HC Deb 26 March 1895 vol 32 cc154-5

I beg to ask the Lord Advocate (1) whether he is aware that Sheriff Johnstone, the sheriff principal for the counties of Ross, Cromarty, and Sutherland, has no knowledge of Gaelic; that last Autumn, on his visiting Stornoway, where there is a resident Gaelic-speaking sheriff, he tried and sentenced to various terms of imprisonment three crofters, for alleged poaching, on the evidence of one English-speaking witness; and also tried and sentenced to imprisonment one young girl for cutting some grass at the roadside; that none of the persons who were sentenced to imprisonment had the slightest knowledge of English; (2) whether he will state why these cases were not tried by the local Gaelic-speaking sheriff; (3) and, whether arrangements can be made to prevent Sheriff Johnstone from trying cases in the Island of Lewis, where the majority of the people speak Gaelic only.

*THE LORD ADVOCATE (Mr. J. B. BALFOUR, Clackmannan and Kinross)

I believe that Sheriff Johnston does not know Gaelic, but in cases in which witnesses are imperfectly acquainted with English, a skilled interpreter is always employed, and in the case referred to the accused were defended by an English-speaking solicitor, who, like the Sheriff, communicated with them without difficulty through the Interpreter of the Court. Although it is true that there was only one witness for the prosecution, it is not correct to say that the accused were convicted solely upon his evidence. They were convicted, in part, upon their own admission, their defence not having been a negative of the charge, but an excuse which entirely broke down. The accused had taken 37 salmon and 19 sea trout. With reference to the second case mentioned in the question, the girl was not convicted for cutting grass at the roadside. She was convicted of persistent trespass far away from the road, and of cutting and removing grass against warning from ground where she had no right to be.