HC Deb 10 July 1885 vol 299 cc328-40

in calling attention to the administration of justice in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland, with special reference to statements set forth in depositions sworn to on the 19th ultimo by the postmaster and telegraph clerk of Portree before David Ross, Esquire, J.P. for Inverness-shire, said, that under the Telegraph Act of 1868 it was constituted a felony in England and a crime in Scotland for anyone employed in the Postal Telegraph Service to divulge the contents of any telegram. That Act was one of the Post Office Acts, and in all the Post Office Acts it was laid down that any person inciting to the commission of a felony or crime was himself guilty of a felony or crime, and was liable to two years' imprisonment. The case he had to refer to was that of a gentleman in a high and powerful position, who had been apparently guilty of the offence which he had described. About a month ago a statement appeared in the newspapers, substantiated by the signatures of two witnesses, to the effect that Sheriff Ivory, Sheriff of Inverness-shire, had gone into the Post Office of Portree, and had used intimidating language towards the telegraph clerk and the postmaster, to induce them to divulge the contents of certain telegrams which had passed through that office. A Question was asked the late Lord Advocate on the subject, and another Question was asked of the late Postmaster General. The late Postmaster General said he had communicated with the postmaster at Portree, and his Report entirely bore out the statements in question. He said he had handed the matter to the late Lord Advocate; and the Lord Advocate, being asked whether he would take steps in the matter, replied that he had received from Sheriff Ivory an explanation on the subject, and that he did not intend to take any steps. Since then sworn depositions had been made by the two men who heard what was going on, and by the postmaster and telegraph clerk. They were all to the same effect—that Sheriff Ivory did, on the 25th May, go into the Post Office, force himself into the private room, and in a most imperious and unlawful way incite the officials to commit a felony—namely, to disclose the contents of telegrams which had passed through the office. The Sheriff in Scotland was not merely a Judge, but held an important administrative office; and it was entirely in his administrative and not in his judicial capacity that he should have occasion to criticize his conduct. They had all heard a great deal about the military expedition to Skye; but it was not generally known that the chief mover in connection with those military expeditions was Sheriff Ivory. He did not state that on hearsay authority; he stated it on the authority of a Report presented by the Commissioners of Supply of Inverness-shire to Sheriff Ivory. In 1882, there was considerable commotion in the Highlands. The Commissioners of Supply found themselves obliged to supply police or some other protection to Sheriff officers who went there to serve notices either of interdict or eviction, and they put themselves in communication with the Imperial authorities. Sheriff Ivory impressed upon the military authorities the necessity of sending a Government steamer with Marines; but the late Home Secretary absolutely refused to sanction any such expedition. Later on, the representations of the Police Committee of the Inverness Commissioners of Supply were more successful, and Sheriff Ivory was the moving spirit. Pressure was put upon the Government, and at last a military expedition was sent. Sheriff Ivory went with that expedition; and a statement was published, signed by a clergyman in Skye, to the effect that in his presence Sheriff Ivory had said that he had power to order the Marines to shoot the people. When an observation was made that he could not make the Marines shoot them, he said he could; and he used language which, in the opinion of the rev. inhabitant of Skye, was of a very irreligious and unbecoming character. A statement to that effect was published, signed by the men who heard what Sheriff Ivory had said. It was Sheriff Ivory's duty, as the officer in charge of the expedition, to send a Report to the Government, and he sent a Report. That Report cast aspersions broadcast. Sheriff Ivory was the Judge in the county, and naturally any case that was for trial would come before him. But he showed in the course of the Report the most extraordinary resolution to make statements without evidence, and to judge cases beforehand; and he thought himself justified, without any sanction from the Government, in publishing his own Report in the Scottish newspapers. He did not do so even in a straightforward fashion. The Report was dated on the 10th February, and on the 12th it appeared in extenso in The Scotsman. It was prefaced with this introduction— The following is the Report of Sheriff Ivory, which has been laid before the Commissioners of Supply of Inverness. What could be the object of that introduction but to lead the country to believe that it had been supplied to The Scotsman by the Commissioners of Supply at Inverness? He found that there had been no meeting of the Commissioners on the 11th, and he asked the late Lord Advocate a Question on the subject, and was told that Sheriff Ivory had admitted to him that he bad published this official document—which the Homo Secretary subsequently refused to lay on the Table of the House—entirely on his own responsibility. In view of such conduct he asked the House was that a man who ought to be allowed to dragoon a highly-strung portion of the population of Scotland? Was that a man on whose word the Government should send military expeditions to Skye, involving the country in expense, and taking steps which might lead to blood-shod and other deplorable results? He maintained that the conduct of Sheriff Ivory in publishing that confidential Report, and again in committing the breach of the law which was laid in the charge in the depositions to which ho had referred, was such that he could not be safely entrusted with administration of a disturbed district such as that over which he ruled. An even-handed administration of justice in the Highlands was essential in order to prevent the people from regarding the law and the officers of the law as their enemies, and to prevent it being in their power to defeat the law. The hon. Member then proceeded to refer to the cases of the mutilation of animals. The Lord Advocate had admitted all the facts that Martin had so mutilated the crofters' sheep that they died, and the authorities had thought it necessary to take action in the matter; and when he (Dr. Cameron) had questioned him on the subject in the House of Commons, the Lord Advocate explained that there was no evidence that Martin had wantonly or intentionally mutilated the sheep. But was there no law against cruelty to animals in Scotland? And if there was, why was not that law enforced? Well, Martin brought his action for the mutilation of his ram, and the crofters their counter-action for the deterioration of the value of their ewes; and the Sheriff awarded to each party £3 in the shape of damages, and the crofters found themselves minus their expenses, and the value of their time occupied in the action. And when the crofters followed him afterwards, calling him "ba!" in reference to what had really occurred, they were brought up before Sheriff Black and sentenced to 30 days' imprisonment with hard labour, without the option of a fine. And the late Home Secretary, when questioned on the subject in the House of Commons, said that it was necessary to maintain the strong arm of the law in Scotland. It might be necessary to maintain order in the Highlands by a stern administration of the law; it might be necessary to imprison the crofters for 30 days with hard labour, for in their natural resentment, and in their ignorance of the consequences of saying "ba!" to a tacksman; it might be necessary to interpret the law in the most literal fashion to hold that any man breaking it should be punished by the extremest penalties of the law; but if they laid it down so in one case they ought to do so in all cases, but, as he had pointed out, the severity of the law was not vindicated in the case of Martin. There might have been some excuse for those ignorant Highlanders for collecting in a mob. They had not much experience of mobs; they did not know it was a crime to walk behind a person who had denounced them as thieves and robbers; but Sheriff Ivory was a Judge and an administrator of the law, and it was his business to know the law, and yet they had him going into a post office at Portree, and committing the offence he was alleged to have committed—an offence which the statutes of Parliament declared to be a felony in England and a crime in Scotland, punishable with two years' imprisonment. He (Dr. Cameron) did not want to assume the guilt of Sheriff Ivory, although lie should like to hear what explanation he had to offer, if he had any; but it seemed to him that no explanation of Sheriff Ivory's was comparable to the sworn evidence of those four witnesses. The Sheriff might have the authority of the State for the course taken by him; but, if that was so, he had not produced his authority. When the postmaster said he was the servant of the Postmaster General, Sheriff Ivory was reported to have replied that he did not care for Mr. Shaw Lefevre; that these Englishmen knew nothing about Scotsmen; and that he did not care for the hard-and-fast rules of the Post Office, and was determined that the Post Office should not be made a medium to convey intelligence for the purpose of defeating the ends of justice, and he threatened that he should, have the postmaster apprehended, and charged with being "art and part" in the offences in question. He did not, as he had said, desire to assume the guilt of Sheriff Ivory as to the offence ascribed to him; but, according to the law of Scotland, the prosecution of offenders was the duty of the Crown officials, and it was their duty in this case, as in that of the wretched Highlanders who mobbed the tacksman, or in the expedition to Skye of Sheriff Ivory. Why, instead of trying them with a jury in Inverness in [ordinary fashion, they put them to the inconvenience and expense of a jury trial, without the corresponding benefits to be reaped from a summary trial at Portree, and in a manner altogether unprecedented. The public of Scotland had been so scandalized by the proceedings that they had signed, and published in The Times a protest in the matter, for a more miserable fiasco was never enacted in a Scotch Court. It might, as he had already observed, be necessary under existing circumstances to administer the law in Scotland with severity, to inflict penalties for offences against the law which might, under ordinary circumstances, be overlooked; but unless it was desired to prejudice the minds of the people against the impartiality of the law, he would call upon the Government to administer even-handed justice— to let the law be what the Houses of Parliament declared it to be, and not the dictum of the Procurator Fiscal.


wished to impress on the Government the necessity of making a full inquiry into the charge against."Sheriff Ivory, of having, as it was alleged, taken upon himself, without authority from the Secretary of State, to enter the Post Office at Portree and threaten the postmaster, if he did not disclose the contents of telegrams, that he would have him up before himself. Now, that had caused much excitement in Scotland, and he himself had received several communications on the subject; and the answer given by the late Lord Advocate, when questioned by the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) on the subject, was not by any means a sufficient answer to satisfy the House of Commons. But since the hon. Member for Glasgow had asked the Question of the late Lord Advocate the matter had assumed greater gravity. The matter then rested on the evidence of the two witnesses who were accidentally present; but since then their statements had been fully corroborated by the official testimony of the postmaster at Portree, and the telegraph clerk. He urged on the Postmaster General to undertake a full investigation into the charges made by the two responsible witnesses, fortified by the postmaster and his clerk, and that the noble Lord would afterwards inform the House of the result of the inquiry; and he (Mr. Mackintosh) hoped that, should it be found that this person (Sheriff Ivory), however high his position, was guilty of the charge brought against him, an equal measure of justice and of punishment should be dealt out to him as had been dealt to the crofters.


said, he had put a Question on this subject to the late Lord Advocate, and the answer was perfectly unique. A serious charge had been made against a high official in Scotland; it had since been affirmed by three or four persons on oath, and the Lord Advocate's reply was that the person inculpated had given an entirely different version of the case. He did not wish to charge Sheriff Ivory with any criminality; but he supposed it was usual for criminals to give an entirely different version of a case; yet he had never known high officials like the Lord Advocate or the Judges to accept the criminal's version as a settlement of the matter. But this was not a dispute between two individuals in Portree. It was a question between the dignity and honour of the law and the people. He denied that there was any necessity for enforcing the law with severity in the Highlands. The crofters for the most part were wholly ignorant of English, and on that account they frequently did not know when they might be committing breaches of the law. But the moment they discovered they had done so they voluntarily surrendered themselves to the Court to take their trial; and it was not likely that people who would walk such great distances as they had in order to reach the Court to take their trial could be such very great desperadoes. Whether the Highlands were disturbed or not, the administration of the law should, as far as possible, be above suspicion. That was not the case. He did not wish to give his own judgment on this occasion. All that they asked for was a strict investigation; and if on that it was proved that a high officer of the law had misused his position to terrorize the people—as he had good reason to believe he had—then he hoped Her Majesty's Government would make an example of him that would be remembered by the Highlands and by all Scotland. Apart from this matter of the telegrams, they had had innumerable instances of the want of discretion on the part of this high officer. He travelled through Skye when the people were in a great state of excitement, and a judicious man would not have treated the people as he did. It had been the same from the time the man-of-war went to Skye and the Marines fraternized with the people. From that time, and before that time, he had been practically a firebrand. The people did not believe in him or his justice; and it did not matter whether he was just and impartial or not. So long as the people did not believe in his justice and impartiality he was unfit to be an officer of the Crown. During recent years the House of Commons had had brought before it a great many cases from Ireland, perhaps some good and perhaps some bad; but ho did not believe the magistrates and justices had anything like a chance of carrying oh their practices in Ireland as they did in the Scottish Highlands. There was a public opinion in Ireland that kept a watchful eye on them; and within the last few years they had done nothing amiss without being called in question. He wished to see the same vigilance ex- ercised in regard to the Highlands also. There ought to be a trial of this Sheriff, and, if found guilty, justice ought to be meted out to him. He would not dwell upon the subject, because another opportunity would be afforded for discussing it, by moving the reduction of the Vote for the salaries of the Scottish Law Officers.


said, he had paused before rising to address the House, because he thought it possible that the only Member of the late Government who was on the Bench opposite (Mr. Mundella) would have taken the opportunity of making some reply to the statements regarding affairs with which the late Government alone were concerned. It was quite obvious that Her Majesty's present Government had not been concerned in any way in the matters under discussion, and, indeed, it would have been only natural—indeed, it would have been very much to be expected—that the right hon. Gentleman the Member for Sheffield should have taken notice before quitting the House of the speeches that had been made. The hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron) put his Notice on the Paper only on Thursday night, and it was quite impossible to obtain fresh information on the subject from Skye in time for this debate. He believed it was a matter of convenience to various Members that the question should be brought on to-night; but he thought it was unfortunate that it should havebeen brought on in the absence of the late Lord Advocate (Mr. J. B. Balfour), who must have been much better informed on the subject than any Member of the present Administration could be. He was, moreover, of opinion that it would not have been inappropriate if the discussion had been delayed till the Vote on Law and Criminal Expenses in Scotland was brought before the Committee, especially as the hon. Member for Inverness Burghs (Mr. Eraser-Mackintosh) had intimated that he intended to raise the whole discussion again on that Vote in Committee of Supply. He had no complaint to make about the hon. Member for Glasgow for bringing forward the matter, although he had said a great deal in the course of his speech which was not in the least foreshadowed in his Notice on the Paper. The hon. Member had entered into a review of the conduct of Sheriff Ivory from first to last. It was no part of his (Mr. Dalrymple's) business to defend Sheriff Ivory, and he had very little to say in reply, because there was no information in possession of the Government independent of that which was within the reach of the late Government, nor was there anything in the papers which the hon. Member for Glasgow had been so good as to send him which in any degree covered the hon. Member for Glasgow's speech, for the papers had reference alone to the matter of the telegrams. Her Majesty's Government had taken no action in this matter because they had no new information. On the 8th of June he observed that a Question was put to the then Postmaster General (Mr. Shaw Lefevre) in reference to the telegrams. The Question asked whether his attention had been called to the letter in The North British Daily Mail of May 9th; and the answer was that the Postmaster General had received a statement from the postmaster at Portree to a similar effect, but that the Lord Advocate had received an essentially different account. The matter had since been made the subject of certain depositions. These were brought before the notice of the Home Secretary, and were dealt with after communication with Sheriff Ivory, who gave a distinctly different account of the proceedings. The present Government had not got in their possession the communication from Sheriff Ivory. He (Mr. Dalrymple) did not know where it was, and he could give no account of it whatever. His hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow said he had not seen it. Why, if he had not seen it, should the hon. Member for Carlow (Mr. Macfarlane) assume that it was a valueless document, and was not to be taken as evidence any more than any part of the evidence? The hon. Member thought it incredible that the communication should be relied on; and yet, it was to be observed, though the present Government had not seen it, it was thought sufficient by the late Government. He could but state that the late Lord Advocate had made inquiry, and had seen no cause to take steps. No new information having reached the present Government, the Secretary of State did not see any ground for re-opening the case. This answer might be unsatisfactory to the hon. Member for Glasgow. He entirely agreed that even-handed justice should be dealt out in a district which had been the subject of considerable agitation in times past, and, as the hon. Member for Carlow had said, the administration of justice should be above suspicion; but the whole case seemed to have been under review of the late Government, and as the present Government had no fresh information on the subject it was impossible to re-open the ease.


said, there was great force in some of the remarks which the hon. Gentleman had just addressed to the House. He did not think the hon. Member for Glasgow had any intention of putting the responsibility on the present Government; and the question had boon brought forward to-night in order that the new Government, or whoever might now be responsible for Scotch affairs, might have the opportunity of giving some assurance to the people of Scotland, and particularly the Highlanders, that they would see that justice should be now administered fairly and impartially. There was no doubt that there was the greatest dissatisfaction with the administration of justice in the Highlands and Islands of Scotland. So far as he could make out, there was great reason to doubt that justice was impartially administered in that quarter of the country. He deeply regretted that the Law Officers of the late Government did not give sufficient importance to the subject when it was first brought before their notice. He was also sorry to call attention to the circumstance that there was not one of the late Law Officers now in the House —that there was not present one Member of the late Government—although he understood that the Notice of his hon. Friend had come under the notice of the late Law Officers. There was no doubt whatever that a large proportion of the disturbances that took place recently in Skye was due to the want of confidence among the people in the administration of justice. They felt from long experience that they could not look to the Crown to protect them from injustice; and they were driven as the only resource to attempt, very unwisely and injudiciously, to take the law into their own hands, though the result of that had been that they had had an at- tention drawn to their case which it otherwise would not have received. The new Government would put the people of the West of Scotland to a great amount of indebtedness if they would take means to have a fair inquiry into the administration of justice in the Islands of Scotland. So far as the case of Sheriff Ivory was concerned, he thought it was the duty of the Government to place the sworn affidavits before the Law Officers of the Crown for Scotland, and ask their opinion whether there was not prima facie evidence to justify a prosecution of Sheriff Ivory. There were sworn affidavits by two persons in authority, and by two respectable householders. All these concurred in making the same statement, not from hearsay, but on the evidence of their own senses; and he did not see how the Lord Advocate could set aside these affidavits on the simple explanation of Sheriff Ivory of what took place. In the particularly excited state of the Island, and the ideas of the people as to the administration of justice, he thought there ought to be some public inquiry, in order to satisfy the people that impartial justice would be meted out to all. This was not the only case in which Sheriff Ivory had contradicted evidence of individuals given on affidavit. Complaint was made of him on a previous occasion when certain arrests -were made, and of the undignified and unbecoming language used in discussing the matter with the crofters. Sheriff Ivory denied the language attributed to him, whereupon those who made the statement went before a magistrate and made affidavit that the statement was correct. Five witnesses agreed on that occasion. Under these circumstances, he thought that it was the duty of the Law Officers of the Crown to take steps to satisfy the people that the law would be fairly and justly administered. The conduct of Sheriff Ivory had been principally dealt with on the present occasion; but on a previous occasion he had called attention to the conduct of the Procurator Fiscal and of Sheriff Black, which he begged the House to consider for a moment in relation to the position of the people in the Highlands of Scotland. The population of Lewis amounted to about 20,000 people, and the whole Island belonged to one pro-prietrix, and, with the exception of the Sheriff Substituteship, every place of emolument or power was in her hands, or those of her nominees and officials. The Procurator Fiscal—a Law Officer of the Crown—was also the law agent for the proprietrix. There was, therefore, no independent individual to whom the islanders could trust, except the Sheriff. He had called the attention of the House by Question to the conduct of the Procurator Fiscal in the case of Murdo Graham, when the Procurator Fiscal, as agent, obtained a warrant from the Sheriff for the demolition of a house, and at the pulling down of the house a disturbance took place. In connection with the subsequent trial Sheriff Black had shown such a partizanship in favour of the proprietrix that the people did not believe that they could have impartial justice. The Report of the Royal Commission indicated very clearly that the Commissioners had reason to believe that there were grounds for the dissatisfaction at the administration of justice in the Highlands; and they strongly recommended that all the officers of the Crown —Procurator Fiscal, Sheriff Clerk, and Sheriff—should be placed in a position entirely independent of the landlords in those districts. He therefore thought it was the duty of the present Government to apply to Parliament for sufficient power to deal with existing circumstances; and he appealed to the Home Secretary to give them an assurance that the whole matter would be inquired into. He also desired to urge on the Government, as probably one of the best measures for the pacification of the Western Highlands, to issue a Commission of Inquiry on the spot as to the manner in which justice had been administered during the last six or 12 months in that part of the country.


said, he felt bound to thank the hon. Member for Glasgow (Dr. Cameron") for the courteous way in which he had brought his case forward, and had given all the information in his power to his hon. Friend who sat beside him, to himself, and to the Lord Advocate. Considering, however, that it was a question of the administration of Scotch law, he thought the hon. Member would agree with him that it would be wrong for him to enter further into the case at present. In the absence of the late Lord Advocate, who had had this matter before him, it was quite impossible for him (Sir R. Assheton Cross) to express any opinion on the facts. He hoped the hon. Member (Mr. J. W. Barclay) would excuse him; but he had never heard the name of Sheriff Black before, and had certainly received no complaint in regard to him. He could assure the hon. Member for Glasgow that this matter would not be lost sight of. He would take care that the matter would be thoroughly looked into, and, of course, the only object of his Friends and himself would be to see that justice was administered in the Highlands to the satisfaction of the inhabitants. At the same time, he hoped no one would go away with the impression that he was expressing any opinion on the subject. He had no information on, which he could do so, and he only wished to give an assurance that he looked upon the satisfactory administration of justice in the Highlands and Islands as one of the most important parts of his duty, and, as far as he could render assistance in that direction, he should be most happy to give it.


said, he considered the case one of great hardship, and one that no Government could tolerate. He was much obliged to the right hon. Gentleman the Secretary of State for the Homo Department for the spirit which he had shown, which contrasted very favourably with that of his Predecessors.