« PreviousContinue »
however imperfectly. to say a few words to express our sense of those losses. The late Vice-Chancellor Wickens, whom we should have hoped to see present in this court to-day, was united to all of his colleagues upon the bench, and to many of our brethren of the bar, by the closest ties of personal affection, while to some of us he was endeared by a friendship which dated from the days of early youth. He brought to the discharge of his high duties powers of mind and cultivation and accomplishments such as it falls to the lot of very few men to possess, and to those qualities he added a temper the most uniformly cordial and amiable, a judgment the most sound, learning the most entensive, and all the qualities needed to make a very great judge. The greatest expectations had justly been formed of him, and during the short time he was permitted to be upon the bench he has shown that if it had pleased God he would have fulfilled all those expectations. Of the other eminent judge whom we have lost those practising in this court have necessarily not seen so much, but all of us know how extensive was his learning, how great his experience, and all of us, I think, must know that there was no man of more indefatigable activity in the discharge of all his duties—no man of a more kindly heart. I feel sure that in the few words I have said I have expressed the feeling entertained by all members of the bar as well as by the whole bench of judges, and that such feeling will be shared in throughout the country.”
In the court of Common Pleas, when the judges took their seats, Mr. Justice Keating, the senior judge, who was evidently much affected, said these words:—
“In view of the melancholy event which has deprived this Court of its chief, had we consulted our own feelings we should have been disposed to adjourn the business. But so persuaded are we that such a course would be opposed to his wishes and feelings, who would not have desired the public interest to be postponed to any other consideration, we have abandoned that intention. The Court has sustained a most severe and serious loss—one to be deeply and acutely felt by every member of it. A most accomplished lawyer and distinguished Judge has passed away; no man ever sat on this or any other bench of justice mare ardently desirous of faithfully discharging his duties.
The new solicitor-general (Mr. Henry James, Q.C.) at once in touching and well chosen words, responded to the observations, and thus expressed the feelings of the Bar towards the late Chief Justice—In the absence of my learned friend the Attorney-General, I have been requested by my brethren of the Bar to express to your Lordships the deep and sincere regret with which we have learnt the death of Sir William Bovill. My Lords, we all knew him as Chief Justice of this Court, and in him we all recognized a Judge singularly earnest in his determinnation to do justice to every suitor who came before him, and one who conspicuously fulfilled the first duty of an English Judge in seeing that right was ever done. To some of us it was given to know him more intimately. Those of us who had been his associates at the Bar ever found in him an honourable opponent or a loyal colleague; and full well we learnt to know that his vigorous intellect and his great earnestness secured to every client who intrusted his interests to his hands the truest and sincerest advocacy the English bar could provide. Some there are, my Lords, who knew him better yet, and those will mourn him most. Such of us as, may be, like your Lordships, enjoyed his private friendship, learnt how loving and gentle he was to those who were of him—how generous in his friendship to his associates, how considerate to those who were dependent on him, and how open and generous his hand to those who needed aid. If it be true that to live in the hearts of those we love is not to die, Sir William Bovill has not passed away from among us. A generation must go and come ere some of use will forget to mourn him, and ere, every one of those for whom I have spoken, every member of the English bar ceases to mention his name with regard and respect.”
The New Appointments.—The tribute of respect thus paid to the memory of the departed, thoughts of their successors necessarily succeeded. As the Times observed :
“Judges die, but their places must be filled. The work of the courts will not stop because one or another occupant of the bench is taken; and, indeed, their decease is a warning that now business is constantly accruing upon the accumulations of the old.”
The Last Michaelmas Term under the old system was marked by many important changes in the judicial bench, both in Law and Equity, and the appointments to the vacant seats were naturally associated with the proposed changes in the judicial system, and especially with reference to the fusion of Law and Equity—that is the fusion of its administration, for in no other sense is it material. Three judicial seats which had become vacant were filled this termthe Mastership of the Rolls, the Lord Chief Justiceship of the Common Pleas, and a Vice-Chancellorship. In vacation the Mastership of the Rolls had become vacant, happily not by death, but by resignation, the resignation of that veteran of the Equity Bench—the learned and able Romilly. The office was offered to Sir John Coleridge, the AttorneyGeneral, and for sometime he had under consideration the question whether he should accept it or not. He had been engaged in carrying through Parliament a measure for the fusion of the judicial Bench, one of the fundamental principle of which was that law and equity should be administered by the same judges.
Sir John Coleridge wisely declined the Mastership of the Rolls, which was offered to, and accepted by, that able Equity lawyer, Sir George Jessel; and the Times thus expressed the satisfaction of the Equity part of the profession:—
“The members of the Equity Bar will probably be relieved when they hear that Sir George Jessel has been appointed Master of the Rolls. . . . . Sir George Jessel becomes Master of the Rolls, and suitors in Chancery will have the advantage, which for some time they have sparingly enjoyed, of a judge who is at once expeditious and trustworthy. The late Solicitor-General may not be in all respects one of those whom all lawyers delight to honour; but even his failings lean to the side of strength. He has been a great advocate, and there is every promise that he will be a greater judge. He is a man who is never deceived by his own sophistry, and is not likely to be deceived by the sophistry of anybody else. Keen to discern the point of a case, and despising all efforts to hide it, his judgments will be prompt and sure, and the course of justice will not be thwarted by the painful efforts of a judge to escape the responsibilities and perils of a decision by forcing the parties before him to a compromise of their claims.”
For some time before his elevation to the Bench, Sir George
Jessel had been one of the Law officers of the Crown; and in consequence of the protracted absence of Sir John Coleridge, owing to his engagements in the Tichborne case, had, to undertake the charge of the Common Law business of the Crown, and therefore had to appear frequently in the Courts of Common Law, especially the Court of Queen's Bench.
There he discharged the business of the Crown with great energy, talent, and success, and gave the greatest proof of really superior ability in the facility with which he mastered a kind of business which must necessarily have been new and strange to him. Thus Sir George Jessel had already given ample assurance of his possession of qualities which would highly qualify him, not only for the effective discharge of his judicial duties, but for cordial and efficient co-operation in the working of the new judicial system. And our contemporary, the Law Times, after a Term's experience of the New Master of the Rolls, observed :
“Sir George Jessel would appear to be setting an admirable example in more ways than one. His judgments are remarkably pithy and concise.”
Thus the anticipations entertained of the judicial character of Sir George Jessel appear likely to be amply realized.
The new Vice-Chancellor is no doubt a man of a different character, and his peculiar qualifications are of a different order. As regards the vacant Vice-Chancellorship, there was, apparently, some hesitation and delay in filling it up. It was not at first intended that the office should be filled up. The influences of a false and spurious economy, more properly called parsimony, which have been the curse and bane of our judicial system, were evidently exerted to overrule the better judgment of the Chancellor; and there was delay. The Times said:
“It has been suggested that the vacancy occasioned by the death of Sir John Wickens will not be at once filled up, but, though there are reasons which might make a delay intelligible, if not desirable, the Lord Chancellor can scarcely sacrifice suitors, as he must if he entertained such a design. When cases remain unheard eighteen months and two years after they are set down for hearing, and that in spite of being transferred from division to division for the sake of expediting them, there must be stronger reasons than we know of to justify any weakening of the judicial force on the Chancery Bench. The best excuse that can be offered is that Lord Selborne will take the opportunity of furthering the fusion of Law and Equity, and it is impossible to do anything towards grouping together judges trained on both sides of Westminster Hall except after some delay. Everyone would like to see something of this kind done; but the Lord Chancellor has to remember other considerations.”
And the Law Times said:
“From inquiries we have made we believe it to be the intention of Government to leave vacant the Vice-Chancellorship recently filled by Sir John Wickens. The work of the court, it is reported, is to be transacted by the Lord Chancellor until the sitting of Parliament, when his Lordship will be wanted in the House of Lords. We need hardly say that by the adoption of this course the reasonable expectation of the Bar will be disappointed, and our highest judicial functionary is placed in an anomalous position. Lord Selborne's eminent capacity for the work of a judge of first instance is beyond question, but the combination of two offices in a single individual is generally inconvenient.”
And particularly so in judicial offices, one of which is of original, and the other appellate jurisdiction. For some time, however, the Lord Chancellor did double work: but as Term approached, he found it impossible to do justice to the suitors in two Courts, and so it was announced that the vacant Vice-Chancellorship was to be filled up. It had been outrageous if it had been otherwise. There would only be four judges of first instance in Chancery, even when the vacant judgship was filled up, and judicial statistics show that the amount of business in Chancery is ten times that of Law; yet there are 18 Common Law judges, and, striking off six for criminal business, there would still remain 12 for civil business; striking off half for cases of tort, not cognizable in Chancery, there would still be six Common Law judges to four in Equity, and then the judicial strength of Equity, compared to that of Law, with reference to the amount of property involved, would be obviously disproportionate. Still further to diminish the strength of the Equity judicature by making it only half that of the Common Law, at the lowest possible estimate, would have been madness. It is manifest that if the exigencies of economy or parsimony demand a reduction in the judicature, it cannot possibly be in the Equity part of it. And if that was the secret object of the Judicature Act, its attainment is indefinitely postponed. And, indeed, it is a hopeless