HC Deb 11 June 1869 vol 196 cc1633-5

I rise, Sir, to call attention to the appointment of sheriffs in Scotland, and to ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department, that, looking to the great preponderance of opinion in favour of a change in the existing state of the Sheriff Courts, as given in the evidence taken by the Royal Commission to inquire into the Scotch Law Courts, Whether it is the intention of Government to make it a condition of any appointment of sheriffs, either principal or substitute, that those appointed shall not be entitled to any compensation in the event of their office being abolished by Parliament when the whole question comes to be considered on the Report of the said Royal Commission? The point was one of considerable importance. These courts had long been condemned by public opinion, and the evidence adduced before the Commission showed that the double sheriffship could and must ultimately, be dispensed with. At present each county in Scotland had what was called a sheriff-principal and a sheriff-substitute. The sheriffs-substitute were resident magistrates, acting as justices, while the sheriffs-principal were sheriffs who reside in Edinburgh, and only visited the counties periodically. The existence of two sheriff's in a county tended to create very considerable delay and considerable expense. The appointment of the sheriffs rested nominally with the Crown, but, he understood, really with the Lord Advocate; and it had been stated in the evidence that they had sometimes been appointed from political considerations. The sheriffs-substitute were appointed by the principal sheriffs. He understood that since the date of the Commission three of the latter had been appointed. He did not know how many more such appointments might fall vacant before the Commission had completed its labours; but, unless some stipulation were made with future appointees, they might have a claim on the country for compensation should their offices be afterwards abolished.


, as a member of the Royal Commission felt called upon to enter a protest against the assumption contained in the Question which the hon. Gentleman had placed upon the Notice Paper—that there is a great preponderance of opinion in favour of a change in the existing state of the Sheriff Courts. No doubt there was evidence to that effect; but there was quite as much evidence the other way. The difficulty arose from the Commission—with what he could not but consider a stretch of their power in that respect—publishing the evidence bit by bit. But he did not think it desirable, when the evidence had been published in this manner, for hon. Members to make use of it to bring before the House Motions founded upon it before the Report of the Commissioners was made known.


thought that when the evidence was published the public were justified in assuming that the inquiry vas complete, and that they might draw such conclusion as they pleased, without in any degree prejudicing the Report which the Royal Commission might afterwards make. Now, the suggestion of his hon. Friend did not in any way fetter the recommendations the Commissioners might make. All that was required was that, following the precedent of the Registration of Writs, they should take precautions that persons hereafter appointed to these offices should have no claim to compensation if the Commission should recommend that one of the double sheriffships should be abolished.


said, that when a Commission had been appointed to inquire into so important a matter as the whole, operation of an important jurisdiction, it was premature and inconvenient that while the inquiry was still incomplete, they should form conclusions as to the result of the evidence until the Commission had reported—for he supposed the Commission was appointed because the information before the Government and the country was not sufficient to enable them to come to a conclusion. The evidence, as far as it had gone, was laid before Parliament at the earliest, possible period after the meeting of Parliament. He had no reason to know that the evidence upon the subject of the Sheriff Courts was complete. An all events, it would be entirely premature, either on the part of the Government or of the House, to come to any conclusion on this matter. His right hon. Friend (Mr. Burce had requested him to state in direct answer to the Question—without giving any absolute pledge—that he will be prepared to consider very seriously the suggestion made by the Question should a vacancy occur.