Imágenes de páginas

also to disseminate Christianity, to administer charity, to teach children their lessons, to adjust prices of food, to inspect coal-mines, to regulate railways, to superintend house-building, to arrange cab-fares, to look into people's stink-traps, to vaccinate their children, to send out emigrants, to prescribe hours of labour, to examine lodginghouses, to test the knowledge of mercantile captains, to provide public libraries, to read and authorize dramas, to inspect passenger-ships, to see that small dwellings are supplied with water, to regulate endless things from a banker's issues down to the boat-fares on the Serpentineis it not manifest that its primary duty must be ill discharged in proportion to the multiplicity of affairs it busies itself with? Is it not manifest that its time and energies must be frittered away in schemes, and inquiries, and amendments, in proposals, and debates, and divisions, to the utter neglect of its essential office? And does not a glance over the debates make it manifest that this is the fact? and that, while parliament and public are alike occupied with these chimerical projects, these mischievous interferences, these utopian hopes, the one thing needful is left almost undone ?

See here, then, the proximate cause of all our legal abominations. We drop the substance in our efforts to catch shadows. While our firesides, and clubs, and taverns are filled with talk about corn-law questions, and church questions, and education questions, and sanitary questions—all of them raised by over-legislation—the justice question gets scarcely any attention; and we daily submit to be oppressed, cheated, robbed. This institution, which should succour the man who has fallen among thieves, turns him over to solicitors, barristers, and a legion of law-officers; drains his purse for writs, briefs, affidavits, subpænas, fees of all kinds and expenses innumerable; involves him in the intricacies of common courts,




chancery courts, suits, counter-suits, and appeals; and often ruins where it should aid. Meanwhile, meetings are called, and leading articles written, and votes asked, and societies formed, and agitations carried on, not to rectify these gigantic evils, but partly to abolish our ancestors' mischievous meddlings, and partly to establish meddlings of our own. Is it not obvious that this fatal neglect is a result of this mistaken officiousness ? Suppose that external and internal protection had been the sole recognized functions of the legislature. Is it conceivable that our administration of justice would have been as corrupt as now? Can any one believe that had parliamentary elections been habitually contested on questions of legal reform, our judicial system would still have been what Sir John Romilly calls it" a technical system invented for the creation of costs”? Does any one suppose that, if the efficient defence of person and property had been the constant subject-matter of hustings pledges, we should yet be waylaid by a Chancery Court which has now more than two hundred millions of property in its clutches—which keeps suits pending fifty years, until all the funds are gone in fees—which swallows in costs two millions annually? Dare any one assert that had constituencies been always canvassed on principles of law-reform versus law-conservatism, Ecclesiastical Courts would have continued for centuries fattening on the goods of widows and orphans ? The questions are next to absurd.

A child may see that with the general knowledge people have of legal corruptions and the universal detestation of legal atrocities, an end would long since have been put to them, had the administration of justice always been the political topic. Had not the public mind been constantly preoccupied, it could never have been tolerated that a man, neglecting to file an answer to a bill in due course, should be imprisoned fifteen years for contempt of court, as Mr. James Taylor was. It would have been impossible that on the abolition of their sinecures the sworn-clerks should have been compensated by the continuance of their exhorbitant incomes, not only till death, but for seven years after, at a total estimated cost of £700,000. Were the State confined to its defensive and judicial functions, not only the people but legislators themselves would agitate against abuses. The sphere of activity and the opportunities for distinction being narrowed, all the thought, and industry, and eloquence which members of Parliament now expend on countless impracticable schemes and countless artificial grievances, would be expended in rendering justice pure, certain, prompt, and cheap. The complicated follies of our legal verbiage, which the uninitiated cannot understand, and which the initiated interpret in various senses, would be quickly put an end to. We should no longer constantly hear of Acts of Parliament so bunglingly drawn up that it requires half a dozen actions and judges' decisions under them, before even lawyers can say how they apply. There would be no such stupidlydesigned measures as the Railway Winding-up Act; which though passed in 1846 to close the accounts of the bubble schemes of the mania, leaves them still unsettled in 1854 —which, even with funds in hand, withholds payment from creditors whose claims have been years since admitted. Lawyers would no longer be suffered to maintain and to complicate the present absurd system of land titles; which, besides the litigation and ruin it perpetually causes, lowers the value of estates, prevents the ready application of capital to them, checks the development of agriculture, and so, seriously hinders the improvement of the peasantry and the prosperity of the country. In short, the follies, terrors, and abominations which now environ law would cease; and that which men now shrink from as an enemy they would come to regard as what it pur ports to be a friend.



[ocr errors]

How vast then is the negative evil, which, in addition to the positive evils before enumerated, this meddling policy entails on us! How many are the grievances men bear, from which they would otherwise be free! Who is there that has not submitted to injuries rather than run the risk of heavy law-costs ? Who is there that has not abandoned just claims rather than throw good money after bad”? Who is there that has not paid unjust demands rather than withstand the threat of an action ? Who is there that cannot point to property that has been alienated from his family from lack of funds, or courage to fight for it ? Who is there that has not a relation ruined by a lawsuit ? Who is there that does not know a lawyer who has grown rich on the hard earnings of the needy and the savings of the oppressed ? Who is there that cannot name a once wealthy man who has been brought by legal iniquities to the workhouse or the lunatic asylum ? Who is there that has not, within his own personal knowledge, evidence of the great extent to which the badness of our judicial system vitiates our whole social life: renders almost every family poorer than it would otherwise be; hampers almost every business transaction; inflicts daily anxieties on every trader? And all this continual loss of property, time, temper, comfort, men quietly submit to from being absorbed in the pursuit of impracticable schemes which eventually bring upon them other losses of kindred nature.

Nay, the case is even worse. It is distinctly proveable that many of these evils, about which so great an outcry is raised, and to cure which special Acts of Parliament are so loudly involved, are themselves produced by the disgraceful administration of our judicial system. For example, it is well known that the horrors out of which our sanitary agitators make political capital, are found in their greatest intensity on properties that have been for a genera

tion in Chancery—are distinctly traceable to the ruin thus brought about; and would never have existed but for the infamous corruptions of law.. Again, it has been clearly shown that the long-drawn miseries of Ireland, which have been the subject of endless legislation—of Coercion Bills, of Poor Laws, of Rates in Aid, of Drainage Bills, of tinkerings without number-have been mainly produced by inequitablel and-tenure and the complicated system of entail: a system which wrought such involvements as to prevent sales; which practically negatived all improvement; which brought landlords to the workhouse; and which required an Incumbered Estates Act to cut its gordian knots and render the proper cultivation of the soil possible.

Judicial negligence, too, is the main cause of railway accidents. If the State would duly fulfil its true function, by giving passengers an easy remedy for breach of contract when trains are behind time, it would do more to prevent accidents than can be done by the minutest inspection, or the most cunningly-devised regulations; for it is notorious that the majority of accidents are primarily caused by irregularity. In the case of bad house-building, also, it is obvious that a cheap, rigorous, and certain administration of justice, would make Building Acts needless. For is not the man who erects a house of bad materials ill put together, and, concealing these with papering and plaster, sells it as a substantial dwelling, guilty of fraud? And should not the law recognize this fraud as it does in the analogous case of an unsound horse ? And if the legal remedy were easy, prompt, and sure, would builders be such fools as to continue transgressing? So is it in numerous other cases: the evils which men perpetually call upon the State to cure by superintendence, themselves arise from the non-performance of its original duty.

« AnteriorContinuar »