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been considering the means to be taken for the discovery of a certain class of crimes, and the steps which are designed to ensure the punishment of the guilty. This naturally leads us to consider whose business it is to see that the necessary steps are taken, and what guarantee we have that the law will be vindicated. We are obliged to confess that we have no such guarantee, and that there is no one on whom, by our law, this duty devolves. We have made laws, the only value and efficacy of which depends on the knowledge that they will assuredly be enforced, and we have cast on no one the duty of enforcing them ; we have done nothing to ensure their being put into operation. This is surely a result which ought to startle us. And so indeed it would, were it not that fortunately (as often happens with us) a practice has grown up which, clumsy and insufficient as it is, mitigates, though it far from removes, the evil and reproach. Let a crime be committed which leads to the intervention of the police, and they become at once in some sense the prosecutors. They arrest the offender, they bring him before the magistrate, they collect the evidence; and in many places, in form as well as substance, they actually conduct the prosecution. They do this, too, in the public interest, not unfrequently without the desire, and sometimes even again the will, of the person immediately wronged. But let the offender be, not a wretched pickpocket, who filches a few shillings or pounds, but a commercial man, who by an act of dishonesty or fraud as direct or daring, has misappropriated as many thousands, then, unless the vengeance and indignation of the party wronged induces him to pursue to punishment, the offender is likely to go scot free, and the violated law to remain unvindicated. It has long been felt that this state of things is by no means creditable to us as a nation, and more than once measures have been introduced in Parliament with a view to remedy it. They have, however, always met with an opposition which has very speedily extinguished the effort. As lately as the session of 1875, the Queen's Speech promised us a bill for the appointment of Public Prosecutors, but unhappily the promise never was fulfilled.
In dealing with this subject, it seems to me vital to keep well in view the distinction between the mere conduct of a prosecution, and the obligation to see that it is instituted and pursued to its legitimate conclusion. With the mode in which prosecutions are conducted, when carried through in ordinary course, I do not think there is any very grave ground to find fault. Theoretically, it is no doubt anomalous that such a duty should be left in private hands, and carried out by those who are not appointed or specially qualified for the purpose. But I feel bound to bear my testimony to the fact that in practice the work is, on the whole, well done, and that there are not many prosecutions which fail owing to the inefficient manner in which they are conducted. I should therefore be disposed to leave the existing system, in this respect, untouched for the present, as by so doing a great deal of the opposition which has barred the progress of this reform would be prevented. When Public Prosecutors are spoken of, it at once suggests to many the entire abolition of the present system, and the creation throughout the country of an army of public officials by whom all prosecutions should be conducted. Whereas, in truth, what is in my view by far the most important duty which would be fulfilled by Public Prosecutors, may be carried out without anything of the kind. What you want is, some official whose business it shall be to see that prosecutions are set on foot wherever there is ground for them, and that when once the criminal law has been put in motion, it should pass altogether out of the power of the party immediately aggrieved to permit it to be, or to render it, abortive. It is surely hardly necessary in this place to dwell upon the evils to which this points. I will venture to say, that there is not a lawyer or commercial man in this Hall but can recall more than one case where there has been a gross violation of the criminal law, and yet no steps have been taken to punish the offender. Pity for him or his family, or still oftener the disinclination to throw good money after bad,-and add the annoyance and trouble of prosecuting to the vexation of the loss,--has stayed the hand of the victim. The first irritation at the loss suffered is indeed the only force which leads to a prosecution at all. And even if, when freshly smarting from the fraud, a prosecution be started, how often is it carried through to its conclusion ? Again and again it has gone no further than the issuing of a summons, or perhaps, at the most, a hearing or two at the police court. The friends of the accused then intervene, they approach the prosecutor and soothe his irritation by a most potent application—the making good a portion of his loss, and thereupon the prosecution ceases and no more is heard of the matter. So that the police court is being made more and more a debt-collecting instrument, by which payment is extorted from the relations and friends of a fraudulent debtor, until the public interest in the punishment of wrong-doing and the vindication of the law drops altogether out of sight. And even if the prosecution tides over this early stage, and the accused is committed for trial to the assizes, how often does it culminate in the statement of the counsel for the prosecution, that on consideration he has determined to offer no evidence, and the equally gratifying statement of the prisoner's counsel, that if the case had gone on, it would have been manifest how innocent his client had been of any criminal intention! The jury are then directed to return a verdict of “Not Guilty,” the prisoner is discharged, and the whole matter wears a most cheering and satisfactory aspect. Yet to those behind the scenes, and accustomed to them, how solemn the farce! They know perfectly well what has happened. They know that most probably a crime has been in reality committed, but that the prosecution has been (if I may be pardoned a somewhat vulgar expression) “squared," and that the prosecutor has left the court with pockets fuller than when he entered it. Again, I say, in this building I need not specify instances, they have been too recent and too notorious. All this is not to be wondered at. So long as you leave the matter in the hands of the party aggrieved it is only natural, and those who cry out loudest against such a proceeding would be very likely the first to pursue the same course. When, as often is the case, the party wronged is a bank, or other public company, managed by directors, is it surprising that they should hardly like to face their shareholders with the confession of a loss, the result perhaps of their own over-trustfulness, when they might avoid it; and still more should be unwilling not only to confess that they have been defrauded, bnt that they have rejected an offer to make good the loss ? Even where the party who would naturally be the prosecutor is not himself the person directly injured, the evil is not unfelt. We have passed bankruptcy laws of singular mildness to the debtor, but which are fortified with ample provisions designed to lead to his punishment if he be dishonest. Yet frauds against the bankrupt laws are, we all know, as common as their punishment is rare. The trustee is subject to the same influences, and led to abstain from prosecuting by the same inducements, as the ordinary creditor. Though all this is natural, it is surely in the highest degree mischievous. Every such case tends to render the criminal law a dead letter, to destroy its power as a deterrent, and to encourage fraud by the belief that it may be perpetrated with impunity. It blinds men's eyes to the fact that the community have been wronged as well as the individual, and that they have perhaps a greater interest, and certainly as great a right as he has, to have the law vindicated. It acts prejudicially, too, in another way. You cannot keep too sharply defined in the minds of men the distinction between a mere civil wrong affecting the individual only, and a criminal act. And when once you permit the criminal law to be used for the purpose of repairing the
loss to the individual occasioned by a crime, you take a good step towards obliterating this distinction. And, as it seems to me, you diminish the sanction of the law and induce a low state of morality, especially, perhaps, in commercial matters. For there can be nothing more disastrous than that a crime should come to be thought a light thing, instead of, as it ought to be, odious. These thoughts must surely have been forced on many of us during the last few years, and nowhere more so than in this town. It can hardly I think be a mere fancy when it appears to me that I have seen a change for the worse in this respect since I first came to these assizes, fifteen years ago. Commercial crimes which were rare then have become more frequent, and not only so, but acts which astound the community, and were a source of long-continued wonder in those days, are now so common as to be scarcely a nine-days', even hardly a nine hours', wonder now. I may be wrong, but I cannot help attributing this result, in part at least, to the cause to which I have been alluding. And if there be any foundation for such a supposition, it surely becomes the interest of us all to see that these causes should cease to operate. How can this be effected ? The problem does not seem difficult of solution. Let a public officer of high standing be appointed to take the general control and supervision of all prosecutions, and under him let a sufficient number of subordinate prosecutors be appointed (and they would not need to be numerous), whose duty it should be to see that prosecutions were instituted whenever crimes were known to have been committed. The prosecution of what I may term the ordinary police crimes would still be instituted as at present; but it should be the duty of the public prosecutor to see that these, as well as those instituted by himself, were properly conducted and carried out to their legitimate conclusion. It should no longer be in the power of any private person to stay the operation of the law. A supervision and control such as I have suggested would do much