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Mr. Pryme's Bill for the Abolition of Grand Juries in EnglandDebate and division-Lord John Russell's Bill respecting the Courts of Quarter Session-Bill for the Abolition of Arrests for Debt on mesne Process-Introduced to the House of Lords by the Lord Chancellor-Referred to a Select Committee-Lord Chancellor's exposition of the measure-The Bill passes both Houses-Bill for the Recovery of Tenements after the determination of the Tenancy -Mr. Sergeant Talfourd's Bill for giving Mothers a right of access to their Children-Severity of the existing Law defended by Sir E. Sugden-Arguments in its favour-Difficulties in the way of altering it-Sir E. Sugden's objections to Sergeant Talfourd's proposalThe Bill passes the Commons after several Divisions-Lord Lyndhurst introduces it to the House of Lords-Lords Brougham and Wynford oppose, and the Lord Chancellor advocates it-Rejected on the Second Reading-Division-Protest against the rejection, signed by Lords Holland and Lyndhurst, and the Duke of SutherlandMr. Sergeant Talfourd's Bill for extending Copy Right to Authors -Debate on the Second Reading-Analogy between Literary and Mechanical Invention-The Chancellor of the Exchequer supports the Bill-Mr. D'Israeli's Speech-Argument illustrated by cases of Gibbon Southey-Sir Walter Scott Substance of arguments against the Bill Division on Second Reading · Lord John Russell speaks discouragingly of the Bill Lord Brougham's project for empowering the Privy Council to extend Copy Right-International Copy Right Act passed during the Session-Registration of Electors Bill-Lords Amendments-Lords Reasons-Bill Lost-Lord Harewood's Motion on appointments to the Magistracy in the West Riding-The Lord Chancellor defends himself-The Duke of Wellington condemns the Lord Chancellor's system of appointing Magistrates-Lord Wharncliffe's Motion on the same subject-Motion in the House of Lords on Appointments to the Edinburgh Magistracy---Earl of Haddington-Lord Chancellor's explanation-Lord Lyndhurst -Argument in the House of Lords on
the Constitutional mode of appointing Sheriffs in Ireland-Lord Lyndhurst condemns the practice of the Government-Lord Mulgrave's defence-Lord Brougham-Lord Plunkett-Lord Abinger -Marquess of Clanricarde's Amendment adopted-Lord Denman and Lord Brougham-Marquess of Londonderry's Motion on the Irish Magistracy.
N the 28th of November, 1837,
introduce a bill for the abolition of grand juries in England and Wales, as being useless, and, in many cases, an obstruction to justice. The proposal was seconded by Messrs. Warburton, Aglionby, Maule, and Wakley. The Attorney General said, that without wishing it to be supposed, that he considered grand juries to be one of the best institutions of our criminal jurisprudence, he could not support the motion, since there was little chance of carrying such a bill, as was proposed, through the House; and, moreover, Mr. Pryme had not suggested any substitute for the institution which he desired to abolish.
Sir Robert Peel defended the present system, which operated as a powerful check upon the committals of magistrates. And he stated his belief, that its abrupt abolition would be attended with the most inconvenient results. He remarked that most of the arguments which had been adduced against grand were equally applicable to petty juries.
The motion was decidedly negatived by a majority of 196 to 25. On the 1st of March, Lord John Russell obtained leave to bring in a bill affecting the jurisdiction of the Courts of Quarter Sessions. The noble Lord stated that, in consequence of recent alterations in the law, the number and importance of the offences now brought before those courts were much aug
their jurisdiction could be distinguished from such as ought to be tried at the assizes. He proposed, therefore, in the first place, to classify offences with a view to remove the present uncertainty on the subject.
Lord John then proceeded to say that, amongst the other changes made in the law, was that which allowed the counsel for prisoners charged with felony to address the court in their behalf. This rendered the situation of the chairman of Quarter Sessions one of increased responsibility, since it exacted both readiness of mind and knowledge of the law to enable them to appreciate the arguments of council on either side, and where necessary, to guard the jury against undue impressions. A circumstance, which taken together with a proposal, which he should presently make, for assembling the sessions every six weeks, instead of quarterly, induced him to think that it would be for the public convenience to secure the services of persons of legal education as salaried chairmen of these courts; more especially as he further proposed to transfer to the jurisdiction of these tribunals the cognizance of suits for 10l. and under.
The plan seemed to meet with the concurrence of the House, and the bill was read a first time.
One of the greatest innovations in the law, which signalized the present session, consisted in the
abolition of imprisonment for debt, on mesne process. The general question had for some years occupied the attention of Parlianient, and several bills, differing in their provisions, had been framed and discussed from time to time, with out obtaining the final sanction of the Legislature. In the last session, a bill passed the House of Commons, but at too late a period to admit of its discussion in the Upper House. The Lord Chancellor brought the subject before that assembly on the 5th of December, on moving the second reading of a similar bill. The general principle of the measure was not disputed, but so many defects were discovered in its details by Lords Brougham and Lyndhurst, that it was thought advisable to refer it to the consideration of a select committee.
It was not until the 12th of June, that the Chancellor again presented his bill, as altered and improved by the committee. In its original shape, it had embraced imprisonment for debt, in both stages of a suit ; namely, execution as well as on mesne process. It was, however, the opinion of the select committee, that the total abolition of arrest in execution could not be resorted to without great danger.
The Lord Chancellor, in his exposition of the measure, stated that the bill would empower creditors to get possession of various descriptions of property, which were at present exempt from execution. In the first place, it extended the remedy of the writ by elegit to the whole of the profits of the estate, whereas under the old law, no more than a moiety could be taken under this process, which however might be repeated indefinitely by a
succession of creditors. This bill authorised the Sheriff to seize cash, bank notes, and bills of exchange; and under the authority of a judge's order, and with certain restrictions, stock in the public funds would be rendered available to the creditor.
These, and similar provisions, were framed for the purpose of doing justice to the creditor, by enabling him, if possible, to obtain payment out of his debtor's property. And having effected this object, it seemed right to abolish imprisonment on mesne process entirely. But it then became necessary to provide for the event of the creditor finding no property within his reach, belonging to the debtor, after obtaining judgment in an action, though the debtor might notwithstanding possess the means of paying the debt. The latter, for instance, might hold property in the foreign funds, or might transfer it to such securities, before judgment. To prevent fraud, therefore, as well as to afford complete justice, it was necessary to secure to the creditor who had obtained judgment the right of seizing the debtor's person in certain cases. The bill, moreover, authorized a judge on the creditor's application, to issue a warrant to restrain a fraudulent debtor from leaving the country, before he had surrendered his property. The remaining portion of the bill was devoted to the renewal, with amendments, of the Insolvent act, which was on the point of expiring.
After some comments from Lords Brougham and Abinger, both of whom though commending the measure, as far as it went, still thought it incomplete, though on different grounds, the bill was read a
third time, and passed. Some alterations, not affecting its main features, were introduced on its pas sage through the Commons, and it finally became the law.
We may here state that a very useful act passed the Legislature, in the course of the Session, for the purpose of facilitating the recovery of possession of tenements after the determination of the tenancy. It empowers any two justices, at petty Sessions, in certain cases after proof given of the due determination of the tenancy, and of the refusal of the tenant to surrender possession, to issue their warrant to the peace officers of the place, directing them to enter (by force if needful) upon the premises, which are unlawfully held over, and to give possession of the same to the landlord, or his agent. Such entry to be made not less than twenty, and not more than thirty days from the date of the warrant. The provisions of the bill, how ever, only embrace premises held at will, or for less than a term of seven years, and which are let for less than 207. a-year, without the reservation of a fine.
Mr. Sergeant Talfourd, in the course of the Session, renewed his endeavours to obtain a mitigation of that severe principle of our law, which while it entitles the father to the undisputed custody of his children, from the hour of their birth, gives him the further power of debarring the mother, if he chooses to do so, from all communication with her offspring; and of compelling her to resign possession of them, in case she has contrived to obtain it.
"As it stands at present," said the learned Sergeant "the law is entirely in favour of the husband,
and oppressive to the wife. A man who may be drunken, im moral, vicious, and utterly brutalized, may place his wife in this dilemma, you shall continue to live with me, or you shall be deprived of your children.' It may be admitted that she has just grounds for complaint, that it would be misery for her to live with her husband, that she pos→ sesses her children's affection, and that the husband on the other hand utterly disregards them; all this may be admitted, but the law sternly refuses to listen to the pleadings of natural sympathics, and denies to the mother even the sight of her children."
Certainly it must strike every one, on a first impression, as an extremely harsh rule of law, which refuses to circumscribe, under any circumstance of tyranny or misconduct on the part of the husband the dominion of the father. But it finds favour with the lawyers, and Sir Edward Sugden really rose into eloquence, when he pleaded against any relaxation of its rigour. This learned Gentleman, as well as the other advocates of the existing system, resist the claims of the wife upon grounds almost as revolting to our feelings, as the system itself. The true question, say they, to be decided is, whether it be for the benefit of society at large, that the rule should be relaxed. At present you have a hold upon the wife, who will consent to any hardship, and submit to almost any outrage, before she takes a step, that may cost her the society of her children. But remove this bond, and ill-assorted couples will fly asunder in every direction, and separations be multiplied, which the policy of our
law, and the genius of our social system alike reprobate. Maternal affection is the only guarantee against such an evil; and is so far a legitimate instrument for the promotion of public policy, and domestic morality.
On the other hand, it is strongly contended that the present system is an outrage on human nature, and that the policy must be detestable, which seeks avowedly to assure by such means the subjugation of the same time, it must be allowed, that it is not easy to devise a palliative, far less a remedy, for the evil. The details of the learned Sergeant's bill were such, as would have been difficult to carry into effect with success. It empowered any of the judges, upon the mother's application, to grant her an order to see her children. The judge in each instance determining upon the affidavits made in the case, whether or not this mandate should be issued. And any one judge might, in his discretion, vary, or repeal the order of another. Sir Edward Sugden exposed a few only of the inconveniences, which would ensue, in the following lively strain. There would said he be no end to the litigation over which the judge would have to preside. Facts would be asserted and denied. The friends of the parties would only aggravate the discord. The servants would be brought forward, one half to swear one way, and the other half an other way. Incontinence would be charged on one side, adultery on the other; and all this on affidavit, without personal, or cross examination of the parties; and the case might go the round of all the judges in law and in equity. Thus he said the bill
opened a scene of litigation in families, which was perfectly frightful.
The bill passed the Commons, by large majorities, though it was contested, at almost every stage of its progress. On the third reading the numbers were, Ayes 60; Noes 14: Majority 46.
Lord Lyndhurst undertook to conduct it through the House of Lords, and moved the second reading, on the 30th of July. Lord Brougham however exerted himself as the champion of the existing system, supported by Lord Wynford. And although the weight of the Lord Chancellor's authority inclined towards the principle of the bill, the motion for the second reading was rejected by a majority of eleven to nine. Lords Holland, Lyndhurst, and the Duke of Sutherland afterwards entered a protest against its rejection.
Another favourite measure of Mr. Sergeant Talfourd's is a proposed extension of the period of copy-right. At present, the exclusive property in his works is vested in the author, or his assigns, for an absolute term of twenty eight years, prolonged during his life time, if he survive. Talfourd, himself eminent in the literature of the day, proposed to enlarge the term to sixty years. The bill which he introduced for this purpose, was discussed with much animation in Parliament, and excited a lively interest out of doors. In general, it met with resistance on the part of publishers, printers, and bookbinders, and political economists; while men of letters, as might be expected, pressed for its adoption.
Mr. Sergeant Talfourd mov ed the second reading of th