HL Deb 02 June 1851 vol 117 cc328-32

said, it appeared by the Votes and Proceedings of the other House of Parliament, that the noble Lord at the head of Her Majesty's Government had given notice of his intention to move for leave to bring in a Bill to improve the Administration of Justice in the Court of Chancery. But it would be in their Lordships' recollection that a similar Motion was made several weeks ago; and he (Lord Lyndhurst) presumed, therefore, that it was the intention of the Government to abandon its former Bill as unsatisfactory, for the purpose of finding a substitute in some other measure. He could only express a hope that his noble and learned Friend on the woolsack had had more hand in preparing the intended Bill, than he had in the preparation of the former one. His (Lord Lyndhurst's) principal object in rising, however, was to direct the attention of his noble and learned Friend on the woolsack to what be considered a matter of great interest and importance as connected with this subject. In the last Session of Parliament a Bill was introduced by the present Master of the Rolls, with a view to a reform of the proceedings in the Court of Chancery in Ireland. That Bill passed the other House of Parliament and their Lordships' House with little or no discussion. He (Lord Lyndhurst) was now very desirous of knowing what had been the effect of that Act. The object of it was certainly a very desirable one. It was to facilitate the progress of the proceedings of the Court of Chancery in Ireland, and—what was even more desirable—greatly to diminish the expense of those proceedings; and accordingly, some clays ago, he had moved for certain returns 'connected with the proceedings of the Irish Court of Chancery, for the purpose of coming to some satisfactory conclusion on the subject. He had found it impossible as yet to obtain those returns; but at the same time he had undertaken to inquire in the highest quarters what had been the result of that Act. He was able to say that the result had been most satisfactory; and he would very shortly state two or three facts which had been communicated to him, which would satisfy their Lordships that what he had stated was correct. The object of the Act of last Session was to substitute summary proceeding by petition, instead of the ordinary cumbrous proceeding by bill and answer, in a suit of Chancery. He had ascertained what number of petitions had been presented to the Court since that Act of Parliament passed. That Act came into operation in August last, and up to the 1st of May of the present year he was informed, upon the highest authority, that 694 causes had been instituted in the Irish Court of Chancery by petition alone. That was a pretty satisfactory conclusion. But their Lordships would be desirous of knowing what were the number of suits instituted by bill and answer in the same time. Perhaps their Lordships would be gratified to know that those suits by bill amounted to the small number of twenty-nine, out of about 700 causes. That was a pretty safe conclusion that the operation of the Act had been satisfactory to plaintiffs, seeing that they might have proceeded by bill and answer, or by petition, just as they chose. Their Lordships might be desirous of knowing how it had operated with respect to the defendants also. In that Act there was a clause by which the defendant was entitled to apply to the Lord Chancellor for an order to direct the plaintiff to carry on the proceedings in the ordinary mode by bill. He had inquired how many such applications had been made to the Lord Chancellor; and the answer he had got was that not one single application had been made on the part of the defendant to compel the plaintiff to proceed by bill instead of by petition. That was conclusive, as far as the defendants were concerned, that they were satisfied with that mode of proceeding. With respect to another part of the subject, their Lordships would probably be desirous of knowing what was the opinion of the supreme Judge of the Court. The supreme Judge of the Court had the power, without any application on the part either of the plaintiff or defendant, to direct, if from the nature of the cause he so thought fit, that the proceedings should be by bill instead of petition. How many times did their Lordships suppose the supreme Judge had interposed for that purpose? Not in one single instance. Their Lordships would therefore see that the plaintiffs, the defendants, and the high Judge of that Court were equally well satisfied with the new mode of procedure. Now, these were grave considerations, deserving much examination and reflection on the part of his noble and learned Friend with reference to the Bill now in preparation. He (Lord Lyndhurst) had been desirous of obtaining the number of decrees which had been pronounced on those petitions in the suits so instituted. He had mentioned that the number of petitions amounted to 694. Nearly 400 decrees, or orders in the nature of decrees, had been pronounced on those petitions; and had it not been for the circumstance that there was a great arrear of heavy causes before the Court of Chancery when this Bill came into operation, he was assured there would not have been a single petition in which a decree would not have been pronounced. Now, these were facts of the greatest importance. His noble and learned Friend well knew that a summary proceeding by petition lessened in an enormous degree the cost of proceeding, and expedited the suit in an extraordinary manner. He submitted, those matters were well worthy their Lordships' consideration, and in particular the consideration of his noble and learned Friend (the Lord Chancellor). He (Lord Lyndhurst) made no comment on them, but he asked his noble and learned Friend to take them into his consideration at his leisure in connexion with the Bill about to be brought into the other House of Parliament, with a view to a reformation of the course of proceeding in the Court of Chancery. He would leave the matter in the hands of his noble and learned Friend, satisfied he would give every attention to so important a subject.


said, his noble and learned Friend had presented their Lordships with important information bearing on the recent alterations in the Court of Chancery in Ireland; but he (the Lord Chancellor) was not precisely aware what his noble and learned Friend's object was in bringing this subject under their Lordships' notice. As his noble and learned Friend had stated, the noble Lord at the head of the Government had given notice elsewhere of his intention to ask for leave to bring in a Bill to reform the proceedings in the Court of Chancery. He would not now enter into the provisions of that Bill; but he could state that every labour had been bestowed upon it, and he hoped their Lordships would consider it satisfactory when it came before them. He confessed that those statements, coming on him on a sudden, and without notice, with regard to the whole course of proceedings in the Irish Court of Chancery, were somewhat embarrassing; but he did not apprehend that their Lordships would expect that he should go into the details brought under their notice by his noble and learned Friend. He could very readily understand that the form of proceeding by bill might be conveniently ex-changed for that of petition. If the statement handed to his noble and learned Friend was correct, that 400 orders had been made by one Judge in the Court of Chancery in Ireland since last August, it would be a happy result in this country if counsel would exhibit the same saving of time in their speeches, be they made either upon bill or petition. Their Lordships would find on inquiring that they had had many hundreds of causes commenced by petition in the Court of Chancery during the last year, arising under the Railways Winding-up Act; and he could assure his noble and learned Friend that what he had just stated should be made matter for instant inquiry, and that too with a wish to adopt some similar measure in this country. He should certainly feel much obliged to his noble and learned Friend if he would give him the opportunity of making inquiry before he again directed their Lordships' attention to this subject, if such should be his noble and learned Friend's intention. He (the Lord Chancellor) did not know what the proceedings had been under the new Act in Ireland, but he thought the statements that had been received should be adopted with some caution; for he could not think an experience lasting only from the month of August last to the present time could be sufficient to warrant the adoption of a definite conclusion. He would, he repeated, make inquiry into its correctness, and then, with the able assistance of his noble and learned Friend, or without it, would adopt such proceedings as would tend to render the transaction of business in the Courts of Chancery more expeditious and less expensive. He hoped that the Bill which would be introduced shortly into the House of Commons would meet the approbation of his noble and learned Friend. In conclusion, he thanked his noble and learned Friend for having called his attention to this matter, and assured him that he should at all times be most happy to receive from him communications in private on a subject which he (Lord Lyndhurst) so well understood as the administration of justice in the Court of Chancery.

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