HC Deb 23 April 1896 vol 39 cc1500-1

I beg to ask the Lord Advocate, (1) whether it has been brought to his knowledge that a series of alarming burglaries were committed in Montrose between the month of November 1894 and March 1896, and that a prisoner named Hugh Macdonald pleaded guilty in the Sheriff Court at Forfar to eight charges; that the Sheriff in dealing with the case said that the charges were of such a serious nature that, in his opinion, he was deserving of a more heavy sentence than it was within his jurisdiction to impose, and accordingly remitted him to the High Court of Justiciary for sentence; that upon the case being called in the High Court, the Lord Justice Clerk said it would have been very difficult to have avoided sending the prisoner to penal servitude, but that nevertheless the Judge then and there dismissed him from the bar and granted him instant liberation, because, through the inadvertence of a clerk the plea of guilty, although written on a copy of the indictment, was not signed upon the principal document; (2) whether there was no method of correcting such a technical informality, and whether this burglar, guilty on his own confession, could have been detained till the clerk's blunder was remedied; and (3) whether steps will be taken to enable Judges in Scotland to correct mere technical errors or detain prisoners in custody till they are corrected?

*THE LORD ADVOCATE (Sir CHARLES PEARSON,) Edinburgh and St. Andrew's Universities

The statements in the first paragraph are substantially correct. There was no method of remedying the mistake, which was not technical, but consisted in the omission of a statutory requirement; and the Court held they had no power to order the accused to be further detained. I am considering the propriety of proposing a remedy in the direction indicated. Meanwhile I am issuing a circular to prosecutors and sheriff clerks, and taking other steps which I hope will prevent the recurrence of this regrettable miscarriage of justice.