6 JUNE 1840, Page 13


Ir there is any one subject more than another which an English- man always dwells upon with pride, it is the pure administration of justice. " Every one," says Lord Ihiononvm, in his well-known speech upon the state of the Law, " must at once admit, that if we view the whole establishments of the country—the government of the King, and the other estates of the realm—the entire system of administration, whether civil or military—the vast establishment of land and of naval forces, by which the state is defended—our foreign negotiations, intended to preserve the peace of the world— our domestic arrangements, necessary to make the government re- spected by the people—or our fiscal regulatioos, by which the ex- pense of the whole is supported,—all shrink into nothing compared with the pure and prompt and cheap [he ought also to have added efficient] administration of justice." These remarks have been recalled to us by an observation of the system lately adopted throughout England and Wales, for the trial of criminals. Some years ago, it was remarked by the Judges, in their charges to the Grand Juries, that they found the gaols filled with prisoners charged with offences of so light a character, that the confinement to be awarded in the event, of conviction, would in many instances be less than the punishment they had undergone before trial. They very properly therefore recommended, that such cases should be disposed of at Quarter-sessions. This advice was given in mercy ; and we arc persuaded it was originally adopted in the same spirit. It was not long, however, before an important discovery was made, which we have no hesitation in asserting has led to time grossest outrage—we will not say upon justice itself — but upon the feelings of many who take an interest in the adminis- tration of justice.

It was soon discovered, that a prosecution could be conducted at Quarter-sessions at a considerably less expense to the County than at an Assize ; the bills in the latter case being taxed by an officer of the Courts above—in the former, by the Magistrates themselves, through the officer of their own court.

What was the course which should then have been adopted ? A remonstrance with the officer whose duty it is to tax these costs ?—No man acquainted with the temper of officials would have suggested such a course. An application to the Courts above, to which these officers belong ?—This perhaps nt&ht, but we are much disposed to doubt whether it would have been attended with success. It is a mortifying conclusion, but we are persuaded that a discussion in the House of Commons would have been the only effectual means of obtaining a remedy. In short, the abuse having been discovered, it became the bounden duty of' the Magistrates of England and Wales strenuously to exert themselves to correct it. What, however, lies been the course lately adopted? We will not say, in order to deprive prisoners (liable upon conviction to trans- portation) of their constitutional claim to be tried by the Judges, of the land—we will not say to deprive them of the privilege of selecting advocates from the whole bar of the circuit—we will not say to array against them the local prejudices of their judges, (though all this, and a great deal more, might be fairly imputed by the prisoners,)—but in order to save the balance of the costs as taxed by the Clerk of Assize and the Clerk of the Peace, the gaols are now delivered by the Magistrates themselves, a few days only before the opening of the commission of assize.

It was in perfect good filth that we disclaimed all imputation of improper motives for the adoption of this course. We are per- suaded it has arisen from a wish—and a very laudable one too— to economize the County-rates. All that we contend is, that this economy could be more wholesomely effected, by checking the ex- penses of a prosecution before a Judge of Assize, than by deliver- ing op prisoners charged with serious offences, to an incompetent, or at least an unsatisfactory tribunal. The language of Lord BROUt ;HAM. when pointing out the evils of the WelseJudicature, may be applied with tenfold force on this occasion. " What," says he, " is the inevitable consequence of the Welsh Judges never changing their Circuits? Why, they become acquainted with the gentry, the Magistrates, almost with the tradesmen of each dis- trict ; the very witnesses who come before them ; and ultimately with the practitioners, whether counsel or attornies. The names, the faces, the characters, the histories of all those persons, are familiar to them : and out of this too great knowledge grow likings and prejudices, which never can by any possibility cast a shadow across the open, broad, and pure path of the Judges of Westminster Hall."

It may perhaps be said that a remedy for this evil cannot be provided for Wales. Barristers, unless specially retained, do not practice at Quarter-sessions, we believe, in any part of the Princi- pality : and it cannot be expected that the costs of prosecution with and without a bar can ever be reduced to the same scale. The very constitution, however, of a court without a bar, is of itself a sufficient objection to its dealing with offenders to whom a severe punishment may be awarded. The Welsh judicature has been happily abolished, and the Principality is now included in the circuits of the English Judges. The inhabitants therefore cannot reasonably expect to be allowed to prosecute their criminals at a less expense than is incurred by the English counties. We have said that the Welch Judicature has been happily abo- lished. If the statements, however, which have reached us are correct—and we have no reason to doubt it—we suspect that the inhabitants of the Principality will soon begin to feel some mis- givings as to the proper application of the term. When the costs. of prosecution at one assize can amount to between four and five thousand pounds—including 7501. to the ordinary barristers of the Circuit, and 17 guineas a day to an attorney—the inhabitants of that county at least may fairly be expected to question the blessings of a system under which justice must be purchased at such an enormous sacrifice.

It was shrewdly remarked, on the expense of the expedition to destroy the invading flotilla at Boulogne, that lloNs.eAnTE would have " sold the flotilla to England for half the looney." We suspect that for half' the amount incurred by their prosecution, the Montgomeryshire Chartists would have volunteered to keep the peace, either here or at Botany Bay, for any required time. But to return to our main point. We have always been among the most strenuous advocates of cheap and speedy justice. We have always contended, that it ought, by means of Local Courts, to be brought home to every man's door. But there is a wide difference between the settlement of trifling squabbles, by means of efficient though interior judges, and the delivering of prisoners charged with heavy offences to the tender mercies of the " Great Unpaid" of their own immediate neighbourhood. We trust that the attention of Government will be roused to the consideration of this subject. It is essentially a Government question. All the establishments," says Lord BROUGHAM, limited by our ancestors and supported by their descendants, n ere invented, and chiefly maintained, in order that justice may be duly administered between man and man. And in my mind," he adds, " he was guilty of no error—he was chargeable with no exaggeration—he was betrayed by his fancy into no metaphor, who once said, that all we see about us, King, Lords, and Commons, the whole machinery of the state, all the apparatus of the system, and its varied workings, end in simply bringing twelve good men into a box.' Such—time administration of justice—is the cause of the establislnuent of Government ; such is the use of Government. It is this purpose which can alone justify restraints on natural liberty ; it is this alone which can excuse constant interference with the rights and properties of men."

‘Vith the hope we before expressed, we leave this subject for the present ; warning, however, those whose duty it is to watch over this department of government, that if they suffier this gross abuse to continue, the pure administration of criminal justice will soon be spoken of rather as the theory than the practice of' the British constitution.