19 OCTOBER 1850, Page 10



Last night's Gazette notifies the Queen's command of a Court mourn- ing for her late Majesty the Queen of the Belgians—to commence on Sunday the 20th instant (tomorrow), to change on Sunday•the 3d of No- vember, and to cease on Sunday the 10th of November.

At the opening of the Borough Sessions in Birmingham, Yesterday, the Recorder' Mr. M. D. Hill, Q.C., broached a plan for restraining the suc-

cess of those who follow crime as a calling"--the class whose sys- tematic operations have been unwontedly revealed, and held up in dis- quieting promineney, during the past fortnight.

" At the present moment the land is rife with crimes, evincing a degree of ferocity and a defiance of the law which we had fondly hoped were not characteristic of our age or country. In Surrey the home of a clergyman has been violated and himself murdered; and in the adjoining county of Kent the houses of ten clergymen have been robbed. 'What has produced this sudden development of wickedness is not, as far as I know, understood. It is plain, however, that far more must be done for the repression of crime than we have hitherto accomplished, before we can reflect with any satis- faction on the result of our labours. It is notorious to all the world, that a numerous class exists among us known individually to the officers of justice as persons who follow crime as a calling, and who have no other means of subsistence than the remuneration whieh belongs to their nefarious course of life. For a time, not unfreauently extending over several years, they follow this calling with impunity, because no opportunity has been found to bring home to them any particular act of crime. That they must of necessity commit offences daily, is just as well known to the Police as it is known to ire that the passengers whom we meet in the streets must daily eat and drink, although we do not follow them to their homes."

Mr. Hill confessed a professional veneration for the principles of English jurisprudence, and acknowledged that up to a certain, point it would be pru- dent to endure the evils arising out of -the state of things incident to the

long impunity of offenders, rather than draw from the scabbard a weapon which, under pretence of warring upon the guilty, might be used for the destruction of the innocent. But he implies that the full boundary of this endurance has been reached. "Probably you will be of opinion that no Englishman has much cause to be afraid that he will at this day be exposed to wilful oppression in our courts. lf, then, he can be secured from

embarrassment in his defence, no ground will remain why we should forbear from calling on a party to defend himself against a charge arising out of a

course of conduct, any more than from a charge arising out of a particular act or acts. And this object I think may be accomplished as I will proceed to explain. But I shall probably make myself better understood it I call your attention to an instance in our law in which the principle in view has been acted upon, or at least very closely approached. There is a statute on the books by which a reputed or suspected thief, by frequenting streets andel certain places therein described which are supposed to furnish greater op- portunities for plunder than others, may, if the magistrates before whom he is brought infer from such frequenting that his intent was to commit a felony, be adjudged to be a rogue, and be punished with imprisonment. Here, then, we see that, by the law of England, a person, under given circumstances1 may be treated as a criminal and deprived of his liberty with-

out proof against him that he has committed any act which of itself is of a criminal nature. This provision, which is now nearly a century old, is no

doubt a wide departure from the general principle of our jurisprudence to which I have adverted. No complaints, however, have arisen out of the exercise of this authority., open to abuse as it certainly would appear to be. Nor can it be denied that the prisoner may, by its exercise be placed under great difficulties in defending himself against a charge of &equenting a par- ticular place, a charge which implies a repetition of visits, and necessarily extends over a larger portion of time than belongs to the transactions which are the usual subjects of inquiry in the criminal courts. Neither will it escape your observation how difficult it is for a party accused to defend him- self against the charge of evil intentions in any case in which they are not alleged to be accompanied by injurious acts and essentially connected with them. These are the defects of this law as regards the protection of the prisoner. On the side of the public, however, it is far from perfect. A justly-reputed thief may be seen a street which he may have entered for the first time in his life, and yet the circumstances of the case may be such as to leave no doubt on the minds of those who are to decide that he came there for the purpose of theft. Nevertheless, he would be safe from meat, because there having been no repetition of his visits, he could not be adjudged to have frequented the place in quest= ; and this defect is pro-

bably the cause why a provision apparently so potent for the repression of crime is less resorted to than at first sight might be expected. But imper- fect as the provision is in its present state, it may be capable of improve- ments by which the defects pointed out may be removed.

"What I would propose is, that when by the evidence of two or more cre- dible witnesses a jury has been satisfied that there is good ground for believ- ing, and that the witnesses do actually believe, that the accused party is ad- dicted to robbery or theft so as to deserve the appellation of thief, he shall be called upon in defence to prove himself in possession of means of subsis- tence, lawfully obtained, either from his property, his labour, or from the assistance of his friends. On the failure of such proof, let him be adjudged a reputed thief, and put under high recognizances to be of good conduct for some limited period, or in default of responsible bail let him suffer imprison- ment for the same term. And as in matters of such moment it is always ad- visable to proceed with great caution, I would, until the experiment has been tried and found successful, confine the operation of the law to persons who have already been convicted of a felony, or of such a misdemeanour as ne- cessarily implies dishonesty in the guilty party ; as, for instance, obtaining money or goods under false pretences. As the testimony against the accused would only amount to a presumption of guilt, so it should seem but reasonable that such testimony should be met by a counter-presumption arising out of the fact that his wants did not place him under any overwhelming tempta- tion to commit the crimes in which he was supposed to be engaged. By this course of proceeding, he would be relieved from the danger of undue embar- rassment in his defence. A party in the enjoyment of an honest means of subsistence can have little difficulty in proving the fact. Doubtless a law so framed would leave some thieves still at large, because it would be too much to assume that none are in the habit of stealing who have other sources of maintenance ; yet it would argue very little knowledge of the predatory class not to see that such a provunon would enable the ministers of justice to withdraw from society rune-tenths of the criminals who now roam at large.