Abbildungen der Seite

which requires an apprenticeship to understand, than there was in former times to write laws in a language unintelligible to those who were to be guided by them; nor more sense or honesty in distending laws with needless distinctions and tautology of expression, than in mixing up (according to a practice of physic now happily exploded,) thirty or forty different nasty things, to make " a souveraine remedie."

Truth has dispelled the mysteries of the Magi, the charmmonger, the relic-monger, and the soothsayer; may it also divest the law of our great country of the mystery and jargon under which it is now disguised, and exhibit it in its simple and unaffected shape, as the friend and assistant of morality, similar in form, feature, and proportion, although endowed with the air and authority of command.

Mr. Evans, the learned compiler of the statutes, thus alludes to the propriety of a philosophical revision of the laws:-" It certainly is difficult to conceive upon what principles it should be assumed, that while every other science has been progressive, and has followed the natural course of observation and experience, in the correction of errors, and the extension of useful discovery, the sciences of legislation and jurisprudence should alone be considered as stationary or retrograde."

The enlightened Dugald Stewart, in his "Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind," adds his testimony in favor of a simplified system of laws:-" Among the many circumstances favorable to human happiness in the present state of the world (he says), the most important, perhaps, is, that the same events which have contributed to loosen the foundations of the ancient fabrics of despotism, have made it practicable in a much greater degree than it ever was formerly, to reduce the principles of legislation to a science, and to anticipate the probable course of popular opinion. It is easy for the statesman to form to himself a distinct and steady idea of the ultimate objects at which a wise legislator ought to aim, and to foresee that modification of the social order to which human affairs have of themselves a tendency to approach, and therefore his practical sagacity and address are limited to the care of accomplishing the important ends which he has in view, as effectually and rapidly as is consistent with the quiet of individuals, and with the rights arising from actual establishments."

"In order to lay a solid foundation for the science of politics, the first step ought to be to ascertain that form of society which is perfectly agreeable to nature and justice, and what are the principles of legislation necessary for main

taining it. Nor is the inquiry so difficult as might at first be apprehended, for it might be easily shewn that the greater part of the political disorders which exist among mankind, do not arise from a want of foresight in politicians which has rendered their laws too general, but from their having trusted too little to the operation of those simple institutions which nature and justice recommend, and, of consequence, that as society advances to its perfection, the number of laws may be expected to DIMINISH instead of increasing, and the science of legislation to be gradually simplified."

The great Lord Chancellor Bacon, in his History of Governments, thus deprecates the loquacity and prolixity with which the laws were drawn up even in his day; (what would he say to our modern laws; a paving act for example?) "We at present (he says) treat of the obscurity which arises from their ill description, and approve not the loquacity and prolixity now used in drawing up the laws, which in no degree obtains what is intended, but rather the contrary; for whilst it endeavours to comprehend and express all particular cases in apposite and proper diction (as expressing greater certainty from thence) it raises numerous questions ABOUT TERMS, which render the true and real design of the law more difficult to come at, through a huddle of words. Upon the multiplication of penal laws Lord Bacon thus expresses himself:-"The prophet says, 'it shall rain snares upon them,' but there are no worse snares than the snares of laws, especially the penal, which growing excessive in number, and useless through time, prove not a lanthorn, but nets to the feet." The illustrious author proceeds, "But if laws heaped upon laws, shall swell to such a vast bulk, and labor under such confusion as render it expedient to treat them anew, and reduce them into one sound and serviceable corps, it becomes a work of the utmost importance, deserving to be deemed heroical; and let the authors of it be ranked among legislators, and the restorers of states and empires."

This great man little thought that laws would continue to be heaped upon laws, until the present day, without any adequate effort being made to relieve the public from the monstrous pile, and out of the heterogeneous materials to form one sound and serviceable corps."


There are now upwards of 750 ACTS of PARLIAMENT applicable to criminal law, besides nearly 400 which relate to proceedings before justices of the peace. These which are called Statute laws, it must be recollected, are only that part of the law which consists of alterations of, or additions to, the Common or

unwritten law-what the Common law is we learn by inference from the decisions of the courts as they fluctuate upon particular cases. The decisions, with the proceedings leading to them, are published by individuals under the name of REPORTS. These voluminous acts, and still more voluminous reports, compose a boundless field for uncertainty and contention, and any thing but a clear and distinct guide to the people, "whose lives and fortunes are subject to them."

A great part of this mischief arises from the practice of making successive acts of parliament on one subject, the latter acts being to amend preceding acts, without repealing such preceding acts; whence it is very common to find contradictory laws on the same subject, and to hear the courts occupied in weighing authorities, principles, and analogies, to find out, or guess, which ought to prevail.

The ponderous, obsolete, and intricate verbage of these acts it is difficult to assign satisfactory reasons for, but much of it necessarily arises from the preambles, forms, explanations, and provisions to each, being set forth in each separately, instead of such general provisions and forms being laid down as fundamental definitions and general rules, common to all, and therefore unnecessary to be inserted in each separate act of parliament.

The inconsistency in the distribution of penalties, and impunity among offences of similar hues, but under different circumstances, is very remarkable. For instance-If a man, from a shop, warehouse, or stable, privately steal any goods of the value of 5s., the penalty is death; but he may break into a garden, even in the night time, and privately steal flowers to a much greater value, free from any penalty. If a man steal a dog, two justices are to fine him from 207. to 507. or imprison him from 12 to 18 months, and to cause him to be publicly whipped, within the three days following their conviction. Against such conviction he may appeal to the justices in quarter session, but not until after fourteen days, i. e. not till the whipping at least is over. If the dog is stolen by a servant to whom it has been entrusted, he is subject to no penalty. If a man is guilty of moving his ashes (his own property) from one of his houses or shops to another, he is subject to a fine of 10/. for every basket-full he moves; but if a man gains admission into the house of another, as tenant, and steals therefrom the doors, sashes, and fixtures, he is subject to no penalty. Ifa distressed man, to raise four or five shillings, tells

'Since this paragraph was written, two acts of parliament have mended the contrasted errors.

another a falsehood, he is liable to transportation; but if a man of consequence by similar means cheats another of as many thousand pounds, it may be deemed no offence.' If a man gives his neighbours warning, that a thief or swindler is coming amongst them, he is liable to the penalties of fine and imprisonment as a libeller, and it is an aggravation of his offence if the information be strictly true; but a gentleman at the bar, or in the House of Commons, may, in open court, publish to the world the most groundless aspersions against respectable persons with impunity.

But it is in the disposition of the punishment of death, that the common sense and feelings of society are chiefly offended. So strangely apportioned is the penalty in many cases, that prosecutors shrink from their task, and allow offenders to escape with impunity. Witnesses in pious perjuries speak not the truth, and juries find false verdicts to save lives which the law declares forfeit, but which their honest judgments tell them it would be injustice and cruelty to take away.

The penalties of the law are also in some instances as equivocally executed, as they are unwisely apportioned. Punishments are very frequently executed or forborne, not according to the law and its judgments, as declared in court, but according to the views of some invisible persons out of it.

We also see that an unaided novice sentenced to prison suffers the austerities of the prison, where there are any austerities left; but a practised convict, who has not entered the prison empty handed, or who has the support of accomplices from without, may feast upon luxuries, enjoy good clothing and lodging, and see his friends daily.

In considering the instruments of punishment as now administered, we cannot fail to be struck with the effect of the new lights which have been shed on prison discipline during the last twenty or thirty years.

During these years prisons, from being dreary and miserable abodes, have become spacious, commodious, and agreeable; the offensive term prison has been mollified into the milder

1 At the Insolvent Debtors' Court at the Westminster Sessions-house, on October 14th, 1818, Colonel Gould's discharge was opposed, on the ground of his having obtained 10007. upon the false pretence of securing it on money belonging to him in the funds, he having no money in the funds. The objection, however, was rejected, upon an assumed rule of law, that due diligence had not been used by the sufferer to discover the truth; and the Colonel was set at liberty. Four days after, in the same building, the author was present, when a man was charged with borrowing 4s. upon a pretence of wanting it to give change to a customer in a neighbouring street, which pretence was afterwards found to be false. In this case, the rule of law before assumed went for nought, and the man was transported.

names, House of Correction, Penitentiary, &c.; the tender feelings of the humane have been under a continual state of excitement, to improve the unpleasantness of imprisonment, and the hard earnings of the honest and industrious have been drained to supply the means of rendering punishment comfortable! During these years, also, the alarming increase of crimes has been a subject of continual lamentation with the public. The coincidence is not an accidental one, it is evidently that of cause and effect. That a houseless, naked, and starving man should be tempted to relieve his wants by acts of dishonesty, when, if detected and convicted, the penalty is good lodging, good bedding, warm clothing, excellent food, cheerful society, the daily visits of friends, the condolence and tender treatment of superiors, and light work, or no work at all, is only what might be expected. Instances are frequent in which the accused candidly say, that they were starving and "committed the theft to get into the House of Correction."

The matter of surprise is, when we view the wretchedness in which so many hard-working men and their families drag on existence, that a regard for good character, and a love of independence, should induce them still to continue honest, and work their emaciated frames to the very bones, while such excellent fare waits upon their choice if they will only condescend to be dishonest. The wonder, however, is rapidly evaporating; much as the face of the country is altered by the immense buildings going forward, for the better accommodation of criminals, they do not expand equally with the demand for places. In districts where a little old prison was seldom half occupied, extensive buildings under the new system are found to be always full, and in want of additions, while candidates for admission infest our streets and prefer their claims upon our persons and our property in swarms, and at noon day.

That the motives of the leaders of the new system have been good ones, is not questioned, but that their endeavours are useful to the public, or to the objects of their solicitude, is wholly denied. Where shall we discover one good result from their expensive projects? While gratifying the tenderness of their hearts by rendering the criminal comfortable, they have hoped to render him also religious, honest, industrious. Vain attempt! convicts may be taught a demure air, and to make hypocritical professions of sorrow and amendment: a spurious artificial religion may also be infused into some of them, as much at least as will encourage them in the idea that through faith they may avoid future punishment for their

« ZurückWeiter »