Page images

than is possessed by some of those gentlemen; and as it is notorious that not a single real property lawyer of note, or conveyancer in large practice, was consulted as to either the principle or details of these measures, we cannot but think that, should they ever become law, they will either completely fail, and remain quietly in the statute book unnoticed, which would be a fatal blow to law reform; or they will lead to litigation, trouble, expense, injustice, and fraud, and, instead of proving a benefit to the country, will be the cause of ruin and misery to many.

Our remarks have already run to so considerable a length, that we can now do no more than commend to the perusal of those who are interested in the subject of registration, the Act (inentioned at the head of this article) which has established a land registry for the whole of the province of South Australia. Titles to land in Australia are far more simple than titles to land in this country; complicated settlements are unusual in the colony, and all titles can be traced back to grants from the Crown. The task, therefore, which the framers of the Act had to undertake, was not of that almost overwhelming difficulty which is found to attend the preparation of similar measures here ; but the Act, though not perfect, is immeasurably superior as a specimen of careful legislation to the bills introduced into the parliament of the mother country.

In the Report of the Sub-Committee of the Manchester Law Association, we find the following remark :-“ There is no need to discuss the bills in reference to any merely professional considerations. The bills will not reduce the business of the solicitor.” It proceeds to say, the interest of the public only is professed by the Association to be their object. Now, we would suggest one word upon these remarks. The effect of the provisions in these bills upon the profits of the solicitor, or on the income


1 A paper relative to the working of the Act has been laid before the Law Amendment Society by Mr. Torrens, the Registrar-General for South Australia. We shall recur to this paper and to the Act in a future number of this Magazine. VOL. VII. NO, XIII.




[ocr errors]

of counsel, it is obvious, ought not to be dragged into the question at all; but, nevertheless, we regret to say we have lately seen elsewhere appeals madle to professional men, with relation to the subject of the bills, based entirely upon what we may (following the felicitous and variously interpreted language lately employed in the House of Commons) designate as “the professional aggrandizement and private advantage” of attorneys. To take, first, the lowest ground of protest against such an unfortunate line of opposition, we would say, it is inexpedient for any body of men thus to put forth selfish, personal, and pecuniary motives as those actuating them in a matter affecting the common weal. Is it likely to attract or disgust the client public to see the legal body complaining of a particular measure, because it will prevent them from deriving large emoluments from the pockets of those who employ them? The lawyers in both branches have great political influence in parliament; but if a barefaced and self-interested position like this were confessed or even suspected, it would infallibly lead in the Commons to consequences the very opposite to those desired by the persons who professed sentiments so foolish and mischievous. If the public could do without paying attorneys and barristers a per centage on their property for maintaining their legal rights and preserving for them in civil affairs what is equitable, it would be perfectly justifiable to set about abolishing courts of law, shutting up attorneys' offices, and turning Lincoln's Inn into a “public recreation ground,” the Temple into a “penitentiary and reformatory” for either sex, and Gray's Inn into “baths and washhouses."

The impolicy, then, of such a trades’-union complaint, resembling more the machine-breaking intelligence of the operative of a quarter of a century since is obvious; but taking the higher ground--that of social morality-it is clear that, for one division of society to claim a right to aggravate the misfortunes of the rest, that they may make larger profits out of them, and levy legal taxes and permitted imposts out of their hard-earned gains, is as barbarous and atrocious as the system of plunder of the old




robber knights on Father Rhine. If the medical profession were to insist upon disease being disseminated by act of parliament, and pestilence being perpetuated and malaria encouraged, because doctors had a prescriptive right to a certain per centage on the earnings of the community-although these pretensions should be supported by the undertaker, sanctified by the clergyman of the cemetery, and approved by the shareholders-society would not agree to it, and none would be so ready to try the right as members of the legal profession. They would argue that the police had an equally valid vested right in crime, and the surgical-instrument maker in corporeal deformity. Such a course of dealing with the subject of law reforms is, therefore, degrading to those who profess to be citizens as well as lawyers, and we dismiss it with our hearty contempt.

Parliament and the public have, since the 11th day of February last, been, to use Mr. Christie's language,' in a “fool's paradise," from expecting that a great and beneficial change in the present system of conveyancing was at hand. Now, the Solicitor-general has been, during the late session, constructing, and for a short time residing, in his Eden. By “fortuitous” and political mischances he has been for a period drawn out of his pretty temporary garden ; and without even having had, it would appear, the opportunity of tasting of the tree of knowledge. We trust that the flaming swords of some competent legislative angels will save him from the trouble and disgrace of again showing his nakedness, or his more indecent flimsy covering in the blessed region of real property law reform.

We may remind our readers that a genuine reform in the law of real property was introduced into the Upper House of Par. liament, not by a young and inexperienced authority, but by Lord St. Leonards, the great real property lawyer of the age -a reform against which not a word has been said by any lawyer of repute, but which, it is admitted on all hands, would have had a most beneficial effect. What has been the fate of this bill? “Scarcely a line has been vouchsafed by any of the

"Report of Reg. Com., p. 327.



newspapers to a notice of this measure, much less to any comment upon it; and yet the good that it will effect is, perhaps, greater than that of any measure which has been introduced in the law of real property since the acts passed at the recommendation of the commissioners of 1828." 1 Alas! these remarks were written at a time when it was hoped and expected that Lord St. Leonards' bill would be passed. It was accepted by the Lords; but in the Commons, on the 8th April last, the Secretary to the Treasury stated that the bill “seriously affected the interests of the Crown and the revenue departments,” and that it would be more convenient that the bill should be withdrawn and brought forward in a new parliament. The Attorney-general weakly acquiesced in this suggestion, and with “unfeigned regret” withdrew the bill. Of course, if the Treasury is determined to stick to a system which all practical men have condemned for years ; namely, that of rendering real estate in the hands of a purchaser liable to Crown debts and succession duty, which no innocent purchaser ought ever in justice to be called on to pay, any endeavour to reform our real property law may as well be abandoned at once. Here, we think, the laws of real and personal property might properly be assimilated. If you buy stock, you do not require to be told that it is unnecessary to inquire whether any legacy, or succession duty, or any other debt is owing, or may become owing, to the Crown by the proprietors from whom you purchase the stock, and the reason for keeping up the distinction is certainly not obvious to any but Secretaries to the Treasury. But the members of the government were not warm supporters of Lord St. Leonards' bill—probably for the reason that it was not a government measure--and that they did not care to fathom or could not comprehend its merits; nor would it, they might possibly believe, bring credit on themselves—they could make no political capital out of it.

We have, in fact, been experiencing the evils of a government too weak and incapable to adopt or institute any useful or practical measures themselves, but strong enough to barricade to others the proper avenues to legislative reform. The great drums have been beaten, but the drummers have been as hollow as the drums. It is not for us to say how much this sad spectacle results from ignorance, or how far it has been a “game of speculation."

* Remarks, &c., issued by the Manchester Law Association.

We do not conceal our opinion that the delusions (of which we doubt not he himself was also a victim) attempted by Sir II. M‘C. Cairns to be practised on the Commons are, politically and socially, both a blunder and a crime--a blunder, because the short-lived • brilliancy” of the parliamentary orator will be forgotten, whilst the falseness of the pretensions put forward will long be remembered: brumagem diamonds may once cheat the confiding customer, but what becomes of the character and future trade of the cheap jeweller?-a crime, because possible and real improvements of judicious reformers have been retarded, and confidence has been shaken in the good faith, probity, and ability of public nien who profess to devise and carry out the rational requirements of the public.


« PreviousContinue »