HL Deb 16 July 1840 vol 55 cc749-53
Lord Lyndhurst

wished to put a question to the noble Marquess, the President of the Council, relative to Mr. Cranstoun, Lord Core-house, lately one of the judges of the Court of Session in Scotland. He had not the honour of being personally known to that eminent individual; but he, in common with many of their Lordships in that House, had often heard him with admiration, when pleading at their Lordships' bar; and he would say, that a more acute, a more able, or a more profound advocate, never adorned the profession to which he belonged, and to which he was, in every respect, an honour. The same talents which he displayed at the bar that highly-gifted individual carried with him to the bench. If there were any necessity to adduce a proof of the high estimation in which Mr. Cranstoun was held, he had only to refer to a fact that was well known to their Lordships. It was proposed in the time of the late Lord Liverpool to reduce the burden of their Lordships judicial duties, by appointing a person for the purpose of hearing and deciding appeals from Scotland; and on that occasion all who were consulted, as if by common consent, pointed to Mr. Cranstoun as the individual best calculated to fill that very high and responsible situation. Unfortunately, during the last Session of Parliament this eminent individual, in consequence of ill health, was obliged to retire from his situation as one of the judges of the Court of Session. Previous to that event, a bill had been brought into the other House of Parliament for regulating and augmenting the retiring salaries of the judges of Scotland. That bill passed into a law; but there was no provision for extending any of the benefits of that measure to the distinguished individual to whom he referred. This was entirely different from the practice which had usually prevailed in similar cases. By the 6th George 4th (the last bill for augmenting the salaries of the judges of England), provision was made, not merely for those judges who might retire in future, but for those who had retired before the passing of the act; and those eminent men Sir John Richardson and Sir William Grant, though they had left the bench several years before the passing of the act, received the benefit of its provisions. Another act of Parliament passed in 1813 (the 53d George 3rd), conferred a similar benefit on judges of England already retired; and by the 54th of George 3rd, which applied to Scotland, a similar benefit was extended to judges who had retired before the act was passed. He did not on this occasion ask the reason of this difference between the measures to which he had alluded and the last bill, nor did he mean to make any complaint. He should merely confine himself to the expression of a hope that, by depriving Mr. Cranstoun of this additional emolument it was not intended to pass any slight on him, nor in any way whatsoever to express any disparagement of his services, his knowledge, or his abilities. He pressed this question on the noble Marquess, because the noble Marquess was intimately acquainted with this eminent individual, because he had had a peculiar opportunity of knowing and appreciating his distinguished abilities, and because he possessed the means of judging accurately of his eminent services.

The Marquess of Lansdowne

was not only perfectly willing to answer the question of the noble and learned Lord, but was extremely obliged to the noble and learned Lord for the opportunity which it afforded him of stating his concurrence in the character which be had so justly given of this eminent individual. For no person, neither the noble and learned Lord nor any other individual, could feel more deeply than he did, if there was the possibility of any shadow of a doubt, or of a particle of misunderstanding existing in the mind of the noble and learned Lord, or in the mind of that eminent person, on the subject to which the question referred, that the matter should be set perfectly right and that doubt completely dissipated, and that he was enabled to do in the most distinct and decided terms. Because, though he was not himself officially consulted, or officially a party to the transaction of which the noble and learned Lord spoke, still, from the sincere feeling of respect which he bore to Mr. Cranstoun, whom he had known all his life, and he was proud to have known him from the earliest period, he endeavoured to make himself fully acquainted with the nature of the transaction and all its circumstances. He would not enter into those circumstances, because the noble and learned Lord had said that he did not rise to make any complaint on the subject. But the result of that inquiry he could truly declare was, that, in the whole proceeding, not the least slur was intended to be cast on the character of Mr. Cranstoun. On the contrary, the most sincere feeling of respect was entertained for the services of that excellent individual, and of admiration for his great talents. His knowledge was not restricted or confined to his eminent legal acquirements, with respect to which the noble and learned Lord was so much better instructed to speak than he was, but it extended to every species of information. Mr. Cranstoun was, indeed, distinguished for universal knowledge. He combined those rare qualities with high legal attainments. At the bar he was an able and eloquent advocate; and, finally, for a period of 18 or 20 years, he was one of the most eminent and distinguished judges that had ever been known in the northern part of this country. When the bill was introduced for the purpose of regulating and new-modelling certain matters connected with the Court of Session, it was intended that the proposed increase of allowance should be granted to him. That, however, was prevented by the omission of a particular clause. But the Government had the satisfaction and gratification of knowing that Mr. Cranstoun had retired upon an honourable independence, attended by the respect, the esteem, and the sincere approbation of all those who knew him. He trusted that he might be permitted, for the purpose of showing that Government were not insensible to the merits of this excellent man, to read a paragraph from" a letter written by Lord J. Russell, who was at the time at the head of that department which was immediately connected with the administration of justice. In that letter, which he held in his hand, Lord J. Russell said, "I cannot refrain from expressing my deep regret that abilities of so high a character should be lost to the country, and that the administration of justice should be so suddenly deprived of those services by which the public has been so long benefitted." These were the sentiments of Lord J. Russell on the retirement of Mr. Cranstoun from his situation, and the same feelings of regret which were there expressed were, he believed, felt by every class of society.

Lord Brougham

said, that in point of strict justice to Mr. Cranstoun, he could not allow this opportunity to pass without making one or two observations. His genius, talent, and ability were such that to see his equal hereafter on the bench was to him rather a matter of hope than of expectation. His noble and learned Friend had alluded to what had taken place under the government of Lord Liverpool; but he would remind his noble and learned Friend, that it was not one minister only, but successive Governments, that having considered of the plan for lightening the judicial business in that House, had, by the common consent of all parties, fixed on this eminent man, as he who was best calculated to carry their ideas on the subject into effect. If that plan had been acted upon, that accomplished man and venerable judge would undoubtedly have become an ornament of that assembly which he then had the honour of addressing.

Lord Denman

said, it was his misfortune not to be able to speak of Mr. Cranstoun from personal acquaintance or from any great familiarity with his legal acquirements; but, from the character which he had received from his noble and learned Friends, and from what he himself knew, he believed that he was highly honoured and respected by the whole profession to which he belonged, from the highest to the lowest department. He trusted that at some future period it would be admitted that a debt of justice was due to this gentleman, and that debt he hoped would be paid to him.

The Earl of Haddington

said, he rose simply as a gentleman connected with that part of the United Kingdom in one of the courts of which Mr. Cranstoun had presided, to express the extreme satisfaction he felt at what had been said by the noble Lords who had preceded him. What had fallen from his noble and learned Friend near him, and from the noble Marquess opposite, would, he was convinced, be most gratifying to Mr. Cranstoun. That individual, independent of his various acquirements, and of his unparalleled reputation as a lawyer, was, he would say, one of the most accomplished gentlemen of his time.

Conversation at an end.

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