THE CRIMES ACT.
WE fear it will be found impossible, as some of our Radical friends hope, to dispense with the Crimes Act altogether. We detest Coercion Bills everywhere as admissions that the regular law is too weak, and Coercion Bills in Ireland especially, because among a sensitive people who distrust the law, they deepen the suspicion that law is intended to keep them down. But the first moral duty of a civilised Government is to secure justice to the wronged ; and in Ireland the system which secures this in England will not work. The law is strong enough and just enough ; and with the addition of the proviso enabling Magistrates to examine witnesses upon oath, though no charge has been made—a proviso required in Britain as much as in Ireland—we should be content to leave the existing law in the two kingdoms to be worked as it best might. But, unfortunately, the method of procedure, which is satisfactory in England, breaks down in Ireland altogether. Juries, in certain places and on certain occasions, will not give verdicts ; and criminals, therefore, obtain from popular favour assurance of impunity. That assurance may, when the criminals are numerous enough, and the habit of selfdefence has not been formed, give up a whole country to lawlessness; and in Ireland this was for many months the case. The law was defied, not because it was weak, but because local juries would not put it in force. It is indispensable, therefore, if Government is to do its duty in Ireland, that a special law, enabling the Judges to change the venue, and even in certain circumstances to dispense with juries, should be passed, and that Resident Magistrates should be invested with certain powers of summary conviction. We do not see how, without such provisions, order is to be maintained at all, and hold that, whatever the consequences, the Government is bound to demand those provisions or others equivalent to them, from Parliament. But the law being once made as workable in Ireland as in England, and the two countries, therefore, placed on a true equality, we would, if possible, let the remainder of the Crimes Act go. We see little benefit in the "Curfew Clause," which it is said has never been used, and which if indiscreetly used would become an intolerable oppression. The clauses against the Press are never enforced, and are valueless if the State can prosecute for sedition with any hope of success ; and we cannot see, though we admit there is doubt in Ireland upon this subject, either the justice or the utility of allowing the LordLieutenant to suppress any meeting he pleases. Such meetings, it is said, strengthen the hands of the disloyal ; but the Nationalists know how to coerce individuals without meetings, and the meetings do not affect the policy of Government. If those who meet riot or incite to violence, they can be prosecuted without abolishing a right which, so long as Ireland is represented in Parliament, must be exercised sometimes. We cannot stop meetings of electors ; and if we cannot stop them, why should we stop any others? The object, in short, should be to make the law work, not to deprive Irishmen of political rights conceded throughout the rest of the United Kingdom.
Two distinct charges are brought against those who hold this view, one being that it is inspired by a hope of catching the Irish vote, and the second that the limitation of object does not in the smallest degree remove the Parliamentary difficulty of passing the Bill. The Parnellites do not want to make the law workable, but to leave it unworkable, and they will oppose the few clauses left just as bitterly as if all the clauses were maintained intact. The first charge leaves us quite unaffected. We have no hope whatever of catching the Irish vote by any action or abstinence from action. That half of Ireland which hates England believes that by attacking every Government in turn, it will advance nearer to its end, which is separation, and while it so believes, no relaxation of any special law will induce it to abandon Mr. Parnell, who suggests that policy. If it were ruled by the Gods, it would vote for the Titans, and then vote against the Titans because they were not Gods. The belief may disappear, or the object may cease to be desired, but either change will come from changed circumstances and not from any impulse of political gratitude. Ireland will be no more separate because the Crimea Act is lightened than it was before the Crimes Act was passed ; and the object of the Parnellites, and of the electors behind them, is a separation. We hope, therefore, for no votes in Ireland ; and in England, for every Irish vote purchased by any concessions whatever, we lose an English or a Scotch one. We propose the lightening of the Crimes Act, therefore, for no electioneering end, but simply and solely because we believe that the general law will be as efficient in Ireland as in England, if only we can make it work with equal speed and certainty. As t3 the second charge, it is true; but what help is there for that ? The Parnellites will resist a mild Bill, of coarse, as much as a drastic one; but that is no reason for the drastic Bill, if shown to be needless in itself. The House of Commons must put down obstruction in the one case as in the other ; or if it cannot, must acknowledge that the powers it has hitherto exercised are insufficient, and that they must either be strengthened or representative government must cease. It is impossible, of course, to forget the possibility of obstruction ; but it is quite useless to make too much of it, and most useless to pass bad laws in consequence of it. If Parliament cannot move, the existing machine goes to pieces, and we must try another ; and as the people have no intention of doing anything of the sort, Parliament must be made to move. To avoid legislation because a group of Members will oppose it, is to invest that group with a veto, which is as opposed to the interests of the Kingdom as it is to its Constitution. The only course to pursue is to make the Crimes Bill as just as possible, justice including the right of the Irish to an equality of rights with Englishmen and Scotchmen, and then to use any measures needful to secure its passing into law. We have little patience, we confess, with those who would legislate exceptionally for Irishmen because they are Irish, and as little with those who would avoid necessary legislation because Irish Members will obstruct the passing of the Bills. We trust the Government will think neither of votes nor of obstruction, but just go forward, with the single object of securing to Ireland as much order and as much freedom as is enjoyed by the remainder of the United Kingdom. They will obtain no gratitude and no support at the time, but they will have done their duty ; and in tha end those who have done their duty achieve success.