(1802) 4 Paton 326
CASES DECIDED IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS, UPON APPEAL FROM THE COURTS OF SCOTLAND, FROM 1753 TO 1813.
[Mor. App. College of Justice, No. I.]
House of Lords,
Subject_Exclusive Privileges op Clerks to the Signet — Regulations. —
The Writers to the Signet having claimed exclusive privilege in certain departments of business before the Court, enacted certain regulations increasing their fees, and, to protect their exclusive privileges, the Society of Solicitors presented a petition and complaint to the Court, complaining of these regulations. Held, in the Court of Session, that the Writers to the Signet had an exclusive privilege of libelling and preparing privileged summonses which pass on a bill, but that they had no exclusive privilege of libelling ordinary summonses which do not require to be passed on a bill; and that they could not prohibit their members from signing such summonses. Also held, that bills of suspension and advocation may be signed by a practitioner before the Court, whether Writer to the Signet or Agent. Affirmed in the House of Lords.
The Society of Writers to His Majesty's Signet having claimed exclusive privilege of libelling all summonses, and of signing all bills of suspension and of advocation, and also of charging and exacting of fees therefor, according to a certain rate fixed by them, as well as the fees paid on these letters at the Signet Office and Bill Chamber respectively; they enacted several bye laws, having for their object, the confining the whole business to themselves. In particular, they enacted, 1. That no letters should pass the Signet gratis, which had before been the case; and, 2. That no member of the Society should subscribe bills, summonses, letters, precepts, retours of service, &c. for any other, but such only as have been drawn and written by himself.
The respondents presented a petition and complaint to the Court against these regulations, as having in view the entire exclusion of the Society of Solicitors from the business of the Court; and, besides, that they had enacted regulations in regard to matters which were entirely beyond their power and jurisdiction. More particularly they complained,
Jan 31, 1799.
July 2, 1799.
The Lords, of this date, found, “That the Keeper, Commissioners, and Society of Clerks to the Signet, though entitled to all the privileges of a corporation, have no power, by their own authority, to increase their legal or established fees, and therefore prohibit and discharge them, in time coming, from demanding or taking from the complainers, the additional fees attempted to be established by their act and regulation complained of, dated 1st February 1796; Find the appellants have the exclusive right and privilege of preparing and signing all Signet letters, and of signing all summonses passing the Signet; but that they have no exclusive privilege to sign or prepare bills of advocation or suspension: Find, that as they are answerable for the form and style of libelled summonses passing the Signet, they are entitled either to prepare or revise them. But find, That they have no right to prohibit the members of their society from signing libelled summonses, which may have been written, or drawn, by others, upon such members receiving the full fees by law exigible by them, and being satisfied that such summonses are properly framed: Find, that the respondents have a right to prohibit the members of their society from entering into partnership with agents or others, not of the society, for carrying on any branch of business falling under their exclusive privilege, as writers to the Signet; But find, That the members of the Society may lawfully enter into partnership with others for carrying on any branches of business separate and distinct from their exclusive department, as writers to the Signet, and, in so far, prohibit and discharge the Keeper, Commissioners, and Clerks of the Signet, from enforcing or carrying into execution the regulations complained of, dated the 11th day of July 1796, and decern.” On reclaiming petition, the Court, of this date, found, “That Bills of advocation and suspension may be signed by the practitioner, whether
Feb. 25, 1800.
On reclaiming petition, the Lords pronounced this interlocutor, “The Lords adhere to their interlocutor reclaimed against, and refuse the desire of the petition, with the following explanations; 1. That the name of the writer to the Signet, who is to expede the letters upon a passed bill of advocation or suspension, is only to be marked upon the bill when it is carried to the Signet office, in order to have the letters expede. 2. That the exclusive privilege of the writers to the Signet of libelling and preparing summonses, extends only to those summonses which cannot pass the Signet without a bill.”
Against these interlocutors the present appeal was brought to the House of Lords.
Pleaded for the Appellants.—1. The appellants having resolved to make additions to their charges for Signet letters, they never pretended that they had authority so to enforce such regulations, if unreasonable in themselves, or that in this respect they were subject to no control; but they do contend, under the sanction of repeated practice, and from the reason of the thing, that they have a right to make such regulations binding on their own members, though subject to question from other parties, if by them these be deemed exorbitant. But it is not alleged that the charges here are unreasonable. The right of the Society to make such regulations has long been acquiesced in by the public, and sanctioned by the Court. 2. Their exclusive right, as Clerks to the Signet, to prepare and present bills of advocation and suspension, is clearly established, and existed even before
Pleaded for the Respondents.—1. The appellants had no right to increase their fees of their own accord; and the exactions made by them, under their late regulations, were unjust to the respondents, as well as their clients. They had no right to exact such, because the fees exigible by the clerks to the Signet have, from the earliest times, been regulated by Parliament itself. 2. The writing of bills of suspension and advocation is the peculiar business of an agent or solicitor; and the framing and attending to them, in their progress through the Bill-Chamber, are incompatible with the office of a writer to the Signet, which was to
After hearing counsel,
Earl op Rosslyn said,
This is not the first time that the present parties have been before your Lordships, in regard to the matters now at issue between them. The respondents had presented a petition and complaint to the Court of Session, the subject matter of which was, that certain new regulations had been made to their prejudice by the writers to the Signet—a very respectable body. Both these parties were officers of the Court, each in their respective departments. One of the articles of complaint was, that while the fees of the writers to the Signet were regulated by express act of Parliament, they themselves had taken upon them to increase the amount of them.
They asked time till the then next Session of the Court to answer the complaint. This was granted them, being a matter of course, and well understood; but of necessity, and for the sake of public convenience, the Court made an interdict, suspending the effect of the regulations till the matter was inquired into. Against that interdict, so manifestly just on behalf of all the king's subjects, the appellants presented an appeal, and appeared at your Lordships' bar. Their case, however, was not argued; their counsel saw its impropriety, and the appeal was withdrawn.
The parties then entered into a discussion of this matter before the Court of Session; and it has been the subject of very laborious inquiry, first, on the part of the writers to the Signet, and afterwards,
Attempts have been made in this country, at different times, to draw into discussion in one Court, what had been matter of regulation in another. But the moment such a purpose was perceived, it was put a stop to. None of such parties ever fell upon the absurd scheme of calling for the interference of your Lordships in such a case. I am sorry that a different temper prevailed upon the present occasion.
I know the body of writers to the Signet to be of great respectability; but we are all aware of the warmth and animosity that are apt to arise in discussing rival interests, as in the present case. I must blame the appellants exceedingly for not having obeyed the regulations laid down upon this occasion by the Court; and, to mark the displeasure of your Lordships with their conduct, I move that the interlocutors complained of be affirmed, with £100 costs.”
It was accordingly
Ordered and adjudged that the interlocutors be, and the same are hereby affirmed, with £100 costs.
Counsel: For the Appellants,
For the Respondents, Ed. Law, Chas. Hope, Ad. Gillies, Thos. W. Baird.