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-*« legal thing." * In consequence of this opinion, a proclamation was issued to forbid printing news without the King's permission; and Scroggs sent a messenger to seize all unlicensed books and pamphlets of news, and to apprehend their authors.
These facts were strongly commented on by the Whig members. No wonder, it was said, that petitioning for a parliament was discountenanced in the country, when a judge in Westminster-Hall made it a ground for discharging a grand jury, occupied in the execution of their duty. t Such a proceeding amounted to a denial of justice, and was, in fact, a suspension of the laws: for laws themselves are but dead letters, unless their execution is secured. t The government of Scotland, it was urged, had been quite altered since the Restoration, by some new laws; and that of England might be soon changed by the perversion of the old. § The proclamation concerning the press was, in fact, an assumption of legislative power. It was remarked, that an extra-judicial opinion of the judges brought Charles the First into a contest concerning ship-money, and was the beginning of all his difficulties. II It be
* State Trials. f Sir W. Jones. \ Sir H. Capel. § Col. Titus. || Mr. Powle.
hoved the House of Commons, then, to arrest the judges in a course which might prove so fatal both to King and people. Nothing was said on the other side: the discharging of a grand jury while matters are under their consideration, was voted arbitrary and illegal; and a committee appointed to examine the proceedings of the judges. By the report of this committee, many scandalous acts were brought to light. Tiie chief battery, it appeared, was directed against the press. In several cases of persons accused of selling libellous pamphlets, the chief justice had refused sufficient bail, and had told a woman, of the name of Jane Curtis, who had sold a libel against himself, that she should expect no more mercy than a wolf that came to devour them. Berry, a stationer, being accused of selling " Observations on Wakeman's Trial," was refused bail, and obliged to attend five times, before he could be discharged, though no information was exhibited against him; and offence having been taken at a pamphlet called "The Weekly Packet of Advice from Rome," a rule was made by the Court of King's Bench, forbidding its being printed or published. Upon this report, the House of Commons came to several resolutions, declaring the discharging of the grand jury illegal apd arbitrary; that the Court of King's Bench, in the imposition of fines, and the refusing of bail, had acted illegally and arbitrarily; and that, in making the rule above mentioned, they had usurped to themselves legislative power.
For these offences, impeachments were ordered against Scroggs, Jones, and Weston. The articles against Scroggs were reported by Sir R. Corbet, on the 5th January. They recited, that Sir William Scroggs, chief justice of the Court of King's Bench, had traitorously endeavoured to subvert the fundamental laws of the kingdom: That having taken an oath duly to administer justice, he had suddenly and illegally dismissed a grand jury, before they had finished their presentments; and, in particular, a bill of indictment against James Duke of York: That, by a rule of the Court of King's Bench, he had stopped the publication of the Weekly Packet, in open violation of the rights of the subject: That he had defamed the witnesses on the Popish plot: That, by his excesses and debaucheries, he had brought the highest scandal on the public justice of the kingdom. But the most interesting charges were as follows : —
4. " That the said Sir William Scroggs, "since he was made chief justice of the Court "i of King's Bench, hath, together with the "other judges of the said court, most notow riously departed from all rules of justice and "equality, in the imposition of fines upon "persons convicted of misdemeanors in the "said court, and particularly in the term of "Easter last past, did openly declare in the "same court, in the case of one Jessop, who "was convicted of publishing false news, and' "was then to be fined, that he would have' "regard to persons and their principles -in' "imposing of fines, and would set a fine of ** 5001. on one person for the same offence, for «« which he would not fine another 1001. And, "according to his said unjust and arbitrary "declaration, he, the said Sir William Scroggs, "together with the said other justices, did "then impose a fine of 1001. upon the said "Jessop, although the said Jessop had, before "that time, proved one Hewit to be convicted, "as author of the said false news; and after"wards, in the same term, did fine the same "Hewit, upon his said conviction, only five . " marks. Nor hath the said Sir William "Scroggs, together with the other judges of "the said court, had any regard to the nature "of the offences, or the ability of the persons ** in the imposing of fines, but have been mani"festly partial and favourable to Papists, and "persons affected to and promoting the Popish *« interest, in this time of imminent danger "from them, &c.; and, at the same time, have "most severely and grievously oppressed His "Majesty's Protestant subjects, as will appear "upon view of the several records of juries, "set in the said court; by which arbitrary, "unjust, and partial proceedings, many of His "Majesty's liege people have been mined, and "Popery countenanced, under colour of justice, "and all the mischiefs and excesses of the ** Court of Star-Chamber, by act of parliament "suppressed, have been again, in direct oppo"sition to the said law, introduced.
5. " That he, the said Sir William Scroggs, "for the further accomplishing of his said "traitorous and wicked purposes, and design"ing to subject the persons, as well as the "estates, of His Majesty's liege people to his "lawless will and pleasure, hath frequently "refused to accept of bail, though the same "were sufficient, and legally tendered to him, "by many persons accused before him only "of such crimes, for which, by law, bail ought "to have been taken; and divers of the said "persons being only accused of offences against "himself; declaring, at the same time, that he "refused bail, and committed them to gaol, "only to put them to charges; and using such "furious threats as were to the terror of His ** Majesty's subjects, and such scandalous ex