HC Deb 29 March 1822 vol 6 cc1384-7
Mr. Home Drummond

presented a petition from the dean and faculty of advocates at Edinburgh. He said, that he considered that learned body had conferred a great honour on him in entrusting their petition to his hands, and hoped, from the weight that was due to their opinion, as well as- the importance of the subject to which their petition related, that he might be allowed to explain the nature of the case, concerning which they had been induced to trouble the House on this occasion. By the act of the 20th. Geo. 2nd by which the heritable jurisdictions in Scotland were abolished, his majesty was authorised to appoint a sheriff in every county who should be a lawyer of a certain standing at the Scots bar, and required to reside for a limited, period during each year within his county. The petitioners had heard of an intention, on the part of his majesty's government, to require the sheriffs to reside permanently in their jurisdictions, and it was against this intended alteration of the system that they had presented this petition. He submitted, that if any alteration of this sort was intended it ought to be done by act of parliament. If, in 1748, a statute was necessary to regulate this matter, he did not see why recourse should not be had to the same authority in the year 1822. It was implied necessarily in the act of 1748, that it was in the opinion of the legislature inexpedient to require longer residence than that statute enjoined, and the penalties by which that regulation was enforced could not be made to apply to any farther period of residence. How, then, was his majesty's government to enforce this additional residence they had in view? By making a bargain with the sheriff, by promising him a pecuniary reward—a thing most objectionable in principle; for it was easy to see, that if the government might bargain with a judge to do a certain part of his duty in a particular way, or to do a thing which was not his duty, and to pay him a reward for this, the independence of those jurors was at an end. He was aware that there was no improper object here in view, and that the measure proceeded from an anxious desire to promote the public interest. But he did think that this mode of accomplishing the object was improper. In the next place, he had to submit to the House that the measure was most inexpedient in itself. The object of the act of Geo. 2nd was to have the duties of the office discharged by a practising lawyer, and it was a virtual repeal of this purpose to require the sheriffs permanently to reside in the country, at a distance from, the courts of law. The civil business consisted of giving opinions ort written, arguments; and it was of little consequence to the lieges whether the sheriff read those papers at Edinburgh or else where. There were no civil causes tried by viva voce debates; and with regard to Glasgow in particular, if there were a greater number of important questions arising there than elsewhere, it was of the more consequence to have a good lawyer and not a country gentleman to decide them. As to, the criminal department, it was said, that there was a great accumulation of business of that sort at Glasgow. It did not follow that the plan proposed was the best way to dispose of it. But the fact was; that all the criminal business within the city of Glasgow was, conducted by the magistrates in the, Burgh Court, who had done themselves much credit by their mode of discharging that duty. The commissioners on Scots courts of justice certainly had not had this fact in view, when they reported that Lanarkshire should be an exception from the other counties. They had given an opinion on the general principle, in favor of the view of the subject maintained by the petitioners, and then they went on to recommend a proceeding at Glasgow at variance with this principle. The recent disturbances at Glasgow had been founded on as an argument for this measure. But if they were to legislate for such emergencies, they should make five resident sheriffs instead of one. Five sheriffs were actually appointed at that time, and it was a necessary measure to prevent the great number of persons apprehended from being a long time detained without examination. The lord advocate of Scotland was at one time resident in Glasgow, but he conceived there was one learned person on the Treasury bench, who would agree with him, that it was not desirable to make that officer permanently resident in Glasgow. He conceived it out of the question to legislate for such emergencies. The fact was, that the sheriff of every county was always in his county at such times. He was unwilling to fatigue the House by saying more on the subject. His opinion entirely coincided with the petition.

Sir J. Montgomerie

admitted that much good had resulted from the act of 1748; but at the same time he contended, that change of circumstances and manners might have operated to require the alteration now proposed. The sheriff of Edinburgh was always resident, and he would put it to any man to bear testimony how well the business of his court was carried on, owing to that permanent residence, and he was desirous of having Glasgow placed on the same footing.

Mr. Secretary Peel

was decidedly of opinion, that as the sheriff-depute of Edinburgh was a resident officer in his shrievalty, so ought the sheriff Lanarkshire. That judge had Glasgow in his district, a large and populous city, requiring the constant residence of this important officer, and therefore he was of opinion that this alteration at least should be introduced into the act of 1748, that its sheriff should be a constant resident, and that he should be placed on the same footing as the sheriff of Edinburgh, who had a salary of 800l.; and, in fact, government were decidedly of opinion that this alteration should be adopted, care being taken that the alteration should be rendered as little inconvenient to individuals as possible.

Mr. Abercromby

said, that, with the exception of Edinburgh, Lanarkshire, and Renfrew perhaps, he was decidedly of opinion that constant residence should not be required. The learned gentleman recommended an act of parliament.

Lord A. Hamilton

argued, that the measure ought to be carried into effect by an act of parliament, though for his part, he had no hopes of a proper person being induced, by 800l. a year, to abandon his profession, and retire from practice at the bar. He thought the salary should be increased by act of parliament, and called on the right hon. secretary to bring forward a bill for that purpose.

Mr. Peel

said, he would not pledge himself to bring any measure before parliament.

The Lord Advocate

was of opinion, that the faculty of advocates were misled in the opinion they had formed upon the intended measure of government. He believed that they expected a measure for nicking the whole of the sheriffs of the counties of Scotland reside within their jurisdiction. Nothing was ever farther from the intention of government.

The petition was then read.

Mr. Home Drummond,

on moving that it be printed, said, that he entertained serious doubts if the bargain the right hon. gentleman seemed about to make, in promising the sheriff a sum of money for doing a thing which the law did not require of him, was, under all circumstances of the case, a legal transaction.

Mr. Kennedy

objected to the point of residence resting between government and the sheriff. He wished for a bill on the subject.

The petition was ordered to be printed.