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Bell's Weekly Messenger, No.1810, Sunday, December 5, 1830

[Local Courts]

On Thursday the Lord Chancellor introduced his bill for the improvement of the laws by the establishment of Local Courts. We have not space at present to go into the details of this plan, but we consider it worthy of the highest commendation. Cheap justice is an invaluable blessing, and reason requires that the monopoly of the high Courts at Westminster should be abridged. We shall only express our hope at present that the Lord Chancellor's Bill will not split up upon the ordinary rock—that of continuing the present local jurisdictions; we mean the Mayor's Courts, the Recorder's Courts, the Courts of Conscience, and, above all, the Palace Court in Middlesex. All these courts have one insurmountable objection to them; they are monopolies : they are beset with privileges; they emulate in many instances (we except the Courts of Conscience) the expenses of the higher Courts, and are all under local control and influence. The Magistrates and Judges are in many cases most incompetent persons. If law, in these courts, be summary, it is often any thing but justice; it is, too frequently, we believe, injustice.

Courts of this kind, which pronounce upon the rights of the people, ought not to be under the control of local magistrates and petty corporations : they should not be managed by the members of the predominant faction of a town corporate or petty borough. All power of this sort should be combined with the proper knowledge, and, also, with the requisite responsibility. Therefore, the appointments to all offices of law and justice should be invariably given to the Crown. If the patronage be given to Lord Lieutenants or to Sheriffs, these offices would be bought or sold.

We trust, therefore, if the government intend to establish either fixed or itinerant Courts for the prosecution and recovery of small debts, that they will not suffer such Courts to be controlled by those minor jurisdictions which are scattered throughout all parts of the country. We trust that Lord Brougham's Courts (should ministers concur, in his plan, for it is not a cabinet measure), like the present Courts of Assize, at which the judges of the land preside, will not be permitted to bow their heads to these nuisances, in which more ignorance and injustice are found, and more extortion practiced, then in any other of the institutions of the country. The improvement which we require is,—to abridge the expense of recovering small debts, and to establish, at the same time, cheap, intelligent, and unsuspicious jurisdictions in those actions, for which it not worth while to resort to their superior Courts.

To sue in the higher Courts of Justice for a debt under twenty pounds is absolute insanity. The mere machinery of these courts cannot be worked but at an expense far exceeding the sum sought to be recovered. A successful plaintiff, after recovering his verdict, will rise a loser from these tables upon the mere item of extra costs alone; and the defendant, whether his defense prevail or not, is in any event of the cause a considerable loser. Nor is the argument often advanced for these higher jurisdictions, and for not abridging their power, worth much consideration. Why not, it is said, have the highest wisdom and authority in the law for the determination of particular rights, be they great or small? Why, as may be answered, to we not have Sir Astley Cooper, or Mr. Brodie, down from London upon every case of simple or compound fracture in a country village? The answer is, common cases are within the reach of the common capacity and skill of the ordinary professors of the art; and the most consummate learning and ability are not required, except in occurrences of magnitude and complexity, which are well worth the cost of employing them.

We sincerely trust, therefore, that his Majesty's Ministers will give us the benefit of a new Debtor and Creditor law under the principles we have laid down. But let them be independent jurisdictions; not controlled by local Courts and let all the officers be appointed by the Crown.