§ Bill read 3a (according to Order).
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
said, that in consequence of an imperfect marginal note the last four lines of Clause 19 had until now escaped his notice. They provided that— 1196In all cases an appeal should lie to the proper appellate tribunal on any question of and relating to costs in the same manner as an appeal lies respecting any other matter or question.He thought it very objectionable that there should be an appeal upon such a matter.
§ Amendment made accordingly.
§ LORD CHELMSFORD
said, that the principal reason for the introduction of this Bill, of which he approved so far as it went, was the unsatisfactory mode in which solicitors were remunerated for conveyancing business. They charged, not according to the amount of labour and care bestowed, but according to the length of the deeds. The consequence was that there was no inducement to employ skill in making a neat and concise deed; and, on the contrary, there was every temptation to adhere to old forms and to introduce a number of covenants that were quite unnecessary. That class of business being generally transacted by leading members of the profession, they might fairly be entrusted with the power of entering into agreements as to the amount of their remuneration; but there was no reason why the power to make agreements should extend to business done in reference to actions at law and suits in equity. There never had been any objection to the mode of paying attorneys in matters of litigation, and the great object hitherto had been to protect the clients against improper charges. With this object a scale of fees had been fixed by the Judges, a staff of taxing officers were appointed, and the expenses of taxation, in the event of one-sixth of the total sum being taken off, was thrown on the attorney. There was no objection to this system, and though he was sure the alteration proposed would not be unfairly taken advantage of by attorneys engaged in great commercial cases, there were attorneys of a very different stamp who would be glad to withdraw their charges from the scrutinizing eye of the Courts by making a private agreement with their clients. Knowing what the probable costs would be under the present system, they would take care to stipulate 1197 for something in excess, and to this the ignorant client would easily assent. It was true the Bill provided that such agreements could not be enforced by action except by petition to the Court, which would cancel them if unreasonable; but the client would not be aware of this protection, and would not know whether the agreements were reasonable. Moreover, an attorney, if the action had succeeded, might recover the whole amount of the expenses from the opposite side, and yet exact from his client the sum agreed on. With the purpose of remedying this, he proposed an Amendment at the end of Clause 1, to the effect that no agreement for business done in a Court of Law or Equity should be binding, unless it were submitted to a taxing master, and that the Court should have power to cancel such agreement.
§ THE MARQUESS OF SALISBURY
said, he acceded to the Amendment with some reluctance, as it proceeded on a principle which noble Lords had recently denounced—that of protecting people against the results of their ignorance in making contracts. His noble and learned Friend seemed to have as bad an opinion of English attorneys as the Government had of Irish landlords. His belief was, that in the long run the best way of making people cautious about what contracts they entered into, was to make them liable to the results, if they were not.
§ Amendment made accordingly.
§ Bill passed, and sent to the Commons.