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that it has almost eclipsed, by the brightness of its radiance, all the lesser lights which draw their brilliancy solely from the anfiquity of their origin.

It follows from this state of things that English families are continually mixing together, and losing sight of individual distinctions : that the highest may descend by means of their younger branches, to the middle ranks of society, and that the lowest may elevate themselves to the honors of nobility, that is, of the peerage itself, by means of their talents and services. The younger children of noblemen, and their descendants, enter the army and navy, follow the profession of the law or of medicine, or pursue commercial, or other employments, like any other persons; and as they are addressed merely by their family name, their descent is seldom brought to their own recollection, and still seldomer to the recollection of those with whom they may be in the habit of living.

The English nobility has therefore this peculiarity, that the titles and privileges which it enjoys are annexed to it less as a patrimonial inheritance of family property, than as a kind of concession made to it by the nation for the public good, with the view to create a powerful rampart capable of defending it alike from the excess of democratic fury, or the encroachments of arbitrary power. It is for this reason that its titles and prerogatives are confined exclusively to the eldest sons. The elevation of the rest of the family is no way necessary to the end proposed by the institution and preservation of the 'nobility ; the younger children are there fore left without titles and without honors, to return to the simple rank of citizens, and the baronet of yesterday takes precedence, not only on public occasions, but even in private parties, over the younger descendant of the most illustrious house in England.

Titles and prerogatives, which are thus looked upon as necessary to the well-being of liberty itself, and which every one may aspire to the attainment of, by his services or talents, so far from exciting any one's envy, are on the contrary the object of every

one's hope, and the mark at which the ambitious avowedly aim. Those who obtain them see themselves honored and respected as public magistrates, and they have no reason to fear that the jealousy of the inferior classes will deprive them of any part of that consideration to which they may be' entitled by their own acquirements and personal worth.

In this manner is government enabled, without hurting the selflove of humbler individuals, to consign to titled personages almost all the cares of the management of their respective counties. It sees them in the possession of public esteem and respect, and in what better hands can it place its authority? In the next chapter we shall become acquainted with the manner in which that authority is dispensed to them.


In every county is established a commission of the peace, which is composed of the principal persons in the respective counties, whether of the laity or clergy. Every person possessing a landed property, whether manorial, freehold, or copyhold, of a hundred pounds per annum, after the deduction of all rates and charges, or who has the expectation of succeeding to an income of three hundred pounds per annum, is qualified to be in. cluded in the commission of the peace, and if he wishes to belong to it, he offers his services to the Lord Chancellor, through the medium of the Lord Lieutenant of the county, and the offer is rarely refused, when

made by a person who possesses the qualities requisite for the office. The number of commissioners of the peace is not determinable by any particular law, but varies according to the extent, wealth, and population of the county.

The princes of the blood-royal, the Lord Chancellor, and all the principal nobility are included in these commissions, which often consist of four, five, or six hundred members.

Among this number many are contented with merely remaining enrolled in the commission, which is of itself considered an honor. Others, on the contrary, are ambitious of exercising the rights which it gives them; they then have the act of their nomination examined, take the necessary oaths, and become invested with the dignity of justices of the peace.'

There is in every county, one, two, and sometimes even three hundred justices of peace in actual authority, and whose jurisdiction extends throughout the whole of the county. They are more especially charged with the maintenance of public quiet; and when any individual in the county is brought before them, under an accusation of having attempted to disturb it, whether by any act of violence towards an individual, even if it be only in threats,

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' In order effectively to appoint a justice of peace who is possessed of the income which the law requires, it is necessary that he should take a particular oath, which oath is enrolled in the county registers; and any person that wishes it, may have a copy of it, and in case of finding that the justice of peace is not qualified, as he has sworn himself to be, he is deprived of his commission, and subjected to a fine of one hundred pounds sterling, one half of which goes to the poor, and the other half to the informer.

be con

or by any notorious bad conduct whatsoever, they have a right, after hearing what he has to say in his defence, to make him enter into a recognisance, by which he engages to forfeit a certain sum to the king, if he afterwards commits any act which may sidered as a breach of the peace, that is to say, if he places himself in any situation which may render him amenable to punishment, criminal or otherwise.

The recognisances imposed by the justices of peace are generally from about twenty-five to forty pounds sterling, but sometimes they are much more considerable, according to the circumstances of the offender, and the nature of the fault which he may have committed. When the person who enters into the recognisance is not in a situation, himself, to give security for the payment of the sum necessary, the justice obliges him to find some other individual who will do it for him, and if he be unable to accomplish this, he is sent to prison, until he can bring some one forward who is willing to act as his surety.

The justices of peace, or in other words, the principal gentlemen in the county, have thus the right of imprisoning such persons as may be thought dangerous to the public tranquillity, or at least of making them find security for their good behaviour. Yet it must not be imagined that this privilege opens a way to abuses. They are responsible for all their actions, and we should greatly deceive ourselves, if we thought this responsibility a mere threat; or a law never carried into execution, and only talked of in order to stop the mouths of the friends of liberty. Their conduct, and the use which they have made of their authority, are judged of, not by tribunals composed of persons in office themselves, but by juries who are accountable, in their turn, for their conduct, and who are al ways ready to defend the weak against the strong, the oppressed against the oppressor.

If therefore these magistrates should impose excessive or vexatious recognisances, so that the party on whom they fall should be in a manner compelled to go to prison, they would be liable to have an action brought against them by him, for damages and costs; which would be awarded to the prosecutor in proportion as he should be deemed to have been treated with severity or personal animosity. They would likewise expose themselves to not being included in the next renewal of the commissions of peace, and of incurring the animadversions of the whole county.

Justices of peace will moreover rarely be found to give any real cause for complaints to be made against them.

Besides these duties, the justices of peace are likewise entrusted with many others, which, among us, devolve upon the commissioners of the police. They license inns and public-houses, noIn the larger

minate the churchwardens, and the guardians of the poor, they see the laws relative to the press carried into execution, and the management of the prisons, and administration of the funds destined to the use of the poor, are likewise entrusted to them. In short, law or custom has confided to them the decision of a certain number of smaller civil matters, the correction of all petty offences, and of a great many criminal ones.

We shall now enter upon the detail of these latter cases, which forms one of the principal objects of this work.

The justices of peace exercise the authority which is granted to them in three different ways, according to the nature of the business on which they have to decide. They act sometimes singly, and sometimes two together, in the meetings called petty sessions, which are held once a fortnight in the surrounding market-towns, or others, a little distinguished above the rest. meetings, which are called the general quarter sessions, two are obliged to act, and an indeterminate number besides may act. These sessions are held every three months, at the feasts of St. Michael, the Epiphany, Easter, and St. Thomas. In the first two cases the justices of peace judge according to the statement of the case, that is to say, without assistance from any one, and upon the simple testimony of the witnesses and parties concerned; in the last they judge according to the indictment, or act of accusation, which is submitted first to the inspection of the grand jury, and then to the decision of the petty jury.

It would be exceedingly difficult to specify all the different cases on which the justices of peace are competent to decide, either singly, or at the petty or general sessions ; every particular case is established by particular statutes, the collection of which would

volumes. It must therefore suffice to observe that the justices of peace only act alone, upon adjustments of the police, or respecting the making persons, who give any disturbance to the public, enter into the recognisances which I have already mentioned; and that at the petty sessions their office is to settle, subject to an appeal to the general quarter sessions, a number of civil matters, which are regulated according to particular statutes, such

as disagreements between masters and servants, or apprentices, or between the poor and the overseers, to fix the allowance for pau. pers, and the sum to be paid for the maintenance of natural children by those who are presumed to be the fathers of them.

At the general quarter sessions, to which all the justices of peace in the county are summoned to attend, and where they meet sometimes ten or fifteen together, sometimes thirty or forty, they decide, according to the statement of the case upon the appeals made from the decisions of the petty sessions, and take cognisance

form many

through the acts of indictment; that is to say, with the assistance of the grand and petty jury, of all the actionable offences in the county, and of all those of a criminal nature which do not go beyond a certain degree of heinousness.' But as in England almost all thefts incur the punishment of death, the greater proportion of these cases would, in strictness, have to be referred to the assizes; the justices, therefore, in order to relieve these courts from an accumulation of business beyond what they would have the means of getting through, have recourse to a fiction, to which they lend their countenance at the time of receiving a complaint, and by which the quarter-sessions are rendered competent to decide upon many cases, that, according to the rigor of the law, ought to be carried to the assizes, which are thereby left at liberty to judge only of the most atrocious crimes, such as rape, arson, murder, or thefts committed immediately at the time of the assizes being held.

This fiction consists, in some cases, in diminishing the value, with the consent of the prosecutor, of the thing stolen; and in others, in omitting the mention of any aggravating circumstances, such as committing the crime in the night, or making forcible entry in order to effect it, and by this means the robbery is entered in the general class of felonies, which may have the benefit of clergy extended to them; and all this description of crimes comes within the ordinary jurisdiction of the quarter sessions.

This sort of agreement is after all not liable to any great

"There are, however, some quarter sessions, those of the city of Bristol for instance, which, by particular privilege, have the power of judging in all criminal cases, even in those which are of a capital nature.

? The benefit of clergy is an absolute exemption from the punishment of death, which the clergy appropriated to themselves in the time of their own power, and of the profound ignorance of the people. As, however, they did. not venture to arrogate such a privilege, solely on the score of their being an ecclesiastical body, they continued to establish it upon the plea of the necessity of securing every protection to the sciences; and as there were few at this time except themselves, who possessed the slightest knowledge of letters, there vere of course few others who could profit by this privilege ; not that it required any extraordinary erudition to be admitted to the enjoyment of it, for to be able to read was sufficient, but so profound was the darkness of those days, that even among the clergy there were only a few, who had attained this tirst degree of civilisation at such a period, therefore this benefit appeared so exclusively in favor of the clergy, that from them it derived the name which it has preserved until the present day.

In later times so much has information been diffused, that insensibly all ranks have been enabled to plead this privilege in their favor; and the punishment of death would have been by this means almost erased from the penal code of England. In order, therefore, to re-establish it, certain statutes have been framed by which particular crimes are debarred from this benefit of clergy, and it is only by virtue of these statutes that the sentence of death is passed in the present day. VOL. XVI. Pam. NO. XXXI.


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