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that, independently of that cause, the Whether it may be practicable furlatter is liable to a sudden and high- ther to provide against inconvenience ly inconvenient contraction, under to the public and the loss to indivi. such circumstances of distrust and duals, which arise from the occasion. difficulty as occurred in 1816. The al insolvency of Country Banks, and effects of this contraction, unless ob- to make such provision, without an viated by a corresponding increase interference with the rights of proin the issues of the Bank of England, perty, and the transactions of the the credit of which is fortunately un- community founded on commercial assailable by the influence of similar credit, are questions of great difficul. circumstances, must have a tendency, ty, respecting which your Committee by diminishing the amount of the pa. could not, without further evidence per currency, to raise the value of the and considerable delay, have enabled whole.
themselves to submit an opinion to This, in the opinion of your Com- the House. mittee, was one of the effects produ. Your Committee have forborne ced by the rapid contraction of our from entering into any reasoning upcurrency in 1816 and 1817; and to on the effect produced upon the value it may be ascribed, in part, the fall of our currency, by variations in the in the price of gold, and the favour. numerical amount of the notes issued able state of the foreign exchanges by the Bank of England. So many during that interval.
circumstances contribute to affect that Such contraction is an evil to which value, such, for instance, as the vary. the system of Country Banks, resting ing state of commercial credit and upon individual credit, may be occa. confidence-the fluctuations in the sionally liable; but your Committee amount of Country Bank paper-the are inclined to hope that it will not different degrees of rapidity with be likely either to prevail to the same which the same amount of currency extent, or to endure for so long a pe. circulates at different periods—that riod, when the fluctuations to which your Committee are of opinion, that an inconvertible paper currency is no satisfactory conclusions can be exposed shall be checked by the o- drawn from a mere reference to the peration of the plan which they re- numerical amount of the issues of the commend for the gradual resumption Bank of England outstanding at any of cash payments.
given time. 6th May 1819.
REPORT ON THE CRIMINAL LAWS.
The Select Committee appointed to consider of so much of the Criminal
Laws as relates to Capital Punishment in felonies, and to report their observations and opinion of the same, from time to time, to the House ; and to whom the several petitions on the subject were referred; have, pursuant to the orders of the House, considered the matters to them referred, and have agreed upon the following Report :
Your Committee, in execution of On other parts of the subjectas
, the trust delegated to them by the for example, in the definition and are House, have endeavoured strictly to rangement of crimes—they have reconfine themselves within the limits commended a consolidation of the prescribed to them by the terms of laws respecting only one class of oftheir appointment. In some cases fences, and have presumed only to they have laid down restrictions for express a general opinion of the themselves, which the letter of the utility of the like consolidation in resolution of the House did not im. some other cases. They wish expose. They have abstained from all pressly to disclaim all doubt of the consideration of those capital felo- right of the Legislature to inflict the nies which may be said to be of a po. punishment of death, wherever that litical nature, being directed against punishment, and that alone, seems the authority of Government and capable of protecting the communithe general peace of society. To ty from enormous and atrocious the nature and efficacy of the se. crimes. The object of the Commitcondary punishments of transporta- tee has been to ascertain, as far as tion and imprisonment, they have the nature of the case admitted by directed no part of their inquiries; evidence, whether, in the present because : another committee had state of the sentiments of the people been appointed to investigate them, of England, capital punishment, in and because no part of the facts or most cases of offences unattended arguments to be stated in this report with violence, be a necessary of will be found to depend, either on even the most effectual security S. the present state of these secondary gainst the prevalence of crimes. punishments, or on the degree of I. In the first place, they endea. improvement of which they may be voured to collect official accounts of found capable. With many exten- the state of crimes and the admini
. sive and important parts of the cri- stration of criminal law throughout minal law-such, for example, as the kingdom, from the earliest pethat which regulates the trial of of- riod to which authentic information fenders--they are entirely satisfied; reaches. The annual returns of and they should not have suggested commitments, convictions, and exeany changes in these departments, cutions, first procured by addresses even if they had been within the ap- from this House, and since required pointed province of this Committee. by statute, go no farther back than 1805. Accounts, though not per. for the same offence were 67, and the fectly satisfactory, of the same par- executions 57; and that in the third, ticulars from London and Middle. the convictions were 54, and the exsex, from 1749 to the present time, ecutions 44. If the increase of the have been already laid before Par- population during a prosperous peliament, which, with an official sum- riod of 130 years be taken into the mary of the returns of England and account, and if we bear in mind that Wales from 1805, will be inserted in within that time a considerable city the appendix of this report.
has grown up on the southern bank A full and authentic account of of the Thames, we shall be disposed convictions and executions for Lon- to consider it as no exaggeration to don and Middlesex, from 1699 to affirm, that in this district (not one 1804, obtained for the latter part of of the most favourably situated in that time from the Clerk of Arraigns this respect) murder has abated in at the Old Bailey, and for the for- the remarkable proportion of 3, if mer part from the officers of the city not 4, to 1. of London, is inserted in the appen- In the thirty years from 1755 to dix. The Corporation of the city of 1784, the whole convictions for mur. London have shown, on this occa. der in London and Middlesex were sion, a liberal and public spirit wor- 71; and in the thirty years from thy of acknowledgment; and it is to 1784 to 1814 they were 66. In the be hoped that they will continue years 1815, 1816, and 1817, the their researches as far back as their whole convictions for murder in records extend, and thus complete London were nine, while in the returns probably unparalleled in the three preceding years they were 14. history of criminal law.
Most of the other returns relate to The Deputy Clerk of Assize for too short a period, or too narrow a the Home Circuit has laid before district, to afford materials for safe your Committee a return of commit- conclusion, with respect to the comments, convictions, and executions on parative frequency of crimes at difthat circuit, which comprehends the ferent periods. counties of Herts, Essex, Kent, Sus. In general, however, it appears sex, and Surrey, from 1689 to 1718, that murders and other crimes of from 1755 to 1784, and from 1784 violence and cruelty have either dito 1814. The returns of the inter- minished or not increased; and that mediate period from 1718 to 1755 the deplorable increase of criminals he will doubtless furnish very soon. is not of such a nature as to indicate From this important return it ap- any diminution in the humanity of pears, that, for the first thirty years the people. The practice of immewhich followed the revolution, the diately publishing the circumstances average proportion of convictions to of every atrocious crime, and of cirexecutions was 38 to 20; that from culating in various forms an account 1755 to 1784 it was 46 to 13; and of every stage of the proceedings that from 1784 to 1814, it was 74 to which relate to it, is far more pre19. It is worthy of remark, that valent in England than in any other the whole number of convictions for country, and in our times than in murder on the home circuit, in the any former age. It is on the whole first period, was 123; that the exe- of great utility, not only as a concutions for the same period were 87; trol on courts of judicature, but althat in the second, the convictions so as a means of rendering it ex. tremely difficult for odious criminals ced a permanent law. Where the pu. to escape. In this country no atro- nishment of death was evidently un. cious crimes remain secret. With necessary at the time of its original these advantages, however, it can- establishment, and where, if it was not be denied, that by publishing originally justified by a temporary the circumstances of all crimes, our danger, or excused by a temporary modern practice tends to make our fear, it has long been acknowledged age and nation appear more criminal to be altogether disproportioned to than, in comparison with others, it the offence, your Committee conreally is.
ceive themselves warranted in confiII. In considering the subject of dently recommending its abolition. our penal laws, your Committee will But they have also adverted to anofirst lay before the House their ob- ther consideration : If, in addition to servations on that part which is the the intrinsic evidence of unwarrantleast likely to give rise to difference able severity in a law, which arises of opinion. That many statutes de- from the comparison of the act fornouncing capital punishments might bidden with the punishment threatbe safely and wisely repealed, has ened, they find also that the law has long been a prevalent opinion. It is scarcely ever been executed since sanctioned by the authority of two its first enactment; or if it has fallen successive Committees of this House, into disuse as the nation became composed of the most eminent men more humane and generally enlight. of their age, and in some measure ened, your Committee consider by the authority of the House itself, themselves as authorised to recomwhich passed several bills on the re. mend its repeal, by long experience, commendation of their Committees. and by the deliberate judgment of As a general position, the propriety the whole nation. In the applicaof repealing such statutes seems tion of this latter principle, they scarcely to have been disputed. Re- have been materially aided by the specting the number and choice of documents which have been menthem, different sentiments must al. tioned. Where a penal law has not ways be expected. Your Commit. been carried into effect in Middletee have not attempted a complete sex for more than a century, in the enumeration, which much time and counties round London for sixty considerable deliberation would be years, and in the extensive district required to accomplish. They se. which forms the Western Circuit for lected some capital felonies, for the fifty, it may be safely concluded that continuance of which they cannot the general opinion has pronounced anticipate any serious argument, it to be unfit or unnecessary to contiand which seem to them to serve no nue in force. The Committee are purpose but that of encumbering and aware that there are cases in which discrediting the statute-book. Va- it may be said, that the dread of the rious considerations have combined punishment bas prevented the perto guide their choice; sometimes petration of the crime, and where, mere levity and hurry have raised therefore, the law appears to be in. an insignificant offence, or an almost efficacious only because it has comindifferent act, into a capital crime; pletely accomplished its purpose. in other acts, the evil has been ma- Whatever speciousness may belong nifestly and indeed avowedly tempo- to this reasoning in the case of conrary, though it unfortunately produ- spicuous crimes, and punishments generally present to the minds of often inflicted, it would become a men, it never can be plausibly ap- much simpler operation to form a plied to rare and obscure offences, right judgment of their propriety or to penal enactments, of which it re. necessity. Another consideration of quires a more than ordinary degree still greater moment presents itself of professional accuracy habitually on this part of the subject. Penal to recollect the existence. Your laws are sometimes called into ac. Committee have endeavoured to a. tivity after long disuse, and in cases void all cases which seem to them where their very existence may be to be on this ground disputable. unknown to the best-informed part From general caution, and a desire of the community: malicious proseto avoid even the appearance of pre- cutors set them in motion; a miscipitation, they have postponed taken administration of the law may cases, which seem to them liable to apply them to purposes for which as little doubt as some of those to they were not intended, and which which they are about to advert. they are calculated more to defeat It has sometimes been said, that than to promote.
Such seems to the abolition of penal laws which have been the case of the person have fallen into disuse is of little ad- who, in the year 1814, at the Assizes vantage to the community. Your for Essex, was capitally convicted Committee consider this opinion as of the offence of cutting down trees, an error. They forbear to enlarge and who, in spite of earnest applicaon the striking remark of Lord Ba. tions for mercy from the prosecutor, con, that all such laws weaken and the committing magistrate, and the disarm the other parts of the crimi- whole neighbourhood, was executed, nal system. The frequent occur. apparently because he was believed rence of the unexecuted threat of engaged in other offences, for none death in a criminal code tends to of which, however, he had been rob that punishment of all its terrors, convicted or tried. and to enervate the general authority This case is not quoted as furnishof the Government and the laws. ing any charge against the humanity The multiplication of this threat in of the Judge or of the advisers of the laws of England has brought on the Crown: they certainly acted acthem, and on the nation, a character cording to the dictates of their judgof harshness and cruelty, which evi- ment; but it is a case where the efdence of a mild administration of fect of punishment is sufficiently them will not entirely remove. Re- shown by the evidence to be the repeal silences the objection. Rea. verse of exemplary; and it is hard soning, founded on lenient exercise to say whether the general disuse of authority, whatever its force may of the capital punishment in this ofbe, is not calculated to efface a ge- fence, or the single instance in which neral and deep impression. The re- it has been carried into effect, sugmoval of disused laws is a prelimi- gests the strongest reasons for its nary operation, which greatly facili- abolition. tates a just estimate, and where it The statutes creating capital of is necessary) an effectual reform of fences, which the Committee have those laws which are to remain in considered under this head, are reactivity: Were capital punishments ducible to two classes : the first rereduced to the comparatively small late to acts either so nearly indife number of cases in which they are ferent as to require no penalty, or if