said, he wished to ask his noble Friend opposite (the Earl of Aberdeen) whether he could hold out any hope of a speedy abolition of the County Court fees, as they formed a monstrous grievance to the suitors of those courts? He would say no more, but would simply refer to two or three cases to show the present working of the courts. The first statement he would read he had received from a respectable attorney in the City, who stated that in bringing an action for a client for payment of a debt of 14l. 3s. 6d. he bad been charged for court fees only—for taxes only—the sum of 7l. 5s. 9d. This was an undefended cause in one of the County Courts of Middlesex; and he believed that if the unfortunate suitor had brought his action in the court of his noble and learned Friend (Lord Campbell), and had judgment by default, he would have been charged only 30s., or perhaps only 12s. 6d. [Lord CAMPBELL: Ours is the cheap shop.] It was no doubt cheap, and he hoped it was also good; but some shops sold cheap things which were very bad. The next case was one from an attorney in the country. The action was for damages for a trespass under the consent clauses of the Act—both parties had consented to the jurisdiction, and the damages awarded were 5l. They, however, did not consent for nothing, for the fees were 8l. 0s. 6d. That was the amount of the court fees and taxes to obtain a verdict for 5l. 832 damages. The third case was an action for 18l., and the court fees were 10l.; but those were not all the expenses, for 6l. more was added for money expended, so that to recover 18l., the unhappy suitor had to expend 16l. This was the way the money was extorted by the taxes imposed upon the County Courts, and these were laid on in order to pay the salaries of the Judges' bailiffs and clerks, and for the support and repairs of the court-house; but in some places—as where these cases occurred—court-houses were ready for use, and therefore no expense was incurred in erecting others; but in Cornwall, Durham, and Northumberland, there were no courthouses, and thus these fees were taken in every place and thrown into a general fund, so that the London suitors paid for the Cornwall court-house. The Government was bound to provide places for dispensing justice, and these poor suitors ought not to be called upon to pay the expenses, from which suitors in the courts above were exempt. He really thought this extortion should not be allowed to last any longer, and he hoped and trusted he might hear of its being speedily abolished. The whole fees raised by the County Court taxes amounted to about 275,000l., while under the reduced scale of the Courts of Westminster only about 50,000l. was raised by fees. Well might his noble and learned Friend say his was the "cheap shop," when the superior courts received 50,000l. in fees, while the courts over which Mr. Serjeant Manning and other learned gentlemen presided raised 275,000l. All salaries in these superior courts were paid by the State; in the County Courts the poor suitors paid them.
§ THE EARL OF ABERDEEN
said, that the subject which the noble and learned Lord had introduced was of much importance, but he was afraid that the answer which he had to give would hardly be such as that noble and learned Lord would consider satisfactory. It was a mistake to suppose that Government derived any revenue from these fees, or that the amount which they realised was more than was necessary to defray the expenses of the County Courts themselves. They might or might not be excessive, but at all events they were no more than sufficient for the purposes for which they were raised. Whether the public ought or ought not to take upon itself the payment of the charges to which the fees were now applied, was a question 833 fairly open for consideration; but if the public should think fit to pay them, all he could say was, that the charges were very considerable, and that the amount which would have to be provided for would be about 140,000l. a year. It was a question for Parliament to consider whether the payment of that sum ought to fall upon the public or upon suitors. He granted that the amount which had been mentioned by his noble and learned Friend appeared to be excessive, and particularly when compared with the charges which were made in Westminster Hall. But their Lordships must see that the question was not one which could be considered in reference to these courts alone, and that it must be taken up, if at all, in connection with the whole legal and judicial expenditure of the country. The subject, he admitted, might, in that form, be a very fit one for inquiry; but, having conferred with his right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer on the subject, he was not in a situation to promise to his noble and learned Friend any relief from those burdens which he had pressed so frequently and so strongly.
, having referred to the extent to which the evils of excessive fees and sinecures had been done away with in the superior courts, and acknowledged the share which that great man, Sir Robert Peel, had had in the removal of such abuses, said the Commission now sitting with respect to the County Courts would no doubt consider the subject of the excessive fees to which his noble and learned Friend had called the attention of the House; and if they could not—as he was afraid they could not—be altogether abolished, would at least recommend that they should be levied with some discrimination.
believed the Commissioners had already reported very strongly in favour of the abolition of the charges on the suitors to the extent of 125,000l. a year.
THE LORD CHANCELLOR
said, the Commissioners had not made any Report, but had agreed to certain resolutions.