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We are far from undervaluing the extraordinary talents and industry displayed by many of their individual members, but we cannot help thinking that the business of legislation is usually conducted with a degree of carelessness extremely criminal. Many bills of great general or local importance never receive any attention at all; and when they do, what is called the principle of the bill is commonly the only part of it which members deign to discuss, leaving any blunder in the detail or unconstitutional clause which it contains to be discovered out of doors, or afterwards detected when produced in courts of law. The fact mentioned by Lord Stanhope, in the House of Lords, on the 6th of April, 1814, that by a particular statute the punishment of fourteen years transportation was to be inflicted for a particular offence, and that upon conviction one half thereof should go to the informer and the other to the king,' is a strong illustration of it. The act has not come within our own observation; but if true, every one is aware how the circumstance must have happened. The original punishment was probably a fine, for which, in the last stage of the bill, some member suddenly substituted transportation, without he or any one else examining the bill to discover what subsequent alterations the previous one had rendered necessary. In the same way, the bill for facilitating dispatch of business on the Equity side of the Court of Exchequer passed in silence through both houses as a mere regulating act, though, considering what it was, and the precedent it may afford for future alterations in the courts of King's Bench and Common Pleas, it certainly deserved as much consideration as the bill for appointing a Vice Chancellor, which created so much discussion.* The 53 Geo. III. c. 160. respecting Unitarians, crept through in the same manner. We by no means wish to bring the principle of the bill into question, but may without giving offence be permitted to observe, that it is extremely singular and inconsistent, that the Test Act should remain unrepealed, and the claims of the Roman Catholics produce almost every year so keen debates in parliament without being granted, and yet that this act, which is perhaps more dangerous to various institutions in Church and State than both of them put together, should have passed through the two Houses of Parliament apparently unnoticed or disregarded, the Archbishop of Canterbury and Bishop of Chester
* Since writing the above this has actually taken place, and a bill has been introduced into the House of Commons to regulate the courts of King's Bench and Common Pleas, which, if we understand one of its provisions, as it affects motions for new trials, would produce one of the most important changes in these courts which they have undergone since their institution. We are glad to find that it will not be pressed till next session, and by that means receive a degree of consideration which every important proposed change in the law ought to meet with.
only only declaring, when it was read the third time in the House of Lords at so late a period of the session as the 20th of July, " that it was not called for by any pains or penalties sought to be inflicted by the Church of England. -Hansard's Debates, vol. xxvi. p. 1222..
: One cannot help perceiving that much of the precipitation and want of discussion here complained of, is caused or countenanced by the practice of the ministers of the crown. No reflection is here intended to be conveyed against any individual or particular administration. The mischief is of too great magnitude to be produced by any set of men, and nothing but a considerable alteration in the management of public business can remove it. Those who fill posts of high trust and confidence in this country have so many arduous duties to perform, especially during the sitting of parliament, that many of them are performed ill, and that of legislation infinitely the worst. A bill is scarcely ever brought in by government until it can be no longer postponed or avoided, and then it is passed so hastily that sufficient time for the examination of it is not afforded to the legislature. If it is asked why any particular enactment has not already been proposed, the reply usually is, that it will be time enough to legislate when the occasion calls for it, and when at last the occasion does call for it, the excuse for precipitation is that unless immediately passed, the public service will suffer. If there is no particular fault to be found with
it all is well, if not, another act is passed the same or following · year, to repeal, suspend, or amend it. In this way those who
are in offices of responsibility shew, an example of hurry and negligence, which those who have less excuse are not slow to follow, and if those who prepare bills are in haste to introduce them, the House often shews as great anxiety to get rid of them. The correction, amendment or rejection of legislative measures is often thought too unostentatious or tedious a task to be undertaken by those very persons who prodigally exhaust every faculty of mind and body in the examination and prosecution of the most trifling party question. In the House of Commons in particular, it has often been alleged that towards the conclusion of the session, it is possible for a member acquainted with parliamentary practice to carry a bill through the House almost before any notice can be taken of it, and that the Upper House is the only place, especially if it is a local or private one, where it has the least chance of undergoing candid examination. In this point of view it has always appeared to us that this latter branch of the legislature is of incalculable value. Bad as the state of our laws is, if it had not been for the interference of the House of Peers in checking
the hasty and capricious spirit of legislation 'occasionally shewn by the Commons, it would have been a great deal worse. In watching the bills that are in progress, the Lord Chancellor is supposed, from his office, to be particularly vigilant, which duty the extraordinary talents, industry and experience of the present possessor of that exalted office have enabled him to perform in a very adniirable manner; and in so doing, he along with the late Duke of Norfolk, Lord Lauderdale, Lord Grenville, the late Lord Stanhope, with all his peculiarities, and some others, have done distinguished though unpretending service to their country, and well discharged the trust which as hereditary counsellors of the crown their sovereign had confided to them. We have said thus much for the purpose of paying our tribute of gratitude to a species of merit neither known nor appreciated as it ought to be, and which, as peculiarly becoming the dignity of the House of Peers, we should wish to see more generally displayed by that distinguished body. To the class of noble persons just mentioned, no adequate successors have hitherto appeared; and if when they are gone none should arise to supply their place, then one of those unperceived changes will have taken place which are gradually passing on all human institutions, by which its substance is materially altered while its appearance remains the same. · We have now concluded what has occurred to us on the present size of the statutes and reports in courts of law, and on the rate at which they are increasing. We trust we have done so without offence, without exaggeration, and without using any expression tending to bring into disrepute either the law or the legislature. Nothing at least could have been more foreign to the wishes and sentiments we entertain. A regular series of our acts of parliament and the reports of the most important judgments wbich have been given in our courts of law, we believe to be the most splendid and complete records of their respective kinds which any country, either in ancient or modern times, has ever yet possessed. It is our sincere and ardent admiration of them which has alone induced us to make these observations, with a view to" remove ancient imperfections or at least to prevent the spread of modern abuses. We have anxiously abstained, especially with regard to reports, from proposing any plan by which in our opinion the evil may be rectified. Undigested proposals of this sort are more frequently detrimental than beneficial, and the first sure step to practicable reform is to draw the attention of the public to the alleged grievance, and to promote candid inquiry into its nature and amount. Of one thing, however, we are certain, that any alteration that might be adopted, would be preferable to the journals of the daily proceedings in all the courts of law and equity, which, in the shape of reports, are constantly issuing from the press, and if no better plan could be devised, it would be a great relief even to take back Lord Coke's • four discreet and learned professors of the law,' to report, rather than keep 14, who are not likely to be all learned professors, and who would ruin their own trade if they exercised discretion. There is one. class of persons peculiarly qualified in this respect to render service to the state, from whom we should have expected more than they have ever yet performed;—we mean ex-chancellors and judges, many of whom retain the most complete possession of their powers, and whose knowledge of business and experience of the world would enable them during a few years of retirement to confer more permanent benefit on the law than all their preceding course of active service. But from whatever cause it arises, whether from that necessity for repose which generally succeeds constant and severe exertion, whether habit disinclines them to an alteration of rules and practice with which they have become familiar, or whether it is that age freezes that activity and energy which are requisite to project and forward any amendment however cautious, the fact itself is indisputable. Young men,' says Lord Bacon, care not to innovate, which draws unknown inconveniencies, use extreme remedies at first, and that which doubleth all errors, will not acknowledge or retract them. Men of age object too much, consult too long, adventure too little, and repent too soon.'
Neither have we, in the course of the observations we have made on the size and intricacy of the Statute book, made any specific proposal by which in our opinion these objections to it might be removed. It is possible that some such general revision or arrangement of it as that which was contemplated by Lord Stanhope may hereafter be proposed, which it would be espedient to adopt, but we have no sanguine expectation of any such appearing. We rather think that a less adventurous course would lead more safely and expeditiously to the desired object, and that instead of throwing the Statute law all at once into a new form, it would be better to recast it gradually, by taking care that all the enactments which hereafter receive the sanction of the Legislature, should be as permanent, general and intelligible as possible. If this rule in drawing up acts of parliament were rigidly observed, and none but such as possessed this character were suffered to pass, all well grounded complaints against them would speedily disappear. The perpetual enactment, suspension, repeal, and re-enactment of laws is equally discreditable to the legislature
and inconvenient to the subject. A stronger instance of this cana not be given than the Irish Grand Jury Presentment Bill, which is evidently one of the most important measures ever tried affecting that country, and about which no vacillation after it was once determined on ought to have been evinced. That bill, however, way passed in 1817, suspended last session of parliament till the end of that session, and notice of a further suspension again given in the beginning of this, thus leaving it doubtful how many more suspensions may yet take place, or whether the bill may not eventually be abandoned altogether. On particular enactments instead of general ones we have already delivered an opinion, and cannot help repeating our unqualified disapprobation of the prevailing practice of legislating in detail instead of in the gross.. A statute can scarcely be too general in its application to the subjects to which it relates, or too complete in itself, so as to supersede all necessity of recourse to antecedent ones. By this means whenever the subject of Insolvent Debtors, Fisheries, Election of Members of Parliament, Quarantine, or any such general head of law, came under consideration, the various provisions which lie scattered in the Statute book would be repealed, and one systematic enactment substituted in their stead. This has to a certain extent been done in the Revenue Consolidation Act, 27 Geo. III. c. —, 28 Geo. III. c. 38, for consolidating the acts respecting the exportation of live sheep and unwrought wool, and 52 Geo. III. c. 143, for reducing into one act the offences against the revenue punishable with death. The game laws again brought before parliament this session afford one of the best possible opportunities of exemplifying such a plan of legislation. The subject of game is one where the various subsisting enactments are exceedingly numerous and intricate, where no precipitation is required, and where a country-gentleman of liberal mind and industry would do great credit to himself and benefit to the country by incorporating them into one act, the whole provisions of which should at once be deliberately settled by the legislature. We regret that Mr. Brand's bill should have disappointed the expectation which the occasion naturally excited, and that if it had passed it would have left all the complicated regulations on poaching, and other branches of the subject, in the same unsatisfactory state in which they now are.
. It is unquestionably true that it would require much time and caution to frame such general acts so as neither to fall short of their intention nor exceed it; but that is precisely one of the chief benefits we should expect to result from the enactment of laws of this description. More time and talents would be required to draw them; attention to the subject in all its bearings would be enforced, and