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charge, he had nothing to do but to ab- | necessarily be drawn up, and in the hesistain from stating that the robbery took tation which juries would entertain in conplace in a dwelling house, or that it sequence. -Under all the circumstances amounted to 40s. in value. It was an ex. he thought the present system better than aggeration therefore to say, that the pre- that proposed to be substituted. sent law led to perfect impunity. It had Mr. Canning conceived the whole system been said that the law induced witnesses of our laws to arise from certain circum. to perjure themselves. This was all ima- stances, which from time to time, had ginary, and he was sure that no practical pressed upon the notice of the legislature, man would state that as his opinion. He and seemed to render the enactment of allowed that juries might occasionally be such laws necessary. If anyone bad found inclined to indulge a latitude in valuing its way into the code inflicting too severe the articles which were the subject of a a puuishment for a crime, which, from its prosecution. This was exclusively cen- frequency at the time the act was passed, surable, but what followed ? Perfect im- might seem to call for such severity, it punity? By no means. The criminal was did not follow that such a law should be subject to the same punishment as he continued in force to the end of time, or at would be were the offence made a charge periods when the crime had ceased to be able felony. To take away one descrip- frequent. If the hon. gent. had proposed tion of punishment would not lead to a a Committee to revise the whole system greater certainty of punishment; and he of our criminal laws, he should then have was persuaded that no one who was con approved of the observation of his hon. versant with the administration of cri- and learned friend (the solicitor-general), minal law would contend that the terror and have thought it would not be well of capital punishment, however surely in thus to risk shaking the whole system of flicted, did not deter from the commission our laws. It was clear that a discretionary of crime. He instanced several cases in power must still continue to be vested in which criminals had speculated on their the judges, and the question before the crimes being only transportable offences. House was not, whether they should exBut it seemed the dread of a capital pu- tinguish that power, but how far it might nishment was to operate on a prosecutor, be proper to limit its range. No man could on witnesses, on the jury, on every body say it would be extinguishing the power but the individual tempted to commit the to impose limits to its range.
The whole crime. Was that a rational supposition: amount of the change went to take from The theory of his hon. and learned friend them the power of dispensing life or death, was directed against the whole system of and to that he could see no objection. discretion in criminal law, and if adopted Whether or not the existence of the punishin one case must be adopted in the rest. ment of death were absolutely necessary, He admitted that it would be very beau- it could not prevent the commission of the tiful if the law could be so contrived, as crime. The opinions of the various bigh that a precise punishment should be pro- law authorities appeared to be paired, he posed for every individual offence, with might therefore be justified in forming his out leaving any thing to the discretion of own. His hon. and learned friend (the those by whom the law was administered. solicitor general) had said it was strange But although this would be very beauti- that the severity of the punishment should ful, it would be wholly impracticable. All produce so great an effect on all but those that could be done in practice was to bave on whom it was to be inflicted. The illgeneric description of crimes. The pecu- regulated mind of a hardened sinner inJiar circumstances of aggravation on the flamed by the prospect of gain, would, one hand, and of extenuation on the other from the unfrequency of the inflicting of by which every individual case was mark the punishment denounced by the law, ed, as they could not be foreseen, could more readily brave the danger thus innot be embodied in the law. Let any one curred, than a well regulated mind would try his hand at such a particularization, risk the possibility of condemning a man and he would soon find the impossibility to death unjustly. It had been said that of it. Even could it be accomplished, so though the capital punishment was seldom far from insuring a certainty of punish- inflicted on such offenders, they did not ment, it would give the criminal the escape transportation and other punishgreatest opportunities for escape, both in ments, This was true, after conviction the mode in which the indictment must the parties did not wholly escape ; but in the two previous stages there was the did not believe the felon would commit an chance of death, or of total impunity. It offence from an idea that that circumwould be desirable to remove from juries stance would screen him from punishment. any temptation to perjury, however bene. If such inconveniences arose from the convolent their motives might be; and it duct of prosecutors and juries, might not would be better not to persevere in a sys- the end of the hon. gentleman be answered tem affording such facilities for escape, by increasing the amount necessary to conbut doing away the severer punishment stitute a capital offence. It was easy to increase the probability of the offenders bring forward instances of prosecutors being visited by the lesser. In acting thus, being unwilling to subject an offender to a they would run no risk of shaking the punishment so severe ; but it was not so whole system. No dread of innovation easy to bring forward those instances when could be felt equal to that which might persons disposed to commit such an offence have been entertained when the law was had been deferred by a dread of the punishmade, after it had been seen that in the ment. Prosecutors were ready 'enough to course of a century the crime and the pu- come forward with statements, but those nishment were so seldom found together. who had been tempted to offend would
The Chancellor of the Exchequer did not keep their secret for their own sakes. The agree in the justness of the criticism pass- 1,800 cases mentioned to prove the deed
upon the speech of his learned friend fective state of the law, went to establisla (the solicitor-general), by his right hon. its perfection, as in all those cases the sefriend who spoke last, in the proposition verity of the sentence had been ameli. put by the last speaker. He argued from orated, and the appropriate punishment the case of the hardened offender against inflicted. This proved at least that the the scruples of an bumane juror ; but it execution of the law was not so much too was not the hardened offender they wanted severe. It should seem that the severity to deter, but those who had not, perbaps, was rather in the amendment, as its object been actually guilty of any offence. He was not to get rid of severity of punishdenied that the opinions of legal men were ment, but merely of severity of denunciapoised upon the practical good conse
tion. The effect of the bill would be to quences of the law as it now stood. It was make the offence more frequent, and he unsupported by the authority of one single cautioned those who might be disposed to judge or magistrate, or the hon. gent. who support it, lest in consequence it should brought the subject forward would have become necessary for them again to have strengthened his own opinions by stating recourse to the legislature, and not only that circumstance to the House. He did revive the law, but put it in execution. not think the bill would have a tendency Sir S. Romilly replied at some length to to prevent the commission of the crime'; the imputations which had been thrown if he did he should think it a good bill. on his conduct.
One hon. gent. had supHe did not know that there were any rea- posed ho wished for the introduction of sons for believing that more persons were something like the French police, and anodeterred from prosecuting than from com. thera somethinglike the French Revolution, mitting the offence by dread of the punish- and then an appeal had been made to his ment, His right hon. friend seemed to humanity for the sake of those millions think it a most extravagant idea of the so- who might fall in consequence of the sup: licitor general's that those likely to offend posed changes he might cause. He hoped were as likely to dread the punishment, as gentlemen would not oppose the bill be the juries who decided on their case, from cause they might differ from him in sensithe difference between the mind of a bard. ment upon other things. He wished them ened sinner and a well regulated mind. to consider what the law is at present, Was it only the hardened sinner on whom what the proposed amendments were, and the severity of the punishment could be only judge the bill from its individual wished to produce an effect? Was it not merits. It was not, as had been said, equally to be wished that those who were founded on theory, but on practice. House not hardened might be deterred from com- robbing, he had asserted, had considerably mitting soch offences. And might not increased for some years past.
This no that effect be supposed to result from the one had thought proper to deny. He severity of the punishment. The pro- could only impute this increase to the cirsecutor and the juries inight be affected cumstance of the law not being enforced. by the severity of the punishment, but he It had been said to disprove that, that the prosecutor not wishing to cause the mockery. The individuals knowing this, death of the offender, might prosecute him still continued to be buoyed up with hopes for a minor offence. It was not proper of escaping, each hoping it will not be his that it should thus depend upon an obscure fate to suffer, till at length the fatal order individual whether or not a man should be arrives, and be, all hurry, has little time to tried for his life. In those cases where prepare for that world into which he is the hon. gent. opposite thought the offence about to pass. Sir Samuel concluded a very the greatest, that of servants robbing their energetic speech, defending his general masters, the parties oftenest escaped.--He conduct, and denying that he had publishknew of instances of that nature. He knew ed his pamphlet merely with a view of too that juries in many cases doubted where gaining reputation or popularity. no doubt would exist, if they were not A division took place, when the num. averse to punish with such excessive rigour. bers wereA year ago a woman was tried at the For the bill.........
31 Old Bailey for stealing a 101. note from Against it.......
S3 her master. She had stolen nothing be- Majority against the bill.......... -2 side, except the box in which it was enclosed, which was worth but a penny. The
List of the Minority. jury convicted her of stealing to the Abercromby, Hon. J. Maule, hon. W. R. amount of 39s. and thus sunk the capital
Milbanke, sir R.
Babington, T. part of the charge. Many similar cases
Morris, G. might be found in the recent session pa. Canning, Rt. Hon. G. +
O'Hara, C. pers. Juries ought not thus to be led to Creevey, T.
Parnell, H. slight their oaths. Judges had also been Combe, H. C.
Pigott, sir A. thus influenced ; they had frequently care
Romilly, sir S.
Grant, sir W. fully avoided asking the value of things in
Smith, W. order to shun the capital part of the charge. Hutchinson, bon. C. H. Stephen, J. He denied that the system had been of so Lainbe, hon. W.
Taylor, W. long standing as the solicitor-general had Leach, J.
Taylor, M. A. asserted it to be. In support of this he cited
Lemon, sir W.
Wharton, J. lord chief justice Hale. Dr. Paley, to Macdonald,
Wilberforce, W. whose authority the solicitor-general at- Marryatt, . tached so much importance, spoke of the certainty of punishment as being more likely to deter men from the commission of offences than severity. He wished the
Wednesday, May 2. laws to have effect, as those who from their [Middlesex PetitioN FOR THE R. irregularities were most likely to offend LEASE of Sir F. BURDETT, &c.] Mr. might thus be restrained.-It had been Byng presented the following Petition, said, that he had the authority of the unanimously agreed to at a numerous judges against him. The judges generally meeting of the freeholders convened by had expressed no opinion upon it; but the sheriff, at Hackney, on the 20th of their known practice in screening through | April. motives of humanity, the culprits before 'To the honourable the Commons of them from the capital part of such offences, the United Kingdom of Great Britain was an evidence in favour of such altera- and Ireland, in Parliament assembled. tion as he pow proposed. He had never The Petition of the Freeholders of said that no discretionary power should be Middlesex, agreed to in fall county held by the judges, but he had said that this 26th day of April, 1810. that power ought to be as circumscribed Sheweth ; That we have observed as might be. The frequency of execu- with concern, that in the cases of Mr. tions took away from their effect, and John Gale Jones and sir Francis Burdett, rendered them more cruel. No one could bart. your House assumed and exercised a witness the ceremony of passing sentence power unknown to the law, and unwarof death upon criminals, and hear the so- ranted by the constitution. lemn prayer with which it concludes, with- “ Your Speaker's warrant has been eseout being affected, were it not considered cuted by military force; an Englishman's as being an idle form. Not one-tenth part house, his sanctuary, has been violated; of those thus sentenced to death being exe- and the blood of unoffending citizens has cuted, it almost degenerates into a solemn been shed in the streels.
HOUSE OF COMMONS.
Against the existence, as well as the, that the Petition be again read by the exercise of this power, we solemnly pro- clerk. It was read accordingly. After test-a protest the more necessary, be which the right hon. gent. again rose, and cause your votes in its support are entered said, he was sure, that, from the conduct on your Journals--not so the Letter of sir he had observed on a former day, when a Francis Burdett to your Speaker, denying petition was presented to that House (from you such jurisdiction.
the electors of Westminster,) containing “In the early part of this reign, in the expressions so strong and so reprehensible, case of Mr. Wilkes, the rights of this the House would not consider him as incountry, and of the nation, were repeated- disposed to entertain a petition coming ly and grossly violated by the House of from any individual or class of his MajesCommons. At length the law triumphed. ty's subjects, if couched in terms at all After a struggle of nearly 20 years, the consistent with the respect due to the House abandoned the pretensions they House. However convinced he was that had a rogated, and expunged from their the petition upon that occasion contained • Journals all their declarations, orders, some expressions that ought to have been
and resolutions, as being subversive of omitted, he did not object to let it lie on • the rights of the whole body of electors the table. He trusted the House would of this kingdom.'
see from that instance, his earnest wish to “ You have, during your pleasure, de recommend to them every possible forprived the citizens of Westminster of their bearance, consistent with the maintenance share in the representation of the public of their own dignity; but when he consiat large, of the exertions of a faithful ser- dered the language of the present Petition, vant, in whose ability, firmness, and in- he conceived it impossible to consider it tegrity, they pre-eminentiy confide. in any other light than that of a delibe
“ We view with jealousy and suspicion rate and unparalleled insult to the House. the shutting up, sir F. Burdett in prison, He did not conceive that the object prayed when the attention of the nation is directed by this Petition was of itself a sufficient with anxiety to his intended motion for a cause to warrant its rejection. But he Reform in the representation of the people would appeal to the House upon this plain in honourable House; that House in question, whether there was any member which the traffic of seats has been avowed, wbo heard this Petition read, that did not in the case of Mr. Perceval and lord Cas- conceive it to be rather an experiment to tlereagh, ' to be as notorious as the Sun at try how far the forbearance of the House
noon day ;' a practice, at the mention of would go in the sufferance of language which, in the emphatic language of your such as it contained; or whether it could Speaker, our ancestors would have star- | have any other objeci than to insult, when tled with indignation.'
it want to a direci and a declaratory cenWe, therefore, pray you to follow the sure, from the mere authority of the petiexample of your predecessors, to ex. tioners, upon the conduct of that House,
punge all your declarations, orders, and in exercising its authority towards the • resolutions on the subject, as tending 10 person named in the petition, by committhe subversion of our liberties,' and to ting him to confinement for a violation of the introduction of a military despotism, its privileges. Upon that part of the Petiand to recall sir Francis Burrleit to the tion which commented upon the manner service of the country in Parliament, that in which the officer bad proceeded in exehe may there enforce that plan of Reform culing the order of the House, he should which last session he so powerfully recom- at present forbear to say any thing, as any mended, and which, in our opinion, is ab- error or irregularity on the part of that solutely necessary for the stability and officer in executing the warrant committed honour of the throne, and the safety and to him, might be a question for the fulure well being of the people.-Signed, in the consideration of the House. But the Petiname and on the behalf of this Meeting.” tion, in other respects, was totally diffe
Mr. Byng then moved that the Petition rent from the style and language of peti. do lie on the table.
tions presented to Parliament. It did not Mr. Mellish rose, to signify, that al-appeal respectfully to the authority of the though he should second the motion of his House. It did not ask for any revision or hon. colleague, he did not feel himself reconsideration of the circumstances of bound to support the Petition.
which it complained; but the petitioners The Chancellor of the Exchequer moved protest against such an exercise of the
privileges of the House, and charge it with objectionable, and which ought to have assuming and exercising powers contrary been omitted; but for his part, he thought to law. The measure which the peti- that Petition was couched in such terms as tioners urged might take place at some the House of Commons ought not to retime, if the wisdom of Parliament should ject. The present Petition, though not deem it fitting. But was the language of couched precisely in the same words, was a petition, from any class of subjects, to pretty much the same manner, and in charge that House with assuming illegal his mind ought not to be rejected for the privileges, or to dictate to them how they sake of a coarse word or phrase hastily should act in the exercise of their rights adopted. He thought it the duty of the and privileges ? There was nothing in the House of Comnions to throw open a wide Petition which approached in any degree door for petitions, instead of evincing a to the character of a respectful appeal to disposition to reject them upon the mere the authority of Parliament. It did ap- ground of a vulgar or objectionable word. pear to him, therefore, that considering When he considered how the House of the language in which a former Petition Commons was composed, and the opinion was couched, considering the language generally entertained by the country, of held out of doors to depreciate the cha- the state of the représentation, if someracter and authority of that House, and thing was not done to reform that represeeing in the language of this Petition a sentation, the House must expect to find proof that the forbearance of the House the language of petitions not very flatterfrom time to time served but to encourage ing. The present petition he did not think new insult, it was high time that a line such an-one as ought to be rejected. should be drawn somewhere, and the pre- There were several petitions received besent was a fit occasion for that purpose. fore by the House, containing expressions He therefore submitted to the discretion full as strong, and yet they were not reof the House, whether the present Peti-jected upon that account; and so long as tion, for the causes he had stated, ought these abominations were suffered to exist, not to be rejected.
of which the people complained, in the Mr. Alderman Combe said, he under present state of the representation, so long stood the Petition was unanimously voted would it be impossible for that House to by a very numerous and respectable body command respect from the people. of freeholders; and as he did not know to Mr. D. Giddy agreed that the doors of what consequence its rejection might lead, the House ought to be opened widely to he should vote for its reception.
receive the petitions of all who chose to Mr. Calcraft hoped, as it was his inten- apply to them in a regular and proper tion to vote for the reception of this Peti- manner. All the argument on this head, tion, he might be permitted to state the however, must fall to the ground, the mo grounds for that vote. The hon. member ment it appeared that any application of who had just spoke, had said the Petition the kind was not really a petition, but a was unanimously voted by a very nume- paper by which it was sought, in a covert rous and respectable meeting of free manner, to insult the House. The peti. holders; but it did not therefore follow tioners, in this case, had dressed up as a that the House should receive a Petition petition, a paper, not by which they excouched in improper and offensive lan-pected any redress of grievances, but by guage; and such language would deter which they presumed to dictate to the mine him to oppose the reception of such House what they chose to think right. As a Petition, however numerously, unàni- to any reform, or rather to an alteration mously, or respectably it might have been in the constitution of that House, he had voted. He did not, however, view the no hesitation in declaring his opinion, present Petition in the very objectionable that it would not tend to the advantage of light stated by the right hon. gent., and the people. He objected, therefore, to should therefore vote for its reception. gentlemen taking that for granted which The right hon, gent, had professed his own had not been proved, and was not conunwillingness to adopt any step that might ceded to them. As to the words of the have the appearance of impeding the right petition, they were disrespectful in the of petitioning that House; and he in- highest degree. It did not contain such stanced his forbearance in the case of the a prayer as the petitioners could, by posWestminster Petition, in which he stated sibility, expect to be granted; and to al. that there were many expressions highly low it to lie on the table would only lead