HL Deb 08 April 1870 vol 200 cc1496-9

in calling the attention of the House to the Petition presented by the Incorporated Society of Attorneys and Solicitors of Ireland, and to move an Address for the issue of a Commission thereon, said, he had to bring before their Lordships the case of a very important body—namely, the Incorporated Society of Attorneys and Solicitors in Ireland. The facts which he had in the first place to bring to their notice as set forth in the Petition were these—Until 1866 every solicitor or attorney resident in Ireland was compelled to be a member of the Honourable Society of the King's Inns, Dublin, a voluntary association, the Governing Body of which were the Benchers, consisting of the Chancellor, Judges, and members of the Bar. The Benchers had for many years exercised control over both branches of the profession, and had laid down regulations for the admission of attorneys and solicitors, comprising, among other fees, one of £11 7s. 6d. on every such admission, as a deposit for chambers, to be allowed on taking chambers or the ground on which to build them. A Parliamentary Return in 1866 showed that, up to that time, the fees derived from all sources had amounted to £92,000, of which £53,800 had been derived from this admission fee; and, according to a report of the Society of the King's Inns in 1859, the amount of these deposits was £46,000, of which £30,000, they represented, had been expended on a hall, library, and chambers for the general use of the profession, and £11,000 on reception chambers and lecture rooms, to which they urged the attorneys were fairly bound to contribute. The solicitors did not question the application of these moneys; but they asserted that the only benefit accruing to the solicitors from this large sum was that they were allowed to occupy what were called the Solicitors' Building in the Four Courts; while no provision whatever was made for educating and training solicitors' appren- tices, or for testing by examination the qualification of candidates for the profession in Ireland. In 1846, a Committee of the House of Commons sat to inquire into the state of legal education in Ireland; Mr., now Judge. Longfield was examined as a witness before that Committee, and expressed an opinion that, on no principle of justice could solicitors be required to contribute to a fund from which they derived no advantage; and the Committee reported that no provision was made for the education of solicitors' apprentices. The Society of the King's Inns, nevertheless, took no action in the matter; and it was not till 1860, on the solicitors obtaining a Parliamentary inquiry, that the Benchers consented to establish a Professorship, with an endowment of £100 per annum, and to appoint an Examiner at £30 per annum; the fees then amounting to £87,000. The solicitors were naturally anxious to emancipate themselves from the rule of the King's Inns; and, in 1866, a Bill was introduced into Parliament constituting them, as in England, a separate society. He (Lord Chelmsford) was intrusted with the charge of the Bill in their Lordships' House, when the second reading was agreed to without a division, his noble and learned Friend the late Lord Cran-worth, who then occupied the Woolsack, stating that he saw no objection to it. The Benchers, however, of course unwilling to relinquish such a profitable source of income, communicated with Lord Cranworth in a manner not altogether candid or complete, and his noble and learned Friend at the next stage of the Bill expressed serious doubts of its expediency, on the ground that the solicitors enjoyed reception rooms, lectures, and accommodation in return for their fees. After hearing, however, from himself a full explanation of the facts, his noble and learned Friend, with the candour and sense of justice so conspicuous in his character, admitted that the merits of the Bill had been entirely proved; and it thereupon passed without opposition. On the separation taking place, the solicitors contended that they had a right to the fund which had accumulated; and the following year the Benchers, evidently sensible of the claim which the solicitors had upon them, offered the Incorporated Society a lease of the apartments in the Four Courts then in their possession, at a nominal rent, on condition of their keeping them in repair. The Incorporated Society, in reply, expressed their disappointment at the Benchers not having handed over to them the whole building in their possession, and the cost of which had been defrayed out of their own money, and their hope that, on re-consideration the Benchers would yet do so. The Benchers answered this in the negative; and on their attention being called to the considerable sums in their possession contributed by the solicitors, and to the propriety of a conference with a view to an amicable settlement, they stated that they were not aware of the existence of any claims which rendered a conference necessary. The correspondence was continued without any result; and, unfortunately, the King's Inns, not being a corporation, could not be sued, while the Incorporated Society of Attorneys and Solicitors was also incapable of suing or being sued in its corporate capacity. Moreover, all the Judges, both in law and equity, were members of the King's Inns. Feeling strongly the justice of the claim, he hoped their Lordships would not, by rejecting his Commission, deny the solicitors the only available remedy. They were not anxious to bring the King's Inns to a strict account with regard to these deposits for chambers; but simply desired to obtain suitable accommodation in the building, which at present they were not even offered. He trusted that the Benchers would meet the Incorporated Society of Attorneys in a spirit of conciliation, and that the existing differences would be amicably adjusted. Moved that an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty praying that Her Majesty will be pleased to issue a Commission to inquire into and report upon the total amount of the sums received by "The Honourable Society of the King's Inns, Dublin," upon the admission of attorneys and solicitors as deposits for chambers, and in what manner the same or any part thereof has been applied and disposed of, and what portion of the amount remains unappropriated to the purposes for which it was received, and whether the Incorporated Society of Attorneys and Solicitors of Ireland are in possession of suitable buildings for the accommodation of that branch of the profession of which tiny are the governing body.—(The Lord Chelmsford.)


said, that his noble and learned Friend, in introducing his Motion, had spoken with a little more asperity than was necessary on behalf of those who had entrusted their interests to his advocacy. He (the Lord Chancellor) had no difficulty in acceding to the Motion, inquiry being obviously due under all the peculiar circumstances of the case. He had communicated with the Judges and other legal authorities in Ireland, and they were anxious that the whole of the circumstances connected with the case should be laid before their Lordships; yet after reading the papers that had been forwarded to him in connection with the subject, he was of opinion that inquiry was the best thing that could be done for both parties. It was far better that amicable communications should take place between them, than that any hostile proceedings should be adopted. He was, however, bound to inform their Lordships that whilst 10 guineas were taken from attorneys and solicitors, a fee of 20 guineas was required from the other branch of the profession. It appeared that disputes arose with reference to the application of this money before 1859, and he held in his hand a pamphlet published in that year, containing the Benchers' statement of matters as they then stood, from which it appeared that out of the money they had received they had expended above £28,000 in erecting a building to be handed over exclusively to the solicitors and attorneys, and other buildings for libraries and reading-rooms, which were open to all branches of the profession. In that year they had expended, with the exception of a small sum, the whole of the money they had received from the attorneys. He confessed, nevertheless, it was impossible for him to say some inquiry was not reasonable and desirable. He hoped that inquiry would be intrusted to persons of weight and authority, and that the result would be to confer great benefit on all concerned. He would suggest that the Motion should be amended by the insertion of the words "whether any and," before "what portion of the amount remains unappropriated."


assented to the Amendment.

Motion amended and agreed to.