HL Deb 13 April 1824 vol 11 cc392-4

On the order of the day for the second reading of this bill,

Earl Bathurst

rose, shortly to explain to their lordships the state in which the administration of justice at present stood in that island, and the alterations it was proposed to make by the present bill. Until the year. 1791, there had been no regular courts of judicature in Newfoundland, although that island had then been nearly two hundred years in our possession. In the early period, it had been so much an object to discourage a sederunt fishing establishment, that no care was taken to appoint courts for the administration of justice; and there had grown up; from the wants of the people, courts, over which persons presided, who were called admirals, vice-admirals, and rear-admirals. In 1791, however, a law was passed, establishing both civil and criminal courts; in the supreme court one judge presided, who decided both in civil and criminal cases, and in the latter he was assisted by two assessors of the Surrogate courts. Many complaints had been made, and it had been found difficult to procure jurors. But of the courts presided over by naval officers, no complaints had ever been made. By the present bill, it was proposed to appoint a supreme court of justice, having for chief judge some person who shall have been called to the bar. He was to be assisted by two other judges, and, in the first instance, it was supposed not necessary that these two other judges should be barristers. It was apprehended that some difficulty would be found in procuring barristers to go out of the country; but, on further deliberation, it had been resolved, that the two assistant judges should also be barristers. These three judges were to have the administration of justice both in civil and criminal cases, and also the jurisdiction of the vice-admiral. The Surrogates were to be abolished. Circuit courts were to be established, and the island was to be divided into three circuits and each of the three judges would go one of the circuits. In the first draft of the bill, considering the difficulty which had been formerly experienced in finding proper persons to act as jurors, it was proposed, that trial by jury should not be the form; but though it was of great importance, when the Surrogates were persons not learned in the law, to have intelligent jurors, the same difficulty did not exist when, as proposed by the bill, the judges were all to be barristers. In criminal cases, therefore, it was proposed to have juries. By the bill also, quarter-sessions would be established in different places. Adverting to the question of marriage, his lordship said, that formerly much confusion had existed in Newfoundland as to solemnizing marriage. In 1817, a law was passed giving validity to all marriages celebrated by any person in holy orders. The marriage act did not extend to that island, where marriages were regulated by the common law. He would propose that the bill of 1817 should be repealed, and so much of it re-enacted, as would enable dissenting clergymen and Roman Catholic priests to solemnize marriages under certain regulations.

The Earl of Darnley

observed, that if certain alterations in the system of judicature had not been proposed to be made, he should have had a petition to present on the subject. He was happy to under- stand that the trial by jury, which had been taken away, was to be restored.

On the suggestion of lord Holland, lord Bathurst agreed to divide the bill into two bills.