§ Mr. J. Williams,
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 was well aware that the argument or clamour, 707 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 hi the business of the court of King's-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 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 be 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 these 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 gaming credit. The second plan was that of striking off from the jurisdiction the lord chancellor, all the busi- 708 ness connected with matters of bankruptcy. Both of these plans were certainly of a sweeping description, and should be well weighed, as they went, in 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 accumulated business of the court of Chancery. 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.
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 distinct 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 709 others who had gone before him, be must incur this peril; and he therefore begged to be allowed, in the first instance, to clear his way. In making the observations he should feel it his duty to offer, he should not forget his inferior situation, and the eminent rank of the distinguished and highly-gifted person who presided over the court of Chancery, and had control over the whole law of the country. In the observations which he should feel if his duty to make with reference to that distinguished individual, he should not forget that he was at the bottom of that profession of which that noble and learned person had been, for nearly a quarter of a Century, at the head. That individual reigned as absolute and uncontrolled in the profession as any of the potentates in the holy fraternity which had been so often alluded to in that House, and the certainty of his remaining so during life was much greater than any of that fraternity could calculate upon. He should not forget that he was speaking of a person far advanced in age—of legal acquisition never surpassed, and probably never equalled—with a variety of information prepared to meet any subject—with a memory that never failed, and an expedience 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 usefulness—with a degree of learned doubtfulness—that 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 710 of Chancery. Indeed, upon the sense of the thing, as he apprehended, there could be but one opinion. To wait, in a question of law or of politics, for that absolute degree of certainty which could only he found in the pure and abstract sciences was to reject every principle upon which moral reasoning must proceed. There was a short story upon the subject of doubting which, though familiar to the minds of hon. members, he begged to repeat upon this occasion. Hiero, king of Syracuse, proposed to Simonides the poet, and by some also considered a philosopher, a question of rather difficult solution. The poet begged to be allowed a day to consider of his answer. This the monarch readily granted. The day being expired, the monarch called for the answer; but Simonides, not having decided begged to be allowed two days more. This request was also granted; but at the expiration of each given time, he begged for four days, eight days, and so on always increasing his demand in geometrical progression. At length the king losing all patience—as well he might under such circumstances—insisted upon, knowing this poetical philosopher's answer which was—"that 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—Rusticus expectat dum defluat amnis at illeLabitur el labetur in omne volubilis æ vum.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 711 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, perhaps 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 be 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- 712 peared, that the number cause in arrear, upon the appointment of the vice chancellor 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 business in arrear, and of course an increase of delay; for it appeared that the number of causes standing before the vice chancellor 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, making an increase of 20 causes; 15 pleas 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 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 713 over in 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 in 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- 714 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 Taste 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, 1842 the decree of the master of the rolls was appealed from; and that cause come 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 500l. 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 1l. 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 immortal suitFrom 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 on 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 4l. 1s. 8d. between them, 6s. 8d. of which went to the clerk. Now, in the cause of Brown v. De Taster, 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—go into 715 the lord chancellor's paper, and continued there, off and on, through the year 1820 to the end of the year 1821; the attendances charged in that cause amounting to no less a sum than 450l. Nor was this by any means all. The learned counsel at the bar found it impossible to endure the fatigues of such a cause without what were called refreshers [Hear, and a laugh]. Upon those refreshers the learned barristers did manage to maintain their strength; but, for the unfortunate suitor, what "refresher" was there for him? Alas! none. He wandered over a dreary waste, barren and parched on every side. There was no green bright spot for his eye to rest upon; and, what was worse, he saw as little limit to the desert as likelihood of finding a road out of it.
Leaving however the case of Brown v. De Faster, he would come to the second cause upon his paper. This was the case of Oldham v. Cooke and Bovill. It was a bill filed for a debt claimed to be due to a legated. The bill was filed in the year 1815, and the answer was put in in 1816. In that answer, the trustee, against whom the bill was filed, admitted the possession of assets to the extent of 1,200l.; but the answer was not deemed satisfactory, because it did not give reasons why he had not a larger fund. In 1816, the answer was excepted to; and the exceptions were allowed. The house would observe, that the knotty point in debate, a point worthy of Simonides himself, was, whether the trustee had given reasons for his fund in hand not being larger. Upon that point, since the year 1816, there had been charges for 64 attendances; and even at the present moment it was not decided.—Take next the case of White-church v. Holunthy. This was a bill filed in 1811, to restrain a lord of a manor from cutting down timber. An injunction was obtained in the first instance; and a special case was made for the court of if King's Bench. In the year 1815 that special case was answered, and the certificate sent back to the court of Chancery. During the years 1816, 1817, 1818, and 1819, it lay in the book of the Registrar, and never got into the lord chancellor's paper at all. In the year 1820, it was sent to the vice-chancellor. No sooner did it get there, than it was sent back to the lord chancellor. There were attendances running on upon it in the years 1821 and 1822, and, up to the present hours, it was not decided [Hear, hear]. 716 The next case to which he would advert was the case of Fillingham v, Bromley. In that case, the bill was filed for specific performance of a contract. There was a decree by the vice-chancellor, which was appealed from to the chancellor, The chancellor, on hearing the cause, expressed his opinion in favour of the defendant, but refused at once to give his judgment. Now, he was credibly informed that, from the great learning and acute perception of the lord chancellor, it seldom, if ever, happened that he gave, an opinion on the outset of a case which was not a right one; but, unfortunately, the judicial expression of that opinion was often delayed to a degree which materially weakened its value. In the case of Fillingham v. Bromley, the cause remained until the year 1822, without one single step being taken in it.—In the last case but one to which he should refer, the case of Powell v. Sergeant and others, the bill had been filed in the year 1812; and the cause had ended nine years after, in the year 1821. During the whole of that period, of course, the term fees were going on. There was a demurrer to the bill, raising simply the question how far Sergeant, one of the defendants, was properly a party to the cause. The decision of that preliminary question, which might have been settled in half an hour, had kept the cause lingering for no less than five years; and it had cost the parties just 80 attendances.—There was one more case, and only one, with which he would try the patience of the House; and that was a case as to which he had in his possession the original papers. It was the case of Ware v. Horwood. In the case of Ware v. Horwood, which had enjoyed the advantage of having a supplemental bill, and a bill of reviver attached to it, a decree had been made by the lord chancellor in the year 1820. An objection was started to that decree, that it had been obtained surreptitiously, and to the exclusion of one party in the cause. Upon that ground, a motion was made; and he held in his hand an affidavit from the party who showed cause against that motion, some passages of which were worth the attention of hon. members The deponent said, that, "owing to other causes being daily placed at the head of the Lord Chancellor's paper either "for judgment" or "to be spoken to" and owing to the length of "the seal" and to the number of motions made, he (the de- 717 ponent) had found it impossible to obtain the lord chancellor's decision upon his cause; and that, having bitter complaints made to him by his clients of delay, and finding that the cause had not been placed in the lord chancellor's paper, according to the lord chancellor's order—finding these things, he had been induced, on the 15th of July, 1820, to write a letter to the lord chancellor to the following effect:—
"Ware v. Horwood.—My Lord; my clients have great reason to complain of the great injury suffered by them in consequence of these causes not keeping their station at the head of your lordship's paper, agreeably to your lordship's order repeatedly given in my hearing. It is now nearly seven years since they have been waiting for your lordship's judgment; and upwards of two years and a half ago, they had arrived at the top of the paper; at which I humbly entreat they may, until you can decide upon them, remain. There is a fund in Court of 10,000l. and upwards, locked up until your lordship decides on these causes; and it is therefore matter of great importance to my unfortunate clients that your lordship's decision may not be delayed by the circumstances to which I have above alluded. It is painful to me to state to your lordship, that I have learnt from authority, which I have no reason to doubt, that the infant, for whose benefit those suits were instituted twenty years ago, died of a broken heart,* on account of*Shortly after this debate a pamphlet was published, by Mr. Murray of Albemarle-street, intitled, "Observations on the Judges of the Court of Chancery and the Practice and Delays complained of in that Court." It was written anonymously, but generally attributed to a gentleman who was formerly a solicitor of the court of chancery, but who, at the time of the publication, had taken his name off the rolls and had retired from practice. The following extract therefrom relates to the above case of Ware v. Horwood.This assertion appeared to my mind so improbable, that, being a man unencumbered by any profession or employment, I determined to search into its truth, and I applied to a professional friend, who is generally and deservedly esteemed in the parish where the infant died, to make similar inquiries: the result of our inquiries was the same, and we learnt from the infant's friends, and the medical gentleman who attended him on his death-bed, that there was not any reason to suppose his death was occasioned by a chancery suit, or anything connected with one; and I shall prove he had not any cause to grieve about it. Before his death718 being kept out of his property; and that I nave to contend against the bitter feelings; of his relations. Under this distressing circumstance, knowing that your lord ship will pardon the liberty I have taken in thus addressing you, and which nothing but the imperious necessity of the case could have induced me to have done, I have the honour, &c."
The affidavit which he held, deposed that the lord chancellor had, in consequence, given immediate direction to have the case reinstated in its former position on the paper; that the case was accordingly brought on speedily for hearing, and the deponent was thereupon required to attend in his lordship's private room, which he accordingly did, and held frequent conversations as to the subject of drawing up the decree, after judgmenthe used often to lament that there could be no salvation, no grace, for such a sinner as himself; but he did not make any unkind allusion to the court of Chancery, or to the noble lord, or other judges who preside there. I am in possession, through the information of those who knew him, of the particulars of the offence that grieved him, and greatly depressed his spirits, which he refused to disclose to his doctor; but delicacy forbids my entering into the detail. This sentimental suitor, represented to have died of a broken heart, occasioned by a chancery suit, was a labouring gardener, and he lived with a person at Peckham. He was buried at Linfield, in the twenty-third year of his age, in July 1816; and during his infancy there had been spent for his maintenance and education 466l. which was paid to his uncle Charles, he having been allowed that sum by the report of a master in chancery, dated the 1st day of July, 1822. The infant in his will disposes of what, "if anything," should come to him from the chancery suit relating to his father's affairs; and the sum of 10,000l, ingeniously made use of in the letter, seems to have been, as regarded this infant suitor, exclusive of what was due to his uncle for maintenance), about 134l. From searching at Doctors Commons, I find that his uncle Charles, who was administrator to his father, administered to this infant's estate, sworn: not to exceed 600l.; and out of this 600l., 466l. was due to this uncle, which had been expended upon the infant during his minority, he never having received, or been in a situation to receive, anything out of court in his life-time; and therefore 134l. was all the infant's interesting suit, unless we can suppose his wide, Charles to have sworn to a false amount on taking out letters of administration. I find on searching at the proper office, that, this infant was never arrested, and I cannot learn that he was ever known to be in pecuniary difficulties.719 given in the court. He had procured the office-copy of the bill of costs put in by the solicitor who made this affidavit. He would submit the facts without any comments of his own, only premising, that the opposite parties had been led to suspect, and were informed of the fact subsequently, of these repeated audiences had of the Chancellor by one solicitor in the absence of the other solicitors in the suit, by the items in this bill. It began with charges for attendance, agreeably to the order of the court. Then the letter was charged in these terms—"for writing a long letter to his lordship, on the subject of the cause, and importuning particular attention to it, 9s. 6d.; attending the court to get the cause reinstated on the paper, 13s. 4d.; attending the court at the time of hearing the petition, 2l." &c. It happened well for this felicitous man, that he was solicitor also for one of the defendants in the cause. That which had been denied to the wishes of the historian, the power of a divisible identity, had been kindly imparted by Chancery to this solicitor, against the manifest law of nature. He was enabled to represent several individuals in different places at the same juncture of time, though possessing but one personal identity. Accordingly, each of the items was accompanied with a corresponding fee for attendance upon the original cause for the other side. One of these items would be almost incredible to the house—"Attending the lord chancellor in his private room, when his lord ship begged for further indulgence till to-morrow, 13s. 4d." There were repeated charges for attendance in his lordship's private room concerning the decree, in which a variety of observations were made by his lordship, as to the terms of it; the same fee being invariably charged for attendance in the original cause. Having stated thus much upon the nature and qualify of the attendances (which consisted of little more than fixing the times of postponement, and latterly trifling alterations, in the terms of the decree) he had now only to state the gross charge for them in the bill. The sum was no less in amount than 1,030l. for these attendances alone [Hear, hear]. Upon the circumstance of this solicitor, attending the private room of the court, without any other solicitor in the cause being present, he would say nothing, but leave it to the reflections of those who heard him. But, what must be the sense of that great, eminent, and pow- 720 erful magistrate, as to the justice due to the parties, that he should have endured the writing of a letter to him in terms upon a case depending? Not only so, but that he should, to a suitor of his court, or as the phrase of another jurisdiction was, an orator to this process, pray for further delay, and entreat that the time I until the morrow should be allowed him for preparation—that he should endure in any man the audacity of writing to him, the highest magistrate and subject in the state, to importune him for his particular and partial attention to the case of one suitor in a cause? These things he must leave to the consideration of the House, without a single comment of his own.
It was his duty next to advert to the condition of the only other two courts from which any relief could be given in I equity to the claims of suitors, to see if in them also the accumulation of business was of such a kind as to come powerfully in aid of his conclusion, that inquiry should be made into the causes of the delay. In so doing, he was aware that he undertook an invidious task; but, although it was an office unwelcome and ungracious, and one from which he should derive no credit, but on the contrary, much obloquy, even from his own profession, he felt that no personal consideration should prevent the discharge of his duty. He would now call the attention of the House to the state of the court of Exchequer, the only court, in the opinion of the noble marquis, who proposed the measure to which he had alluded, which from its constitution had any tendency to relieve the higher courts. With respect to this court, he would state, not from surmise, but from what might be called history, that since the latter end of autumn, the time at which lawyers returned to their avocations, the Chief Baron had been precluded by illness from performing the duties of his station. It was known to the House that when the business was found increasing, this Judge was empowered by act of parliament to sit apart from the bench, and decide cases in equity. In consequence of his illness, this duty devolved upon certainly a most valuable gentleman, Mr. Baron Graham, of whom he, in common with others, must speak in the most handsome terms; but ill his case, as in all others, time must do its work. The excellent individual of whom he spoke had attained the age of 81. It 721 would therefore be unreasonable to expect the despatch of extraordinary business from that honourable and aged person. The next in seniority was Mr. Baron Garrow, who, from unavoidable circumstances, had been absent from the court since February last. But, had he been present, expert and justly renowned as he was for his knowledge of common law, it would be praise most absurd, it would be irony most indecent, to say of him, that his forte lay in equity trials. The junior, Mr. Baron Hullock, was a respected friend of his, of intelligence and ability altogether unquestionable: but he was yet fresh in the Court, and it would be indecorous to thrust him over the heads of two others, to give judgment in this separate branch of the jurisdiction. Such was the condition of that Court, upon which he would refrain from any further remarks, excepting this, that he was not certain but that other causes, well worthy of the consideration of the House, though he would not stop to specify them, might contribute towards effecting the delay of justice.—There was another Court, besides that of the vice-chancellor, which might be considered the legitimate handmaid of equity. Between this court and Chancery there was no collision of practice. They sat at different times, and without any confusion of business. Whatever was done in this lesser jurisdiction must be clear gain. It did really assist in ridding that accumulation of causes, which no learning, no ability, no perseverance could work through. But he had this to state respecting the Rolls Court, that between the time of sir William Grant sitting there, and that of the present Master, there was a very considerable difference; insomuch, that he had been informed by practitioners that there was a falling-off in the efficient business of the court; some alleging that not one-fourth, others that not one-tenth part of the business was performed now, compared with the time of sir W Grant. Of that excellent Judge, he could not presume to speak in terms of sufficient praise. The patience he exercised in examining, was no less than his firmness and promptitude in decision. But one feature in his conduct, which proved the excellence of his mind, was this—that he did not wait till years had manifested, to all men the infirmities which he knew would overtake him. He retired with all his honours fresh and blooming upon him, at a time when no 722 one suspected in him even the approach of decay. By that departure, as much as by the excellence of his judicial conduction examining and his prompt decisions he had set a bright example to his brethren on all the benches, which those among them who valued the real honour of their employments would gladly follow (Loud cheers]. These accumulations in the courts of Exchequer and the Rolls suggested additional reasons for carrying the motion which he had to propose into effect. In the Exchequer court there was an arrear of 170 causes at the end of the term. The late chief Baron had sat and very assiduously discharged the business of equity, and the consequence was, that from the firmness of his decisions and the despatch together, a great portion of the causes died a natural death, and dropped out of the paper. He felt justified in assuming, that there were distinct admissions of the growing nature of the evil which it had been his business to describe, and that it was now no longer a question that some saving remedy must be applied, in order to prevent a change perfectly radical in the system. Men of skill should be examined—sound opinions should be taken—deliberation should be used; and after that, they could proceed safely to legislate; not as they had done before, legislate first, and then proceed to examine the object.
He next directed the attention of the House to the jurisdiction of appeals, which formed a joint ground for going into the inquiry sought for by his motion. He began with the case of Scotch appeals, of which it appeared that there were, between 1813 and 1823, the following numbers:—291 heard; 145 affirmed; 62 reversed; 80 remitted to the courts for consideration on fresh facts; 2 altered. Upon the total, it appeared, that the number of these appeals, compared with appeals from the English courts, was as five to one. It might form a very proper subject for inquiry in the committee, if the constitution and appointments in the courts which furnished so strange an accumulation of appeals from their jurisdiction, had not some defects which contributed to this result. The fact, that the numbers affirmed to those reversed, or sent back on some ground or other, were as 145 to 144, gave considerable force to that suggestion.—He had said, that he would reserve the department of the vice- 723 chancellor for a separate consideration. The question respecting that jurisdiction had been before the House in 1813; and he believed no gentleman who had the recollection of the debate on his mind, together with the subsequent experience upon it, would now advise waiting for the decision of the other House, or recommend the Commons again to guide their decisions by the wisdom of that body. The bill for the erection of the vice-chancellor's court was introduced into the House by the late marquis of Londonderry. It was opposed by the powerful talents and piercing wit of the right hon. secretary opposite (Mr. Canning), who exerted himself to the utmost to explode it from the table. The right hon. gentleman had very truly prognosticated, that it would turn out to be a bill for causing all causes in Chancery to be heard twice over. The late lamented sir S. Romilly had opposed it, with the force of his profound wisdom. He had said, that the true title of the bill was "a bill to give the lord chancellor leisure, and to give the suitors the right of appeal in his lordship's court." The present vice-chancellor, also, had given his strongest opposition to it. The arguments and too prophetic predictions of these able persons were all in vain. The House legislated on suggestions furnished from the other House. They did indeed legislate; but it was only to legislate again upon the effects of their own error. To that bill there was this distinct and unanswerable objection—that it had failed in the object for which it was proposed, and had produced incalculable mischief. The result which he offered, from all that he had advanced, was this:—If the House could not at the time reach to that prophetic and prescient knowledge which had been displayed by the right hon. gentleman, by his late lamented friend, and by the present vice-chancellor, at least let them claim that every-day sort of wisdom, that homely intelligence, which would prevent them from falling into the unpitied situation of being caught again in the same snare—not to legislate on the knowledge of others, and without taking any light from the experience within their reach. He strongly defended the necessity of investigating the evil, and discovering the remedy in a committee of the house. He had now discharged his duty to the best of his ability, having refrained, as much as the subject would allow, from any statements likely to be 724 injurious to the feelings of any parties, and without disguising those circumstances which it was material for the House to know.—The hon. and learned member then concluded, amidst loud cheers, with moving, "That a Select Committee be appointed to inquire into the Arrear Business in the Court of Chancery, and the Appellate Jurisdiction of the House of Lords, and the causes thereof."
The Attorney General
commenced by observing, that however various the topics introduced in support of his motion by his hon and learned friend, he finally rested his case on the personal attack made upon the character of the lord chancellor. Before, however, he met his hon. and learned friend upon that subject, he felt it necessary to allude to something which had been stated respecting a legislative measure which was said to be in contemplation, in reference to the attendance of the noble and learned lord in the court of Chancery. He had not heard of that measure, but he did understand that, in the other House, the accumulation of Scotch appeals was so great as to make it necessary to inquire how the inconvenience could be remedied; and one of the objects of that inquiry was, to allow the lord chancellor more time to attend to the business of the court of Chancery. But, it was not on account of arrears of business in that court that a necessity for greater despatch existed. There were, in fact, no arrears of business in that court: but there was an increase of business, arising out of the increased population and wealth of the country, which produced a proportionate increase of litigation. With respect to the vice-chancellor's court, which his hon. and learned friend denied to give any ease to the suitor in. the determination of chancery suits, he would satisfy the House that that was very far from being the case. So far from the prophecies having been fulfilled which were pronounced before the establishment of the court, as to its inefficiency, he way sure he could convince the House, that its utility had been practically proved, and that his hon. and learned friend was quite mistaken in his assertions. It was allowed on all sides, at the time when the court was instituted, that the business of chancery had increased to an extent which rendered it impracticable for any person, however gifted, to keep under the business of the court. It was believed by many, that an effectual remedy would be, 725 the erection of a vice-chancellor's court. There was a difference of opinion on the subject, but the preponderance was in favour of the establishment of that court.
He was aware that the subject he had to enter on was one of dry details; but he was sure that when the House examined them, they would be convinced of the mis-statement of his hon. and learned friend as to the inutility of that court. It was evident that his hon. and learned friend had given his notice of motion first, and procured his information afterwards. His hon. and learned friend had alluded to particular cases in chancery; and he thought that, in fairness to the character of, the noble and learned person at the head of that court, he would to have given him some notice that such charges were to be made against him. He would give the House some information on those cases presently; but he must first observe, that his hon. and learned friend had stated the business of chancery to be as great now as before the establishment of the vice-chancellor's court. But how had he proved that? He said there was a certain number of causes now depending in chancery, and he called them arrears of business; but as to the great majority of those causes, they had not been set down for more than two terms. There was no court to which the hon. and learned mover could refer, in which he would not find a great, number of causes depending, without any improper accumulation of business, or without any imputation on the character of the judge who presided. But his hon. and learned friend had gone so far as to allude to, the age of a venerable judge of the Exchequer, in a manner which was intended to show him to be incapable of discharging the duties of his office. Now, he was of opinion that such a course of proceeding was objectionable, and that the judges of the land ought not to be dragged, unnecessarily before the tribunal of parliament.—With respect to the charge of arrears of business in chancery, his hon. and learned friend had omitted all mention of lunatic petitions and of cause petitions. The House would be surprised when he stated, after what had been said of the dilatoriness of the lord chancellor, that for the last ten years there had been a great number of lunatic petitions, on which the lord chancellor had had to decide, and many of those had been contested. Lord Hardwicke in ten years, had decided on 484 lunatic petitions. The 726 present lord chancellor in ten years had decided on 2,450 lunatic petitions. Were these to be considered matters of course? [Mr. Williams said, they might become so.] His hon. and learned friend thought that lunatic petitions might become matters of course. If that were really his opinion, he could know little of the subject of lunacy, which involved some of the most intricate considerations of law; and (as he was reminded by his hon. and learned friend near him) were the more scrupulously attended to by the chancellor, because in those cases there was no appeal from his judgment. He was somewhat surprised that his hon. and learned friend had never once adverted to the subject of bankrupt petitions. Some of these were decided by the vice-chancellor, but all those which were of importance were heard and decided by the lord chancellor.
He should now proceed to state the quantity of business which had been done in the courts, and he would then leave the House to say, whether the attack which had been made upon the lord chancellor for his delay in the decision of cases was justifiable or not. In the year 1820, the lord chancellor had heard 136 bankrupt petitions, and the vice-chancellor, 366. In 1821, the lord chancellor had heard 103, and the vice-chancellor 449. Up to Easter-term, 1823, the lord chancellor had heard 164, and the vice chancellor 465. From the year 1813 up to the present period, 5,820 bankrupt petitions had been disposed of, and of these the greater part had been heard before the lord chancellor. When his hon. and learned friend stated, that these petitions were twice heard, he was mistaken; because, it was only when cases were of high importance, and the parties had reason to be dissatisfied with the decision of the vice-chancellor, that they went before the lord chancellor. The case of Howard arid Gibbs, to take a recent example, was one of those to which he alluded. This case alone had occupied many days. When, therefore, the number of cases disposed of by the lord chancellor was spoken of, it should not so much be taken numerically as with a reference to the intricacy and the number of points which the cases involved, and which of course required more discussion and deliberation than cases of an ordinary description.—It had been said, that the introduction of the vice-chancellor's court had only had the effect of making causes to be heard twice. 727 But his objection might be applied also to the Rolls. The law had provided—wisely he thought—that the subject should have this right. The same principle applied to the appeals in the House of Lords; and if it should ever be taken away, the consequence would be, that the table of that House would groan under the weight of petitions. An objection had been made to the practice of appeals to the House of Lords, because they were, in point of fact, only appeals from the lord chancellor in one place to the lord chancellor in another; but this was rather asserted than proved. A case had happened, even during the present session, which would show that this was by no means the fact. Sir William Grant, the late Master of the Rolls, having decided upon a cause in an appeal had afterwards been lodge in the lord chancellor's court, the chancellor decided in favour of the Master's decree; and yet, upon a further appeal to the House of Lords their lordships reversed both those decisions. It could not, therefore, be said that the subject had no redress by an appeal to the House of Lords. Since the establishment of the vice-chancellor's court, 2,832 causes had been heard in it. Did his hon. and learned friend mean to say, that all those causes had been heard again by the lord chancellor, and that the vice-chancellor was a mere stepping-stone to the lord chancellor? That the number of appeals had increased was quite true; but the cause was, that the business had increased. Was it no relief to the suitors, that nearly 3,000 causes had been heard by the vice-chancellor since 1813, which could not have been heard by any other means? It was not for him to panegyrize the noble and learned lord who had been spoken of. That would be equally useless and unnecessary on the present occasion; but he would say, that no man could have proceeded with more dispatch than the noble and learned lord had done. He had heard, in the course of ten years, 1,350 exceptions and further directions, 175 plea and demurrers, 2,987 petitions, and 16,000 motions. The House would not say the lord chancellor had been idle when they learnt that, during the ten years, the lord chancellor had, upon an average, disposed of 150 bankrupt petitions, 250 lunatic petitions, 560 motions, 450 cause petitions, and 47 appeals When he talked of motions, he would not have it supposed that they were motions 728 course. He spoke in the hearing of many persons who practised in the court; and they would bear him out when he said, that many of these motions went to decide the fate of the cause. In injunctions, for instance, the whole merit of the case was decided upon motion. The same observation, too, would apply to motions to stay proceedings. In petitions, by way of appeal from the Rolls or vice-chancellor's court, the whole merits of the cause were brought into discussion, and a decision often pronounced upon the petition. He trusted this statement would satisfy the House, that the vice-chancellor's court had operated greatly to the relief of the suitor, while the option of appeal was satisfactory and useful, when parties were dissatisfied with the decision of their causes. His hon. and learned friend had said, that the business of the court of Chancery was formerly well conducted by one judge; but he had not stated in what proportion the business of that court had increased since the period to which he referred. If he had said, that the arrears were then as much in amount as was now disposed of by the vice-chancellor, he would not have been far wrong. The increase in the number of bills filed in chancery would best show this. In 1801, there were filed l,445; in 1805, 1,531; in 1810, 1,793; in 1822, 2,489; and in the present year there had been already 1,058 bills filed.
His hon. and learned friend being, as he trusted he had shown, not borne out in his statement that the vice-chancellor's court was of no use, had next endeavoured, by mentioning certain causes, to make out the charge of delay. Feeling that a graver or more important topic could not be submitted to the consideration of the House, he should proceed to notice some of these. The first was that of Brown and De Tastet, which had been originally determined by the Master of the Rolls. It would be in vain to attempt to detail the particulars of the case; but he would state, that the expenses of a reference to the master, which upon the hearing of the appeal the chancellor had directed, amounted to 500l., while the result of that reference fixed Mr. De Tastet with the payment of 63,000l. To this report which had been made with great care and ability by master Stephen, Mr. De Tastet had, in the language of the court of Chancery, excepted; the vice-chancellor's decision upon these exceptions were ap- 729 pealed against; and ultimately the lord chancellor had sent the accounts again to another master, the hon. and learned member for Exeter (Mr. Courtenay). The cause of Fillingham and Bromley, it was said, had been hung up many years, but this was the fault of the suitors, not of the chancellor. Though he (the attorney-general) was not in the cause of White-church and Holunthy, he happened to be acquainted with the particulars of it; and he knew that it involved many conflicting decisions, and was one of great nicety. The question was, whether the lord of a copyhold manor had a right to cut timber on the estates of tenants holding for life. The House would see that this was a question of great importance. Lord Holt had pronounced a decision in the court of King's-bench, the validity of which the lord chancellor doubted. The case of Powell and Sergeant was one of a demurrer; and the House must remember, that a demurrer in Chancery was very different from a demurrer in a court of law; in the former it tried the right of the plaintiff to relief. As to the case of Ware and Horwood, it was a case which had been often heard of before; and if his learned friend wished to amuse himself by diving into equity reports, he could furnish him with two or three hours reading of the reports of this case. His learned friend had objected to the charges of attornies for attending the courts when they were there on other business; but he would ask him, whether this was not the usual practice in the profession, and whether attornies who had more causes than one at the assizes, did not always charge for each of them? His learned friend had stated, that the bill for attendances alone amounted to 1,030l. So far from this being the fact, the whole bill was not more than 1,000l., and the charge for attendances allowed by the master amounted to little more than 100l. The total sum taxed and allowed was only 561l. He had therefore good reason to complain of the statement of his hon. and learned friend.
He now came to the charge which had been made on the noble and learned judge who presided in Chancery, and to whom he conceived that in justice some intimation ought to have been given of the intention to make such a charge. What could possibly be imputed to a Judge of a more grave and serious nature, than to say, that he had pronounced a 730 decision, on the suggestion of one of the parties, and behind the back of the other. When there was a case of great importance in Chancery, it was the practice of the chancellor to hand down to the parties the minutes of his decree, with a view to receive information on the subject, if any further information could be forthcoming before the final decision was pronounced. But, whatever might be imputed to the lord chancellor on the score of delay, this was, he believed, the first time that any man had ventured to impeach his integrity and justice. This was the first time that any one had ventured to insinuate, that his decision had been influenced by the application of a party, and that a surreptitious decree had been obtained.—His hon. and learned friend had spoken of the difficulty of adducing other cases, be cause in those which were pending solicitors were under an apprehension that their cases would be prejudiced; but why he would ask, had he not brought forward decided cases, seeing that in those no objection of that kind would have been applicable?—His hon. and learned friend, not content with the attack which he had made upon the court of Chancery had next proceeded to the court of Exchequer. It was true, that the lord chief baron having been afflicted with a severe illness, at the end of Michaelmas term, had been compelled to absent himself from his court; but he had since resumed his duties, and had discharged those duties during the whole of the last term Would it be said, then, that the temporary illness of one of the judges had caused any serious delay to the suitors? Some allusion had also been made to the age and infirmities of another learned person Mr. Baron Graham; but it should be recollected, that neither had prevented him from the faithful and regular discharge of the duties of his office. It had been objected, that barons Garrow and Hullock, not being equity lawyers, were unfit to decide upon causes in the Exchequer; but it must be remembered, that it was a court of law as well as of equity, and that it had always been usual to have two judges versed in each of those points. His hon. and learned friend had also alluded to the ill health of the Master of the Rolls; but, beside that a temporary illness furnished no just ground for the removal of a judge, no delay had taken place in the proceedings of that court, seeing that there was no arrear of busi- 731 ness. Besides, as the subject of appeals was now under the consideration of the House of Lords, the place in which it was most capable of being decided, there was no sufficient reason for commencing an inquiry in that House. The accumulation of Scotch appeals was, in fact, the great cause of the delay complained of; and he might state, with confidence, that the manner in which those appeals were decided, had given the greatest satisfaction. Scotland never was in a situation in which its appeals were better or more impartially determined. It was well known, that appeals came from Scotland to the House of Lords upon all occasions. That was an evil which might require a remedy; but what had it to do with the vice-chancellor's court? The increase of business in 1815, had showed that his hon. and learned friend was mistaken in his opinion. It was felt, that no single judge was competent to discharge the duty which devolved on the court of Chancery; and, in consequence, the vice-chancellor's court had been established in 1812.—But his hon. and learned friend had argued, that the business of the suitors was so much delayed, as to render an inquiry necessary. How stood the fact? Why, the causes now set down for hearing were only of the date of the last, or of the preceding term; and those who knew any thing of the profession must be aware that it was impossible every cause could be tried the moment it was ripe for hearing. His hon. and learned friend had wholly failed in showing that there was a culpable arrear of business, and therefore he had failed in establishing a just ground for an inquiry.—In the course of his speech, his hon. and learned friend had argued, that no measure, with respect to Scotch appeals, ought to be received in that House without a previous inquiry. But, would it not be better to wait the result of the inquiry in the other House, before he urged that point? There was an inquiry going on there with respect to Scotch appeals; and it must be allowed, that that was the most proper place for proceeding with such an inquiry. When this was the case—when the other House had determined to examine the subject—surely an inquiry of the nature suggested by his hon. and learned friend would be introduced a little unnecessarily into the House of Commons. If his hon. and learned friend, in bringing forward this motion, merely wished to state his opi- 732 nion of the noble and learned lord at the head of this court of Chancery, an, opportunity for doing so had been afforded to him; and, beyond all question, he had taken ample advantage of it. He, however, viewed the exertions of that noble and learned person in a light very different from that of his hon. and learned friend. He was convinced that the lord chancellor had done as much business as could possibly be expected from any man. Observing no arrear that might not fairly be accounted for—knowing, as he did, that the subject of Scotch appeals, which had been scarcely adverted to by his hon. and learned friend, was a matter of inquiry in the other House—he objected to the present motion as being unnecessary, and would sit down with giving it his decided negative.
§ Mr. M. A. Taylor
commenced by observing, that this was a question well worthy the most serious attention of the House; and he would, for the information of those who had not thoroughly considered it, place the facts in the shortest possible compass. There never was a subject brought forward in parliament that stood on stronger grounds than this. He and other individuals had often, introduced it; for they felt it to be most necessary, that an inquiry should be instituted into the general practice of the court of Chancery, and into the appellant jurisdiction of the individual at the head of that court. The learned attorney-general had entered into this discussion with some degree of warmth, because he supposed that the hon. and learned gentleman who brought forward the motion had made some invidious observations upon the eminent individual at the head of the court of Chancery, as well as Upon several of the judges in Westminster-hall. Now, for his part, he did not think that his hon. and learned friend, the originator of the present motion, had stated any one point that could be construed as invidious towards any individual in the court of Chancery, or any other court. He admitted, that the lord chancellor filled a very high and a very important situation: but if it were to be said, when a motion of immense importance was brought forward, "Oh, this nearly relates to a person of great rank and consideration, you cannot touch upon his conduct, without betraying an invidious feeling, and therefore you must forbear from introducing the subject," there, would, be an end at 733 once of all inquiry into abuses. He, however, would not be deterred by such Considerations, but would speak his opinions fearlessly. In the year 1811, he had moved for a committee on this subject, and a committee was appointed to inquire into the causes of the delay in the exercise of the appellant jurisdiction, and the general delay of business in the high court of Chancery. That committee sat early in 1811, under the auspices of the late Mr. Perceval, the then leading minister of the House of Commons. But, of the 21 individuals who were nominated upon it, a considerable majority were hostile to the inquiry: and amongst them, were three masters in Chancery, who were themselves implicated in the matters to be inquired into by that committee. He (Mr. Taylor) was allowed to state the arrear of business before the committee; but when he wished to expound the causes of that arrear, the three masters in Chancery, who had never attended before, came down and said—"You must proceed no farther; you must not accuse the lord chancellor." His lamented friend, sir Samuel Romilly requested them to look at the resolution under which the committee was appointed, but all their reply was, "What of that? You must not proceed in the course you have proposed." And, out of 21 members of the committee, no less than 13 coincided in this opinion. He had then moved the House, that there should be an instruction to the committee, directing them to inquire into the cause which retarded suits in Chancery, and delayed decisions in cases which came under the appellant jurisdiction; but that motion was lost by a majority of 90 votes. The House of Commons was lauded as being very pure indeed: but he knew not what would be said of them when they thus conducted themselves, when they allowed a statement of the arrears of business to be made, but refused to hear any exposition as to the cause of those arrears. What was the reason of this refusal? Why, he heard at the time, and he heard it from good authority, that the lord chancellor or declared, "if an inquiry into the cause of the delay were conceded by the house, he would give up the seals." It thus appeared, that no motion relative to the court of Chancery was to be supported, for fear it should Kurt the feelings of the lord chancellor. But he could assure the gentlemen who now heard him, 734 that they might vote for the preposition before the House, without in the lightest degree reflecting on, or injuring, the lord chancellor's character. At a subsequent period, when he had brought forward this subject, he was left, it was true, in a minority. The majority was, however but four; and the number was so small, that the late much lamented lord Londonderry had observed, that the question was very nearly carried. He (Mr. Taylor) was surprised at the result of his motion, and had expressed that surprise to a friend; who immediately said, "Why should you be surprised? You know the lord chancellor is the individual who keeps, the whole government together. If he is molested, he will give up the seals; and there is an end to the government." His hon. and learned friend had been, arraigned by the attorney-general, for taking his information from bad sources. He, denied that his hon. and learned friend had done so; and he would contend, that the grievances pointed out by his hon. and learned friend did really exist. Suitors had waited on him (Mr. Taylor), and stated the deplorable situation in which they and their families were placed, in consequence of the delays in Chancery. He wished to see their solicitors, in order to ascertain from them the facts which their clients stated, and which he was desirous of investigating; but they implored him, from prudential motives, not to do so. The expence incurred in the court of Chancery, in consequence of this delay, was enormous. The case of Brown and De Tastet, which was an appeal from the Master of the Rolls, had stood on the paper ever since the year 1812, and was not decided until last year. In 1812, a case of charity was entered, which was to be heard by the Chancellor himself, but it was not heard last year. Let the House consider what the expence to that charity really was. Doubtless they would be surprised when he told them that the term fees alone were 130l. a year, for every case on the paper. Was any person relieved in this court? If he entered it, was it not at the expense of one-third of the property for which he contended And yet this was described as a most delightful court! Was it not necessary, he would ask, to inquire into the cause of that delay—of that tedious, procrastination—by which a grievous expense was entailed on suitors in Chancery? It was a proverbial saying, it was not his report, 735 but the universal report, and. a subject of deep execration, that he who ventured into this court was ruined by its proceedings. Was not that, he demanded, matter for consideration and inquiry? The masters in Chancery were complained of by the suitors, and the former complained of the solicitors. Was not this a subject that deserved inquiry? Ought they not to see where the fault really was? For that purpose a committee ought to be appointed, free from the presence of masters in Chancery. Had such a committee been formerly granted him, he would have shown, that cases had remained undecided for 30 years, which with a little attention might have been settled in ten days. Thirty-four years had elapsed since he practised in the court of Chancery, and gentlemen whom he then knew to be entangled in its proceedings had not yet escaped from it. In short, there was no getting out of it. And yet the attorney-general had described it to be the most excellent court in the world! He admitted that some business was done in the vice-chancellor's court. It would be most strange if that were not the case. But that court was not likely to expedite business; for individuals would always be anxious for the lord high Chancellor's opinion. Where there were two contending courts, litigating parties would never be contented till they obtained the opinion of the higher jurisdiction. He had given his opinion most distinctly to the lord chancellor on this subject. He had told that noble and learned lord, that the business was too extensive for any one individual; and he had expressed a wish, that a portion of it should be allotted, not to a deputy, for that created too much delay, but to a regular court. He had also urged the separation of the bankrupt cases from the ordinary business of the court of Chancery; but this could not be done. What was the consequence? Why, the consequence was, that every day the bankrupt petitions stood first on the paper. What was the reason? Simply because the profits attending those petitions were too great to be parted with. As for the proceeding of the House of Lords on the subject, their Report was one of the most flimsy compositions he had ever read. The vice-chancellor's court was to have done every thing; but had it cured the evil? On the contrary, the evil still continued in greater force than ever. Was not the failure of that expe- 736 riment a ground for inquiry? It never was his intention to cast any blame on the lord chancellor, of whose zeal and industry he was well aware, except so far as he was chargeable with having kept that whole court and its patronage in his own hands, instead of dividing them for the public good. The attorney-general had talked of the increase of business in the court of Chancery; but the fact was that there were as many bills filed annually, within 200, in lord Hardwicke's time as at present. He came into office in 1737; in 1745 there were 1863.filed, in 1746, 2032. There were now 33 millions sterling in the hands of the accountant-general; whereas, in lord Hardwicke's time, the amount was only three millions. The hon. member then proceeded to enumerate several cases in which the expense of legal proceedings greatly deteriorated the property of the suitor. In one instance, an unfortunate man Stated to him that he had a sum of 90l. contested in Chancery, but that it would cost 110l. to get it out. Another person, who sued for a sum of 2,000l., which was disputed, had netted but 700l. Were, not grievances such as these fit subjects for rigorous inquiry? The aggregate mass of misery which was thus inflicted. demanded the interference of parliament. When the suitor was robbed, whether by the slowness of the Chancellor, of by, arty thing else connected with the system, he had a right to demand redress from parliament. The House was the guardian of the public purse and of the public liberty, and it ought to be the strenuous protector of the property of the subject. He was convinced that if a list of persons confined for debt during the last fourteen years were made out, it would be found that the misfortunes of one-fourth of them arose from difficulties occasioned by their being plunged into Chancery. What was the reason that people complained of that court universally? Would such be the case if business were properly conducted? He knew an instance where an individual, who had a claim for 4,000l. had asked his advice as to the best means of procuring it. He told him that the most eligible mode would he, to submit his claim, as it was disputed, to a reference. The person to whom he alluded made the proposal, but it was refused; and he was peremptorily told, "If you don't agree to my terms, I will hang you up for twenty years in 737 the court of Chancery!" And in truth it was in his power to do so. But this was a state of things which should not be suffered to exist. This, however, was the court in which, as the attorney-general stated, there was no delay, where no injustice was inflicted—which was, in fact, a complete legal elysium. He entreated the House to agree to the motion, seeing that a most complete ground had been laid for a full investigation of the subject.
§ Mr. Denman
said, that as this was a most important question, and as he observed that some hon. gentlemen on the other side had been busily engaged in taking notes, he wished the House to have the benefit of them, and would therefore move, that the debate be adjourned till to-morrow.
§ The House divided: For the adjournment, 59; against it, 120. After this motion had been disposed of, Mr. Grey Bennet moved, "That this debate be adjourned till Friday." Upon this the House divided: Ayes, 49; Noes, 133. Mr. Ross next moved, "That the debate be adjourned till this day six months."
§ Mr. M. A. Taylor
warmly opposed the motion. Was this, he asked, to be the answer to the suitors who were suffering martyrdom by the delays of the court of Chancery? Were they to he told that their complaints should be investigated six months hence? Such a motion was no friendly act to the noble and learned lord at the head of that court. It was to be represented that he, pure and unsullied as he was, trusted his defence to a six months' adjournment. He (Mr. T.) had personally no other feelings but those of regard and respect towards that noble and learned lord; but, if he were his bitterest enemy—if he wished to destroy his well-earned fame—if he wished to see him go down the page of history tainted and dishonoured—what course better adapted to attain that result could he pursue, than the motion brought forward by the noble lord's professed friends on the other side? He believed the noble and learned lord was essential to the existence of the motley administration of which he was the chief member. It was he who cemented the tinsel patchwork of the orange-liberal-protestant-catholic administration of the day; and his coadjutors were now going to declare, that they dared not defend the noble and learned lord's conduct on just grounds! The noble and. learned lord would treat his friends as they deserved. 738 He would reject their support with disdain. He would tell them, "Without me you are a rope of sand, and you shall defend me, or cease to be a ministry.
§ Mr. W. Courtenay
said, that no desire existed on his side of the House to avoid discussion; but it did not fellow that hon. gentlemen might choose to be pointed at, and called on to speak at the convenience of their opponents. He therefore begged his hon. friend to withdraw his motion, and consent to an adjournment till to-morrow.
§ The motion was then withdrawn, and the debate was adjourned till to-morrow.