HC Deb 08 May 1878 vol 239 cc1548-82

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said *; Sir, legal questions are too often left exclusively to the consideration of lawyers, and, whether it is intended or not, the effect of such restriction frequently narrows the discussion to technicalities. Professional men are apt to view the controversy from a merely class or sectional standpoint. They approach the issues involved—unconsciously, perhaps, but still they approach them—through the medium of legal verbiage and formalities. I do not wish to disparage the importance of forms. They have their uses and their value. It not un-frequently happens, however, that persons looking on behold the game better than the players. Men engaged in business, whose experience of law is as acute, if not as minute, may see—certainly they are made to feel—the consequences of defective judicial arrangements more than men who, immersed in details, view the working of our Law Courts only from the inside. In the observations I purpose making, in submitting this Bill to the House, I will speak more as the Representative of the non-professional and business classes than the legal. Within the last quarter-of-a-century great improvements have been made in our judicial system. Causes are now settled more on their merits, and less on technicalities. Law proceedings are less artificial and more direct. Every fair and candid critic must admit this change. It has been long in coming—too long. But, still, it has come. Our system is by no means perfect—not as good as it ought to be, not as good as it might be made with a little effort—but it is better than it was, and there are reasonable grounds for hoping that it will steadily, if slowly, improve in the future. There is no country in the world where the administration of justice is purer than in England. There are few in which it is more simple and certain. The main cause of complaint is its dilatoriness, and, in the Superior Courts, its costliness. The reforms that have of recent years been effected have only been secured at a great expenditure of time. The partial abandonment of the practice of taking evidence by affidavit, and the substitution of the better, but more tedious and prolonged, mode of abstracting it from witnesses verbally, has been a distinct gain to the cause of justice; but it has been an equally distinct addition to the labour of the Judges and the length of legal proceedings. A further addition has been generated by the increase, not only in the amount, but in the complications of our trade. Our large and complex commerce affords more ground for contention than the simple mercantile transactions of past years. The greater clearness in the law, and the confidence felt by the commercial community that their cases will be tried on their merits, rather than frittered away by ingenious quibbles, has led men in business to have less hesitation in submitting matters in difference between them to the settlement of our Courts. This, substantially, is the cause of the recent increase in litigation. I do not wish to detain the House by citing statistics to prove what all parties admit. No one denies the existence of a block of business in our Law Courts. No one disputes that much inconvenience and serious loss are occasioned thereby to suitors. The delay and consequent expense and uncertainty amount, in many instances, to a denial of justice. The sittings after the Long Vacation last year commenced with 800 causes for trial at Nisi Prius in Middlesex, and with 500 in London. There were before the Court of Appeal and the Divisions of the High Court, 330 appeals and matters of an appellate nature, and before the Chancery Division, the Common Law, and the Probate and Divorce Divisions, there were 1,709 causes for trial. It has been stated on good authority that there are more than 20,000 causes in the Chancery Division on which some order has been made, but which are dragging their weary way along—the costs growing in inverse proportion to the progress made. The appointment of a new Judge to assist the Judges in the Chancery Division has caused some relief there; but, after making every allowance for the slight improvement recently effected, I think that the hopes held out by the Law Officers of the Crown last Session, that the pressure of business would only prove temporary, have not been realized. The hon. and learned Attorney General thought the arrears would soon be wiped off; but it is not arrears alone that have to be dealt with. It is a steady and increasing stream of litigation that has to be kept flowing. By an effort, arrears may be cleared away; but what is wanted is to prevent such a constant recurrence of them. The fact that upwards of 1,000 causes were entered for trial at London and Westminster, at the last sittings after the Long Vacation, and that fully that number remain still for trial, is sufficient to show that it is not a temporary accumulation that has to be removed, but a systematic increase of work that has to be provided for. Experience has shown that since the new Judicature Act came into operation, new business has been set down faster than the old business has been disposed of. The full effect of the recent law reforms have not been realized, in consequence of the delay in the Courts, and the necessary expenses attending that delay. We travel by steam, and transact a good deal of our business by telegraph; but we still administer our law at a slow and antiquated pace. In no Department of the Public Service would such arrears of business be tolerated, and certainly in none of them would they be allowed to be disposed of at such an expense to individuals. How is this evil to be remedied? Eminent jurists have often maintained that the only real remedy for this legal congestion is to be found by distributing the business. The Lord Chancellor, in a speech he delivered at the Mansion House in November last, condensed the question into a couple of sentences. He said, referring to law reform— We have got to grapple with the great problem of how to secure throughout every part of the country that which is already possessed by the City of London—a regular and speedy mode of trial for those who are accused of offences. We have also to solve the problem how, in those great centres of population in the Provinces, we can afford more ready local means of disposing of their numerous civil causes. Much of the business which now occupies a great amount of the time of the Superior Courts is comparatively unimportant, and could be equally as well, and far more cheaply, tried locally. Distribution should be the principle applied to the administration of the law. Concentration, or centralization, is required for control, for uniformity, for appeal, and for the authoritative exposition and settlement of the law. In law, as in government, the authority which is most conversant with principles should be supreme over principles; while that which is most competent to deal with details should have details left to it. A true national Court of Justice could best be formed by establishing District Courts of the High Court, by dividing the country into circuits, in each of which there should be a resident Judge of the High Court with a sufficient staff, and where every branch of legal business might be transacted. But such a scheme should be proposed by the Government of the day. It would be presumption on the part of a private Member to initiate such a project. The Bill before the House points in that direction, but only in a tentative and modified sense. It proposes to establish seven principal County Courts, with districts assigned thereto, and these County Courts and these districts would together form a County Court Circuit. The seven circuits are—1. Liverpool and Manchester; 2. Leeds and Bradford; 3. Newcastle and Durham; 4. York, Hull, and Stockton; 5. Sheffield, Nottingham, and Derby; 6. Birmingham; 7. Bristol and Gloucester. The two first—Liverpool and Manchester, and Leeds and Bradford—it is proposed should have two Judges each. The other five circuits would have one Judge each. All the existing County Courts within these circuits would become subsidiary County Courts, and would be affiliated to the principal Court as members of branches. There would be attached to each principal Court one or more Assistant Judges, and such number of Registrars as the business might require. Power would be given to Her Majesty in Council, from time to time, to alter, extend, or consolidate the old circuits or to create new ones. Parliament would have the power of fixing the salary of the new Judges, and thus be able to control the action of the Crown. The salaries of the Judges of the principal County Courts would be £3,000 per annum, which would include travelling expenses. The Judges would rank next after the junior Judge for the time being of the High Court of Justice, and amongst themselves according to the order of their appointment. They might be placed in the Commission of Assize for the discharge of civil and criminal business on circuit, and would be qualified to be promoted to be Judges of the High Court. The restrictions and the liberties accorded to the Judges of the High Court would be accorded and imposed upon the new Judges. The salaries of the Assistant Judges would be £1,200 a-year, with travelling expenses. They would be required to reside in the district, and be prohibited from practising in any branch of the Legal Profession. Registrars would be paid by salary, and not by fee and salary as at present. The salaries would be fixed by the Lord Chancellor; but, in no case would they be more than £1,000 per annum. The principal County Court would have jurisdiction in Common Law, Equity, and Admiralty cases up to £500; and, by consent, to an unrestricted amount. Actions might be removed from the principal County Court to the High Court, and from the High Court to the principal County Court. A Judge of the High Court might send issues of fact to be tried in the principal County Court. Every principal County Court Judge would be allowed to exercise within his circuit—in addition to the ordinary powers of a County Court Judge and a Judge of the Court of Bankruptcy—all the powers and jurisdiction of a Judge of the High Court of Justice. The precise manner in which the judicial work of the Judges and Assistant Judges is to be divided would be settled by rules; but, practically, the Assistant Judges would be confined to trying actions for money not exceeding £20, unless with the consent of the parties, when the amount could be increased. They would substantially occupy the position that was intended to be occupied by the County Court Judges appointed by the original Act passed in. 1847. It is not necessary further to particularize the clauses of the Bill, as hon. Members interested in it can familiarize themselves with it by reference. The principle embodied in it is the localization of the administration of justice. The mode in which this is sought to be put in operation would not involve any change in the Judicature Acts. It would only amplify and enlarge the authority of the judicial organization now in existence, and which for 30 years has worked with increasing satisfaction to the commercial community. If ever the project£so often discussed and supported by such a weight of judicial authority£for establishing a uniform Legal Judicature, is adopted, this Bill will have been found to clear the way for such an arrangement; for, with little more than a change of name and an assimilation of the rules of practice, the machinery of the principal County Courts could be transferred to the Supreme Courts in full working order, without trouble, without inconvenience, and without cost. The new Courts are intended to occupy an intermediate position between the present County Courts and the High Court. The Judges would sit in the principal Courts, and the Assistant Judges would travel between the subsidiary Courts. I know it is the custom for fashionable counsel to sneer at County Court Judges and the work they perform; but I make bold to affirm that no Department of our Judicial Service has won for itself so large a measure of confidence as the County Court system. County Court jurisdiction was established in 1847, and limited to £20. In 1850 it was raised to £50 in Common Law and £500 in Equity, and was made a concurrent jurisdiction. In Bankruptcy they have unlimited jurisdiction. As showing the confidence of the commercial community in these Courts, I may state the number of causes between £20 and £50 that have been during the last three years tried in them. In 1874 there were 15,202 actions; in 1875 there were 17,273 actions; and in 1876 there were 17,378 actions voluntarily brought by suitors into the County Courts. The House should bear in mind that all these actions were optional. They might have been taken elsewhere. But the litigants had confidence in these tribunals, and freely carry their contentions there. The number of the causes is not the only point of importance. Their character is noteworthy. Many of them involve matters of great nicety in commercial law, and which, if debated in Westminster Hall, would have occupied hours, and not unfrequently, the Judges would have taken time to consider their decisions. Yet the number of appeals from decisions in County Courts are comparatively few, and they are affirmed as often as they are reversed. The total sum recovered in the Courts at Westminster and upon circuit in 1871—the last year there are Returns for—was £348,000; while, in the County Courts for the same year, the amount recovered amounted to no less than £1,330,000. The following analysis of actions tried in the year 1876 in the County Courts, whose districts are proposed to be comprised in this Bill, will show the extent to which such Courts are voluntarily resorted to by suitors in the different localities. The figures are compiled from a Return presented to Parliament last year, on the Motion of the hon. Member for Hull (Mr. Norwood)—

Fees of Court. £ Circuits. Common Law above £20 Equity. Admiralty. Actions sent down.
7,943 5 306 10 .. 3
15,117 6 532 7 56 23
10,925 7 278 6 .. 5
10,350 8 317 13 .. 40
4,053 9 113 9 .. 3
48,388 1,546 45 56 74
Totals (2) 1,721; for each Judge 860

It would certainly be difficult to quote statistics which show more clearly the reliance which the public place in the County Courts than this Return reveals. The principle of the Bill is supported by very high legal authority. It substantially embodies the recommendation of the Judicature Commission. The Judicature Commissioners presented two Reports. The first dealt with the judicial and administrative powers of the Superior Courts, and the Judicature Act of 1873 was founded on the suggestions contained in it. The Second Report dealt with the County and Local Courts, and it has never received the attention that it is entitled to from Parliament. The Commissioners classify the subject-matters of litigation under three heads—Cases of great importance, cases of the simplest kind, and cases intermediate between these extremes. The Superior Courts, as re-organized under the Judicature Acts—with their elaborate machinery, their Judges and leading counsel of the highest ability and experience—are intended and adapted for the first class of these cases. County Courts, as established in 1846—with their local tribunals and simple procedure—are fitted for the second class. But there exists a class of cases in litigation, intermediate between cases of the highest importance and cases of the simplest kinds, and these frequently involve questions of complexity and difficulty. This is found as a fact by the Commissioners, who observe— ''That the expense of litigation in cases of this class in the Superior Courts of taking the parties and their witnesses to any considerable distance from the place where the cause of action arose, and they probably dwell, is generally wholly diproportionate to the value of the matter in dispute. I claim that the Bill before the House is covered by the recommendations of the Judicature Commission in the Report from which I have just read extracts. The Bill was printed last year, but there was not an opportunity of having a discussion on it. Before it was introduced this Session, the Bill was brought under the consideration of the local Law Societies, Chambers of Commerce, and other commercial associations in several of the large provincial towns. I have received resolutions approving of the principle from several bodies of this character, and also from many influential gentlemen connected with the law, who have taken the trouble to examine the Bill carefully. In nearly every instance—I do not remember an exception—the principle of the Bill has been warmly approved by these parties. Some of them have made suggestions as to the details, but they are unanimously in favour of the principle of the Bill. The Annual Conference of the Associated Chambers of Commerce, last year, passed a resolution in its favour, and they did the same this year at their meeting in London a few weeks ago. I have no wish to trouble the House by reading over the very voluminous correspondence I have had with provincial solicitors and commercial men who have interested themselves in the Bill; but I may be permitted to read the opinions of two eminent legal gentlemen, whose names I do not feel at liberty to mention, but whose remarks are well worth the consideration of the House. One of these gentlemen writes— I think it premature to discuss the details of particular clauses of the Bill, and it is sufficient for the present to say that I approve generally of it. You will not understand me to refer to the money clauses, as to which I reserve myself, nor to speak of the exact rank to be given to the County Court Judges, as to which I have only got so far as to approve the principle of giving them some definite rank. I shall watch with much interest what takes place in the House of Commons both on its introduction and in its later stages. I think it is quite right to take this mode of feeling the pulse of the Government, the country, and the House of Commons, upon the whole subject. Of course, its success, and the ultimate attitude of the Government towards it, may depend much upon the way in which it is received by the public. I fear it will not find friends at Lincoln's Inn or the Temple, which makes it more necessary, if possible, to find them elsewhere. Another eminent legal authority writes— I agree generally both with the principle and the details of the scheme. I think you have not only put it in a form which will work, but also have so shaped it as to meet with the approval of lawyers, including the Judges, the Ministers, and laymen, many of whom keep an interested watch on the system. The default procedure is a clear gain, and hits a deficiency which I have often spoken of, and which is well known to Common Law Masters. As to the more important portions of the scheme, I entirely go along with you in principle. I am sure it is time to enlarge the jurisdiction of County Courts in actions for the recovery of money demands and others now dealt with by the Common Law Divisions of the Superior Court, and I believe you will have the support of Judges and others as to your jurisdiction clauses. I could quote other letters of an equally approving character. I think I may claim, therefore, for the Bill, that the principle has behind it influential judicial, legal, and commercial approval. There are three objections that have been taken to it. The first is, that some important provincial centres, and the Metropolis, are left out of its operation. In reply to that, I have only to say that Schedule A, which specifies the districts which are included in the Bill, forms really no part of the scheme, and it could be altered in any way Parliament deems fit. With respect to the Metropolitan Courts, they could be admitted into the scheme on certain conditions; but it is well to recollect that the business transacted at the Metropolitan County Courts is very inferior in amount, and in character also, to that transacted in some of the large provincial towns. I have before me figures, supplied by a recent Return, which show the amount of business done in eight Metropolitan County Courts and eight County Courts in the Provinces. This analysis is instructive. It should be remembered as well that the Metropolitan County Courts have no jurisdiction in Bankruptcy, which constitutes one of the most important departments in the work of Provincial Courts.

Courts. Causes above £20. Causes sent down. Equity. Admiralty. Totals.
Leeds 769 19 25 813
Newcastle 512 16 11 24 563
York 533 8 7 4 552
Birmingham 490 29 12 531
Hull 460 5 12 31 508
Bristol 472 5 22 8 507
Bradford 429 17 29 475
Halifax 412 12 21 445
4,077 111 139 67 4,394
Westminster 356 67 8 431
Marylebone 297 40 13 350
Bow 210 19 10 239
Clerkenwell 195 31 10 236
Bloomsbury 194 29 3 226
Lambeth 192 10 7 209
Southwark 158 25 10 193
Whitechapel 69 8 3 80
1,671 229 64 1,964
I have only to add that if the Bill gets into Committee, or the Government give it any support, there could be little difficulty in arranging, if it were thought well, to include the Metropolitan Courts in the scheme propounded by the Bill. The second objection is on the ground of cost. Considerable misapprehension is abroad as to the cost of Law Courts in this country. The cost of law proceedings to the suitors is heavy, and, I think, excessive; but the cost of the Courts to the nation—that is, the amount of money the Exchequer pays for the administration of justice—is comparatively small. It is not generally known, but it is a fact, that many of the Courts are more than self-supporting, and leave a margin in favour of the Exchequer. In other words, the fees received more than pay the salaries of the Judges and officials, and the working expenses of the Court. It was a theory of Mr. Jeremy Bentham that the administration of justice should be free, that the Judges and Courts should be supported by rates and taxes levied upon the inhabitants generally. According to that eminent jurist, a man should pay a legal rate just as he pays a police rate or a poor rate. Perhaps that principle will not get many adherents in the House, or probably in the country. But, while most people might object to throwing open the Courts of Justice free of all charge, I think there are many who would object to suitors being saddled with charges which go in mitigation of local or Imperial taxation. And yet this is largely the case with respect to the County Courts. A Return, made to Parliament last Session, furnishes the following figures from the seven Courts proposed to be raised into principal County Courts by this Bill. The amounts stated below were obtained and paid into the Exchequer—
Fees paid into Exchequer. Fees taken by Registrars.
1. £48,388 £5,959
2. 35,865 4,325
3. 17,018 2,395
4. 13,253 1,697
5. 28,104 2,205
6. 30,149 3,075
7. 14,325 2,062
187,092 21,718 £208,810
Salaries of Registrars. Fees, &c., as above.
1. £12,600 £ Fees, &c., as above.
2. 8,035 Fees, &c., as above.
3. 6,875 Fees, &c., as above.
4. 5,131 Fees, &c., as above.
5. 9,172 Fees, &c., as above.
6. 3,499 Fees, &c., as above.
7. 4,708 Fees, &c., as above.
50,020 21,718 71,738
Surplus £137,072

In round numbers, the receipts paid into the Exchequer as fees received from suitors for proceedings in the County Courts comprised in this Bill, amounted, in 1876, to £208,810; This includes the fees received by Registrars for their own use. This is a growing amount, and likely to be considerably increased. The account stands thus—Received as fees, £208,810; paid to the Registrars for their own use, £21,718; leaving a balance, that goes into the hands of the Chancellor of the Exchequer, of £187,092. The charge upon this sum, which, as I have said, is yearly increasing, would be as follows, according to the present Bill:—First, salaries of Registrars, £50,000; second, fees of Registrars, £21,810; clerk hire, £21,000; for Assistant Judges, say, £21,000; in all, £113,810; which, taken from the £208,810, would leave a balance of £95,000 for payment into the Exchequer as an actual surplus arising from the Courts comprised in this Bill. Out of this £95,000, there would be the salaries of nine principal Judges, which would be £27,000. There would be a saving, further, of the travelling expenses of the Judges, because the principal Judges would only receive salaries, and not expenses, as the Judges do at present. The saving effected in this way would be equal to fully £4,000 per annum. It will be seen, therefore, that according to the present revenue arising from the Courts proposed to be dealt with, there is £95,000 a-year to meet little more than £23,000, so that the Bill could come into operation without imposing a single shilling in the shape of taxation upon the ratepayers. By simply using the revenues of the County Courts for County Court purposes, which no one could reasonably object to, the scheme now proposed would be worked without any additional charge to the Exchequer. There is one point deserving consideration, and that is, the salaries that are at present received by the Registrars of the County Courts. The County Court Judges each receive £1,500 a-year. That is their settled income. There are 11 Registrars, however, who receive a larger salary than the Judges, and there are 10 others who receive upwards of £1,200. The following is an analysis of the salaries and fees paid to certain Registrars of County Courts, together with the fees received by them as Dis- trict Registrars of the High Court of Justice, and their allowances for clerk hire, in 1876:—

Courts. Salary and Fees as Registrar. Fees as District Registrar. Totals. Allowances for Clerk Hire.
£ £ £ £
Birmingham 3,566 1,584 5,150 2,451
Leeds 2,864 772 3,636 1,365
Newcastle 2,832 739 3,571 375
Sheffield 2,672 676 3,348 1,091
Bristol 2,401 844 3,245 1,725
Manchester 2,768 2,768 1,390
Bradford 1,987 609 2,596 596
Stockton 2,080 124 2,204 630
Liverpool 2,100 2,100 2,605
Huddersfield 1,622 297 1,919
Nottingham 1,497 338 1,835 1,130
I do not blame the Registrars for getting these salaries. The amounts come to them in accordance with Act of Parliament, and no one would propose to deal with them without affording proper compensation; but it was never intended by Parliament that the Registrars should receive such incomes, and that their salaries should be so much in excess of the Judges of the Courts. It is a matter well worthy the consideration of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. Whatever may be the fate of the Bill before the House, in future, the salaries of Registrars might be somewhat more in proportion to their work. The last objection to the Bill I have heard is a purely professional one, and comes exclusively from members of the Bar and London solicitors. These gentlemen are said to fear that, by the establishment of these Courts, a considerable portion of the business that now gathers to the Metropolis, or that is carried to the Assize Courts, would find its way to the County Courts, and that, in this manner, their gains would be lessened. I do not impute to legal gentlemen the vulgar charge of striving to oppose legal reforms for mere mercenary and personal objects. Lawyers, like other men, look reasonably enough to their own interests; but I am sure that the members of the Legal Profession in the House would not consciously allow any private interest of theirs to stand in the way of what they conceive to be a national benefit. Their views may be warped by constant contact with Courts. They may not see the points at issue so clearly as commercial men do; but the insinuation that their course is guided by motives of gain, I entirely repudiate. I am satisfied that the objects proposed by the Bill, although they might diminish the incomes of certain barristers, and perhaps of certain solicitors, would benefit the Profession generally. The new Courts would have a tendency to call into existence more powerful local Bars, and what the London solicitors lost, their brethren in the country would gain. The facilities afforded for settling disputes cheaply and rapidly has always, in the past, brought a larger amount of litigation; and there is little doubt that the establishment of such Courts as are proposed would have that effect again. If the fear, therefore, is entertained that the formation of these Courts would injure a section of the Profession, I can only say I do not share it. As far as experience goes, it supports the very opposite opinion. But, suppose the result dreaded were realized, and that the lawyers' incomes were lessened, that would be no argument, in my mind, against the Bill. There was an old saying, that the man who paid the piper had a right to call the tune. The Law Courts were established for the benefit of the community at large, and not for the aggrandizement of a section. Their first, and, indeed, their only object, was to facilitate the settlement of disputes amongst the citizens of the nation. The creation of lawyers was not at first a part of the judicial system. It was an addition—some had been bold enough to say an excrescence—that had grown on to it. But, whatever might be men's views on that point, this was a fact—that the Law Courts were established for the benefit of the inhabitants generally, and not for the benefit of the members of the Legal Profession. If the change the Bill proposed did lessen their incomes or curtail their influence, that would not be any argument against it. The interests of the nation ought always to be preferred to the interests of a mere section or a class. With this statement of the principles of the Bill and partial exposition of its details, I leave it to the consideration of the House. I start from two premises which are all but universally conceded. First, that the Metropolitan Courts are overtaxed with litigation, and that in consequence of the pressure upon them, expense, inconvenience, and uncertainty is caused to suitors. Second, that it is de- sirable, in the interests of justice and for service of the Commonwealth, that a local judicature should be established, and that the constant tendency to centralize public offices, or, in other words, most of the intellectual, administrative, and legal power in the nation, is unwise. These are the points I base my argument upon. I maintain that the Courts proposed to be established could be put into operation without entailing any additional taxation, or without disturbing the existing judicial system; that they would be not only a source of convenience, but a great saving in expense to provincial suitors; that they would lessen the strain that is now put on Metropolitan jurors; and, that by the establishment of the Courts, a cautious but important step would be taken to realize the dream of law reformers for years past. They would also restrain the dangerous tendency to collect the business of the nation into the capital, and encourage and strengthen the principle, not only of legal, but of political, local control. The hon. Gentleman concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. J. Cowen.)


, in moving that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, disclaimed any idea of disparaging the assistance which men like his hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen) could render to the cause of law reform. He had always said that until men of such large experience and broad views took an interest in these questions of law reform, no real progress in them would be made. At the same time, he reminded the House that such men, necessarily taking what might be called a bird's-eye view of these questions, were likely to overlook many practical difficulties and impediments to the schemes they proposed, which those who travelled along the dusty and beaten road of practice could not so easily neglect. He fully endorsed what his hon. Friend had said as to the general ability of the County Court Judges; but, it must not be forgotten, that there was such a thing as working a good horse to death, and there was no surer way to do that than to put him to work for which he was not fit. Our County Court Judges were Judges of all-work. They had to travel from place to place; they had many actions of different kinds to deal with, but were not surrounded by a Bar, such as there was in London. Some of them would do honour to the Judicial Bench; but those men were only got by accident, and he doubted whether they were the class of men wanted for County Court work. What was required was a good administrator, rather than a good lawyer. To put such a man as Lord Cairns and Sir George Jessel to such cases as came before a County Court Judge would be like using a razor to cut blocks of wood. With regard to the Bill, he regarded it as wrong in principle, as crude in its conception, and as unworkable in its details. It did not deal either with the High Court of Justice, or with the County Court systems, except indirectly. In fact, it was not a County Court Extension Bill at all. It would establish; a third kind of Judge, who would resemble the County Court Judges in so far as his jurisdiction was to be local, and who would resemble a Judge of the High Court inasmuch as his jurisdiction would be practically unlimited. He knew there was a clause which fixed the limit of jurisdiction at £5,000; but that limit was purely illusory, because a man who was fit to deal with matters involving £5,000 was fit to deal with matters involving £ 50,000. But, in addition, there was to be an Assistant County Court Judge, who was to be a kind of satellite moving round the Chief County Court Judge like a moon round a planet. Was it possible that such a system of wheel within wheel could work? According to the Bill, a solicitor of five years' standing might be made an Assistant Judge, and, having filled that office, he might be made Lord Chief Justice of England. Then, the operation of the Bill was of the most erratic and partial character, for it applied only to parts of the Kingdom—for instance, to a part of Northumberland, a part of Yorkshire, a part of the Midland counties, a part of Gloucestershire and Somersetshire; while all the rest of England was left out in the cold. A man living in Wells would have justice brought to his door; but a man living in Swansea, Cardiff, or Exeter, would have to come to London to get justice done. There would be separate jurisdictions all over England, and it was not to be supposed that such a system would work, even for a day. He could understand the system that prevailed among Continental nations, whose Courts of First Instance were local Courts, from which there was an appeal, and he could understand the English method of dividing matters according to amount or value between the local Courts and the Courts in London; but the Bill proposed to establish something different from either of these, and would create three different systems of jurisdiction running on parallel lines. It had been said that the Bill was the outcome of the Report of the Judicature Commission; but that could hardly be the case, for the provisions of the Bill were not in accordance with what the Commission had recommended. What that Commission proposed was to weld into one harmonious whole all the jurisdictions of the country; but this Bill made confusion worse confounded. True, the Bill was, in its nature, tentative and experimental; but the experiment would cost quite £ 113,000. He would admit that it raised the very interesting question of the comparative advantages of local and central jurisdictions. It had always struck him as remarkable that England should have so systematically refused to localize her system of judicial administration, considering how easy it was, so to speak, to bring Mahomet to the mountain; and he had constantly been surprised at the resistance offered to all attempts at localization. It could not, as was sometimes said, be due to the influence of the Legal Profession, for the interests of the country solicitors were all in favour of localization. He could only, therefore, infer that some deeper reason operated against the proposed change. Now, there were three requisites of justice. It ought to be reasonably cheap, reasonably expeditious, and reasonably uniform and certain. With regard to the first point, he would only remark that it was impossible to get it so cheap here as in foreign countries, owing to the much larger salaries which it was necessary to pay to the Judges and officials in this country; and, as regarded the question of fees to members of the Legal Profession, he contended that they were regulated by the ordinary laws of supply and demand. As to expedition, there was no doubt that, when the Judicature Act came into operation, there was a great block of business, both in Common Law and in Chancery. At that time, the Attorney General had said, on behalf of the Government, that it was evident the judicial strength was insufficient, and a new and exceptionally able Judge had consequently been appointed. The block of business had now disappeared, and the Master of the Rolls had told him that the pressure was so rapidly subsiding, that a Chancery suit, which, in the days of Lord Eldon, would have lasted for years, was now actually begun before him on the Tuesday and finally disposed of on the Saturday. At present, then, there was no block; and if one occurred, it could easily be met by the temporary or permanent appointment of more Judges. As for the uniformity in the administration of justice, he was afraid that would be endangered by the establishment of local Courts. A foreign jurist had said that England was the only country in Europe where a suitor could feel sure of having justice administered to him on fixed and unchanging lines. Probably, if the judicial system were localized, that inestimable benefit would be lost. Just as hard cases were said to make bad law, so, no doubt, here and there sound law made hard cases; but all Englishmen believed in the integrity of the Judges, who were, indeed, men of whom the country might be proud, and who administered justice fearlessly and impartially; but localize them, and there would be an end, if he might so speak, to that divinity which hedged those high authorities. He did not say that the County Court Judges would ever hob-nob with suitors; but, still, if those learned gentlemen lived in the centre of the districts where they had to administer justice, there would always be a vague suspicion which did not attach to the position of Judges at the present time. But the great defect of the Bill was, that under it we should no longer have the great body of our law tempered and kept in order and check by a great central power in London, who administered justice under the public eye, under the eye of each other, and, above all, under the eye of skilled advocates, who were always ready to note any shortcomings. There might, perhaps, be countervailing arguments in favour of the Bill; but, be- fore so great a change was made, it would be necessary to overcome the difficulties he had mentioned. He begged to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months.

Amendment proposed, to leave out the word "now," and at the end of the Question to add the words, "upon this day six months."—(Mr. Osborne Morgan.)

Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."


also opposed the Bill, while doing full justice to the motives and intentions of the hon. Member who had introduced it. He did not, however, think that the Bill would produce the results desired, and certainly should not have opposed it on other than public grounds. He had been told over and over again that alterations in the law would prejudice his own business as a solicitor, and, if these anticipations had been realized, he would have been ruined at least five times; but he had never been the worse for such alterations. No solicitor would object to any improvement of the law, for everything that tended to improve the law tended also to increase the solicitor's business, whatever might be the opinion usually held on that point. That, at any rate, had been his own experience; and, with that view, he should support any measure that he believed would have a good effect. But he could not say that that was his opinion of the Bill before the House. The scope of the Bill was too great and comprehensive in one respect and too limited in another. In the first place, it was proposed to create nine Judges and a certain number of Assistant Judges; and yet the Bill seemed to apply only to a part of England and to ignore the West and the South. Again, the effect of the Bill would be, that in the great majority of cases, the Judges would not only be Judges of First Instance, but much of their time would also be occupied in hearing appeals from the Assistant Judges. Their sittings would be necessarily confined to the principal towns, and the administration of justice would practically centre in those towns where the Judges sat. What, then, would be the practice of the Courts? A certain number of solicitors were, of course, in the great towns; but a large number, and many of them of the highest standing, of the members of the Profession were in small towns and villages, and they would have either to go to the towns where the Judges sat, or else to commit their business to agents. The present practice in the Superior Courts was to employ some agent in London, by whom the business was conducted; but, instead of that, it would be necessary to find agents in towns where it would answer the purpose of very few to maintain a competent staff for the conduct of the business, in addition to which there was a dislike on the part of solicitors to hand over their business to agents who themselves practised in the district. Besides, it would be found that there was no necessity for the change now that London communicated directly with all parts of England; and in the Provinces, as everyone knew, the communications were lateral and dilatory, so that, in fact, a great part of the business was conducted more cheaply and expeditiously in London than it could be in the Courts proposed by the Bill. The Bill, he was afraid, would not obviate many of the grievances which were connected with the administration of justice. We had an illustration of its operation in the experiment of appointing District Registrars under the Judicature Act to assist in the administration of justice which had been a failure, and they did not enjoy the confidence of the public. Nor did the Bill make any provision for that which was an abuse both in their case and in that of the Courts which it would establish—namely, that the persons who, as a rule, were appointed Registrars, were solicitors practising in the several localities; and it was unfair to the public that a solicitor in such a position should have the opportunity of examining all the books, memoranda, and private papers of a man against whom he might, in his professional capacity, be conducting a suit. Again, the appointment of Deputies by County Court Judges was, in his opinion, a great abuse, against which, however, the Bill made no provision. For those reasons, and because it was understood that there would be a Committee of Inquiry into the propriety of extending the jurisdiction of County Courts, he could not give the Bill his support.


supported the Bill, not only because it proposed to extend the jurisdiction of the County Courts, but also because it would have the effect of elevating the position of the County Court Judges. If they wanted a higher class of men to preside over those Courts, they would have to hold out to the members of the Legal Profession the inducement of a higher remuneration. He contended that the Bill was a simple and practical mode of providing the great commercial centres with that speedy and efficient administration of justice which they required. These centres would not be long satisfied with the holding of Assizes a little more frequently than at present. They were willing to pay for Judges, and their demand could not much longer be resisted. As the Bill supplied an admitted want, and did not disturb existing arrangements, he thought it was deserving of a second reading. The exceptions which had been taken to the Bill were matters of detail, which might very well be dealt with in Committee.


said, he had listened with much pleasure to the able and temperate speech of the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen). He desired to add his testimony to the value of the County Court system, and to the great satisfaction generally felt at the manner in which it was administered. It afforded a cheap and accessible mode of settling commercial disputes, and the decisions of the Judges were generally satisfactory. He contended that it only required a man of common sense to decide two-thirds of the cases which came before these Courts. In order to relieve the pressure of business in the High Court of Justice, he would suggest the appointment of a competent officer, who should be empowered to make a preliminary examination of the cases on the list, and to send such of them as were simple questions of fact down to the local County Courts. He thought the time had come for a thorough inquiry into the County Court system, and especially into the power of committing for contempt, which the County Courts exercised more freely than any of the other tribunals of the country—and he was glad that a Select Committee had been appointed to inquire into the subject. There was some force in the argument that the system proposed to be introduced by this Bill might lead to a conflict of jurisdiction. He hoped, if the Go- vernment could not refer this Bill to a Select Committee—because they might thereby be considered as accepting the principle—the House would hear from the Attorney General an intimation of the intention of the Government to deal with the question of the County Courts; if not now, at all events, next Session. In regard to the proposals of the present Bill, he thought there was an advantage in concentrating the principal business in London. If a suitor had to go some 50 miles—say from Wales to Bristol—the inconvenience would not be greater if he went to London; whereas, on the other hand, they would have a better Bar, and the probability of better Judges.


contended that the Bill was not, properly speaking, a County Court Extension Bill, but rather a measure for establishing certain local Courts in some few places in England. Now, in two of the centres named in the Schedule—Liverpool and Manchester—there were, independent of the Assizes held three times a-year, local Courts, and if there really existed any necessity for such a change as that proposed, why, he would ask, should it not be effected by increasing the powers of those local Courts which were already in existence? If, too, it was desirable to have additional local Courts, why, he should like to know, should large districts like South Wales and Cheshire be omitted from the Schedules of the Bill? The hon. Member, however, confined the measure to the North of England, the very district in which there were more local Courts than elsewhere throughout England. Wherever established, the system of local Courts, except for the determination of small disputes, had not been popular. They had been tried in Cheshire and in Wales, but had long since been abolished. The people had lost confidence in them. They regarded the Courts and the Judges as corrupt. Moreover, the Bill would produce great diversity instead of uniformity; whereas no system of administration of justice could be perfect if it were not uniform throughout the country. The Bill, in fact, proposed to introduce the foreign system into England, whilst the opinion of this country was in favour of a central jurisdiction combined with local jurisdiction, by sending down the Judges of the Superior Courts to try causes in the Provinces. Our present system had worked well for centuries, whilst the system of local jurisdiction had failed wherever it had been introduced. There was no complaint against the circuit system, which was one of the glories of England. Justice was administered under it by Judges who commanded the confidence of the country, and represented, in a manner which local Judges could not do, the majesty of the law. A very serious objection to the measure seemed to him to be that it would tend to destroy the County Courts as Courts for the recovery of small debts, for which purpose they had been found most useful. If, he might add, the jurisdiction of those Courts were extended, the greater would be the power conferred upon the Registrars; and he, for one, looked upon it as most destructive of the confidence of the public in the administration of justice that practising solicitors should sit in them as Judges. As to the question of costs, he believed that in suits of importance justice was obtained as cheaply in the Superior as in the County Courts; and, holding that the Bill was founded on a wrong principle, he should vote against the second reading.


said, that he most willingly, if he might be allowed to do so, bore his warm testimony to the care and knowledge brought to bear by the hon. Member for Newcastle-upon-Tyne (Mr. J. Cowen) on the measure now before the House. So far as the Bill itself, however, was concerned, he regretted to say that he must oppose it. Those who had spoken previously seemed to have momentarily forgotten that there existed, even now, almost every power which the hon. Member foreshadowed in this Bill. It was perfectly competent for any one of the Judges to order a suit which was entered for trial in any one of the Supreme Courts to be sent to any County Court, of his own selection, to be decided there. Now, if this measure became law, that power might—possibly would—be greatly restricted, if not abolished. Moreover, so far as he (Mr. Wheelhouse) could judge, this Bill gave concurrent jurisdiction to four or five different tribunals; surely, a course which ought to be avoided, rather than encouraged. It must be borne in mind that "cheap" law was not always so, inasmuch as it very often led to the multiplication of appeals, and thus to the cost of the inquiry, and the possible ruin of the suitor. It was, also, quite worth while to remember that there was an old jurisdiction to which Writs of Trial were formerly sent, and where the causes so sent down were most carefully dealt with. If it were thought desirable—and on this he gave no further personal opinion—to rehabilitate or extend the minor jurisdictions of this country, by all means, let them replace in the hands of the County Sheriffs the jurisdiction as to Writs of Trial which they formerly exercised. Everyone who remembered what the Sheriffs of Yorkshire, Lancashire, and London did, by the hands of their Assessors, in the hearing of Writs of Trial, would be satisfied that the work was done extremely well. Indeed, London and the Passage Court in Lancashire were still evidence of this; and while, possibly, he (Mr. Wheelhouse) did not believe in increasing the minor jurisdictions of the country much, yet, if it must be done, the best method of dealing with it was to place in the hands of the Sheriffs the old jurisdiction of the Sheriff's Court, where the whole of the proceedings were precisely similar to those which took place at Westminster Hall; where they would hear the pleadings, the statements of claim, and defence, before a jury of 12 men. He always considered the County Court jurisdiction had gone quite far enough. Again, they had no right, in the first place, to interfere with the several parts of the country in different ways, and it was utterly useless to say it was not equally disirable that other places should not, with Leeds and Manchester, have similar jurisdiction. If they were to let this Bill pass the second reading, they would be acknowledging a principle; but, apart from that, he was one of those who considered that it was not desirable to have local jurisdiction if we did not want to run the risk of Judges "hobnobbing" with the persons interested in suits, though he did not think it likely that an English Judge would be guilty of such indiscretion; but he did not want him to have the opportunity of doing it, and the further he was removed from all local ideas, wants, and requirements, so much the better it would be for everybody. He (Mr. Wheelhouse) did not care what was the matter before a strictly localized Judge. They might depend upon it that the side which lost was almost certain in its heart to feel that the local jurisdiction had been biased in some way or another. He knew that in 99 cases out of the 100 there was no reason for it; but if anyone took the trouble to inquire into the magisterial duties, they would find that the general feeling was that the law ought to be administered by persons who had no local interest, or comparatively none, and who went to the district merely as lawyers to administer the law, having no interest in the suits, and utterly careless as to who were the litigants and what were the interests brought to bear. He knew there was practically very little in support of the view that was commonly held by some of the populace; still, this was the state of the case, and, therefore, the less they had of what was called local administration, so much the better for everybody. The Bill provided that the Judges should reside somewhere within the district, and his objection was to the Judges or the Assistant Judges residing within the district at all; because he knew perfectly well that there were people who were always anxious to throw some blame, deserved or undeserved, on the Judges, inasmuch as they thought, rightly or wrongly, that justice was not done with regard to their particular interests. Besides, though he said it with regret, there was no mistake about this—and he wished it thoroughly understood—that, in certain Courts of this country, there were certain influences brought to bear. There were certain persons who practised at Courts, and they were instructed to go before the Judge, who might be their father, uncle, or cousin; and the losing side, under such circumstances, always said that the feeling between—it might be the father, or the son, or the uncle, or the nephew—precluded justice from being done. He knew perfectly well that the allegation was made pretty nearly all over certain districts, and whether it was true or not, it had, to say the least, a deleterious effect on the district. Under such circumstances, he hoped they would hear no more of the localizing of Judges; and especially did he hope and trust that this Bill would be rejected, because if the County Court system was to be altered at all, it should be altered on the responsibility of the Government. If altered, they should not let the alteration remain in the direction of localizing the Judges, but should leave them pretty much as they were, and give to those in London the jurisdiction which the Bill sought.


remarked, that however backward lawyers might have been in former times on the subject of law reform, there was not a single step in the progress of law reform properly so called in recent times in which lawyers had not taken a leading and prominent part. He was sure his hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle would not have proposed a measure of this kind unless he had well considered it; but the Bill was open to most serious objections, because it did not propose to meet a great national difficulty. It was not a Bill for re-establishing and reconstructing our judicial system, but it proposed to establish a sort of intermediate jurisdiction between the High Court of Judicature and the Inferior County Court. It also sought to localize the administration of justice, a system which had been rejected by the Judicature Commission. He admitted that there had been great inconvenience under the system in existence before the passing of the Judicature Act, but thought the new one ought to have a fair trial; and therefore recommended the postponement of the measure under discussion. The country did not ask for local jurisdiction; as a proof of which, he might mention that out of 500 causes entered in the Court of Chancery for hearing these sittings, only three had been commenced in the local Registrar's District. He did not deny that the system of localizing the administration of justice was, in some respects, advantageous; but he thought that, at the present time, the County Court jurisdiction was sufficient. He saw no necessity for adding to the present expenses of the administration of justice some £ 113,000, which would be the effect of the measure now under consideration if it passed into law. But there was another important question for the consideration of the House, and that was, whether it was desirable to lower the high standing and position of the Judges and of the Bar from which they were taken? He had himself had experience of local Courts, and was able to say that there was a deteriorating effect on the character and tone of a Judge who was always sitting in one place and trying the same classes of causes or prisoners. Even in the localities such Judges came, in time, to be regarded as the friends of certain people living in the district, and they were supposed to have favourites practising before them and exercising sinister influences over their minds. Again, there was a system of routine to which the practitioners at a local Bar became accustomed, and they were not the men who made the best Judges, or who most commanded public respect. He thought that all measures like the present ought to be closely watched, and that hon. Members ought to take a broad view of the question, instead of studying only local convenience and economy. A Bill of this kind ought not to be received, coming as it did from the hands of a private Member. It involved a great Constitutional question, and would affect the character of the Bench, the status of the Bar, and the future of the administration of justice in this country.


said, he had listened with the respect and attention to which every remark was entitled to coming from his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Dewsbury (Mr. Serjeant Simon); but he could not help saying that the hon. and learned Serjeant's observations on the principle of local jurisdiction, and his objections to it, however forcible, should have been made 30 years ago, when the first establishment of County Courts was considered, and the principle of adopting them was fully discussed and conceded. Since that time, the principle had been further and more fully recognized by the extensive jurisdiction added to the County Courts at various times; and, at the present time, they had the general public approval. The same observations would apply to the objections raised by his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Beaumaris (Mr. Morgan Lloyd); and, while listening to the argument brought forward by the hon. and learned Serjeant on the subject of a Judge being deteriorated by the sameness and uniformity of his duties, he could not help feeling that, if that argument had weight, Sir James Hannen, who now discharged a mono- tonous duty, however important, from one end of the year to the other, would not now be held in the same honour and esteem in which they all knew he was universally held. The same might be said of his predecessor, the late Sir Cresswell Cresswell. Coming, however, to the Bill of the hon. Member for Newcastle (Mr. J. Cowen), he was sorry he could not give it his support, and for the following reasons. There had been already three Bills on the subject of the County Courts during the present Session—one of which had been introduced by himself—proposing to extend to a certain limit the Common Law jurisdiction of these Courts. One of them (Mr. Norwood's) proposed, also, considerably to extend the present equity jurisdiction. These Bills had been, with the consent of the Government, and by the kind assistance of his hon. and learned Friend the Attorney General, read a second time, and referred to a Select Committee, already appointed, and whose labours would begin in a day or two. The questions to be submitted to that Committee were already as much as they could successfully deal with; especially if, as he fully hoped, a Bill might be introduced, embodying its recommendations, in the event of their being favourable to an extension of the jurisdiction, in the course of the present Session. But the Bill now before the House proposed to disorganize and reconstruct the whole system of the County Courts. Even if extension were one of the elements contained in the Bill, with such heavy additional work cast upon the Committee, a successful issue of its labours would be impossible. He had not been present at the early part of the debate that day, having been unavoidably detained elsewhere; and therefore he had not had the good fortune to hear the arguments of the hon. Mover of the Bill, which he doubted not were very able, as also would have been the arguments of the hon. and learned Member for Denbighshire (Mr. Osborne Morgan) and of the hon. Member for East Sussex (Mr. Gregory) who had opposed it. But one of his own objections to the present Bill was that it was extremely partial in its operation. It raised the Courts in the North of England to a high eminence, and left out altogether such Courts as Cardiff, and that district in South Wales so ably presided over by Mr. Falconer, one of the most distinguished and successful of the Judges of County Courts. Nor was this all. The Bill did not touch the Metropolitan Courts, which, in the quality and character of the litigated business they transacted, at all events, held a place second to none in the Kingdom. And yet, by the Bill now before the House, the Judges of the Northern Districts were honoured by a very considerable increase of salary, and became qualified for promotion to seats on the Bench in the High Court of Justice, while their Metropolitan brethren were altogether omitted. He had always advocated the principle of promotion in the case of the Judges of the County Courts. The hope and prospect of occasional advancement would be a stimulus to the more careful and efficient discharge of judicial duty; while it would enhance the appointments of County Court Judgeships in value, and render them prizes to the Legal Profession, more eagerly sought after, and by more able lawyers. But, at all events, this avenue to promotion should be equally open to all the Judges, and not made to fall to the lot of some specially favoured ones; and, while referring to the Judges, he could not help regretting the speech made by the hon. and learned Member for Leeds (Mr. Wheelhouse), who had on more than one occasion animadverted severely and somewhat bitterly on the conduct and partiality of certain of the Judges of County Courts. He (Sir Eardley Wilmot) doubted not that those gentlemen were well able to defend themselves against such attacks, but he could not help saying that he considered them unjust and undeserved. In conclusion, he hoped that the Government would not send this Bill to the Select Committee. He was sorry not to be able to support it, knowing the interest which had been warmly and ably taken in it by his hon. Friend the Member for Newcastle; and he acknowledged that there were points of great value in the Bill, and matters contained in it which were entitled to attentive consideration. Some of these might be submitted to the Select Committee, even although the Bill itself should not pass a second reading.


hoped, that in spite of some of the speeches which had been delivered to-day, Her Majesty's Government would perceive that the House approved the local administration of justice, and was prepared to extend the area of such administration whenever opportunity offered. If the present measure went in that direction, he should give it his support; but, in his opinion, its provisions, instead of extending that area, considerably limited it by restricting some districts in a circuit to Assistant Judges, with a right of appeal to a Central Judge, and so incurring litigation, as each litigant would desire to take the chance of a higher class of Judge; and if such Judges existed at all, the Act ought, in the first instance, to give the litigants the option of having their cases tried by Judges of a rank superior to that of the County Court Judges. He objected to the operation of the Bill being confined to certain districts, and felt it his duty to oppose the second reading.


said, the very few hon. Members who took sufficient interest in this important Bill to induce them to come down to the House and listen to the speech of the hon. Member for Newcastle must feel indebted to that hon. Gentleman for the able and instructive speech which he delivered. For his own part, he had so much admiration for the hon. Member's advocacy, that he should have been glad to render him some assistance if he could have brought himself to approve this measure. But, after a careful consideration of its provisions, he could not do so; and he must, therefore, offer his opposition to the Bill. He based his opposition on reasons which he would briefly explain. Under the Judicature Acts, passed in 1873 and 1875, after the subject had been carefully investigated by a Commission, a very great alteration in our system of judicature was established; and, doubtless, the Legislature intended that the new system should be a permanent one, or, at any rate, that it should not be disturbed in its main features for a considerable time to come. Therefore, it would be a very strong measure to alter and uproot the system then established, unless there existed an overwhelming reason for so doing. The new system did not at first work satisfactorily, and there were complaints of arrears, and a great block of business in consequence of those arrears. Where the block pressed most severely—namely, in the Court of Chancery—a new Judge was appointed, and the consequence was that in Chancery Courts a block existed no longer; or, at all events, not to the same extent as before. In the other branches of the High Court of Justice there were still, no doubt, arrears and accumulations, but they were disappearing; and, he durst say, that before a long period elapsed, it would be found that the block of business had been cleared away, and that the Courts were enabled to grapple with the cases that were brought before them with the greatest possible facility. No doubt, in consequence of the accumulations which arose in our Courts shortly after the Judicature Act came into operation, there was a good deal of complaint, and many suggestions were made with the object of remedying the defects which were felt. Some suggested that the difficulty would be met by increasing the number of Judges; and, if the difficulty could not otherwise be overcome, perhaps that would be the proper mode of dealing with it. Others came to the conclusion that considerable relief might be afforded by increasing the jurisdiction of the County Courts, and that it would be an advantage to the community generally that the jurisdiction of the existing County Courts should be considerably increased. He, for one, was glad to bear testimony to the great usefulness of the County Courts; and many hon. Members being of opinion that advantage would arise from increasing the jurisdiction of the County Courts, three Bills had been introduced this Session to accomplish that object. Now, those Bills did not, at all events in the opinion of the Government, interfere materially with the system of judicature established by the Judicature Act, and they did not at all interfere with the principle of the County Courts themselves. Speaking for himself, and without having the advantage of knowing the results of the investigation that was about to be made with reference to these Bills, he was certainly of opinion that it would be an advantage to increase the jurisdiction of the County Courts. His own opinion was, that concurrent jurisdiction should be given, and that people should not be driven to the County Courts, but should be allowed to go to them if they desired to do so. The Government, considering the nature of those Bills, thought it right that they should receive a second reading, and should then be referred to a Select Committee. That was accordingly done, and he was informed that the Select Committee would very shortly embark on its labours. But those Bills were of a very different character from the Bill of the hon. Member for Newcastle. His Bill was a measure of a very ambitious and very comprehensive character. It would, in his (the Attorney General's) opinion, altogether upset the system of judicature which was established in 1873 and 1875. It was very important that, when a great measure of legal reform had been introduced, it should, at all events, be allowed time to have full operation, to see whether it would work well or not. He did not think that any commercial gentleman, who had frequently to embark in litigation, was of opinion that the Courts of Assize were not excellent Courts for the disposal of business brought before them. It might be contended that they did not sit with sufficient frequency, but that could be remedied without destroying the whole system. What would be the effect of the Bill of the hon. Gentleman on that system? It was proposed by his Bill to erect in seven or nine great centres of population County Courts of a superior character, Courts which were not County Courts really, but were intermediaries between County Courts and the High Court. It was also proposed to give to Her Majesty power, by an Order in Privy Council, to erect these superior County Courts in any other place that Her Majesty might think proper. To these County Courts there was given unlimited jurisdiction. The Bill proposed to give them unlimited jurisdiction to try any case that a Superior Court might try; but if the matter in dispute exceeded £ 500, or the value of the estate to be administered exceeded £ 5,000, the defendant had the option of ousting the jurisdiction of the Court by objecting to the exercise of it. The Judges of these Courts were to receive £3,000 a-year, and they were to have a very large and expensive staff. What would be the effect of this? If these Courts gave satisfaction to the dwellers in the towns where they were established, the business of the High Court would so far be extinguished, and there would be no further business for the Judges of the High Court, except that of sitting in London and hearing appeals. Surely that was not the intention of the Legislature when the Judicature Act was passed? Was it desirable that the legal business of the country should be transacted by Judges who would be regarded by the country, at all events, as inferior Judges? Suppose these tribunals which his hon. Friend proposed were not successful, they would, for the sake of experiment, have established throughout the country at very considerable expense a system of law, and saddled the country with a number of Judges, with salaries of £3,000 a-year and an expensive staff, who would practically have nothing to do. This would be most disastrous. Suppose these Courts attracted considerable business, but that considerable business was still left to the old Courts—we should have two Courts possessed of concurrent jurisdiction, which would be altogether out of harmony with each other, and would be guided by different rules. There would be not only two, but three sets, of Courts; because we had the present County Courts, having concurrent jurisdiction, but regulated by a different principle. In some places—such as Liverpool—where there was a Court of Passage, there would be four jurisdictions. It seemed to him that such a system would lead to the greatest possible embarrassment and confusion, and be productive of no particular benefit. For these reasons, he could not assent to the second reading of the Bill. Nor did he think it was desirable that it should be referred to the Select Committee; because, if the Government assented to that course, it would be assumed that they approved the principle of the Bill. He was bound to say, however, that apart from the main provision of the Bill, there were many provisions in it which were well worthy of attention. It was a great evil that the Registrars should earn the enormous amount they did, and that they should be permitted to practise. If they could be paid by salaries, and not permitted to practise, it would be a great improvement. He would suggest that the hon. Member for Newcastle should wait until the Committee to which the three Bills had been referred had concluded their labours and reported to the House, and not now press his Motion to a division; and then, next Session, if he should still be of opinion that the system he wished to inaugurate was better than that inaugurated by the Judicature Acts, he would have another opportunity of bringing his Bill forward.


, in reply, said, he regretted the Government had not been able to see their way to send this measure before the Select Committee that was sitting on the other Bills; but he could appreciate the recommendation of the hon. and learned Attorney General. It was manifest that no legislation could take place on the Bill this year. The Session was too far advanced for that. The Committee that was sitting would have an opportunity of considering the whole question; and when their Report was submitted, and the Bill on that Report was brought before the House, he would have, as the hon. and learned Attorney General had said, an opportunity of proposing Amendments or suggesting changes, which, although they would not realize the principle of the Bill, would tend somewhat in the direction the Bill before them pointed. He begged to express his acknowledgments to the hon. and learned Gentleman for the favourable manner in which he had spoken of the measure; and, under the circumstances, he thought he would best consult the convenience of the House, and also the interests of the Bill itself, by acceding to the advice of the hon. and learned Gentleman, and withdraw the Bill for the present. At a future period, if they did not succeed in getting such improvements made in the Bill that would come back from the Select Committee, he would avail himself of the Attorney General's suggestion, and re-introduce his measure next year. The discussion had been useful and instructive; and the subject having been brought fully before Parliament, and the attention of hon. Members directed to it, perhaps that was as much as could be expected just now. He hoped, with their debate and the future discussion they would have on the subject, a substantial improvement would be made in the County Court system.

Amendment and Motion, by leave, withdrawn.

Bill withdrawn.