Page images

came), instead of saying that he had no power to entertain the question, and instead of refusing to say one word upon the poor woman's story against two absent men, at once broke out into unmeasured vituperation of them; declaring it to be quite scandalous that men wallowing in wealth should keep this widow's pittance from her. Now, it happened that the royal bounty had been judiciously applied by the investing of the sum intrusted to those two noble persons, so as to prevent her from squandering it with a person of inferior station whom she had taken as a second husband; and they were only thus enabled to supply her pressing wants. Their lordships were accordingly slandered in all the newspapers, being represented as publicly stigmatized by the Lord Mayor in the performance of a public duty, and in terms of unmeasured abuse. The same course of going before the sitting magistrate was wont to be taken with the police magistrates ; but a notice from the secretary of state put an effectual stop to it, because these magistrates are removable, and their refusal to take the warning would have put an end to the authority which they abused.

It has recently been seen that one magistrate in the city, more than any other, shows his utter unfitness for his office. The last occasion of his misconduct was in a complaint made against a poor boy, of undoubted good character, by a person who grossly forswore himself as to his residence and occupation, and charged the boy with attempting to pick his pocket. The evidence showed that no such attempt had been made, and that the accuser was wholly unworthy of belief even if his story had been uncontradicted. The magistrate, however, would have committed the boy for trial, but that, fortunately, another magistrate attended on the day to which the case was adjourned, and, with every one else, pronounced clearly against his brother magistrate, who said to the boy that he owed his escape to his good character, which his master and others had spoken to; the truth being, that he owed his escape

to the bad character and manifest perjury of his accuser, and to there being no kind of evidence on which the least reliance could be placed. Now, had not the second magistrate happened

to attend, the poor boy would have been sent to Newgate, among thieves and pickpockets, till the judge at the Central Criminal Court, a month later, ordered him to be discharged, and pronounced, as he must have done, a severe reprimand upon the conduct of the committing magistrate. Thus only could that foolish individual have been punished for his vanity and wrong-headedness, if, indeed, he would have felt the censure inflicted; but the unfortunate victim of his ignorance, presumption, and folly, would have been a sufferer through life. This it is that makes it absolutely necessary to prevent such persons frora bringing the administration of justice into contempt, and inflicting irreparable injury upon their fellow-creatures, by their exercise of an office for which they are wholly unfit.

The independence of County-Court Judges is of the highest importance, regard being had to the vast number of causes which they decide, (incomparably greater than all which are brought before the rest of the judicial body,) and many of which are of great importance. Yet these functionaries are liable to be removed upon complaint made of their misconduct, and after inquiry instituted; though in fact it has always appeared to those who closely consider the nature of the office, that they should be put upon the same footing with the Judges of the superior courts, and only be removable upon an address of both houses of parliament. Now, the misconduct of the city magistrate was considered by all who witnessed it, or heard of it, as very much more flagrant than that of any County-Court Judge of whom complaint has been made; yet, as the former knows that his power of repeating the same injustice cannot be taken from him, he persists in holding his office, and defying public opinion; and the community is exposed to the no small hazard of his again committing yet more scandalous follies any day that he happens to sit.

In these remarks we have purposely avoided all mention of names, because the facts, which are sufficiently known to the public, only required to be brought before our legal readers to illustrate the subject generally, and the mischiefs we are anxious -to see extirpated from our legal system.



E have frequently had occasion to make suggestions, in

the spirit of perfect respect towards our neighbours, upon the faults in their system of procedure. It is well known that the Code Napoleon was left in an avowedly imperfect state upon this most important branch. We may well call it important when we reflect on what lawyers and legislators have oftentimes stated, that it would be difficult to determine whether a bad system of law with a good method of procedure, or a bad rule of procedure with a good frame of law, were the greater evil. Perhaps this remark applies in a peculiar manner to the criminal law, as the evils resulting from a faulty criminal procedure are incalculable. The escape of the guilty, and the punishment of the innocent, are the inevitable consequence.

Two trials have lately taken place in France, which afford remarkable proofs at least of the escape of the guilty; partly owing to the vicious mode of procedure, perhaps in part also owing to the defect of judicial virtues in those who presided. We refer, of course, to the cases of child-stealing and childmurder; and first of the former:

A young woman had been seduced, and, in order to make her paramour believe that she had borne him a child, and induce him to marry her, she stole the infant child of a judge from the nurse which had the care of it. Being put upon her trial, she did not deny the theft; but her advocate showed that her seducer had behaved as ill as possible, and had shown a total want of feeling for her situation, all which was entirely beside the question that the court had to try; and he read a sentimental letter of the culprit, which appears to have strongly affected the jury. Its composition was greatly praised; and the argument founded upon this document, if we must call such nonsense an argument, was, that a young person who could write so touching a letter

was incapable of the offence which she was proved to have confessed out of court, and did not deny on her trial. The jury acquitted her; and it does not appear that the judge took any pains whatever, or indeed made any observation, tending to keep them right. It was a scene of sentimentality throughout, and all on one side ; there was no pity whatever expressed for the unhappy parents of the stolen child, who for many days were kept in misery, and had given up all hope of recovering their infant. It happened (although we don't at all rely upon this as an aggravation of the misconduct we are censuring—but it happened) that the letter which made the sentimental court perpetrate an act of flagrant injustice, had not been written by the culprit at all, but had been copied by her, word for word, out of a printed romance. Without this accidental circumstance the case would have been complete against the court and jury; but they were, in consequence of it, covered with ridicule such as we will venture to affirm never before visited the errors of any judicial body.

The other case did not exhibit, in so remarkable a manner, the proneness to let mere sentiment interfere with the only matter before the court; yet there was this interference to a considerable extent. The daughter of a person in good circumstances had been seduced by the coachman, the only doubt being whether she or the man was the seducer. She proved with child, and the mother, assisting at her confinement, murdered the newborn infant by throwing it into the fire. The only question for the court to try was, whether or not the child had been born alive. The mother's defence was, that she acted to save her daughter's reputation; the daughter said the child was born alive, and only denied having made the first advances to the coachman. The verdict of the jury acquitted the daughter altogether, and found the mother guilty, with extenuating circumstances. The sentence was twenty years' imprisonment, with hard labour. Unless the child was born alive, no offence had been committed; therefore, the whole sentence proceeded upon the ground of a murder having been committed; and both judge and jury appear

to have regarded the case for the daughter's reputation as an extenuation, though not a justification of the crime. It did not appear that the daughter had remonstrated with the murderer; but she was held to have committed no offence though she consented to the crime; for the acquittal was not put upon the ground of the mother's overawing the daughter by her authority and her violence.

It is right we add, that, as no authentic account has been published of these cases, we may not have given all the matcrial particulars with perfect accuracy; and we are especially bound to regard the possibility of the learned persons who presided at the trials, having been so represented in the newspaper reports as to infer greater blame than their conduct deserved. But some things, and these the most important, are past all doubt; and, beyond any other in importance, is to be regarded — the allowing matters wholly beside the question of “guilty” or “not guilty” to be mixed up with the evidence, and to enter into the consideration of them. Thus, in one of the cases, the only question was whether the child had been born alive; but the court suffered the conduct of the daughter and of her paramour to be discussed, as well as the mother's regard for the daughter's reputation, and that of the family. In the other case, the question was whether a theft had been committed; the object of the culprit in committing it was allowed to be discussed, and her letter given in evidence to prove it. No doubt, these matters might be fit for the consideration of the court in meting out the punishment; but they were presented to the jury who had to try the fact, and in one of the cases they prevented a conviction ; possibly in the other also they confined the conviction to the case of the mother.

The cardinal defects in the French system which give rise to such fatal errors in the application of the Criminal Law, are the absence of all rational principles in the admission or rejection of evidence, and the allowing the whole facts and circumstances of the case, whether material to the question or not, to be laid before the jury. Every thing, whether in writing or in conversa

« PreviousContinue »