HC Deb 11 March 1828 vol 18 cc1115-9
The Lord-Advocate

, in rising to move for leave to bring in a bill to "authorize an additional Circuit Court of Justiciary to be held at Glasgow, and to facilitate Criminal Trials in Scotland," said, he did not anticipate any opposition to the motion. A great deal had been said of the progress of crime in this country, but he was sorry to say that crime in Scotland had kept pace with that increase. A return had been made of the number of criminal commitments in each year, so far back as the year 1805. In that year, the number of criminal commitments for all Scotland amounted only to eighty-five: in 1809 it had risen to between two hundred and three hundred; in 1819–20, it had increased to four hundred; and by the last return it appeared, that in 1827 six hundred and sixty-one persons had been committed for trial. He was inclined to think that the great increase of crime, particularly in the west of Scotland, was attributable, in no small degree, to the number of Irish who daily and weekly arrived there. He did not mean to say that the Irish were themselves in the habit of committing more crimes than their neighbours; but he was of opinion that their numbers tended to reduce the price of labour, and that an increase of crime was the consequence. Another cause was, the great disregard manifested by parents for the moral education of their children. Formerly the people of Scotland were remarkable for the paternal care which they took of their offspring. That had ceased, in many instances, to be the case. Not only were parents found who did not pay attention to the welfare of their children, but who were actually parties to their criminal pursuits, and participators in the fruits of their unlawful proceedings. In order to produce a more speedy administration of justice in the western parts of Scotland, and in those places which, containing a greater proportion of inhabitants, were of course more fertile in the production of crime, it was necessary to take some measures for holding additional sessions. In Scotland, the sessions or assize, were not held as in England, in counties, but in districts comprehending several counties. For instance, the district in which offences committed in Glasgow were brought to trial, comprehended Lanarkshire, Renfrewshire, and Dumbartonshire, including in them the town of Paisley, and Glasgow, a place in which there were one hundred and fifty thousand inhabitants. By the returns it appeared that in 1813 the criminals committed for trial at these sessions in Glasgow were only thirty. In 1817, they amounted to eighty-three. In 1823, they were one hundred and eighty-five; and, in 1827, two hundred and eleven. The consequence of this lamentable increase was, that the judges were unable to get through the list. In addition to this protraction of the labours of the session, it was to be considered, that many individuals who were committed for trial, and afterwards declared not guilty, suffered an imprisonment of nearly six months before they were brought to trial. Under these circumstances, some remedy was necessary; and he therefore proposed to give the Glasgow district an additional circuit after Christmas, at the time when I the court of session was not sitting. He also wished the district of Forfar and Fife to have the same remedy; and, as it was to be hoped that the necessity for this increase of the number of circuits would not continue, he proposed that his majesty, while he had the power to order these circuits, should be empowered at the same time to discontinue them, when they were found to be no longer requisite. The learned lord then enumerated several alterations in the practice of the criminal courts of Scotland, which he wished to abolish. Among them was the practice of legal citations, which he considered highly absurd; while he preserved to the criminal the fifteen days' notice of his trial. The delivery of verdicts in writing also led to inconveniences, and he wished the verdicts in every case to be given, as in England, verbally. The confession of guilt he also desired to have recorded as in this country, without having recourse to an appeal to the jury, as in Scotland, which was both unnecessary and expensive. The learned lord then moved for leave to bring in a bill "to authorise an additional circuit of justiciary to be held at Glasgow and to facilitate criminal trials in Scotland."

Mr. Hume

said, he had heard with great pain the statement made by the learned lord as to the increase of crime in Scotland. He did not think that he had, however, fairly explained the reason of that increase. In his Opinion, a great number of those commitments arose from the difficulties which individuals encountered in obtaining the necessaries of life; and he hoped the time would soon come when things would grow better, and when, in consequence, the growth of crime would be checked. This could only be effected by a general improvement of the situation of the people, and not by the adoption of temporary palliatives. He could not see why the practice of the city of London, with respect to the holding of frequent sessions, should not be followed throughout the country. One great cause of crime was the leaving individuals so long in prison, as their morals suffered by the example of those with whom they were obliged to associate. It would be much better, if, as was the case in the city of London, a session was held every six or eight weeks, at Glasgow and elsewhere. It might be contended, that the judges could not get through the business if this plan were adopted. He, however, saw no force in that objection; for there was no want of judges in Scotland, to divide the labour.

Mr. Benett

was of opinion that the increase of crime was not produced by an actual growth of vice and immorality amongst the people, but was occasioned by the hardness of the times which reduced the lower orders to the commission of practices of which they would not otherwise be guilty. The remedy proposed by the learned lord was to extend the number of the circuits, and thus to cause justice to be done more promptly. That certainly was desirable; but while he admitted that, he must be allowed to observe, that it would be better to seek out the cause of crime and to check it, than to direct their attention merely to the punishment of offences.

Mr. Kennedy

thought it highly desirable that, measures should be adopted for bringing individuals accused of offences to as immediate a trial as possible. One great evil was the state of the gaols in Scotland. In the condition of those gaols he believed the increase of crime in a great measure to have originated. Nothing could be worse. A person shut up in one of those gaols for four or five months before trial must necessarily suffer such contamination that the punishment that might afterwards be inflicted on him could not be attended with any moral effect.

Sir M. W. Ridley

hoped that the learned lord would take into consideration the disadvantage under which those English counties, which were near the Scotch borders laboured, in consequence of the system of banishment out of Scotland, which formed one of the punishments awarded by the Scottish law. Thus an unfortunate Scotchman, if banished from his native country for his misdeeds, immediately sheltered himself in Northumberland, and was by no means sorry to give tip his peat fire for a comfortable chimney corner in a neighbouring town. For his own part, he could not conceive how this banishment could be considered as a penalty. On this point he could not but quote the opinion of the poet, by whom it had been wittily said, Had Cain been Scot, God had revers'd his doom, Not forced to wander, but remain'd at home.

Mr. H. Drummond

was sorry that there was such an increase of crime in Scotland. Distress was one great cause of crime in that country, but it was not the only cause; for, from his own observation, he could assert that many persons committed offeencs who were not in want. With respect to what the learned lord had said about the Irish, he agreed with him, that they did not commit more crimes than their neighbours; but unquestionably, by increasing the population, they increased the general distress, and thus contributed to the growth of crime. As to what the hon. baronet had said about the deterioration of the morals of the people of Northumberland in consequence of persons being banished from Scotland, he need not be under any alarm on that account; seeing that, though such a punishment did exist in the law of Scotland it was hardly ever resorted to—perhaps not once in five or six years. With respect to what the hon. member for Montrose had said relative to the Scotch judges, he was entirely at variance with him. In this instance, they had only to do with the criminal judges. Now there were twelve judges in England, and instead of there being a greater number in Scotland, there were only six. As to having eight sessions in the year, it was a most extravagant idea; for no one would think of sending judges, counsel, and jurors, round the country to places where, perhaps there were only one or two prisoners to be tried.

Leave was given to bring in the bill.