I beg to move, in page 53, line 5, to leave out from "shall" to the end of line 16, and to insert:
be subject to appeal to the High Court.
I always experience some little hesitation in moving Amendments of legal significance, but, on the other hand, it will be realised that the appeals in question are those which arise under Clauses 7 and 10. The questions at issue are sometimes questions of fact and sometimes questions of law, and I think the citizen ought to have the right if necessary to go to the High Court. I presume that one of the Law Officers of the Crown will reply to me and they will appreciate the significance of my Amendment perhaps even better than I do. It is important in these matters that as a last resort citizens should have the right to go to an independent tribunal like the High Court.
So far as questions of law are concerned, an appeal to the courts is provided by the Schedule. Any party who is not satisfied with the result of the determination as far as points of law are concerned may declare his dissatisfaction to the referee who has heard the appeal and may require him to state and sign a case. On questions of fact, I think on the whole we are better in leaving it to the referee. The general tendency of recent legislation over a fairly long period has been not to encourage appeals on questions of fact. Here the question will have been in effect through the hands of two disinterested bodies; the Commission will settle the values under Clauses 5 and 7 in the first instance and will have approached that task in an impartial and judicial spirit, and, when any one is dissatisfied, they can then go to the referee. There is thus already provision for an appeal, though not perhaps a technical appeal, on questions of value or fact. On questions of law there is already provision for appeal to the courts, and I therefore oppose this Amendment.
I beg to move, in page 53, line 13, to leave out from "or," to "of" in line 16.
This Amendment has the effect of making it possible to have these questions settled in the county court or, in Scotland, the sheriff's court. The sheriff's court, in Scotland especially, is the court of the people. It is a court which is easily accessible and in whose judgment the people have confidence. It is only in very serious cases that any appeal would be taken to the Court of Session or the High Court. Moreover, in Scotland in the sheriff's court a claimant can sue for any amount without limit. That, I think, is a point of difference from the county court in England. He can sue up to any limit in Scotland, and there is therefore no reason why, in Scotland especially, it should not be possible to have the questions of law decided first of all in the county court. It is obvious that serious cases might be taken from the county court to the High Court. If it is stipulated that, beyond £500, the matter must go to the High Court, that might cause great inconvenience and expense to some people. Obviously, few houses will be worth under £500. From the point of view of the appellants, of the legal profession, and of the present custom in Scotland, and, I daresay, to some extent, of that in England, I suggest that the case ought to be allowed to go first to the county court, and then, if so desired, to the High Court.
We know how jealous the Court of Session is in Scotland about matters being taken outwith its powers, but we know also how very effectively and efficiently the sheriff courts in Scotland do their work. I have known of many cases where, although a judgment would normally have been appealed against, the fact that it had been given in the sheriff court, and the fact also that very high costs would he incurred in taking the matter to the Court of Session, led to the appeal being dropped. I am very conscious, and so, I am sure, is my hon. Friend, that in order to carry a Scottish point we are seeking to interfere with the wording of the Schedule in its application to England. We do not wish to do that, and I would like to see some Amendment framed that would meet the case of Scotland without interfering with the county court and High Court practice on this side of the Border. I hope that the right hon. Gentleman will not turn the Amendment down because of its wording.
Will the right hon. Gentleman, when considering this matter with the Lord Advocate, bear in mind that it is a subject of considerable interest? I have had letters from societies of solicitors, representing that it would be a great inconvenience and a departure from Scottish practice if the words remain as they are.