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and zealously opposed every measure, domestic or colonial, CHAP.
CXLII. that had in it the slightest tincture of liberality.*
Pratt, while Attorney General, conducted two government His state prosecutions, — still professing and acting upon the great prosecu; principles of justice for which he had so boldly struggled Attorney when defending those who had been prosecuted by his predecessors. The first was against Dr. Hensey for high treason Rex v. in corresponding with the king's enemies, and inviting them
Hensey, for to invade the kingdom. The trial took place at the bar of the Court of King's Bench, before Lord Mansfield and the other Judges of that Court. Mr. Attorney, in opening the case to the Jury, having read several letters which had been written by the prisoner to the French government during the war, and which he contended were treasonable, said, “ These letters, and translations of them being laid before you, you, gentlemen, will be proper judges of their destructive tendency; indeed (under the sufferance of the Court) you are the only judges of this fact. Proof being given that they are in the handwriting of the prisoner, and were sent off by him, — if you are of opinion, from a fair construction of their contents, that his object was to solicit and to encourage the landing of a French army on our shore, then he is guilty of the crime laid to his charge by this indictment; -- but otherwise it will be your duty to acquit him, whatever opinion you may form of his character, and whatever suspicions you may entertain of his conduct." - The Jury having found a
It is a curious fact, that, with regard to law reform, the two Houses have The House recently changed characters. I will not presume to praise the assembly to of Lords at which I have now the honour to belong, as far as politics may be concerned, but present in in jurisprudential legislation, I say boldly, they are greatly in advance of the advance of other House - which has become the great obstacle to improvement. I will the House give a few instances, The late Libel Bill (generally called in Westminster of ComHall “ Lord Campbell's Libel Bill"), which originated in the House of Lords, mons as was deprived in the House of Commons of its most important clauses for the to legal reprotection of private character and the liberty of the press. In the Session of form. 1845 the House of Commons threw out bills, which, being approved of by the Lord Chancellor and all the law Lords, had passed the House of Lords unanimously-1. To abolish “ Deodands,” that disgraceful remnant of superstition and barbarism ; 2. To allow a compensation to be obtained by action where a pecuniary loss is sustained from death caused by the negligence of another, so that a railway company might be compelled to make some provision for orphans whose father has been killed by their default; and, 3. To permit actions to be commenced against persons who, having contracted debts in England or Ireland, have gone abroad to defraud their creditors, and there spend the funds remitted to them from home, - which at present the law cannot touch. VOL. V.
CHAP. verdict of “guilty,” the Attorney General consented that the CXLII.
day for the execution should be appointed at the distance of one month. The prisoner, after being several times respited, was finally pardoned -- a striking instance of the clemency of the government, and a strong contrast with the execution of
Byng under the late administration. * June 18. The only ex officio information which he filed was against 1758. Rex v.
Dr. Shibbeare for a most seditious and dangerous publication, Shibbeare. entitled, “ A Letter to the People of England,” containing for libel.
direct incentives to insurrection. Horne Tooke, no enemy to the liberty of the press, approves of the prosecution, saying, that “if ever there was an infamous libel against the government, surely it was that." + The trial came on in Westminster Hall before Lord Mansfield. In opening the case to the Jury, the Attorney, although using rather quieter language, adhered to the doctrine for which he had struggled with such brilliant success in his first great speech in the King v. Owen, and expressly told the Jury that he desired them, besides the evidence of publication, and the innuendoes, to consider the language of the libel, and not to find a verdict for the Crown, unless they were convinced that it had a direct tendency to a subversion of the public tranquillity — from which they might fairly infer that the defendant published it “ maliciously and seditiously,” as charged in the information; but he added, that “he did not wish for a conviction if any man in the world could entertain a doubt of the defendant's guilt.” At the distance of many years, he stated with pride in his speech in the House of Lords on Fox's libel bill, the marked manner in which he had intimated his opinion to all the world, “that the criminality of the alleged libel was a question of fact with which the Court had no concern. I
Pratt conducted with the same propriety the prosecution He con- of Lord Ferrers for murder before the House of Lords. ducts the prosecution Thus he opened, with touching simplicity and candour :Lord Fer. “My Lords, as I never thought it my duty in any case to
A D. 1760.
# 19 St. Tr. 1342--1982.
Annual Register, 1758.
† 20 St. Tr. 708.
attempt at eloquence where a prisoner stood upon trial for his life, much less shall I think of doing it before your Lordships; give me leave, therefore, to proceed to a narrative of the facts.” These he proceeds to state with great perspicuity murder. and moderation, as they were afterwards fully proved by the witnesses. The labouring oar on this occasion, however, fell to the Solicitor General Yorke, who so ably repelled the defence of insanity. *
The labours of the law officers of the Crown were very light at the close of the reign of George II., for all opposition in parliament was annihilated ;— from the universal popularity of a triumphant government, seditious libels were unknown, - and there were no government prosecutions, except in the Court of Exchequer against unlucky smugglers.
19 St. Tr. 885.
CONTINUATION OF THE LIFE OF LORD CAMDEN TILL HE RECEIVED
THE GREAT SEAL.
CHAP. On the demise of the Crown all things for some time went CXLIII.
on very smoothly. Pratt prepared the proclamation of Change of George III. His patent as Attorney General was renewed policy at by the young Sovereign, and no great alarm was excited by the acces- the circumstance of Lord Bute, who had been groom of the stole sion of
to the Prince, being sworn a Privy Councillor. But when this George III.
nobleman was made Secretary of State, and began with the air of a royal favourite to interfere actively with the patronage and with the measures of the Government, it was discovered that Whig rule was coming to an end. The Stuarts having fallen into utter contempt, so that the return of their persons was no longer to be dreaded, there was to be a restoration of their maxims of government. Being of “good Revolution principles,” which had been openly stated as a recommendation to office during the two last reigns, now made a man be looked upon at Court very coldly, and “ the divine indefeasible right of kings” became the favourite theme, - in total forgetfulness of its incompatibility with the parliamentary title of the reigning monarch. A breaking up of the combination of the few great families, who called themselves “the Whig party,”—who had for many years monopolised the patronage of the Crown,—and who had on various occasions exhibited the vices with which they had formerly been in the habit of reproaching the Tories,—would have been a most laudable exploit;—but unfortunately the Sovereign was determined to transfer power from one faction kept in check by professing liberal principles, to another imbued with a love of absolutism,-although the leaders of it while in opposition had occasionally spoken the language of freedom — which they were now eager to disclaim.
Pratt being resolved to maintain his own principles, happen
what would--as the proposal to make the Judges irremoveable
СНАР. at the commencement of a new reign, was laudable by carrying into effect the intention of the Act of Settlement,—and Pratt con
tinues as he was not called upon to do any thing in parliament or
Attorney in Westminster Hall inconsistent with his notions of duty, General - he continued in his office of Attorney General even when after the
resignation his chief - strongly condemning the foreign policy now of Mr. Pitt. adopted,—had resigned. If he had continued Attorney General till No. XLV. of “ The North Briton” was published, he must then have thrown up his office, for he would sooner have thrust his hand into the fire than advised or defended general warrants to seize the printer and publisher, or any of the violent proceedings against Wilkes, which shortly rendered the Government so odious and contemptible, and introduced factious struggles almost unparalleled in our annals.
But in the lull before the storm died Lord Chief Justice He is ap. Willes, and the Attorney General laid his head upon “ the pointed cushion of the Common Pleas.” It was rather agreeable to tice of the
Common the Sovereign and the ministers that he should be placed in a Court in which it was thought that no political cases could come, and he could do no mischief with his “ wild notions of liberty.” Accordingly, his patent as Chief Justice was immediately made out; and having qualified himself by submitting to the degree of the coif *, on the 23d of January, the first day of Hilary Term, 1762, he took his seat in the Court of Common Pleas.
Here, it so turned out, there were more political cases than during many years after came before the Court of King's Bench,—where he would by no means have been trusted. He himself anticipated nothing but re- His expec. pose in his new office; and he really thought that his political tations of
repose. life was at an end. Thus be writes to his old friend Davies : “I remember you prophesied formerly that I should be a Chief Justice, or perhaps something higher. Half is come to pass: I am Thane of Cawdor, but the greater is behind; and if that fails me, you are still a false prophet. Joking aside; I am retired out of this bustling world to a place of
• He was called along with Serjeant Burland. bobus. - 2 Wilson, 136.