HC Deb 18 May 1882 vol 269 cc1052-7

[Progress 15th May.]

Bill considered in Committee.

(In the Committee.)

Clauses 1 to 5, inclusive, agreed to, with Amendments.


said, he had now anew clause to propose At the present time, if a County Court Judge and a jury gave a decision, and that decision was appealed against, the appeal went before a Judge of Assize without a jury; and his proposal was that in such cases there should be a jury in the same way as in the County Court. The object of his clause was to rectify what he thought was a mistake in the original framing of the Act; and he proposed that, upon an appeal, the plaintiff or the defendant should have a right to demand a jury. He was aware that Judges had not time to try these cases with a jury; but that consideration ought not to stand in the way, for justice must be done, and it was well known that Irish Judges had much less to do than English Judges. Irish Judges were overpaid and under-worked. His proposal, he believed, would only be carrying out the original intentions of the Government.

New Clause—

(Extension of section 100 of Civil Bill Courts (Ireland) Act, 1851, to appeals.)

"On any appeal from the Civil Bill Court to the Judge of Assize in any action or proceeding to which the provisions of the one hundredth section of 'The Civil Bill Courts (Ireland) Act, 1851,'are applicable, the provisions of said section shall apply to such proceedings on appeal in the same manner in all respects as in the Civil Bill Court,"—(Mr. Healy,)

Brought up, and read the first time.

Motion made, and Question proposed, "That the Clause be now read a second time."


said, he was unable to accept this clause. The object of the Bill was to facilitate and make less expensive and more ready the ordinary appeal to a Judge of Assize. The Bill, in other respects, enlarged the equitable power possessed by the Court, and, so far as concerned the appeal to a Judge of Assize, the Civil Bill Courts Act had been in operation 30 years, and there had been no complaints. The jury that tried a case in a Civil Bill Court was not an ordinary jury, but an exceptional one—it was not a jury of 12, but of six, and could only be obtained by a party to the cause, when the demand exceeded £20. On appeal, the Judge of Assize was not excluded from having a jury. Where a Chairman heard a cause of action under £20 in value, he was entitled, if he thought proper, to have a jury to assist him, and where the Judge heard an appeal against that decision, he was entitled to have a jury, if he thought fit. Accordingly, it was provided that if any Chairman or Judge of Assize should think it proper to have any fact, or facts, which were controverted in any case before him tried by a jury, in such a case a jury of not less than three, or more than 12, could be summoned. That practice had been found to work well for 30 years, and he thought it should not be interfered with.


said, he respectfully disputed the statement of the right hon. and learned Gentleman that this practice had been found to work well. He (Mr. Healy) thought it had worked anything but well. At the last Waterford Assizes a man brought an action against a landlord for assault, and got a verdict for £50; but, on appeal before Mr. Justice Fitzgibbon, because the plaintiff was a poor tenant farmer, and the defendant a magistrate, the amount was reduced from £50 to £2, What he (Mr. Healy) and his Friends desired was that these particular cases should be taken out of the Judges' hands—that they should no longer have power to cut down a verdict given in a fair way by a jury. At present, in Ireland, these things, instead of being decided by a jury, were decided by a Judge; and that, he thought, was a state of things which ought not to exist. He had expected to hear from the Attorney General for Ireland that an analogous state of things existed in England; but he had not heard it. He must press this point. He was afraid there might be a suspicion against the Judges that they would be likely to give decisions on political grounds; and surely the Government must be anxious to hold the Judiciary of Ireland clear from such a suspicion.


said, he could not but think it much, to be regretted that, in a discussion of this kind—on a mere matter of law—aspersions on the character of the Judges should now be almost the rule in this House. The House was not in a position to pronounce any opinion whatever on the merits of a case that he presumed the hon. Member (Mr. Healy) had seen reported in the newspapers, and that, probably, no other Member had seen or heard or knew anything about. It was most inconvenient that charges should be made in this way, and particularly charges of this sort, accompanied by the statement, twice repeated, that the learned and upright Judge who had decided the case had decided it erroneously, because the plaintiff happened to be a rich man and a magistrate, and the defendant a poor tenant farmer. He (the Solicitor General for Ireland) would take upon himself to say that there was not a Judge in the Three Kingdoms who would be guilty of such a thing. Mr. Justice Fitzgibbon was known to many of them; and it was unnecessary to say that that gentleman would be utterly incapable of the conduct referred to. If any leaning was ever shown in any of the tribunals of the land, it certainly was not on the side of the wealthy and those in power, as against the poor and powerless—he meant if anything ever turned on the special facts of a case that would seem to indicate a leaning. He himself had had some little experience of the working of the Civil Bill Code and the Civil Bill Courts; and he was bound to say that of all the branches of the judicial system in Ireland there was none which had not only worked so well, but met with such unanimous approval on the part of the public, and especially on the part of the poorer suitors, for whom that appellate jurisdiction had been established. Every Judge he was acquainted with regarded it as an important part of his judicial functions to hear these appeals, and that the poor suitor should feel that justice had been done. Special bearing was given to these cases; and the Judges were most anxious that unsuccessfnl suitors should go away feeling that, even though defeated, they had only lost their case after a full and careful and satisfactory investigation. He had never heard any complaint of the working of the system; on the contrary, he had always understood that it worked satisfactorily. If a Judge saw fit to have a jury, he could have one; and, in the absence of any reason to the contrary, it would be a great pity to make any change in the present arrangement.


said, it was in the discretion of a Judge whether he should have a jury. He remembered the case in reference to which it was alleged that injustice had been done. Mr. Justice Fitzgibbon had heard the case very carefully, and had assessed the damages at a nominal sum, in accordance with the justice of the case, as everyone who was aware of the facts was aware at the time. He (Mr. Givan) had had considerable experience of the working of the present Law of Appeal; and he must say that nothing could be more satisfactory than the manner in which appeals had been heard by the Judges of Assize. Where cases had originally been heard by juries, and where counsel on both sides agreed to it, he had not known a case where the Judge had refused to empanel a jury. The general opinion was, that inasmuch as the appeal was taken, in most cases, on a question of law, a Judge, sitting without a jury, was the very best tribunal that could be resorted to.


said, he should support his hon. Friend (Mr. Healy), if he went to a division, because he thought it only fair that cases of this kind should be tried by a Judge and jury.


said, he did not think there would be any use in keeping the House up by pushing this matter to a division. With regard, however, to what had been said by the Solicitor General, he would remind him that he had not mentioned a specific case until it had been said that the clause had worked well. It might have been thought that he could not mention a case where it had worked badly; therefore, as he did not wish to keep the Committee in the dark, he made the statement which was complained of. It was all very well for hon. Members sitting on the Official Benches to object to censure of the Irish Judges; but he would remind those hon. Members that everyone did not share their opinion of the character of the Irish Bench. To his mind, those hon. Members belonged themselves to what he might call the official class or "ring," and they should, therefore, be the last to eulogize a system that stunk in the nostrils of the Irish people. The Bench in Ireland was a portion of the bad system of English government. Men were chosen to the Bench, not because of their legal knowledge or fitness, but because of the assistance they gave England in doing England's work.

Motion and Clause, by leave, withdrawn.


said, he wished to move the following Clauses:—

(Extension of existing jurisdiction of County Courts under Clause 33 of 40 and 41 Vic. c. 56.)

"In addition to the jurisdiction now possessed by the several Civil Bill Courts in Ireland, the said courts shall have and exercise all the power and authority of the High Court of Chancery in the suits and matters hereinafter mentioned, that is to say, where the subject thereof shall not exceed in amount or value, so far as it consists of personalty of five hundred pounds, and so far as it consists of lands, shall not exceed the annual value of thirty pounds (that is to say):

  1. (a.) In suits by executors or administrators for the administration of assets;
  2. (b.) In suits for the setting aside, cancelling, or reforming any deed, agreement, assurance, or conveyance of any property on the ground of fraud or mistake."

Clause brought up, and read the first time.

Motion made, and Question, "That the said Clause be now read a second time," put, and agreed to.

Clause agreed to, and added to the Bill.


begged to move the following Clause:—

(Appeals under jurisdiction conferred by foregoing section.)

"Every order or adjudication made under the jurisdiction conferred by the foregoing section of this Act shall be subject to the like appeal and in the same manner as is provided by Part II. of 'The County Courts and Officers (Ireland) Act, 1877,' and nothing in this Act shall be deemed to include appeals brought under Part II. of the said Act."

Clause brought up, and read the first time.

Motion made, and Question, "That the said Clause be now read a second time," put, and agreed to.

Clause agreed to, and added to the Bill.


moved the following Amendment to the Schedule:— Place the words 'Division of,' and 'County of,' to the left of the words 'County Court,' instead of in their present position, and add the following direction: 'To the Clerk of the Peace, The (Plaintiff or Defendant, as the case may be,) and his Solicitor,' at the foot of the Notice of Appeal to the left.

Amendment agreed to.

House resumed.

Bill reported; as amended, to be considered upon Monday next, and to be printed. [Bill 169.]