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and the government is now of opinion, as all the rest of the world has been for years, that the commission had better be abolished at once.”
Although "much information ” may have been given, yet that information has not led, nor is it likely to lead to any practical result; and it has been obtained, moreover, at a somewhat too costly price. Every one knows that the Statute Law Commission is (or was, as the case may be) an inefficient body; that it has not done a whit more than any of its predecessors; and that it has benefited no one but Mr. Bellenden Ker (who, during its continuance, has received £1000 sterling per annum) and the draftsmen, who received certain fees for drawing imperfect and useless bills.
The commission, it must be allowed, had enormous difficulties to contend with ; but it never set about overcoming them in the right way. The only plea in extenuation which can be urged in its favour is, that this last commission has done no worse than those which preceded it ; for not one of the previous attempts to consolidate and revise the statute law of the realm, numerous as those attempts have been, was ever crowned with even partial
It is a fact, not a little curious, that three centuries ago, with much becoming gravity, a scheme was propounded with the view of attaining the desirable end which we have just seen our dying or dead commission has so miserably failed in. It is worth while to note the history of this early effort, and how it was followed by others.
It was in the reign of Queen Elizabeth, A.D. 1557, that Sir Nicholas Bacon, lord-keeper, drew up a plan for reducing, ordering, and printing the statutes. The heads of his plan are as follows :-“ First, where many lawes be made for one thing, the same are to be reduced and established into one lawe, and the former to be abrogated. Item, where there is but one lawe for
1 The particulars relative to the commissions, &c., prior to that of 1833, are extracted partly from Mr. C. P. Cooper's “ Account of the most important Public Records of Great Britain,” &c., and partly from the report of the Commissioners of 1833.
one thing, that these lawes are to remain in case as they be. Item, that all the actes be digested into titles, and printed according to the abrdgment of the statutes. Item, where part of one acte standeth in force and another part abrogated, there should be no more printed, but that that standeth in force. The doeing of these things maie be committed to the persons hereunder written, if it shall so please her Majestie and her counsell, and daye wolde be given to the committees until the first daie of Michaelmas Terme next coming for the doing of this, and then they are to declare their doings, to be considered of by such persons as it shall please her Majestie to appoint.” A list of twenty committees, each consisting of four persons, is then given, and to each committee it is proposed that a division of the statutes should be referred. The subject, so far as related to the penal laws, was again taken into consideration in the years 1585, 1593, 1597, and 1601, but none of these efforts led to any result.
The next step was taken by James I., who, upon his accession to the throne of England, recommended to parliament a reform of all the tatute law, and particularly of the penal laws. In 1610, the House of Commons, in their treaty with this king for the abolition of the Court of Wards, made it a part of their claim, " that all penal statutes be surveyed; such as are obsolete and useless repealed; and such as are profitable concerning one matter may, for the better ease and certainty of the subject, be reduced into one statute, to be passed in parliament.”? In the same reign, Sir Francis Bacon, Lord Chief-Justice Hobart, Serjeant Finch, Noye, and others, by the king's command, made considerable progress in reforming and recompiling the statute law; but it is supposed that the distractions of the government in what related to parliament, caused the failure of those measures.
During the Commonwealth the matter was resumed. In 1650 a committee was named "to revise all former statutes and ordinances now in force, and consider as well which are fit to be continued, altered, or repealed, as how the same may be reduced into a compendious way and exact method, for the more ease and
See History of England, Cabt. Cycl., vol. iv., p. 214,
clearer understanding of the people.” And the committee was empowered “to advise with the judges, and to send for and to employ and call to their assistance therein, any other persons whom they should think fit, for the better effecting thereof; and to prepare the same for the further consideration of the House, and to make report thereof." No such report, however, is extant. In 1651-52, Matthew Hale (afterwards Lord Chief-Justice), Cooper (afterwards Lord Shaftesbury), and Rushworth, with other persons out of the House, were appointed to report upon the inconveniences of the law; and a revised system of the law was reported to the House in the same year. The work was afterwards transferred to other hands, but was not abandoned ; and, in 1653, a committee was appointed to consider of a new model or body of law. No proceedings of this committee have been discovered.
After the Restoration, namely, in 1666, a committee, consisting of Finch (afterwards Lord Nottingham), Maynard, Atkins, Prynne, and others, was appointed “to confer with such of the lords, the judges, and other persons of the long robe who have already taken pains and made progress in perusing the statute laws; and to consider of repealing such former statute laws as they shall find necessary to be repealed ; and of expedients for reducing all statute laws of one nature, under such a method and head as may conduce to the more ready understanding and better execution of such laws." This attempt was as ineffectual as all former ones.
There now appears to have been a pause for some years, but in 1796 and 1803 reference seems to have been made to the subject in the reports on the Promulgation of the Statutes, and on temporary laws.
In 1806 the Commissioners on Public Records resolved, “That Francis Hargrave, Esquire, should be requested to consider and report to the Board as to the best method of reducing the statute law into a smaller compass and more systematic form, and of revising or amending the same, in the whole or in part; repealing what is obsolete, and consolidating what consists of needless repetition ; specifying the general heads of the statute law most
necessary to be dealt with in either way; the best method of rendering the style of our future statutes more correct, concise, and uniform in their forms of expression, and, at the same time, more perspicuous in the arrangement of their enactments and provisions; with a statement of such practical rules as appear to be most effectual for this purpose.” Mr. Hargrave did not make any report on the subject; but the Commissioners of 1833 say that this very learned gentleman is supposed to have made considerable collections towards enabling him to perform the task so "judiciously” intrusted to him. Judging from the result, it might be doubted whether the selection of Mr. Hargrave was so judicious as the Commissioners of 1833 seem to have thought.
In 1816, the Lords and Commons resolved that it was highly expedient that effectual measures should be taken for the arrangement of the statute law under distinct heads; but this again led to no result. Then came the Commissions of 1833 and 1845 for the consolidation of the criminal law, and generally for inquiring into the expediency of consolidating other branches of the statute law; these two commissions absorbed between them about £50,000 of the public money, but did little else.
In the beginning of the year 1853, Lord Chancellor Cranworth announced in the House of Lords that the consolidation of the statutes was forth with to be proceeded with under his own immediate superintendence. Royal and Parliamentary statute commissions and committees had failed; the Lord Chancellor would now try what a working statute board, nominated by himself, could do. Accordingly, he obtained the services of Mr. Bellenden Ker as head of the board, at a comfortable salary of £1000, and of four other gentlemen as assistants, at salaries of £600 each. The board was but an experimental one; its labours were confined to so much as could be done in one year, and the several appointments were expressly limited to that period. The scheme, however, never had the confidence of the profession nor of the public, and it turned out, as it was evident to all but the chancellor and the chief commissioner it must turn out, a signal failure,
Lord Cranworth's experimental board was thereupon superseded by the present, or, as we hope we must now call it, the late Statute Law Commission. This commission was issued on the 22nd August, 1854, for two purposes; first, for consolidating the statute laws of the realm, or such parts of them as the commissioners might find capable of being usefully and conveniently consolidated, combining with that process, if thought advisable, the incorporation of any parts of the common law; and secondly, for suggesting rules to ensure simplicity and uniformity in future statutes.
The commissioners appointed were, the Lord Chancellor, Lords Lyndhurst, Brougham, and Wrottesley; the chiefs of the Queen's Bench, Common Pleas, and Exchequer; Baron Parke, ViceChancellor Page Wood, Mr. Walpole, Mr. Napier; the lawofficers of the crown for England, Scotland, and Ireland ; and Mr. Bellenden Ker as paid commissioner. To these were added, by a second commission, dated the 15th of December in the same year, Mr. Coulson, the standing couusel to the Home Office; and by a third commission, dated the 6th February 1856, Mr. Baines, Mr. J. D. Fitzgerald (then solicitor-general for Ireland), Mr. Maitland (then solicitor-general for Scotland), and Sir Fitzroy Kelly. Lord Stanley, Mr. Greaves, Mr. Stuart Wortley, Sir H. S. Keating, and Lord John Russell, also joined the Board at various times.
Here, then, was a goodly array of commissioners, from whose labours much might be expected; but, unfortunately, it is one thing to name commissioners, and another to persuade them to meet and work. The board met for the first time on the 13th November, 1854, and from that day up to the 9th December, 1857, both inclusive, there were altogether but forty-eight meetings. The minutes of the proceedings of the commissioners during these forty-eight meetings are published, but we believe that the subsequent minutes are not; at any rate, the period between the first and forty-eighth meetings may fairly be taken as the working period of the board. From six to seven members, on an average, attended each meeting; and the following table,