[From Laughton's Reminiscences, 1916]
Adams, in his professional cases. was always full of resource, and was ever on the alert, and ready upon " the occasion sudden and the practice dangerous."
As an illustration of this, and also of his perseverance, a case occurs to me. A farmerwhom I will call .John Cainewas indebted to Harris and Adams in a very considerable sum of money for professional services; but by his repeated entreaties, indulgence was granted to him for payment. At length, after the expiration of three years (that being the then term of our Manx Statute of Limitations), Caine absolutely refused payment. Adams determined, notwithstanding, to commence an action against him, to see whether he would dare, publicly, to plead so discreditable a defence. The action was instituted; he did plead the Statute; and the case was, of course, dismissed. Most men, under such circumstances, would have simply written off the debt as a bad one. Not so, friend Adams.
The following year, Caine was compelled to take an action against a farmer for land rent. The tenant happened to retain Adams to defend him. He admitted that he owed the money claimed, but, in consequence of a bad season, he required a little further time, which Caine refused to give. This was Adams's cue! Caine happened to go to England, and Adams had a writ from the Queen's Bench served upon him whilst there, and sued him in the said Court for the amount of his professional charges. He then requested the tenant to proceed to England, and upon his landing there, according to previous arrangements, a Garnishee Order was served upon him, attaching the amount which was due from him to Caine. (A Garnishee is a person in whose hands money belonging to one of the parties to a suit is attached.) Upon the return of the tenant to the Island Caine proceeded with his suit against him, and on the hearing, Adams pleaded that the amount had been arrested by the Garnishee Order, under authority of the Court of Queens Bench; and accordingly Caine's proceedings against the Defendant were stayed and suspender! till the action in the Queen's Bench, of " Harris and Adams versus Caine" should be decided.
Thus far Adams had succeeded in obtaining for his client, the Tenant, all that he required, viz., a little time to pay the debt.
The case of " Harris and Adams v. Caine" was eventually fixed for hearing upon a certain day. and the late Mr. Sherwood and I went to London, as witnesses, to prove certain facts as to the practice of our Courts and Mr. George Maley, then Mr. Adams's chief clerk, also attended, with a perfect cargo of day-books, costbooks, fee-books, etc., to prove the several items of the claim.
It will be remembered that the case had been dismissed in the Island, because it was barred bv the Insular Statute of Limitations. The English Statute of Limitations, however, being six years, could not be pleaded in the Queen's Bench. Mr. Justice Blackburn was the presiding Judge. Caine was present, to whom the whole proceedings appeared a sort of Chinese puzzle. The Judge and counsel alike wearing wigs (it was not so in the Island in those days), he seemed to think that they were, more or less, all much on the same level. Mr. Wharton (the sometime member for Bridport, and great blocker of Radical bills), a friend of mine, happened to be one of the be-wigged barristers, and he kindly gave me a seat next him. At this I was amused to see the expression of extreme suspicion which shot into Caine's face as if he suspected that I had got hold of one of the Judges, and was " squaring" him. The subsequent proceedings very likely confirmed him in this opinion.
Maley, expecting that he would have to give evidence of each of the items in the bill, which would certainly have been required in Manxland, had taken care to have the books in Court. This is what really occurred. A Jury, which had just returned a verdict in some other case, proceeded, without leaving the box, to try " Harris and Adams v. Caine." Mr. Justice Blackburn, in a very quiet tone, remarked to the Counsel for the defence, that " this appeared to be a very simple case; the question of the Statute would be settled by the Lex Loci. (the law of the place where the action is brought). Have you anything to say', " " No, my Lord, I am afraid it is so." " Gentlemen," addressing the Jury, " you will find a verdict for the plaintiffs." This was at once done, and the case was over. I am sure that this quite confirmed Caine in his belief that the whole thing was a fraud, and that there was no such thing as justice where lawyers were concerned.
A suit was subsequently brought by Adams in the Island, for the amount of the judgment of the Queen's Bench; but the Manx Court refused to grant execution, as the judgment in question had been granted for a debt barred by the Manx Statute; but it also decided that the English Court was right in granting execution for the debt, inasmuch as it was not barred by the English Statute, and, therefore, the Defendant being wrongly advised in resisting such claim, judgment was granted against him for the costs thereby incurred.
Caine then proceeded with his claim against his tenant, in the Manx Courts for the recovery of his rent. Upon the hearing Adams upon behalf of the Defendant, proved that his client, as the Garnishee. had paid over the amount in his hands, to Harris and Adams, to avoid an attachment from the Queen's Bench. 'The Court ruled that he was justified in making such payment, to save himself from such attachment, and Caine's suit was accordingly dismissed with costs. The amount so paid only amounted to £50, whereas the judgment obtained by Harris and Adams was for £380. But a whole year had elapsed since the first rent had fallen due, and so another £50 rent had become payable to Caine, for which he at once took proceedings against his tenant. The latter therefore again visited England and, as before, again became a Garnishee.
Caine, upon this, at length awakened to an appreciation of his unpleasant position, viz., that his tenant having an unexpired lease of nine years, every rentday would witness a similar process adopted, whereby he would not only lose his claim against his tenant, but be compelled to pay heavy legal costs and charges. He therefore ultimately paid the full amount of the judgment of the Queen's Bench, and thus Adams entirely succeeded in his efforts. To the day of his death, however, Caine entertained a very poor opinion of gentlemen of my profession.
Adams, amid universal satisfaction, was at length elevated to the Bench, as Clerk of the Rolls, but he did not live many years to enjoy his well-earned promotion. He gradually failed in health, though even to his latest moments he was cheerful and expectant of a perfect recovery. Peace be with him, clever, genial sterling Alfred Walter Adams !