Moncreiff, James (1811-1895) (DNB01)

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MONCREIFF, JAMES, first Baron Moncrieff of Tullibole (1811–1895), lord justice-clerk of Scotland, son of Sir James Wellwood Moncreiff [q. v.], baronet, and Ann, daughter of George Robertson, R. N., was born at Edinburgh on 29 Nov. 1811 . He was educated at the high school and university of Edinburgh. Naturally quick and intelligent, he carried off the principal honours at both institutions, including the medal in 'Christopher North's class of moral philosophy in 1828. He was called to the Scottish bar in 1833, where in a few years he gathered a large practice. But, partly from natural bent and early training, he pursued politics with a keener activity even than that with which he followed law. In the forensic arena he was in the thick of the church disruption fight, as he was engaged as counsel in the leading conflicts of that exciting time the Lethendy, the Marnoch, the Auchterarder, and the Culsalmond cases. With his father and his elder brother, Sir Henry Wellwood Moncreiff [q. v.], he came out with the seceders. At this period he became one of the first contributors to the 'North British Review,' which was started in the interest of the dissenters in 1844.

Moncreiff first entered the House of Commons as M.P. for the Leith Burghs, which he represented from April 1851 to April 1859, when he retired because he was averse to dividing the liberal party in the constituency. In April 1859, with Adam Black [q. v.], he was elected one of the members for the city of Edinburgh, and re-elected in 1865. In 1868 he resigned his seat, and was elected for the representation of Glasgow and Aberdeen universities. In February 1850 Moncreiff was appointed solicitor-general for Scotland in Lord John Russell's administration, and in April 1851 he succeeded Andrew Rutherfurd [q. v.] as lord advocate. In February 1852 he went out of office on the resignation of the Russell ministry on their defeat over the militia bill, but came in again with Lord Aberdeen's coalition government in December 1852. Among the measures introduced and carried by the lord advocate were an act to abolish religious tests in the Scottish universities, acts to amend the law of entail, to amend the bankruptcy laws, to diminish the number of sheriffs, and to amend the law of evidence. In February 1854 he introduced a bill to establish a uniform system of valuation and rating in Scotland, and an education bill for Scotland, which was rejected. On this occasion Spencer Horatio Walpole [q. v.] said his speech was 'as beautiful in language as it was clear and perspicuous in its statements.' When the coalition ministry was defeated in February 1855, and Lord Palmerston succeeded, Moncreiff was retained as lord advocate, and on 23 March he reintroduced his education bill, which was passed, but thrown out by the Lords, as it was the following year. Moncreiff was also responsible for the important bankers' act in 1856. On the fall of Kars, the lord advocate was put up to reply on behalf of the government to the attack of Lord John Manners [q. v.], and in 1859 he was selected by the government to compliment Mr. Speaker Denison on his re-election to the chair in the House of Commons. Excepting the year of the Derby-Disraeli administration (February 1858-June 1859), Moncreiff was lord-advocate till July 1866. His only other year of office was from December 1868 to October 1869, when he succeeded James Patten [q. v.] as lord justice-clerk. From 1858 to 1869 he was dean of the faculty of advocates the premier position at the Scottish bar.

During his long career in parliament Moncreiff guided the passing of over a hundred acts of parliament, and his name will ever be associated with the reform of legal procedure and mercantile law. As lord advocate he was engaged as public prosecutor in many important cases, notably the trials of Madeline Smith, Wielobycki, and the directors of the Western bank. In 1856 he defended the 'Scotsman' in the libel action raised by Mr. Duncan McLaren [q. v.], one of the members for the city of Edinburgh. In January 1857 he was presented with the freedom of his native city for the part he took in regard to the Municipal Extension Act. In 1859 he became lieutenant-colonel of the first rifle volunteer corps in Scotland that of the city of Edinburgh. In 1860 he benefited Edinburgh by passing the annuity tax bill a subject in which, as a free churchman, he took the keenest interest and in the following year he benefited Scotland by carrying the important bill relating to burgh and parochial schools. In 1861 he was engaged as leading counsel in the defence of Sir William Johnston, one of the directors of the Edinburgh and Glasgow bank, and in 1863-4 he was counsel in the famous Yelverton case.

For nineteen years Lord Moncreiff occupied the judicial bench, presiding over the trials in the justiciary court of Chantrelle (1878), the City of Glasgow bank directors (1878), the dynamitards (1883), and the crofters (1886). Extra-judicially he was occupied in many other matters. Asa lecturer he was in great request, and delivered numerous orations in Edinburgh and Glasgow on subjects of literary, scientific, and political interest to the Philosophical Institution, Royal Society, Juridical Society, Scots Law Society, and other bodies. Moncreiff also published anonymously in 1871 a novel entitled 'A Visit to my Discontented Cousin,' which was reprinted, with additions, from 'Fraser's Magazine.' He was also a frequent contributor to the 'Edinburgh Review.' In 1858 he received the degree of LL.D. from Edinburgh University: from 1868 to 1871 he was rector of Glasgow University, from which he received the degree of LL.D. in 1879, and in 1869 he was appointed a member of the privy council. On 17 May 1871 he was created a baronet; on 1 Jan. 1874 he was made a baron of the United Kingdom; in 1878 he was appointed a royal commissioner under the Endowed Institutions (Scotland) Act, and in 1883 he succeeded his brother as eleventh baronet of Tullibole. In September 1888 he resigned the position of lord justice-clerk, and took up the preparation of his 'Memorials,' which are yet to be published. On these he was engaged till his death on 27 April 1895. There is a portrait of Moncreiff, painted by Sir George Reid, P.R.S.A., on the wall of the parliament house in Edinburgh.

Lord Moncreiff married, on 12 Sept. 1834, Isabella, only daughter of Robert Bell, procurator of the church of Scotland, and sheriff of Berwickshire and Haddingtonshire, and by her (who died on 19 Dec. 1881) he had five sons and two daughters. His eldest son, Henry James, now Baron Moncreiff, sat since 1888, under the title of Lord Well wood, as a lord of session, an office which, as Lord Moncreiff, he still retains.

[Scotsman, 29 April 1890; Addison's Glasgow Graduates; Scottish Law Review, June 1895 (with portrait); Burke's Peerage; Men of the Time.]

G. S-h.