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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 place. 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 thc superior courts and tlibir ofiices 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 evidence before a. select committee of the House of Commons, in 1845, 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 difiiculty 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 Commons. Since the date of the interview, however, a royal commission has been issued to inquire into the subject, and the Council have appointed a commitfee to give evidence before the commissioners.
1 The bill was lost on the second reading; when there appeared for the bill, 7 ; against it, 23.
1 This fund is composed of the income of the Snitors’ fund, invested in consols, and amounts to above a million and a quarter. Snitors 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 bankruptcy. 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
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
VOL. vn. -.\'o. xiv. 2 n
estates by oflioial assignees should be retained, irreconcileable differences of opinion exist; and it is scarcely possible that any measure should pass the legislature, whether altering the present 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 difliculty 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 efiicient 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 difierence of opinion exists. On neither of the two questions last mentioned has the Society pronounced 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. suflicient number of estates could be brought under the act, For some time to come,
to give sufficient work for local registrics.”—p. 37. But deserving of consideration as this observation is, it must still be borne in mind, that registries of titles to land might be made to apply not only to the registration of Parliamentary Titles for transfer,’ but to the transfer on the register of titles not judicially declared. to be valid—in short, to all titles with regard to which the expense of a deed of conveyance is under the present system necessary ; and, therefore, though it may be true that, for some time to come, a sufficient number of estates sold under a Parliamentary title would not be brought within the act to afford employment for local registries, yet it is not improbable that, for the purpose of transferring titles to land, registries would in a short time be fully occupied. IMPRISONMENT BY COUNTY COURT JUDGES.
The subject of imprisonment by County Court judges has lately attracted considerable attention, and having been brought before the Society, was referred to a committee. It appears, from recent parliamentary returns that, during the year 1858, no less than 11,501 persons were committed to prison for an average period of twenty days each, by warrants ‘issuing from County courts, in many cases for debts not exceeding 40s., and in some for less than half-a-crown; and that, of these, 8361 were so committed simply for non-attendance in obedience to the judgment-summons issuing under sect. 98 of the County Court Act of 1846. In these last cases no investigation in general takes place as to the conduct of the debtorin contracting the debt, his dealing with his goods, or his ability to pay, but the order for oommitment is at once made, upon proof of personal service of the summons, and ascertaining the bare fact of the debtor’s nonattendance. The committee of the Society have reported in favour of putting an end to imprisonment where -the debt_ is under 40s., and to imprisonment for non-attendance where no ground is proved by the creditor for commitment; and also of providing that not more than one imprisonment should be allowed for the same debt. The Society has not yet pronounced an opinion on the changes recommended by the committee.