HL Deb 24 May 1852 vol 121 cc982-5

brought up the Report of the Committee, and moved that it be received.


said, he would venture to trouble their Lordships by calling their attention to a rumour that had obtained circulation, to the effect that this measure was distasteful to the Government, and that they had retarded its progress through the Select Committee, in order to prevent its passing into law during the present Session, He (Lord Lyndhurst) thought it right to say that there was not the slightest foundation for this rumour. The Bill had been introduced by his noble and learned Friend who had lately held the Great Seal (Lord Truro); it was read a second time, and referred, as a matter of course, to a Select Committee. The Members of that Select Committee examined the Bill, clause by clause, for several days. A change then took place in the Government, and for a short time the meetings of the Select Committee were suspended, for the purpose of ascertaining what course the new Government intended to pursue with respect to this Bill. The Bill, as a matter of course, came under the consideration of the Government, who adopted the measure; the sittings of the Committee were then renewed, and continued until the indisposition of his noble and learned Friend. As the Bill had been framed by him, it was considered proper and respectful that the sittings of the Committee should be suspended during his illness; but in order that no delay should take place, such of the law Lords as were members of the Committee met in private, to continue the examination of the clauses, in order that when the Committee again met, the measure should be as mature as possible, and no further delay should take place. When his noble and learned Friend was again in a condition to attend the Committee, the Bill with all the Amendments was considered, and adopted, and was now reported to their Lordships' House. He thought that after that statement their Lordships would be of opinion there was not the slightest foundation for the report that had been in circulation respecting the hostility of the Government. He begged the House would indulge him while he made a few observations on the Bill itself, because little had been said of it in its progress through the House. The object of the Bill and of the Select Committee was to simplify and abridge the proceedings in the Superior Courts of Common Law, as far as was consistent with a due regard to justice; and he thought those objects had been successfully accomplished. He would not go through all the clauses of the Bill, but there were a few points to which he would refer. It was a well-known fact, that of actions commenced in the Superior Courts, not more than 2 per cent, or 1 in 50, were contested; and when he told their Lordships that by the operation of the Bill, in all that numerous class of cases the costs would never exceed 3l., their Lordships would admit that the labours of the Committee had been very beneficial to the country. The case in which hitherto there had been more perplexing technicalities than any other, was in action for slander or defamation; but all that would be required by the present Bill was, that the statement] of the defamatory words should be placed upon the record with the injury the plaintiff attributed to them, and all the jury would have to find was the fact of the words having been spoken, and the sense they applied to them. It had been a question whether it was desirable to retain the forms of action, or whether it would not be better to allow each party to state his own case in his own words. The question was much considered by the Committee, and after a careful examination they were of opinion that it was not advisable to adopt the latter course of proceeding. In the first place, it was said, that from inadvertence, carelessness, or ignorance of the law, errors would arise; and again, if they let a party state his own case in his own words, a great deal of unnecessary matter would be introduced, and a great deal of perplexity would ensue. The consequences would be —what the Committee was desirous to avoid—application to the Judges in chamber to strike out unnecessary matter. The Committee therefore had adhered to the ancient forms, but they had struck out every word that was unnecessary. There was another point, and a material one, to which he would refer, with respect to the plurality of pleading. It was supposed by the public that nothing could be more inconvenient than to allow the defendant to resort to a great variety of different pleas. The abuse had been carried to a very great extent; but at the same time, if a party had two good defences, and was obliged to abandon one and select the other, it was the greatest possible injustice. The Committee had therefore allowed double pleas in cases of that description. A party against whom a claim was made, might contest a claim, and say there was no foundation for it, and he might also rely upon a set-off; and it would be an injustice to say that a party who had thus a double defence should be compelled to rely only upon one of them. There was another point to which he also desired to call attention, which had originated with his noble Friend the late Lord Chief Justice (Lord Denman). It had reference to the law of ejectment, and he had received a communication from his noble and learned Friend that if the third reading were fixed for Thursday, he would be able to attend and urge the Amendments he desired to have adopted. In order to obviate the inconvenience that might arise from bringing forward those Amendments on the third reading, his noble and learned Friend had sent to him the form of notice which he proposed to place upon the Votes; that notice would be printed before the discussion came on, so that noble Lords might know the points to which he meant to refer.


was rejoiced, in common with their Lordships, to hear the statement that had been made by the noble and learned Lord; but he hoped their Lordships would not conceive that the points to which he had adverted were the only important points in the Bill. They might fairly be taken as samples of the Amendments, which would have a tendency to make the law in the Superior Courts of Law more cheap and intelligible. He did not give credence to the general notion that the Government were opposed to this measure. He considered that it was looked upon as a question unconnected with party, and that the measure would lead to beneficial results.

Motion agreed to.

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