« PreviousContinue »
ART. XIII——Judicial Statistics, 1858.—EngZand and Wales. Part I.——-Police, Criminal Proceedings, Prisons. Part II.— Common Law, Equity, Civil, and Canon Law. Presented to both Houses of Parliament by command of Her Majesty, 1859.
HIS goodly blue-covered book of judicial statistics will, if used aright, prove one of the most useful aids for the real amendment of the law in its various branches. The inductive is far preferable to the deductive method in solving the various practical problems connected with the subjects dealt with in the “judicial statistics; ” and it is therefore a subject of congratulation that we have now begun in earnest, so to collect and arrange the results of our procedure, criminal and civil, as to afford a. reasonable expectation of being able in future to work in the light of known facts, instead of groping in the darkness of doubtful theories. This valuable scheme was initiated in 1855, and the returns are “framed to include any object of apparent practical utility which forms part of a scheme of general statistics, and is attainable with accuracy, leaving only any special matters which may from time to time arise, to be met by particular inquiries directed to the precise object in view.” With Part I., which embraces very interesting details of police criminal procedure and prisons, we shall not now meddle, but proceed to draw the reader’s attention to the matters contained in Part II., which, for the first time, are here collected in “ a form approaching completeness.” The utility of the “extension of the statistics to every court of justice,” says Mr. Redgrave, “ will be recognised in the periodical record, now first established, of the amount and nature of their separate duties, the progress of the proceedings, and the state of the business before them, with the changes and fluctuations to which, from time to time, the proceedings may be subjected.” These records have also their
moral and social aspect, he justly observes, especially in the detail relating to the various classes of actions of slander, libel, criminal conversation, breaches of contract or general divorce, insolvency, &c.
Before we examine the returns themselves, we must draw attention to one remark which Mr. Redgrave makes in his introductory and explanatory report. He says-—-“ Many difficulties stand in the way of the perfect and comprehensive arrangement of this branch of the statistics of justice, so as to bring together, in simple and harmonious forms, for the purpose of statistical analysis, the records of such a large and varied amount of procedure. To point out the bearing and nature of their different proceedings, and to show clearly their results, would require more than a mere general knowledge of the jurisdiction and practice of every court, and of every branch of the law. And though a long connection with the criminal and police business of the country, has warranted me in prefixing a yearly analysis of the proceedings of the criminal and police business of the country, as introductory to Part I. of these Statistics, I have felt but little confidence in carrying out my instructions, to prepare an introductory analysis, of the same nature, of the proceedings of the common-law and equity courts.” If this be so, and if it be of the greatest utility to produce as perfect an analysis as is possible, it is obvious that with Mr. Redgrave ought to have been associated some one whose qualifications and experience would have been of service to that gentleman, in preparing what he has pointed out would be a more perfect and useful report. Surely it would be worth while, before the next returns are made, to supply him adequately with such auxiliaries as he may require. Nevertheless, the resume’ of the chief results of the returns to which Mr. Redgrave has confined himself are full of information, and we will proceed to consider a few of the most important points he has presented to
us. The business of the courts in 1858 will best be understood in the tabular form, as below :—' U
TOTAL. QUEEN'S BENCH. COMMON PLEAS. EXCHEQUER.
It will astonish the layman more than the lawyer to see how small is the proportion of litigation prosecuted to the point of trial, to that which is threatened or commenced. About 75 per cent. of the claims in all the common-law courts, made by issuing writs, never reach the next step of entering appearances. We know in practice how this arises. Either the defendant pays, compromises, or submits, or has judgment against him by default ; or the plaintifi' for prudential reasons withdraws his claim. In the Queen's Bench, 1 only in 65, and in the Exchequer,1 in 49, came to trial. The proportion of the executions to suits commenced is 1 in 4.
Another curious fact is the disproportioned distribution of the business between the three courts. \rVhy attorneys, except from old and unreasoning habit, should throng the Court of Exchequer, and abstain from the Common Pleas, is incomprehensible. The latter court has long been presided over by judges of the highest reputation ; and the lack of pressure of business there, one would have supposed, would have been an inducement for practitioners to resort thither. The fact, however, appears to be, that it has only about half as much business as falls to either of the other courts.
That 413 causes should have been referred to the masters is also a notable fact, but one not to be contemplated with unmixed approbation. For, in the first place, we have heard complaints of the too great zeal exhibited both on the bench, and ready acquiescence on the part of the bar, to send down causes for the masters toltry which might more legitimately have been disposed of in open court ; and next, it is notorious that the masters have been overburdened with these references, which are superadded to their proper oflicial duties. The consequence is, that there are perpetual postponements and prolonged intervals between the meetings ; great expenses are incurred, considerable inconveniences endured, and the result frequently not accepted with satisfaction. We do not speak on behalf of the junior bar, who no doubt regard these arbitrations as an unnecessary withdrawal from themselves of a remunerative occupation; for, in our judgment, they have themselves to tha1.k for any preference shown herein
for the master’s olfice. In the latter, the fees are reasonable ;whereas the customary scale of counsel’s fees on arbitrations are excessive and unjustifiable. The heavy additional fees demanded by counsel for each sitting, frequently of short duratidn, and the frightful amount of costs which the losing side has often to pay, has rendered the practice of referring cases to gentlemen of the bar very unpopular. The plea which is set up by counsel, that in undertaking an arbitration, or in appearing before an arbitrator, they are leaving their ordinary duties, and should therefore receive special remuneration, is as rotten as any ancient vacation plea; for they have been retained to conduct the cause, and, if their time is not occupied in court, their client has a claim to it out of court ; and moreover the references are, in practice, held at times most convenient to counsel. The arbitrator, of course, must be adequately remunerated, and any additional labour or expense of time imposed upon counsel, arising from the peculiar nature of the suit or course of proceeding, should be provided for; but the practice of making a “good thing” out of arbitratioms cannot be too loudly condemned.
The report contains some interesting details as to the business transacted in judges’ chambers, which is important both in amount and character. We find that last year there were issued from the three courts upwards of forty thousand summonses, in which counsel on each side attended in about two thousand seven hundred instances. The learned judges have had, in the course of their duty at chambers, to peruse about thirty thousand aflidavits, and some four thousand exhibits. There was, however, only one bill of exceptions to be signed, and one writ of error.
The statistics will, in future, include the number, nature, and result of the suits entered for trial. The return at present, as to “the result of the suits which proceeded to trial, and the state of the business before the courts,” is meagre, and the figures do not “come out” quite right, according to our calculation.
The circuit statistics are interesting to the young counsel seeking a circuit, and in that felicitous condition of having no