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period immediately following the dissolution of Parliament, general meetings have been regularly held, while committees have sat on several subjects of much interest and importance.
UNANIMITY OF JURIES.
The first question which came before the Society during the present session, related to a point of great practical momentviz., the unanimity of juries. During the last few years the question now referred to had begun to excite considerable attention, both amongst the public and in the profession. The increased intelligence of the classes from which jurors are taken ; the higher moral tone, with regard to every matter of public duty, which now pervades the community ; the change in the rules of evidence relating to interested witnesses and parties, which has left less to the mere conjecture of juries; and the general unwillingness of men at the present day to acquiesce in mere fictions and other similar contrivances of bygone times—have led to an increase in the number of cases in which jurors have been unable to agree on their verdict, and have caused the general question to be raised as to whether the present rule ought to be retained. The matter having been brought before the Society by Mr. Serjeant Woolrych, in a paper setting forth the advantages of unanimity, was referred to a committee, in which were several gentlemen of great experience both in civil and criminal trials. The committee reported in favour of retaining the present system in criminal cases, the principle of our law being that, before any man is convicted of a crime, such evidence should be adduced as will satisfy the minds of twelve jurors; but, with regard to civil cases, the committee were so equally divided that they resolved not to propose any resolution, or to report any definite opinion to the Society, but to leave the important question in the hands of members. When the report came on for discussion, great diversity of opinion was found to exist amongst members on the subject of the unanimity of juries in civil trials ; and, after the matter had been considered at two meetings, it was finally resolved simply to receive the report of the committee. In
adopting this course, it appears to the Council that the Society exercised a sound discretion, as the question, looking to the greatness of the change proposed, can scarcely, at the present moment, be considered as ripe for decision; and they are strengthened in this view by the fate, in the House of Lords, of the bil which the present Lord Chancellor introduced, for abolishing the rule requiring unanimity in civil trials.? But, whatever may be the difficulties connected with the question of unanimity, there is one restriction relating to juries which the Council would recommend should at once be abolished—viz., the denial of meat, drink, and fire to juries who have retired to consider their verdict-a restriction opposed to all humane feeling and all enlightened reason. Another improvement which might be safely adopted would be to provide that, after deliberation for a certain number of hours, the jury, if at the end of that time they had not agreed on their verdict, should be discharged; and that upon such discharge the cause might be tried again as if no such abortive trial had taken
CONCENTRATION OF COURTS.
The next important subject which occupied the attention of the society, was the expediency of concentrating the courts of Common Law and Equity under one roof in the vicinity of the Inns of Court. At an early period of the session a committee was appointed to consider the subject. From the great importance of the matter with reference to the interests of suitors, and from its obvious connection with the due administration of justice, the society considered that the subject fairly came within the scope of its inquiries, and that the question had much more important bearings than the mere convenience of practitioners. The committee reported in favour of placing the whole of the superior courts and their offices in one locality ; and in respect to the locality they thought that the site between Careystreet and the Strand, pointed out by Sir Charles Barry in his
1 The bill was lost on the second reading; when there appeared for the bill, 7 ; against it, 23.
evidence before a select committee of the House of Commons, in 1815, would be the most appropriate. With regard to the means of defraying the expense of erecting courts in the above locality, they were of opinion that what has been called the Profit Fund of the Court of Chancery might be made available for the purpose. The report was considered at a full meeting of the society, and was adopted with scarcely a dissentient voice. A general impression seemed to prevail amongst members that, with the view of carrying still further the fusion of law and equity which has now begun, and of introducing greater uniformity into the procedure by which these two systems are respectively administered, the different courts ought to be so situated as to afford the utmost facility of intercommunication. It was resolved by the meeting that the report should be referred to the Council, with instructions to take such immediate steps as might to them seem expedient to press the subject on the attention of the government and the legislature. In pursuance of this resolution the Council prepared a statement, in favour of a concentration of courts as recommended in the report of the committee, which was circulated extensively amongst members of the legislature. They also obtained, through the president, an interview with Lord Derby, at which the views of the society were fully explained to his lordship by a deputation from the Council. Lord Derby expressed himself strongly in favour of the scheme of concentration proposed, but said that the difficulty was with regard to the fund which had been suggested as applicable to the purpose. Speaking for himself only, he thought that the question of how far the fund was available, might properly be referred to a select committee of the House of Com
Since the date of the interview, however, a royal commission has been issued to inquire into the subject, and the Council have appointed a committee to give evidence before the commissioners.
1 This fund is composed of the income of the Suitors' fund, invested in consols, and amounts to above a million and a quarter, Suitors have no direct claim on this fund, their only claim being for the naked principal sums paid in, and which compose the Suitors' fund, properly so called.
BANKRUPTCY AND INSOLVENCY.
The subject of bankruptcy has, during the past session, occupied much of the attention of the society, and excited great interest amongst members. The late Lord Chancellor's Debtor and Creditor Bill, and Lord John Russell's Bankruptcy and Insolvency Bill, which were introduced during last session of Parliament, were discussed at two meetings of the Society, and many valuable suggestions offered by members on the subject to which these two bills related. The consideration of the bills was referred to the bankruptcy committee, who carefully weighed the leading provisions of the respective measures.
As the committee felt themselves unable to agree with the principles on which either of the bills was framed, and as they considered it improbable that either of the measures in their then condition should receive the sanction of the legislature, they confined their report to a series of resolutions embodying their own views of what is desirable in a proper system of bankruptey. These resolutions were afterwards brought before the Society, and have been in part discussed—their final consideration having been adjourned until the Bankruptcy Bills should again be brought before Parliament.
In the absence of any declaration of opinion on the part of the Society on several important questions involved in the resolutions of the Bankruptcy Committee, the Council would not desire to offer any observations on the comparative merits of the conflicting views which have been proposed in the Society and elsewhere. On many points connected with the amendment of the Bankruptcy laws, great uniformity of opinion prevails amongst all classes of the community. The expediency of diminishing, in some way, the present expense
of procedure in bankruptcy, and the propriety of paying the retiring allowances and the salaries of judicial officers out of the consolidated fund, are generally admitted. Nor is there less unanimity with regard to the propriety of abolishing the distinction between trader and non trader, and making all debtors liable to the same laws. But on the question, whether the present mode of winding up
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estates by official assignees should be retained, irreconcileable differences of opinion exist; and it is scarcely possible that any measure should
pass the legislature, whether altering the system or leaving it as it is, which would not be considered as far from satisfactory by large and influential portions of the community. The legislature will, unquestionably, be put in a position of some embarrassment and difficulty when called on to decide between the clear and strong opinions of men best acquainted with the working of the present system in an official or professional capacity, and the views, no less clear and strong, of a large portion of the mercantile community, whose interests are deeply involved in having an efficient and economical mode of winding up the estates of bankrupts. On another point also —the extent of jurisdiction which should be given to the County Courts-considerable difference of opinion exists. On neither of the two questions last mentioned has the Society pronounce ! an opinion.
TRANSFER OF LAND.
Another important subject to which the attention of the Society was directed during the past session, was the mode of transfer of land proposed in the “Landed Estates Bill," and the “Registry of Landed Estates Bill,” of the late Solicitor-general. The matter was brought before the Society by Mr. Edward Webster in an elaborate paper, in which the provisions of the bills were discussed, and exceptions taken to many of them. Various opinions were expressed by members on the merits of the bills, and a resolution was carried in favour of local registries. On this point, however, the Council would observe that a very important consideration has been suggested by the Liverpool Law Society in their publication on the subject of the bills above mentioned. Whilst strongly opposed on principle to a Metropolitan Registry, they say—“But the measure can only be regarded as an experiment, and its very limited applicability, and the gradual mode in which it must come into operation, are conclusive reasons why the registry cannot in the first instance be made local. It is impossible that a sufficient number of estates could be brought under the act, for some time to come,