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Sheriff Peter Thomson

Volume 940: debated on Wednesday 30 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 publish the texts of the reports by the Lord President of the Court of Session and the Lord Justice Clerk on Sheriff Peter Thomson in 1975 and 1977.

The following are the texts:Parliament House,Edinburgh,EH1 1RQ.15th January 1975ConfidentialThe Right Hon. William Ross, MP,Secretary of State for Scotland,St. Andrew's House,Edinburgh.Dear Secretary of State,In the light of certain complaints that Sheriff Peter Thomson, a Sheriff of Lanarkshire at Hamilton, had been engaging publicly in a political activity incompatible with his tenure of full-time salaried judicial office, we consider it our duty to undertake an investigation under Section 12(1) of the Sheriff Courts (Scotland) Act 1971. The activity complained of is fully set out in the letter addressed by the Lord President to Thomson, dated 25th October 1974, intimating the complaints and informing him of the investigation which we had resolved to carry out. Copies of this letter and of the enclosures mentioned therein are attached. From these documents it will be seen that this Sheriff had engaged in similar activities on previous occasions, and had been advised that he ought not to do so again. This advice he ignored.In accordance with the procedure normally followed in such investigations we first invited Sheriff Thomson to let us have his observations in writing upon the complaints by 15th November 1974. He did not see fit to avail himself of this invitation. Thereafter we invited him to attend before us at 4.15 p.m. on 10th December 1974 to give us, orally, such explanations as he considered relevant to the question for our decision. He neither attended before us, nor did he inform us that he did not intend to do so.In these circumstances we proceeded to examine the complaints without any assistance from Sheriff Thomson and we need hardly say that in doing so we gave no weight to this Sheriff's apparent lack of good sense, or to his manifest discourtesy.The first question we had to decide was whether Sheriff Thomson's activity in conducting his "Plebiscite" was a political activity. In our opinion it was. The subject matter was a sensitive and highly controversial one which was actively engaging the attention of all political parties and the people of Scotland on the threshhold of a General Election. Further, as appears from the "Voting Card" distributed by Sheriff Thomson within his selected polling district, the recipient of each is described as an "elector", the envelope provided for the "elector's" use is addressed to "The Returning Officer" and the "Voting Card" contains upon its face the following: "The result will be intimated by Sheriff Peter Thomson, Sheriff of Lanarkshire at Hamilton."The second question was whether this political activity was or was not incompatible with the full-time judicial office held by Sheriff Thomson. In our opinion it was, and if there is any justification for a different view we have not been permitted to know what it may be. In general it may be said that it has for long been accepted that no judge should publicly engage in any political activity. In particular, in this case, however, the position is aggravated by the fact that Sheriff Thomson is among those who may be required to act as Returning Officer at Parliamentary Elections for a Lanarkshire constituency, and by the fact that the "Plebiscite" documents distributed by Sheriff Thomson to the selected members of the public could readily have led recipients to believe that the "Plebiscite" was of an official character, and that Sheriff Thomson was concerned therein in his official capacity as a Sheriff of Lanarkshire at Hamilton. In all these circumstances we are of opinion that he has indulged in behaviour inconsistent with his official judicial position and that this constitutes misbehaviour.In spite, however, of our findings upon the complaints we are not yet disposed to report that Sheriff Thomson is unfit for office. In all other respects he appears adequately to carry out his function as a Sheriff and it may be that he has in the past laboured under the misapprehension that his "Plebiscite" activity was unexceptionable because it did not involve him in any party political stand. This report, a copy of which has been sent to Sheriff Thomson, should serve to disabuse him of any such misconception and it is to be hoped that he will not further engage in any similar activity. If he does so, however, it may be extremely difficult to resist the conclusion that his fitness for his office is at an end.

G. C. Emslie, Lord President.

Wheatley, Lord Justice Clerk.

Parliament House,

Edinburgh, EH1 1RQ

8th June 1977


The Right Hon. Bruce Millan, MP

Secretary of State for Scotland

New St. Andrew's House


By your letter dated 29th April 1977 you requested the Lord Justice Clerk and myself to make a further investigation, under section 12(1) of the Sheriff Courts (Scotland) Act 1971, into the fitness for office of Sheriff Peter Thomson.

As you are aware our report to your predecessor following our earlier investigation was dated 15th January 1975 and a copy of it was supplied to the Sheriff for his future guidance. As that report discloses the investigation was concerned with Sheriff Thomson's involvement as 'the returning officer' in the conduct of a 'Scottish Plebiscite' and our finding was that this was a public political activity incompatible with the full time judicial office which the Sheriff held and that he had been guilty of misbehaviour. In spite of that finding, however, we did not then, for the reasons which we gave, report that he was unfit for office but we declared clearly that if the Sheriff were to engage in future in any similar activity of a political character it would be extremely difficult to resist the conclusion that his fitness for office had ended.

Upon receipt of your letter we immediately set in train the procedure normally followed in an investigation of this kind. The first step was to invite him by letter dated 3rd May 1977 to submit to us, in writing by 18th May 1977, any observations he cared to make. He neither acknowledged this letter nor did he take advantage of our invitation. The next step was to afford Sheriff Thomson an opportunity of appearing before us personally or by Counsel, at 4 p.m. on Thursday 2nd June 1977. This we did by letter dated 19th May 1977. He did not acknowledge receipt of this letter and furthermore he neither attended before us nor did he inform us that he did not intend to do so.

In these circumstances (and they are identical to the circumstances of the earlier investigation) we proceeded to examine the pamphlet entitled 'Scottish Plebiscite—Report by Sheriff Peter Thomson' without the assistance of the author and we have once again to record with regret this Sheriff's apparent lack of good sense and his gross discourtesy.

The first question we had to decide was whether the publication of this 'Report' in pamphlet form involved on the Sheriff's part a further public engagement in a political activity similar to that which we held, in our earlier investigation, to be incompatible with the holding of full-time judicial office. In our opinion, in the absence of any explanation from Sheriff Thomson, it plainly was. The pamphlet urges the holding of a plebiscite to decide certain political questions which are currently both sensitive and controversial. It describes Sheriff Thomson as "Sheriff of South Strathclyde, Dumfries and Galloway at Hamilton, Lanarkshire". It states that local plebiscites were held between 1949 and 1974 and goes on—"These local plebiscites will continue until this matter is resolved." The final paragraph of the printed text in our opinion does nothing to dissociate Sheriff Thomson from a public political activity. On the contrary it confirms his part as an active organiser of the plebiscites concerned. In short, the publication of this 'Report by Sheriff Peter Thomson' can only be regarded as a repetition of the very kind of activity condemned in our report of 15th January 1975 and in clear defiance of the warning then given to the Sheriff. Further, in light of the previous similar conduct of this Sheriff over many years, his refusals to heed warnings and advice, and his apparent disrespect for authority, it would, we think, be unrealistic to hope that he will never do anything of the kind again.

In the foregoing circumstances we have come to the conclusion that because of his misbehaviour, he is no longer fit to hold his judicial office.

Reported by

G. C. Emslie, Lord President.

Wheatley, Lord Justice Clerk