Skip to main content

Sheriff Peter Thomson

Volume 939: debated on Friday 25 November 1977

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

asked the Secretary of State for Scotland if he will make a statement about the order for the removal of Sheriff Peter Thomson.

On 22nd July 1977 I made the Sheriff (Removal from Office) Order 1977, removing Sheriff Peter Thomson from the office of Sheriff for the Sheriffdom of South Strathclyde, Dumfries and Galloway. The order was laid before Parliament on 27th July 1977. Under Section 12(3) of the Sheriff Courts (Scotland) Act 1971 the order must lie before Parliament for 40 days, excluding any period during which Parliament is adjourned, and may be annulled in pursuance of a resolution by either House. In this case the period will expire on 6th December 1977.The procedure for the removal of a sheriff in Scotland is laid down in detail in Section 12 of the 1971 Act. Although the order is made by me I have no power to make the order without first receiving a report from the Lord President of the Court of Session and the Lord Justice Clerk, the two senior members of the Scottish Judiciary, to the effect that, after investigation, they have found that the sheriff is unfit for office by reason of inability, neglect of duty or misbehaviour. The procedure requiring a report from the Lord President of the Court of Session and the Lord Justice Clerk before a sheriff can be removed from office has been in existence since 1838, and has been re-enacted, with only minor variations, in Acts of Parliament passed in 1877, 1907 and 1971.My attention was drawn in April of this year to the publication of a pamphlet entitled "Scottish Plebiscite‚ÄĒReport by Sheriff Peter Thomson". The pamphlet, which referred to Sheriff Thomson by the title of his office as "Sheriff of South Strathclyde, Dumfries and Galloway at Hamilton", advocated the holding of a plebiscite on Scottish home rule. There had been a similar incident in 1974, when Sheriff Thomson, again using his judicial title, had circulated to voters in the Rutherglen area a voting card containing specific questions about the establishment of a Parliament in Scotland. Along with the voting cards Sheriff Thomson sent out a return envelope addressed to himself as "The Returning Officer". At that time the returning officer in parliamentary elections was the sheriff principal of the county, and sheriffs commonly acted as deputy returning officers in counties containing more than one constituency. An investigation was instituted by the Lord President of the Court of Session and the Lord Justice Clerk. Sheriff Thomson was invited to make written representations to the judges, and to meet them, but he ignored the invitations. The judges then reported to me that Sheriff Thomson's conduct was incompatible with his judicial office, but that, in view of his otherwise satisfactory service, they did not yet find him unfit for office. They added that if Sheriff Thomson should engage in any similar activity in the future it might be extremely difficult to resist the conclusion that his fitness for his office was at an end. A copy of the report containing the judges' finding and their warning against similar activity in the future was sent to Sheriff Thomson and the Sheriff Principal of the Sheriffdom was asked to reinforce the warning at a private meeting with Sheriff Thomson.In view of the 1974 episode just referred to, and the warning given to Sheriff Thomson by the Lord President of the Court of Session and the Lord Justice Clerk in their report on the case, I decided that the renewal of Sheriff Thomson's activities by the publication of the fresh pamphlet in 1977 made it necessary to request a further investigation by the judges. I accordingly wrote to the Lord President of the Court of Session and the Lord Justice Clerk requesting them to report on Sheriff Thomson's fitness for office.As in 1974, the judges wrote to Sheriff Thomson, informing him that they were undertaking an investigation into his fitness for office and inviting him to make written representations, and to appear before them either personally or by counsel. As in 1974, Sheriff Thomson did not acknowledge the invitations, and neither made written representations nor appeared before the judges.The Lord President of the Court of Session and the Lord Justice Clerk then, after investigation, reported to me that the publication of the pamphlet could only be regarded as a repetition of the kind of activity condemned in the earlier report and in clear defiance of the warning then given to the Sheriff. They added that, in the light of the previous similar conduct of the Sheriff, his refusals to heed warnings and advice, and his apparent disrespect for authority, it would be unrealistic to hope that he would never do anything of the kind again. They accordingly decided that because of his misbehaviour Sheriff Thomson was no longer fit to hold his judicial office.On receiving the report by the Lord President of the Court of Session and the Lord Justice Clerk I decided that, notwithstanding Sheriff Thomson's refusal to communicate with the Judges, he should still be given an opportunity to comment on the report. A copy of the report was accordingly sent to him on 23rd June 1977. His attention was drawn to the finding of the judges that he was no longer fit to hold his judicial office, and to Section 12(2) of the Sheriff Courts (Scotland) Act 1971 under which I may, on receiving a report of unfitness by the Lord President of the Court of Session and the Lord Justice Clerk, make an order removing the sheriff from office. Sheriff Thomson was invited to send any comments he might have on the report to me by 15th July 1977. Sheriff Thomson did not acknowledge the letter, and sent no comments on the report.

I then considered the whole matter, and decided, in the light of the most recent report by the Lord President of the Court of Session and the Lord Justice Clerk, to make an order under the 1971 Act removing Sheriff Thomson from office.

Sheriff Thomson will receive a pension of £5,233 and a lump sum, payable when he reaches the age of 65 in April 1979.