§ MR. CRAUFURD
said, in rising to ask for leave to bring in a Bill to alter the constitution of Sheriff Courts in Scotland, he wished to state that his original intention was to have moved for a Committee of Inquiry; but the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate having given notice of a 1291 Bill on the same subject, he (Mr. Crau-furd) had suspended his Motion, in the hope that the Government measure would remedy all the evils complained of. That Bill had, however, completely disappointed him, retaining as it did what he conceived to be the great evil of the present system, namely, the double shrievalty in the Scottish counties; while, on the other hand, he found that his Motion for a Committee of Inquiry would be resisted by the Lord Advocate. For these reasons he had determined upon introducing a Bill; and if his right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate did not oppose the second reading, he would consent to its reference to the same Committee as the Government Bill, when probably an efficient measure might be extracted from both. The Bill he now asked leave to introduce, went to abolish the offices of Sheriffs Depute and Substitute, and empowered Her Majesty to divide the counties into districts, for the establishment of local Judges. It created Sheriffs in lieu of the Sheriffs now existing, who should be resident, and the only Judges in matters of fact up to 50l. At present the Sheriffs had summary jurisdiction up to 8l. 6s. 8d., and he proposed to extend it to 50l., with no appeal on matters of fact, nor any on matters of law up to 20l. It provided for the qualifications of Sheriffs, and defined their several powers—among others, that of deciding in a summary manner, with the consent of parties, beyond 50l., and of summoning witnesses from England or Ireland. The salaries of the Sheriffs' Depute were now exceedingly inadequate; at any rate, as compared with those of the English County Court Judges. Besides having to deal with cases of the nature of those tried in the English County Courts, the Scotch Sheriffs exercised a large jurisdiction in criminal matters, bankruptcy, insolvency, and consistorial and maritime cases. And yet, while the English Judge received from 1,000l. to 1,500l. a year, the Sheriff Substitutes of Scotland had not more than 250l. to 450l. per annum. It was proposed, therefore, by his Bill to increase their salaries; but, on the other hand, to abolish the payment of fees to them for attendance in the Registration Courts as revising barristers—a system which had long been condemned in England as inevitably tending to produce unnecessarily long sittings. The great difference between his Bill and that of his right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate 1292 was, that what he proposed to abolish, his right hon. and learned Friend proposed to retain. In favour of that retention the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate quoted the Reports of the Commissioners of 1818 and 1834; but the fact was, that there was no abuse for the support of which an authority could not be found in the records of Parliament. If Sir Islay Campbell were quoted against him, he would remind his right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate, that that distinguished lawyer had also said that if one of the five Exchequer Barons in Scotland were removed, there would be an end to the administration of justice, and yet not many years afterwards Lord Chancellor Brougham abolished the whole five. The fact was that the success of the County Courts in England had made the people of Scotland impatient for speedy and effectual justice; and it should not be forgotten that these very County Courts had been strenuously opposed by the present Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. What the people of Scotland required was that the same system which had worked so well in England should be extended to them; that the two offices of Sheriff Depute and Sheriff Substitute should be united; and that the procedure of the Sheriffs' Courts should be assimilated to that of the County Courts here. He also proposed that the appeal should be direct to the Court of Session, instead of to an advocate sitting in Edinburgh, and that thus a complete local, inexpensive, and speedy system of administering justice should be established. The objections he had taken on the occasion when the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate first introduced his measure, caused him (Mr. Craufurd) to state to the House that the Bill of his right hon. and learned Friend would not satisfy Scotland. The defects in that Bill were the maintenance of written pleadings, though in a modified form, in all cases between 12l. and 50l., and of the appeal to the non-resident Sheriff in Edinburgh, merely on the written statements against the judgment of a resident Sheriff who had heard oral pleadings. The great evil of the system was, that the appeal was both on the fact and on the law. This necessitated the enormous mass of writing which created the expense of proceedings in the Sheriff Courts. The maintenance of the double Sheriffs mainly depended on the maintenance of this system of appeal, and as the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate took 1293 a determined stand on the preservation of the office of Sheriff Depute, he was necessarily precluded from going further than he had done in abolishing written pleadings. In his own Bill, he (Mr. Craufurd) at once got rid of the difficulty by creating one local competent Judge who should decide all questions of fact without any appeal, up to 20l., and beyond 20l.up to 50l.,with an appeal to the Court of Session on points of law. Objections were made to this final power of deciding on facts, and, if necessary, the means might be introduced for correcting erroneous decisions, such as existed in the English County Courts, namely, by granting a new trial on the facts before the local Judge, or by giving the parties the option of a jury. This latter proviso he should not be disposed, however, to lay much weight on, as jury trials are not popular in Scotland. Whatever might be the settlement of the details, he was satisfied of this, that the Bill he proposed to introduce was a much more accurate representation of the want and feeling of the great mass of the people in Scotland, out of Edinburgh, than was the Bill of his right hon. and learned Friend the Lord Advocate. He could adduce abundant evidence of that feeling, which was embodied most prominently in the following Resolution passed at a very large meeting of bankers, merchants, manufactures, traders, and other inhabitants of Glasgow, presided over by the Lord Provost, which was as follows:—That the Bill introduced into the House of Commons by the Lord Advocate of Scotland for the improvement of the Sheriff Courts of Scotland, contains various useful provisions; but by perpetuating the present system of double sheriffs, and the expense, delay, and uncertainty which are the unavoidable consequence of this erroneous system, it falls far short of the just expectations of the country.When he reflected on the course so honourably and successfully pursued in the establishment of County Courts by the present hon. Under Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Fitzroy), and that the present hon. and learned Attorney General, who supported the County Court movement, as well as his hon. Friend (Mr. Lowe), a well-known law reformer and supporter of County Courts, now sat on the Treasury Bench, he could not but draw good omen for the fate of the measure he now proposed to introduce.
§ MR. JOHN MACGREGOR,
in seconding the Motion, said, that the object embrac- 1294 ed in it was one that engaged the attention of the whole of Scotland out of the Parliament House of Edinburgh. The general opinion was, that the present system of local adjudication was but a remnant of the heritable jurisdiction of ancient times, and the office of sheriff was looked upon in the light of a sinecure retirement for the Edinburgh advocates. The Bill of the right hon. and learned Gentleman the Lord Advocate, though it undoubtedly contained much that was good, would not give satisfaction in Scotland. What was demanded by the people of that country was local Courts, founded as nearly as possible upon the principle of the County Courts of England; that these Courts should have jurisdiction to the extent of 50l., and that the appeal from their decision should be, not to a single Judge at Edinburgh, but to the Court of Session. Believing that his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Craufurd's) measure would meet the requirements of the case, he had much pleasure in seconding this Motion.
§ The LORD ADVOCATE
said, that although it was not his intention to oppose the Motion, or throw any obstruction in the way of the introduction of the Bill of the hon. and learned Member for Ayr, he must be allowed to say that he did not think that the course which had been adopted by his hon. and learned Friend was the most convenient that could have been pursued, or the readiest way of attaining the end which he professed he had in view. He (the Lord Advocate) had introduced a Bill on the subject of these Local Courts early in the present Session, and had fixed the second reading for Thursday next; but understanding that many hon. Gentlemen, especially Scotch representatives, wished for more time to collect the opinion of the country on the subject, he postponed the next stage to a more distant period. It was the intention of the Scotch Members to take the usual, and, in his opinion, a very wise course, namely, to meet together for the purpose of discussing the various matters connected with that Bill, and to ascertain the various sentiments of their constituents previous to its second reading. He could not help thinking that his hon. and learned Friend would have acted wisely had he postponed the introduction of his measure until the Scotch Members had had an opportunity of ascertaining each other's opinions upon his (the Lord Advocate's) Bill. However, he had no other object than to obtain for 1295 Scotland the best measure which, by the aid of others' opinions and his own judgment, he could frame. And as his hon. and learned Friend thought that his measure would be serviceable to Scotland, he (the Lord Advocate) could not refuse to allow him to introduce his Bill, nor could he refuse to consider its provisions. He could not, however, give his hon. and learned Friend the assurance that his measure would receive his (the Lord Advocate's) support. And he might at once openly avow that he believed the Bill of his hon. and learned Friend to be, not a step in the direction of reform, but as mischievous and retrograde a step as could have been adopted. It appeared to him that the system which the Bill of his hon. and learned Friend wished to attack, namely, the system of appealing from the local Judge who tried the matter, to a Judge of the Superior Courts at Edinburgh, was one of the most advantageous provisions that could be devised for administering justice in Scotland. His hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow had drawn an unfavourable contrast between the English and Scotch courts. He (Mr. J. Macgregor) complained that whilst Scotland had to endure the Civil Law, England was blessed with her "Common Law." Now, the principles of law in Scotland were infinitely more simple than those which prevailed in England. Why, did his hon. Friend really mean to say that the people of Scotland ought to grieve because they had not a system of law which was full of fictions, and to reform which the most indefatigable efforts were being made by the people of England? He thought they were well entitled to have this measure judged upon Scotch principles and by Scotch precedent. The hon. Member said it would get rid of an inconvenience in respect to the present double jurisdiction; but he would remind the hon. Member that that was part of a larger system than he was aware. The Sheriff was not a mere local Judge in cases not exceeding 50l., as would appear from the speech of the hon. Member, inasmuch as by far the greater proportion of the cases brought before him were in respect to sums above 50l., and also with regard to possessions, interdicts, and other matters not capable of being estimated by money. The simple grounds on which he (the Lord Advocate) opposed the Bill, were first, that it would materially impair the judicial functions of the Sheriffs; and, secondly, that it would cut up by the roots the ad- 1296 ministrative functions of the Sheriffs. Complaints had been made, no doubt, and grievances might doubtless be found; but in his opinion, those grievances might be remedied, and the cause of those complaints done away with, without making the office under an organic charge. The hon. Member said that they were sinecures and political appointments, to which the best men were not nominated. He (the Lord Advocate) ventured to say that there never was a statement made which had a greater degree of exaggeration. So far from the best men not being appointed, it was a fact that there was hardly a lawyer of eminence at the Scotch bar who had not been a Sheriff Substitute; and seven out of the thirteen present Judges had held that office. So had the present and the late Solicitor Genera], and most of, their predecessors. With regard to its being a sinecure, he admitted that in some counties there was not much to do. If, however, it could be shown all of them had as little business as those to which he alluded, he could not support the Bill; but, in the larger counties, there was a vast amount of exceedingly important business devolving upon the Sheriffs. But, besides their position as Judges, the Sheriffs were the organs through which the county was governed, and the persons with whom the Lord Advocate communicated on subjects affecting the general welfare. If they were destroyed, a link would be taken out of the chain, which would diminish the strength of the Government in Scotland in a manner not easily calculable. The hon. Member had spoken of opinions, and he should, therefore, offer no apology for laying before the House the opinion of Lord Chief Justice Campbell, delivered in a speech in that House, when, in 1833, as Attorney General, he opposed a similar measure to that of the hon. and learned Gentleman. Lord Campbell then said that he thought the system an admirable one which brought the law home to the poor man's door. Again, the hon. and learned Member said, that his (the Lord Advocate's) Bill would not satisfy the country. He expected that some would be dissatisfied; but the Faculty of Advocates in Edin-had come to an unanimous resolution against any change in the offices of Sheriff Principal and Sheriff Depute. He had been appealed to as a law reformer, and he was most anxious indeed to deserve that name, but could not consent to obtain that name by the sacrifice of one 1297 of the most useful institutions in the country.
said, he was rather surprised at the course taken by the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate in reference to the Motion for leave to introduce this Bill. With regard to the encomiums which the right hon. and learned Gentleman had passed on the existing system of administering justice in Scotland, he (Mr. Hume) recollected the time when similar encomiums were lavished on the Court of Chancery year after year, yet he had lived to see those statements falsified in the reforms which public opinion had forced upon that institution. What did the people of Scotland want in this case? They only wanted to be placed in the same situation as regarded the administration of the law as that in which the people of England stood. Again, we were living in an age of strict competition. Why then should the right hon. and learned Advocate object to his (Mr. Hume's) hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Craufurd) trying his hand at legislation? He (Mr. Hume) coutended that it was high time that the law of Scotland should be made more in accordance with that of England. If there was one thing more desirable than another in matters of that kind it was the abolition of sinecures; and if the government of Scotland depended on the maintenance of those sinecures, he thought the sooner that government was altered the better. He would suggest that time should be allowed for ascertaining the opinions of the people of Scotland in regard to this question; and if that was done he had no hesitation in saying that the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate would find three to one against the maintenance of this sinecure office, and four to one in favour of an assimilation of the law of Scotland to that of England.
§ MR. EWART
said, that reference having been made to a representation from Dumfriesshire on this subject, he was bound to declare that up to the present moment he was of opinion, gathered from a statement of facts, that the people of Dumfries were very much in favour of a single Judge. With reference to the subject of law reform, he was afraid, if the House left all law reforms to lawyers alone, those law reforms would proceed at the slowest possible rate. It might be true that all the law reforms in this country had been effected by lawyers; but it was indisputably true that they had been stimulated by 1298 public opinion. Lawyers were happily become law reformers; but unless they had been stimulated to it by the pressure of public opinion, they would have slumbered on, and never have entered on the enterprise in which some of the most eminent of them were now embarked. The main question now was, whether the people of Scotland were to have two Judges where he considered one only was necessary, He should have been glad to learn from the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate that he consented to the Bill of his hon. and learned Friend (Mr. Craufurd) going before a Select Committee, and whether that Bill and the measure of the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate went before the same Select Committee, it would be competent for the Committee to hear evidence on the subject before them. With reference to the remuneration of the Sheriffs, he must say the Sheriff Substitute was in many eases very inadequately paid. In the district with which he was connected as a representative, great fatigue and labour were undergone. by the Sheriff Substitute, and he was, nevertheless, greatly underpaid. In Ireland local Judges had been appointed under the name of assistant barristers; in England County Court Judges had also been appointed; and it was desirable that the same principle should be carried out in Scotland. He would only say, in conclusion, that he thought it in the highest degree desirable that there should be some uniformity in the law of the three divisions of the Kingdom. That was "a consummation devoutly to be wished," and the facts as well as the wish were gradually tending towards it.
§ MR.FORBES MACKENZIE
said, in reference to what had fallen from the preceding speaker, he hoped that the right hon. and learned Gentleman opposite the Lord Advocate would not consent to allow his Bill, and that of the hon, and learned Member for Ayr burghs (Mr. Craufurd) to go concurrently before a Select Committee; for his experience led him to believe that such a course would be attended with the worst possible result. He was a Member of a Committee at that moment, which had two Bills before them, and he could assure the House that it was found no easy matter to carry on their business. The hon. Member for Montrose (Mr. Hume) spoke of the offices of Sheriff Depute and Sheriff Principal in Scotland being sinecures. He believed that there was no gentleman resident in Scotland who would join in that 1299 assertion; for his part he believed that they were most useful officers, and he believed that if the proposal of the hon. and learned Gentleman opposite were carried out, that a blow would be thereby struck at the criminal and civil jurisprudence of Scotland which it would not soon recover. He would also beg to remind the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr. Ewart) that the experiment of the County Courts in England was as yet comparatively untried—that they were still presided over by gentlemen of professional eminence. But the question remained still to be solved, whether or not when the Judges came to be men who were debarred from practising in the Superior Courts, the utility of these County Courts might not be so far detracted from as that England would be obliged to revert to the principle which had been abandoned, or adopt the system of Scotland.
§ MR. FERGUS
said, he thought the Scotch representatives in that House would be ungrateful indeed if they did not acknowledge that to the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate the people of Scotland owed some of the most useful and extensive reforms in the law, and some of the most able adaptations of the practice. He (Mr. Fergus) was anxious that the law and the practice of Scotland should be assimilated to those of England in cases where experience had proved the law and practice of England to be superior, and where such an assimilation would be an undoubted improvement; but he saw in the Motion of the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Craufurd), not an improvement, but a very rash innovation. He (Mr. Fergus) was not an Edinburgh lawyer, and he was not therefore tinctured with the prejudices of the profession; but from long residence in Scotland he thought the Sheriffs Depute were a valuable part of the law of Scotland, and that there were undoubted advantages in the appeal from the local Judge to the Judge in Edinburgh, which he, for one, should be very sorry to see lost to the people of Scotland.
§ MR. WHITESIDE
said, he wished merely to say, in reference to what had fallen from an hon. Member opposite on the subject of the Irish assistant barristers, and on the utility of resident Judges, that important as were the functions performed by these learned gentlemen, they were not resident in the counties over which they presided, and that immediately on the termination of the civil and criminal busi- 1300 ness they returned to their practice in Dublin. Indeed, many of them were amongst the ablest men at the Irish bar, and were in the receipt of considerable emoluments from their practice. Now, the consequence of that regulation was, that those gentlemen being permitted to reside in Dublin, and being not unfrequently changed from county to county, were quite out of the way of acquiring local connexions or local prejudices—an advantage which the House could not fail to appreciate.
§ VISCOUNT DRUMLANRIG
said, that with all due deference to the zeal of his hon. and learned Friend the Member for Ayr, he considered he had not acted very judiciously in asking for leave to bring in his Bill at the present moment. The right hon. and learned Lord Advocate, in his opinion, had outstepped the bounds of courtesy in giving his sanction to the introduction of any such Bill. There was, no doubt, great excitement in Scotland existing on this question. There was a fixed determination come to that some law reform in the Sheriffs' Courts must be adopted; but surely it would establish a very awkward precedent if, when the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate had not only brought in a Bill, but had intimated in the most courteous manner his anxious desire to meet the Scotch Members in a body, to listen to their suggestions, to accept all practical advice from them, and from other interested parties in Scotland—it would surely establish a bad precedent if an inexperienced and new Member were encouraged to come forward in so inopportune a manner, and press on the House his own independent measure. He was sure that the Scotch Members, if they had been appealed to in a body, would have supported the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate, had he been disposed to oppose the present Bill. The right hon. and learned Gentleman had shown the greatest courtesy to all Scotch Members, and he regretted the hon. and learned Member for Ayr had not had more experience, else he would have waited till the Scotch Members had met, and until the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate had read his Bill a second time. Alterations might be proposed in Committee. As the Member for Dumfriesshire he had several suggestions to make. The convener and others in the county of Dumfries had taken a very strong and able lead in the call for law reform, and when the Commissioners of Sup- 1301 ply met in January last, at which meeting the resolutions were proposed which he (Lord Drumlanrig) had given that night to his right hon. and learned Friend to read, and which resolutions seemed so much to surprise the hon. and learned Member for Ayr, there was a unanimous desire expressed that all parties should wait till after the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate had brought forward his Bill. They hoped that Bill might be referred to a Select Committee; but, whatever might be the difference of opinion as to whether two Sheriffs or one should be maintained, or how far an extension of the Small Debts Court should be carried, he (Lord Drumlanrig) was certain no body of Scotchmen would approve of the fact of law reform being so prematurely taken out of the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate's hands, and the case transferred to the mercies of an English lawyer. He willingly acquitted the hon. and learned Member for Ayr of anything like want of courtesy to the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate; but he did not think his present step a judicious one, and he also considered the present act a bad precedent.
§ MR. FORBES
said, he must confess that he was somewhat startled to hear the observations which had fallen from the noble Lord who had just sat down. The noble Lord seemed to think that the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate having introduced a Bill, nobody ought to find fault with it; in short, that the Government of the day having introduced a Bill, the House ought to pass it sub silentio. The hon. and learned Member for Ayr burghs had only done what he thought he had a right to do in the discharge of his duty to his constituents. The hon. and learned Member had a perfect right to bring in a Bill, particularly on a subject of this kind, in which all Scotland were deeply interested. He (Mr. Forbes) must say that according to the information before him the people of Scotland did not seem altogether in love with the Bill of the Lord Advocate—a fact, perhaps, which would greatly surprise him. And he would further say, that if the Government should oppose the second reading of the Bill now before the House, their conduct in so doing would be very unfavourably contrasted with that of the late Administration, who were not found fault with on account of their too great liberality, but who nevertheless consented that the Bills of his right hon. and learned Friend the late Attorney General 1302 for Ireland, and that of the hon. and learned Member for the County of Kilkenny (Mr. Serjt. Shee), relative to the Irish land question, should go, paripassu, before the same Committee. He must say it seemed to him to be quite out of accordance with liberal ideas—and, of course, they were all Liberal now—to refuse a second reading to a Bill in favour of which the people of Scotland held very strong opinions.
DR. J. PHILLIMORE
said, the Bill of the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate involved this simple principle: There was I a Judge in the county who heard the case, having the parties before him; and when | an appeal took place he sent up the papers: to a Judge in Edinburgh, who did not hear the parties, but who decided upon the case. Was such a thing not a monster in jurisprudence?
§ MR. DUNLOP
said, in Scotland they might boast that while in England no man could recover the smallest debt without coming to Westminster, they had for centuries enjoyed the privilege of recovering all debts in a cheap, easy, and simple way. The County Courts in England were truly a borrowing from Scotland, extending in some degree the amount of jurisdiction; and now they turned round, saying they would confer upon Scotland the boon of County Courts, as if nothing of the kind had existed before in that country. The case was not exactly as it had been put by the hon. Member for Dumfries (Mr, Ewart) that in Scotland two Judges were doing what one did in England. The Sheriffs in Scotland were not only at the head of the police, but had to hear actions for debt, and almost every other class of action besides, so that there was an immense mass of business, and it would be impossible to give to them anything like the great extent that was consigned to the County Courts in England. He was most anxious to treat the Bill of the hon. and learned Member (Mr. Craufurd) with the fullest impartiality; but he thought great difficulties would attend its adoption, particularly the entrusting a single Judge with the power of giving final judgment in cases which came before him. Nor, on the other hand, did the Bill of the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate altogether meet his views. He limited too much the small-debt jurisdiction. There was in. his (Mr. Dunlop's) opinion no reason why all sums above the small-debt jurisdiction should not be dealt with in the same way. The present system was not what had been 1303 stated by an hon. and learned Gentleman opposite (Dr. J. Phillimore)—that one Judge heard the evidence and decided, and that his judgment was reviewed by another Judge who did not hear the evidence—for at present neither Judge heard the evidence, and it was all taken by examiners and reduced to writing, and then brought before the Sheriff. The right hon. and learned Lord Advocate's Bill, however, did away with these written proofs, and in this respect effected a great improvement. He should have preferred greatly leaving to the Sheriff Substitute the police and the summary jurisdiction, and that the Sheriff Principal should have all the other cases that came under his jurisdiction, making circuits to the places in which these cases ought to be tried. It was a fact greatly in favour of the care and accuracy with which the Sheriffs executed their functions, that out of 14,000 cases not more than 110 had been appealed against to the Court of Session.
§ LORD JOHN RUSSELL
Sir, before this discussion closes, I wish to say a few words upon the general principles on which the judicial system of Scotland appears to rest. That system has always seemed to me singularly well adapted to procure the good administration of justice; for it would appear that, considered with regard to the general principle, you by it attain justice speedily, and you consequently attain it cheaply. But if you make the system entirely local, you run the danger that the Judge, who is resident, becomes too much connected with the locality in which he is placed; and, likewise, not having the means of appealing to those higher sources of jurisprudence in the great central Courts, he is hardly able to give any decision in conformity with the opinions of the most enlightened and highest Judges of the country. Upon the other hand, if you have your system of justice entirely dispensed by the central Courts, you have then the evils of expense and delay. It appears to me desirable, therefore, that you should combine the advantages, and, if possible, avoid the disadvantages of the two systems. There are different means of doing this. The hon. and learned Gentleman the Solicitor General for Ireland under the late Government (Mr. Whiteside) stated that the mode in Ireland is to appoint a gentleman from the Bar, who attends as assistant barrister in his own Court, and presides over the Court of Quarter Sessions, and, being also a prac- 1304 tising barrister in the higher Courts in Dublin, he is, therefore, always equal to the transaction of business in conformity with the opinions of the Judges in the highest tribunals of justice in the capital. Another mode of obtaining the same end, and one which has always appeared to me a happy mode, is that which has been adopted from ancient times in Scotland. You have there either a local Judge or a Judge very much connected with the locality, and one who, if not subject to control in his decision, would, I fear, be liable to all those disadvantages which belong to a system entirely local; but to avoid such evils you have a reference from him to another person, called the Sheriff Principal, who is himself among those who are practising in the higher Courts, and who, whatever may be his politics or his faith, it is allowed, is generally a person of competent ability, and very often a man who attains to the highest judicial positions in Scotland. By such means, it appears to me, you secure upon the one hand that cheap and speedy administration of justice which is attained by dispensing it in the neighbourhood; while, at the same time, you have not the disadvantages arising from the Judge living entirely in one place, and getting, perhaps, rather too fond of his own opinions, and considering himself the centre of all, but you have his judgment modified by a person who, being constantly in the practice of hearing the dispensation of sound law, is competent to correct him by reference to the highest authorities. I was very much struck, I confess, by a statement made by the hon. and learned Gentleman who spoke last. He stated that out of 14,000 cases decided in their several localities, not more than 110 have gone, by way of appeal, to the Court of Session. I think, Sir, that this is a result which ought to be highly gratifying to those gentlemen who belong to that part of the Kingdom, and to all who take an interest in the welfare of Scotland. I own, therefore, I am surprised to find that there are gentlemen who wish to change this system, root and branch, and to establish another in its place, entirely new. The ground of this wish is merely, as it seems to me, the use of a word. They say that these Sheriffs Depute are sinecure officers. That allegation implies that they have never heard the cases before them; but is that the fact? If it can be proved before any Committee that these Judges and these Sheriffs receive a salary, and that no cases 1305 are ever brought before them—that they have no judicial labour, and give no legal opinions, certainly such a state of things would bring the office under the denomination of a sinecure. But such a representation, I believe, differs entirely from the actual system. However, I can only say that it is most desirable that any reforms in the law which may be thought advantageous to Scotland, should be well considered in the first instance. I hope they will be well considered; and if the Bill of my right hon. and learned Friend can be amended, according to the judgment of the hon. and learned Gentleman who spoke last, by the introduction of provisions calculated to secure more effectually the good administration of justice, nobody, I am sure, will be more ready than my right hon. and learned Friend to consider and to adopt such suggestions. But, certainly, unless I hear more conclusive reasons for it than I have yet heard, I should be very l0th to give my assent to such a complete change in the judicial system of Scotland as that which, as it appears to me, would be made by the Bill for which leave is now asked to introduce.
§ MR. NAPIER
said, he should be sorry that anything should occur, tending to interfere with the present local jurisdiction in Scotland. He hoped that two Bills so utterly irreconcilable in principle would not be sent before a Committee. He had received most valuable information from a work written by Sir William Gibson Craig in reference to the working of the judicial system in Scotland. He thought that they had accomplished that which the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) alluded to—a local machinery for determining of all legal questions, while, at the same time, those tribunals were divested of all those local influences which always tended to impair the administration of justice. In reference to the case of the assistant barristers in Ireland, there was also an appeal from the Judge of Assize's decision to a Court of superior authority. As well as he could understand the system of Scotland, he would say, in passing, that the Judges in that part of the Kingdom were as able a set of men as could be found in any country. If these Bills were to be discussed, he hoped that they would have an opportunity of considering the traditional scruples of Scotland as to whether the existing system was to be continued, or to be altogether upset, for the purpose of making a new experiment, which might involve the 1306 loss of that local machinery and that local jurisdiction which he considered were of vast advantage to the country.
§ MR. CUMMING BRUCE
said, he disapproved of the measure now under consideration being referred to a Committee, on the ground that the object of it was to abolish the office of Sheriff Principal, which was part of the judicial system of Scotland. It had been said that this office was a sinecure. He denied the accusation; for the truth was, that these officers had grave and serious duties to discharge. He was satisfied that the House would not consent summarily to abolish an office which had conferred the greatest benefits upon the people of Scotland, upon the slender grounds alleged by the hon. and learned Gentleman who promoted this measure.
§ MR. DUNCAN
said, that from the tone of the discussion it seemed to be held that none but lawyers were competent to arrive at a correct opinion upon this subject. But he could inform hon. Gentlemen who so thought that the mercantile interest of Scotland had something to say upon it, and that their opinion was that the office of Sheriff Principal ought to be abolished. As the question now stood, great injustice would be done to Scotland unless both measures were referred to a Select Committee, and if they were so referred, the opinion of the people of Scotland would be ascertained.
§ MR. ALEXANDER HASTIE
said, it had been remarked that the Sheriff Principal was removed from local influence. It was wonderful, however, that it had not struck the noble Lord (Lord J. Russell) who made this observation that the Sheriffs Principal of Glasgow and Edinburgh were both resident in those cities, and were surrounded by all the local influences which he would seem to deprecate; but he (Mr. Hastie) ventured to say, that this circum stance had not the slightest influence upon their proceedings, or upon the proceedings of any other Sheriff. So long as Scotland had an independent bar and an independent press, no fear need be entertained as to the manner in which these officers discharged their duties. He recommended that both Bills should be referred to a Select Com- 1307 mittee, in order that the best should be secured to the people of Scotland.
§ MR. CRAUFURD,
in reply, said, he must express his regret at the course the Government seemed inclined to pursue by adopting at once the principle of the right hon. and learned Lord Advocate's Bill as a foregone conclusion.
§ Leave given.
§ Bill ordered to be brought in by Mr. Craufurd and Sir James Anderson.