Изображения страниц

next, in case he paid the poor-rates; next, in case he filled an annual office; next, in case he was an apprentice. In all these cases the original law of 40 days settlement was reverted to; so that a man who was an apprentice was settled in the place where he had been last resident for 40 days. This system was so inconvenient, that the law of certificates was introduced; so that a man was not to be disturbed, when he brought a certificate that he had a legal settlement in some other place. Lastly, came the law that no man should be removable until he was actually chargeable. This system, even as it now existed, was extremely expensive; and, what he hoped was not to be disregarded, extremely inconvenient and oppressive to the poor. Gentlemen would recollect the time when the poor man felt a strong objection to be on the parish. And did they not now perceive that this feeling was fast wearing away? According to the last returns, 9 per cent. of the population received parochial relief, and he had no doubt that this proportion had since increased. Indeed, the poor man might reasonably say, "If you will not allow me freely to circulate the only commodity I possess, the labour of my hands, you must maintain me: if I cannot remove without being liable to be sent back to the place where I was born, you must then maintain me here." Many ablebodied men who could find no work in the parishes where they were settled, made this the pretext for not removing to a manufacturing town, that on the first moment of temporary want they should be sent back again, and that they were subject to restraint and corporal punishment if their means should be deficient. The only defence of the law of removal was, that it acted as a penalty to prevent a man coming on the parish. He acknowledged that this had some force, though it was founded in no principle of justice. The proposal contained in the resolutions was a most cautious experiment, as it would be in the power of the House to stop at any moment. In the petitions which had been presented to the House, the poor-rates had been complained of as a peculiar tax on the agricultural interest. Now, it was the effect of the law of removals to increase this peculiar tax, by enabling manufacturing towns that had the advantage of the labour of men in their vigour, to send VOL. IX.

them to the country parishes to be supported in their old age. In point of fact, the manufacturing districts were much less heavily assessed to the poor than the agricultural. Sussex, an exclusively agricultural county, with a population of less than 200,000, and property assessed to the property tax, under schedule A., of 900,000l., paid 265,000/., poor-rates; while Lancashire, with a population of a million, and three millions assessed to the property tax, paid only 214,000. poor-rates. It was a matter of justice that the manufacturing towns should not be allowed to throw back their burthens on the country. For these reasons, and because the experiment was a safe and cautious one, he should heartily support the measure.

Mr. Lockhart contended, that the proposed measure would produce as much litigation as the existing law, from the extreme uncertainty, not only of legal constructions, but of facts necessarily arising as to the question of residence.

Mr. Secretary Peel said, it was of the utmost importance that the House should be in possession of the clearest information before they proceeded to legislate on this important subject. The resolutions involved, not merely the general principle, but a number of multifarious details, upon which it would be scarcely possible to found any practical measure during the present session. Under these circumstances, he recommended the hon. meinber to withdraw his resolutions, and ask for leave to bring in a bill, which might be committed pro forma, and printed, so as to afford an opportunity of bringing the whole subject under the consideration of the House in the course of the next session.

Mr. Monck knew of but one remedy for the evil of the poor-rates, and that was their total but gradual extinction.

Colonel Wood withdrew his resolutions, and gave notice, that to-morrow he would move for leave to bring in a bill to amend the laws relating to the Settlement of the Poor.

Mr. J. Wil

COURT OF CHANCERY.] liams, in rising to bring forward the motion of which he had given notice, said, that if his object were, to produce a change in the state of the Court of Chancery, rather than to restore what had been altered, he should despair of success; because he waswell aware that the argument or clamour,

2 Z

ness connected with matters of bank, ruptcy. Both of these plans were certainly of a sweeping description, and should be well weighed, as they went, in no small degree, to diminish the emoluments of the lord chancellor. The third plan was that of giving some efficient judicial situation to the chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, which would enable him to take a portion of the accumu

A fourth plan was the appointment of commissioners for the single purpose of hearing Scotch appeals, the accumulation of which was a source of grievance to the suitors. A fifth plan was that of taking away the whole of the equitable jurisdiction of the lord chancellor, and leaving him only an appellant jurisdiction. A sixth plan was, to enable the masters in Chancery to take certain motions, which were merely motions of course; such as motions for time to plead, payment of money into court, and others of a similar nature. Of all these plans he was unable to say that he could give a preference to any one of them. Nor was the House in a condition to give a preference to any one of them; if he might judge from the course which they took ten years ago, when they were content to legislate without inquiry, and to act upon a recommendation, without hearing the grounds of that recommendation, against all the weight of argument, and all the wisdom of prediction.

whatever it might be called, would immediately be raised, which invariably imputed danger to every innovation, though existing mischief might be pointed out, and a practicable ground of improvement demonstrated. He thought, however, that too many changes and innovations had been made of late years in the regulation of judicial proceedings. Much derangement and disorganization had arisen in the business of the court of King's-lated business of the court of Chancery. bench from this cause, and within the last ten years a sweeping revolution-he could call it no less-had taken place in the state of the court of Chancery. He was weary of these changes. He wished to introduce no further innovation; but, on the contrary, to interpose a pause, that the whole subject might be fully investigated; and, in the motion with which he should conclude, he trusted he should meet with the unanimous and consistent support of all those who, either from habit or principle, were opposed to every innovation, and chiefly to unnecessary and causeless innovation. Though the subject he had chosen was not novel or inviting, its importance was, he trusted, sufficient to attract attention. It had been the declared opinion of a late noble marquis (Londonderry), that evils existed in the court of Chancery of no ordinary magnitude; and of the hon. member for Corfecastle, that those evils, and especially the long delays, amounted to an actual denial of justice. These opinions were more especially true after the measure of the year 1813, which had not only utterly failed in its object, but had radically revolutionized the court of Chancery. It now seemed to be conceded, on all hands, that evils of no ordinary magnitude existed, and that the present system could no longer go on without some amendment or improvement. He was at a loss, therefore, to imagine what possible ground could he alleged for opposing inquiry, when the mischief was not only admitted, but when a variety of remedies, all of which deserved attention, had been suggested.

He would take the liberty of calling the attention of the House to some of those remedies. The first he should notice was that of separating the office of chancellor from that of prolocutor of the House of Lords, which had been proposed in the year 1813, and had since been gaining credit. The second plan was that of striking off from the jurisdiction of the lord chancellor, all the busi

To show that the measure of 1813 had failed, it was only necessary to show, first, that the necessity of a fresh inquiry was now admitted; and secondly, that the preamble of the very bill recited the identical grievances which were now pressing themselves upon the consideration of the House. He could not, therefore, suppose that any hon. gentleman would object to inquiry, excepting on the most singular of all grounds; namely, that the House legislated best when it understood the least. His motion proceeded upon distinet and somewhat more particular grounds. He was aware that he was now approaching a part of the subject most important and most difficult. It had been once said by a great authority in that House, that whenever a man attempted to touch a public grievance, there was danger lest he should come near persons of weight and authority, who would be rather exasperated by exposure than thankful for the opportunity of correction. He (Mr. Williams) knew that, like all

others who had gone before him, he must of Chancery. Indeed, upon the sense of incur this peril; and he therefore begged the thing, as he apprehended, there could to be allowed, in the first instance, to be but one opinion. To wait, in a quesclear his way. In making the observa- tion of law or of politics, for that absolute tions he should feel it his duty to offer, he degree of certainty which could only be should not forget his inferior situation, found in the pure and abstract sciences, and the eminent rank of the distinguished was to reject every principle upon which and highly-gifted person who presided moral reasoning must proceed. There over the court of Chancery, and had con- was a short story upon the subject of trol over the whole law of the country. doubting which, though familiar to the In the observations which he should feel minds of hon. members, he begged to reit his duty to make with reference to that peat upon this occasion. Hiero, king of distinguished individual, he should not Syracuse, proposed to Simonides the poet, forget that he was at the bottom of that and by some also considered a philosoprofession of which that noble and learned pher, a question of rather difficult soluperson had been, for nearly a quarter of tion. The poet begged to be allowed a a century, at the head. That individual day to consider of his answer. This the reigned as absolute and uncontrolled in monarch readily granted. The day being the profession as any of the potentates in expired, the monarch called for the anthe holy fraternity which had been so swer; but Simonides, not having decided, often alluded to in that House, and the begged to be allowed two days more. certainty of his remaining so during life This request was also granted; but at the was much greater than any of that frater- expiration of each given time, he begged nity could calculate upon. He should for four days, eight days, and so on, not forget that he was speaking of a per- always increasing his demand in geomeson far advanced in age-of legal acquisi-trical progression. At length the king, tion never surpassed, and probably never losing all patience as well he might equalled-with a variety of information under such circumstances-insisted upon prepared to meet any subject-with a memory that never failed, and an experience that had rarely been exceeded. He had thus, he hoped, with no unsparing hand, done something like justice to the individual; and, if more were deserved, he left it to those who were better skilled in panegyric. But although it was scarcely possible to go further in the way of panegyric than he had gone, and was disposed to go, upon many of the qualifications of the noble personage in question, yet, unfortunately, those high qualities stood combined with one defect, which destroyed and defeated almost all their usefulnesswith a degree of learned doubtfulnessthat dubitandi patientia described by lord Bacon, in his essay on philosophic character, as the faculty which in its first operation disposed the mind for inquiry, but which, indulged too far, degenerated into habit, into weakness, and even into vice. Unfortunately, those great and estimable talents were joined to a degree of indecisiveness and over caution which neutralized, and he might almost say annihilated, the high advantages which should have resulted from them. The fault which he now alluded to was not one of his own seeking or finding out. He expressed an opinion that was general, and that was entertained by many practitioners in the court

knowing this poetical philosopher's answer, which was-" that the more he considered of the question, the more he doubted upon it." In fact, it could hardly be denied, that the habit of doubt might go so far as to unfit the mind altogether for consideration, and to render the slightest point a matter of difficulty. To wait in a case of law until the whole evidence should be marshalled on one side, and no jot of argument or testimony appear on the other, was to be as absurd as the rustic who waited till the river should cease to flow

"Rustieus expectat dum defluat amnis at illo Labitur et labetur in omne volubilis ævum."

The question, then, to which he should more immediately address himself, and the question which he thought the true one for the consideration of the House was, whether the system of our equity jurisdiction was originally faulty in itself, or whether, and how far, it was the execution of that system which had failed? It would be his unpleasant duty, upon that question, to enter considerably into detail. He was sorry to take up the time of the House; but it had been well observed, that general assertions proved nothing, and rested upon nothing. With respect to the particular cases which he should cite in the course of his speech, he would state

[ocr errors]

peared, that the number of causes in arrear, upon the appointment of the vicechancellor in 1813, amounted to 141; exceptions and further directions, 61; pleas and demurrers, 16; and re-hearings and appeals, 41. From that time it appeared that there was an accumulation of business in arrear, and of course an increase of delay; for it appeared, that the number of causes standing before the vicechancellor in 1822 (and it was to be observed, that all causes were referred to him, whether the parties liked it or not) amounted to 161 standing for hearing,

and demurrers (making a reduction of one); and re-hearings and appeals, 101; making an increase of 60 since the appointment of the additional office. So that it was clear there had been a great increase in the arrear of business since

no facts but such as he believed he could fully establish before a committee. He had admitted none without ample investigation, and had rejected none which had evidence to bear them out. "Nequid falsi dicere audeam, nequid veri non audeam." It was notorious to every one who was conversant with the practice of the court of Chancery, that the grand source of ruin to the suitor was the delay. At the outset of a cause, it commonly happened that a partial hearing was obtained. The matter probably proceeded before the chancellor up to a certain point, at which it was interrupted, per-making an increase of 20 causes; 15 pleas haps, by the mere circumstance of his lordship's leaving the court. The whole then stood over for an uncertain period; when it came on it was entirely forgotten, and the discussion had to re-commence de novo [Cries of hear, hear! from a member. If the hon. member who cheered him so violently were once before a committee of inquiry, he would undertake to establish this part of his case by the evidence of that hon. member himself. It was not his intention to delay the House by entering into a dull, dry detail of the business of the court of Chancery; but there were some points to which he was necessarily bound to call their attention. A gentleman who kept weekly accounts regularly, would find no difficulty in keeping such accounts in regular order: if he allowed those accounts to run for six months, he would find much difficulty in arranging them; but if they were allowed to run unchecked for six years, he would find them grown to such a bulk, that, turning aside in despair, he would leave them uninquired into. He did not mean to keep out of view the fact, that much inconvenience had arisen out of the new' arrangement. The House must at once perceive that he alluded to the institution of the vice-chancellor's court. In addition to this, he understood that there existed between the attorneys of both courts an understanding, which if the bill of the hon. member for Coventry, for regulating the combinations of masters and workmen, could be applied to them, would lay several of them by the heels in Newgate.

To return to the question of delays in the court of Chancery. The House were aware, that returns had been laid on the table of the state of business in the court of Chancery, from the year 1801 up to the year 1821. From that account it ap

the appointment of the vice-chancellor. He had now an account of the state of business in Chancery at the present time, and he found that the re-hearings and appeals only in arrear were 135 in number, being a trifle less than the whole arrear of causes existing at the time when the vice-chancellor's court was instituted. The truth was, that since the creation of the vice-chancellor's court, suitors could not obtain the opinion of the lord chancellor but in the way of re-hearing and appeal. And it was worth while to observe that, whereas, in the discussion of last year, credit had been given to the lord chancellor for having, between the years 1813 and 1821, actually disposed, in the way of business, of 157 appeals, the fact really was, that, of the 157 appeals so disposed of, 83 had been merely struck out of the paper, leaving the number actually heard and decided-not 157, but 74.

He could not too strongly press upon the recollection of the House, that the great original business of the court of Chancery was now regularly sent to the vice-chancellor. Since that desperate institution-the institution of the vice-chancellor's court-the subject was actually deprived of his right-of his right to the opinion of the first law authority in the kingdom, unless he purchased that opinion at the expense of double delay and double costs. The lord chancellor's paper, at the present moment, did not contain the term causes at all. Term causes, exceptions and further directions, pleas and demurrers, all these matters, except in especial cases, were handed

over to the vice-chancellor; and the lord chancellor's paper was cut down from its original contents, to matters of petition, motion, re-hearing, and appeal. It appeared, by documents in his hand, that from the year 1818 to the year 1822, inclusive, the lord chancellor had only heard 19 causes. It appeared further, that, in the course of the last eight years, the vice-chancellor (who had all the causes and other matters transferred to him) had disposed of as many motions as 14,560, while the lord chancellor, in the same period, had decided only 5,255. These were facts proved by the papers upon the table of the house.

The instances of ruinous delay and expense which he was about to bring forward would be equally established by vouchers not to be contradicted; and they would be instances, not of exception to the ordinary rule, but instances of the common practice of the court. He begged to assure the House they were not instances sought or selected. They were not gathered as cases of hardship from among the whole two thousand practitioners who did business in the courts of equity. All the cases he should bring forward, and all the documents he possessed, had been furnished to him by one single office. Indeed, he was free to declare, that solicitors were not at all anxious to come forward with such information; that many of them entertained apprehensions, having important causes pending. They did not know what might be the consequence of their volunteering in such business. And really, when the extraordinary power possessed by the court was considered, the existence of such apprehensions could not be matter of wonder. Perhaps even the respectful mode of a member's discharging his duty in the House of Commons upon the present question might not be forgotten. For himself, he was happy to say, that he felt quite indifferent upon that point; but it was not extraordinary, that persons very immediately connected with the court should entertain apprehensions for their own interests, or at least for those of their clients.

He should now, however, come at once to the cases which he held in his hand; and he believed that those cases would sufficiently prove that there was something in the charge of delays in the court of Chancery, although the complaint was rather a comprehensive one, and so hack

neyed as to be proverbial; and that those delays afforded matter as important for the consideration of the House, as their operation was productive of suffering to the suitors. The first case on his list was the case of Brown v. De Tastet. Its circumstances ran thus:-A bill was filed to obtain an account, and in 1812 the master of the rolls made a decree that an account should be taken. In the same year, 1812, the decree of the master of the rolls was appealed from; and that cause came to be heard before the lord chancellor late in the year 1821 [Hear!]. But this was not all. He complained not merely of delay. There were other considerations. In the course of the case there was a reference to the master; and, from the report of the master, there was an appeal to the vice-chancellor. The appeal from the master's report, which report cost not less than 5007. and which the House would presently see was quite unnecessary, and that the 500l. might as well, and better, have been thrown into the kennel

that appeal came on to be heard in the year 1816. The vice-chancellor set aside the master's report; and then there was an appeal from the vice-chancellor to the chancellor against his decree setting that report aside. He now came for a moment to the bill of costs-a matter of some weight in such proceedings-and he should show the House a little of the interior of a chancery suit. In the first place, it was to be understood, that from the time of filing a bill, the solicitor and clerk in court became entitled to what were called their "term fees"-that was, to 1. 1s. 8d. each term, so long as the cause lasted. For, according to Hudibras, there was

"As long as pocket shall hold out,
No end to the immortal suit."

From the time of the cause being entered for hearing in the cause-paper of the day, the solicitors were entitled to another fee of 10s. and sometimes it so happened that there were several solicitors engaged in the same cause. From the time of the cause being set down for a hearing, the clerk of the court and the solicitor were entitled to a term fee of 1l. 1s. Ed. between them, 6s. 8d. of which went to the clerk. Now, in the cause of Brown v. De Tastet, the term fees began in the year 1812, and went on to the beginning of the year 1819. In January 1819, both the appeals

that from the master of the rolls, and that from the vice-chancellor got into

« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »