Page images


17 per cent. in the Chancery Division. In 1891 the corresponding figures were 29 and 16 per cent. respectively. The disparity thus disclosed forms the subject of a recent allocution of the General Council of the Bar, of which more will doubtless be heard after the Long Vacation. Under the Solicitors Remuneration Act only 341 bills were taxed in 1897. The aggregate amount was about £90,000, and this

was reduced on taxation to about £ 54,000. These figures do not appear great in view of the fact that there are some 15,000 practising solicitors. Another item worthy of a passing allusion is that relating to imprisonment for debt. No judgment debtor was imprisoned in 1897 by order of a High Court judge.

In the County Courts the total nearly reached eight thousand. In many provincial towns, and particularly in those with a large seafaring population, the alternative order made on a judgment summons is the main sanction for the payment of small debts. But in these districts the debt, as every one who possesses experience of the administration of justice in County Courts is aware, is, in the great majority of cases, paid when the order for imprisonment is about to be enforced. Bills of sale are steadily decreasing or stationary in nearly every county in England and Wales, and the increase where it exists is trifling. Master Macdonell has had some instructive statistics collected relative to the classes of litigants that come before the Courts. So far as we are aware, this excellent piece of work is now done completely for the first time. Two instances may be given. Out of 110 appellants to the House of Lords, no fewer than 20 or 18 per cent. were limited companies, and 18 or 16 per cent. were public bodies. The cause lists of the Court of Appeal and Queen's Bench Division yield similar results. Again, out of 400 actions in the Queen's Bench Division, only one woman was plaintiff, and only six were defendants. The special juror is rapidly increasing in favour with all classes of

litigants, no fewer than 58.80 per cent. of the jury actions in London and Middlesex having been tried by special juries. More than 26 per cent. of the total number of jurors summoned were grand jurors-a fact that discredits the assertion so frequently made in discussions and controversies about the machinery of our legal system that the services of the grand jury are of little value. The statistics of divorce proceedings suggest various considerations. There is an increase in the number of petitions, but it is slight and quite insufficient to justify the apprehensions that are so freely expressed by ecclesiastical controversialists as to the extent to which the Divorce Act is being taken advantage of. On the other hand, petitions for judicial separation continue to decline. Apparently it is between the tenth and the twentieth years of married life that the great danger of a crisis ending in the dissolution of marriage lies. Thirty-eight per cent. of the petitions in 1897 related to marriages that came within those limits; 30 per cent. were between five years and ten ; only II per cent. for twenty years and upwards. From the latest French statistics the period between five years and ten seems to be the precarious one. Summary separation orders under the Act of 1895 are, however, steadily increasing. The chief classes to which petitioners for divorce belong are (in numerical order) dealers in articles of food, publicans, hotel keepers, etc., engineers and architects, and (bracketed) scamen and actors and musicians. To the very poor the Divorce Court is, apparently, a practically inaccessible tribunal.

In lunacy, the summary procedure under sec. 116 of the Act of 1890—which is the English curatory-is ousting the old inquisition with enormous rapidity; and on inquisitions juries are fast being dispensed with. Out of forty-two inquiries only four were tried in this way. The returns as to bankruptcy show' a decrease in petitions filed, receiving orders, compositions, schemes of arrangement, together with

an increase in assets and decrease of liabilities. The voluntary liquidation continues to do much more than hold the field against the compulsory, whatever the cause may be. The Inspector-General in Companies' Liquidation attributes the phenomenon, among other causes, to a desire to escape the investigations provided for by the Companies (Windingup) Act, 1890. Considerable and influential sections of the legal profession see in it, as we know, only a manifestation of the English dislike of “officialism.” In the County Courts the number of plaints is lower than the average for the past five years, and in consequence, no doubt, of the operation of Order XIV. the number of remitted actions continues to fall. No case under the Public Worship Act was returned. It will be curious to see whether, now that the Court of Arches has been re-established on its old basis, it will once more attract the class of litigation that came under its cognizance in the days of Sir Robert Phillimore.

Having thus roughly analyzed the contents of the new volume of Civil Judicial Statistics, let us briefly inquire whether any help can be obtained from them towards a solution of what may be called the circuit problem. In this connection several points have to be noted. In the first place, the volume of litigation in this country is remaining practically stable. The number of cases begun per hundred thousand of the population has varied little for some years. The lowest percentage in the last decade was in 1890, the highest in 1894. Master Macdonell has pointed out this fact on previous occasions. Indeed, if we are not mistaken, it was largely to him that we owe the collapse of the alarm which the supposed inability of the courts, first, to attract litigants, and later (with glorious inconsistency) to overtake the mass of work accumulating before them, created some years ago.

The state of business was being described in the lay and legal press in language of the most exaggerated kind. Commercial men, it was said, were having recourse to the lay

arbitrator instead of the judge. There was a hopeless deadlock between the claims of the Metropolis and the Provinces. From all accounts, the arrival on our shores of the hypothetical New Zealander was at hand. But from his coign of vantage on London Bridge he would sketch the ruins of the Law Courts, and not of St. Paul's. Even the Bench was infected with the prevalent fears. Judge after judge endeavoured by a wild va et vient policy, sitting late on circuit, then hurrying up to town by an early morning train, disposing of his list with unwholesome speed, and returning to the assizes in the evening, to vindicate the reputation of the English legal system. The disclosure by the Civil Judicial Statistics of the essential stability of the volume of litigation effectually checked this feverish activity and the alarm out of which it sprang; and men began to search for another explanation of the difficulty. Here again the Statistics proved (and prove) of value. For, in the second place, they showed, and the present volume shows, a marked dislocation of the machinery by which London and circuit litigation is intended to be carried on.

Let us take the statistics for 1897. There are sixty places, including Norwich city and Newcastle city, at which actions might have been entered in 1897. Of these sixty, no actions were set down or tried at Huntingdon, Bury St. Edmunds, Aylesbury, Oakham, Welshpool, Newtown, and Dolgelly. There were thirty-two towns in which five cases and upwards were entered, and twenty-nine in which five cases and upwards were tried. On the south-eastern circuit, with eleven circuit towns, there were only three towns at which five cases and upwards were tried, on the North Wales circuit only two, and on the Oxford circuit only three. Fifty-seven per cent. of the total number of cases were tried at four townsBirmingham, Manchester, Liverpool, and Leeds; and seventy per cent. of the amounts recovered, were recovered at these towns with the addition of Nottingham. There are two

other matters in the Civil Judicial Statistics that must be mentioned. The one is the apparently stationary character of the business of the County Courts. The other—to which reference has not yet been made—is the fact that the great bulk of the actions determined in the County Courts (341,148, out of a total of 397,205) come before the registrars. The tentative results which the foregoing figures and facts suggest, are these: Whatever may be the state of matters in the Chancery Division, the desideratum in regard to the Queen's Bench Division is a rearrangement of work rather than any increase in the numerical strength of the judiciary. Much would be effected by such a wholesale reduction in the number of the circuits as was provided for by the proposals of the judges in 1892.

It is impossible, however, to exclude from consideration, in taking account of circuit difficulties, the exigencies of the administration of criminal justice. And it is here that the most radical changes are required. Sir Harry Poland's plan for the establishment of a number of Central Criminal Courts in the provinces appears to be the best solution of the problem that has yet been put forward, if the criminal jurisdiction of the Recorders were also enlarged, and the County Court judges were, like the sheriffs and their substitutes in Scotland, enabled to try criminal cases with certain obvious exceptions. The increase in salaries which these changes would involve would not be grudged by the country, and the Civil Judicial Statistics prove, as we have seen, that the County Court judges could undertake increased work without interfering with the discharge of their ordinary duties. There seems to be no reason why this reform might not be accompanied by an enlargement of the civil jurisdiction of the County Courts.

« PreviousContinue »