HL Deb 22 June 1858 vol 151 cc157-62

On Motion that the Bill be now read 3ª,


said, that on the last occasion when the measure was before their Lordships he ventured to remark upon the extreme rapidity with which certain unopposed causes had been decided in the new Court of Divorce; and he was assured at that time by a member of their Lordships' House that his complaint was unreasonable, and that nothing could be more certain than that clue inquiry with respect to collusion was made in all the cases to which he had referred before the decision of the Court was pronounced. He could assure their Lordships that he had heard since from more than one quarter that serious objection was taken to the manner in which that part of the business of the Court was conducted. Nine unopposed causes and one opposed cause were disposed of in one day, one of which only occupied the Court eleven minutes. He was convinced that proper precautions could not be taken against collusion if the proceedings of the Court were conducted in that manner. It was no answer to be told, as he had been, that most of the cases in question were cases of bigamy on the part of the husband. The misconduct of the wife in any one of them might have led to the husband committing bigamy; and he (Lord Redesdale) could not understand any cases more likely to give rise to a just suspicion of collusion than those in which bigamy was charged. If the Court of Divorce was to gain the respect of the public, it must exercise the same caution in the treatment of those unopposed causes as had always been exercised when such causes used to be decided before their Lordships; but if as many as nine were disposed of in a single day, it was impossible that they could receive the same careful investigation; and he trusted that more care would be exercised in future.


said, he was astonished that the Chairman of their Lordships' Committees should think it his duty to stand up in his place and impeach the conduct of the Judges of the land. He thought that such a course was a very rash and ill-advised one. He had himself had the honour of being one of the Judges of the Divorce Court, and had presided on four or five days, and he would undertake to say that no case that had come before their Lordships had ever been more deliberately considered than those which had been decided by the Court while he was present. Since then Lord Chief Justice Cockburn and Mr. Justice Wightman had attended, than whom no more learned or cautious Judges had ever sat in Westminster Of Lord Chief Justice Cockburn the highest expectations had been entertained; but those expectations had been more than fulfilled by the learning, the caution, and the vigilance which he had uniformily displayed since his elevation to the judicial bench. He felt certain that the cases tried before Lord Chief Justice Cockburn had been as fully sifted as those which had come before him (Lord Campbell). He believed that in the nine cases referred to, the whole facts had been carefully ascertained in each case, and that there was not the slightest ground for the suspicion of any improper haste in arriving at a decision. In nearly all the cases referred to the parties had been living separate for many years, and there was no possibility of collusion. He believed, too, that the Court would have a most salutary effect in preventing bigamy from being so common in future as was now the case, because there was no doubt that the impossibility of obtaining a dissolution of marriage under the old system had had a direct tendency to produce bigamy amongst the lower orders.


said, the noble and learned Lord had read rather an unnecessary lecture to his noble Friend, whose remarks were no more than the utterance of what a large number of people thought both out of doors and in their Lordships' House. He was quite confident that if divorces a vinculo matrimonii were obtained with the rapid facility upon which his noble Friend had animadverted—if nine such divorce cases were to be swept off in a single day, as if they were so many petty sessions cases—then those who still believed in the sacredness of marriage as God's ordinance, and whether they thought it might or might not be set aside for great or high causes of offence, would look with much apprehension upon those decisions. Judges were appointed in order that all care should be taken that that greatest of evils, facility of collusion, might not creep in; and in calling their Lordships' attention to this subject, his noble Friend did not impugn any particular judgment, but simply took the bare fact which stared them in the face—namely, the great rapidity with which decisions had been given and the multitude of cases which had been got through in a single day; and he stated that that fact by itself did alarm the moral and religious feelings of the people of this country.


said, that while admitting that the noble Lord (Lord Redesdale) had perfect right to bring a question concerning the administration of justice before their Lordships, he thought that it was most undesirable to do so immediately, and without giving the slightest notice of his intention to any of their Lordships. He had not the slightest objection to "speaking out," but as the noble Lord did not complain of any particular judgment, nor find fault with the law itself, it was clear that his remarks were calculated to cast a severe reflection upon the manner in which the law was administered—a course which was calculated to lower in the esteem of the people the sacred administration of justice in this country. He trusted that if this course was to be repeated it would only be after due notice to their Lordships' House, and that previously the learned persons whose conduct was impugned should be communicated with, in order that they might have the opportunity of defending themselves.


said, he was of opinion that rapidity of decision was an advantage, provided there had not been undue haste, and that proper precautions had been taken to guard against collusion. All such matters were matters of comparison, and he should be glad to know in what it was that the proceedings under the old system afforded any greater security against collusion than existed in the tribunal to which the investigation of these cases was now confided? Under that old system there was no doubt a great deal of parade, and the proceedings were very costly; but did it lead more clearly to the discovery of the truth than the one investigation which was at present instituted before the ordinary judges of the land? What security was there against collusion in the action for crim. con., or in suits which were instituted in the ecclesiastical courts, or in the examinations which were conducted at their Lordships' bar? He protested that in his judgment there was no advantage possessed by that most complicated, dilatory, and costly system, beyond that which was possessed by the present Court. The circumstance of an accumulation of cases chiefly amongst the pauper portion of the community, who had had no opportunity of applying for a divorce before, did not tend to create in Ids mind any doubt whatever with regard to the policy of the measure which their Lordships had so recently passed.


said, that the question before their Lordships related not to the state of the law itself, but to the administration of the law; and he took it for granted that everything had been done by his learned friends at the head of that department of justice with the greatest consideration and propriety. He had read with attention the accounts which had appeared of the proceedings in the new Court, and he was of opinion that there was no fault whatever to be found with the manner in which its decisions had been given. He agreed entirely with his noble and learned Friend (Lord Cranworth), that this House had no means of detecting collusion under the old system which were not possessed by the new Court; and, as far as he could form an opinion from merely reading the reports of the cases in question, justice had been properly administered.


begged to state, in reference to the complaint that his noble Friend (Lord Redesdale) had given no notice of his intention to bring the subject under their Lordships' notice that evening, that his noble Friend had only repeated to-day what he had stated to their Lordships a few evenings since, and that it had been in the power of the Lord Chief Justice to have made himself acquainted with the facts referred to in the interval—for it appeared that the noble and learned Lord did not sit in the Court when the nine unopposed cases and one opposed case were despatched in a single day. As one of those who had opposed the Bill in its passage through this House, it was only natural that his noble Friend (Lord Redesdale), as well as himself, should watch with some anxiety and care the working of a measure of this kind. He was glad, therefore, that his noble Friend had brought forward this subject, and he trusted, if many cases of the kind to which he had alluded occurred, that it would lead to a reconsideration of the whole question.


said, his noble Friend the Chairman of Committees had given no notice whatever of his intention to bring the subject forward again; there was no reason, therefore, why he (Lord Campbell) should have instituted inquiries into the facts.


rose to order. The noble and learned Lord had already addressed their Lordships once, and had no right to speak a second time.


contended that he had a perfect right to explain.


But the noble and learned Lord was answering the speech of my noble Friend.


had merely to say, that he had no reason to expect that such complaints as their Lordships had heard that evening would be made against the administration of justice in the Divorce Court. The Chairman of Committees—("Order!")


said, he had not in the course of these discussions raised any objections to the state of the law, and had never said he wished the old proceedings—by actions for damages, suits in the ecclesiastical courts, and inquiry before their Lordships—should be restored. The present Court might be fully competent to undertake the business, and the law might be amply sufficient to enable it to do so; but there had been great rapidity with regard to certain cases—one of which, as he had already stated, occupied only eleven minutes in despatching—and that rapidity appeared to him to be incompatible with the due consideration of those cases, and the discovery by the Court whether there had been any collusion or not. With respect to the necessity which existed for giving notice of a question of this sort, he should say that any Member of their Lordships' house had a perfect right to animadvert upon statements which appeared in the public papers. He had done so on a former occasion, and the remarks which he then made had been justified by the expression of opinion of gentlemen who practised in the new Court, and who stated that the proceedings to which he alluded had been conducted with undue haste.


said, it was not fair that the noble Lord should be allowed that opportunity of making a second speech which had been denied to the noble and learned Lord (Lord Campbell). This was not an explanation, but an additional string of insinuations directed against the administration of the new Court.


What he had stated was not by way of accusation, but rather of precaution; and he hoped that the expression of opinion would lead to a little more time being allowed for the consideration of these cases hereafter.


said, that what had just taken place could not fail to convey to their Lordships the impression that one degree of license with respect to the privilege of making a second speech was extended to a Chairman of Committees, while a totally different measure was meted out to a Lord Chief Justice.

Bill read 3a.

Amendments made.

Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.