HC Deb 18 March 1881 vol 259 cc1476-80

Order for Second Reading read.


, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, the measure had the merit of brevity, seeing that it consisted of only one clause of four or five lines. He had endeavoured, as far as possible, to consult those Members of the House who were connected with the Legal Profession in order to ascertain what their views were upon the question; and he bad received from them a unanimous concurrence that it was desirable to have the reformation which he proposed in the existing law attempted. He would explain in a sentence or two, to the non-legal Members of the House, what it was that the Bill proposed to do. At present, in order to prevent what was supposed to be improper litigation, if a benevolent gentleman put his hand into his pocket, and subscribed a 10 note in order to enable a poor widow to bring an action at law, he might be committing an illegal act, unless he could say it was absolute charity. He believed that these were benevolent acts, but they were none the less illegal; and when actions arising out of this illegal course came before the Courts of Law the Judge invariably reprehended the practice. He (Mr. A. M. Sullivan) had now taken upon himself, with the concurrence of his legal Friends in that House, to attempt this modest instalment of Law Reform. He begged to move the second reading.

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


did not regard the explanation of the hon. and learned Member for Meath (Mr. A. M. Sullivan) as altogether satisfactory. He could not help feeling that, whatever inconvenience was sustained under the existing law, the effect of the Bill would be to encourage litigation to an alarming extent, and to induce unscrupulous attorneys, supported by collections raised in different ways, to undertake questionable actions at law. In that way it was possible that the Bill might produce far greater evils than it was calculated to prevent. He was quite aware that under the present law there might be individual cases of hardship; but, speaking from very long experience, he had never found that any respectable solicitor was unwilling to undertake a proper case. He did not think he could overrate the evils which might result from the Bill in promoting litigation; and he would therefore beg to move, as an Amendment, that the Bill be read a second time on 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. Whitley.)

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


said, the hon. Member for Liverpool (Mr. Whitley) had very well pointed out what an evil-disposed solicitor might do in the way of promoting litigation; but the hon. Member seemed to forget that these disreputable solicitors were the very class of persons who might do it as the law stood at present. The hon. Gentleman had exactly put his hand on the blot which the Bill intended to remedy. At present a solicitor might go round and induce people to commence actions, and he was supposed by the law to be a party who had a legitimate interest in carrying on litigation. It was notorious that, in many cases, that practice was followed. The solicitor would put his hand in his own pocket and find the expenses of the law suit, and those expenses would form a legitimate item in his bill of costs afterwards. But the law positively forbade persons who were not solicitors, or, in the language of the law, persons who had an interest professionally, or otherwise, in the suit before the Court from giving in any way that assistance which might be necessary to a plaintiff in instituting an action. If the hon. Gentleman persisted in his Amendment, of course it would have the effect of dropping the Bill, as he (Mr. A. M. Sullivan) would not feel disposed to press it, unless he had the unanimous consent of the House. He had been induced to introduce it, and put it down for a second reading, with the concurrence of some 15 or 20 legal Gentlemen, whom he had been able to consult. Under the circumstances, he would appeal to the hon. Member for Liverpool to allow the Bill to pass a second reading; and, in the meantime, he should be glad to hear what the Law Officers of the Crown had to say upon the subject.


wished to say a word or two before the House came to a division. He did not mean to say that the Law of Maintenance was at present in a satisfactory state; but certainly it was a very old law, and, if he understood the matter rightly, it was founded on the Roman law. Hon. Members must not run away with the idea that all assistance, where assistance was really needed, was forbidden. As he understood the law—and he would be corrected by the hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General if he were wrong—in the case of a master and servant, or of men helping a poor neighbour, the assistance in maintaining an action was permitted by the present law. The law said that a suit for any kinsman, servant, or poor person out of charity or compassion might be maintained. That was the existing law; but he was not at all prepared to say that there were no hardships even in the present state of the law. They were not, however, hardships they could remove all in a moment, in the way proposed by the hon. and learned Member who had charge of the Bill. He thought the best course would be to refer the Bill to a Select Committee; and, on that understanding, he should be willing to read it a second time. He hoped the hon. and learned Member for Meath would consent to that course. If it were found necessary to alter the existing law, it would certainly be necessary to provide some safeguard. They could not possibly abolish the law in the crude way suggested by the hon. and learned Member, without imposing a safeguard to prevent certain evils. If the hon. and learned Member would consent to refer the Bill to a Select Committee, he would advise his hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool (Mr. Whitley) to withdraw the Amendment.


said, he would certainly not encourage any alteration of the law which might have a tendency to enable people improperly to promote litigation. He could not conceive that there could be any greater evil than an alteration of the law to that effect. He held that, as the law at present stood, it was hardly ever used against people who did improperly interfere; but, at the same time, it was held up as a hindrance in the way of persons doing that which many other persons might desire to see them do. He did not fully agree in the definition which his right hon. Friend opposite (Sir R. Assheton Cross) had given in regard to the law. He knew of cases in which people had been deterred from assisting other persons in recovering their rights, and the consequence was that such persons had been driven into the hands of solicitors, who took up the case, and were, too often, not solicitors of the most reputable character. These solicitors conducted the case to a successful issue, and then pocketed all they got out of it. That was a most undesirable state of things; but, at the same time, it might be necessary to provide certain limits and safeguards, which were not in the Bill at present. He would accept the suggestion of his right hon. Friend opposite, that the Bill should be read a second time, and then referred to a Select Committee.


thought that a great deal that had fallen from the hon. and learned Solicitor General was worthy the attention of the House. He was inclined to believe that the Law of Maintenance was at present in a somewhat unsatisfactory state; but he thought that there were far greater evils than any that were guarded against by the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Meath—namely, in the existence of associations which were established for the purpose of putting the law in force. When the Bill was read a second time, and referred to a Select Committee, he hoped that something would be introduced into the measure to provide a check against the operation of these societies.


thought there ought to be an Instruction to the Committee, to provide that gentlemen who encouraged this kind of litigation should be liable, in costs, to the extent to which the judgment went against them. A case of this nature might arise—A pauper might be put forward to bring a serious action, which action was really maintained by a spiteful neighbour. When a spiteful neighbour had nothing to suffer, he could afford to spend £100 or £200 in litigation, knowing that, if worsted, he would not be responsible for the costs. But, in such cases, there ought to be a provision that the costs should fall upon the person who promoted the action. He hoped it would be understood that attention would be called to this point, either in the shape of an Instruction from that House, or an intimation from the hon. and learned Solicitor General that the matter would not be lost sight of.


said, that, upon the understanding that the Bill be referred to a Select Committee, he would not press the Amendment.

Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.

Main Question put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time.


said, he was quite prepared to act on the suggestion of the right hon. Gentleman the Member for South-West Lancashire (Sir R. Assheton Cross), and would now move that; the Bill be committed to a Select Committee.

Motion agreed to.

Bill committed to a Select Committee.