Page images

Herbert Fry's Royal Guide to the London Charities, showing, in Alphabetical Order, their Name, Date of Foundation, Address, Objets, Annnal Income, Chief Officials, etc. Edited by JOHN LANE (35th year). London : Chatto & Windus. Pp. 391. (Price is. 6d.)—It is again our pleasant task to call attention to this useful and comprehensive Annual. Besides the alphabetical statistics, many of these noble institutions, so justly our pride and the wonder and admiration of foreigners, have pages giving further information as to their work and needs ; and, though it deals wholly with London charities, it is a book which should be within the reach of all philanthropists and good Samaritans.

The Lawyer's Companion and Diary, 1899. Edited by E. LAYMAN (53rd annual issue). London : Stevens & Sons. (Price 75. 6d.)

The Legal Diary and Almanack, 1899. London: Waterlow Bros. & Layton. (Price 3s. 6d.)

These two publications, so well known to the legal profession, contain, in addition to a diary for every day of the year, various tables of costs, stamp duties, tithe tables of the courts, and much other information which the practising lawyer needs always at hand for ready reference. They are also complete London and Provincial Law Directories.

Received too late for notice in this issue :-Principal and Surety, by S. A. T. ROWLATT, M.A. ; Principles of the Criminal Law, by SEYMOUR F. HARRIS, B.C.L., M.A., 8th edition by Chas. L. ATTENBOROUGH (Stevens & Haynes). The Law and Practice relating to Workmen's Comtensation and Employers' Liability, with Supplement, by W. Ellis Hill, M.A. ; A Guide to the Law of Licensing, by B. STEPHEN Foster; A Handbook for Justices of the Peace at Quarter Sessions, by George HiFF LIMEY, B.A. (Waterlow & Sons). A Memoir of Baron Bramwell, by CHARLES FAIRFIELD (Macmillan & Co.).

Other publications received :- Debrett's IVaistcoat Focket Diary for 1899 (Dean & Son); Duckworth's Summary of the Law relating to the English Newspaper Press (Effingham Wilson), price Is. ; Humane Science Lectures (Geo. Bell & Sons); A Comparative Table of the Law of Compensation for Personal Injury (Young & Sons, Liverpool); Recent Object Lessons in Penal Science (Waterlow Bros. & Layton); Documents and Correspondence relating to the Judicial Crisis in the South African Republic (Transvaal) (Wm. Clowes & Sons); Lecture on John Scott and John Marshall, by Chief Justice CASSODAY, of the Supreme Court of Wisconsin, U.S.A. ; Manslaughter, Christian Science and the Law, by WM. A. PURRINGTON, of the New York Bar; A Short Treatise on Belgian Law and Legal Procedure, by GASTON DE LEVAL, Advocate of the Court of Appeal in Brussels ; The Automotor and Horseless Vehicle Pocket Book, 1899 (F. King & Co.).

The Law Magazine and Review receives or exchanges with the following amongst other publications :-Review of Reviews, Juridical Review, Public Opinion, Speaker, Law Times, Law Journal, Justice of the Peace, Scots Law Times, Australian Low Times, Irish Law Times, Law Quarterly Review, Accountants' Journal, Canada Law Journal, The Docket, American Law Review, North American Revietu, University Law Review, American Law Register and Review, Harvard Law Review, Case and Comment, Green Bag, Virginia Law Register, American Lawyer, Albany Law Journal, Chicago Legal News, Madras Law Journal, Law Digest and Recorder, Calcutta IVeekly Notes, Concord.



No. CCCXII.-MAY, 1899.




'HERE has long been an urgent demand, in the com

mercial world, that the County Courts of England and Wales should be empowered to try cases where the amount claimed or involved exceeds £50, which is now the limit of their jurisdiction in those ordinary suits which, for convenience, are often called common law actions. Amongst lawyers also, a strong body of opinion exists that the usefulness of these Courts might be increased. It can hardly be said, indeed, that there is any opposition of importance, deprecating, on principle, an amendment of the law in this respect. Every one, conversant with the subject, admits that, as these Courts have done excellent work in the past, so they are capable of improvement, and might do still better in the future; but it is undoubtedly alleged that no one has yet put forward a satisfactory plan for the extension of the jurisdiction, and obviously, unless and until that is done, it is not desirable that an alteration should be made.

The view of the Chambers of Commerce and the trading community generally, as expressed both in and out of Parliament, is that all but the most important cases should be tried in the localities where the disputes arise, and with no more formalities than the County Courts require; and, with

[ocr errors]

that object, they suggest that £1000 should be substituted for the existing County Court limit of £50. The Incorporated Law Society, the mouthpiece of solicitors both in London and the country, advocates an extension nearly as wide. It is not intended to discuss the merits of any proposal of this nature in the present article. Many arguments. have been adduced both for and against such a change ; but it is conceded by its supporters, that it would cost the country a substantial sum of money, that it would revolutionize the High Court of Justice and the circuit system, and that it would completely alter the character of the County Courts; and a change of such magnitude, even if desirable, is not within the range of possible legislation at the present time.

The main object of this article is to take up the challenge of those who ask for a practical scheme, and to show that a very simple one can be framed, which would meet the almost universal desire that the powers of the County Court should at least be enlarged, so far as it can be done without interfering with their efficiency as Courts for poor men and small demands, and without withdrawing many cases from the High Court, and without extra cost to the nation.

Some persons ridicule the limitation of the jurisdiction of a Court by the amount of money claimed ; but no one has yet invented a better criterion, and accordingly that principle was applied to the County Courts, and the sum of £50 was fixed, in 1850, as the largest amount which could be claimed in those common law actions which form the bulk of the cases upon which they are called to adjudicate. Since that date, the value of money has changed, the rate of wages. has varied, the price of the necessaries and luxuries of daily life, in which the poorer classes deal, has altered, education has improved, and the facilities for getting to local centres are altogether different.

This alteration in the social and economic conditions, which

affect the lower middle classes, has created a demand for a tribunal which can deal satisfactorily, and quickly and cheaply, with cases, which are rather beyond the present County Court limit, in the district where the parties live. An amount which was appropriate, as a money limit, to the jurisdiction of a local court half a century ago, is not adapted to the changed requirements of the country at the present day.

The County Courts were, in fact, instituted as the outcome of a cry that there ought to be some better means of collecting small debts ; whereas now, a convenient mode of recovering claims a little above £ 50 is quite as much wanted.

It is partly this which has been the origin of the many and various suggestions for an extension of the powers of the County Courts. Some of these suggestions go much too far, and would throw upon the Registrars and the staff of these Courts, and the practitioners who have to conduct the cases in them, work for which many of them are wholly unfitted. As at present constituted, County Courts were not intended for the decision of difficult points of law; and even now, when such points do arise, the want of books, particularly in small places, is a serious drawback. Other suggestions would interfere seriously with the facilities which now exist for dealing with small disputes-trifling in amount—but often of vital importance to the suitors. It is not possible to mix the hearing of large and small cases in the same list, at Courts held once or twice a month, without the smaller ones inevitably suffering in the long run. Other suggestions involve the withdrawal, from London and the Assizes, of a large amount of business, also an undesirable result; for although it is not unusual to hear a denial of the value of a great central bar, it is well known, to those who are competent to form an opinion on the point, that its abolition would be a most serious loss to the country. Other suggestions require the expenditure of a considerable sum of public money, which is objected to by the Treasury, and will not

be obtained, and is not necessary. The proposals vary much in detail, according as they emanate from lawyers or from commercial men ; but the criticism passed upon all, by successive Governments, has been, that none of them are sound practical schemes, which it would be desirable to substitute for the organization which now exists.

There are, however, a large number of disputes, where the sum claimed lies between £50 and £100, for dealing with which no adequate machinery exists in this country. They are beyond the County Court limit, but they are not of sufficient importance to justify the trouble and expense of taking them to the High Court. Some are compromised, or go to arbitration-generally resulting in both sides being dissatisfied. Some are tried in the County Court by abandoning the excess over £50, which is unfair to the plaintiff. Some are commenced in the High Court, and are remitted to the County Court—the obvious comment being, that it is not creditable to any system that a plaintiff should have to apply to two different courts before he can have his case tried. Some are tried in the High Court; and then, if one party is poor, the side whose purse is longest has a distinct advantage over his opponent. Some remain untried-perhaps the worst result of all, especially in small places, for the irritation rankles on both sides, much as in the case of boys who have had a quarrel and do not fight it out. There is little doubt that the best remedy for the ordinary money disputes, in which persons in a small way of business are concerned, is to have them fully and fairly tried out, by some one who takes pains and is wholly free from prejudice in the matter, with neighbours looking on. In practice this is constantly denied to persons when the claim is a little over £ 50. This is a crying evil, and rather disgraceful to our legal system. It enables a dishonest debtor, for such a sum as £70 or £80, to force his creditor to take less than is fairly due, and less than he would be compelled to pay,

« PreviousContinue »