HL Deb 14 March 1859 vol 153 cc89-92

laid on the table a Bill to extend the powers of the Lord Chancellor for providing accommodation for the Court of Chancery. The noble and learned Lord said that in the year 1841, when two additional Vice Chancellors were appointed, the Honourable Society of Lincoln's Inn, at their own expense, erected courts for their accommodation; but those courts, not having been intended to be permanent, were now nearly worn out, and they were small and incommodious. Since that period a change had taken place in the business of the Court of Chancery by the abolition of the Master's offices, and the transfer of their business to the Judges of the Courts and their chief clerks, which rendered it essentially necessary that new courts should be provided. It was indispensable for the transaction of business that the construction of the courts should be such that the Judges and their clerks should be close to each other. Negotiations bad been entered into with the Hon. Society of Lincoln's Inn, who had undertaken to build proper courts on being secured a rent amounting to 4 per cent on the outlay, together with the amount of any loss of rent of premises which it would be necessary to remove in order to make room for the new courts. The existing powers of the Lord Chancellor, were not sufficient for the purpose. Under an Act of 1852 the Lord Chancellor had power to provide out of the funds which should be in the Court suitable buildings for the transaction of the business; but the power only existed of applying the funds year by year. This Bill, therefore, was intended to enable the Lord Chancellor to apply the funds of the Court in paying the rent for a term of ninety-nine years, and for any such further term as might be thought fit, for the purpose of paying a rent not exceeding £4,000 a year, amounting to 4 per cent on the outlay, with rack-rent of the removed premises, as he had adverted to. He should not have thought it necessary to trouble their Lordships with any further remarks; but he was aware that there was in agitation a grand scheme which he was afraid would oppose some obstruction to the limited objects which were sought to be achieved by this Bill. It was very much desired to erect a building for all the courts of law and equity on a site of ground amounting to about seven acres, which would be obtained by removing all the buildings between Carey Street and the Strand. It was a most magnificent plan, and one that would have had his hearty concurrence, if it were not for the means which were proposed to be resorted to in order to effect that object. It was proposed to take £800,000 of the Suitors Fee Fund for the purpose of erecting that building. In the office he filled he was one of the guardians of that fund, and he must object to such an application of it. He must protest against any application of the funds be belonging to the Court of Chancery for the purpose of carrying out that most magnificent scheme. That fund arose originally from an investment of the money which was paid into the Court of Chancery to the account of the Accountant General by the suitors of the court. That money was invested, and the dividends applied in payment of salaries, in payment of compensations, and in all other expenses of the Court. The surplus, after application of the fund to those purposes, was invested for the purpose of providing an indemnity fund against consequences which might possibly ensue from failing of the funds and the original investment not being sufficient for the purposes for which it was intended. That system continued till 1852, when it was considered that the fund had increased to such an extent as to render any further accumulation of the fund unnecessary for the protection of suitors. Under those circumstances the Suitors Relief Act was passed in 1852, by which it was provided that the surplus of that Indemnity Fund should be carried over to the Fee Fund, and the consequence had been that the Court had been able to reduce to a very considerable extent the fees on proceedings in the Court. He understood that the plan to which he had just adverted was that Government should guarantee the payment of the different compensations, salaries, and pensions, which were only temporary and gradually dying out, to the extent of £30,000 a year, and that when all those salaries, pensions, and compensations came to an end, no further payment would have to be made. It appeared to him to be a most extraordinary scheme to propose to take away a sum of £800,000 from the suitors of the Court of Chancery, the interest of that sum (£30,000) to be paid by the Government, and that when these compensations came to an end, and the pensions were no longer to be paid, instead of allowing the fees of suitors to be reduced by the amount of the pensions no longer to be paid, to entirely abstract the £800,000 from the Suitors' Fund for other purposes. That appeared to him to be a most improper application of the particular funds belonging to the Court of Chancery. He had stated that possibly there might be objections offered to his limited scheme by reason of that grander and larger plan. It was supposed that the plan of building courts for the Vice Chancellors might prevent the larger plan being carried out. He would at all events say this, that wherever the funds were to come from it would take a great number of years before the great scheme could be carried out. In the mean time new courts were required for the Vice Chancellors, and there was no good reason why they should be put off until that scheme, however important, could be carried out. He did not know that these Vice Chancellors' courts could be obstructive to the general scheme of a building for all the courts, because they would not be more than 250 yards from the new courts. It therefore struck him that they would rather further than obstruct the larger plan. Under these circumstances he trusted their Lordships would consent to the introduction of the Bill.

Bill presented, and read 1a.

House adjourned at a quarter to Six o'clock, till to-morrow, half past Ten o'clock.