§ (The Lord Cranworth.)
§ SECOND READING. BILL WITHDRAWN.
§ Order of the Day for the Second Reading read.
§ LORD CRANWORTH,
in moving the second reading of the Bill, said, that all the original business of the Court of Chancery, or nearly all of it, was disposed of either by the Master of the Rolls or by the three Vice Chancellors, all having a concurrent jurisdiction. From their decisions an appeal lay to the Court of Appeal in Chancery, which consisted of the Lord Chancellor and the Lords Justices of Appeal; the appeal might be carried either to the Lord Chancellor alone, or to the two Lords Justices, or to all three together. The Master of the Rolls was an officer of the highest rank in Chancery, being next to the Lord Chancellor. From his decision there was an appeal to the Lords Justices, who in rank were very much below the Master of the Rolls. There was therefore an anomaly in the appeal from the Court of a Judge of a higher rank to a Court composed of Judges of a lower rank. This was an anomaly which it was desirable to get rid of. Moreover, he held that the administration of justice in the Court of Chancery would be rendered much more harmonious if the original jurisdiction were exercised by functionaries bearing the same name and of the same character. What he proposed was that the Master of the Rolls should be ex officio senior Lord Justice, and that his place, whenever a vacancy 776 should occur, should be filled up by a new Vice Chancellor, with the same powers, and the same salary, and the same duty as the other Vice Chancellors. He had communicated with the Lords Justices and the Master of the Rolls, and they both agreed in the wisdom of the proposal. By this means £1,000 a year would be saved to the country, seeing that the salary of the Master of the Rolls and of the Lords Justices was £6,000, while that of a Vice Chancellor was £5,000 a year. The various clerks forming the staff of the Master of the Rolls would be transferred to the office of the new Vice Chancellor.
§ Moved, "That the Bill be now read 2a." —(The Lord Cranworth.)
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
said, he always was very reluctant to oppose any measure which his noble and learned Friend introduced, because he was disposed to rely upon his noble and learned Friend's judgment rather than upon his own; but after fully considering the provisions of this Bill, he felt that he could not assent to them. The object and effect of the Bill was virtually to abolish the office of the Master of the Rolls—the name and title would no doubt remain, but the office itself would be nothing. The office of Master of the Rolls was one of the highest antiquity — the creation of it dated from the Reign of Edward I., and he was intrusted with the exercise of most important functions. This Bill, if passed, would virtually abolish the office. The proposition of his noble and learned Friend was based entirely on this— that the Lords Justices being inferior in rank to the Master of the Rolls it was anomalous that there should be an appeal from the superior Judge to Judges inferior in rank. But at the time when the Act of 1851 creating the Lords Justices was passed, all this must have been in the contemplation of the Legislature, because by that Act the Lords Justices were placed in the table of precedence next below the Lord Chief Baron, and consequently below the Master of the Rolls, whose rank was between the two Chief Justices; but the Lords Justices had the same jurisdiction given to them as was exercised by the Lord Chancellor. Now, the Lord Chancellor entertained appeals from the Master of the Rolls, and of course the Legislature had given to the Lords Justices the power of hearing appeals from the Master of the Rolls. It might be said that the Bill did not propose to abolish the jurisdiction of the Master of 777 the Rolls, because the 7th section provided that he should exercise an original jurisdiction if it should be expedient for him so to do. But the moment he became one of the Lords Justices all possibility of exercising an original jurisdiction would be practically at an end. It was said that the proposed change would effect a saving of £1,000 a year; but it should be remembered that attached to the office of Master of the Rolls there was a large staff of secretaries and clerks, many of which would become sinecures, if the Master of the Rolls were made a Lord Justice, and these persons would have to be provided for. His noble and learned Friend (Lord Cranworth) had intimated that the Master of the Rolls had no objection to the present Bill; but he (the Lord Chancellor) believed that on re-consideration his noble and learned Friend had come to the conclusion that the Bill ought not to pass. He trusted the second reading of the Bill would not be pressed, but if it should be, it was his intention to vote against it.
§ LORD ST. LEONARDS
also objected to the Bill. The principle upon which it was founded seemed to be that an appeal from the Master of the Rolls to the Lords Justices was an appeal from a superior to an inferior tribunal. But such was not the case, for the appeal was intended to be to the Lord Chancellor and the two Lords Justices. The intention originally was that the Lord Chancellor should preside more frequently in the Court than had been the custom of late. The anomaly, if there was one, might be easily got over by simply enacting that in case of appeals from the Master of the Rolls the Lord Chancellor should always preside in the Court; or it might be remedied more simply still by an enactment placing the precedence of the Lords Justices before that of the Master of the Rolls.
§ LORD KINGSDOWN
understood the object of the Bill was to curtail the number of appeals that came up to their Lordships' House; because it had been found, unfortunately, that since the appointment of the Lords Justices the number of these appeals had not been seriously diminished.
§ LORD ROMILLY
said, when his noble and learned Friend the late Lord Chancellor wrote to him last year to ask whether he would approve such a measure, he stated, in reply, that he put himself entirely in the hands of his noble and learned Friend, because he felt himself too much interested personally to think of exercising 778 any judgment on the subject: he was, therefore, he said, prepared to assent willingly to the change if his noble and learned Friend thought it desirable. Afterwards his noble and learned Friend sent him a copy of the Bill. But upon perusing it he could not help seeing that its operation would be attended with considerable difficulty. It proposed to put an end altogether to the original jurisdiction of the Master of the Rolls, and would thus entirely paralyze the Office. Now, a very large portion of the original jurisdiction of the Master of the Rolls was over records and the transfer of those records from various parts of the country. It would be impossible, therefore, to put an end to the whole of the original jurisdiction. When he came to look into the original jurisdiction, it seemed a matter of so much difficulty and complication that he wrote to his hon. and learned Friend to suggest that he should not press the Bill. That was the position which he occupied, and which he desired to explain to their Lordships.
§ LORD CRANWORTH,
in reply, said, that the object of the Bill was to have the business of the inferior court disposed of by four Vice Chancellors, instead of three Vice Chancellors and the Master of the Rolls, and to make the Master of the Rolls ex officio one of the Lords Justices in the intermediate court. As to the operation of the Bill being an infringement upon the old and highly honourable duties of the Master of the Rolls, that was not his intention, nor did he think it would be the effect of the Bill. He had endeavoured to guard the measure against such an objection, and the language originally employed having been insufficient to effect this object, it had been so altered that he expected it was in this respect entirely satisfactory. The Master of the Rolls now discharged the duties of a Vice Chancellor plus the duties of the Master of the Rolls other than his judicial duties; and what was sought to be effected by the Bill was that he should discharge the duties of one of the Lords Justices equally plus the non-judicial duties of the Master of the Rolls. He did not wish to raise any question of personal rank, his chief aim being to put all the Judges of original jurisdiction on an equal footing. It was quite right that the Master of the Rolls should be at the head of the Lords Justices Court, but he would still discharge the duties of his office just as he at present discharged those of an inferior 779 Judge; while he would still continue to discharge the duties of the Master of the Rolls. It seemed to him that it would be the more convenient, harmonious, and constitutional arrangement that the court should consist of the Lord Chancellor at its head, the Master of the Rolls and his brother Lords Justices, and four Vice Chancellors. The suggestion that certain offices under the Master of the Rolls would on the transfer of his jurisdiction to one of the Vice Chancellors become sinecures, was inconsistent with the proposal that the officers should be retained to discharge the duties of the office of the Master of the Rolls as one of the Lords Justices. However, as the noble and learned Lord on the Woolsack opposed the measure on the part of the Government, he would not put the House to the trouble of dividing.
§ On Question; Resolved in the Negative; Bill (by Leave of the House) withdrawn.