HC Deb 05 April 1869 vol 195 cc217-21

Order for Committee read.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair."


said, he would move, "That this House will, upon this day six months, resolve itself into the said Committee." Every piece of legislation that sought to set up anew, aim revive such mediæval institutions as this court was likely to retard any comprehensive system of law reform. The curse of our system of judicature was the number and variety of our courts of law. This was an ancient court, established when counties palatine were erected, with a view to protect the inhabitants from the incursions of the people of Scotland and Wales, but now there was no use for it, and why should this special; jurisdiction be not only preserved but encouraged? In 1867 a similar measure was introduced by the right hon. Gentleman opposite, at that time Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, and it was with drawn on the ground that the Judicature Commission was about to issue. That Commission had just made its first Report, which would be on the table in a few days; and considerable changes had been recommended. The object of the present Bill, which had been introduced and pressed forward with undue haste, was to defeat the measure proposed by the Commission. The Judges of this court were generally the Judges who attended the circuit, but the centre of the court was in Preston, and no attorney in Manchester and Liverpool would think of bringing an action there unless he expected to get a judgment by default, preferring to come to London, where he had the advantage of the best legal advice. In the last cause list at Liverpool out of seventy-three cases only eleven were taken out of the Court of Common Pleas of the County Palatine of Lancaster. The Bill would establish prothonotaries at Liverpool and Manchester, for the purpose of saving agency fees for the attorneys in those towns. He would undertake to say that it would not confer the slightest benefit on suitors, or lessen in any appreciable degree their expenses. It would simply benefit a few attorneys in Liverpool and Manchester, who were promoting it. Why should not Bolton, Warrington, and other large towns in Lancashire be considered, as well as Liverpool and Manchester? These prothonotaries, considering the important powers they would have to exercise, must be paid large salaries. Why should this expense be put upon the country, and that, too, when we were on the eve of a great reform of our judicature? If they were once appointed, it would be impossible to get rid of them without heavily compensating them. There was no public ground whatever on which the Bill had been brought forward, and it ought to be rejected. There was not, he believed, a single Petition in its favour.

Amendment proposed, to leave out from the word "That" to the end of the Question, in order to add the words "this House will, upon this day six months, resolve itself into the said Committee,"—(Mr. Serjeant Simon,)—instead thereof.

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


said, that the feeling in Lancashire was almost unanimously in favour of the Bill. He was surprised that it should be supposed that the Bill would occasion any charge on the Consolidated Fund, for since the reign of Henry IV. the funds of the Duchy of Lancaster had been kept separate and distinct. The measure could hardly be said to have been brought on hastily, for legislation on the subject began in 1867, and this very Bill had been read three times in the House of Lords. In former days the Assizes for the county palatine were held in Lancaster, but by an Act passsed in the reign of William IV. the Crown was enabled to give Assizes to other places. The southern division of the county had now become more important than the northern, and in 1835 Assizes were given to Liverpool, and subsequently to Manchester. The prothonotary's office, however, still remained at Preston; and to this day all the solicitors in the county having to transact business similar to what was transacted by the Master of the Queen's Bench at Westminster, had to repair or send to Preston for the purpose. It was extremely important that prothonotaries should be appointed for these towns, in order that writs, &c, might be obtained there at once, without the necessity of employing agents at Preston. In fact, the opposition to this Bill proceeded from the attorneys of Preston, who were afraid of losing their fees for agency. It had not been deemed necessary that the office of prothonotary should be held by a lawyer. From the time of John of Gaunt, almost, it had been held by some one who was either a favourite of the King or a friend of the Chancellor of the Duchy for the time being. The last holder of this somewhat lucrative sinecure was the late Sir Charles Phipps, who probably never was at Preston in his life. He had, however, a deputy, a most excellent officer, to whom he paid a small salary, and by him the duties of the office were performed most efficiently. On the death of Sir Charles Phipps it was suggested to Her Majesty that the office ought not to be filled up; and Her Majesty, ever willing to subordinate her undoubted rights of patronage to the benefit of her people, acquiesced in the proposed surrender, so as to admit of the appointment of competent officers in the different districts. Before the arrangement, however, was completed, a change of Government occurred; but hon. Gentlemen opposite took the same view as their predecessors, and a measure was introduced which was only defeated by the pressure upon the time of Parliament occasioned by the Reform measure. Now that this difficulty was removed, the Bill, which had obtained the sanction of two Governments, ought surely to be passed.


said, the hon. Member who opposed this Bill (Mr. Serjeant Simon) must be aware that the court to be affected by it was to all intents and purposes a Superior Court. That the number of cases tried in this court at present was comparatively small was, he thought, an argument in favour of the Bill. If a man was to send out of his town for a writ for the purpose of trying his cause, he might as well send up to London for one at once. There was another court as ancient as the one in question—namely, the Court of Chancery in the County Palatine of Lancashire, and they were only now asked to do with reference to the court in question what had been done with reference to that court. The offices in connection with that Court of Chancery were formerly in Preston alone, but by an Act, which was passed a few years ago, they were extended to Liverpool and Manchester. Since that was done the business of the court had increased in an untold degree, and he was convinced that a similar benefit would result from the passing of the present Bill.


said, that the hon. Member who had charge of the Bill (Mr. West) had shown himself very oblivious of the objections that had been urged against it. He should like to know whether the First Lord of the Admiralty was in favour of the scheme. His hon. and learned Friend had entirely evaded the question, whether this court should be continued or not. There could be no necessity whatever for hurrying through this Bill when the Report of the Judicature Commission, of which the First Lord of the Admiralty was a Member, would be presented within a few days. He hoped the House would not go into Committee on this Bill.


said, the legal profession in Liverpool were decidedly of opinion that considerable advantage would result from the Bill, and the Bill was generally approved of there. The whole course of legal reform had been to bring justice to the door of the populations of the large towns, and, in ac- cordance with that policy, he hoped that the House would agree to the passing of the present Bill.


said, that last Session reasons were given why this Bill should not be proceeded with before the Report of the Judicature Commission was presented, and he had found it desirable to yield to those representations. He would advise his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. West) to postpone the Bill for a short time, until the Report appeared.


said, that on the remonstrance as to the Judicature Commission the Bill had been hung up for two years, and yet its promoters were now taunted with acting in indecent haste. If the Report of the Commission should prove to be in favour of this court being done away with, by all means let it be abolished, but meanwhile it was only fair that the inhabitants of Lancashire should enjoy the benefits which would be conferred by the Bill. He hoped the House would now allow the Speaker to leave the Chair, in order that Progress might be reported, if his hon. Friend would not proceed further with the measure for a reasonable time, but wait in order to see whether the Report of the Judicature Commission would be in the meantime presented.


said, that in Liverpool and Manchester the inhabitants were generally strong supporters of the Bill, as a measure for the extension of legal conveniences to the whole county, which | were now in a great measure confined to Preston.


said, he would withdraw his Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill considered in Committee.

House resumed.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday 19th April.

The House adjourned at a quarter after One o'clock.