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Recovery of Debts

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DEBTS, RECOVERY OF. Courts of law, besides serving to decide eases in which questions of fact or law are really in dispute, serve an important purpose in. facilitating the recovery of debts, against which the debtor has no defense other than that he is unable, or unwilling, to pay. The great majority of the cases in which the services of courts are required is of this kind. The statistics of the English county courts give a striking illustration of this. Of the number of cases which are entered for judgment, it appears that about 95 per cent end in favor of the plaintiff; whereas, had there been any question really in dispute, the defendants, with the advantages they possess, might have been expected to be at least as often right as the plaintiffs. The knowledge of this has had much to do with modifying judicial proceedings. Another cause which has operated in the same direction is, that the consequences of issuing a decree are now much less serious, as a creditor holding a judgment has not now the exorbitant powers over his debtor that he once had. The theory, accordingly, on which judicial proceed ings are based, has very much changed. Formerly, lawyers thought that every case should come into court, prepared for being disputed on every point, and thus a great deal of expense was incurred before it was known whether there was to be any dispute at all. The end now in view is. that there should be a cheap means of obtaining judg ment in undisputed causes; and that, at the same time, every precaution should be taken, that if the defender has any good ground of defense, he should have the opportunity of statiug it; and that, when stated, it should receive due attention. Various law reforms have been carried to facilitate the recovery of debts with this end tacitly, at least, in view. In England, as might have been expected from the courts of law being situated in a great commercial capital, law reform has proceeded further in this direction than in Scotland; but in both countries, it has made great progress.

Understanding by debt the price of services rendered, or goods furnished, it may be useful to point out shortly the proceedings that must be taken to recover it. If the debt exceed £30 in amount, the creditor must, in England. proceed in one of the supe

rior courts of law; and, in Scotland, he may proceed either before the superior court or before one of the sheriff-courts; but in any view, he must prepare for considerable expense—the services of professional advisers being in practice unavoidable—and for a more or less tedious litigation. If the debt do not exceed £50, the creditor may proceed in the English or Scotch county courts (in Scotland called the sheriff-courts), and the proceedings are simple and expeditious.

In England, the first step to recover a debt not exceeding £50 in the county court, is for the creditor to go to the registrar of the district within which the defender resides, or to the jurisdiction of which he is on some other ground amenable (30 and 31 Viet. e. 142 *). He there fills up a printed form, called a plaint, shortly statiug the claim and the ground of it. The registrar upon this issues a summons, and gives It to the bailiff of the court, who serves a copy of it on the defendant. This summons names a day on which the parties must appear before the judge. No written pleadings are in general necessary; but if the debtor has any special defense—such as, that he has a counter claim against the plaintiff, or that he (the defendant) was a minor at the time the debt was contracted, or that he has been discharged under the bankruptcy acts—he must give the creditor notice in writing five days before the bearing. If he simply denies the debt, he has nothing to do but to attend the hearing, with what witnesses he may require. If the witnesses are not likely to come voluntarily, summonses to enforce their attendance (as well as the production of documents) may be obtained at the registrar's office. At the hearing, the judge (unless a jury have been required) proceeds himself in a summary way to try the cause. He examines the witnesses on oath, keeping no record of the evidence; and, on hearing the parties, gives judgment at once. If he decides for the plaintiff, he may make the slim payable at once, or by installments. The costs are according to a fixed scale, which may be seen in the court or in the registrar's office.

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