« PreviousContinue »
the hasty and capricious spirit of legislation occasionally shewn by the Commons, it would have been a great deal worse. In watching the bills that are in progress, the Lord Chancellor is supposed, from his office, to be particularly vigilant, which duty the extraordinary talents, industry and experience of the present possessor of that exalted office have enabled him to perform in a very admirable manner; and in so doing, he along with the late Duke of Norfolk, Lord Lauderdale, Lord Grenville, the late Lord Stanhope, with all his peculiarities, and some others, have done distinguished though unpretending service to their country, and well discharged the trust which as hereditary counsellors of the crown their sovereign had confided to them. We have said thus much for the purpose of paying our tribute of gratitude to a species of merit neither known nor appreciated as it ought to be, and which, as peculiarly becoming the dignity of the House of Peers, we should wish to see more generally displayed by that distinguished body. To the class of noble persons just mentioned, no adequate successors have hitherto appeared; and if when they are gone none should arise to supply their place, then one of those unperceived changes will have taken place which are gradually passing on all human institutions, by which its substance is materially altered while its appearance remains the same.
We have now concluded what has occurred to us on the present size of the statutes and reports in courts of law, and on the rate at which they are increasing. We trust we have done so without offence, without exaggeration, and without using any expression tending to bring into disrepute either the law or the legislature. Nothing at least could have been more foreign to the wishes and sentiments we entertain. A regular series of our acts of parliament and the reports of the most important judgments which have been given in our courts of law, we believe to be the most splendid and complete records of their respective kinds which any country, either in ancient or modern times, has ever yet possessed. It is our sincere and ardent admiration of them which has alone induced us to make these observations, with a view to remove ancient imperfections or at least to prevent the spread of modern abuses. We have anxiously abstained, especially with regard to reports, from proposing any plan by which in our opinion the evil may be rectified. Undigested proposals of this sort are more frequently detrimental than beneficial, and the first sure step to practicable reform is to draw the attention of the public to the alleged grievance, and to promote candid inquiry into its nature and amount. Of one thing, however, we are certain, that any alteration that might be adopted, would be preferable to the
journals of the daily proceedings in all the courts of law and equity, which, in the shape of reports, are constantly issuing from the press, and if no better plan could be devised, it would be a great relief even to take back Lord Coke's four discreet and learned professors of the law,' to report, rather than keep 14, who are not likely to be all learned professors, and who would ruin their own trade if they exercised discretion. There is one class of persons peculiarly qualified in this respect to render service to the state, from whom we should have expected more than they have ever yet performed; we mean ex-chancellors and judges, many of whom retain the most complete possession of their powers, and whose knowledge of business and experience of the world would enable them during a few years of retirement to confer more permanent benefit on the law than all their preceding course of active service. But from whatever cause it arises, whether from that necessity for repose which generally succeeds constant and severe exertion, whether habit disinclines them to an alteration of rules and practice with which they have become familiar, or whether it is that age freezes that activity and energy which are requisite to project and forward any amendment however cautious, the fact itself is indisputable. Young men,' says Lord Bacon, care not to innovate, which draws unknown inconveniencies, use extreme remedies at first, and that which doubleth all errors, will not acknowledge or retract them. Men of age object too much, consult too long, adventure too little, and repent too soon.'
Neither have we, in the course of the observations we have made on the size and intricacy of the Statute book, made any specific proposal by which in our opinion these objections to it might be removed. It is possible that some such general revision or arrangement of it as that which was contemplated by Lord Stanhope may hereafter be proposed, which it would be expedient to adopt, but we have no sanguine expectation of any such appearing. We rather think that a less adventurous course would lead more safely and expeditiously to the desired object, and that instead of throwing the Statute law all at once into a new form, it would be better to recast it gradually, by taking care that all the enactments which hereafter receive the sanction of the Legislature, should be as permanent, general and intelligible as possible. If this rule in drawing up acts of parliament were rigidly observed, and none but such as possessed this character were suffered to pass, all well grounded complaints against them would speedily disappear. The perpetual enactment, suspension, repeal, and re-enactment of laws is equally discreditable to the legislature
and inconvenient to the subject. A stronger instance of this cannot be given than the Irish Grand Jury Presentment Bill, which is evidently one of the most important measures ever tried affecting that country, and about which no vacillation after it was once determined on ought to have been evinced. That bill, however, was passed in 1817, suspended last session of parliament till the end of that session, and notice of a further suspension again given in the beginning of this, thus leaving it doubtful how many more suspensions may yet take place, or whether the bill may not eventually be abandoned altogether. On particular enactments instead of general ones we have already delivered an opinion, and cannot help repeating our unqualified disapprobation of the prevailing practice of legislating in detail instead of in the gross. A statute can scarcely be too general in its application to the subjects to which it relates, or too complete in itself, so as to supersede all necessity of recourse to antecedent ones. By this means whenever the subject of Insolvent Debtors, Fisheries, Election of Members of Parliament, Quarantine, or any such general head of law, came under consideration, the various provisions which lie scattered in the Statute book would be repealed, and one systematic enactment substituted in their stead. This has to a certain extent been done in the Revenue Consolidation Act, 27 Geo. III. c. -, 28 Geo. III. c. 38, for consolidating the acts respecting the exportation of live sheep and unwrought wool, and 52 Geo. III. c. 143, for reducing into one act the offences against the revenue punishable with death. The game laws again brought before parliament this session afford one of the best possible opportunities of exemplifying such a plan of legislation. The subject of game is one where the various subsisting enactments are exceedingly numerous and intricate, where no precipitation is required, and where a country-gentleman of liberal mind and industry would do great credit to himself and benefit to the country by incorporating them into one act, the whole provisions of which should at once be deliberately settled by the legislature. We regret that Mr. Brand's bill should have disappointed the expectation which the occasion naturally excited, and that if it had passed it would have left all the complicated regulations on poaching, and other branches of the subject, in the same unsatisfactory state in which they now are.
It is unquestionably true that it would require much time and caution to frame such general acts so as neither to fall short of their intention nor exceed it; but that is precisely one of the chief benefits should expect to result from the enactment of laws of this description. More time and talents would be required to draw them; attention to the subject in all its bearings would be enforced, and
an end put to the passing of acts as temporary expedients, which is the chief cause of all the mischief. If only one of these passed every single or alternate session it would be a great step towards the object in view, and the Statute book would thus, like a troubled fountain, gradually work itself clear. With whatever is done we shall rest satisfied, provided it really tends to simplify and methodize the laws under which we live, and to continue the practice of them in the rank of a liberal profession, which if things go on as they now do it cannot long remain. The task is so difficult and important that we should be sorry to see it fall into the hands of inadequate and bold projectors, who quote from every code ancient and modern, whatever suits their own views, without reference to the existing institutions or circumstances of the country, and whose views are materially influenced by the clamour created by newspaper speculations, the chief writers in which frequently express themselves with a degree of dogmatism and arrogance unequalled in any other publications. That public feeling, when unequivocally conveyed through such a channel, deeply deserves attention, there can be no dispute; but it did not require the confirmation which the recent history of the Insolvent Act affords to convince us, that those changes of feeling are so rapid as to deserve far less weight in questions of legislation than in any other instance. Those upon whom so difficult and important a duty naturally devolves are men of acknowledged rank and established reputation, whose minds have been enlarged by study and corrected by experience; and it is to be hoped that if upon a full and fair inquiry into the subject which we have now brought under review, such persons should be satisfied that the country demands their assistance, the claim will not be made upon them in vain.
ART. VI.-1. Mémoires pour servir à l'Histoire de la Révolution de Saint Domingue. Par le Lieutenant Général Baron Pamphilé de Lacroix, &c. Tom. II. Paris. 1819.
2. History of the Island of St. Domingo, from its First Discovery by Columbus to the present period. London. 1818.
3. Réflexions sur les Noirs et les Blancs, la Civilization de l'Afrique, le Royaume d'Hayti, &c. Relation de la Fête de S. M. la Reine d'Hayti, &c. Par le Baron de Vastey, Secrétaire du Roi au Cap Henry.
4. Almanach Royal d'Hayti. 1818.
abolition of negro slavery, and the civilization of this long oppressed race of human beings, will probably, in after-ages,
be considered to date from the era of the French Revolution. In the midst of all the mischief and misery occasioned by the eruption of that volcano of the moral world, the first germ of negro emancipation was unintentionally planted in the island of St. Domingo, where it originated, and from whence it can hardly fail to spread its roots, in the course of no very distant period, through the whole of the archipelago of the Antilles: nor is it likely to confine its growth to the islands of the western hemisphere, when the commerce of Hayti shall cross the Atlantic in Haytian ships, and open a communication with the native soil of the negro race.
Without meaning to undervalue the exertions that have been made for abolishing the odious traffic in human beings, we may yet be permitted to doubt whether much real benefit has been experienced in Africa, from any of the measures adopted in Europe. The abolition of the slave-trade by us, while other countries were permitted to carry it on, was, in every respect, a positive aggravation of negro suffering. The wise and humane regulations of the English trade had softened the evils of the middle passage; but the total abolition, without materially diminishing the numerical amount of slavery, added immeasurably to its misery. Under the regulated trade, one in ten perhaps died on the middle passage; in that which has succeeded to our abolition of it, scarcely one in ten survives it. The instances of atrocity in the avaricious and merciless traffickers, engaged at present in this abominable trade, are shocking to humanity in one of them now before us, it is stated that Sir George Collier, the commander of a squadron now on the coast of Africa, boarded a Spanish schooner bound for the Havannah, five days from the river Nazareth, situated a few minutes to the southward of the line, just enough to legalize the traffic. Her burden was only ninety tons, and she had on board two hundred and fifty slaves! These miserable beings were wedged together between the decks, in a space barely thirty-two inches high, the males ironed; and such was the heat and horrible stench, that the English officer, who attempted to examine into their state, could not remain there one minute, from the apprehension of being suffocated. This was not all. There was no rice on board, nor any means of subsisting them beyond forty-eight hours; and they were then on an allowance of water of one pint a day, served out half in the morning and half in the evening. What would become of the poor creatures it was impossible to conjecture; the vessel was not far, it is true, from Annabon, but this miserable island affords nothing for subsistence.
Neither has humanity gained any thing by the transfer of the slave-trade from the prohibited northern latitudes, to the legalized southern latitudes :-In fact, however, the transfer itself is merely nominal; for it is notorious that it continues to be vigorously car