HL Deb 28 April 1865 vol 178 cc1171-92

Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.


My Lords, In rising to move the second reading of this Bill I cannot help expressing my conviction that your Lordships have rarely been asked to give your assent to a measure of legal reform of greater importance. Nothing is more striking than the disregard which this country has so long manifested for the manner in which its Courts of Justice are constructed, and accommodation afforded for the proper administration of justice. If the character of the country were to be determined by the external appearance and condition of these Courts, undoubtedly the conclusion would be that there was very little regard and very little anxiety as to the mode in which justice was administered among us; for if the construction and locality of our Law Courts and Offices had been wantonly designed on purpose to impede and render difficult the administration of justice, it is impossible to imagine a state of things more calculated to promote that view. Undoubtedly, every kind of facility should be given for the administration of justice; but if you require the Judges, the practitioners of the law, the juries, and the parties resorting to Courts of Justice to come into places which are not one tenth equal to their accommodation, and in which the atmosphere is so vitiated that the body becomes enfeebled, and the mind of necessity partakes of the enfeeblement, it is utterly impossible in that state of things that justice can be properly administered. You now require a number of Courts for the purposes of law, and a further number of Courts for equity. The Courts of Law are located in the immediate neighbourhood of Westminster Hall; but they consist of buildings wretchedly insufficient for the purpose. Whenever the Court of Queen's Bench requires to have a Judge sitting at Nisi Prius, there is no better accommodation than that which is afforded by a small and insignificant room, which is called the Bail Court, but which was very correctly described by a certain Member of the House of Commons, who unfortunately practises in that Court, as nothing better than "a dog-hole." The other Courts of Nisi Prius are equally inconvenient and equally difficult of access to suitors or practitioners. As to the Courts of Equity, those coustructed for thepuisne Vice Chancellors are places in which it is utterly impossible for either Judges or practitioners to remain for any considerable period of time without being affected by the impure atmosphere, and finding their ability to give full attention to the causes very greatly impaired. The other Courts, which are sometimes referred to as more wholesome than those I have mentioned, may be tolerably convenient as Courts, but they are utterly devoid of the requisite accommodation. The Lord Chancellor has only one room, which he is obliged to share with his three secretaries, and the other Courts are equally deficient in the proper accommodation. It is not, however, merely the material construction of these Courts that is so objectionable, it is their locality also which so much interferes with the requirements for the proper administration of justice. The Courts of Law are at Westminster; but the chambers of the Judges are in Serjeants' Inn, at the bottom of Chancery Lane; and it constantly happens that the Judge sits half the day in Court in Westminster Hall and is obliged to rise much earlier than would otherwise be necessary in order to go to chambers. In like manner, the offices of the Courts of Law are scattered about in different localities; and the same thing is true of the offices connected with the Courts of Equity—they are equally scattered and equally inconvenient of access; and altogether it is impossible that business can be conducted without great peril of breaking appointments and great danger of counsel not being present when they are wanted—involving also great loss of time and consequent increase of expense to the suitors. This subject is thoroughly well known, and I think there is not likely to be any difference of opinion among your Lordships on this point—it must be self evident to every one who has considered the subject, that if all the Courts of Justice could be brought together under one roof, if the necessary offices and chambers were provided for the Judges and the clerks, consultation rooms and libraries for barristers, and waiting rooms for witnesses and jurors, the administration of justice would be greatly benefited, great delay would be avoided, and great economy and convenience would be afforded to suitors and all other persons. The object of the Bill now before your Lordships is to accomplish that most desirable object—an object which, as is usual in this country, has been admitted to be desirable and right for a long period of time—extending, I believe, in this case, over forty years. The subject was first agitated, I think, in the year 1822, but nothing effectual has been proposed until now. For the greater portion of that interval the particular locality which this Bill points out has been fixed upon as the most convenient site for the proposed concentration. It is not, however, until now that any sincere and earnest effort has been made by the Legislature towards effecting this desirable improvement, and towards performing that which is one of its primary duties—namely, the erection of Courts of Justice corresponding to and commensurate with its dignity, and proper for the discharge of the duties of the Judges and the functions of those concerned in the administration of justice. The same reasons which lead the mind to the necessity of concentrating the Courts also point to the locality in which they should be concentrated. The site now proposed is not only in the centre of the metropolis, but constitutes what I may call the umbilicus of the legal locality. It extends over about 7½ acres, bounded on the East by Bell Yard, which runs parallel to Chancery Lane, on the North by Carey Street, on the West by Clement's Lane, and on the South by the Strand. The whole of this locality is covered with houses of the meanest and the most wretched description. The place, in short, seems as if it had been left on purpose to answer the use for which it is now proposed to be employed; and while you are converting the site to this great public purpose and are conferring this great public benefit you are incidentally rendering another benefit, not equal in amount, but still of great value, by weeding out of the centre of London a nest of fever and a receptable of all sorts of abominations. This locality is one, above all others, which is most accessible to lawyers, with the least amount of interruption to their business, their offices being all connected with it, and therefore with the greatest amount of benefit to their clients in consequence of the saving of time and expense. All these things require hardly more than to be stated for the mind to see at once that which is the great end of the measure and the ground which justifies it—namely, the advantage in respect of the administration of justice. Now, having said thus much with regard to the locality and the concentration of the Courts, I will proceed to the provisions of the Bill. My Lords, this Bill, directed as it is to the attainment of a great public object, professes to accomplish that object without taking one shilling of the public money. The financial part of the measure requires some explanation, and I beg your Lordships' attention while I carry the House through some details, in order that you may be the better able to understand this portion of the scheme. The sources from which the money required for the acquisition of the land and the building of the Courts of Justice are intended to be derived are three. First of all, there is a sum of £200,000, which is to be advanced by the Government as the price of the buildings and ground, the site of the present Courts of Law, which the Government will have received and will have at their disposal when these Courts have been erected. Now, my Lords, I take it—and a very slight examination of the subject would bring any one of information to the same conclusion—that the property which the Government will receive in return for this £200,000 greatly exceeds that sum in point of value. First of all, the whole of the site to the West of Westminster Hall now occupied by the Courts of Justice will be entirely released and given up to the Government. I think it was in the year 1850 that the late Sir Charles Barry valued that piece of land, if it were sold for building purposes, at upwards of £86,000; and there are a large number of buildings in other places which are now used for purposes connected with the Courts of Justice which I have no doubt will become available for a sum of money considerably exceeding the rest of the £200,000. The next source of the money to be expended is afforded by the Suitors' Fund in the Court of Chancery; and here, my Lords, I must beg your Lordships' attention for a few moments to some details which are requisite to understand the nature of that fund, and the manner in which it admits of being appropriated to this purpose. Your Lordships are all aware that the Court of Chancery may be described not only as a Court of Justice, but in reality as a great bank, in which considerable sums belonging to the suitors are deposited. These sums are not required on many occasions to be invested and they therefore accumulate in the hands of the Accountant General until they arrive at a very considerable amount. My Lords, in ancient times, and as lately as the year 1725, these unemployed balances were permitted to be applied by the Masters to their own personal benefit. The same practice, your Lordships are aware, formerly existed in the case of the Paymaster of the Forces, who was allowed to retain large balances, and the profits of the office arose in a great measure from the interest derived from that money. But in the year 1725 it was found that some of the Masters in the Court of Chancery were defaulters with regard to this money, and shortly afterwards, for the purpose of reimbursing the moneys which had been improperly applied, provision was made by means of a tax which was laid upon all suitors in the Courts, including the suitors in the Common Law Courts. Subsequently, about the 20th year of George II., the propriety of making use of some of those balances occurred to the Legislature; and accordingly an Act of Parliament was passed by which the Accountant General, acting under the authority of the Lord Chancellor, was empowered to invest in the public funds such sums as were not required for the ordinary purposes of the Courts. These investments grew to a large amount, and from them a considerable income was derived. The Court of Chancery, therefore, did, with regard to the moneys it received from the suitors, precisely what an ordinary banker does with respect to the money of his customers. He receives the money of those customers, retains the amount which may be necessary for the purposes of the bank, and invests the difference, the profit resulting from that investment being the banker's property. In like manner, the income resulting from these Chancery investments has been dealt with by Parliament again and again as money which belonged to the public, and which the public had a right to employ in any manner it pleased, and to regard as standing in the same relation to itself as the profits of the banker stand to him. The profits, therefore, resulting from these investments have been applied under the authority of Parliament to a great variety of purposes. Sometimes parts have been applied to buildings belonging to the Court of Chancery, at other times in part payment of the salaries of officials, and at other times to other purposes connected with the law— all these applications evincing this great principle—that Parliament regarded it as a public fund, to be devoted from time to time to such objects as might be deemed necessary for the public welfare. The funds representing the investment of the suitors' money from time to time amount now to a sum of £2,931,047. That is not the fund with which this Bill proposes to deal in any manner whatever—it belongs to the suitors whose money has produced this amount. But, my Lords, the profit, which I will denominate the banker's profit fund, has grown out of the dividends resulting from these investments, and belongs to no one but the State, at whose risk the investments have been made. If the stock produced by this money was not sufficient for the repayment of the suitors to the full amount, the State would be bound to make good the difference. Now, there is very little apprehension that the money which upon an average has been invested taking Consols at 87, will not be forthcoming when required. Unless there should be a general failure in the institutions of the country, it would be utterly impossible that there should be any deficiency in the amount of those investments. Now what I have called "the banker's profit fund "—that is to say the amount of stock which has resulted from the reinvestment of the dividends on the original investments—amounts to £1,291,629. That is the sum which I have described as public money, which has been repeatedly dealt with by the State as such, and belongs to no individual whatever. The object of the Bill is to take out of the fund £1,000,000 of stock, which at 90 will raise £900,000. The sum which it is desirable to raise is £1,500,000, and this is divisible into two parts. The first moiety of £750,000 is to be applied as purchase-money of the buildings and lands upon which the Courts of Justice and offices are proposed to be erected. There is every reason to believe that this estimate is beyond the amount that will be required. This particular site was valued originally in 1849 by Sir Charles Barry and a surveyor of great local information at £670,000. It was afterwards valued by another surveyor at £678,000; and finally, for the purposes of the Commission issued by my noble Friend below me, it was re-valued, and the Commissioners saw no reason to distrust the accuracy of the former valuations. The property was subsequently valued by Mr. Hunt, a surveyor employed by the Government, and also by Mr. Pennethorne, Architect of the Board of Works, and they put the extreme value at £700,000, so that in allowing £750,000 there is little reason to suppose that sum will be exceeded. There is a margin of £50,000; and if the management of this building is conducted with care and prudence, and if its construction should have the competent and fitting superintendence which it is the object of this Bill to secure, and which it is the desire of the Government it should receive, there is no reason to expect any great excess of expenditure above the estimate. That leaves £400,000 still to be raised, in order to make up the sum of £1,500,000, and this sum of £400,000 it is proposed to supply by a small tax on suitors in the Courts of Law, and on those who prove wills and take out letters of administration in the Probate Court. A very trifling sum of 1s. 6d. payable on every writ issued in an action, and of 2s. 6d. on every grant of probate or administration, will be quite sufficient to produce more than the sum of £16,000 a year. The sum of £400,000 will be advanced by the Government, charging the Courts of Justic 3¼ per cent, and then the sum of £16,000 a year having been raised for fifty years, the principal and interest of the capital sum will be redeemed. The amount of additional charge is so small that it will not be felt by the suitors of the Courts of Law, and, therefore, this great public work will not cost the public a shilling. It will be accomplished by the appropriation of money that it is perfectly right and just to take, and which in its appropriation will render the suitors a greater amount of advantage than they could obtain in any other way. I must trespass for a few moments on your Lordships' patience while I advert to the grounds on which my noble and learned Friend (Lord St. Leonards) will probably rest his opposition to this measure. In 1834 a great change was made by an Act of Parliament in substituting fixed salaries for the fees that had been previously received by the officers of the Courts of Justice. All the fees were then directed to be carried to the Fee Fund, out of which the fixed salaries were paid. My noble and learned Friend (Lord St. Leonards) brought in a very useful Act of Parliament in 1852, by which the whole of the income arising from the fund I have described, including the income from the sum of £1,290,000, was to be carried to the account of the Suitors' Fee Fund, and to be from time to time applied under the direction of the Lord Chancellor in the reduction of the court fees. It is natural that my noble and learned Friend should continue to be attached to his own measure, and he has come to the conclusion that the best application of the sum of £1,291,629, or any part of it, would be in making a further reduction in the fees of court instead of applying it to the erection of the concentrated Courts of Law with all the necessary conveniences. But the fees of court payable by suitors form only an insignificant proportion—not more than 8 per cent—of the whole amount of costs—in a bill of costs, that is to say, of £100, the fees of court will amount to £8 only. If every portion of the income derived from the money now proposed to be taken were applied to the reduction of the fees of court it would not reduce them more than from 8 to 4 per cent; that is to say, out of every £100 paid by the suitor he would have to pay, as fees of court, £4 instead of £8. Now, in what way will the suitor get greater benefit by this Bill than by reducing the fees of court? Why, he will get it by expedition, by a diminution of delay, by the saving of time as well as by the economy of expenditure which will be the consequence of this concentration of the Courts of Law. The best witnesses on this point are the solicitors, and they state to a man that the benefit which the suitors will derive from this measure will be infinitely beyond that which they would derive from the diminution of court fees. On this point there is no conflict of testimony. My noble and learned Friend stands in a situation which does not dismay him, but he stands alone, for he can bring forward the testimony of no single witness to support his view. No man of weight in his profession would support my noble and learned Friend in the opinion to which he naturally clings, or assert that the benefit of reducing the court fees would be greater than that conferred by this measure. All this is manifested in a remarkable way not only by the testimony collected from other sources, but by the testimony obtained by the Commission issued by the late Government in 1852. A large number of solicitors of the greatest respectability and experience, and whose opinion is entitled to the greatest weight, were examined, and all concurred in think- ing that this measure, if passed, will be a measure not for a single moment to be contrasted, in regard to the benefit of the suitor, with the benefits resulting from the reduction of the fees of court. The accomplishment of this object has been much facilitated by the device which has been hit upon of separating those portions of the fund that were regarded as applicable to the building of these courts from the portions charged with the payment of compensation. Some years ago compensations were granted in considerable numbers to officers of the Court of Chancery, on occasion of certain alterations made in that court, and were charged upon the income derived partly from the Suitors' Fund and partly from the Fee Fund. Out of the Fee Fund there has arisen another fund, consisting of the investment of the surplus, and now amounting to £201,208. The amount of existing compensations has been accurately ascertained, and we find that on the 1st of January of the present year these amounted to £49,369 per annum; and the experience of the last nine years shows that these compensations fall in at the rate of about £3,500 yearly. From calculations made by actuaries we find that the whole of these annuities might be redemed or capitalized for the sum of £437,900. Tour Lordships will remember that the residue of the bankers' profit fund, after deducting the £1,000,000, will amount to nearly £300,000; and, adding to this the £201,000, the surplus of the Fee Fund, a sum will be obtained which will be equal, and more than equal, to redeem the whole of these annuities. Whether, therefore, we buy Government annuities of equal amount, or whether the Government becomes its own insurer and takes its chance of the annuities running out, as it is expected they will do in eighteen years, the calculation is that the funds I have mentioned will leave a surplus of £150,000. If they are capitalized, then the surplus income that will be derived from the surplus funds that I have mentioned, after raising £433,000 will yield a clear income of between £4,000 and £5,000 a year. In every point of view, therefore, the financial scheme seems open to no possible objection—to no danger of miscarriage. There can be no purpose more akin to the origin of the fund itself, more just, or more germane to the character of the moneys that we purpose shall be thus allocated, than the raising of a large Temple or Palace of Justice commensurate with the dignity of the country, in which conveniences shall exist conducing greatly to the useful administration of justice. And I cannot conceal from your Lordships, that I am sanguine enough to believe that in accomplishing this great object there will probably be another benefit, infinitely greater than any which I have stated. You are all aware that in this country, from an unfortunate circumstance connected with its early history, it became necessary to establish different legal institutions, in the shape of Courts of Equity, from those which previously existed; and hence it was that a large portion of national justice that ought to have fallen under the administration of the Courts of Law became separated, and relegated altogether to the jurisdiction of Equity. Unfortunately, therefore, you have this great anomaly, that many of the most important relations of life will not be recognized by Courts of Law. The ordinary relations of trustee and beneficiary, those subsisting between partners, and again between executors and legatees, are either ignored altogether by the Courts of Law, or else they provide no adequate remedy in cases where these several relations are involved. The result is that you have two great departments of justice, one proceeding on principles sometimes antagonistic to those of the other—one of them recognizing certain things as just and right of which the other knows, and for which it cares nothing. This is a great evil in the administration of justice, and it is very desirable that there should be a simple and uniform mode of procedure adopted by all the Courts. Unluckily this division has been to a great extent perpetuated by the manner in which the Courts of Equity have been separated in point of locality from the Courts of Law. But if they were brought together—if there were a free communication of ideas and opinions between the practitioners in one set of Courts and the practitioners in the other, and if the habits and modes of procedure of both were rendered familiar and matters of daily contemplation to the profession, this great division, which it has been the desire of modern legislation to break down, would soon disappear, and we should be enabled to say that our Courts of Justice recognized the same principles and the same method of procedure, and that the same questions would be treated in all the Courts with one uniform set of principles and maxims of justice. I expect, undoubtedly, that this will be the remote consequence of the measure that I desire now to propose. Its immediate consequences are those which I have endeavoured imperfectly to describe, but which are abundantly manifested by the eager desire of all persons interested in the administration of justice not to allow this Parliament to pass away without the accomplishment of this one public object. It has been opposed at various times; but I am glad to say that within the last few weeks that opposition has almost entirely disappeared; so much so that I am happy to state to your Lordships that even the Society of Lincoln's Inn, who were its great opponents, have joined in presenting a petition to the House of Commons, earnestly praying that the measure may pass; and I have reason to believe that this view will also be embodied in a petition to be presented to your Lordships. There are many other subjects connected with this matter that I should be glad to refer to had I any reason to believe that any serious opposition is intended to the Bill; but I do trust my hon. and learned Friends will join with all those whose names we have heard to-day in support of this measure; because I am convinced that of all the proposals I have seen since I have had the honour of belonging to the profession this undoubtedly is one of the most desirable, full of the greatest promise, calculated to effect the greatest amount of benefit, and with regard to which no sincere and true Reformer would, I think, desire to see his name recorded in opposition.

Moved, That the Bill be now read 2a—(The Lord Chancellor.)


said, he had taken former opportunities of stating that he had no objection whatever to the concentration of the Law Courts. Once the site was fixed upon, and the proper funds found for the accomplishment of the object, the proposal itself would receive no opposition at his hands. His noble and learned Friend, indeed, in his zeal for the measure, had, he thought, over-estimated some of the inconveniences and dangers connected with the existing system. Until he heard his noble and learned Friend enumerate them—the want of accommodation, the unwholesome atmosphere, and other inconveniences connected with our courts—he had but a very faint conception of the miseries among which so many years of his life had been passed. His noble and learned Friend had not attained the same age as himself, but yet he was not a bad specimen of how a man might face the terrible atmosphere in which, according to his own account, he had so long been doomed to live. His noble and learned Friend had also favoured them with a dissertation on a subject which he had not expected to find introduced on that occasion—the fusion, or as he (Lord St. Leonards) should call it, the confusion—of law and equity, and seemed to think that both departments of the law would soon be conducted on the same principles if the courts could only be brought to meet in the same locality. When, however, the Court of King's Bench and the Court of the Lord Chancellor occupied a position in Westminster Hall in the closest contiguity to one another, not the slightest advance was made towards the amalgamation of the two distinct legal systems which they administered, and no human being ever thought of such an amalgamation. He therefore believed that his noble and learned Friend must take a different course if he desired to bring about that object. Lord Campbell, when he held the Great Seal, he might add, had introduced a Bill to effect that object, but the Select Committee to which it was referred came to the unanimous decision that all the clauses relating to the fusion of law and equity should be struck out; while the Lord Chancellor, who presided over the deliberations of the Committee, had never attempted to disturb that decision, although he had announced it to be his intention to take the sense of the House with respect to it. But be that as it might, the fact was that the Bill under discussion would not result in the concentration of all the courts on one spot. The Central Criminal Court, the Bankruptcy Court, and the various Nisi Prius Courts would not, for instance, be included in the scheme. It was, indeed, proposed that it should embrace the Divorce and Lunacy Courts; but he very much doubted whether it would tend to the public advantage that the former court should be made more easy of access to the number of young men having very little to do, who were in the habit of lounging from one court to another. For his own part, he thought it would be productive of very great advantage if the cases which came before the Divorce Court could as far as possible be heard in private; while nothing, he thought, could be more painful than that the friends and relations of those unhappy persons whose cases came before the Lunacy Commissioners should be obliged to attend in a court situated in the midst of several others, and therefore more liable to be the centre of a large crowd. Such a tribunal ought, in his opinion, to be as quiet as it could be made, and ought to be excluded from such an atmosphere as that by which it would be surrounded if removed to the new site. It must, moreover, be borne in mind, in dealing with the question, that their Lordships' House would not be prepared to abandon its jurisdiction, that the Privy Council would not part with theirs, and that those great tribunals, therefore, would find no place in the proposed plan. The Charity Commissioners and the Inclosure Commissioners were still to be left in expensive residencies in St. James's Square, and the Land Transfer Court in Lincoln's Inn; Fields. But the truth was that there was no intelligible plan whatsoever, and that being so, he for one was entirely opposed, at all events, to the removal of the Courts of Equity. He said nothing of the removal of the Courts of Law, except that he thought that the funds which it was proposed to take ought not to be appropriated to such a purpose. As regarded the Courts of Equity, they were six—namely, the Lord Chancellor's, the Lords Justices, the Master of the Rolls, the Court of the senior Vice Chancellor, and the two courts of the junior Vice Chancellors. Now having himself presided in one of them, he could bear testimony to the fact that it was well ventilated and convenient. The Master of the Rolls, he might add, had stated in his evidence that there was not the slightest objection to the court in which he sat, while it had the advantage of being close to the Record Office, over which he was trustee, and in the immediate vicinity of which it was desirable he should be located. The Rolls Court, nevertheless, it was proposed to remove, for no other reason that he could see than the love of change, advantage being taken of the fact that two of the Vice Chancellors' Courts were not all that could be desired in order to get up an agitation on the subject. Those courts, however, might very easily be improved, and they would have been before now—for the Society of Lincoln's Inn were prepared to remedy the deficiency—but for the scheme under discussion, which had been a long time in contemplation. But let him suppose the Courts of Common Law only were concentrated on the proposed site, was it not evident that they would be in as close proximity to the Equity Courts as could be wished? It was only a few steps across from the present Equity Courts to the site of the Courts yet to be erected. He said, therefore, that it was not necessary to remove the Courts of Equity to the proposed site, and that they were to be taken there only as an excuse to enable the Government to help itself to the funds which belonged to the suitors, and which ought not to be touched for such a purpose. His noble and learned Friend had told their Lordships that the Carey Street site would embrace about seven acres and a half of ground; but he had not told them that there were now upon that space about 400 dwelling-houses, warehouses, and buildings; that the dwellinghouses were inhabited by more than 4,000 persons, and that of these upwards of 3,000 and some hundreds belonged to the labouring classes. He had, indeed, truly told them that many of the occupants of these houses were of filthy habits, and that fever was always to be found upon this spot. What, then, were they going to do? Where were they going to remove this misery? Whither where they going to carry the fever? Wherever they moved these people they would be moving fever patients. The question had been put in every possible form, and no man had been able to indicate a single locality in which they would be received. Would they remove them in a state of fever? They would never find them free from it, and what was to become of them? There had been no greater misfortune in this city than these displacements of vast masses of human beings, who were left to find a settlement for themselves. The consequence of such measures was that they were driven into districts already overburdened with population, and thus the evils of overcrowding became greater every day. Would there be less fever or more cleanly habits in the places to which the people who were to be displaced under this Bill would be driven than now existed among them? They could not sleep under the canopy of Heaven—they must have some dwellings—where were they to be found? There was no attempt made in this great Government measure to find a single habitation for any one person whom it would drive out of his house. Where was the care which the Government ought to take of the people whom it was about to disturb? Where was the regard to the health and happiness of the humble classes for whom so much sympathy was expressed? The Government were about, unnecessarily, to disturb the Courts in Lincoln's Inn, in order to clear a site which was covered by houses occupied by a population whom they were driving out of house and home, and who had no place to flee to. And they might avoid much of this mischief by leaving the Courts of Equity in Lincoln's Inn, where they had been for a century and a half, and which were well suited for the purposes to which they had been dedicated. Where was the money to come from? It was a wise thing to take care before you began to build a house that you had money to pay for it; but he could nowhere find any reliable evidence as to what would be the cost of this building. The evidence which had been given upon that subject was perfectly farcical. It was singular that the Government did not at first think it necessary to provide for accesses to this mass of congregated Courts. The words "including approaches" were added to the Bill in the House of Commons, and since then accesses had been talked about, but without describing what they were to be. What where the accesses which the Government intended to provide? Some years ago he was a Member of a Committee of the House of Commons which sat upon a Bill, the object of which was the concentration of the Courts in Lincoln's Inn Fields; and the late Sir Charles Barry, then Mr. Barry, admitted, in answer to questions which he put to him, that it would be necessary in order to provide approaches to open out the two Turnstiles and clear away Clare Market, and he could not deny that these openings might not cost a million of money, but, alarmed at the admission, he on the following day produced an elaborate plan, according to which the cost of these alterations was to be provided for by the erection of buildings upon the land which would not be required for the accesses. What was necessary to be done then would be necessary now. The two Turnstiles must be pulled down—Lincoln's Inn would object to any interference with one of them—Clare Market must be got rid of, and all these streets must be widened at the expense of the suitors in the Court of Chancery. Could anything be worse than the street which now ran from Covent Garden to Lincoln's Inn Fields? It was a dirty wretched lane, in which two carriages could not pass, and if these Courts were to be erected upon the site proposed it must be widened and improved. Not one tittle of evidence had been laid before the House to prove that any of the proposed plans could be carried out for the sum mentioned by his noble and learned Friend. He now came to the most important part of the question—namely, the right they had to take the Suitor's Fund, and to apply it to building Common Law as well as Equity Courts. On this point the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack had followed the example of the Commissioners, and had professed to regard the Fund as belonging to the public, and liable to be dealt with accordingly. If it were true that the Fund was public property, how was it that successive Governments had not helped themselves to the million sterling, which would often have been very acceptable? How was it that no Chancellor of the Exchequer had been tempted to seize upon it? The reason was that they had not dared to touch it—they had not dared to touch it because the foundation of this country's prosperity was its integrity and its honesty of purpose. If this measure were carried, they would break in upon the rights of property to a greater extent than had ever been attempted during the course of the last century, and they would find it a most unexampled and a most dangerous proceeding. If the argument of the noble and learned Lord were well founded, why should they not also seize upon the two millions in the hands of the Charity Commissioners? Why should not those two millions be taken and the interest upon them paid by the public? Why not seize the money, enter the transaction in a "Great Book," and leave the rightful owners to the mercy of future Governments? He regarded such transactions as putting an unholy hand upon the property of others, and as contrary to the constitution of the country, and setting an example akin to that of France in its most violent revolutionary periods. The recital of the Bill said the Fund was standing to an account for the benefit and the better security of the suitors in the Court of Chancery, and that it had been accumulated from the profits of investment at the risk of the Government. Well, a pickpocket certainly ran some risk in helping himself to other people's property, but it had never been suggested before that the risk he ran gave him the right of ownership in the property he stole. The noble and learned Lord had drawn an analogy between the case now under discussion and that of a banker and his customer. But no such analogy existed. The only customers were the suitors whose property was dealt with. If it suited a person's purpose to deposit money with a banker, the parties immediately stood in the relation of creditor and debtor—there was nothing of the nature of a trust in the transaction, and the banker took the money on the clear understanding that he was to use it for his own benefit. He would ask their Lordships also to observe how the present proposition infringed upon the general principles of equity. If a man placed money in the hands of a trustee without any authority to invest it, but the trustee did, notwithstanding, invest it—in the Three per Cents, for instance—he would be compelled to transfer the stock to the owner of the money, and also to pay the costs of suit. Such a trustee would not be entitled to any profit of such investment, whilst he would be liable for all loss. In like manner the Court of Chancery had no right to a single shilling of profit out of the funds now in question, which it held in trust for the benefit of the suitors. Nor, had the public any right to them, for every shilling belonged to the suitors in the Court of Chancery. It is said that no individual suitor has a right to any portion of the Fund; but the suitors, as a class, are entitled to it. He held in his hand a statement of all the Acts of Parliament relating to these Funds, and they all showed that every investment of these moneys had always been carried to the credit of an account for the ease, or the benefit, and security of the suitors in the Court of Chancery. He believed that if these funds were now taken possession of for other purposes the time would come when the precedent thus set would be lamented. By the Act of 1852 the Lord Chancellor was authorized from time to time to vary, reduce, and abolish any fees, and to substitute others in place of them; and the salaries of such of the Equity Judges as were payable by Act of Parliament out of the Suitors' Fund were charged on the Consolidated Fund, instead of being paid out of the money of the suitors. What could be more absurd than the course now proposed, when in 1852 the Suitors' Fund was relieved from a charge of £9,000 a year, to which it was actually liable, because it was said that a public liability should not be placed upon this fund, but ought to be entirely borne by the State. After that proceeding it was ridiculous for the Government now to treat the fund as a public fund and to help themselves to a million of pounds out of it. He disapproved altogether the proposal to take the Suitors' Fee Fund for building these Courts. The Bills before the House indirectly, but actually, repealed existing Acts of Parliament with regard to this Fund; and by law and by every consideration of equity and right the Fund stood pledged to the suitors for the reduction of the fees with which they were chargeable.


said, this was a subject on which it was well known that his noble and learned Friend (Lord St. Leonards) entertained a strong and, as he hoped the House would think, an extreme opinion. He would not attempt to offer any reply to the arguments of the noble and learned Lord, except in connection with another part of the subject, to which he wished for a few moments to direct attention. He thought that his noble and learned Friend had failed to draw a proper distinction between two wholly separate parts of the subject—between objections taken to the system under which this Fund had arisen, and objections to taking possession of the Fund now it existed and was at the disposal of Parliament. As to the question whether this Fund was or was not at the disposal of Parliament it was necessary to inquire how it had arisen—now it had arisen in this way. It had been the custom of the Court of Chancery for a century and a half to place before its suitors this option, "If you bring money into court, you may either order its investment by us, in which case you do so at the risk of your capital; or, if you decline that risk, you may leave the capital in our hands, and we will then pay no interest whatever, but will fund the capital on behalf of the Court." Under these circumstances, three separate funds arose, and it was unfortunate that the expression, "The Suitors' Fee Fund," had been technically applied to that very one of the three which in no respect belonged to suitors and never could belong to them. The Suitors' Fund properly so called in- cluded money which the suitors wished to have invested by the Court, and of which not only the capital but the interest belonged to the suitors. The second was money the investment of which they did not direct, and of which the capital belonged to the suitors, the interest being appropriated by the Court. Lastly, there was the accumulated interest which had arisen from this capital, and which the parties knew all along would be appropriated by the Court of Chancery or by Parliament. For 120 years the suitors had notice that what was called the Suitors' Fund would not be considered theirs at all except as a guarantee fund against any loss of their own capital; and for this a new Parliamentary guarantee was now proposed. His noble and learned Friend (Lord St. Leonards) had not pretended to argue that the money of that Fund belonged to any individual suitor, but maintained that it was the property of the suitors as a class. But how could suitors in the Court of Chancery be denned as a class? Part of the money had been derived from Tom Jones in 1765, and the noble and learned Lord argued that it belonged to John Robinson in 1865. Why, that fund for 120 years had, by authority of Parliament, been applied to the payment of the officers of the Court of Chancery, to the building of courts, and was at that moment charged with some £12,000 a year for the administration of the estates of lunatics—a charge which undoubtedly ought to come out of the estates of the lunatics subject to the Lunacy Commission. In every sense, therefore, it was a fund disposable by Parlialiament. And now he came to the question whether that money ought ever to have been taken from the suitors under the system which had prevailed since the early part of the last century. Upon that subject he sympathized largely in the feeling which his noble and learned Friend had expressed that night, and also in a speech upon a former occasion. In 1861, under the Chancellorship of the late Lord Campbell, a Commission for the purpose of inquiring into that question was appointed; he (the Duke of Argyll) happened to be Chairman, and, with the exception of one Member, they came to the conclusion that it was not a just system towards the suitors that those who did not choose to invest their money should lose the whole of the interest upon it, and that the whole of that interest should be devoted to the purposes of the Court of Chancery. It was the opinion of the members of the Commission that the Court of Chancery ought not to pay its expenses out of fees which were levied on the suitors, and that if it was the object of Parliament that the Court of Chancery should support itself to a great extent by fees levied upon suitors, it should be done upon a system which should levy the tax equally and justly upon all the suitors coming into the court; but that was not done at present. A large portion of the funds of the Court of Chancery was brought into it by persons who had no beneficial interest whatever in the money. They got rid of their responsibility and were perfectly indifferent as to the accumulation of interest. Under those circumstances it constantly happened that rather than risk the investment of the capital, they left the money in the hands of the Court, and those to whom it belonged lost the whole of the interest during all the years the litigation might be carried on. He did not think that was just. It should be remembered that there were many suitors in the Court of Chancery who brought into it no money whatever. Therefore, so far as the expenses of the Court were paid out of the funds of those who brought money into it, they were defrayed by them alone. He thought that system unjust, and that the funds ought never to have been allowed to accumulate as they had done. He had no doubt whatever that now they belonged practically to no one individual nor to any body, but were at the disposal of the Parliament of the United Kingdom.


said, the question divided itself into two heads—first, whether the concentration of the Courts was desirable in itself; and secondly, whether the funds which it was proposed to devote to that object could justly be so applied. With regard to the expediency of concentrating the Courts, as an abstract proposition, no one could have any doubt upon the subject. To have the Courts, if not under one roof, at all events as easily accessible from one another as possible would be of great advantage. Rut having said so much he should be acting dishonestly if he were not to add that his noble and learned Friend (the Lord Chancellor) had in his opinion greatly exaggerated the advantages which were likely to result from that concentration. His noble and learned Friend had talked of diminishing the expenses of litigation. But he (Lord Cranworth) did not think that any perceptible diminution of expense would follow the change. He ventured to predict that not one of their Lordships would live long enough to see a single 6s. 8d. reduced to 3s. 4d. in consequence of the concentration of the Law Courts. No doubt it would be convenient to practitioners, Judges, and witnesses attending the Courts to have them in one place and this was a very desirable object. It was commonly said that it would be convenient to suitors. He doubted that. A man was unfortunate who had one suit in his life, and, if that were so, suitors would not personally derive great advantage from the change. But the important part of the question was as to the funds. Upon that subject he entirely agreed with his noble and learned Friend on the Woolsack, and entirely differed from his noble and learned Friend (Lord St. Leonards) who had just left the House. He went to the utmost possible length upon that point. The moment a litigant was by order of the Court compelled to pay his money into court he was compelled to do so by the State, by the authority of which the Court acted, and having so paid his money the State was bound to have the money forthcoming for him when he should require it. The State was banker; the Accountant General, the Court of Chancery, and all its functionaries were merely persons employed to manage the money. If, then, the State took the money upon its own responsibility it was entitled to take it for any particular purpose, and, as a large sum was wanted for Courts of Justice, it seemed a very good way of applying the money. But there was another portion of the scheme which he deeply deplored, and that was the tax upon affidavits and other law proceedings not in the Court of Chancery, but in the other Courts. His noble Friend the Duke of Argyll had taunted him with adhering to Bentham's policy. But he was free to acknowledge that he deeply regretted that the theory of that eminent man on the subject of Law Taxes should be thrown overboard. The first duty of the State was to provide machinery by which a man might be enabled to recover a right which was withheld from him; and the moment a tax was imposed upon him, before he could obtain his right, that was done by which Jeremy Bentham pointed out in a way that was unanswerable—the first principles on which Government was founded were violated. If, as in some continental countries, they were to tax the losing party on the ground that he had withheld his rights from an innocent man, that might admit of more justification; but the tax which it was now proposed to impose extending as it did to litigants generally he deeply deplored. He approved the site chosen for the Courts, and could not think there was any danger of noise reaching those buildings from the public thoroughfares outside, when so large a space as 7½ acres was to be purchased under a Bill now in their Lordships' House.


said, that one objection against the site was that it would certainly cost £750,000, and there was no probability that this would be the limit of the expense. Another objection he had to the scheme was that it could not be carried out without doing that which ought not to be done without absolute necessity. The residences of a great number of persons who were employed in the heart of the City, would be pulled down to form the site for those Courts, without provision being made for lodging those people elsewhere. It was clear that a very great expense must be incurred in making suitable approaches to the proposed Courts, and as to the buildings themselves their Lordships had no means of estimating the sum which they would cost. It appeared to him that there was no good reason for removing the Courts from Westminster, where they could be enlarged and made sufficiently convenient for every purpose. By means of the telegraph and of the underground railway along the northern embankment of the Tames, the communication from Lincoln's Inn and the Temple to Westminster would be so rapid that the argument founded on the fact of the new site being so close to the residences of the lawers had not the force which the promoters of this scheme were disposed to claim for it. He was afraid that in an unguarded way Parliament was entering on a speculation which would turn out to be a much less satisfactory and a much more expensive one than was at present generally supposed.

Motion agreed to: Bill read 2a accordingly, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House on Tuesday next.