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Thus we see, that, in the reign of James the First, Sir Giles Montpeson, a member of the House of Commons, having been guilty of monopolies, and other acts of great oppression on the people, was not only expelled, but impeached and prosecuted with the greatest warmth by the House, and finally condemned by the Lords to be publicly degraded from his rank of a knight, held for ever an infamous person, and imprisoned during life.
In the same reign, Sir John Benet, who was also a member of the House of Commons, having been found to have been guilty of corrupt practices, in his capacity of judge of the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (such as taking exorbitant fees, and the like), was expelled the House, and prosecuted for those offences.
In the year 1641, Mr. Henry Benson, member for Knaresborough, having been detected in selling protections, experienced likewise the indignation of the House, and was expelled.*
In fine, in order, as it were, to make it completely notorious, that neither the condition of representative of the people, nor even any degree of influence in their House, could excuse any of them from strictly observing the rules of justice, the Commons did on one occasion pass the most severe censure they had power to inflict, upon their speaker himself, for having, in a single instance, attempted to convert the discharge of his duty, as speaker, into the means of private emolument.—Sir John Trevor, speaker of the House of Commons, having, in the sixth year of the reign of King William, received a thousand guineas from the city of London, “as a gratuity for the trouble he had taken with regard to the passing of the Orphan Bill,” was voted guilty of a high crime and misdemeanor, and expelled the house. Even the inconsiderable sum of twenty guineas, which Mr. Hungerford, another member, had been weak enough to accept on the same score, was looked upon as deserving the notice of the house; and he was likewise expelled. +
* John Wilkes may be said to have been expelled. So were Joseph Hunt in 1810, Joseph Walsh in 1812, and Lord Cochrane and A. C. Johnstone in 1814. -Ed.
+ Other examples of the attention of the House of Commons to the conduct of their members might be produced, either before or after that which is mentioned here. The reader may, for instance, see the relation
PRIVILEGES OF PEERS.
If we turn our view towards the House of Lords, we shall find that they have also constantly taken care that their peculiar privileges should not prove impediments to the common justice which is due to the rest of the people.* They have constantly agreed to every just proposal that has been made to them on that subject by the Commons: and indeed, if we consider the numerous and oppressive privileges claimed by the nobles in most other countries, and the vehement spirit with which they are commonly asserted, we shall think it no small praise to the body of the nobility in England (and also to the nature of that government of which they make a part), that it has been by their free consent that their privileges have been confined to what they now are; that is to say, to no more, in general, than what is necessary to the accomplishment of the end and constitu. tional design of that house.
In the exercise of their judicial authority with regard to civil matters, the Lords have manifested a spirit of equity nowise inferior to that which they have shown in their legislative capacity. They have, in the discharge of that function (which of all others is so liable to create temptations), shown an incorruptness really superior to what any judicial assembly in any other nation can boast. Nor do Í think that I run any risk of being contradicted, when I say, that the conduct of the House of Lords, in their civil judicial capacity, has constantly been such as has kept them. above the reach of even suspicion or slander.
Even that privilege which they enjoy, of exclusively trying their own members, in case of any accusation that may affect their lives (a privilege which we might at first sight think repugnant to the idea of a regular government, and even alarming to the rest of the people), has constantly been
of their proceedings in the affair of the South-Sea Company scheme ; and a few years after, in that of the Charitable Corporation,-a fraudulent scheme, particularly oppressive to the poor, for which several members were expelled.
* In case of a public offence, or even a simple breach of the peace, a peer may be committed till he finds bail, by any justice of the peace : and peers are to be tried by the common course of law, for all offences under felony. With regard to civil matters, they are at all times free from arrests; but execution may be had against their effects, in the same manner as against those of other subjects.
rendered, by the Lords, subservient to the purpose of doing justice to their fellow subjects; and if we cast our eyes either on the collection of the State Trials, or on the History of England, we shall find very few examples, if any, of a peer really guilty of the offence laid to his charge that has derived any advantage from his not being tried by a jury of commoners.
Nor has this just and moderate conduct of the two Houses of Parliament, in the exercise of their powers (a moderation so unlike what has been related of the conduct of the powerful men in the Roman republic), been the only happy consequence of that salutary jealousy which those two bodies entertain of the power of the crown. The same motive has also engaged them to exert their utmost endeavours to put the courts of justice under proper restraints ; a point of the highest importance to public liberty.
They have, from the earliest times, preferred complaints against the influence of the crown over these courts, and at last procured laws to be enacted by which such influence has been entirely prevented; all which measures, we must observe, were at the same time strong declarations that no subjects, however exalted their rank might be, were to think themselves exempt from submitting to the uniform course of the law, or hope to influence or overawe it. The severe examples which they have united to make on those judges who have rendered themselves the instruments of the passions of the sovereign, or of the designs of the ministers of the crown, are also awful warnings to the judges who have succeeded them, never to attempt to deviate in favour of any, the most powerful individuals, from that straight line of justice which the joint wisdom of the legislature has once marked out to them.
This singular situation of the English judges, relatively to the three constituent powers of the state (and also the formidable support which they are certain to receive from them as long as they continue to be the faithful ministers of justice), has at last created such an impartiality in the distribution of public justice in England, has introduced into the courts of law the practice of such a thorough disregard to either the influence or wealth of the contending parties, and procured to every individual, both such an easy access to
IMPARTIALITY OF PUBLIC JUSTICE.
these courts, and such a certainty of redress, as are not to be paralleled in any other government. Philip de Comines, so long as three hundred years ago, commended in strong terms the exactness with which justice was done in England to all ranks of subjects; and the impartiality with which the same is administered in these days, will, with still more reason, excite the surprise of every stranger who has an opportunity of observing the customs of this country.*
Indeed, to such a degree of impartiality has the administration of public justice been brought in England, that it is saying nothing beyond the exact truth, to affirm that any violation of the laws, though perpetrated by men of the most extensive influence—nay, though committed by the special direction of the very first servants of the crownwill be publicly and completely redressed. And the very lowest of subjects will obtain such redress, if he has but spirit enough to stand forth, and appeal to the laws of his country. Most extraordinary circumstances these! which those who know the difficulty of establishing just laws among mankind, and of providing afterwards for their due execution, only find credible because they are matters of fact, and can begin to account for, only when they look up to the constitution of the government itself: that is to say, when they consider the circumstances in which the executive power, or the crown, is placed in relation to the two bodies that concur with it to form the legislature,—the circumstances in which those two assemblies are placed in relation to the crown, and to each other,—and the situation in which all the three find themselves with respect to the whole body of the people.*
* Soon after I came to England for the first time (if the reader will give me leave to make mention of myself in this case), an action was brought in a court of justice against a prince very nearly related to the crown; and a noble lord was also, much about that time, engaged in a law-suit for the property of some valuable lead mines in Yorkshire. I could not but observe, that in both these cases a decision was given against the two most powerful parties; though I wondered but little at this, because I had before heard much of the impartiality of the law proceedings in England, and was prepared to see instances of that kind. But what I was much surprised at was, that nobody appeared to be in the least so, even at the strictness with which the ordinary course of the law had, particularly in the former case, been adhered to; and that those proceedings which I was disposed to consider as great instances of justice, to the production of which some circumstances peculiar to the times, at least some uncommon virtue or spirit on the part of the judges, must have more or less co-operated, were looked upon by all those whom I had heard speak about it, as nothing more than the common and expected course of things. This circumstance became a strong inducement to me to inquire into the nature of a government by which such effects were produced.
* The assertion above made, with respect to the impartiality with which justice is, in all cases, administered in England, not being of a nature to be proved by alleging single facts, I have entered into no particulars on that account. However, I will subjoin two cases, which, I think, cannot but appear remarkable to the reader.
The first is the case of the prosecution commenced in the year 1763, by some journeymen printers, against the king's messengers, for apprehending and imprisoning them for a short time, by virtue of a general warrant from the Secretary of State ; and that which was afterwards carried on by another private individual against one of the Secretaries themselves. In these actions, all the ordinary forms of proceedings used in cases of actions between private subjects were strictly adhered to; and both the Secretary of State and the messengers were, in the end, condemned. Yet, which it is proper the reader should observe, from all the circumstances that accompanied this affair, it is difficult to propose a case in which ministers could, of themselves, be under greater temptations to exert an undue influence to hinder the ordinary course of justice. Nor were the acts for which those ministers were condemned acts of evident oppression, which nobody could be found to justify. They had done nothing but follow a practice, of which they found several precedents, established in their offices; and their case, if I am well informed, was such that most individuals, under similar circumstances, would have thought themselves authorised to have acted as they had done.
The second case I propose to relate affords a singular instance of the confidence with which all subjects in England claim what they think their just rights, and of the certainty with which the remedies of the law are in all cases open to them. The fact I mean, is the arrest executed in the reign of Queen Anne, in the year 1708, on the person of the Russian Ambassador, by taking him out of his coach for the sum of fifty pounds. And the consequences that followed this fact are still more remarkable. The Czar highly resented the affront, and demanded that the Sheriff of Middlesex, and all others concerned in the arrest, should be punished with instant death. “But the Queen,” to the amazement of that despotic court, says Judge Blackstone, from whom I borrowed this fact, “ directed the Secretary of State to inform him that she could inflict no punishment upon any, the meanest of her subjects, unless warranted by the law of the land.” An act was afterwards passed to free from arrests the persons of foreign ministers, and such of their servants as they have delivered a list of to the Secretary of State.