HC Deb 04 March 1835 vol 26 cc574-5
The Lord Advocate,

in moving for leave to bring in a Bill for Abolishing in Scotland Imprisonment for Civil Debts of small amount, for rendering more available the process of cessio bonorum, and for restraining the arrestment of wages, observed, that the measure would not require so much explanation as that which had undergone so much discussion that evening—he alluded to the Bill which the hon. and learned Member for Edinburgh had obtained leave to introduce referring to the same subject in England. As in Scotland there was no such thing as arrest in civil cases before judgment, except in certain circumstances, it would not be necessary to embody in his Bill so many provisions as would be required in that to which he had adverted. He hoped the House would concur with him in making the experiment in the Abolition of Imprisonment for Debts of small amount, and in limiting it to debts of 8l. 6s. 8d. The returns which had been made to the House showed that in the course of the five years previous to 1833,no less than 12,652 persons had suffered imprisonment, and of this number 7,166 were confined for debts under the sum he had mentioned, and of that portion no less than 3,117 were confined for debts under the sum of 2l. sterling. It would, therefore, be seen, that though limited, the relief afforded by this measure would be considerable, inasmuch as it would abolish greatly more than one-half the number of persons confined for debt. With respect to the Amendment contemplated as to the process of cessio bonorum, he need only say, that the necessity of an action by the creditor in the Court of Session to obtain that process would be obviated, and the debtor would be enabled to appeal for relief to the local Courts of the Sheriffs, instead of, as now, to the Court of Session. The right hon. Gentleman concluded by moving for leave to bring in the Bill.

Mr. Cutlar Fergusson

would rejoice if some provision were included in the proposed measure, that matters of small debt should be tried before the Sheriff, instead of, as now, before Justices of the peace, who he ventured to say, never gave satisfaction to litigant parties, while on the other hand, the Sheriff seldom failed to do so. He also thought the Sheriff ought to be empowered to hold his Courts at more places in his county, and that these officers, generally Barristers of standing, should try more cases themselves, instead of transferring them to their Sheriff's substitute. It would also be necessary to simplify the forms of procedure in the Sheriffs' Courts, for under Mr. Home Drummond's Bill it was still necessary to adopt all the cumbersome form of summons, condescendence, &c., which was requisite in the procedures of the Supreme Courts. The examination of witnesses under, and by virtue of, Commissions issued for that purpose ought, in his judgment, to be abolished, and all witnesses should be examined vivâ voce before the Sheriff himself in Court.

The Lord Advocate

said, that the other Bills, of which he had given notice, touched upon some of the points to which the right hon. Gentleman had adverted, but unless it was intended that the decision of the Sheriffs' Courts should be final, the vivâ voce examination of witnesses could not be adopted. To retain the Court of Session as a Court of Review, the evidence must be taken in writing for the information of that Court, and this could only properly be effected by the present mode of examination.

Leave given.