§ Order for Second Beading read.
§ MR. MONK
, in moving that the Bill be now read a second time, said, that it was a very simple one. The object of the Bill was to make judgments obtained in an Inferior Court in any part of the United Kingdom valid in other parts of the United Kingdom. It had been brought in last Session, but was blocked, and had to be withdrawn. It was an onward step towards assimilating the laws of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and he hoped no hon. Member from the Sister Country would be found to oppose the second reading. The Bill proposed to extend the principle of an Act passed in 1868—the 31 & 32 Vict. c. 54—which provided that the judgments or decreets of the Superior Courts in England, Scotland, and Ireland should be respectively effectual in any other part of the United Kingdom. The Bill therefore applied to the judgments which might be obtained in the County Courts of the United Kingdom. A judgment obtained in a County Court in England would, on registration and on a certificate of that judgment being produced in a County Court of Scotland or Ireland, be valid there, and vice versâ. He had had, he said, many letters, especially from Scotland, of persons who were in favour of the principle of the Bill. The Act of 1868 had been productive of very good results, and he trusted the present Bill, which extended the principle of that Act, would meet with no opposition. The hon. Member concluded by moving the second reading of the Bill.
§ Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Bill be now read a second time."—(Mr. Monk.)
§ MR. FINDLATER
said, that he had no intention of opposing the second reading of the Bill, as he considered that, practically, its principle might be advantageously accepted. He wished, however, to warn the House that it would require serious consideration when it got into Committee, in order that clauses might be inserted to guard against the hardships that would arise from defendants being compelled to appear and plead at long distances from their homes. It must not be permitted that persons residing in London should have the right to drag people over from the middle of Ireland to attend their cases in this country. It would not be fair that a man residing in London should be able to issue process here against an Irishman for the recovery of a very small debt, perhaps, and in effect compel him to come over here to defend himself. This danger, which had arisen under the Rules framed by the Judges in pursuance of the Judicature Act of 1875, had excited the protest of Scotch Members, and security should be given against its recurrence.
THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. B. BALFOUR)
Sir, on the part of Scotland, I entirely endorse what has been said by my hon. Friend (Mr. Findlater). If the views as to jurisdiction were identical in all parts of Great Britain and Ireland, there could be no possible objection to the principle of such a Bill as this; but it, unhappily, is true that the views upon jurisdiction are not the same in the different parts of the island, because while the general principle, I believe, is that the pursuer in a suit must follow the defendant with that suit to the place of his domicile, or to a place where there is either real or personal property attachable, that principle is not recognized in England, and the result is that a process is very often issued out of the Superior Courts of England, under the Rules of 1875 and 1876, convening Scotchmen into the Courts in England who are not personally resident in England, and have no property in England either real or personal. In short, it has been found in experience that not merely in cases where one of many defendants is a Scotchman, but where a Scotchman is the sole defendant, he is liable to be 946 convened when all he has done has been to write a letter ordering goods in England, or perhaps to send an accepted bill to England, and the result has been very great hardship to the mercantile and trading community of Scotland. So strongly has the grievance been felt that many of the Chambers of Commerce and the Convention of the Scottish Burghs—which I think I may say is one of the most highly representative bodies of the commercial and trading classes of Scotland—have within the last few months addressed the strongest protests against that exercise of jurisdiction which is now prevalent under the Rules of 1875 and 1876. Unless this Bill is so safeguarded that it shall be made perfectly clear that nothing of that kind will result from the practice of the Inferior Courts, I should certainly feel it my duty to oppose the second reading. Unless my hon. Friend in charge of the Bill indicates a general assent to the principle that it shall not be competent to convene the natives of Scotland, or rather to register and execute judgments against natives of Scotland, unless those natives have been at the time when the judgments have been pronounced subject to the jurisdiction of the Inferior Courts of England or Ireland on the principles recognized by general jurisprudence, and by Common Law of Scotland, I shall oppose the Bill. But if that is quite understood, I shall be ready to propose in Committee clauses which would be directed, and, in my judgment, be effectual, to prevent any such evil taking place; and if he will indicate his assent to such clauses being introduced in Committee, I shall not consider it my duty to go further into this matter just now. Otherwise, I should feel bound to bring before the House the grievance under which the Scottish mercantile community are suffering under the Rules of 1875 and 1876. It may not be known to many hon. Members that that is really a new grievance, because, while I believe it has long been the practice of the Courts of Chancery in England to issue processes against persons resident outside of the jurisdiction, I understand that this was not customary in the case of the Common Law Courts until 1875. There was, if I am not mistaken, under the Common Law Procedure Act of 1852, a distinct exception, both of residents in Scotland and in Ireland, from the issue 947 of such process; and it did not occur to any Scotch Member, or probably to any Irish Member either, that when the Rules applicable to a purely English Judicature Act were laid on the Table of this House, there would be anything affecting the citizens of their respective countries—for the provisions of the new Rules were not discovered until they were in actual operation. I believe that is the case, because those who were formerly Members of the House from Scotland have told me that whenever this matter was mooted in their time, they invariably brought before the House objections similar to those which I have now urged. I do not desire to detain the House by raising the whole question of private International Law which is involved. I merely desire, in accordance with what I believe is the universal wish of the mercantile and trading community of my country, to intimate that, unless this Bill is safeguarded by such clauses as I venture to suggest, I shall feel bound to oppose it.
§ THE ATTORNEY GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. W. M. JOHNSON)
said, he desired to follow his right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate, because he did not exactly acquiesce in the observations which had fallen from him. As he understood the Bill, it did not deal with the preliminary stages of the suit; but it took up the suit at the stage in which judgment had been obtained, and it applied the principle of the existing Act in reference to the Superior Courts to the case of the Inferior Courts. The practical effect of the Bill as to Ireland would be that if a debtor in Ireland was sued by an English creditor in the Inferior Court in Ireland and judgment was recovered there against him, and if, although he was there in person, he had no property to be levied upon in the jurisdiction of that Court, but had ample property in the jurisdiction of a County Court in England, then, except for the natural objection which he supposed men had to pay at all—["No, no!"]—Well, he would withdraw that expression, and say that there was no reason why if the debtor's property was within the jurisdiction of any English County Court, the sum recovered should not be levied there, and vice versâ. He, therefore, did not object to the principle of the Bill, and would not oppose its second reading, although, in order to adapt it 948 to the peculiar jurisdiction of the Irish County Courts, it would be essential in Committee to alter some of the details of the measure.
§ MR. CALLAN
said, he could not congratulate the Treasury Bench on its unanimity on this subject, and, as an Irish Member, he was inclined to adopt the view indicated by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord. Advocate, rather than that expressed by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Attorney General for Ireland. Indeed, he intended to move that the Bill be read a second time that day six months, so that they should have on record the divided action of the Government in that matter. That Bill extended the departure from an old principle that was made, for the first time, not by the Act of 1875, but by the Rules of Court, which, unfortunately, when laid on the Table, were allowed to have the force of law. If the Bill of 1875 had embraced that departure from the old principle, it would have been objected to; but it had been given effect to through its having probably escaped the attention of Scotch and Irish Members when the Rules of Court were laid on the Table. The principle of the Bill was not limited to County Courts, but extended to any Court in England, even to the Lord Mayor's Court, to police magistrates, and petty sessions in rural districts, without due safeguards against injustice. If, moreover, such a measure was to be brought in at all, it ought only to be introduced on the responsibility of the Government. For these reasons, he should move the rejection of the Bill.
§ 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. Callan.)
§ Question proposed, "That the word 'now' stand part of the Question."
§ Mr. GREGORY
said, he entertained very grave doubts as to the expediency of the Bill, and shared the feeling expressed in regard to it by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate. He had always been of the opinion that Parliament had gone a great deal too far in passing skeleton Acts, thereby giving most extensive jurisdiction to tribunals to make rules which did not appear on the face of the Act, and which were little considered by 949 the House and might lead to serious and unexpected consequences, and it behaved them to be very careful how they went further in that direction. Knowing what the County Courts were, he objected to the proposed extension of their jurisdiction as to the enforcement of their process. Those tribunals dealt with very small amounts; and practitioners in them knew that many of those amounts were recovered by agencies and combinations which went about snatching judgments, so that a man might feel himself saddled with some small claim to which he was not liable really before he knew where he was. He did not think that any extension of the power of enforcing those claims could be safely granted. Men living at a long distance from a County Court would sometimes think it better to submit to imposition rather than incur all the trouble and expense of resisting unjust claims, and run the risk of paying the costs to which they might ultimately be made liable. Process was also served somewhat loosely and irregularly, and they could not always depend on persons having notice of the claim before judgment was issued. He, therefore, felt a strong objection to the Bill.
MR. HINDE PALMER
said, he should like to know from the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk) whether the Bill was intended to affect the earlier stages of jurisdiction, so that a defendant and his witnesses might be dragged from his place of residence to another place far distant? As he (Mr. Hinde Palmer) understood it, the object of the Bill was simply to enforce a judgment which had been regularly obtained against a defendant in one jurisdiction in another where he might have property available to answer that judgment. If that would be its only effect, he would support the second reading.
§ MR. WARTON
said, he was glad to have an opportunity of renewing the protest which he made last Session against power being given to Judges to make Rules to carry out the supposed intentions of Parliament. The difficulty in this case had arisen from the hurried passing at the end of the Session of a body of Rules which gave to Judges' Regulations the force of legislative Acts. The Judges were too fond of making Rules, and sought every occasion of magnifying their office. A Committee 950 of Judges was sitting now for the purpose of repealing all sorts of Acts of Parliament. That was the result of the House allowing them to draw up Rules. The hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk), who brought in so many of those ill-considered Bills, had brought, in this measure also, and the House did not know whether it affected the initial stages of a process, or the judgment. Of course, they were told that it was only the judgment that was affected; but he had no doubt that the Bill would affect not only the judgment, but the initial process. There was now much hot haste for legislation, as shown by the proceedings of the Government; but other hon. Gentlemen also were distinguished for their voracity, and none more than the hon. Member for Gloucester, who was quite proud of his success. He (Mr. Warton) was not a Scotchman or an Irishman; but he was ready to assist Irishmen or Scotchmen in obtaining the redress of their grievances. He protested against this terrible voracity of legislation, and hoped there would be a combination of Scotchmen, Irishmen, and Englishmen to reject the Bill.
§ SIR JOSEPH M'KENNA
said, that if the Bill were to pass, all an English creditor of an Irishman or Scotchman would have to do was to got his debtor's name on a bill of exchange, and then, if not paid in due time, enter judgment in his own County Court and hand it over to be executed—say, at Ballymena, or Balmoral. That would be giving capitalists and creditors greater rights than they had against debtors at present, and the House ought to pause before giving its sanction to such a measure unless it was introduced upon the responsibility of the Government.
§ THE SOLICITOR GENERAL FOR IRELAND (Mr. PORTER)
said, that there appeared to be some misconception as to the scope of the Bill. It was a plain and practical measure, framed to remedy an undoubted grievance. In 1868 a Bill was passed enabling creditors to put into operation a judgment obtained in one of the Superior Courts in England, Ireland, or Scotland against debtors in a different part of the United Kingdom, and since the passing of the Bill he had never heard any complaint in either of the three countries against it, and he should 951 be as much opposed as anyone to interference with its principle. In the Bill of the hon. Member for Gloucester (Mr. Monk) there was a similar provision with regard to judgments obtained in the Inferior Courts. The Bill left all the preliminaries exactly as they were, nor could the remedies it proposed be put into operation until judgment was obtained. That judgment could not be obtained in Ireland on a civil bill process, except after personal service of the process within the jurisdiction of the Court or at the abode of the debtor. This Bill did not propose, he understood, to interfere with that rule. He supposed, in Ireland, the case of a creditor having obtained a decree against his debtor in an Irish Court, in a suit properly instituted, in which the debtor was first served personally. As the law now stood, suppose the debtor in a decree so served should go to England, he could remain there safe from the operation of the decree, unless he acquired property in Ireland. This Bill simply proposed in such a case to transfer the decree so obtained, by bringing it to the English Court, where it would be registered as if it were a decree of that Court, and could then be put in force against the debtor. This was only a proceeding consonant with common sense and in relief of the debtor, who, but for this enactment, would have to be sued again in the country where he resided, a proceeding which would be attended with additional expense to him. Hon. Members had drawn attention to the power the Bill gave to the Judges to make Rules. He thought much might be said on the subject. A delegation to Judges of what ought to be done by Parliament was most objectionable; but the Bill did not give any such power—it merely gave the Judges power to frame Rules for the conduct of the business, a function which was purely Ministerial. As he had said, it was a plain and practical measure, following out previous; legislation, in reference to which he had not heard any objection, except what appeared to be founded on misconceptions. As such, he thought it ought to receive the sanction of the House.
§ MR. MONK
, in reply, said, he had to thank his hon. and learned Friend the Solicitor General for Ireland for his clear and able exposition of the Bill. As to what had been said by the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advo- 952 cate, he (Mr. Monk) would point out that a man might obtain judgment for £1,000 in a County Court in Scotland, and that judgment would be valid only in Scotland, and not in England or Ireland. But if he were to obtain judgment for merely £50 in a Superior Court in Scotland, that judgment would be valid in England and Ireland. Surely that discrepancy was an injustice which ought to be remedied. If the fears of the right hon. and learned Gentleman, however, were at all well-grounded, he (Mr. Monk) would have no objection, after the second reading, to introduce any safeguards that might be deemed necessary.
§ Question put, and agreed to.
§ Main Question put, and agreed to.
§ Bill read a second time, and committed for Friday.