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point, selected from the returns two fect a new theory: but it now as distant periods of ten years each; peared, that the new theory was at consisting of seven years of peace, least as old as the Plantagenets
, and three of war: in the first period, whereas that old law had grown up which he selected from the earliest in the last century! It was a melan of those returns, the number of capi- choly and dreadful consideration, tal convictions amounted to 329: in that many persons were living at this the last, which he extracted from the moment, at the time of whose birth latest, to 1,402. The result of the only sixty offences were capital, yet comparison was, that our present pe. who had seen, in the short space of nal code was at direct variance with time allotted to the span of human the old law. He should next pro- life, that number quintupled; who ceed to state the number of offences had seen laws inflicting the awful made capital, and the times at which penalty of death enacted by dozens they were made so, contrasting them and by scores, and levelled, not onwith their present amount ; begin- ly at the most atrocious crimes, but ning with the reign of King Edward even at the most trifling offences? III., and embracing a period of four Of those acts, passed at one and the hundred and fifty years. In the first same time, one was operative for one hundred and fifty years of that maliciously shooting at a man, and period, under the Plantagenets, from another for shooting at rabbits; anEdward III. to Henry VII. only six other for cutting down young trees, offences were first declared to be and another for cutting down the capital, in addition to those already heads of fish-ponds. These were not declared so by the statute law, at the the effects of ancient wisdom, but of commencement of King Edward's our own times. The mischief was, reign. Under the Tudors, from that our present system was at va. Henry VIII. to Elizabeth only 16; riance with the old law of England, under the Stuarts, from James I. to and equally so with natural justice
. Charles II., only 30; and under the The evidence of history, and the old Brunswicks, up to the present day, lawgivers, had determined, that as 156: so that more offences had been there were different shades of guilt, made capital under the Brunswicks so also there ought to be different alone than under all the Houses of gradations of punishment. Human Plantagenet, Tudor, and Stuart to- reason and general feeling suggested gether! These documents were im- the same idea, the proof of which portant, inasmuch as they forcibly was observable in cases of execution contrasted the humanity of our an- for murder, where the approbation cestors in legislating on these sub- of the crowd at the penalty, whose jects, with the barbarity of our pre- infliction they were assembled to sent criminal code; they were im- behold, is visible and portant, as they established the good though not loud; the expression of policy of manifesting a tenderness their pleasure being restrained by for human life; they were important, the extremity of distress endured by as they tended to refute a calumny the offender. But suppose a case of industriously propagated in regard forgery; the reception the same to the object of his honourable and crowd would give to the victim of learned friend, which had been cha- the law would be very different ; racterised as an attempt to overthrow their feelings would be of a very the old law in order to carry into ef- contrary nature. The severity of
the law had raised up in this State, a were connected with almost all the power which abrogated law itself. bankruptcies that now took place ; In other countries, the whole office and after a most careful examination, of executing the law devolved upon it had been declared, on the highest the crown, or upon many sets of of- authority, that of the bankruptcies ficers appointed for that particular which occurred, by far the greater purpose: one set of them arrested number were of a fraudulent descrip. the individual ; another conducted tion. He had looked back to the him to prison ; another procured and operation of all the statutes enacted
arranged the evidence: but to do jus. on this head since 1805, and he could * tice to our criminal enactments, we not find a single instance of punish
should require a spy in every house, ment under them, although their inand a police-officer in every street. fringement was daily and notorious. Surely those deficiencies of the law The fact turned out to be, that the might be much better supplied by penalty was so severe, that the Lesecuring the cordial co-operation of gislature were deterred from inflictthe public; whereas, at present, the ing it; and thus a law, whose violawhole public was combined against tion had ruined many a fair trader, the law. Prosecutors were repug- could not be put in force from the nant to the permitting their prisoners severity of its enactments.
As to to escape ; but they were reluctant forgery, last year only two persons to proceed against them also. Wit- had been punished for committing it: nesses felt a bias in their favour; How had it happened that, under juries commiserated them; and even statutes so fruitful in victims to their the judges shared the same senti severity, there had been this paucity ment for judges were but men, of punishment? because of the geand had the feelings common to the neral reluctance that it should be puhuman breast. Even Ministers them- nished with death. Cardinal Wolsey selves militated against the operation once declared that juries had an inof the penal laws ; for it would ill be- stinctive appetite for blood; and that come him to tax those with inflexible had they sat, they would have found adherence to a stern and sanguinary Cain guilty of the murder of Abel. system, who had permitted him to This had some reference to what he intrude upon their privacies, to ex- should now advert to.
Two men ert his humble efforts in favour of in- were lately tried by a jury for fordividuals whom a word or fortunate gery; and although there was not a suggestion might vitally serve, and shadow of doubt as to their guilt, to make an appeal in behalf of those they were acquitted; two others were over whose devoted heads the ven. next tried by the same jury, for the geance of the law impended. But, minor offence, and were brought in after all, what did this amount to ? guilty. In another case of privately Why that we, who for centuries had stealing two L.10 notes, and many made it our proudest boast that we others of a smaller amount, making were governed by law and not by together L.100, a jury found the of. will
, were, by the interposition of fenders guilty of stealing to the value those criminal laws, and their admi. of 398., on which principle L.100 was nistration, manifestly and indispu- rather less in value than L... Was tably governed by will
. Every one it not better that the law should be who heard him certainly must know, altered, than that men should be obhow many fraudulent circumstances liged absolutely to perjure themselves
VOL. XII, PART I.
to correct this glaring defect in the be done. The documents before the penal code? The integrity of a jury House clearly demonstrated that was not a matter of slight importance. crime was daily increasing. Feeling, It was upon the justness of its ver- therefore, as he did, entertaining the dict that the whole case depended. firmest persuasion that any delay in He had documents to show that a the revision of the criminal code prisoner in a capital case had double would be a national grievance, he the chance of escape to that of a pri• gave his hearty support to the mosoner charged with a minor offence. tion of his honourable friend for a Every individual more or less had committee. certain natural chances of escape Several members having each adfrom punishment: he might be sus- dressed a few observations to the pected, and yet escape; he might be House, Mr Wilberforce rose and said, tried, and yet escape ; and for his he felt that it was almost unnecessary argument, it was of no consequence for him to trespass on the attention whether the chances were 2 to 1, 20 of the House, after what they had alto 1, 200 to 1, or 2,000 to 1; but ready heard upon this important subconsidering them only as 5 to 1, these ject; and he feared that any obser. chances were multiplied tenfold by vations of his, in support of his hothe reluctance of the prosecutors to nourable and learned friend's moprosecute, making it 50 to 1; the tion, would weaken the effect of those chance against the conviction of the arguments by which he himself had jury was double, making it 100 to 1; pressed it upon the House. He could and it was 1000 to 1 that the criminal say with truth, that in his long exwas not executed after all. The perience of that House, he never had House would perceive, by a con- heard a more able address, a more sideration of these premises, that it splendid display of profound knowwas five to one that the individual ledge of the subject, with such forwas charged, fifty to one that he was cible reasoning from the facts which prosecuted, a hundred to one that he that knowledge had called forth. It was convicted, and a thousand to one was that kind of reasoning which was that he was executed. The effect of most calculated to convince-rea. this notorious fact upon the minds of soning deduced from facts and from the criminals was dreadful ; they long experience. He not only dewere urged on to commit the most rived great pleasure from what he enormous crimes as it were by the had heard, but also from what he love of hazard ; this was their stimu- had not heard, in the course of dislus, and would continue to be so un. cussion, from not hearing those arguless some radical change were made ments, or rather those objections, a. in the criminal law of the country. gainst alterations of, or inquiry into, With respect to the effect which an old laws and customs, which had been execution was supposed to have upon so vehemently urged at former pethe minds of the criminals, he could riods. It was a pleasure to him to assure the House that it was next to find that which every man acquaintnothing; and if any gentleman would ed with life must have seen, that the expose his feelings to the pain of see- opinions of prejudice faded before ing one of these dreadful exhibitions, truth, like the dusk before the more the truth of his assertion would im- perfect light of day. He remember. mediately appear. It was evident, ed once to have heard opinions urged therefore, that something ought to against alterations of sanguinary laws,
which were urged with as much ap- whom we had to deal. They lookparent fear as if the person propo- ed not to the enormity of the crime, sing those alterations were about to but to the chance of escaping the puintroduce the horrors of the French nishment; and in this gambling with revolution. He had heard opinions life they were encouraged by the at that time which any man would number whom they daily saw conblush to hold at the present day. No demned to, but who were, with very such objections were, however, made few exceptions, redeemed from the on this occasion; and the only one highest punishment of the law. Was to the motion of his honourable and then the system to be continued which learned friend was, that it would be this very principle brought into acbetter to refer the matter to the com- tion? If not, there was the very best mittee proposed by his noble friend reason for a committee. He begged (Lord Castlereagh.) His noble friend pardon for taking up so much of the had said he would not go into detail time of the House, but could not aon this question. It was also his (Mr void expressing his opinion in favour Wilberforce's) intention to abstain of his honourable and learned friend's from it: that detail would come bet. motion, from a conviction of its ne. ter in the committee on the gaols ; cessity. He also should express the but it was not necessary to go into it pleasure he felt that this important at present. The question of secon- question of the laws of England had dary punishments had been decided; fallen into the hands of one who was there was no difference upon it: if so well qualified to take it up in the then the object was to aim rather at able manner in which it had been removing the cause of crime, the ex. introduced by the late honourable amination of our laws, with a view of member (Sir S. Romilly), whose loss seeing where the punishment of death all must equally lament. He feared could be avoided, might be safely that the committee of his noble friend gone into. It had been said, that our (Lord Castlereagh) would neceslaws had not been made all at once, sarily omit a great detail on many but had been the result of gradual important points, from the complicalegislation. That was the fact, but tion of the subjects which it embrait argued nothing against his honour- ced. He would mention New South able and learned friend's motion. Wales, for instance, which, in his Our penal laws were certainly the opinion, was of sufficient importance result of gradual legislation, because, lo demand a separate inquiry. when a crime was found to exist, it Mr Canning made a few observawas conceived to be a much easier tions, after which Mr Scarlett rose, mode of checking it, to enact a se. and began by coinplimenting Sir vere statute against it, than to stop . James Mackintosh on the able man. and inquire into its cause, or to look ner in which he liad brought his mofor a more lenient way of preventing tion before the House. Had that it. It was thought to be a safe way individual, (Sir S. Romilly,) whom all of checking the crime, to fix the pe- in common with him deplored, been nalty of death in the statute-book'a- yet alive, he would have had the gainst its commission. But that this satisfaction to witness, at the present was a most erroneous mode of legis- moment, the triumph of humanity lation experience had taught ; and it over prejudice, and also would have should be recollected now, that this had the atisfaction to consider that method would not do for those with he had been the chief instrument, under Providence, in achieving it. into consideration, it had suffered The principles which that lamented considerable diminution. For instatesman had been the first to pro- stance, the convictions for privately pound to the House, though once stealing from the person in 1811, most vigorously and vehemently dis- were 85; in 1817, 257: the convicputed, had been that night compli- tions for burglary in 1811 were 76, mented by men of all parties. The and in 1817 were 374; from which first bill which Sir S. Romilly had any person might see, that if the introduced into Parliament, contain- comparative increase of crime were ed the remarkable preamble, that considered, the burglaries had bethe excess of severity did not pre- come more, and the private stealings vent the commission of crimes; he from the person less numerous. He introduced the bill with that pre- had not pow to contend for the proamble, in order that his sentiments priety of altering the enactments of might be recorded in this sanctuary certain obsolete laws, as that was of legislation ; and the consequence universally granted; the question of it was, that though the bill was now before the House was, which of passed, the preamble was rejected. the two committees was best. He In laying down that principle, he thought that Ministers ought not to had
gone far beyond his age and ge. be now coming to the House with moneration, and it was only by per. tions for committees, to inquire into petual efforts, by sometimes passing the state of the gaols; but that they one law in one session and another in ought, on their own responsibility, another, that he so far enlightened long since to have come forward the public mind, and improved the with remedies calculated to remove public opinion, as it was at the pre- the evils and miseries which had sent moment enlightened and im- given rise to such a general comproved. It was consoling to reflect, plaint. The prisons were, it was that the very last action of Sir S. true, connected with the Criminal Romilly's public life, was to get that Law of the country; but if these very preamble passed, which, on its two subjects were joined together, first introduction to the House, had it appeared to him that all ideas of been so rudely rejected; and that classifying the prisoners, all ideas of he had the satisfaction to see record. enacting those rules which would ed, as the sentiments of the Com- make a prison the school of morality, mons of England, his favourite prin- would be entirely omitted. The ciple, that excess of severity did not continuance of the obsolete punishprevent crime. The opponents of ments enacted by the laws, or of this measure had said, that Sir S. those punishments which, though inRomilly's bill did not accord with ficted by the Legislature, were selthe expectations which had been dom or never inflicted by the Exeraised regarding it. On this point cutive Government, was well worthy he was happy to state that they were of their serious attention, because far from being rightly informed. No. he had no hesitation in saying, that body indeed expected that the crime it multiplied in the prisoner's mind of privately stealing from the person the chances of escape, the chances would immediately be lessened by of mercy, and every other accident the new enactments; and yet it on which a culprit could calculate. would be found that, if the compara- Let then your prisons be the dreadtive increase of crimes were taken ful dungeons which they are repre