HC Deb 09 April 1869 vol 195 cc518-22

said, he rose to ask Mr. Attorney General for Ireland, If His attention has been called to a recent decision of the Irish Court of Chancery on an Appeal arising out of a conveyance of a portion of the estate of the Earl of Lanesborough to a Mrs. Catherine Reilly, the purchaser of a portion of a neigbouring property sold in the Incumbered Estates Court; and whether it is intended to propose any amendment of the Law which sanctions the sale of incumbered estates in Ireland? Every man who owned an acre of land in Ireland was deeply concerned in this matter, which was a glaring act of robbery perpetrated by the Incumbered Estates Court. He would beg leave to read a statement of the facts from a letter by the Hon. Cavendish Butler. In the year 1865, a portion of the estate of Loftus Tottenham, Esq., situated in the county of Fermanagh, was advertised for sale by the Landed Estates Court. As this estate was contiguous to the estate of the Earl of Lanesborough, in accordance with the practice of the court, notice of the proposed sale, a rental, and copies of maps of the estate, were submitted to the agent to Lord Lanesborough, in order that he might satisfy himself of the correctness of the boundaries. No error in this respect appearing on the face of the maps, the sale was allowed to proceed. A certain Catherine Reilly rented a portion of the Tottenham estate, containing 16 acres, 3 roods, 29 perches. At the sale she purchased the fee simple of this land, which was separated from the estate of the Earl of Lanesborough by a deep ditch and a high quickset hedge. A Landed Estates Court title was given to her, and nothing further transpired until the year 1867, two years after the purchase, when she claimed a portion of Lord Lanesborough's property, which was bounded on the one side by the portion of land so purchased, and on the other by a public street in the town of Newtown Butler, and which contained 49 perches of ground, valuable for building purposes. This claim was, of course, resisted, and eventually, as Mrs. Reilly threatened to take forcible possession, an action for trespass was brought against her in the Court of Common Pleas. For the plaintiff the above facts were stated. The Landed Estates Court proved that the defendant purchased and paid for only 16 acres, 3 roods, 29 perches, which were duly conveyed to her; that if the 49 perches now claimed were added to her purchase, she would become possessed of so much more land than she had actually bid for, paid for, or ever had in her possession; that the said 49 perches formed part of the estate of the Earl of Lanesborough, and had been in possession of the family since the original grant of the estate, and that by no act of the present or late proprietor had it been alienated. The defendant, on the other hand, claimed under the conveyance made to her by the Landed Estates Court, which, although it only specified that it had sold and thereby conveyed to her 16 acres, 3 roods, and 29 perches, still went on to say that "the portion coloured red, defined on a map attached to said conveyance, was the land so conveyed." A draughtsman attached to the Engineers' Office caused the red line alluded to include a portion of Lord Lanes borough's estate, containing 49 perches of ground, and thus made Mrs. Reilly's purchase 17 acres and 38 perches, and not 16 acres, 3 roods, and 29 perches, as stated in the deed. Chief Justice Monaghan held the title good and nonsuited the plaintiff. Upon this, reference was made to the Landed Estates Court for redress, and, upon the re-hearing of the case before Judge Lynch, he, in an elaborate judgment, called upon said Catherine Reilly to re-convey to trustees the said portion of ground thus improperly claimed by her, with a view to its restoration to its rightful owner, the Earl of Lanesborough. Against this decision Catherine Reilly appealed to the Court of Chancery, who again reversed the decree of the Landed Estates Court, and held that the line defined by the red paint was a good conveyance, and that, although Catherine Reilly acknowledged, and the body of the deed affirmed, that only 16 acres, 3 roods, and 29 perches were sold and paid for by the said Catherine Reilly, still she was entitled to 49 perches of a property that was never sold by the court, bought by the claimant, or included in the quantity specified by the said deed of conveyance. It appears, therefore, that no matter what the quantity or nature of property described in a deed of conveyance from the Landed Estates Court, the map alone is to be considered the basis of the purchase; and the question was whether a man's property could be conveyed to another, without his knowledge or consent, through the negligence or other default of some official? A portion of the estate of the Earl of Lanesborough had been so conveyed to the purchaser of a portion of a neighbouring estate—no portion of the estate of the Earl of Lanesborough was mentioned in the deed of conveyance—and the only grounds on which Catherine Reilly claimed the portion of Lord Lanesborough's estate, included in the map, was that it was so included. The Attorney General for Ireland would probably remember that when Ahab appropriated the land of Naboth he received a very severe punishment. If the conduct of Ahab was bad, the conduct of the Incumbered Estates Court was worse. Ahab gave notice to Naboth that he wanted the land, but the In-cumbered Estates Court gave Lord Lanesborough no notice whatever. The land, it was true, was of small extent and value, but the question was one of principle, and Parliament ought to interfere to prevent so gross an injustice.


said, he would not allude to the Scriptural illustration just introduced, but would remind the House that when the Incumbered Estates Court was founded in Ireland some twenty years ago it was thought to be of vital importance that every title given by it should be indefeasible. He was perfectly familiar with the facts of the case, for it happened that he had been Counsel against Lord Lanesborough. The estate adjoining to Lord Lanes-borough's property was sold in the In-cumbered Estates Court, and, through a mistake on the part of an officer of the Ordnance Survey, the strip of land in question belonging to his Lordship, and forming an acute angle projecting from the mass of the property, was included in the conveyance, though the map served on Lord Lanesborough, as an adjoining owner, showed this strip uncoloured. The mistake was to be regretted, but he did not think it properly described by the term "robbery." It should be remembered that during the operation of the court, which had conveyed millions of property, these mistakes had been of the most trivial character, this being, perhaps about the second or third which had been discovered. The remedy now suggested was an amendment of the law, but the only amendment that could be adopted would have the effect of rendering the title disputable. Now, it would be little short of a national calamity if, on account of a mistake with regard to some 49 or 50 perches of land, the validity of titles under the Incumbered Estates Court was impaired.


said, he knew nothing of the case until he had just heard it explained, but he must say it appeared to him that a flagrant robbery had been committed. The right hon. and learned Gentleman admitted that there had been a mistake, but pleaded that it was a small one. Now, they had all heard of excuses made by delinquents where the corpus delicti was a small one, and the excuse now offered was about on a par with that of the female delinquent to whom he referred. If the state of the law in Ireland was that, through the mistake of a Government officer, a man might be robbed of his land, and there was no mode of correcting the error, it was the bounden duty of the Government to see that a change in the law was at once introduced.


said, the Incumbered Estates Court had proved an inestimable been to Ireland, but its value would be greatly impaired if any doubts were thrown on the validity of the titles granted under it. At the same time, it would, he thought, be possible to devise a remedy for the injustice here pointed out. In Australia he had introduced a Bill for establishing a court similar to the Irish Incumbered Estates Court, and giving indefeasible titles; but there a small percentage was levied upon the value of the land brought under the system, and out of the fund thus formed the persons injured by such mischances as these received compensation. This system of insurance, which fell very lightly on those resorting to the court, worked satisfactorily. In addition to this there was a provision that the Government could recoup themselves by bringing an action for damages against the person who had benefited by the mistake that had been made.

Main Question, "That Mr. Speaker do now leave the Chair," put. and agreed to.