Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

of huge grasp of intellect, attempt to ingraft sensible laws on a stupid and fraudulent stock, he may spend the whole sessions, and not perform a tythe of what a man of far humbler pretensions might, with

ease (if heartily supported, and untrammelled with the present system) carry in a fortnight.

Should the legislature now adopt a code of common sense and common honesty, and a young Englishman, at the end of this century, should find some newspapers of the present times, containing the details of criminal cases, how will his feelings, his understanding, his love of country, be outraged !

Talk of Catholic emancipation indeed! What is the dubious (because abused when possessed) claim of one or two hundred individuals, of a particular class, to participate in the loaves and fishes, and honours and influence of office, to the trammels in which the inhabitants of both islands are bound by her stupid, contradictory laws ? He will not wonder at the extent of misery and fraud that then prevailed; for how could such a grievous and heterogeneous mixture as our

miserably defective criminal code, and its yet more defective application, produce other fruit ? - a code, in which many scores of light offences are mixed up heterogeneously with the most depraved, abominable, and cruel, by one punishment, that of death, being awarded to them all. Can a reflecting observer marvel, that witnesses and juries, untainted with, and independent of the sinful practices of law, should recoil from participating in the guilt of sending a fellow-creature to stand, unbidden, before God, because he has committed a crime, which, though unquestionably wrong, can by no means be compared with the more heinous one of depriving the criminal of his life?

The practice also, of letting a real and unquestionably identified murderer go free, if the name of his victim, or his own name, be incorrectly spelled; as though it was his name, and not himself, that had committed the murder; or as though it was his name, and not himself, that was to be hanged, or transported; or as though, if he was accused of stealing a horse, and the crime was clearly

proved, except that the animal turned out to be a mare, if the actual crime committed was the one for which he was apprehended, though under that, and a dozen other misnomers, what can be more obvious, than that, under the clear proof of his guilt, he should receive the sentence of the law in the case, and suffer accordingly ?

It is really provoking to see with what earnestness a lawyer will set about finding, not whether the criminal is innocent or guilty, but, how he can best find out some quibble, or divert the attention of the court from the points that will fix the guilt on his client, however atrocious the conduct of the criminal, and known by him to be fact, by the account which he has himself given, to enable this counsel to deceive or mislead the court the better ; but it is almost diverting, though lamentable, to see how he will be applauded by the newspapers and in conversation, for his ingenuity. These witty gentlemen, who can find amusement in any thing funny, are not aware, or would seem to forget, that if they contribute to the poor's rate, they help to

pay for all the criminal prosecutions of the county, and that those expenses are doubled by this villanous conduct of the lawyers ; besides that, the encouragement thus afforded to thieves, will increase the probability of themselves being knocked down, or having their pockets picked, or their houses broken into.

But the thieves, more systematic and consistent, remember correspondent facts, and reduce to nice calculations the number of offences to one apprehension; the further proportion of committals, and again of convictions; and yet further, the comparative numbers condemned and reprieved; and multiplying these numbers into each other, they exhibit so small a prospect of suffering, that, connected with the sentiment SO general or almost universal among thieves, that it is their fate to be so, produces an exceedingly grievous degree of morbid feeling; whereas good laws, well administered, would add another idea to their notions of fate :—they would find, by experience, that if it was their fate to steal, it was also their fate to be caught and punished: this simple, neutralizing addition, would soon annihilate the mischievous impression. And how easily might it be effected! instead of this, the honest industrious classes are made to toil for real thieves, and pretended thief-takers, as though Englishmen were made for the system, and not the system for them.

Again, as to the misnomer of the victim, is it the name of the victim that has been deprived of the natural life which it had pleased DIVINE PROVIDENCE to give, and not the real victim that has suffered this irremediable calamity?

What can be more absurd than that, in matters relating to the conduct of society, we should be in the stupid and wicked practice of looking more to the identity of names and things than persons and conduct? Thus, if the commission of a known crime be clearly identified with the offender, what more can be thought essential ? Yet, if he can prove a misnomer, or an error in the description of the weapon, or place where the deed was performed, or the exact description of property stolen, or whether it

« ZurückWeiter »