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The expenses have been much increased also by unnecessarily multiplying affidavits. According to the 2nd section of the act 53rd of the king, if the creditors are numerous, or live at considerable distances from one another, it is lawful for the debtor, instead of serving them persomally, to give notice in the Gazette of his intention to take the benefit of the act. By a rule, however, of the Insolvent debtor's court, the insolvent is required to prove that his creditors are thus numerous, or that they live at such considerable distances from one another, by an affidavit made by him in prison; and the court has appointed an officer to take these #. who receives 7s. 8d. for each; and there is besides a stamp duty of 2s. 6d. imposed upon them.
By the 54th of the king, cap. 23, the office of a receiver was established in this court, and the mode in which this officer has been paid, viz. by an allowance of five F. cent on all monies passing t . his hands, has had a further effect in increasing the expenses of the parties.
The committee cannot conclude their statement of the objections to the proceedings of this court, which have occurred to them, without noticing the appointment of persons to act as agents before this court who are not regularly admitted attornies; at j ere are one hundred and twenty, on the appointment of each of whom a fee of one pound nine shillings is exacted, one pound of which is paid to the commissioner, and the remainder to the chief clerk.
In order to remedy these inconveniences, and yet to preserve the principle of the laws, which was stated in the beginning of this report, the committee beg leave to recommend to the House, that the acts which were referred for their consideration should be allowed to expire; and that a new act, for a limited time, should be substituted, in which provision should be made for a more accurate examination into the accounts of the debtor and the claims of his creditors, by the appointment of three commissioners instead of one ; that the examination should in the first instance take place out of court, under the direction of one of the three commissioners, preparatory to the final examination of the insolvent before the three commissioners in the Insolvent debtors court; the act should further provide, that when an insolvent makes his option to take the benefit of this act, he should be compelled to deliver all his property into the hands of an assignee, within a much shorter period than the , present law obliges; and that in case of his neglecting to make this option, it should be lawful for his creditors, if they think fit, to compel him to deliver up his property to be divided amongst them according to the provisions of this act; that it ... enact, that all the creditors should be empowered to oppose the discharge of the insolvent, on whatever grounds they may think proper; that all. fees and stamps should be abolished in this court; that more effectual provision should be made to render any property which the insolvent may acquire after
after his discharge liable to the debts which he had previously contracted; and lastly, that none but regularly admitted attornies should practise as agents in the court; and where doubts have arisen as to whether the court possesses the powers necessary to the performance of its functions, adequate powers should be given to it. It remains now only to be considered how this measure may be made applicable to the country. For this purpose it should be provided, that the same examination should take place out of court, previous to the insolvent being brought before the court of quarter sessions, that may be enacted for the proceedings in the metropolis; such examination might be made either before one of the magistrates, or a commissioner appointed for this purpose. It has also appeared to the committee, that great injustice arises where a debtor is arrested in the country, from his having the }. of removing himself to London, which must frequently, of course, be at a considerable distance from the residence of his creditors; in order to remedy this evil, it should be provided, that such removal should not be allowed, unless on application from the creditors. In every other respect the proceedings before the court of quarter sessions may be assimilated to those before the Insolvent debtors court. If the House shall think proper to adopt these suggestions, the committe hope that the principle of the law will be carried into effect, in such a manner as to obviate inconvenience, and be pro
ductive of considerable advantage both to debtor and creditor. Having made all the observations which they think necessary upon the subject referred to their consideration, the committee will here conclude; but they hope they may be permitted to call the attention of the House to the evidence of Mr. Nixon, warden of the Fleet-prison, in which he describes the riot and confusion which prevail in that establishment: and they beg to submit to the serious consideration of the House, whether it is not necessary that some steps should be taken for the regulation of debtors’ prisons; and especially, if possible, to abolish the privilege of the rules of the Fleet and of the King's-bench.
Mr. N. Nixon, deputy-warden of the Fleet, examined.
Do you believe that this act operates as a great inducement to fraud and perjury 2—That can only be matter of opinion in me; I should think it certainly does; and I question, if any one man has ever taken the benefit of this act conscientiously.
Have you seen frequent instances of persons who have taken the benefit of the act, who afterwards have made a good and gentleman-like appearance 2— That is just as they can obtain credit, perhaps. I have known a gentleman discharged under an insolvent act, who has come down Fleet-market the next day, with a groom behind him, on two horses worth from 150 to 200 guineas.
They live luxuriously sometimes in prison?—Yes.
Taking wine?—Yes. Sometimes you have known them send for ice to cool their wine P-I have. Since the passing this act?— No. Are there a great many in the rules now 2–Seventy-four. Have they been there some considerable time P-Several of them have. And they are not inclined to take the benefit of the Insolvent debtors act?—Not that I know of. Some of them live expensively? —Yes. In expensive lodgings?—Yes. In some of the houses on Ludgate-hill?—Yes. Do you happen to know what those lodgings are let at, any of them?—I suppose three or four guineas a week. Under this act, the creditors, however inclined to take a composition, have no means of compelling them to give up their property?—No. Then they prefer living there to paying their creditors?—If they have the means they will not do it; and certainly prefer it. Are there any of those now who could get their discharge if they chose?—I do not know. You stated in your evidence in the year 1792, that however, severe the punishment of a prison was to some persons, it was no punishment at all to others; is that your opinion still 2–Yes; that evidence is correct from my observation. It appears from the same evidence, that you stated that there were eighty prisoners in the rules of the Fleet, fifty-eight of whom
were supersedable, and might get discharged if they would?—I dare say that was correct at the time I stated it. Then they would not go out of the prison?—No. Has any prisoner in the prison a power of sending for any article he *. ?—Unquestionably. e may live in any way he pleases, without any control on your part?—I have nothing to do with it. May he drink and riot through the night?—He frequently does. Has no person a power to control that riot and noise 2–I have ower to control it in the morning; because if complaint is made to me of it, I can send him to the strong-room in the morning. Cannot you send in the night and take him to the strong room? —No; the gates are shut up, and the turnkeys are all in bed. You say drunken prisoners disturb the more prudent ones?— Frequently. Cannot you send and take that man and put him into confinement?—It is in the dead of the night, and I have no officer at leisure to do such a thing; we never interfere in that respect. How are your officers occupied in the dead of the night?—They go to bed and sleep and rest themselves. The committee understand you have the management of this prison P-Yes. You complain of riot and drunkenness?—Yes. You say you have power to suppress it?—When it is complained of in the morning. When you hear riot and drunkenness in the prison, have not you you the power to suppress it?— I have never interfered in that respect in the dead of the night. Why have you not interfered? —For fear of getting my head broke. When people are drunk, any person going to put them to rights, most likely, would have his head broke; a drunken man does not care much whose head he breaks; and in the dead of the night I could not open my gates to go in ; it would be attended with a considerable degree of danger to open the gates to go in in the dead of the night. You say the prisoners can send for any #. thev want out of the prison, so that they have money to pay for it?—Yes. Do you suffer any persons that please, to visit them within the prison?—Yes, in the day-time. Are they suffered to remain during the night within the prison?–Yes. If a prisoner has acquired a room in the prison, and any female visits him, is she permitted to remain there during the night? —Yes. And he may have any thing to eat or drink in the prison he leases 2–Yes. In fact, he is as much his own master as a man is in his house, if he has money?–Yes, if he has money. He is only confined to his room?—No; he may walk about the prison. May as many prisoners meet as please, in one room?—They may meet together in any one room, but they cannot eat and drink in that room without leave of the warden, that is by a rule of court.
And if that leave is given, is there any fee payable upon it?— No ; no fee whatever. If a person has acquired a room to himself, and has a friend come to see him, they cannot dine together in that room without permission of the warden?–Yes; I never interfere in any thing of that, sort; I speak of a person making his room a public room. Supposing two persons are known to each other, cannot they dine together in one of their rooms without your leave?—Unquestionably; it is only where they make the room a public room. What do you mean by a public room 2–That is a room that is frequented by many of the prisoners, where they eat and drink. You state, that you do not think it safe to interpose in the night, notwithstanding the riots you have heard in your prison; should you think it right to interpose if those riots happened in the day?—If there is any violence attempted from one to another, I generally do interpose, in the day-time, to prevent mischief. Should persons riot in the way you describe in the day, should you not think it your duty to interpose?—Certainly I do, in the day-time. You stated in 1816 that they rioted and revelled night and day, to the disturbance of the quiet part of the prison?—They will drink and get drunk both night and day, but perhaps not so as to do any mischief, though they may disturb the other part of the prison.