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the county, Henry Brougham was triumphantly asserting great political principles, and now we find him not less usefully engaged, in insisting upon the great truths, and aiding in the investigation of those questions which are included within what has been termed “ social science."
The vice-president of the department of jurisprudence was Sir W. P. Wood, V.C., and to the proceedings of this section we will briefly draw attention, premising that it is to the zeal and talents for organisation and arrangement of Mr. Hastings, aided by the other officers of the Association, that we owe the success attending upon the general and harmonious management of the business of the meeting
One of the most important subjects discussed in the department of jurisprudence, was that mooted by Sir W. P. Wood, on charitable trusts. This touches a principle in “social” questions, which has disturbed many, and which is by no means free from difficulty. What is property, and what are its rights ? were points with which the English “socialists a short time since much disturbed themselves and others. The power of making absurd bequests, referred to by Sir W. P. Wood, is one of those rights, the denial of which will frighten many an honest proprietor of goods, and meet with a storm of disapproval on the part of the interested and ignorant. But it cannot be too strongly maintained, that whatever may be the rights a man may possess by the “social contract," and the policy of civilized states during his life; yet after he has enjoyed all these rights, and is obliged by the great law of Death to quit the world and its wealth, he can have no possible claim to reverse the laws of nature, by demanding still to have control over the dispensation of terrestrial affairs. But there are multitudes who cannot see this, they confound the limited anthority given, for good reasons, by the law to a man to bequeath lands and estates, with an inherent right to control their disposal for evermore. It is too easy, we fear, to shock the prejudice and alarm the minds of people on these subjects ; but Sir W. P. Wood seems to have run the risk of being held a “ dangerous man," and has raised the question in relation to charitable trusts.
After some introductory remarks upon the rights of property as affected by law, and especially with regard to the limitation of posthumous control of the owner over his property for what was called charitable purposes,
the Vice-Chancellor said, “ The purpose of his paper was to call the attention, first, to the present policy of the law upon the subject; secondly, to its inconsistency and incompleteness in reference to its policy; and thirdly, to the necessity of revision. The law allowed a testator to select his charitable object at his own discretion, instead of confining him to an existing life or lives, and twenty-one years afterwards, as was the case with regard to other bequests." He mentioned instances of the absurd and preposterous bequests, called charitable, which had been made. In one case, a testator divided a considerable property into two equal portions, half of which was to be given to the fifteen young women, between the ages of sixteen and twenty, who should be the prettiest in the parish, and the ·most constant in their attendance at church, and the other half was to be distributed amongst spinsters of fifty years of age, possessing the same qualifications. The bequest was singularly absurd, and showed the necessity for some legal interference. Again, there were the doles of bread, coals, &c., which were said to amount to near £87,000 a-year in value, and which, under the present system, were productive of evil rather than of benefit. He contended that it was most unreasonable to allow any man to fix for ever the future disposition of his property, and that posthumous charity should be very strictly regulated. He briefly sketched the remedies which he suggested, the principal of which would render contributions of a charitable nature subject to the control of the Charity Commissioners, under certain conditions. “ They must, at all events, put an end to absurd bequests such as he had referred to; and, instead of checking benevolence, he believed that such limitations would increase all real and sound benevolence."
We trust that the suggestion here made by the ViceChancellor will not be allowed to remain inoperative. We foretell a storm of imbecile objections to making a due reformi
herein. The “sacred wishes of the dead," " vested rights," the “poor man's inheritance," and the like appeals, will be paraded with great force; but a measure which shall wisely bring under proper control charitable bequests, must ultimately make its way into the statute book.
The laws affecting bankruptcy and insolvency were also brought under discussion. Mr. Hastings presented the report of the committee on mercantile legislation, appointed at the last meeting of the Association at Liverpool. The bill approved of by the Association is that introduced into the House by Lord John Russell and Mr. Headlam. Mr. Edward Fry read a paper on the subject, and Mr. Rayner, the solicitor, of Huddersfield, whose intimate practical and clear comprehension of this subject, entitles him to the greatest attention, addressed the meeting in support of the principal points in the bill. We have so recently dilated thereon, that we will ņot now. pursue the discussion which ensued.
Mr. Daniel, Q.C., read a paper “On the effect of the recent reforms in the Court of Chancery, with reference to the transaction of business in the Judges' Chamber, the mode of taking evidence, and the mode of trying disputed questions of fact.” It was a long but by no means uninteresting document; Mr. Daniel's object being to show that the reforms which had been introduced into the Court of Chancery since 1852 had been such as to afford greatly increased facilities to suitors, the business being disposed of under the present system with much less waste of time and of expense than was previously necessary. He pointed out at some length the objections to and the defects in the existing mode of taking evidence upon disputed, points before the Masters in Chancery, mentioning as the chief evils the frightful quantity of useless and irrelevant evidence which was taken, combined with the absence of all control over it until the expense had been incurred, and the little value, not to say the worthlessness, of this evidence when the question turned upon the credit of the witnesses. The only course to remedy this difficulty appeared to be to ascertain beforehand whether the
case was one which required the proof by real evidence, and then to give the suitor the power to call the evidence before the tribunal which had to determine upon its effect.
Other papers were read in the section of jurisprudence, notice of which we must defer till they appear in the printed transactions.
The “ section” which embraces the subject of punishment and reformation, and that which concerns itself with public health, are both more or less connected with the amendment and administration of the law, and we await the publication of the papers read in both these sections with great interest.
That part of the proceedings which excited the most general notice of the public, was the eloquent addresses by Lord Brougham. We may refer especially to that delivered on October 13th, in St. George's Hall. The daily and weekly newspapers have happily dispersed the report of it wherever the English language is spoken, and there is therefore the less need for us, at this period, to endeavour to give what would prove to be but an imperfect account of it.
There was one feature in the Bradford meeting which did not, we presume, form part of the necessary proceedings of the association and which we are loath to refer to, as it certainly produced an effect upon us the very reverse of what was intended. We allude to the meeting where the working classes were lectured. Certain of the speakers seemed to think they could not talk down sufficiently low to “the working classes,” and there was an Exeter Hall-ishness, a platformitude and sabbath school teacherism, about one at least of the speeches, which, we dare to say, are now-a-days utterly unacceptable and nauseous to the British working-man.
It is a more agreeable duty to comment upon the moderation and mutual forbearance which were observed throughout the proceedings. Even with regard to questions trenching on politics, addressed to those whose opinions may be supposed to differ considerably from what were propounded, the remarks offered were received with attention and respect.
Before we conclude this inadequate notice of the Bradford meeting, we must express our opinion, that, even if it should accomplish nothing else, it will effect much towards annihilating the frightful corruption which prevails in our parliamentary elections. Lord Brougham's burning denunciation of the crime, followed by his proposition for making bribery felony, must produce a practical consequence. The cause of national morality demands that the most stringent enactment with relation to bribery, corruption, and intimidation at elections, should be devised and enforced.
LORD ST. LEONARD'S PROPERTY ACT.
TAE act 22 and 23 Vict., c. 35, “ to further Amend the Law of Property, and to Relieve Trustees,” is the only measure of law reform passed in the last session of parliament. Unfortunately the bill (of which this act is but the skeleton, or rather the corpse), after it had passed the Lords without opposition, was subjected in its course through the Commons to a process of “ amendment" by government officials, who possessed little or no knowledge of the matter of which it treated; and by others who, if they possess any such knowledge, certainly did not sufficiently weigh the effect of the alterations they proposed.
The official mind appears to be totally incapable of comprehending the injustice of fixing a bona fide purchaser of real property with liabilities to which he would not have been subject had the purchased property consisted of chattels personal. The clause whereby judgments and crown debts, entered up after 1st November, 1859, would no longer have affected purchasers for valuable consideration, unless the writ of execution should have been executed before the execution of the
payment of the purchase-money, was, as we feared it would be, struck out of the bill. This was one of the most important provisions in the measure, and would have been a great boon to purchasers of land, wbo would have been spared not only a very considerable
See . M. and R., vol. 7, p. 467, (August, 1859)