16 FEBRUARY 1850, Page 14


Ev sYsonv used to be agreed that the Court of Chancery in Ire-

land required a sweeping reform. It stands condemned even by those who have grown up in the midst of and been fattened by its Corruption. Its Judges and officers, its Chancellors and Masters of the Rolls, have lifted up their voices against it; its practitioners have exposed its abuses ; and in the last three or four sessions the Parliamentary presses have groaned with blue books full of com- petent evidence from all classes and all parties condemnatory of its procedure. Perhaps the late Mr. Blake, the Chief Remem- brancer, put this in the most striking point of view, when, being asked by the Burdens of Land Committee what was " the great- est burden to which landed property in Ireland is subject ? " he answered, "The cost of Chancery and Equity proceedings in general." Of all the grievances detailed, two perhaps are most prominent and best proved. The first is, that great expense is incurred in bills, answers, briefs, counsel and attornies, for the sole object of getting into the Master's Office. What is bad enough with us becomes in Ireland a farce ; ending, however, in a tragedy to the suitor, and usually the entire absorption of the fund in dispute. At what is called the hearing, (because per- haps nothing is heard at it,) some twenty learned gentlemen ap- pear, with "papers in each hand" if not "fire in each eye " ; and all are dismissed after one of them has said some such magical words as these—" In this suit, which is an administration suit, we propose taking the usual decree for an account." To which the Judge would perhaps reply, as one of the English Vice-Chancellors did say under similar circumstances the other day, " Let the usual decree go for destroying the estate according to law !" And there is an end of the matter for the time, and the parties descend to the lower deep of the Master's Office. To meet this first griev- ance, it has been over and over again proposed that the parties should go at once to the Master's Office, and have the benefit of 44 the usual decree," without the unnecessary expense and delay of obtaining it • a proposal to which no one ever objected except the aforesaid twenty gentlemen, the familiars who instructed them, and the like. This first and manifest grief the Solicitor-General proposes by one of his Irish bills to remedy; by enacting that cer- tain classes of petitions (which are to be substituted for bills) may be referred summarily to the Master, without going through the Court at all.

But thus sending them to the Master would indeed be a very questionable benefit unless the Master's Office were also to be re- formed : and here we have the second grievance, so well proved and so completely established. It was necessary not only to give a more cheap and easy way of getting into the Master's Office, but also to give the parties who entered it some chance of getting out again ; and the Solicitor-General's bill applies the true remedy. The Master must have greater powers and complete jurisdiction. The great vice of the present system (and more especially in Eng- land) is, that the Master proceeds by written directions from the Judge, and is only employed in certain portions of the cause ; the Judge doing or undoing the remainder. There is no direct re- sponsibility on any one. The Judge raps the knuckles of the Mas- ter ; the Master grumbles at the Judge. The remedy for this is to give to one competent person the whole of a suit, and to throw on him the entire responsibility of disposing of it, subject to appeal. In certain suits, at all events, we should prefer that this person should be the Judge himself, assisted by a staff of officers in immediate communication with him ; we wish, in fact, to see " a Judge-Master ": but in other suits, and probably in those referred to in the Solicitor-General's bill as the ordinary suits for an account, it is quite possible that a Master armed with sufficient authority—that is, " a Master-Judge "—might dispose sa- tisfactorily of them. At any rate, this might be fairly tried if the present bill passed with such clauses as these. Section 13. " Mas- ter to proceed on the petition referred to him, and to have with respect thereto the same jurisdiction as might have been exercised by the Court in a suit." Section 14. " State of facts may be dis- pensed with, and Master to regulate proceedings "; by which clause hourly warrants are abolished, and power given to the Master ex- pressly to proceed de die in diem. By section 15, Masters' orders are to take effect as orders of Court; and there are other provisions

-which would either render the Master's Office an efficient one, or

'establish the fact that the case was hopeless. We must not omit to notice that this bill would also allow " special cases" on particular points to be brought before the Court, would authorize the taking of viva voce evidence, and dispense with the necessity of billi of reviver and supple; ent Altogether, so far from not-adopting it

for Ireland, the Fn lish Members will act most unwisely and in- considerately if they do not take Mr. Henley's advice and insist on its being extended. to England.

It may be added in justification of the proposal to give complete jurisdiction in certain matters to one tribunal or judicial power, that when it has been tried in Chancery proceedings it has been eminently successful. In England, under the Joint-Stock Com- panies' Winding-up Act, perhaps the most difficult subject that could have been committed to the Masters, we have seen " the deformed transformed." In Ireland, under the Encumbered Es- tates Commission Act, we find that in a few months' time, and at a very small expense, the Commissioners have already cleared many titles and are ready to proceed to sale; a process which, under the divided jurisdiction of a Judge and a Master, used to occupy years, and leave at last nothing to sell ! On its first introduction, the bill was well received, not only by the unprofessional Members, but by many Chancery practitioners. At what ought to have been the second reading, we were sorry to see it opposed by Mr. Turner. With all our respect for Mr. Turner as an eminent leader in the Court of Chancery, no portion of his speech appeared to us worthy of particular attention, except that in which he promised to introduce a bill developing his own plan for Chancery reform. This would have been more important if his bill had been ready : for we apprehend that it is quite unusual to postpone a Government measure on the understanding that a private Member will propose a bill " shortly after Easter." Indeed, coming from a Member less candid and respected than Mr. Turner, such a plea would be regarded as a mere pretence. We hope that the House will look carefully after this bill : it is much too good to be lost, either by open opposition, which it will assuredly meet, or by the negligence of lukewarm friends, which may be fully as dangerous.