25 MARCH 1882, Page 7


THERE is a kind of irony about Mr. Green's imprisonment which, if it were not associated with much undeserved suffering to an innocent and well-meaning man, would make it impossible to regard it without amusement. When the common complaint is that it is difficult to get wife-beaters sent to gaol at all, and roughs who kick constables almost to death sent there for more than a few months, we have the wearing of an illegal vestment, and the illegal lighting of a legal candle, punished with imprisonment which has already lasted one year, and is likely, to all appearance, to last another. That is one incongruity. Then this heavy penalty—a penalty which, if it is enforced for as long a time as by law it may be enforced, will exceed any term of imprisonment to which offenders are now sentenced—has been meted out to Mr. Green at haphazard. There was discussion enough about the treatment of Ritualists when the Public Worship Regulation Act was passing through Parliament, but the word "imprison- ment" was not once mentioned in the course of it. Not even the Church Association itself has ever proposed that its enemies should be sent to gaol for their sins. That it is not the least mollified by Mr. Green's sufferings was proved at its annual meeting the other day ; but though it still breathes out threatenings against the Ritualists, it disclaims any preference for this particular mode of dealing with them. Mr. Green has got into gaol in a way which nobody desired and nobody fore- saw. That is a second incongruity. Further, all this has happened in England, among a people which professes itself to be peculiarly sensitive to anything like the infliction of suffering for conscience' sake, which, if a Scotch Presbyterian minister were shut up somewhere for using a surplice, would be filled with sympathising indignation, and would set to work at once to sign petitions and hold meet- ings praying Lord Granville to use his influence to put an end to a proceeding so opposed to the tolerant spirit of the nineteenth century. That is a third incongruity. We have unwillingly landed ourselves in a position which directly con- tradicts all our best beloved common-places. Lastly, Mr. Green has been shut up for twelve months in gaol because, as the Guardian very well puts it, "he carries out conscientiously a rubric which must be allowed on all hands to give some sanction to his proceedings, if it be interpreted with strict literality, and because be refuses to acknowledge a Court which in its constitution is, ecclesiastically speaking, confessed to be most irregular." Neither the obscurity of the law nor the irregularity of the Court has been the least taken into account. The Public Worship Regulation Act is a highly penal statute, and in construing highly penal statutes, it has been customary to strain a point in favour of the defendant.. No point has been strained in favour of Mr. Green. On the contrary. every doubt—and where the interpretation of the Ornaments Rubric is ooncerned, even the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council were divided—has been ruled against Mr. Green, and though evidence has since been offered which, if it could have been produced in time, might have made even this tribunal change its mind, it has been entirely disregarded. That is the fourth incongruity, and it completes what is not a bad crop of inconsistencies to be gathered from a single case. The proper course to have taken in this business would have been to have made the issue of a Royal Commission to inquire into the constitution and working of the Ecclesiastical Courts, the occasion of a provisional amnesty for ecclesiastical offences. In the absence of such an amnesty, there is at least a possibility that very great injustice may be done to those now under ecclesiastical censure. Let us suppose that, as a result of the Royal Commission, the composition of the Ecclesiastical Courts is considerably altered, and that the Ritualist clergy declare that if they are condemned by the now Court, they

will offer no further resistance. Means, in that case, would probably be found to reopen the points decided in various recent cases before the Judicial Committee, and to have the eases in which they were decided reheard before a Court of undisputed authority. Either from the consideration of new evidence, or from a new reading of the old evidence, this Court might come to a different condos sion as to the interpretation of the Ornaments Rubric from that arrived at by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. In that case, Mr. Green will have been imprisoned, and Mr. De la Bere perhaps deprived, for disobedience to what will, after all, turn out not to be law. So long as the Court by which these penalties were imposed remained in unchal- lenged possession of its jurisdiction, the condemned Ritual- ists had nothing to urge in favour of delay. They had appealed to Cxsar, and Cesar had decided against them. But when Cesar's authority was suddenly discovered not to be beyond question, and a Commission was appointed to inquire whether a new Cwsar should not be set up in his room, they had everything to urge in favour of delay. While the Court of Appeal is under revision, the multiplication of decisions on appeal is, above all things, to be deprecated.

This ouelit, we say, to have been done at the time when the Commission was appointed ; and had it been done, Mr. Green would have been saved a great deal of undeserved suffering. But as it was not done, the proper course to take is to do it now ; and the proper way in which to do it is for the Archbishop of Canterbury to present a short Bill, suspend- ing the execution of the decree in any ritual prosecution until the end of the Session of Parliament next after the presenta- tion of the Report of the Royal Commission on the Ecclesi- astical Courts. The effect of such a Bill, should it become law, would be to proclaim a truce while the constitution of the Ecclesiastical Courts is being investigated. If the Com- missioners reported that the constitution of these Courts is satisfactory, and that 110 fresh legislation is needed, then, at

the end of the Session of Parliament next following, the truce would be at an end, the Church Association might again apply to have Mr. Green committed for contempt, and Mr. De la Bere's deprivation might be proceeded with. If, on the other hand, the Commissioners re- ported that the constitution of the Ecclesiastical Courts is faulty, and that such and such changes should be made in them, in order to entitle them to the deference of

the Clergy, there would be the space of a Session in which the suggested legislation might be carried out? If no one took sufficient interest in the matter to propose such legislation, then at the end of the following Session the sus- pended sentences would revive, and all would go on as though no Royal Commission had es er been appointed. If such legislation was proposed and carried, provision might be made in it for the rehearing of the cases in which the sentences bad been suspended. If the Bill miscarried for want of time to pass it, it would be easy to continue the suspending Act for another year. This proposal seems to be the natural corollary of the appointment of the Royal Commission. Say what we will, a certain amount of doubt has b3en thrown upon the constitu- tion and action of the Ecclesiastical Courts by that appoint- ment, and until that doubt is removed or confirmed by in- quiry, it is only reasonable that the execution of highly penal sentences by direction of these Courts should be suspended. The Bill suspending them might be extremely short. It would simply enact that all proceedings in three or four speci- fied Ritual eases should be suspended until the end of the first complete Session of Parliament after the presentation of the Report of the Royal Commission. Such a Bill would commit its authors to no opinion as to the constitution of the existing Ecclesiastical Courts, or as to the soundness of their decisions, eras to the propriety of the sentences by which they are to be enforced. It would only pledge them to the very reason- able view, that so long as the constitution and power of these Courts are under investigation, it is not expedient to carry out such of their decisions as involve highly penal con- sequences. If the Bill were introduced with the whole weight of the Episcopate behind it, there can be little doubt as to its passing, and the first anniversary of Mr. Green's imprisonment may naturally and properly move the Bishops to bring it forward.