HC Deb 30 April 1830 vol 24 cc294-8
Sir M.S. Stewart

presented a Petition from the Writers and Conveyancers of the Towns of Greenock and Port Glasgow, and Practitioners before the Sheriff Court of Renfrewshire, to which he requested the particular attention of the Lord-Advocate; for he was confident, if the learned Lord gave it his attention, he must also give his consent to the just and equitable prayer of the petitioners. The hon. Member stated the scope and object of the petition. Among other things, he said, the petition declared, that the expense of business before the Courts of Edinburgh is very great; but that the expense of the Court of Session is greatest of all; that the High Court of Admiralty, besides its primary jurisdiction in maritime cases, is cumulative with the Court of Session in mercantile questions, and that suitors prefer it, from the comparative cheapness of its administration; but still the petitioners are convinced that the Admiralty Court may, with great public advantage, be abolished, as proposed by the Lord-Advocate's bill, if its jurisdiction be transferred to the Sheriff Courts. The petitioners earnestly pray that the competency of the Sheriff Court, in Admiralty business, may not be limited to cases below 25l.; and they state that such a restriction would be very detrimental to Scotland, and particularly to sailors and ship-masters, in whose interests the procurators of Greenock and Port Glasgow must unquestionably be peculiarly conversant. He (Sir M. Stewart) would strongly urge upon the attention of the House, and of the Lord-Advocate, the great public advantage of conferring the full jurisdiction of the Admiralty Courts on those most efficacious and comparatively cheap tribunals, the Sheriff Courts of Scotland (which had been so ably and so justly characterized by his learned friend, the member for Knaresborough, in his powerful and comprehensive statement last night), making such jurisdiction alternative with the Court of Session in all cases above 25l., and restrictive to the Sheriff Courts in cases under that sum. For proof of the great practical efficiency of the Sheriff Courts, he would only refer the House and the learned Lord (and no one was better acquainted with the constitution of these Courts) to one of his own returns, from which it appeared, that out of 66,232 causes decided in the Sheriff Courts in Scotland in three years, only 564 were carried by review to the Supreme Court. The petitioners also prayed that all inferior Admiralty jurisdictions should be abolished, and merged in the Sheriff, and in particular that the House would interfere to abrogate the authority of the Water Baillie of Glasgow, the existence of whose authority they stated to be a serious grievance to persons residing in Renfrewshire. In conclusion, the petitioners declared that there was much to amend in the judicial system of Scotland, and if permitted they would demonstrate the expediency of introducing jury trial in civil cases, before the sheriff, parties being always allowed the option of a trial by jury, or by the judge alone; and they stated that they were ready further to demonstrate the expediency of empowering the sheriff to enforce his own decrees by imprisonment, without the heavy expense of Signet-letters of horning and caption; and that the sheriff should have the power of awarding sequestration of the smaller class of bankrupt estates, and of determining cases of cessio bonorum; they prayed this House to take these matters into consideration, in which prayer he joined, and he called on his learned friend (the Lord-Advocate) if possible to give them speedy effect. Seeing his hon. friend, the member for Ayr, in his place, he could not help expressing an anxious hope that he would, without delay, renew his useful and much-required bill for the transfer of heritable bonds by simple endorsation, by which he would confer very great benefit upon Scotland at large. He also trusted, that his hon. friend, the member for Stirlingshire, would turn his great practical knowledge and acute mind to the truly important subject of seisins, with a view to their complete revision and reform; and that he would extend still further the powers of that most valuable statute, the Small Debt Act, for which he would deserve and receive the gratitude of his country; and he hoped his vigilant friends, the members for Westbury and Aberdeen, would keep their chastening hands on that master grievance the Fee-fund, until it was altogether suppressed; or at least compressed into much more moderate dimensions. He begged to take this opportunity of saying, that the observations that he made on a former evening, as to the high rate of writers' charges, applied to the charges on conveyancing, and especially the ad valorem charges, which ought to be done away with altogether. As to the charges for court business, he presumed to give no opinion; but from the difference of opinion that he understood existed at present among the learned bodies on the subject, as well as from the nature of the subject itself, he thought that, in justice to the Lords of Session, to the learned bodies themselves, and especially to the public, one of two courses should be adopted by Parliament,—either that a parliamentary commission should be forthwith appointed for the regulation and publication of the whole of these charges, or that they should be left altogether without any regulation, and quite open to free competition. He moved that the petition be brought up.

Mr. Maxwell

said, that when this Petition was disposed of, he had two petitions of a similar nature to present. He took that opportunity of informing the learned Lord, that there was little or no hostility felt in Scotland to the improvements which he had recently proposed to make in Scotch-law, and of declaring that he was most desirous to render justice more easy and accessible to his fellow-subjects in that part of the United Empire. With this view he would suggest that the present system of appeal should be done away, and that instead of parties having to come to London, as at present, the final appeal should be to a court established in Scotland, like the twelve Judges in England.

The Lord Advocate

was happy to hear that no hostility was entertained in Scotland to his bill, as he must confess that he had been apprehensive of a different result. The measure which he had recently proposed to the consideration of Parliament was quite as large as any measure which had ever been hitherto proposed for the reformation of Scotch law. He wished the House to deal with his measure on its own merits in the first instance, and afterwards to take into consideration the other suggestions which had been made to it, adopting them where they were useful, and rejecting them when they were shown by argument to be likely to prove detrimental.

Mr. Kennedy

said, that if the bill for the transference of heritable securities, which he had brought into Parliament in the year 1823, had been passed at that time, it would have proved highly beneficial to the people of Scotland, and he had no doubt that it would prove equally beneficial to them if it were passed at present. As he had been so pointedly called upon by his hon. friend, he would now declare, that if he thought that it would be agreeable to the House and to the country, he would introduce that same bill again into Parliament during the continuance of the present Session.

Mr. H. Drummond

said, that he had found such difficulty in dealing with the amount of compensations which it would be necessary to make on passing his bill for the better regulation of seisins, that he must decline bringing it again under the notice of Parliament. He believed that it would be a most useful measure: but it was in vain for any individual to hope to carry it, unless the matter was taken up with the cordial consent of Government.

Mr. Hume

hoped that, the hon. Member would not be deterred by the difficulty which he had mentioned, from proceeding with his very useful and necessary measure. It was a shame to let the extravagant claims of public servants stand thus in the way of great and important public benefits. If the hon. Member would undertake the management of such a measure, he would have more time than the members of Government to superintend its progress, and to bring it to a successful termination.

Petition to be printed.

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