Imágenes de página
PDF

and misrepresentation spread before the public, and arrive at the substantial truth. Some future inquirer into literary History, some Hallum or D'Israeli of two or three centuries hence, will thread the maze, as we havedone, and, after perusing the scandalous libels which have been freely circulated on every side, will arrivewith astonishment at the dexterously-concealed truth. He will give the whole proceeding i*s proper name. None of those considerations which hold us back will operate upon him. He will not feel as we do, pity for the failings of persons whom he has been accustomed to respect j his indignation at the disingenuous artifices which havebeen practised will be unmixed with the bitter thought that they have emanated from men of whom he had hoped better things; nor will his astonishment at the character of the whole proceeding be mingled, as ours is, with that most painful of all considerations, that the very peculiar description of justice, both literary and judicial, which has been awarded to the Commissioners, has primarily emanated from a body, to which, as is remarked in one of the pamphlets before us, we and " all our fellowsubjects are, in one character or another, amenable." A tribunal in which such things may be done, will soon fill its cup; some fortunate act of injustice will direct attention to its incongruous character, and convince the legislature, that when it takes upon itself to play the part of a Court of Justice, it will share the fate of all bad actors if it does not play it well.

Mr. Montagu, in a letter which stands amongst the publications at the head of this article, has remarked,

"The duties of a Committee are, if I mistake not, twofold. First, Minitterial; to collect evidence—the original limit of the jurisdiction (as in the case of the Committee who reported upon the charges against Lord Bacon): and, secondly, Judicial; to report their judgment upon the evidence itself, which most probably originated in the increase and pressure of business upon the House.

''The blessings which have resulted, and will result, from their ministerial duties, are obvious j the facts thus collected will in due time decompose all error; but in their judicial function it may perhaps be thought that a Committee of the House of Commons must necessarily be a most defective tribunal."

After a vigorous passage descriptive of the duties and character of a Judge in our Courts of Justice, Mr. Montagu proceeds,—

''A chairman of a committee, on the contrary, may be an inexperienced young man, who, having made a speech in favour of some particular measure (with such a declarationof his sentiments as would disqualify him from being a juror), moves for a committee, and, as a matter of course, is elected chairman. Inflated by imaginary importance, he enters upon his office like the school-boy, who, having caught a tame rabbit, thinks himself a mighty sportsman. He has, as he conceives, a good object before him, and is not always mindful of the road over which he passes to attain it, or upon whom he tramples in his way. He may decide upon ex parte evidence, or examine only for the confirmation of the opinion which, right or wrong, he happens to entertain. A Report is then made and published as the Report of the Committee, to whom (for it saves a world of pains) the House is ever ready enough to surrender its judgment. Such appears to me, with the greatest respect for the intelligence with which the House abounds, the radical defect of its Committees."

Nothing can be more correct than this general delineation, and now let us inquire how far it is applicable to the Record Committee.

It would seem, from what has passed in Parliament, that upon receipt of the Report of the Record Committee, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, on behalf of the Lords of the Treasury, forwarded it to the Record Commissioners, with a request that they would furnish the Lords of the Treasury with any Observations upon it which the Commissioners mightthink necessary. A copy of the paper, which was in consequence transmitted to the Treasury, has fallen intoour hands, and we have no doubt that our readers will thank us for giving them an account of its contents. Some obstacles appear as yet to have prevented its being printed as a Parliamentary Paper.

It opens by directing attention to some peculiarities which are stated more or less to pervade the whole of the Report. They are,

"I. The Committee, although appointed ' to inquire into the management and affairs of The Record Commission,' did not confine its inquiries to the Record Commission at present in existence, and which bears date on the 12th March, 1831, but directed its attention to whatever seems to have been neglected by any of the successive Commissions, the first of which was issued on the 19th July, 1800."

The results of this " peculiarity" are stated to have been,

"First, that the successive Commissions appointed since 1800, the last of which was suspended five years ago by the present Commission, have been charged with inattention, mismanagement, and neglect of duty on ex parte, and occasionally on Tague, hearsay evidence, with no one before the Committee to defend them; both their Secretaries, who could best have justified or explained their proceedings, being deceased; and, secondly, that various charges founded upon such evidence, and, if affecting any one at all, certainly chargeable only against the former Commissions, have, by some confusion, been introduced into the Report as applicable to the present Commission."

"II. The second peculiarity observable in the Report is, that in treating of the objects of the several Commissions on the Public Records, the Committee seems to have lost sight altogether of that Report which forms the basis of all the Record Commissions, and a constant reference to which is necessary towards the formation of a proper judgment upon the course adopted by the Commissioners."

All the Commissions have been founded upon the Report of the Record Committee of the House of Commons in the year 1800, and have been issued for the execution of the measures recommended by that Committee.

"In the Report of the Recent Committee it is remarkable that when treating of the objects of the several Record Commissions (p. v.) not even the most distant allusion is made to the Report of 1800."

Out of this peculiarity it has resulted that

"A judgment which might be applicable to the case of a public body having a general object, sufficient authority, and ample funds, has, in the present instance, been applied to one which has definite objects, insufficient authority, and limited resources. The Committee have not reported as to whether the Commissioners have executed the objects set before them in their Commission, so far as the extent of their powers and the amount of their funds have enabled them to do: They have reported as to what in their judgment remains still to be performed before the Public Records can be said to be in a proper state of condition and arrangement, and have set down every thing that falls within that description as a proof of what they term the neglect of the Commissioners.

"III. A third peculiarity, which pervades the Report is,

That, although it is the Report of a Committee appointed to inquire generally into "the management and affairs of the Record Commission," it is confined in its facts almost exclusively to what the Committee have thought to be instances of the mismanagement of the Commission. This peculiarity has resulted from the circumstance that, notwithstanding the terms of their appointment, the Committee, "considering it their duty rather to examine into existing defects for the purpose of suggesting remedies than to pass in review the many and important services rendered by the successive Commissions, has directed its attention more to what seems to have been neglected, than to what has been efficiently and satisfactorily performed by those bodies." (Report, p. xxxvii.) In this manner the Commissioners find themselves represented in the Report as an incompetent and incapable body, not on account of what they have done, which is generally the subject of praise throughout the Report, but of what they have ' neglected,' or, in other words, what they have not done, with reference to an arbitrary standard of the authority and duty of the Commissioners set up in the minds of the Committee, and existing nowhere else.

"IV. A fourth peculiarity in the evidence, and in the Report, is, That they contain charges against the Keepers of the Record Offices, and other persons who were not present before the Committee; and who were neither called upon, nor had any opportunity afforded them, for explanation or defence.

"The Committee seem in various instances where there appeared a primd facie contradiction between the testimony of two persons, or between oral testimony and o document, to have deemed it unnecessary to make any inquiry as to the possibility of reconciling seeming discrepancies, or arriving at the truth amidst actual contradictions."

After these general observations the Commissioners proceed to "a particular examination of some of the many erroneous statements and conclusions with which the Report abounds." They remark upon a very great many singular inaccuracies in the several divisions of the Report, and sum up their observations thus:

"If these observations have not entirely failed in their object, they have established:

"I. With respect to existing " Buildings;" that, although the Commissioners have been entirely without power to remedy their defects, they have not failed to urge upon His Majesty's Government the propriety of rectifying what is amiss in them, by the establishment of a General Record Office.

"II. As to "Calendars and Indexes;" that the Committee have been misled by the gentlemen upon whose evidence they relied, and that the Commissioners have adopted the only course that, under existing circumstances, was likely to be beneficial to the public.

"III. As to " Transfers;" the Commissioners, as the Committee themselves admit, have no authority.

"IV. Under the head of " Establishment of Offices;" that the Commissioners have instituted the inquiries and collected the information enjoined by their Commission, and have subsequently recommended the measures, which, in their opinion, are necessary for correcting the evils of the present system. If their recommendations have not yet been carried into effect, it has arisen from no fault or negligence of theirs.

"V. Thishead is entirely omitted in the Report of the Committee.

"VI. The Committee have, in general, bestowed their commendation upon the "Selection of Original Records" published by the Commissioners.

"VII. Under the head of " General Administration of the Affairs of the Commission," it has been shown, that the Committee are not warranted by the evidence in concluding that the Secretary has had the ' entire control over the funds and disbursements of the Commission, of the preparation of its works, of the engagements, salaries, and duties of all persons in the employ of the Commission, and in the distribution of all its publications.'

"The Commissioners are also of opinion that it sufficiently appears from the preceding " Observations," that the Report has been framed in a spirit extremely unfriendly— if it may not rather be called unjust—towards the Commissioners; that the effect of the evidence has not been stated fully, or fairly; that conclusions against them are drawn from testimony which, in many instances, has been contradicted, or explained away; and that much error has crept into the Report, partly from this circumstance, and partly also from the fact which appears in the Minutes of the Proceedings of the Committee (p. xvii.), that the Report was prepared before the various explanatory statements printed in the Appendix had been seen by the Members of the Committee generally."

The Commissioners then proceed to " another circumstance materially affecting the Report," to which they request the serious attention of the Treasury, "and which they state that they conceive to amount to an exclusion of evidence."

From the circumstances detailed in this part of the " Observations," it would seem that the Committee closed their sittings and made their Report, notwithstanding a notice openly given by the Secretary to the Commission, that he had ready prepared answers to all those points in the evidence of various adverse witnesses which seemed to require refutation or explanation. It is further stated—

"The Report of the Committee is in many places founded upon evidence to which the Remarks and Questions and Answers, prepared by the Secretary, had reference; and it is thought by the Commissioners, that these Remarks and Questions and Answers, if delivered before the Committee, would very materially have altered the impression produced by the Evidence to which they alluded, and, in some instances, very beneficially for the Commissioners.

"The Report is also in some places founded upon testimony comprised in fasciculi of evidence which were not received by the Secretary until after the close of the inquiry.

"These circumstances, which, when properly explained, must be fatal to the credi' and authority of the Report, have been highly disadvantageous to the Commissioners. If the evidence, which was thus excluded, had been received, with the same attention which appears to have been given to every witness who came before the Committee with the intention of impugning the conduct of the Commissioners, they are of opinion that the Report would not have contained many passages which now appear in it, and which are strikingly calculated to depreciate and injure them in the opinion of His Majesty, from whom they derive their authority; of Parliament, which has entrusted them with grants of public money; and of the Nation at large, for whose benefit it is imperative upon Government to preserve and regulate the Records.

"Even, however, in its present shape, little more is needed for the refutation of the statements in the Report, than to contrast them with the Evidence and with the papers in their own Appendix;—a duty which ought to have been performed by the Committee, but which is now left to the public. It is to that contrast that the Commissioners have had recourse almost exclusively in the preceding observations, and it has led them, and they believe will lead any other persons who may take similar pains, to conclusions totally at variance with the Report. It has satisfied them, that the facts stated in the Report are not to be relied upon, and that it is strikingly deficient in that candour and fair dealing which ought to characterize a document which professes to indicate to the Government and the Legislature what is the proper course for them to adopt."

The "Remarks, and Questions and Answers," referred to in these passages of the Observations, have been printed and extensively circulated, and fully justify the conclusions of the Commissioners. Much of the adverse testimony is totally destroyed by them.

Nor is this the only evidence of which the Committee neglected to avail themselves. Three petitions either have been or will be presented to the House, by persons who conceive themselves to have been unjustly treated. Mr. Thompson, one of the petitioners, after setting out various acts of what he terms " disagreeable, improper, and illegal interference," on the part of Mr. Cole, a gentleman who has been a good deal engaged in these proceedings, at one time in the employ of the Commissioners and afterwards as the principal witness against them, proceeds thus,—

"That several witnesses were examined at great length before that Committee with respect to the records of the office to which your petitioner belongs, and to the part which he has taken in the proceedings relating to them. That your petitioner's name was frequently mentioned by those witnesses. That your petitioner, knowing that misrepresentations of his conduct had been made, believing also that he might incur blame for the actions of others, and lose the credit of his own exertions which had been repeatedly usurped by certain persons, was exceedingly desirous of being examined before the said Committee. That your Petitioner therefore repeatedly applied to the Chairman of that Committee for the purpose, and was directed to attend, which he did several successive days; but he was put off from time to time, and consequently discontinued his attendance, the Chairman having, however, promised to summon him by writing; but he was never called upon to give evidence. That your petitioner, if he had been permitted so to do, could have corrected or refuted many misrepresentations of some of the witnesses, which, by the priated Minutes of Evidence since reported to your honourable House, it appears that they gave; and could have supplied, as it was his wish to do, correct, full, and important information concerning the records and transactions in question; and that, while the information on the subject, which is stated in the Report of the Select Committee, rests almost wholly on the testimony of the said Mr. Cole, some time acting as your petitioner's transcriber (his evidence being quoted no fewer than thirteen times on that subject), your petitioner was excluded from all opportunity of affording to your honourable House that important testimony which he alone could properly give, and which would have prevented the mention of your petitioner's name in an unfavourable manner in the Report of the Select Committee."

Mr. Black, another petitioner, states—

"That it was well known to that Committee that your petitioner had been principally concerned in many important transactions, concerning which several witnesses were examined, and much evidence was taken, and concerning some of which transactions your petitioner alone could have afforded full and authentic information. That the said Committee obtained and heard the testimony of persons avowedly hostile to the Commission, to the Secretary, and to your petitioner; and admitted insinuations and charges against your petitioner and misrepresentations of his transactions; but never called on your petitioner, to state the real facts thereof, or to explain and clear up what was incorrect or doubtful. That your petitioner had no means of knowing that any such insinuations, charges, or misrepresentations had been received by the Committee, until, to his astonishment, he learned the same from the printed Minutes of Evidence.

"That in the said Evidence, as since reported to your honourable House and published by its order, your petitioner's name occurs no fewer than forty-three times; that though his name does not appear in the Report, yet the transactions in which he was concerned, and which are mentioned in the Report, could not, as he humbly conceives, have been represented so unfavourably to your honourable House as they have been, if he had been heard; and that if jyour petitioner could have foreseen the event, he would have claimed, even at the latest hour, to be heard by the Committee/*

The proceedings of the Committee with respect to evidence do not appear to have been more peculiar than their notions of the task set before them. Two of the pamphlets placed at the head of this article refer to this portion of the subject. In one, the writer seems to prove that this Committee, one object of whose appointment was to inquire into the present state of the Becords, has not exhibited their ' present state' in its Report. That it has thrown out of sight the more important; that it has brought forward the least important; that it has exhibited what the condition of the Records has been, and kept silence as to the changes that have been effected by the Commission.

"This," he remarks, "is the course adopted in the Report; and when you appeal to it as exhibiting the present state of the Records, you appeal to a leaf which ought to have been there, but which has been omitted—why, I will not inquire."—A Leaf Omitted, p. 25.

The other pamphlet by the same writer endeavours to shew that the Committee were equally unmindful of the other part of the duty set before them—a fair inquiry into "the management and affairs of the Record Commission." We have not space to notice his mode of proving this; neither shall we make any comments upon the proceedings we have detailed.

We shall probably be told by some of our contemporaries that our objections to this new mode of dispensing justice are mere proofs of bigotry and prejudice. It may be so. We are too old in years, and too much attached to the fashions of the times gone-by, to be easily convinced that the fillet should be removed from the eyet of Justice and be bound across her ears.

What is to be the result of these proceedings? A Bill founded upon the Report of this Committee, but departing widely from its recommendations, has been brought into Parliament, and now stands for the second reading in the House of Commons. In its present shape it contains some provisions which could only have been suggested by extreme shallowness and ignorance of the subject, mixed up with others which are cunningly contrived with a view to popularity. Some extensive alterations might probably make the Bill less objectionable; but, if it be only for example-sake, the Legislature ought not to pass any measure whatever founded upon such a Report as that of the Record Committee. Public affairs, however, are seldom regulated by the strict rules of right; and in the present state of parties, and in the existing temper of the House of Commons, a course so decided is not to be expected. "An "instalment" will probably be yielded on the one hand, and accepted on the other, and a weapon be thus placed in the hands of the wise and righteous legislators, whose acts we have been describing, with which they may in time accomplish their ulterior objects.

6

« AnteriorContinuar »