HL Deb 10 March 1854 vol 131 cc589-91

moved for returns relating to the number of plaints issued from the County Courts for the years 1852 and 1853, for sums under 20l. and between 20l. and 50l., the aggregate of such sums, the amount and application of the fees, and the amount recovered by judgment (in continuation of those which had been already brought down to the end of 1851); and also fur the number of writs of summons for sums under 20l., issued by the Courts of Queen's Bench, Exchequer, and Common Pleas, in the year 1853, and the amount of debt and costs of each. His Lordship said it gave him unmingled pleasure to think that the working of the County Courts was most satisfactory in every respect, save one, and that one arose from the large amount of the fees levied by the Government. In consequence of the amount of those fees, and the reduction which had been made on those fees in the Superior Courts, the business of the County Courts in respect to a certain class of cases, had experienced a considerable diminution during the year 1853. The increase in 1852 as compared with 1851, had been very considerable, the number of suits in the County Courts in 1851 being 440,000, and in 1852, 474,000. But then came the alteration in the fees in the Superior Courts, by which the gross amount of those fees had been reduced to 50,000l., while those in the County Courts absolutely amounted to 275,000l., an instance of legislative abuse and injustice which, he would venture to say, the worst periods of our whole judicial history could not present. The consequence was that there had been, pro tanto, a diminution in the business of the County Courts. Both in 1851 and 1852, the proportion of fees, that is taxes, to the sum sued for in the Superior Courts was inconsiderable; while in the County Courts, upon one calculation it was 35 per cent, and upon the lowest calculation 33 per cent. In the courts above to sue a man for 50l., when judgment went by default, the court fees, he believed, would be from 10s. to 12s.; but to sue a man for 50l. in a County Court under circumstances tantamount to judgment by default—namely, where there had been no use whatever made of the jurisdiction of the court, except to enter the suit—where there had been no trial and no adjudication—there being no judgment by default in the County Courts—the fees amounted to no less than 3l. 6s. 8d. Again in the case of a suit for 20l., the costs in the County Courts, under similar circumstances, would be between 30s. and 40s.; whereas in the Superior Courts the sum of 50l. might be recovered for 10s. or 12s. Their Lordships would recollect that he was not talking of the costs of the proceedings, but of the amount of court fees that went to pay the judges' and officers' salaries, the provision and maintenance of court rooms, and the like; and for those purposes the enormous sum of 275,000l. was extorted from the unfortunate suitors. Under these circumstance he thought he had some right to expect that relief would be given to the suitors in those courts. An unanimous resolution had been come to by the County Court Commissioners upwards of two months ago in favour of transferring the judges' salaries and some other expenses in those courts, from the suitors to the Consolidated Fund, as had been done two years ago in the case of the courts above. This course, he believed, notwithstanding the objections which he was aware existed in some quarters, would be found most salutary. He was aware that the Consolidated Fund had quite enough to bear at present, but his belief was that such a transfer of charge to the Consolidated Fund would not be nearly so burthensome as some might at first imagine, because when we reduced the taxes on any consumable article, the consumption of that article was thereby increased, and the same rule would apply in this case. It would be too romantic for him to expect that all the fees in those courts would be abolished; but he certainly did look to the suitors being relieved of a very considerable proportion of theta as they at present stood, whereby the access to those admirable tribunals might be the more facilitated. He had great satisfaction in stating that some of our most eminent Judges, who had for many years been opposed to the system of County Courts, had lately expressed themselves in favour of the blessings conferred upon the suitors by the establishment of such courts. He did not mean, by making this statement, to imply that it was anything more remarkable for judges to be mistaken than for other learned persons to be so, for he thought that some of the opinions which they had heard lately expressed on a measure in which he (Lord Brougham) had taken a great interest, and which was before the House, went somewhat to prove that even these learned functionaries might be mistaken; and might too hastily be led to express an opinion which their more calm deliberation would show them was unsound. He thought that the morn the County Court system had been tested the more it had been proved to be beneficial, and one which conduced in every way to advance the ends of justice.

Motion agreed to. Returns ordered.