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edly viewed and per se, as matter for congratulation. We never can regard it as such until we see clearly that, without these painful severities, the end of repressing crime is adequately effected.
It is satisfactory to find that the metropolis and its neighbourhood form an exception to the general augmentation of offences : nor should it be lightly considered that Mr. Peel, with his large practical experience of such matters, distinctly ascribes this to the more efficient police of London and the county of Middlesex. In the first seven years above referred to, the number of persons who received sentence of death in London and Middlesex was 1018, while in the latter seven years there were 1124
an increase of only one-eleventh, which must, however, be mainly ascribed to the great statutory reduction of capital punishments. But the total number of convictions in London and Middlesex during the first period was 7421, while, in the latter seven years, they amounted to 11,624, being an increase of only about one-half—instead of double, as in the country at large. In two years alone, 1786, 1787, 138 persons were executed in London and Middlesex, while in the three years ending with 1826 there were only 39 executions. The great diminution of robberies with violence from the person is shown by the fact that in 12 years, from 1810 to 1822, there were 173 executions for these offences in London and Middlesex, being at the rate of above 14 per annum ; while in 1823 there were only five such executions, and in each of the years 1824 and 1825 only six. In the seven years preceding 1823 there were 140 convictions per annum for this offence, while in the three years from 1823 to 1825 the number was 110. The diminution in the number of murders appears also to be satisfactorily established. From 1810 to 1822 there were 260 convictions for murder in Eng, land and Wales, being at the rate of 20 per annum; while in 1823, notwithstanding the augmented population and the general increase of crimes, there were only 12 convictions; in 1824, 17; in 1825, 12. So much for the state of crime in the country: now for the condition of the laws made for repressing it.
In the course which Mr. Peel has pursued, both in amending and altering the criminal law, and in condensing and consolidating its diffuse provisions, he has followed strictly in the path marked out by the wisest, because the most cautious and practical of reformers, Lord Bacon, in his proposal to James I. for amending the laws of England,
• For the reforming and recompiling of the statute law, the which consisteth of four parts : 1st, to discharge the books of those statutes where the case by alteration of time is vanished, as Lombards, Jews, Gauls, half-pence, &c. These may, nevertheless, remain in the libraries for antiquities, but no reprinting of them. The like of statutes
long since expired and clearly repealed; for if the repeal be doubtful, it must be propounded to the parliament.
‘2. The next is to repeal all the statutes which are sleeping and not of use, but yet snaring and in force: in some of those it will, perhaps, be requisite to substitute some more reasonable law instead of them, agreeable to the time, in others a simple repeal may suffice.
3. The third is, that the grievousness of the penalty, in many statutes, be mitigated, although the ordinance stand.
4. • The last is the reducing of concurrent statutes heaped one upon another, to one clear and uniform law.'
In the days of Lord Bacon, the statutes of the realm were comprised in little more than two volumes; the laws of a whole century then scarcely swelled to the size of a volume; and fifteen or twenty statutes were the utmost amount of the laws enacted in a single session, although parliaments were then often disused for many years together. Yet his lordship at that day considered the multitude and intricacy of the statutes as a great evil, and complained, “There is such an accumulation of statutes concerning one matter, and they so cross and intricate, as the certainty of the law is lost in the heap, as your majesty had experience last day, upon the point whether the incendiary of Newmarket should have the benefit of his clergy. What would have been his lordship’s expressions on the condition of the statute-laws in the present day, when they compose twenty-nine volumes; when the laws of every two years fill an immense volume; and when every session produces, on an average, above one hundred new public statutes, while the accumulation has no intermission from any intervals in which no parliament is sitting ? What would his lordship have thought of a digest* of the public statute law occupying one thousand six hundred and fifty-eight closely printed quarto pages; and the index to that digest taking up nearly four hundred? Nor has the quality of legislation improved in the proportion in which its quantity has increased. In his lordship’s days the statutes were apt to be sometimes vague and jejune, and occasionally verbose and long-winded; but he witnessed little of that indiscriminate rage for legislation on partial interests, and peculiar topics, and special emergencies, which has, in modern days, contributed so much to the volume of our laws; or of that extreme haste and carelessness of execution which has introduced into them so much complexity and confusion. While the preparation of contracts and legal instruments has been always the work of persons of skill and experience in different branches of law, the most important of all documents—a law of the realm—has been generally left to the hasty concoction of the individual member who happened to in
Digest of the Public General Statutes, by Messrs. Tyrwhitt and Tyndall, 1822.
troduce it, or of any person whom he might accidentally employ for the purpose; while, from the various modifications and alterations to which the original draft is subject in its passage through the houses, in compliance with the suggestions of various members, and to meet the interests of various classes, any perspicuity, and brevity, and simplicity which may happen originally to belong to it, are too often obscured and overlaid by the patchwork additions which it receives.
The practice of passing what have been named ' hodge podge acts,' de omnibus rebus et quibusdam aliis, occasioning the most absurd confusion in the statute book, and the greatest difficulty in referring to and ascertaining the law upon any particular subject, has also sprung up and become frequent since the time when Lord Bacon thought the state of the statute law already an intolerable grievance. As Daines Barrington remarks, ' Who would expect to find a most material alteration of the Statute of Distributions of intestates' estates in a law, the title of which is, “ An Act for the revival and continuance of several Acts of Parliament,” I Jac. II. c. 17. s. 8? Where does the unlearned reader suppose he would find the important provision, that all existing and future statutes which mention England shall also extend to Wales and Berwick-upon-Tweed ? It lurks in the middle of an act intituled, “ An Act to enforce the execution of an act for granting to his Majesty several rates and duties upon houses, windows, or lights,” 20 Geo. III. c. 42—neither the title nor the context of the law affording the least clue to this extraneous provision.' Mr. Peel's repealing act, 7 and 8 Geo. IV. c. 27., which annihilates not less than one hundred and thirty-eight statutes, many of great length and much obscurity, presents in its index expurgatorius some marvellous instances of these macedoines of law, which seem to have been peculiarly in fashion during the reign of George II. and the beginning of that of George III. Thus the 6 Geo. II. c. 37. takes cognizance of these strangely assorted articles, viz., juries at Chester and Lancaster, cloth in the West Riding of Yorkshire, evil disposed persons going in disguise, breaking sea-walls, the cutting of hopbinds, and the prevention of thefts in the northern borders of England ;—the 17th Geo. II. c. 40. is equally multifarious and perplexing in its provisionswhile the 9 Geo. III. c. 41., also abrogated by Mr. Peel, regulates the fees of custom-house officers at Senegambia, compensation to receivers-general in Scotland, the preservation of hollies, thorns, and quicksets, and—the exportation of bigg from the port of Kirkwall in the Orkneys.
A knowledge of the previous state of the law on the subjectmatter rarely appears to have been considered at all requisite to the legislator introducing a new law; and this culpable igno
rance has continually produced the most glaring incongruities and conflicts between different acts, and sometimes even between different sections of the same law. By chapter 48 of the 6th of Geo. III. a penalty of 201. is inflicted on the same offence of lopping and cutting trees which had been made a felony in the very same session by the 6th Geo. III. c. 36. A short time ago it was discovered that, in consequence of the number, length, and obscurity of the statutes heaped one on another relating to stampduties, each statute referring back to its predecessors, a mistake had arisen as to the penalty payable to government on stamping instruments, the stamping whereof was omitted at the time of their execution. For a long series of years a penalty of 10l. had been charged and paid in such cases, whereas, on a close examination of the labyrinth of enactments, it was found that 5l. only was legally payable. It is needless to multiply instances of this sort of perplexity. From the nature of our constitution and legislative system, much of our legislation has arisen, and, we admit; must arise, from emergencies, and the necessities suggested by particular facts and cases. The power
of the courts is, in England, rigorously confined to the strict interpretation of express laws; and though, in older times, when the laws were very vaguely worded, and before the constitutional jealousy of the public excluded judicial discretion, the judges did exercise considerable latitude of construction in bringing new circumstances within the equity of existing laws, yet, in later days, the line between the province of expounding and of making laws,-between the business of the legislator, and that of the judge,-has been better understood; and judges in the present day do not feel themselves at liberty to supply defects or uncertainties in the language of a statute by giving effect to its objects where its letter is silent. The consequence has naturally been, that those alterations in the law which the exigencies of society from time to time require, are all with us required to be effected by legislative interference. If a new crime becomes frequent, an act of parliament is necessary to repress it. Does a new class of interests grow up?-a legislative enactment is required for their regulation. While this has been one main cause of the multitude of our laws, it has also been, in part, the occasion of—though not a sufficient excuse for—their being frequently partial and imperfect. As the laws have been enacted to meet particular emergencies, it has not unnaturally, though not necessarily, happened that they have been too often confined to the minute object particularly within the view of the legislator, instead of being framed, in a prospective and philosophical spirit, to embrace other cases analogous in spirit, and undistinguishable in principle. Hence has arisen the immense
accumulation of subsidiary and supplemental laws_heaped one upon another, merely for the purpose of supplying the omissions and mistakes and partial views of the framers of former laws. There is scarcely a single principle or branch of statute law which has not required a class and series of acts to complete its legislative force-to follow out its operation into all the details to which the spirit of the original law applied, but to which the legislator has not, by clear and express words, extended its operation. Mr. Uniacke, in his Letter to the Lord Chancellor, * sums up not less than sixty statutes passed as lately as the session of 1824, expressly, as their titles import, for the purpose of amending, and continuing, and repealing, and removing doubts, and explaining, and rendering effectual, and altering, and suspending, and facilitating the execution of other acts previously passed. Now, though we have no doubt but that, with all the care that can be taken, new acts must occasionally be found necessary, in order to amend, or to assist and effectuate existing laws by further provisions, yet the frequency of such supplemental pieces of legislation-so many being expressly for the correction of mistakes certainly evinces great carelessness in the framing of the original laws. Even in cases where no particular blame is to be attached to the framers of the laws, the causes above noticed, the established habit of legislating on the basis of experience, the caution which has generally induced our lawgivers to try, by degrees, the effect of new legislative experiments, and to follow them up and extend their principle only when they have been found practically beneficial, has tended to the building up that mass of detached and voluminous ordinances which form the corpus of English statutes. The laws respecting bankrupts, the laws respecting landlord and tenant, the laws respecting elections of members of parliament, the laws respecting shipping ; in short, almost every important branch of law which the legislature has found it necessary to interfere with, affords instances of this gradual system of accretion which has been long taking place in our statute law. Till within very few years, no legislator, having occasion to amend, or at least to change, the law on any particular point, ever thought of doing his work completely by ascertaining precisely the exact condition of the existing law, then nicely fitting to it his intended alterations or modifications, and then repealing the old law, and passing a new one, compounded of the old law, with the new provisions. This process of consolidation was never heard of within the walls
* A Letter to the Lord Chancellor (Eldon) on the Necessity and Practicability of forming a Code of the Laws of England, by Crofton Uniacke, Esq., Barrister-at-Law, which displays a zealous consideration of the subject, though we confess the author's views are too sweeping to meet with our concurrence.