HC Deb 22 June 1877 vol 235 cc156-68

(Mr. Solicitor General for Ireland, Sir Michael Hicks-Beach.)

COMMITTEE. [Progress 19th June.]

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

On Question, "That the Preamble be postponed,"


moved that the Chairman should report Progress, in order that the House might proceed to the discussion of the second reading of the County Officers and Courts (Ireland) Bill. There were several reasons why that Bill should be taken first, and not the least was that the number of Judges that' would be required under the Judicature Bill must depend upon the County Courts Bill. There was no great need of pressure with regard to the former; but it seemed to be the unanimous opinion of the non-lawyers among the Irish Representatives, that the County Courts Bill was really urgent, in order to provide against the expense and annoyance to which small suitors were put in having to go to the Court of Chancery. He expected to be opposed by the lawyers, because it was their interest to get as much business done in the Superior Courts as possible.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Chairman do report Progress, and ask leave to sit again."—(Mr. Biggar.)


agreed with the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar) that it was greatly to be deplored that the Bill was taken before the County Courts Bill. The latter was very much needed, as cases were frequently arising in which great injustice was done to suitors in small cases by the enormous costs involved in actions in the Superior Courts. He did not think it mattered if the Bill did not become law for a year or two, whilst the County Courts Bill was one of pressing importance. He was sure that, if it could be done conveniently, the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland would be disposed to consult the interests of the public and the wishes of Irish Members in this matter.


denied that there was any foundation for the charge which the hon. Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar) had brought against those Representatives of Ireland who were members of the Bar.


denied that he had made any charge against them. All he said was that, like other people, they were desirous of making as much profit as they could, and he did not suggest in the slightest degree that they were influenced by corrupt motives.


considered that, to say, that in expressing their opinions upon legal measures, the members of the Irish Bar would be influenced by the chances of fees, as a very direct charge against them. He was not now a practitioner at the Irish Bar, and certainly that charge could not be made against him. The greatest injustice and inconvenience arose from the double proceedings which it was the object of the Judicature Bill to do away with; and though the County Courts Bill might be considered more pressing, nothing was to be gained by obstructing both. Let Irish Members treat the question which should have precedence, as one of great importance and take a division upon it; but let them not waste time in useless discussion, especially after the offer of the Government to send the other Bill to a Select Committee. It would be a serious thing to interfere with the discretion of the Government as to the order in which the measures were set down for discussion.


while regarding the measure as one of considerable importance, concurred in the suggestion that the difference of opinion as to which was the more pressing matter should be brought to the test of a division. The general sense of the Committee should be ascertained with regard to the Motion, and the minority should yield to the majority.


thought the hon. Gentleman the Member for Cavan (Mr. Biggar) was too much enamoured of the County Courts Bill. To give to the County Courts an equitable jurisdiction that would be of any great practical advantage could not be done without large staffs; and that being so, he questioned whether the classes intended to be benefitted would find themselves any better for the change. The best way to reach the County Courts Bill was to get through the Judicature Bill as fast as they could, and, in order to do that, he hoped the hon. Member for Cavan would withdraw his Motion, and not obstruct it. The County Courts Bill might easily be considered afterwards.


wanted to know, whether in case the Judicature Bill was proceeded with, it was intended to prosecute the County Courts Bill with such vigour as the Government could command, with the object, if possible, of passing it into law this Session?


observed that there was really no opposition to the second reading of the County Courts Bill, and he would urge the Government, therefore, to consent to the Motion to report Progress, in order that the Bill might be sent to the Select Committee without delay.


concurred in the suggestion, because if the County Courts Bill was to pass that Session, it was necessary that it should be taken in hand at the earliest moment. He understood that there was some difference of opinion amongst Irish Members in regard to the constitution of the Select Committee, the lawyers wishing it to be so constituted as to make any beneficial result that Session impossible; while there were others who were not lawyers who desired that it might be constituted with power to carry out the work referred to it. In his opinion the County Courts Act should be in operation a year or two before the Judicature Bill passed.


calling the hon. Member to Order, pointed out that a discussion of the constitution of the Select Committee was at that stage irrelevant.


said, all agreed that both Bills should pass; but because some preferred one, and some the other, they were in danger of losing both. He would suggest that they should make what progress they could in Committee on the Judicature Bill, upon the under- standing that at the end of the Sitting the Government should move the second reading of the County Courts Bill, with a view to referring it at once to a Select Committee.


recognized the the fairness of the suggestion of hon. Gentleman the Member for Roscommon (the O'Conor Don). He (the Attorney General for Ireland) had already stated that the Government were most anxious at the earliest moment to pass the County Courts Bill, and desired to refer it to a Select Committee, with a view to its becoming law this year. Let the Committee go on and make real progress with the Judicature Bill, and then at a quarter to 6, when the debate was adjourned, he would move the second reading of the County Courts Bill, and that it be referred to a Select Committee.


said, he was not opposed to the County Courts Bill; but he must insist that an opportunity should be afforded for the discussion of its principles before it went to a Select Committee. He wished himself to have the opportunity of expressing his views on it.


deprecated further discussion on the subject, remarking that if the House set about its business in a practical manner, satisfactory progress might be made with both Bills that day.


as a business man, could see no reason why the House should not proceed at once to discuss the Bill. Most of the municipal bodies in Ireland earnestly desired that the Judicature Bill should be passed. No doubt, the County Courts Bill had been delayed, but surely that was no reason why the measure now under consideration should be delayed also. So far from Irish barristers being opposed to the County Courts Bill, they were the first to urge the reform which it was intended to carry out. Though he was anxious to spare the time of the House as much as possible, he could not, as a County Member, assent to the second reading of the County Courts Bill without a discussion of its principles.


said, the County Courts Bill had never been explained to the House, neither had the Judicature Bill.


said, that the Irish lawyers evidently desired to pass the Bill without discussion, and he hoped that the County Courts Bill would be taken first. He would therefore oppose any further progress with the Bill under discussion in the interests of his constituents. He should not talk on the County Courts Bill; but he should have a good deal to say on the Judicature Bill.


said, the Judicature Bill had already been fully explained on its introduction. On the other hand, the County Courts Bill had been brought forward so long ago as February last. There had been no explanation of its provisions, and it was impossible that it could pass the second reading without a full discussion.

Question put.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 10; Noes 180: Majority 170.—(Div. List, No. 188.)


said, if Progress was reported at 5 o'clock, the difficulty would be solved, and then the County Courts Bill could be taken.


said, that, although extremely anxious to make Progress with the Bill, he was equally anxious not to waste the time of the House, and to consult the wishes of hon. Members. He would therefore accept the suggestion of the right hon. and learned Baronet opposite, on condition that this Bill met with a fair discussion, and then at 5 o'clock he would proceed with the County Courts Bill, which he was sure would also meet with a fair discussion.


said, he never heard anything but a fair discussion of the Bill. The object seemed to be to push the Bill through without discussion.


did not understand what the right hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary meant by "a fair discussion." He was prepared to discuss the Bill "fairly." He objected to its passing until, say, a couple of years had elapsed after the County Courts Bill was passed.


hoped there would be no real obstruction. Whoever obstructed now, after the promise of the Government, on their heads be it.


The right hon. Baronet the Chief Secretary talks about fair discussion and about obstruction. He should remember that on Tuesday last the House was counted out at 9 o'clock on a discussion upon a Resolution brought forward by an Irish Member, the right hon. and learned Baronet the Member for Clare.


said, he did not think the reform contemplated by the measure was sufficiently extensive. For years past it had been asserted that the Irish Judicial Bench was over-manned, overpaid, and under-worked. In 1866 there were 12 Irish and 15 English Judges, but there was a very small proportion of judicial work in Ireland compared with that in England. The number of writs, of judgments signed, of defences filed, and of prisoners tried in Ireland was in about the proportion of one sixth, as regarded England. That being so, he objected to the Bill, because it did not provide a sufficient reduction, either in the number of the Irish Judges, or of their salaries. It was true that the salaries of the Irish Judges were, perhaps, 40 or 45 per cent less than the salaries paid to the English Judges; but then, in the payment of salaries, regard should be had to the average emoluments earned by that portion of the Profession from which Judges were taken, and the emoluments earned by Irish barristers were very much less than those earned by English barristers of the same standing. Very few Irish barristers earned more than £1,500 or £2,000 a-year, whilst the average earnings of English barristers was probably £6,000 or £7,000 a-year, and they usually sacrificed a considerable sum when they obtained a seat on the Bench. Owing to the system pursued in Ireland, it had been found necessary to provide places for barristers and to pay them more highly than they would otherwise be paid. Ever since the Union, therefore, members of the Irish Bar had been more or less devoted to the interests of the English Government, and more or less unmindful of the interests of their own country. The result was, that in recent years it had been very difficult for Irish barristers, with some remarkable exceptions, to obtain the suffrages of Irish constituencies. He thought it was a great evil, and one that ought to be pointed out, that County Court Judges should be overpaid. He had wished that the Bill could have been postponed until the County Courts Bill had been in operation for a time, so that it would then be found how many Judges were necessary to perform the work, and how they ought to be paid. For instance, the duties of the Landed Estates Court had been performed by Judge Flanagan much to the satisfaction of the suitors, and that distinguished Judge had himself stated publicly that he was quite competent to do all the work of the Court. But, nevertheless, a second Judge had been appointed to the Landed Estates Court, and that second Judge formed part of the scheme of that Bill. Those two Judges, for performing the work which one formerly did for £3,000 a-year, were to receive £3,500 each. He hoped that proper explanations would be given on that and other points by the Government.


complained that the right hon. and learned Attorney General for Ireland did not seem inclined to answer the hon. Member for Meath's observations.


thought that the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell), in his criticisms, had lost sight of the substantial reduction in the Judicial establishment already effected, and the further reductions which would be gradually brought about by the operations of the Bill. There was a vacant Judgeship at present in the Court of Common Pleas which would not be filled up, by which there would be a saving of £3,600 a-year at once. It was also proposed that, on the first vacancy occurring in a Puisne Judgeship of the Court of Exchequer, it would not be filled up, whereby another £3,600 would be saved. It was also contemplated that the next vacancy in the Admiralty Court should not be filled up. The same remark applied to the Receiver Master's office, on which a further saving of £2,500 would be effected when a vacancy occurred. With regard to the Landed Estates Court, when a vacancy by death or resignation occurred, it was proposed that it should not be filled up without an opportunity being given for ascertaining by a Royal Commission whether the appointment of a successor was required. Therefore, he thought it would be seen that the Bill provided reasonable safeguards against wasteful expenditure of the public money. As to the payment of the Judges, it would not do to degrade the Judicial establishments of a country like Ireland, so long as she had a separate system. They must give, he did not say extra- vagant, but adequate salaries to secure the services of men of independence, and to enable them to maintain the dignity suitable to their high office. He repudiated, on the part of the Government, the idea of keeping up a single unnecessary Judge; but they thought, after careful examination, that the gradual striking off of four Judges was as far as, with a due regard to the public interests, they could fairly carry those reductions. The Judges of the High Court were to have a uniform salary of £3,500—a reduction of under £200 a-year on the pay of the existing Judges. Once they put Judges on the High Court, it was thought only reasonable that they should be remunerated on the same scale as the other Judges of that tribunal. The Judges of the Landed Estates Court were, therefore, to receive £500 additional; but that was not all sheer increase of expenditure, because part of the sum was met by savings from other changes; and, moreover, that extra £500 to the Judges of the Landed Estates Court was balanced by the fact that they would be compelled under that Bill to take their full share of the work in the Chancery Division of the High Court, about the most important jurisdiction of the country. Moreover, the Judges of the Landed Estates Court would have cast on them the arduous duty previously discharged by the Receiver Master; and they would also have to take their share of Circuit work. As to the appointment of the second Judge in the Landed Estates Court, he agreed that Judge Flanagan had most admirably presided over that tribunal; but that learned Judge had, from his exceptional experience, possessed extraordinary efficiency. The Incorporated Society of Attorneys and Solicitors of Ireland—a body most competent to form an opinion as to the state of business in that Court—had memorialized the Government again and again, urging the necessity of appointing a second Judge of the Landed Estates Court. He believed that the Bill, by abolishing and consolidating offices, would, in a very short time, effect a saving to the country of some thousands a-year.


said, he regretted that the state of his health had prevented him from taking the part in the discussion of the Bill which he had promised himself. It was always invidious to undertake personal criticism of officials; but he deliberately asserted, that if there be an Irish Greville, whose memoirs were to be published 50 years hence, the revelations made in that volume in reference to the behind-the-scenes history of the recent appointment in the Landed Estates Court would astonish those who read them. That appointment he had no hesitation in saying was one of the worst transactions that had taken place with regard to the Irish Judicature system that he had known for 40 years. It was notorious that Mr. Ormsby was appointed, not because he was wanted in the Landed Estates Court, but because his position as a Law Officer of the Crown was required for some one else. The late Viceroy of Ireland (Lord Spencer), to whose zeal and honesty regarding patronage in Ireland every Irishman must pay a just tribute, had succeeded in preventing the appointment of the second. Judge to a Court where one Judge was amply sufficient; but the present Government had hardly come into office, when they gave way on the point, although they knew, as a matter of fact, that the one existing Judge was able and willing to do all the work. The salary involved was a trifle, but the principle was one which he could not help deploring. The right hon. and learned Attorney General said it was essential to give the Judges salaries which would enable them to fully support their dignity. That was right; but, at the same time, it was possible to make them too high in proportion to the earnings of the barristers. In Ireland the salary of a Judge was nearly twice as large as the average emoluments of the first 20 or 30 men at the Bar, and therefore "the Bench, the Bench, the Bench"—something from the Government—was the aim and object of every man who went to the Irish Bar; and so vast was the number of legal appointments, large and small, that there was a place of some kind for one man out of every three or four at the Bar. He might be told that he was not acting in a patriotic spirit, and that he ought to try and get as much as possible for Ireland out of the Consolidated Fund; but he maintained that if the Judges were overpaid, that money was money which a patriotic Irishman ought not to defend, but ought to deprecate. He denied that there was any necessity for appointing another Judge in the Landed Estates Court, and gave the Government credit for their desire to bring justice to the door of the poor man by introducing the County Courts Bill, which ought to be passed first, and in favour of which there was a general concurrence of opinion in Ireland. He should support the Judicature Bill, as far as it went in cutting down the overmanning of the Bench, and that enormous multiplication of legal offices, which was detrimental to the best interests of the country and fatal to the independence of a noble Profession which in former days had contributed some of the brightest pages to the history of their country.


said, he took a different view of the measure from that taken by the hon. Member for Meath (Mr. Parnell) and the hon. Member for Louth (Mr. Sullivan). He thought the parallel between the English and Irish Judicial Staff was not a very happy one, for as regarded England, the number of Judges in that country was generally alleged to be quite inadequate for the business done. Besides, if the taxpayers did not object, it was much better to have too many Judges than too few. He considered it was only right that a Judge should get a larger sum than a first-class man earned by practice at the Bar; and in his idea, the desire prevalent in the Irish Bar to obtain a Government appointment was a legitimate one. This Bill was in some respects very peculiar; for, in a great many cases, it stipulated that no change should be made. He did not see the object of introducing a Bill if it was to make no change. It, no doubt, had some good points; but it was very defective in others, and, in his opinion, it ought not to pass in its present shape. He objected to the Judges having authority to make rules, and to the Government having the power of fixing salaries. That House should hold fast by its own authority and its own dignity, rather that delegate such extreme powers to the Courts below.

Question, "That the Preamble be postponed," put, and agreed to.

Clauses 1 to 3, inclusive, agreed to.

Clause 4 (Union of existing Courts into one Supreme Court of Judicature).


moved as an Amendment, in page 4, line 3, after "court" to insert "and the Bankruptcy Court." He understood that on a former occasion it had been intended to facilitate the Bankruptcy business. At present an immense amount of costs were accumulated in Bankruptcy cases, owing to the fact that they had to be adjudicated in Dublin and wound up there. He thought this evil would be avoided by the appointment of local Bankruptcy Courts.


pointed out that this appointment of local Bankruptcy Courts would not be facilitated by the Amendment. But the present constitution of, and the members employed in, the Irish Bankruptcy Courts were engaging the attention of the Government, and they hoped to legislate on the subject next Session. For that reason, amongst others, it had not been deemed desirable to include them in the present Bill, as forming a part of the High Court of Justice.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Clause agreed to.

Clause 5 agreed to.

Clause 6 (Constitution of High Court of Justice in Ireland).


moved, as an Amendment, in page 4, line 26, after "heretofore," to insert— except that no future Lord Chancellor shall he appointed, unless he shall he of fifteen years' standing at least at the Bar of Ireland.

Amendment proposed, In page 4, line 26, after the word "heretofore," to insert the words "except that no future Lord Chancellor shall be appointed unless he shall be of fifteen years' standing at least at the Bar of Ireland."—(Mr. Meldon.)

Question proposed, "That those words be there inserted."


hoped the Amendment would not be pressed. He could not see why the Lord Chancellorship for Ireland should be absolutely restricted to a member of the Irish Bar, seeing that there was nothing to prevent a member of the Bar in Ireland being Lord Chancellor in this country, and that in fact the present Lord Chancellor of England was a distinguished Irishman. The Irish Lord Chancellorship had been held by Lord Campbell, Lord St. Leonards, and other distinguished English lawyers with great advantage, and it would not be desirable to limit the area of selection for the office, as proposed. It had been found in the past that the Executive, in filling the post, had fairly considered the claims of the Irish Bar. It was very undesirable to lay down a hard-and-fast line in this matter, as it might have the effect on some occasions of preventing Ireland from having the services, as Lord Chancellors, of the men best fitted for the position.


on the contrary, hoped the Amendment would be pressed. The right hon. and learned Gentleman said there was nothing to prevent the appointment of a member of the Irish Bar to the post of Lord Chancellor of England, but he (Sir Colman O'Loghlen) would like to see it attempted. There was no reason why the Irish Lord Chancellor should not, like the other Irish Judges, be regarded to belong to the Irish Bar. With reference to the appointment of of Lord Campbell as Lord Chancellor of Ireland, he must observe that that noble and learned Lord never held a brief in a Court of Equity, and great indignation was felt in Ireland on the subject. The members of the junior Bar held a meeting, and protested strongly against the appointment; but, unfortunately, they were not supported by the seniors, who did not like to set themselves in opposition to the authorities.


observed that if the provision which the hon. and learned Member for Kildare (Mr. Meldon) wished to introduce had always been the law, Ireland would have lost the services of three of the most distinguished men who had ever held the office of Lord Chancellor—namely, Lord Campbell, Lord Redesdale, and Lord St. Leonards. At the same time, he thought the head of the Irish Bench ought to be a member of the Irish Bar, and successive Governments had acted on that principle, for the last six Chancellors were Irish barristers.


said, that the right hon. and learned Attorney General had said there was nothing in the Bill which prevented the appointment, as English Lord Chancellor, of an Irish barrister, but the fact was that no such appointment had ever been made. Neither were they appointed to other offices, in instance of which he would refer to the appointment of Lord Plunket as Master of the Rolls in England, which appointment had to be cancelled on account of the opposition of the English Bar. With reference to the remarks of the hon. and learned Member for Denbigh (Mr. Osborne Morgan), as to the advantages which Ireland was supposed to have derived from the services of Lords Redesdale, St. Leonards, and other Englishmen, as a matter of fact, the law was quite as well administered by the Irish Lord Chancellors who had succeeded them—such men as Sir Maziere Brady, Mr. Blackburn, and Dr. Ball. It was most important that the Irish Lord Chancellor should be an experienced member of the Irish Bar. They had, for example, a code of Land Laws widely differing from that of England, and the President of the Ultimate Court of Appeal for Land Law Causes was the Lord Chancellor of Ireland. The only thing he would suggest to the hon. and learned Member for Kildare was that, if the Amendment was to be adopted in its present form, they might deprive themselves of the advantages to be derived from the appointment of an Equity Judge to the highest judicial office. He further thought that the Amendment would be improved if 10 years' standing at the Bar was substituted for 15 years.

Amendment amended, by leaving out the word "fifteen," and inserting the word "ten."

Question put, That the words 'except that no future Lord Chancellor shall he appointed unless he shall he of ten years' standing at least at the Bar of Ireland' he there inserted.

The Committee divided:—Ayes 106; Noes 202: Majority 96.—(Div. List, No. 189.)

On the Motion of Mr. PARNELL (for Mr. Butt), Amendment made in page 4, line 29, at end, by adding— And shall he appointed in the same manner in which the puisne justices and junior barons of the superior courts of common law in England were appointed before the passing of the Supreme Court of Judicature Act, 1873.

House resumed.

Committee report Progress; to sit again upon Monday next.