HC Deb 21 April 1887 vol 313 cc1545-7

(The Lord Advocate, Mr. Secretary Matthews, Mr. Solicitor General for Scotland.)


Order for Second Reading read.

THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. H. A. MACDONALD) (Edinburgh and St. Andrew's Universities)

I beg to move that the Bill be now read a second time. Sir, I shall not detain the House with many observations, for I understand there is a general feeling among the Scotch Members, in relation to the Bill, that any Amendment can be readily made in Committee, and that the general principles of the Bill are satisfactory. I will, however, just state, in two or three words, what is the object of the Bill. It is, with one small exception, a Bill for simplifying and amending procedure, by making indictments less complex. Another general object of the Bill is to extend in Scotland a system which has worked well for many years. In the Sheriffs' Courts, in jury cases, there are two diets; and in the first, where the prisoner pleads guilty, the cases are at once disposed of, thus saving the considerable expense of the attendance of witnesses. The introduction of this plan has saved the country £1,800 a-year, and there will be practically as great, if not a greater, saving by the extension of the system to the other Courts. Then, Sir, we propose to make some arrangements by which the trials of cases of importance may take place in the localities in which the alleged offences have taken place. That is carrying out what is really the ancient law of Scotland. Such trials will be conducted by one of the Judges of the Supreme Court; and, in order to carry out this proposal, all the Judges of the Court of Session will conduct criminal cases as well as civil. In return, it is proposed to make a small addition to the salaries of the Judges, and to take away all allowances for Circuit expenses, requiring the Judges to meet these charges out of salary; but I may mention, in regard to that, that it will not cause any extra expense, as the saving made by the other simplifying provisions of the Bill would far more than cover this small addition to the salaries of the Judges. There is another matter I think I ought to refer to. It is our intention, by this Bill, to remove an anomaly which is felt seriously in Scotland. It is that, in the case of crimes committed by persons who have been previously convicted, previous convictions cannot be used to show aggravation, because, although the crimes are similar in character, they are not exactly the same. The result is that persons who have been previously convicted, and have again committed a heinous offence, are treated in the same way as first offenders, and receive short sentences; whereas, for the good of the State, they ought, in consequence of their previous convictions, to receive much longer sentences, and sentences adequate to the gravity of the offence. These are the general provisions of the Bill, and I have now to move its second reading.

Motion made, and Question, "That the Bill be now read a second time,"—(The Lord Advocate)—put, and agreed to.

Bill read a second time, and committed for Thursday 5th May.