HC Deb 25 April 1826 vol 15 cc587-9
Lord Nugent,

in explaining to the House the object of the bill which he had announced his intention of proposing, observed, that his first and principle object was, to render the judges of the courts of justice in the West-India colonies, independent of the colonial assemblies, by prohibiting them from receiving any salaries, fees, or emoluments, from the members of the Houses of Assembly. Those Houses, it was well known, were composed of persons who, whether in their capacities of landholders and agents, or of planters carrying on dealings with each other, or of planters and masters exercising a control over their slaves, had every cause to wish to ingratiate themselves with the judges, and were, of course, the least fit to be possessed of that kind of influence over their actions, which the power of granting them an allowance might be supposed to afford. His second object was, so to dispose the appointments, that a judge of power and authority should visit all the smaller islands, and thereby secure a thoroughly impartial administration of justice through all the colonies. For this purpose he proposed, that a chief justice, with two Crown lawyers, should be appointed to each of the islands of Jamaica, Barbadoes, and Antigua; and that while the chief justice, with two Crown lawyers, held constant sittings in Jamaica, the other two should make circuits, and hold sessions in the smaller islands in succession. The salaries of these officers he would wish to be on such a scale as would induce men of character, abilities, and integrity, to accept the situation without loss or degradation. By this means, he hoped to see that immense mass of laws which were in use in the West-India islands, known only to a few, and even by them imperfectly, reduced to one uniform, plain, and simple code, which every one interested in their operation might understand without difficulty. He intended, in the next place, to cut off from the high offices of justice all that connection with the properties of the landholders and planters of the colonies, which, he conceived, rendered them peculiarly liable to be influenced by considerations which might occasionally influence their duty. To carry that measure into effect, he would prohibit all judges or law officers, under heavy penalties, from holding any lands or plantations in the islands where they administered justice. He had, he was happy to say, a precedent for this prohibition, of at once the closest analogy and the highest authority; and one which, he thought, would have a very great weight in that House, In that very Prize act, passed in the begining of the late war, under the immediate personal superintendance of that eminent person, lord Stowell, and called sir William Scott's act, they would find that all judges, proctors, and other persons of the Admiralty courts, were disqualified from holding any shares, or from being the owners of those letters of marque, which made the captures the Admiralty court was called upon to distribute as prize money. This, it must be acknowledged, was a most salutary precaution, and worthy of adoption in every case where the interests of those; who were to sit in judgment could at all be brought into competition, or collision; with those of the suitors of the court. These regulations, with one other respecting an allowance of the right of appeal from the quarter sessions to the assizes, formed the principal portion of the measure he proposed to introduce, relative to the administration of justice in the West-India colonies. He was rejoiced, however, to be able to say, that he believed a desire of reformation was making its way into the policy of the colonies, and that those who had so meritoriously laboured to purify the administration of justice at home, were desirous of conferring the same advantages upon our foreign dependancies. He hailed this with the purest satisfaction; not only as conferring the most important advantages upon the unhappy slave population, but as likely to advance most materially the interests of the non-resident land-owners and planters, who were the most likely to suffer from the mal-administration of justice, engendered by personal interests and private favoritism. The Secretary for the colonies had assured him, that the moment members were in possession of the contents of the Reports from the West Indies, two volumes of which had been already published, and the third and last of which I would be laid on the table in a short time, it was the intention of his majesty's government to propose a general measure for the regulation of justice in ail the West-India colonies. Under these circumstances, and as it would be essentially necessary for him to have a sight of the forthcoming Report, he would beg leave to withdraw his motion upon the subject, provided he was convinced he had not misunderstood the hon. Secretary.

Mr. Wilmot Horton

assured the noble lord, that it was the intention of government to undertake the task to which he alluded, and submit to the attention of parliament, as soon as possible after a proper consideration of the Report, such measures as they deemed advisable. Under these circumstances, he thought it would be unnecessary to enter at present into any consideration of the subject.

The motion was then withdrawn.