HL Deb 14 July 1884 vol 290 cc885-90

(The Lord Chancellor.)


Order of the Day for the House to be put into a Committee read.

Moved, "That the House do now resolve itself into a Committee on the said Bill."—(The Lord Chancellor.)


said, he thought the clauses in the Bill restricting the right of appeal were somewhat novel, and seemingly of a dangerous character. The Bill would, for the first time, place restrictions on the right of appeal in cases heard before the Superior Courts, and would place those restrictions with reference to the amount of the subject-matter in dispute. There were a great many objections to such a limitation. In the first place, he did not see how a line could be drawn between the amount at stake, if the case was one of principle. How were they to draw a line of distinction, and say to one man, whose claim was in respect of property worth £250, that he could appeal, and to an- other, whose claim was in respect of property worth only £200, that he could not? Everyone must know that some of the highest and most important questions, as to the construction of wills and documents, which had to be decided, arose on the trial of cases where the subject-matter of dispute was very small. But there was another observation to be made. They had just made arrangements for strengthening the Court of Appeal by providing that the Judges of the Court of Appeal should not be taken from their Appellate work to go Circuit. They had not yet had an opportunity of seeing how that would work; and it seemed to him to be a very unfortunate time to make this change, limiting the right of appeal to a Court that had just been strengthened. He should like to know whether the Judges of the Court of Appeal had made any representations to the effect that the right of appeal had been abused, and that frivolous and vexatious appeals were often brought, so as to render the proposed regulation necessary? As far as he knew, that was not the opinion of the learned Judges of the Court of Appeal. In cases where only small amounts were involved, the right of appeal was to be abolished, and appeals were only to be brought by leave of the Court that heard the case, or by leave of the Appeal Court. To give to the Court from which the appeal was sought to be brought the right of giving or refusing leave to appeal was, he thought, most unsatisfactory. There were many Judges who were so clear in making up their minds, and so confident of being correct, that they regarded the giving of a right to appeal as injurious to the suitor, and they refused it. On the other hand, there were Judges whose scruples as to the possibility of an error on their part not being corrected were so keen, that they leant immensely in favour of giving leave to appeal. As to the application to the Court of Appeal itself for such leave, the Bill provided that such application should be made ex parte, and they all knew how erroneous was the impression created by an ex parte application, however bonâ fide made. Instead of curtailing the stages of litigation, this Bill would really drop an additional one in, thereby causing increased delay and expense to the suitor. On these grounds, he must repeat that he had the gravest doubts as to the wisdom of the proposal now made of placing restrictions on the right of appeal, which, so far as he knew, had not been abused, and especially at the present time, when the Court of Appeal was being strengthened. In conclusion, he would further say that he had great doubt as to whether the new arrangements for conducting the Assize business in Lancashire would prove satisfactory, which doubt had been much increased by a Petition he had presented from the Chamber of Commerce at Liverpool, complaining of the proposed changes.


said, there had been some misunderstanding as to the intention and probable operation of the new orders as to the Lancashire Assizes. It was intended, first of all, that the sittings should be so arranged, in respect of their commencement, that they might be begun a considerable time before the usual time for the commencement of the ordinary Assizes elsewhere; and, secondly, that they should be continued in substance until the business was disposed of. The scheme, if in any respect it should not be found to work satisfactorily, would, of course, be open to further consideration. The object at which most reasonable persons would aim would be to provide for the real requirements of these important populations. This matter was to be ultimately determined by experience; he entirely agreed that such sittings as were necessary for getting through the local business in those great centres of population should be provided; but he doubted whether there was business enough at Manchester and Liverpool to justify sittings being held there at all such times as the Courts happened to be at work in London. This Bill contained 20 clauses, 16 of which were not, he thought, of a controversial character. As to the other four, he was perfectly aware that differences of opinion existed with respect to them, and that the Judges were not unanimous on the subject mentioned by the noble and learned Earl. A Committee was appointed some two or three years ago to consider and report upon this subject, consisting of the Lord Chief Justice, the late Lord Justice James, Sir James Hannen, Sir Charles Bowen, Lord Shand, Mr. Justice Mathew, and others; and that very strong Committee recommended those limitations of the right of appeal which were embodied in the Bill, which were designed to limit expenses, and so to keep down the power of the purse. That Committee recommended that where the subject-matter of appeal was less than £200, there should be no appeal, without leave, from any final judgment. That seemed to him reasonable, when it was considered that £1,000 was the appealable value from India, and that £300 was the lowest appealable value from the Colonies. There were, he thought, few greater evils than the consumption in costs of the whole subject-matter of an action. Then, as to new trials, in accordance with the recommendation of that Committee, the 8th clause provided that there should be no appeal, without leave, from any decision of a Divisional Court, consisting of not less than three Judges ordering or refusing a new trial, except in case of difference of opinion among the Judges, or unless the value amounted to £500. A very large proportion of these questions as to new trials turned very much upon the weight of evidence; and, the application to the Divisional Court being really in the nature of an appeal, it certainly did seem undesirable that an unlimited power of multiplying costs in that way should be given. His noble and learned Friend had taken exception to the clauses providing for a relaxation of the proposed rules limiting the right of appeal; but when a Court might think that a principle was involved in a case, or an amount beyond the value of the immediate stake, or a question of character, it would be only right that an appeal should be permissible. The Bill, with the limitations which it contained, would result in the exclusion of costly, unnecessary, and improper appeals. Such appeals, however, as were desirable would still be allowed.


said, he entirely concurred as to the necessity of additional sittings being held in Lancashire, and even considered that there was enough work for a Judge sitting permanently there, for the purpose of hearing all matters that were dealt with by a single Judge in London. He considered it all-important that appeals should be limited; and he, therefore, disagreed with the noble and learned Earl (Earl Cairns) in his observation as to the limitation which the Bill proposed to place on the power of appeal. Many appeals, especially from the Queen's Bench Division, were most frivolous and vexatious.


said, that, though agreeing with much that had fallen from the noble and learned Earl upon the Woolsack, he thought the limit fixed (£200) an arbitrary one. In actions of trespass the amount of damage was often far less, while the importance of the right claimed was of the greatest consequence. He feared that much opposition was to be anticipated in the Lower House.


said, that he could not refrain from calling to mind the state of the Court of King's Bench, when first Sir Thomas Denman was made Lord Chief Justice. There were 700 causes at Guildhall and 500 at Westminster Hall, and the time for a first trial was after a delay of two years, and after a new trial—two years more of delay—but great labour reduced the arrear so that at last it was quite a pleasure to put the date of the writ—the beginning of an action—at the head of the abstract of the record. It was to the great joy of his father that such men as Sir Nicholas Tindal and Lord Lyndhurst were each at the head of two efficient Courts, and that two Chiefs could travel together on the same Circuit; whilst in London and Middlesex each Court had its list, beginning with No. 1, and going down to its end; but now, from the want of a Lord Chief Justice and a Lord Chief Baron—who were recognized by an Act for Ireland passed only last Session—all the Common Law Courts were blocking the Queen's Bench Division, and causes were taken from the middle and nearly the end of the list, without due notice or preparation, and at great expense. His duty was to appoint causes, and he was blamed if he put down too few for each day. Though neither Marshal nor Chief Clerk, he would do all in his power to improve the administration of justice in the Common Law Courts.

Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.

Amendments made.

An Amendment moved, and negatived.

Amendments made.

The Report of the Amendments to be received To-morrow; and Bill to be printed as amended. (No. 191.)