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Kay's Originals Vol. 2


BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCHES. " I have seldom addressed this House ; and much less did I expect that I should have been obliged now to defend myself from the charge of wilful injustice and oppression. These are charges I am not accustomed to have made against me ; and I will say, the words injustice and oppression have never before been coupled with the name I bear. I am very happy that this charge has been brought by a gentleman not acquainted with me, or with my character. The House, too, is unacquainted with me ; but I will venture to say, that in my own country, where I am known, it would not be believed that I had acted with wilful injustice or oppression against any man. Was the Hon. gentleman to represent me so in the city where I principally reside (Edinburgh), there would be an hundred thousand tongues ready to repel the charge, and probably several arms raised against him who made it." * * * * " Before I enter into the consideration of Mr. Morrison's conduct and of mine, it will be necessary to put the House in possession of the peculiar and critical situation of Scotland at the time that letter was written, It will be necessary for me to inform them what are the nature and duties of the office of Advocate-General of Scotland ; what is the responsibility attached at all times to the situation, but more peculiarly so in the times and circumstances at the period to which the charge refers." He then described the defenceless state of the country, and continued- " Under these circumstances, I would act as the safety of the State required, and not measure my responsibility by the frigid rules of strict law. I acted under the full conviction, that if the enemy were to land in the north, the salvation of Scotland coiild only be achieved by its volunteers ; and it appeared more probable that they would land in the north, than direct their attacks against Edinburgh itself. Letters had been received by all the lord-lieutenants of counties, from the Secretary of State, that the information of Government vras such, that an immediate attempt was to be expected on the part of the enemy : this information arrived in Scotland only a few days before my writing this letter. Lord Moira attached such credit to it that lie would not sleep out of Edinburgh a single night ; and positively refused to pass a night at Dalkeith (only six miles distant), lest, in case of invasion, it might delay an hour the orders for the troops to march, He conferred with me upon the subject ; and I, too, considered the country in such a crisis, that though it was in the Christmas holidays, when everybody left Edinburgh that could leave it, I did not think it safe to sleep a night out of town. Such was our opinion at the time in which I wrote that letter ; and I declare, sir, upon my honour, that, when I wrote it, I did expect the French would land in Scotland before the Sheriff of Banffshire had received my letter. " Under such circumstances, I do not so much speak of the legality of the act as of the necessity of it. I come now to speak of the nature and duties of the situation of Lord Advocate of Scotland : it is by no means an office so dry, formal, and precise, in its nature, as the office of Attorney-General in England. I wish the hon. gentleman could define them, as there are no burdens he could possibly lay on me, which I suppose would be equal to what are, in my opinion, the duties of a Lord Advocate. Formerly the Government of Scotland was carried on by a Cabinet Council, composed of the Great Officers of State. Soon after the Union in 1707, the Privy Council of Scotland was abolished, the office of Chancellor was also abolished, and the whole powers of the resident Government of Scotland devolved upon the Lord Advocate and Lord Justice-clerk ; but the Lord Justice-clerk has been merely a criminal judge, and the Lord Advocate in Scotland exercises the whole power of the Government. Every different department of Government looks to me for advice and assistance, even in military matters, which are most foreign to my professional studies, and the Generals of the forces daily confer with me." * * * * In England the different departments of the State are so arranged, that everybody knows where he should apply on an emergency. It is not ao in Scotland. The weight of all the departments of the State rests upon the shoulders of the Lord Advocate. If I have written one letter, I have written at least eight hundred letters to magistrates, with respect to the instructions received from Government. " In order to give the House some idea of the powers which have been always assumed by the Lord Advocates of Scotland, I shall mention one or two instances. The powers of a Lord Advocate are not easily defined.
Volume 9 Page 330
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