7 JUNE 1873, Page 6


THE Whit-Monday Demonstration in Hyde Park was not, of course, distinguished by any great sobriety or reason- ableness in the declamation in which the various speakers indulged. The Chippino. Norton case had very naturally irritated in the highest degree the members of the working- class, and their denunciations of the Criminal Law Amend- ment Act, under which the atrocious sentence was passed, and of the Master and Servants' Act, as mere specimens of Class Legislation, were wild and vague, and showed no apprehension at all of the real difficulty of applying just principles to the class of cases for which those Acts are intended to provide. We are quite disposed to hold, with Mr. Harrison's very able letter in Monday's Times, that there is no reason why the Criminal Law Amendment Act should not be repealed, and replaced by a statute inflicting a heavy punishment on " rat- tening,"—i.e., the offence of hiding a workman's tools in order to prevent him from accepting work of which his brother workmen do not approve. The assaults and threats used for the purpose of interfering between employers and the employed against which it also provides, are otherwise punish- able, and there is sufficient discretion already given to the magistrates who decide upon such cases, to increase the penalty where the intent of the assault or threat appears to be specially mischievous. But even if this were done, as we think it ought to be done, we doubt whether the working-class would be satis- fied. For though it is perfectly true that this Act, as it has hitherto been worked, has been made recently the chief instru- ment in the hands of employers for suppressing combination, .—yet there are complaints enough about other statutes. How- ever, the definition of " molestation " and " obstruction " which this Act contains is a most dangerously vague one, when one considers that both in town and country those who administer the Act are almost certain to be biassed in favour of the employer rather than the employed, and that for this bias, as far as we know, there is no remedy ; and that is why we wish for the com- plete repeal of the Act. To make it molestation or obstruction, punishable with three months' imprisonment with or without hard labour, to " watch or beset the house or other places where such person " [the person to be intimidated] " resides, or works, or carries on business, or happens to be, or the approach to such house or place, or if with two or more other persons he follow such person in a disorderly manner in or through any street or road," or to "persistently follow such person about from place to place," is to put a *premium on the preferring of vague charges for party purposes. No doubt the repeal of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, and the substitu- tion of an Act imposing a severe penalty on rattening alone, would do something to remove a very dangerous legal tool against Trade combinations, which has already been repeatedly per- verted to very mischievous and unforeseen uses. But still it would not be enough. There would still remain what we may call very plausible grievances on the part of the working- classes,—i.e., grievances which a just-minded working-man might fairly regard as serious grievances, and which it would yet be difficult, if not impossible to remove, even in the interests of working-men themselves. The real difficulty of the case is not that this particular Criminal Law Amendment Act is operating with special in- justice, but that in relation to all cases of summary jurisdiction on quarrels between employers and employed, the persons who give judgment are sure to have a bias, and almost necessarily to have a strong bias, on one side of the case, and that, too, the aide unfavourable to the working-class. The only remedy would be the one which the agricultural labourers at Leamington demanded the other day,—a universal system of stipendiary magistrates, and that is, for the present, at all events, simply an impossible remedy ; it would cost so much as to be ex- tremely oppressive even to the very class which desires it, and it would, in some respects, work badly, for it cannot be doubted that there is a great advantage to the labouring class itself, in all cases where there is no fear of class feeling, (and such cases are, in spite of Unionist questions and Game Law questions, by far the majority), in leaving the power of deal- ing with these offences to those who are closely related to them by the ordinary ties of rural society. Indeed, even the stipendiary magistrates of the greater cities are by no means free from class bias in relation to questions touching the comfort of society, such as the gas-stokers' question ; nor will it be found easy to get any class of highly cultivated lawyers to :see all the excuses for breaches of contract on the part of the labouring class as vividly as they will see the excuses for breaches of contract on the part of the employers. Now as

no class not highly cultivated and learned in legal refinements would do justice at all, this amounts to saying that there will be always questions on which the sympathies of Judges are likely to evince a certain bias not favourable to the working- class. And though, as regards the Stipendiary Magistrates, the bias is probably too slight to be appreciable, it is not so in the case of Petty and Quarter Sessions, where every fair man must admit that the employers of labour have a very direct interest in the questions between the employer and the employed, and are almost certain to take strong views against those who excite discontent and foment strikes. Yet these are cases which could not usually be remitted to the County Courts. Summary jurisdiction is absolutely requisite where the charge is, for instance,—as at Chipping Norton,—that labourers are being deterred from doing work for which there is the most urgent necessity, by the terrorism exercised over them by their fellows, so that a week's or a fortnight's delay might involve the waste of a whole year's labour, and of the year's share in much more than a year's preparation. There are matters which won't wait, and in common justice to all parties, it is better they should be decided quickly, even with less than absolute justice, than that they should be decided more justly in principle, but after all the mischief is done.

It was stated at the meeting on Whit-Monday that under the Master and Servants' Act, if a master breaks his contract and discharges his servant at a minute's notice, the servant can summon his master and obtain as compensation a week's or a fortnight's wages, as the case may be " [there is no limit in the Act to the amount of compensation that may be awarded] ; " if the servant breaks his contract and withdraws without notice from his labour, he is liable to imprisonment for three months." The truth is, that both master and servant are liable to imprisonment for three months

for a bad breach of contract. The 14th Clause pre- scribes that, " when on the hearing of an information or complaint under this Act it appears to the justices, magis- trate, or sheriff that any injury inflicted on the person or pro- perty of the party complaining, or the misconduct, misdemeanor, or ill-treatment complained of, has been of an aggravated character, and that such injury, misconduct, misdemeanour, or ill-treatment has not arisen or been committed in the bond fide exercise of a legal right existing, or bond fide and reason- ably supposed to exist ; and further, that any pecuniary com- pensation or other remedy by this Act provided will not meet the circumstances of the case, then the justices, magistrate, or sheriff may by warrant commit the party complained against to the common gaol or house of correction within their or his jurisdiction, there to be (in the discretion of the justices, magistrate, or sheriff) imprisoned with or without hard labour for any term not exceeding three months." It will be observed that this applies to both parties alike ; but of course it is intrinsically more likely that such an aggravated offence should be committed by a poor labourer than by a rich employer, who has little motive for such offences; and besides that, there being many millions of such labourers and only a few thousands or scores of thousands of such employers, the number of cases in which the labourer suffers from the clause will be much larger than that of the cases in which the employers suffer. Besides, the alternative to an order for a complete fulfilment of the contract violated, if no security can be given for it, is im- prisonment for three months or less, and of course the rich employer of labour is much better able to give such security than the poor labourer. So that here, again, the difficulty is not in the inequality of the law, but in the inequality with which the conditions bear on the different parties to a contract. A poor man will often have to bear imprisonment because he cannot give security,—a rich man hardly ever. On the other hand, if a fine, without imprisonment, were the only penalty admitted for a breach of contract, this would not be any security at all, to the employer of labour, that he might not be ruined by any Union that chose to strike a blow at him by calling the men off work at a critical moment, when all the profits of the year depended on securing a good amount of labour. It would be childish to impose a fine and nothing else as the penalty of such a breach of contract. The fine could not reimburse a great employer of labour for the loss of thousands, perhaps hundreds of thousands, of pounds ; and the Union would pay any fine that could reasonably be imposed on labourers with- out difficulty. The truth is, that the offence of breach of contract is practically a very different one when it means the refusal of an employer of labour to give work he had promised to give,—the labour market remaining quite open to the man wrongfully dismissed,—and when it means the refusal of a great number of men whose places cannot possibly be immediately supplied to do what is absolutely essential to the fulfilment of a given promise on the part of a manufacturer, or to the housing of a ripe crop for which a farmer has been preparing by the labour of a whole year. In the one case, such a money fine as may reasonably be inflicted on the employer amply compensates the workman wrongfully dismissed ; in the other case, such a money fine as may be reasonably inflicted on the labourers, does not and cannot compensate the employer for the loss of so many men's services at a critical moment. The two offences are altogether different in their civil consequences, and should be punished differently.

We see, then, no remedy for what the labourers complain of, except the repeal of the penal clauses of the Criminal Law Amendment Act, with the substitution of a severe statutable punishment for rattening, and the most careful supervision by the Home Office over unjust sentences. The Chipping Norton Magistrates who, either from ignorance or incapacity, have misused their power, should be removed from the Bench. In all other like cases, there should be the most careful revision of the sentences passed in the case of Trade disputes, both ty the Press and by the Home Office. But it is simply essential that there should be a severer penalty than any pecuniary fine for breach of contract in bad cases, and it is inevitable that a great many more labourers than employers are likely to suffer these penalties. All that can be done is to see, as far as possible, that the discretion of the Magistrates is wisely used. To reduce the penalty in all cases to a fine, would be to put the Employers of labour so completely at the mercy of com- binations of labourers, that capitalists would no longer trust their capital in industrial enterprises in this country ; and the result of that would be even more fatal to the class of labourers than to the class of employers.