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chairman of a public meeting signs a petition on behalf of those assembled, it is only received as the petition of the individual, and is so entered on the Journals, because the signature of one party for others cannot be recognized.
"It may be a useful caution to state, that any forgery or fraud in the preparation of petitions, or in the signatures attached, or the being privy to, or cognizant of, such forgery or fraud, will be punished as a breach of privilege. By a resolution of the House of Commons, 2d June, 1774, it was declared,
'That it is highly unwarrantable, and a breach of the privilege of 'this house, for any person to set the name of any other person to any petition to be presented to this house.'
And there have been frequent instances in which such irregularities have been discovered and punished by both houses."-pp. 384, 385.
We have purposely made our extracts from those portions of the work which possess an interest extended beyond the members of the legislature, and the parliamentary counsel and agents. To the latter it would be superfluous to recommend Mr. May's work; it is no more to be dispensed with in their libraries than Archbold's Common Law Practice, or Smith and Daniel's Treatises on Chancery Practice by the attorneys and solicitors. Its use, however, may be beneficially extended to all branches of the profession. There is not a professional person in any district of the United Kingdom who has not more or less to advise upon and to study proceedings on private bills; none, therefore, who do not require a manual, if not for actual practice, at least for reference, as good as from a seven years' personal use we have found Mr. May's work to be. It is ample in giving authorities for every position, and it is eminently free from conjectural statements. Promoters of private bills have ample opportunities for gaining advice and professional assistance, and avail themselves largely-may we add, most expensively-of both. The opponents of private bills are not usually so well provided in purse or in knowledge, and for their guidance we close our extracts with the regulations and practice as to petitioners being heard against an entire bill, or against its clauses.
"All the petitions against a bill which have been deposited within the time limited, stand referred to the committee; but no petitioners are entitled to be heard unless they have prayed to be heard by themselves, their counsel or agents, nor unless they have a locus standi, according to the rules and usage of parliament; nor unless their petition and the proceedings thereupon be otherwise in conformity with the rules and orders of the house.
"Some petitions pray to be heard against the preamble and clauses of the bill; some against certain clauses only; and others pray for the
insertion of protective clauses, or for compensation for damage which will arise under the bill. Unless the petitioners pray to be heard against the preamble, they will not be entitled to be heard, nor to cross-examine any of the witnesses of the promoters upon the general case, nor otherwise to appear in the proceedings of the committee until the preamble has been disposed of. Nor will a general prayer against the preamble entitle the petitioner to be heard against it, if his interest be merely affected by certain clauses of the bill. The proper time for urging objections to parties being heard against the preamble is when their counsel or agent first rises to put a question to a witness, or to address any observations to the committee. This is also the proper time for objecting that petitioners are not entitled to be heard on any other grounds.
"Petitioners are said to have no locus standi before a committee, when their property or interests are not directly and specially affected by the bill, or when, for other reasons, they are precluded from opposing it. The committee will determine, according to the circumstances of each case, whether petitioners have such an interest as to entitle them to be heard; and such circumstances will necessarily vary according to the special relations of the petitioners, and the nature and objects of the bill itself.
"It has been held generally, as a parliamentary rule, that competition does not confer a locus standi; but of late years this rule has been considerably relaxed, and numerous exceptions have in practice been admitted. The proprietors of an existing railway have no right to be heard upon their petition against another line, on the ground that the profits of their undertaking will be diminished. But if it be proposed to take the least portion of land belonging to the company, their locus standi immediately becomes unquestionable. The result of this rule has been, that most of the great parliamentary contests between railway companies have been conducted in the names of landowners. Each company have obtained the signatures of landowners to petitions against the rival scheme; have instructed counsel to appear upon them; and have defrayed all the costs of the nominal petitioners. A variation of the practice, however, has been introduced as regards competing schemes referred to the same committee; and in 1848 the rule was further relaxed in favour of the proprietors of canals or navigations. An existing water or gas company has been held to have no locus standi against a new company proposing to supply the same district, unless their property be taken or interfered with; but in recent cases this rule has not been enforced.
"Another important ground of objection to the locus standi of petitioners is, that they are shareholders or members of some corporate body by whom the bill is promoted, and that being legally bound by the acts of the majority, they are precluded from being heard as individual petitioners. This objection was argued at great length in the case of the Birmingham and Oxford Junction Railway Bill, in 1847, when the committee decided that shareholders in the company were not entitled to be heard. Again, in the London, Brighton and
South Coast Railway Bill, in 1848, determined that the general rule, that in the case of a joint-stock company the decision of the majority is binding on the minority, ought to be observed, and that the minority of the shareholders in this case had no locus standi before the committee.' In the Queensferry Passage Bill, in 1848, it was decided that individual trustees of the Queensferry Passage could not be heard against the bill promoted by the general body of the trustees. On the other hand, in the Manchester Cemetery Bill, in 1848, objection was taken to the locus standi of certain petitioners, being trustees and proprietors of shares in the cemetery, on the ground that they were a minority of a corporate body, in respect of interest in which body, they opposed the bill; but the committee determined that they were entitled to be heard. In 1850, the committees on the Shrewsbury and Hereford, the Shropshire Union, &c., and the Waterford and Kilkenny Railway Bills determined that dissentient shareholders could not be heard. With very few exceptions, indeed, it has been the rule, in the Commons, not to hear dissentient shareholders, unless they have any interest different from that of the general body of shareholders. In the Lords a different rule has prevailed; and shareholders who have dissented to the bill at the meeting called in pursuance of Lord Wharncliffe's order, are expressly permitted to be heard, and have even been heard without such dissent. In the case of preference shareholders, the Commons have been obliged to depart from their usual practice. The proprietor of preference shares has a special interest often opposed to that of the general body of shareholders, and justice requires that he should not be excluded from a hearing.
"Objection may also be taken that a petition is informal, according to the rules and orders of the house applicable to petitions generally, or as specially applicable to petitions against private bills."pp. 543-546.
It will be seen that the anomalies existing in the courts of law or equity, as well as in the ecclesiastical courts, by which parties most interested in the decision of a particular question are frequently excluded from taking part in the argument, extend to the proceedings before the makers of the laws; and though the rules of the House of Lords afford somewhat greater latitude to prevent injury to individuals, than does the practice of the Lower House, yet both Houses are lamentably deficient in affording sufficient security. If nothing else would be a bar, the enormous expenses attending the parliamentary contests would work a virtual exclusion. We shall not, probably, hear again of any leading counsel making 50,000l. in one session of parliament; certainly we shall not have the bar again called together to consider the pitiable case of leaders who have given credit to parliamentary agents for fees amounting to thousands, and cannot procure payment; nor shall we see again the wonderful and
almost miraculous items for law charges, which have figured in the capital accounts of the leading railways; this has passed away, and some slight remedy at a late day has been afforded, by the appointment of officers to tax the costs of proceedings in either house; yet after all, the great fact remains-law, ever an expensive luxury (county court law not excepted)-is beyond comparison expensive when private legislation is needed; few individuals who have once indulged in it will again venture upon a parliamentary contest. Private bills still partake largely of the character of judicial proceedings: they are not distinguishable in principle from judicial decrees for the redress of private wrongs; and unless a reformation take place, and the costs be largely reduced, it cannot with truth be affirmed that the spirit of the Great Charter, "nulli vendemus, nulli negabimus, aut differemus rectum vel justitiam," is acted up to.
W. D. C.
ART. IV.-NEW LAW STATUTES OF THE SESSION.
IE course of legislation upon many of the promised questions of law reform has not been rapid during the last three months, and we have but a very small instalment of new statutes to which we can refer, as affecting legal proceedings, civil or criminal. Discussions of legal topics do not seem favourites in the House of Commons. As a general proposition, all are willing to join in one object of interest-the attainment of cheap and speedy determination of legal rights, or an attack upon that caput lupinum, the Court of Chancery, which ever since the days of Lord Eldon has been a favourite topic for reformers. The technicalities of the superior courts of common law-the delays and costliness of a chancery suit, are subjects which come home to the hearts, and-what is more to the purpose to the pockets of the people at large. But if members are called upon to enact some remedy for the abuses of which they complain, they find the details so distasteful or so difficult to a nonprofessional mind, that they are apt to dispose of any proposed alteration hastily, or to postpone its consideration to a more convenient season. It is proverbial, that as a class lawyers are listened to with greater impatience than any other in the House of Commons. Their motives are frequently sus
pected, and their suggestions distrusted. We sincerely believe that in this respect they frequently do not receive justice at the hands of lay members. In the House of Lords a different course prevails. The consideration of these questions is confided almost entirely to the law lords, who are enabled to bring long experience and practical knowledge to bear on the framing of acts which are to affect the rights or liabilities of the members of the community, or to regulate the procedure of courts of justice. So far the bearings of the subject will generally be well considered. The consequence is, that it is in the Upper House that nearly all the useful law reforms of the day have originated. The consequence also is, that law reforms are delayed in their transit through the House of Commons. They are referred to a select committee, or some of their provisions materially changed, by the insertion or rejection of clauses which affect the whole scope of the bill, and return it shorn of its due proportions. Thus the session passes away; and the bill, which has been thus tossed from house to house, is hurried through its final stages at the very moment of prorogation. Some of the branches of the legal system are, to the misfortune of the suitor, and to the perplexity of the judge, in a perpetual state of transition. Scarcely has a new enactment come into operation, scarcely have the public and the courts become familiar with its details, when it is found insufficient to meet some proposed case, and new legislation immediately ensues. A strong illustration of this is afforded by the important subject of the Bankrupt Law. It is almost impossible for any person to carry in his mind the existing provisions, with a certainty of being accurate as to the course of proceeding. Even judges, it has been said by high authority, do not know the state of the law upon this subject. After all the experiments of recent years, after creating local and metropolitan courts of bankruptcy, which have certainly worked well, it has been now proposed to throw all this business, as well as many of the functions of a court of equity, upon the County Courtsthose tribunals, which are at this moment so popular, that they are treated with the additional burthens of every kind of question, legal or equitable, of bankruptcy or insolvency, of law or of fact, as to which there is any complaint. It is only while we are writing, that this idea has been abandoned by its originator, from whose fertile brain most of the legislation on this point has emanated. In another session we may expect to see it revived. The County Court Extension Act, however, which is now in its progress through the House of Commons, proposes to make use of these tribunals as adjuncts to the Court of Chancery in the investigation of matters which may be referred thence to them. We