HL Deb 28 February 1842 vol 60 cc1172-5
Lord Brougham

said, that he was about to present to their Lordships a bill, similar to one which he had introduced nine years ago, and which, on that occasion, had very nearly, he might say all but received their sanction—he meant the bill for the establishment of Local Courts. He was perfectly aware, that a noble and learned Friend of his, who had lately occupied the woolsack, (Lord Cottenham) had expressed his intention of bringing in a bill for the establishment of county courts. There was no doubt that the bill of his noble and learned Friend would effect several of the improvements which he expected from his (Lord Brougham's) bill; but, though it would do that, it would still fall very far short of what he proposed to effect. For example, his noble and learned Friend proposed to extend the jurisdiction of county courts in matters of debt from cases of 40s. to 20l., and they were also to be made available for bankruptcy and insolvency. His (Lord Brougham's) bill gave to the local courts jurisdiction in all matters of debt of 20l., but it went Much beyond that, and gave them power to try all actions of tort—as assault and battery—libel, and seduction, malicious arrest—suing out commissions of bankruptcy, and, in fact, of all personal actions, provided the damages sought to be recovered did not exceed 50l. There was another and most important part of the measure which he valued if possible still more, namely, that the judges of the county courts should have a voluntary jurisdiction in actions to any amount and of any description where the consent of both parties was given in writing. Thus parties who consented might have justice administered in actions to any amount and respecting rights of any kind real, personal, or mixed, at, he might say, their own door. There was a part of the former bill which he would also propose to retain—he meant the courts of reconcilement, which had been productive of so much advantage in preventing litigation wherever they had been tried. He might mention that in one country, not that in which it had been first applied, but one in which it had worked the best, the kingdom of Denmark, its effects had been so salutary, that out of 31,000 causes entered for hearing, 21,000 had been settled by this court of reconcilement; thus saving the parties a great deal of vexatious litigation and a vast amount of expense. This branch of the measure he would retain in his present bill, and, in fact, he did not propose to make any material alteration, save in the 19th section, which related to courts of requests. He had saved their jurisdiction by a clause in the bill of 1833; he proposed now to abolish it. The bill gave the local courts full jurisdiction in bankruptcy, and in aid of the Court of Chancery, both as to examination of evidence and various other matters now done, expensively and badly, by commissioners as in the Master's-office. With these few introductory remarks, he would now lay the bill on their Lordships' Table. He did not say then, since the time when he had first introduced this measure, their Lordships were going forward with respect to judicial improvements; but he hoped he might say they were not going backward. Their Lordships were at one time "very near" consenting to this bill, such as he had described it. He could easily imagine the feeling of triumph with which his noble and learned Friend on the woolsack would hear the words "very near," as applied to the chance which the bill had of receiving the sanction of their Lordships; but, with all the advantages of his noble and learned Friend, which his great powers of mind brought to bear against the measure, and which even those powers would have found unavailing without the additional advantage of having had a majority acting with him, it was some consolation to him (Lord Brougham), that after a full discussion of its merits, in a by no means thin attendance, there were eighty-one noble Lords divided on one side, and eighty-one or eighty-two, he could not recollect which, divided on the other. That was, there were so many noble Lords present who heard the discussion; but the preponderance against the bill arose out of that inherent and exclusive privilege which their Lordships only, of all other bodies in the kingdom, possessed, of voting by proxy. By the exercise of that privilege, which enabled any of their Lordships to record their votes for or against any measure, which they never heard discussed, and to the merits of which possibly they might never have given a thought, his bill had been defeated—defeated by the proxy votes of some twelve or thirteen noble Lords, who had decided on a cause which they had not heard. Though he admitted that in this there was something discouraging to him in again laying on the Table the same bill, still there was also something to encourage him to proceed—that was, the hope that, after the experience of nine years, their Lordships would not be content with a less improvement of the local administration of justice than that to which they had so nearly consented on the former occasion, surely, they never could now rest satisfied with a smaller measure. Besides this almost sanction of their Lordships, let him add that the bill had the full approbation of the Commissioners of Common Law Inquiry, to whom it had been referred. It had also had the sanction of his noble Friends who then sat on that (the Ministerial), but who now sat on this (the Opposition) side of the House. He hoped that neither the lapse of time, nor the change of circumstances, would be found to have altered their opinion on it. He reckoned at least on their support. They (the present Opposition) had in 1833, given his larger plan of Law Reform their hearty, strenuous and united support. He might certainly rely upon their giving the same plan the same steady and unhesitating support now, which they had lent it when in office.

The Lord Chancellor

said, that his noble and learned Friend was quite right in saying, that the numbers who voted in the House on his bill were equal, and that there were thirteen proxies; but he would not then enter into any discussion as to how far the merits of the case were touched by that circumstance. He would now only add, that it was his intention to lay on the Table in a few days, a bill having the same object as that of his noble and learned Friend. There would be then three bills on the same subject before the House, including that of his noble and learned Friend (Lord Cottenham). It would be for their Lordships to decide which of those they should adopt, or whether they would frame a measure by amalgamating all three.

Lord Campbell

expressed a hope that, before the present session closed, some measure might be passed for establishing improved local courts. We were the only country in Europe which was without such courts. It was true we had county courts and manorial and borough courts, but they had for the most part fallen into disuse from the want of efficient judges to preside over them.

Bill read a first time.

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