§ MR. HIBBERT
, in moving a Resolution to the effect that it was expedient to increase the salaries of the County Court Judges by the sum of £300 per annum, said, that the jurisdiction of the County Courts had been extended and the duties of the Judges multiplied by a series of Acts which had been passed almost year by year since those Courts were constituted; but although it was true that an increase had been made to the salaries of the Judges as originally fixed, it was wholly disproportionate to the amount of extra work they were called upon to perform. While there had also been an enormous increase in the number of plaints coming before those Courts, there had been a simultaneous falling of in the number of writs issued from the Superior Courts, thus showing that the County Courts were in fact doing, to a great extent, the duty of the Superior Courts and the Judges of Assize. Moreover, the Registrars of certain County Courts would actually receive more remuneration this year than the Judges of those County Courts themselves. The total sum which would be required to pay the additional salary to these Judges which his Motion contemplated was not more than £15,000 a year; and he 817 maintained that the whole of that sum might be met in the present year from the saving which would result from the transfer to those Courts of the Bankruptcy business alone, without the necessity of extracting a single additional 1d. from the pockets of the tax-payers of the country. He concluded by moving the Resolution of which he had given notice.
§ MR. ASSHETON CROSS
in seconding the Motion, said, that no doubt the Chancellor of the Exchequer would say that it would be better to postpone a decision upon the question until the extent to which the work of the County Court Judges increased; he submitted, however, that it was not the amount but the kind of work; and he, with others, who agreed with the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert) desired to raise the standard of County Court Judges. In 1865, when it was proposed to raise the salary of the County Court Judges, the then Chancellor of the Exchequer and present Prime Minister by his observations clearly showed he intended then that the salaries of the County Court Judges should be still further raised if they had duties in Bankruptcy cast upon them. This was now about to be done, and they were, therefore, entitled to extra remuneration.
Motion made, and Question proposed,
That, having regard to the Admiralty Act of last Session, by virtue of which an entirely new jurisdiction has been conferred upon certain County Courts, and to the Bankruptcy Bill, under which the district County Courts will take the place and perform the functions of the district Bankruptcy Courts, and with a view to secure efficiency in the office of County Court Judge, in the opinion of this House it is expedient that the judges upon whom the new duties and responsibilities may be imposed should receive an additional remuneration of £300 a year."— (Mr. Hibbert.)
§ MR. AYRTON
presumed the hon. Member for Oldham (Mr. Hibbert) had brought forward the question at the late hour of half-past twelve in order to relieve his mind rather than with a hope of obtaining ample discussion of his proposal. County Courts were started twenty-one years ago in the hope that they would be self - supporting; but they involved an aggregate charge of £587,000, and the Exchequer received from them £354,000, so that the deficit was £233,000, which was due to the dis- 818 position of the House to listen to solicitations like that just made, and to show more consideration for officials than for tax-payers. He had heard no adequate reasons for agreeing to this Motion. Reviewing the history of the County Courts, he referred to the fact that the salaries of the Judges had been once reduced, and when their salaries were increased from £1,200 to £1,500, it was understood that that augmentation was made on condition that they should place their whole time and abilities at the service of the State, and were to abstain wholly from private practice. A salary of £1,500 a year was not only reasonable and sufficient, but very liberal for a gentleman in the professional position of the County Court Judges before accepting those appointments, and he believed that in the average of cases their previous emoluments were not more than half that amount. The hon. and learned Member for South-west Lancashire (Mr. Assheton Cross) wished to elevate the Judges.
§ MR. AYRTON
said, then the present Judges were to receive the higher pay without being elevated. Probably the Motion was intended to apply to future Judges; but even then he was not aware of any graduated scale of "elevation" in tone and character which could be measured by increased remuneration. He did not believe that higher pay would be likely to result in such elevation. He would remind the House that the duties of the Judges had been lightened by some of their work being thrown on the Registrars. If the House were disposed to spend more money on the County Courts, the worst use of it would be to increase the salaries of the Judges, and a much better plan would be to increase the number of the Judges, where the judicial work rendered an increase necessary. The Returns showed that they did not give up to the service of the country all the time that the country was entitled to expect from them, and in many cases they very little consulted the interests of the public, for they frequently lived at a great distance from their districts. The more this question was examined, the more certain it would appear that there was no necessity for saddling the country with this increase.
§ MR. COLLINS
said, he was glad to 819 find that this attempt to increase the salaries of the Judges was to be resisted. They had no right to complain unless they were overworked; and if that were the case it was an argument, not for increasing the salaries of these gentlemen, though it might be a valid argument for appointing more Judges.
MR. G. O. MORGAN
said, the question was not of the amount of work, but of the quality of the work. These Courts were at first instituted for the recovery of small debts, but now every kind of jurisdiction was assigned to the Judges.
§ THE CHANCELLOR OF THE EXCHEQUER
called attention to the fact that the County Court Judges had already had £300 a year added to their income, in 1865, on account of the addition of Equity and Admiralty jurisdiction. The Admiralty cases were, of course, very few, and the cases in Equity, which were usually very trifling in their character, numbered only 640 last year among sixty Judges. They were now asked to increase the salaries of these gentlemen by another £300 a year, on account of duties which had not yet been imposed upon them, and on account of a Bill which was not yet the law of the land, and the provisions of which threw nearly all the work that was necessary to carry them out, not upon those Judges, but upon the creditors themselves. The demand was a most extravagant one, and, indeed, of all cases of a similar character, he had never heard one so weak.
§ MR. MUNDELLA
said, he knew an instance where the Judge of one of these Courts lived on the shores of the Mediterranean, and' managed to perform his business by sitting at the end of one month and the beginning of another. If this proposal were agreed to it would be plain that the country was intended for the benefit of the lawyers, and not the lawyers for the country.
§ Question put.
§ The House divided:—Ayes 56; Noes 102: Majority 46.