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better, the patriots of the time seized an occasion, towards the latter end of the reign of Charles the First, ta extort from that martyr to obstinacy, an act for the abolition of this most oppressive jurisdiction. But, by some fatality, the Attorney General's information, an offspring of the Star-chamber, was overlooked and suffered still to remain, and the use that is now made of it every body knows. It is reported, however, that my Lord Chief Justice Hale had so little opinion of the legality of this kind of informations, that he used to say, “ If ever they " came in dispute, they could not stand, but must necer• sarily fall to the ground.” Indeed, there is this very dreadful circumstance attending this mode of prosecution, that as the Attorney General can file an information for what he pleases, and the Crown never pays any cofts, so it is in the power of this Officer to harrass the peace of any man in the realm, and put him to a grievous expence, without ever trying the matter at all. Indeed, the costs of the Crown-office are fo enormous, that an Attorney General can easily undo any man of middling circumstances, by only giving him two or three plunges there. Most Booksellers and Printers know this very well, and hence fo few of them can, be got to publish a firicture upon any administration. .
This very game was played with a late Vice-Chancellor of Oxford, when L. H. was of the Cabinet, and at the head of the law.' The Attorney General filed an information ex officio, and, after putting the Doctor to a vast expence, entered a nolle profequi. Soon after he filed another information for the same offence, and, when a like expence was incurred, entered another nolle profequi. In short, this politico legal game was had resort to, because there was no evidence to convict, and was dropped and renewed in order to opprefs, to the extreme charge of the worthlefs Doctor, and to the infinite discredit of a moderate King. During the reign of this Law-Lord, the same Star-chamber weapon was frequently brandished, like Mekufa's head, to terrify and benum individuals. A secret and efficacious method of preserving the peace ! Many an useful publication has been nipped in the bud by an information ex officio (that great suppressor of truth) and by the gripe of its executioner, that enemy to light, the messenger of the press.
The oppression, however, can go no, farther, unless, indeed, sureties for the peace be demanded, and that can only be in actual breaches of the peace, threatening the death or bodily hurt of somebody : for, if the trial proceeds, that security of Englishmens rights, a Jury must be called in. Some late statutes, however, (I should just observe) in particular instances have given a summary and final ju. risdiction to Justices of the Peace, in matters of Excise, Game, &c. where the proceedings and decisions are arbibitrary, vexatious and partial enough I believe ; but this does not reach to such a length as to endanger, perhaps, the Constitution itself.
There is no offence which is oftener prosecuted by an information, ex officio, than a libel. Now, many Judges before the Revolution, and perchance fome since, have said that, in law, a paper may be a libel, whether the charges in it be true or false, against a good or a bad man, the living or the dead; nay, that the truth of it is even an aggravation of the crime : that every libel is, by construction of law, against the peace, and in very late times) that it is even an actual breach of the peace ; and (at laft) that securities for the good behaviour may be demanded of any man, charged with being the Author, Printer or Publisher. After all, I do not yet learn by what certain figns one can know whether any particular pámphlet or paper will induce any body to commit a breach of the peace.
I think one may fay of the Lawyers, who have thus matured the doctrine of informations, that they have been very aftute in the forging of chains for mankind. Nothing, indeed, can be added but the revival of a position, to be met with likewise in some few cases before the Revolution, that a Jury is only to try the fact of publication, and must leave the intention of the words, to the Court, for their construction ; unless, indeed, it could be contrived to get rid of Juries intirely, that is, to establish in perfection the Star-Chamber anew. Already, almost any thing that a man writes may, by the help of that useful and ingenious key to construction, an inuendo, be explained to scandalize Government, and of course be a libel; and could the last, mentioned impediments be totally removed, instead of being only now and then got the bet