what he meant by the word"fusion."It did not mean, he supposed, that the same Judge should one day be engaged in dealing with one de- 182 scription of business, such as that now transacted by the Equity Judges, and the next day with another so different as that now transacted by the Common Law Judges. The present system was the practical result of the principle to which the Attorney General had referred—namely, the division of labour. But be that as it might, it appeared to him that the advantages likely to arise from the proposed concentration had been very much exaggerated. A barrister could not conduct two cases at the same time, though they might be going on in the same building, and the rule in accordance with which the leading counsel in equity generally confined their practice to a particular court was one very advantageous to the suitors and the public. The solicitors had a grievance, but not such, it would appear, as would in the opinion of the Government warrant them in asking a grant of public money to remove. The consolidation, if he might use the term, of the entire legal profession under one roof might be a very grand idea, but then it was quite impossible to carry it into effect. To bring the Supreme Courts of Appeal, the House of Lords, or the Privy Council, or the Committees of both Houses of Parliament, in practising before which barristers were so extensively employed, as well as all the intermediate tribunals, down to and including Courts of Assessment, Sheriffs' Courts, and other minor courts, within the limits of the same building, was a scheme of concentration of so universal a character as not to be seriously entertained. The question, then, was, how such evils and inconveniences as arose out of the present state of things could practically be remedied? Certainly not by the visionary plan shadowed out by the Government, and which had so often failed in that House. He wished, at the same time, to say that he had not the slightest intention of opposing the Motion for the introduction of the Bill, but he complained of the introduction of a measure founded upon principles upon which other measures had been rejected, and without proper care in confining the scheme to the courts in which change was necessary. He had, he confessed, heard with some surprise the Attorney General state that the accommodation in the present courts of the Lord Chancellor, the Lords Justices, and the Master of the Bolls was altogether insufficient. He would appeal, in refutation 183 of that statement, to the opinion expressed by the very Commissioners on whose Report his hon. and learned Friend placed so much reliance. He found it set forth at page 7 of that Report that those learned Judges were accommodated with reasonable convenience, and "with some regard to the dignity of their station." What said the Master of the Rolls? In addition to his judicial functions he was likewise custodian of the public records, and this duty he was enabled to discharge because a building had been erected, at a cost of £88,000, in immediate proximity to his own court. The Master of the Rolls declared that if his court, which perfectly sufficed for all its present purposes, were removed to any other site, he should no longer be enabled to discharge the double duty. And Mr. Hardy, the Deputy Keeper of the Records, came forward and gave evidence in a similar spirit. Suppose that such statements were made by a public officer with regard to any project upon which the Government proposed, in plain terms, to expend public money, would the Government, in the face of those statements, venture to pull down the building, which their own officer declared to be suitable and necessary, and sell off the remains as old materials, and then purchase another site and erect a new building upon it? The two things to be considered in all building projects were money and space. As to the pecuniary part of the question, the House were unable to obtain a straightforward statement; and with regard to space, there was just as little to recommend the plan. The Courts of Equity, which were quite prepared to find their own accommodation without any expense to the public, or guarantee of public money, ought to be eliminated from the plan; the same might be said of the Courts of Admiralty and Divorce. There would then remain, it was true, the Courts of Common Law; but for these a much smaller space, probably one-third of what was contemplated in the present Bill, would suffice, which there would then be little difficulty in obtaining. The Attorney General had not stated who was to prepare the plans. He differed further from the right hon. Gentleman as to the estimate of expenses; and looking to the statements contained in the Treasury Minute, it was much more probable that the cost would rise to £2,000,000, than remain as suggested at £1,500,000. The three items upon which this estimate 184 was based were buildings and land in the centre of London, building materials, and building labour. He appealed to every Member having experience of the investigations conducted before the tribunals of that House, whether any articles of consumption during the last few years had risen so rapidly and continuously as those he had just enumerated. Since the railway invasions of the metropolis commenced, land in the centre of London had risen to a fabulous rate, and the price of materials had almost kept pace with it. If the Treasury Minute of 1861 thought that an addition of one-third ought to be made to the estimate of expense, what ought to be added to a similar estimate in the year 1865–6? The section of the Government that concurred with the Treasury Minute of 1861 had surely grave reasons for doubting or disapproving of the present scheme. The right hon. Gentleman, in discussing the application of the fund which he proposed to make, said the first question was, whether it was just to take the fund for such a purpose. He very reluctantly differed from the Attorney General as to the justice of so dealing with the fund. There was, however, a previous question to be considered—namely, had it been shown that there was any such available fund in existence? In enumerating the authorities who had remonstrated against any interference of the kind proposed, it was surprising that the learned Attorney General should have omitted one or two prominent names. Lord St. Leonards had frequently and emphatically expressed his opinion, which was endorsed by the Royal Commission of 1864; but if that learned Lord were suspected of prejudice, there was another authority of still greater weight, owing to his present rank, and that was the present Lord Chancellor. In a speech delivered in the House of Commons on the 21st of May, 1860, Lord Westbury (then Attorney General) said—It was a great mistake to suppose that the Court of Chancery was indebted to the Consolidated Fund. If the balance were struck, and if the Suitors' Fund were emancipated from the burden thrown upon it, the Consolidated Fund would have £200,000 a year additional to bear. The accumulated fees of the Suitors' Fee Fund ought to be dedicated to the purpose of relieving the suitors from the fees of the Court of Chancery."—[3 Hansard, clviii. 1574.]That was the opinion of the present Lord Chancellor, and it coincided with that of Lord St. Leonards, and with the Report 185 of the Commission of 1864. He might be told that one very eminent Member of that Commission dissented from the opinion of his colleagues; but the answer which he should give to that would be that an equally able member of the Commission of 1860—Vice Chancellor Sir W. P. Wood—the only member of that Commission connected either with the Chancery Bench or the Chancery Bar, dissented from the recommendations of the Commission, as far as these related to the appropriation, or, as he considered it, the misappropriation of the fund. From the Report of the Commission of 1864, it was quite true that one member, the hon. Member for London, dissented; but for what reason? Because the recommendation contained in that Report would interfere with the scheme for the concentration of the courts of justice. That was to say, that the Report of a Commission appointed by the present Government was so fatal to the present scheme that the only one Member who dissented from the Report did so on the express ground, and that one ground only, that it would interfere with the project now before the House. When the Attorney General next inquired into the weight of authority, he would find that the opinions adverse to the proposed application of the fund were something more than prejudices vaguely floating about the Court of Chancery. According to the principle laid down by the right hon. Gentleman, the money contributed by the suitors might be taken for the purposes of the Thames Embankment, for building armourplated ships, or for any other purpose. If the right hon. Gentleman contended that present suitors had no rights whatever growing out of the fund raised by contributions of past generations of suitors, then the simile so well put by Vice Chancellor Wood applied—You might as well say that funds contributed to a hospital were intended to benefit only the present inmates, and had no reference to future sufferers; or that the pence contributed by children in a school, if a surplus remained at the end of any week, did not belong to the school, but might be taken and applied for any extraneous purpose.The argument was put in a very clear light by the passage which he had read from the speech of the present Lord Chancellor. It was idle to say that the expenses in Chancery were so trifling that it mattered little whether they were increased or diminished 50 per cent. The 186 surplus income was now only £356, and that was only obtained by taxation of the suitors amounting in the last year to £96,000; and if the Lord Chancellor exercised the power, which, according to his view, ought to be set in motion whenever the produce of the fees increased, the result would be that, instead of a large surplus, there would be none at all; because the moment the income grew, the obligation to revise the taxation would immediately arise. He contended that it was obviously unjust to take away from the suitors in Chancery the benefit of a possible increase of revenue, and to increase or perpetuate this taxation for the purpose of building Courts of Common Law. The Chancery Courts were perfectly able to take care of themselves, and to provide new courts without any expense to the public. The only reason, therefore, why they were dragged into the discussion was in order to throw a sort of veil over the expenditure by reason of this million which it was proposed to lay hands on in the first instance. He had no intention, as he had stated, to oppose the first reading; but he hoped the scheme would be re-considered, and would be brought back in some practical shape which everybody could understand. The measure had now been introduced three times, and three times it had failed. It was rather too much to come before Parliament again with a scheme open to all the objections which had led to the rejection of its predecessors, and then to hold that because there were some admitted evils out of doors the House would not take the odium of rejecting the Bill. The odium, if any, ought to rest with those who had rejected the cheap, expeditious, and practicable scheme which had been brought forward in 1859. But the real burden of proposing some scheme suited to the urgency of the case lay upon the Government. He did not care what schemes were adopted, whether it was that of the Society of Lincoln's Inn or any other. Provided only that it were consistent with justice, did not increase or perpetuate taxation upon the suitors of the Court of Chancery, and dealt only with those courts where admitted evils existed, and which could not be remedied by any other method, he believed it would meet with the hearty concurrence of Parliament.
§ MR. AYRTON
expressed his satisfaction at finding that the Government intended to proceed vigorously with this measure 187 during the present Session, and he hoped the hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General would not be discouraged by the want of success which attended the former attempt. Upon the last occasion some prejudice was created in consequence of the measure being introduced from the Department of Works, which led the House to believe that some gigantic building scheme was in contemplation, or some fanciful scheme of pulling down one structure in order to construct a more ambitious building. The hon. and learned Gentleman, upon the present occasion, had introduced it very properly as a great question of practical law reform, as putting the keystone to the arch of law reform which Parliament had been for some thirty-five years constructing; in fact, as a mode of improving the administration of justice. If it was necessary to show that this was not a mere theoretical question of law improvement, the best evidence that this was a practical question would be found in the fact mentioned by the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite, that it was first introduced by such a man as Mr. Hume. The more the House examined into the details of the measure the more satisfied they would be that it was one of an eminently practical character. Indeed, the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Mr. Selwyn) had admitted the whole case with one exception, which exception, he said, deprived it of its character as an improvement. The hon. and learned Gentleman asked where would be the use to equity counsel, who practised in a single court, of concentrating all the law courts upon a single site. Of course, to those gentlemen the improvement could not be obvious, but they were the exceptions which proved the rule, because every other person engaged in the administration was conscious of the inconveniences of the present system. It was unnecessary now to discuss a question which had been practically admitted. Upon a former occasion some prejudice was created by the suggestion that the measure would in some way or other lead to the spoliation of dead or unborn suitors, and to depriving them of some portion of the property which might remain to them after undergoing the excruciating process of Chancery. That suggestion did awake some sympathy, but it was satisfactory to find that upon the present occasion the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite had 188 not dwelt upon that point, and had passed over the question as to whether the House could not deal with the capital of a fund which was in the hands of the Crown. It seemed to be admitted that the fund could be dealt with for the purpose of improving the administration of justice. It could not be pretended that there was any special equity in favour of any individual on this fund, and the analogy suggested by the learned Judge who had been quoted was one which that learned person could never have ventured to put forth from the bench. What resemblance could there be between this fund and a sum of money left upon charitable trust? No man whose money was intrusted to the Court of Chancery ever contemplated the conferring of a public benefit, or of endowing some charitable foundation, such as a school or almshouse. The analogy was so shallow that the learned Judge must really have been in a sportive humour when he indulged in it. The hon. and learned Gentleman opposite had very properly grappled with the question as a practical one, as respected the interest of money to be expended in the construction of the new courts, which he estimated at £45,000 per annum; and he declared that if they looked to the Court of Chancery to supply that sum they would be disappointed. But the great merit of this proposition was that the Attorney General had pledged himself that the interest of the money to be expended was not to be charged upon the public revenues, but was to be borne in some way by the various funds which were available for the administration of public justice. It was unnecessary now to enter into details as to how that sum was to be raised, whether by increased fees or by opening up any of the resources of the various courts. He apprehended that there were many resources. For instance, the rents now paid for a number of offices would be saved, and other means of reimbursement would be found. But he would ask the House to look at the broad subject in the broad light in which the Attorney General had placed it, whether it would not be possible to save from the expenditure and receipts of all the courts £45,000 a year, to pay the interest of the capital to be expended? He believed that there would be no difficulty upon that point, but as to how the amount was to be raised was a mere matter of detail. When 189 the Judges were deprived of the power, which they had no right to exercise, of diminishing fees without consent of the Treasury, he had no doubt that a sufficient surplus would be forthcoming to meet all the charges which would be imposed by this important improvement. He therefore hoped the House would not be fright tenedby any suggestion of possible calamity to the Fee Fund of the Court of Chancery, but would seriously apply itself to the prosecution of a measure which, if longer delayed, there would be greater difficulty and greater expense in carrying out. It was true that the particular property to be dealt with by this measure had not risen greatly in value, but it might be that the wretched dwellings now existing might be swept away, and in that case it would be much more expensive to carry out the scheme now proposed. It was most important that the Government should at once take steps to secure the site, and the plan when carried out would be such an improvement in the administration of justice that it would be fully worth the expenditure. There was one improvement alone that would be worth £45,000 a year. It would enable all metropolitan causes to be tried at Nisi Prius in London, and suitors would not be driven from Westminster to London and thence to Kingston and Guildford for an opportunity of obtaining justice. If the new courts were built, they might have a permanent Nisi Prius Court, which should continue its sittings, trying cases as they arose, and thus preventing the delays of one month, or even six months, which frequently arose under the present system. The hon. and learned Gentleman would, no doubt, meet with obstructions. The opposition of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite had been most discreet, but his connection with Lincoln's Inn gave him a particular interest. The interests of the legal profession generally would be promoted by the proposed improvement, and if the Courts of Chancery were turned out of Lincoln's Inn to give more room to the counsel practising in those courts, no doubt the recipients of rents might be affected, but the barristers who paid the rents would be greatly advantaged. The hon. and learned Gentleman might be obstructed by the City of London, but as it was understood that he intended to allow Temple Bar to remain as a public obstruction and as a perpetual monument of corporate good taste, perhaps that opposition would not be very severe. Indeed, he 190 gathered that the City functionaries had waived their objections, and it was to be hoped the example would not be overlooked in other quarters. The public interests would be greatly advanced by a concentration of the law courts, and therefore he hoped the present Bill would speedily pass into law.
§ MR. MALINS
said, he gave his cordial support to the measure; and would congratulate the Government that they had for the first time taken the matter in hand in a way that was likely to promote its success. It was not safe to indulge in prophecy, but, in contradistinction to the hon. and learned Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Selwyn), he would venture to prophecy that this measure would succeed. That it should do so was his most earnest hope, and he, together with his hon. and learned Friend, now deservedly elevated to the Bench, the late Member for Truro (Mr. Montague Smith), had last Session, as late as the month of June, urged upon the Government to proceed with this scheme. His hon. and learned Friend the Member for the University of Cambridge could not but be deeply impressed with the evils of the present system, but he appeared at the same time to be rather willing to submit to those evils than disposed to assist the Government in their effort to cure them. The two questions chiefly to be considered in connection with the scheme before the House were the benefit which the public would derive, and the mode in which the money was to be raised. The second point was one on which he would not dwell, but he had again and again urged the Government to take the money from the Consolidated Fund, and he still believed that that course would be preferable to defraying the expenses from the Suitors' Fund. At the same time, if there was in the opinion of the Government £1,000,000, which would give the Government what they wanted, and if the Government were prepared to give their guarantee to the public in case there was any other demand on this stock, they ought in this, as in other matters, to rely on the Government guarantee. This relieved him of all difficulty on this score, and in consequence he would discard all the arguments which had been advanced about the difficulties of having recourse to the Fund. He was satisfied, therefore, with the statement of the Attorney General; for he (Mr. Malins) could not believe that his hon. and learned 191 Friend would have allowed himself to be deluded with the supposition that there was a million of money forthcoming, if that was real which the hon. and learned Member for Cambridge University would maintain, that there was not this million available. There was no doubt that the hon. and learned Member had satisfied himself of the grounds on which he ought to dissent from the Report of the Commission in this matter before he formally expressed his dissent; but all objections were overruled, inasmuch as the Government had guaranteed that they would indemnify the fund from loss. Now that the Government were bringing forward the Bill at the commencement of the Session, he felt convinced that they were in earnest, and he rejoiced that success would come out of it. In his opposition the hon. and learned Member for Cambridge University stood alone. He (Mr. Malins) was sure that there was not another Member of the legal profession who would give it the slightest opposition, and he did not believe that the hon. and learned Member really opposed the scheme of concentration. No doubt the hon. and learned Member for the University of Cambridge felt himself hampered by the supposed opposition of the benchers of Lincoln's Inn; but he (Mr. Malins) did not think that the benchers were opposed, or would be opposed, to the Bill. He was a member of the Council of that Inn, and had recently taken an opportunity to bring the subject under their consideration; and if he understood their feelings he believed that they were of opinion that as there was no chance of the proposal made by Lincoln's Inn in 1859 being carried out, such was the paramount importance of the proposal that all the courts should be concentrated under one roof, they were not disposed to offer opposition to the Government plan any longer. The House must then conclude that the hon. and learned Member for the University of Cambridge was opposing the Bill in his individual capacity, and not as representing the benchers of Lincoln's Inn on their authority. Certainly no petition against the Bill had been presented from Lincoln's Inn, and he (Mr. Malins) thought that none would be presented; and his ground for saying so was that they were likely to concur in the grand scheme for bringing all the courts under one roof, and, besides this, that they were not likely to receive any support for their own scheme. The hon. and learned Member for the 192 Tower Hamlets (Mr. Ayrton) was led into error in supposing that the hon. and learned Member for the University of Cambridge could not feel any inconvenience from the separation of the courts because he practised in only one court, the Master of the Bolls. But in reality no man suffered more. Let any hon. Member visit the Bolls Court on a wet morning, and judge for himself. Many matters came before the Master of the Bolls in the Bolls Yard, on which he gave decrees and orders. These gave rise to appeals which were heard in Lincoln's Inn Hall, either before the Lord Chancellor or the Lords Justices. The counsel followed their appeal cases; and the distance from the Bolls to the court of appeal was about one-fifth of a mile. The counsel might be seen on a wet snowy morning in their wigs and gowns, hurrying helter-skelter, with their umbrellas open, up Chancery Lane to the appeal court to catch their appeals; and when they were over, then helter-skelter back again in the wet and mud. Surely the hon. Members who suffered this inconvenience would be glad to see courts under one roof. The court in which he (Mr. Malins) practised was a shed or hovel, and from it he must make his way along a passage which, to be sure, was covered over head, but which was exposed to all the winds of heaven. But what was this inconvenience in comparison to the loss to the public which must result from one court sitting in Westminster, another in Guildhall, and the equity courts in Lincoln's Inn? A solicitor would come to an equity barrister between nine and ten in the morning to a consultation, and then hurry away to attend Mr. Bovill at Westminster, expressing his regret that he could not watch his case in court. But if the courts were under one roof, the public could not suffer from this disadvantage. If the courts were concentrated in the spot which seemed happily left open for them between Lincoln's Inn and Westminster, all the solicitors could come together, and the barristers could interchange ideas as they formerly did when the courts were at Westminster. It was at the urgent request of the equity bar that Lord Cottenham relieved them from coming down to Westminster and consented to sit in Lincoln's Inn. This was an advantage to the Bar, especially as they could remain in chambers and see their clients during the day; and by the transfer of the courts the common law Bar 193 would gain the same advantage. The only disadvantage in the way of separation, and that a trifling one, would be experienced by the equity Bar, but the members of the Bar would cheerfully make this small sacrifice, and acquiesce in the proposed plan for the general benefit of the profession. His hon. Friend the Member for Evesham (Sir Henry Willoughby) had warned the House that they would have to bear a considerable portion of the expense. The Government, however, proposed to find £600,000. [The ATTORNEY GENERAL: All except £200,000 of which is to be reimbursed.] The sum of £200,000 would, if he understood aright, be repaid by the Exchequer being relieved of certain rents and receiving money as the rental of certain sites which the Government would then obtain. As to the other £400,000, the Government would find that sum, and be repaid in fifty years by a small fee upon suitors in the Courts of Common Law and Probate. He believed that the scheme now proposed would be one of the cheapest bargains ever made by the suitor, for he would derive the greatest advantage in return for this small fee. He begged to express his warm and hearty concurrence in the measure, and to thank the Government for bringing in at so early a period of the Session a Bill which he felt confident would this year finally pass into a law.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
explained that £900,000 was to be obtained by the sale of £1,000,000 of stock, and £400,000 would be repaid by a small fee for fifty years on suitors in common law and probate.
§ MR. MALINS
so understood it, and considered that the project would be one of the cheapest that ever was executed.
§ MR. DENMAN
, being also a member of Lincoln's Inn, could not help expressing his gratification at what had fallen from the hon. and learned Member for Walling ford (Mr. Malins), that he had good reason to suppose that the hon. Society of that Inn were no longer likely to be reckoned among the opponents of this measure for concentrating the law courts. It was now considered most desirable to establish, as far as possible, a fusion of law and equity, and as this was a step in that direction, it would meet with very general approval. The hon. and learned Member for Cambridge University, who appeared to stand alone in his opposition to this measure, must be aware that every day cases were 194 arising in which the members of the common law Bar were called upon to argue questions of equity. Now, he did not think that the interests of suitors in mixed cases of law and equity could be properly served until the members of both Bars were brought more closely together. Moreover, the present arrangement involved a great waste of judicial time and power, for the Judges of the courts of Common Law now had to leave their courts and walk through the streets, or take a cab to Serjeants' Inn, in order to sit in chambers there. The courts were daily broken up from this cause, and the solicitors and junior Bar had to run from one place to another, at a great expenditure of time, which was to the suitors a great expenditure of money. Although some barristers of the common law courts, who, like himself, were practising all day at Westminster and then able at once to pass over to their duties in this House, were personally interested in retaining the existing state of things, nevertheless, seeing the advantages derivable by the proposed change both to the public and the suitors, they were ready to give the scheme of the Attorney General their best support. He believed that there were five benchers of Lincoln's Inn then present as Members of that House, and he was glad to know that only one of them would oppose this Bill. He hoped, and believed, that the measure would soon pass.
§ MR. BOVILL
concurred in the opinion that those members of the profession who were also Members of the House would individually have reason to prefer that things should remain as at present. The members of the Bar were almost unanimous in favour of a concentration of the law courts, and it was of the greatest importance to the administration of justice that this measure should be agreed to. It was now not uncommon for the Queen's Bench to require three different courts for its own accommodation. The court sat in Banco after Term, and the pressure of business was so great that two Judges were at the same time sitting with juries at Nisi Prius. It was now very difficult for even a barrister to find out the particular court in which the cause in which he was interested was to be heard. The other day an hon. Member of that House desired to find his way on a subpoena to the Queen's Bench. He found the full court occupied by the Lord Chief Justice. He was then told to go in another direction, and he 195 found the court sitting, not in a shed or a hovel, but in a place little better than a dog-hole. It had been constructed several years ago, and had been used for occasions when a single Judge sat for a couple of hours to inquire into cases of bail. It now sometimes happened that the full Court of Queen's Bench was obliged to hold its sittings in that court. The hon. Member to whom he referred having first gone to the great court and then to the Bail Court, came to him to ask him where the court he wanted could be holding its sittings. He was unable to tell him, and had to ask the usher of the court to take charge of him. They at length found the court sitting up two pairs of stairs in a remote part of the building, and without accommodation for either Judges, counsel, attorneys, or witnesses. The business of the Courts of Common Law had, indeed, so much increased that although the Courts of Equity had migrated to Lincoln's Inn, there was not at present accommodation for the courts that were left. The Judges and the members of the Bar were all exceedingly inconvenienced by the present state of things. But there was a much more serious mischief still. At Westminster the common law required no less than six courts; but at the Guildhall the three courts which had been provided could not meet the requirements, and accordingly the Corporation devoted a certain portion of the space at their command to the building of what he would not call sheds, or hovels, or dog-kennels, but two cucumber-frames. He had taken the liberty to make a representation on the subject to a member of the Court of Aldermen, whom he induced to accompany him into one of those hotbeds, and so great was the heat, and so bad the smell, that his friend could not remain there more than a few minutes; and yet the Judge, the jury, and the public had to remain in such places for several hours at a time. "But," said the Alderman, "what are we to do? There is a scheme which has been before Parliament year after year for the concentration of the law courts, and how can we, in the face of such a scheme, ask the City to spend its funds in the erection of new courts?" He (Mr. Bovill) felt the objection to be unanswerable. So long as this measure was delayed the public in general, as well as the City of London, would be put to inconvenience. There had been a tendency of late years to enable each 196 court to administer full justice in each particular cause. For instance, if a suit were commenced in the Court of Chancery it was desirable that it should be determined there before a jury, if necessary; and so with respect to the common law courts. They had now to decide upon matters of equity—there was a greater interchange of the services of those who practised in the several courts, and the lawyers now went backwards and forwards between Westminster Hall and the Court of Chancery. But it was almost impossible for a suitor to secure the services of his advocate, in consequence of the separation of the courts. The result had been—and the feeling was almost universal among lawyers—that it would be of the greatest possible advantage to the public that the courts should be concentrated in one place. The interchange of the views and opinions of Judges and of the members of the Bar would be of considerable advantage, and the saving of time, and of expense, would be so great that it was scarcely possible to estimate it. He begged, therefore, to tender his cordial support to the proposal of the Government, and in doing so he expressed not only his own opinion, but that of almost the entire Bar, and nothing more advantageous could be done than to provide a palace of justice which would be at once an honour to the Government and an ornament to the country.
§ MR. SCULLY
said, that the concentration of the law courts was not an experiment; it had been tried in Ireland with the most complete success. Upon an area much less than seven acres and a half all the Courts of Law and Equity were concentrated in Dublin. The Hall of the Dublin Pour Courts, as they were called, used to be a lounge for barristers and attorneys to gossip away their idle time; but that evil was cured by the establishment of a library where the members of the Bar attended to their chamber business, and left the hall comparatively deserted. There were fifteen courts under one roof in Dublin, besides solicitors' rooms and an abundance of offices, and coffee and refreshment rooms in the wings. All that was required for the metropolis was a similar building, but upon a larger scale. All the courts in London, except the Rolls Court, were inferior to the worst of the fifteen courts in Dublin; and the London Rolls Court was not equal to some 197 of the Dublin Courts, But there was one point in which he thought the interests of the barristers was attended to more than that of the public, and that was as regarded the question of site. The Attorney General had stated that there were only three competing sites—one in Westminster, one at Lincoln's Inn, and one at Bell Yard, which was the best of those three. But there was a superior site still, and he thought it a great mistake not to adopt it. One of the greatest ornaments to Dublin was its quays, but they were nothing as compared to what the Thames Embankment would be. For the Bar, and for the dwellers in the three Inns of Court, the site at Bell Yard might be the most convenient, but the public would have far more accommodation on the embankment between Somerset House and the Middle Temple, from which position there would be several most facile modes of access both to Westminster and to the City; independent of the opportunity for a magnificent decoration to the river frontage. The suggestion was, he submitted, well worth considering, as the open site fronting the river was in all respects much superior to that jammed up at Bell Yard.
THE ATTORNEY GENERAL
said, he wished to correct a misapprehension under which the hon. and learned Member for the University of Cambridge (Mr. Selwyn) appeared to labour with regard to the financial portion of the scheme. The whole expense was to be provided by the Treasury, so that if there was not a fund to make it good then the Treasury would bear the expense; but of course the Treasury was satisfied there was a fund. His hon. and learned Friend said they should look to income only, and not to the capital; but he (the Attorney General) looked to the capital to repay the State, the State guaranteeing the suitors against any possible loss of their money. The next operation was to provide for those annual charges, which the £30,000, the income of the fund taken, would otherwise meet. How was that provided for? In the first place, the State guaranteed all individuals interested against loss; but then the State was to be indemnified by taking all sums necessary to meet any deficiency from time to time arising in the income to meet the annual charges, out of the other reserved half-million. The Lord Chancellor would have power to redeem and buy up the compensations now chargeable on that 198 fund, and apply the capital, the half-million reserved for that purpose, and the capital of the half-million will come from year to year, till the whole of the charge fell in, in aid of the other funds. A calculation had been carefully made, that if even no portion of it was redeemed or bought up by the application from year to year of a sufficient portion of the half-million to meet the charges otherwise insufficient, there would be a final extinction of all those charges, so as to put an end to the deficiency of the income in about eighteen years, and leave a large balance in hand. He denied that the House had ever rejected the scheme, because the hon. and learned Gentleman had succeeded in a thin House on one occasion in gaining a majority of one. The Bill might have been proceeded with, but it was thought desirable that further inquiry should be made. Time was given for further inquiry, and the objections then made have been successfully met in this Bill. From what had taken place that evening, he felt confident that this great measure would be carried before the present Session came to a close.
§ Motion agreed to.
§ Bill to supply means towards defraying the expenses of providing Courts of Justice, and the various offices belonging thereto; and for other purposes, ordered to be brought in by Mr. ATTORNEY GENERAL, Mr. COWPER, and Mr. SOLICITOR GENERAL.
§ Bill presented, and read 1° [Bill 5].