Pagina-afbeeldingen
PDF
ePub

CHAP. V.

Bill for limiting Capital Punishment in cases of Forgery-Discussion

regarding the Conduct of the Attorney General in prosecuting the Morning JournalBill for amending the Law of Libel, by increasing the Securities to be found by Newspapers, and abolishing the punishment of Transportation in case of a Second OffenceAddresses of both Houses for the Removal of the Judge of the High Court of Admiralty in Ireland, on account of Malversation in Office- Alterations in Courts of Justice-Illness of the King-Bill to authorize the adhibiting of the Sign Manual by a Stamp--Death of the King, and Accession of the Duke of Clarence, as William IV. ---Royal Message to Parliament-Rupture between the Ministers and the Whigs-Debate in both Houses on the Question of a Regency -Speech of Mr. Brougham-Prorogation and Dissolution of Par

liament.,

ON

N the 1st of April, Mr. Secre- stamps, attempting to defraud by

tary Peel brought in a bill issuing forged orders for goods, the to alter the laws regarding For- fabrication of the material of Bank gery. Its principal object was, to of England paper, and forging abrogate partially, at least, the deeds and bonds. These, he capital punishment which had so thought, came within his principle long been affixed to almost every of prevention by the exercise of branch of this offence; but the more diligence and caution in the Home Secretary was not prepared transactions of business. On the to go all the lengths to which it other hand, the capital punhad often been urged in parlia- ishment was still retained in all ment that this doctrine should be forgeries of the great seal, privy carried, or to remove the highest seal, and sign manual ; in forgeries sanction which the law knew from of wills, on the public funds, on every degree of an offence, a single bank or money notes, or orders for act of which might be productive the payment of money; in short, of most extensive and irremediable of all documents which represent ruin. He proposed to remit the money, and are negotiable and capital punishment in all those transferrable for it. cases where serious doubts attend- The bill, however, did not meet ed its infliction, and where the the views of a strong party in the complainants, by due caution, House, who thought that the puncould have saved themselves : such ishment of death should not be inas forging receipts for money, or- flicted in any case of forgery, nor ders for the delivery of goods, extended, indeed, to any offence forging stamps, uttering forged short of murder; and sir James

come.

Mackintosh, Mr. Fowell Buxton, representation to the king, of the and Mr.Brougham, repeated all the grounds on which it was proposed thousand-times reiterated argu- to remit it, and by a remission of ments, founded on the assumption it by the king at home. that the severity of the punishment Sir James Mackintosh's clause prevented the injured from prose- was carried, by a majority of 151 cuting, and juries from convicting. over 138. Mr. Peel, thereupon, On the third reading of the bill, sir relinquished all charge of the bill, James Mackintosh moved a clause hinting, at the same time, that the repealing the punishment of death House would probably regret afin all cases of forgery, except that terward the decision to which it of the forgery of wills,—which he had now Accordingly, admitted was attended with pecu- when the bill

, in its new form, liar circumstances, distinguishing came to the House of Lords, the it from all others. It further pro- lord chancellor declared himself vided, that any person, against against so sweeping a repeal of whom a conviction for forgery the capital punishment, and movshould pass, should lie in prison, ed that the bill should be restored either with or without hard la- to the state in which it had originbour, at home, for the space of ally been brought into the House fourteen years; or if sent abroad of Commons. His views were to a penal colony, should be trans- supported by lord Tenterden, lord ported for any term not exceed- Wynford, and lord Eldon ; and ing that number of years. He there could be little doubt but proposed to give, not only the that infinitely greater weight was power of inflicting either of these due to the experience of these punishments, but also that of ac- high judicial characters, in a matcumulating both, whenever the ter with which they had been concircumstances of the case should versant as the business of their be so atrocious as to deserve the lives, than to the abstract specugreatest severity. He would also lations of mere theorists, founded vest a power in the Crown, au- no satisfactory data. Lord thorizing it to treat all persons Tenterden said, that, though any convicted of forgery in such a law, which would diminish the manner as would mark forgery as calls upon him to pronounce a an offence of a blacker die than capital sentence would be to himany other which was not directed self personally, as to every judge, against life, nor attended with vio- a most enviable relief, he was lence. To meet the objection,- bound to state his opinion, that that the importance of employing we could not, without great danpersons of education in the public ger, take away the punishment of service in new and remote colo- death in those cases of forgery in nies, would lead, first to the par- which it was proposed by the aldon, and then to the employment terations made in the bill in the in public situations, of persons other House of Parliament to convicted of forgery, who were abolish it. He did not think, generally persons of education, he from his own experience, that inproposed io take away all power dividuals were less willing to proof remitting or relaxing the pun- secute in cases of forgery than in ishment or forgery, except by a other cases. When it was recol

on

1

lected how many thousands, and mercy, nor reconcileable with justens of thousands, might be ab- tice. The amendment of the lord stracted from individuals by a chancellor was carried by a madeep-laid scheme of forgery, it jority of seventy-seven to twenty. appeared to him that this crime When the bill returned to the ought to be visited with the ut- Commons, those who had supportmost extent of punishment which ed sir James Mackintosh's amendthe law allowed. He had never ment, complained that the House observed, in the case of prosecu- had been improperly treated by the tions for this crime, any sacrifice lords. The bill, it was said, had of conscience by prosecutors in been carried up to the lords on consequence of their own private the 8th of June; their lordships' feelings; and he might add, that amendments had been made on he never knew juries take any the 1st of July, and yet they other course than that which their were not sent down to the lower duties prescribed to them. It was House till the 13th, on the very equally absurd to suppose, that eve of the prorogation, when the the judge would step beyond the Commons had no choice but either bounds of his duty in placing the to accede to them, or lose the beevidence before the jury for their nefit of the bill altogether. It consideration. Why should he would be better, therefore, to regive any opinion more favourable ject the bill entirely. If passed than the evidence would warrant, in its present shape, the remaining when the judge well knew that it question would come before parwas in his own power, at the pro- liament, in another session, under per time, if the circumstances of great disadvantages ; by rejecting the case were favourable, to re- it, the subject would be forced on commend the offender to mercy ? the earliest consideration of the

Lord Eldon, for nearly twenty- next parliament; and a Home five years, had been placed, as Secretary would scarcely venture chancellor, in the responsible si- in the interim to recommend the tuation of assisting the king in execution of a capital sentence, deciding on cases of life and death, looking at the opinion which the when the Recorder made his peri- House of Commons had expressed. odical reports. The most painful Mr. Peel declared, that he would part of his duty, in the execution give the Crown such advice as he of that important trust, was that thought the interests of justice rewhich related to cases of forgery; quired, without reference to what and he could, most conscientious- might or might not be the opinion ly, declare, that he never recom- of the majority of the House of mended that the law should take Commons. After two divisions, its course, except in cases where one on a motion to delay the conhe was perfectly convinced that sideration of the amendments for a such severity was absolutely neces- fortnight, before which time parliasary; and he would, without hesi- ment would have been prorogued, tation, say, that, if their lordships and another, on a motion to did not agree to the amendment reject them,--they were ultimateof the lord chancellor, it was his ly agreed to, and the bill passed. conviction, that they would neither In the beginning of the present do that which was consistent with volume, we have noticed certain

[ocr errors]

:

state prosecutions instituted by the the Attorney-general had moved Attorney-general against a Lon- for an information, at his lord don newspaper, for what were con- ship's instance. Mr. Alexander sidered to be scandalous and sedi- put in an affidavit denying that he tious ibels against the king, the meant any allusion to the chanministers, and the two Houses of cellor. The application had been Parliament. On the 2nd of March, made by the Attorney-general the merits of these prosecutions, merely as the private counsel of and the conduct of the Attorney- lord Lyndhurst: the defendant general in originating them, and had been put to the expense and carrying them on, was brought be- vexation of meeting that private fore the House of Commons by prosecution, but so soon as his desir Charles Wetherell, on a motion fence was stated, sir James Scarfor copies of the proceedings in lett abandoned the private prosethe three ex officio informations cution, came forward in his chaagainst Mr. Alexander, the editor racter of Attorney-general, and, of the Morning Journal, which had in right of his office, filed an ex lately been tried in the Court of officio information for the very King's Bench. Sir Charles had same libel. The whole history of been requested to undertake Westminster Hall, sir Charles the defence of Mr. Alexander asserted, presented no instance of professionally : he had declined a proceeding so extraordinary and it, from an apprehension that his oppressive. The case of an instrong feelings regarding the con- formation for libel having been apduct of government, both in pro. plied for, and granted, and aftersecuting, and in the measures that wards abandoned by the Attorneyoccasioned the writings which were general, to substitute an ex officio prosecuted, might carry him be- information against the same inyond the line of his duty, as well as dividual, was a case unprecedented from a consideration of the rela- in the annals of judicial proceedtion in which he had stood to that ings. He spoke advisedly when government. The same reasons he said every lawyer in Westminswould have prevented him from ter Hall agreed in thus characterinterfering now, whatever his own izing the proceeding, with but one opinion of the demerits of these exception, and that was the man prosecutions might be, had he not by whom it had been instituted. found, that the universal voice of The consequences had been vexaall parties had denounced them as tious and oppressive to the departial, unjust, and oppressive. fendant, who had thus been exThe first information was for a libel, posed to double trouble and exwhich was supposed to charge the pense. Then the mode of attack lord chancellor with having bor- was changed, only after the mode rowed money of Mr. Sugden, and of defence had been elicited. of having, by way of return, assist- The private application drew from ed that gentleman to attain the Mr. Alexander his intended line office of the solicitor-general. Sir of defence; and no sooner had Charles thought the chancellor the Attorney-general learned this, did perfectly right in adopting than he came forth with his ex legal proceedings against such officio information, to render that a publication ; and accordingly intended defence useless. If the

defendant had been acqu»tted on which he might be called with perthe ex officio information, what was feet truth, and which neither he nor

, to prevent him from being tried any other man had any right to by a different jury on the first complain of. Then his majesty information ? It was true the was alleged to be libelled because King's Bench had declared, on the it was said, that, by the measures motion of the defendant, that the of his ministers, he had been renAttorney-general should be com- dered unpopular; and the Attorpelled to make his election, and ney-general was stated to have that, though it could not compel him maintained at the trial, that it was to abandon his ex officio informa. a libel to represent the feelings or tion, it would not allow the informa- opinions of the king as being untion previously granted to be resum- der the coercion of his ministers. ed without its permission : but it Such doctrine was adapted only just came to this, that the Attor- to the reign of Tiberius. It was ney-general, by adopting a mea- no libel to represent the personal sure unprecedented and oppres- opinions of the sovereign as errosive, brought it to depend on the neous, provided no moral guilt pleasure of the judges whether a was imputed. On this informaman should be twice tried for the tion, however, the defendant had same offence. Was that a power, been found guilty of a libel on the with which, in state trials, judges king, but the jury had acquitted ought to be intrusted ?

him of libelling the ministers, The second information to which thereby finding, that all he had sir Charles referred, was that which said of the duke of Wellington charged Mr. Alexander with a libel and his colleagues, and which it on the king, and the duke of Wel- was oppressive and unjust to have lington, and the rest of his Ma- charged as a libel, was no more jesty's ministers,-a mode of mix- than any man was entitled to say ing up the king with the respon- of them; and even as to the part on sible ministers, which he consi- which the jury found the defendsidered unworthy of the reverence ant guilty, they felt the harshness due to the constitutional character of the prosecution, looking at the of the sovereign. Part of the libel state of public discussion at the actually introduced into this charge time, and recommended him so was, that “his Majesty had lately strongly to the merciful consideraevinced, more than ever, a marked tion of the court, that the Attorcoolness towards the duke of Wel- ney-general did not think proper lington.” Had any thing so odious to bring him up for judgment. and oppressive ever been heard of, The third information, sir Charles since the days of the Star-chamber, continued, was, in one sense, the as to prosecute a man for saying most important, for it touched the that à minister had been coldly privileges of parliament. It was received by the king? It was stated to be an attack on the king, further charged to be a libel, that an attack on his government, an the publication called his grace attack on the purity of parliaan “imperious minister," which no

ment, an attempt to inflame the human being could doubt who had people against the House of observed his grace's conduct; that Commons, a vilification of minhe was an "ambitious minister," isters, an excitement to general

[ocr errors]
« VorigeDoorgaan »