The Lord Chancellor
having moved according to the Order of the Day the third reading of the Suits in Equity Bill.
§ Lord Eldon
begged leave to trouble the House with a few remarks on the subject. It. appeared to him that it would be advisable to be more deliberate on the present question, in consideration of the great changes which it was understood were projected in the Administration of Justice in England and Wales. It appeared to be in contemplation to appoint an additional Judge in the Court of King's 1124 Bench, an additional Judge in the Court of Common Pleas, and an additional Baron in the Court of Exchequer. Now, he was of opinion, that according to the present constitution of the Court of Chancery, even if the changes to which he alluded were not carried into effect, an additional Judge in the Court of Chancery would not be necessary; but that if they were carried into effect, and there were four Puisne Barons in the Court of the Exchequer, then an additional Judge in the Court of Chancery would be absolutely unnecessary. Having been nearly five-and-twenty years at the head of the Court of Chancery, he had some experience, and might, perhaps, be excused for offering his opinion on the subject. When he had first the honour of a seat on the Woolsack, Appeals were made to the Court of Chancery, on Writs of Error from the Courts of Common Law, and the Chancellor had the benefit of the advice of the Judges. Before the Union with Ireland, the only appeal to the Court of Chancery from Courts of Equity were from Courts of Equity in England: but the Union brought to the Court of Chancery Appeals from Courts of Equity in Ireland. Those appeals came also in the shape which rendered it difficult for an English Chancellor to hear them, unless he had had some previous experience on the subject. In addition to this, there was a great accumulation of appeals to the House of Lords. In the year 1807 or 1808 a change was made in the jurisdiction of Scotland. The Court of Session was divided; which added to the business of the Court of Chancery, as there were then appeals from two Courts of Session instead of one. Now this might be a good provision for the lieges of Scotland, but it was the cause of much delay and inconvenience to the suitors in the English Court of Chancery.—For some years after the appointment of a Vice Chancellor, the appeals -from his Court added considerably to the business of the Court of Chancery. There seemed to be a general indisposition at that time to be satisfied with the decisions of the Vice Chancellor; and yet there was no man more eminent for legal knowledge than Sir Thomas Plomer. He was happy to hear, however, that that was not the case at present.; and that the indisposition to be satisfied with the decisions of the Vice Chancellor had greatly abated. At the same time it was well known to every intelligent man at the bar, that the ap- 1125 pointment of that subordinate Judge had increased the number of appeals made to the Chancellor. What was the judicial constitution of the Court of Chancery at the present moment? The Master of the Rolls now sat five mornings in the week—an arrangement highly advantageous. The Vice Chancellor, he was told, used great despatch in the business of his Court, though he did not use the word despatch in any offensive sense. The Lord Chancellor had the power also to avail himself of a Commission of Assistance, composed of two Masters in Chancery and a Puisne Baron of the Exchequer. Lord Thurlow had called in the aid of such a commission. Although the Masters in Chancery were not treated as high judicial characters, yet it was well known they disposed of more important questions in the course of the year than any of the Puisne Barons. In his opinion, therefore, with reference to all these considerations, notwithstanding the increase of business, he thought the Court of Chancery might go on very well without an additional Judge. In his humble opinion also, if a fourth Puisne Judge were appointed in the Court of Exchequer, he ought to be a man conversant, not merely with Common Law, but with Equity; in order that he might decide in what was called the outer Court, in cases not between King and subject, but between subject and subject. The history of the Court of Exchequer proved the advantages which would result from such a measure; and it would render still less necessary the appointment of an additional Judge in the Court of Chancery. The popular notion he believed was, that by the new measure, the Court of Exchequer would take an equal share of business with the Court of King's Bench and Common Pleas, but that he was afraid would not come to pass, till long after he had departed out of the world. At the same time the reformation of that Court would render the appointment of another Equity Judge less necessary. He would not say, that he finally objected to that appointment; but he thought the appointment, when it was not yet decided whether there should be nine or twelve Puisne Judges in other courts, premature: and for that reason he should move, as an Amendment that the Bill be read a third time on that day fortnight.
The Lord Chancellor
regretted that the noble and learned Lord had not been able 1126 to attend when this Bill had been read a first time, nor at any of its subsequent stages, and that the statement of his objections to it had been reserved until it had. reached its present and last stage. When he introduced the Bill, he took occasion to state, minutely and in detail, the grounds upon which he proposed the measure, and he was sorry that in consequence of the course taken by the noble and learned Lord, it was necessary for him to trouble them with a short recapitulation of the reasons which, in his opinion, justified the introduction of this measure again this Session, after a corresponding measure had already met with the sanction of their Lordships in the last Session of Parliament. The noble and learned Lord then gave a general recapitulation of the grounds which he had formerly mentioned in proof of the necessity of a measure of this description. He was ready to acknowledge that there was no individual in the country to whose authority in all matters connected with the Courts of Equity, he would so readily defer as to that of the noble and learned Lord, but he must say, that his objection to the present Bill seemed not based upon any solid foundation whatever. For 200 years before the noble Lord held the Great Seal, constant complaints had been made of the delay of hearing cases in the Court of Chancery; and while the noble and learned Lord himself sat in the Court of Chancery, without any blame being attributable to him, these complaints were loud and frequent. He was sure that no man who was acquainted with the administration of justice in Equity would consider the Court of Chancery, as at present constituted, adequate for that purpose. The returns which he had procured to be made of the arrear of business, were quite sufficient to prove that fact. As an instance of the delay in hearing cases, the noble Lord mentioned a case which commenced in 1812—a case in which there was no evidence, but only a bill and an answer. It first came before Sir Thomas Plomer: it was afterwards successively before the late Lord Gilford, and the present Master of the Rolls; and for the fourth time, it was heard before him (the Lord Chancellor) who finally decided it, after eighteen years had been employed in hearing it. It was time to put an end to such a system, and to afford to the people of this country an opportunity of having their cases heard when 1127 they were ready for hearing. Another instance had lately occurred, which he would mention. While he was sitting in their Lordships' House the other day, he received a letter from a young man on the bunks of the Mississippi, which stated that thirty-three years ago the writer's father came over to this country to recover a legacy to which he was indisputably entitled. The executor, for his own protection, applied to the Court of Chancery; an amicable suit (as it was called) was instituted, and at the end of seven years the father quitted this country, the suit having then had no result. On his return to America he married; the writer of the letter was born, the father died, and the son wrote to know whether he had now any chance of getting the money to which he was indisputably entitled. Such instances he was afraid might again occur, unless our system was improved, and if the noble and learned Lord objected to the present measure for the purpose of improving the Courts of Equity, he was bound to suggest a better remedy.—His noble friend had recommended a Commission of Assistance for the Chancellor; but as that Commission must be composed of a Common-law Judge and two Masters in Chancery, the Court of Common-law would suffer from the loss of his services, and the Chief Justice of the Court of King's Bench had that day told him (the Chancellor) that that Court had no hope of getting through its business. The Common Pleas could not do more than it now did, and the only hope was in new modifying the Court of Exchequer, by completing it as a Court of Common-law, and separating Equity business from it. The addition of another Judge to the Court of Equity, the measure he now proposed with regard to the Master's Office, and the new regulations regarding the Registrars, were the only things he at present saw capable of relieving the country from the evils of the existing system. He had proposed them in accordance with the Commissioners' Report, and he trusted the House would adopt them.
§ The Earl of Eldon
explained, and added that he understood the opinion of the Vice-Chancellor to be, that no new Judge was necessary in Equity.
The Lord Chancellor
said, that it was very strange that the Vice-Chancellor should have expressed such an opinion without intimating it to him. When the 1128 Vice-Chancellor was before the Commissioners, he was asked whether three Judges were sufficient for performing the business of the Court of Equity? His answer, now existing in his own handwriting, was, "Not three angels."
§ The Earl of Eldon
answered, that he had received a letter from the Master of the Rolls, stating that he and the Vice-Chancellor thought a new Judge in Equity was not necessary.
§ Their Lordships divided on the amendment that the Bill be read a third time that day fortnight:—Contents 4; Not-Contents 11;—Majority against Lord Eldon's Amendment 7.