Monday, January 23, 2017

Mr. Best on Codification

Part 1: October 18, 1856.

Nothing is more singular than the fascination which abuses sometimes exercise over ingenious and powerful minds, form, like other things, grows vulgar with time; and there is a very intelligible satisfaction in exposing the weakness, the folly, and the ignorance of those who have, perhaps noisily, triumphed over similar defects in others. There is no subject in which such feelings have more influence than in that of Law Reform, nor is there any part of that subject in which they display themselves so prominently as in the question of Codification. The Judges fell upon the Bills which were intended to form a Criminal Code in 1854, in the spirit in which the tea-tables of a country town fall on a lady's character. Mr. Justice Coleridge thought that Russell on Crimes contained as much criminal law as any human being need want to know—in which he was perhaps not far wrong. Mr. Baron Alderson discovered that, by the new Act, a man might commit murder by shooting at a pheasant, which he might do equally well under the present law; and the Lord Chief Justice of the Common Pleas revelled in the imperfect appreciation which the Commissioners displayed of the details of offences which nothing hut the judicial character can enable a person to discuss with that perfect combination of propriety and plain speaking for which his lordship is so remarkable. It is only when they are consulted upon the subject that the Judges can give the reasons which lead them to the conclusion that it would be highly injurious to the public that they should ever administer any other system of law than that under which they have risen to their present dignity; but the publication of the papers of the Juridical Society has afforded one of the most distinguished of our legal Conservatives a channel for a formal attack upon the whole principle and practice of Codification. The subject has always seemed to us so clear in principle — whatever might be its practical difficulties—that we are glad to learn what such a distinguished writer as Mr. Best has to say against it.

He begins by defining his terms. "Codification," he says, "means," in the sense in which he intends to use the word, " the process of collecting into a code or body of written laws a number of scattered pre-existing laws;" and the thesis which he has to maintain is, that the existing condition of the law of England is such that to collect it into one body would be disadvantageous. His first argument is, that "the codifying of a large body of pre-existing law is an organic change; it is an act as violent and exceptional in the legal as a revolution in the political condition of a State . . . . The overturning the legal system of an ancient country, casting all its laws into the alembic of a few minds . . . . can only be justified by a . . . . necessity, the onus of proving which lies on those who propose the experiment." It is obvious that, in this passage, Mr. Best uses the words "codify" and "codification" in a sense entirely different from that in which he announced his intention of using them. If "codification" means no more than the collecting of pre-existing laws into one written body, how can it "overturn the legal system of an ancient country?" How can it make any difference at all except the difference of convenience? A little further on, Mr. Best himself says that the consolidation of the Statute Laws must, in the great majority of cases, be "advantageous, as condensing and simplifying our legal system." If this is so, "codifying" can hardly be an "organic change." As to that part of the law which is contained in the Statute Book, it would be, by Mr. Best's own confession, no change at all, except for the better. So far, therefore, as the Statute Law is concerned, Mr. Best acts the part of a legal Balaam—he sets out to curse Codification, and he blesses it altogether. There is, however, a drop of bitterness in the cup, which poisons all. The Statute Law may be codified with impunity, or even with advantage; but to lay a sacrilegious finger on the Common Law, is to fly in the face of Justinian and Oliver Goldsmith, who, "in the seventh number of a periodical called The Bee," quotes Sallust, Virgil, and Chrysostom, to show that customary laws are preferable to written laws. His reasons are, that "custom partakes of the nature of parental injunction—it is kept by the people themselves, and observed with a willing obedience;" also that it is difficult to discover the defects in customs, because "a friendly prejudice stands up in their favour;" and further, that "custom executes itself" . . . . whilst "written laws are to be executed by another." "A customary law," says Mr. Best—and he says it in italics— "is the safest and soundest base for the legal system of a country." "At the base of the whole" of our legal system, "lies the customary law, in virtue of its antiquity and hold on the minds of the people, extending its roots in every direction, and by its vis inertia opposing a stern impediment to sudden and dangerous change." The whole of his views upon the subject are triumphantly summed up in an epigram. "Customary law is a law of principles—written law is a law of language."

Mr. Best's plea on behalf of an uncodified state of the law consists of four averments. He contends, first, that there is in England such a thing as unwritten law—secondly, that unwritten law is a law of principles—thirdly, that written law is a law of language, and not of principles—and fourthly, that if unwritten law were written, it would cease to be a law of principles, and would become a law of language. Each of these averments we traverse.

That the common law was once matter of oral tradition may be very true; but centuries have passed since that tradition was reduced to writing, and the Courts are as much bound in the present day by Hale, Coke, and Sheppard, as by the Statute Book itself. The sacrilege which Mr. Best so pathetically deprecates has been already committed. Littleton was guilty of the "violent and exceptional act" of embodying the law of tenures in antique French—Bacon and Noy, with wicked audacity, confined a whole list of maxims in "human language, the delusive nature of which is too well known to need comment"—nay, the Courts at Westminster themselves have been occupied for centuries in putting into words the sacred mysteries which they ought to have religiously abstained from divulging. A Scotch student once astonished his Cambridge contemporaries by the announcement that he had discovered that "all syllogisms were capable of being reduced to some one of ninety-seven forms, the greater part of which were of such a complicated nature that they could not be expressed in human language, or conceived by the human intellect if they were." Mr. Best's idol, customary law, would seem to be of the same character. If a law can be put into words at all, why should it not be put into a code? If it cannot be expressed in words, what is it good for? Indeed, the identical change which Mr. Best deprecates has been made, over and over again, in a partial manner. Until within the last twenty years, it was part of the common law of England that the eldest son should be heir-at-law to his father; but the whole subject of inheritance is now regulated by a statute which actually did codify, pro tanto, that unwritten law which is so much, extolled. It is a curious instance of the perfect security with which this may be done, that the Inheritance Act converts into positive law a certain number of canons of inheritance—for the most part in the precise terms employed by Blackstone—and, with the exception of the removal of some inconveniences resulting from the old law, it has replaced the common law so completely that no human being but a lawyer knows that there has been any change.

But if Mr. Best's idol is a mere nonentity, the qualities with which he invests it are more imaginary still. It may be perfectly true that, "on a question of written law, the duty of the tribunal is confined to construing a certain number of words used by the legislator;" but in what respect is that duty enlarged if the written words were used by a text writer to embody a tradition current in his time? "Many a crime," says Mr. Best, "slips through the language of a written law, which would be arrested by a law of principles." A few pages further on, he gives us a wonderful, though unintentional, example of the beauties of "the law of principles." Sir Matthew Hale defines larceny as "the taking and carrying away by any person of the personal goods of another, ammo furandi"—"a definition," observes Mr. Best, "which, when examined, will be found to consist of six distinct elements, on every one of which questions have been raised, and will probably continue to be raised, till the end of time." This is a sample of that "unwritten law of principle" which arrests crimes dangerous to society, that would “slip through the language of a written law." If this principle, which certainly lies before our eyes in the plainest possible type, and which would therefore seem to be capable of being written down, were part of the written law, it could hardly have let slip more monstrous offences than those which, in the full bloom of its unwritten purity, it did let slip. Under its guardianship, Sir Thomas Plumer's broker contrived to steal £20,000 with impunity; and, but for the written law which was passed to supply its deficiencies, the firm of Stratum and Paul would have escaped as cheaply.

This is only one of a thousand instances in which the defects of the "law of principles" have necessitated the intervention of a "law of language;" but in truth the common law is so far from being a "law of principles" that it is the source of some of the most arbitrary and irrational of all our legal rules. Take, for example, the rule in Shelley's case—the most grotesque of all the absurdities which ever disfigured any system of jurisprudence. The essential peculiarity of this mere technicality was, that it avowedly attached to words a meaning which they were never intended to have. Some of the rules of construction of the language of wills, and especially that forest of absurdities which buried in its baneful luxuriance the unfortunate word “issue," supply other instances of the same kind. We may add to our list the rule which provided that, if one portion of an estate were discharged from a rent-charge proceeding from the whole, the discharge applied to the entire property. The common law definition of larceny we have already quoted, with Mr. Best's perfectly fair criticism upon it. No "law of language" could well do more than suggest "questions which will probably continue to be raised till the end of time." It is to the same fountain that we owe the philosophical distinction between felonies and misdemeanours, which punished the most trivial manslaughter with forfeiture of the criminal's entire property, whilst its neglect to impose adequate penalties on forgery gave the Legislature an excuse for punishing it by death. We will close our list with one example which throws a curious light on Mr. Best's theory of the literally inexpressible value of "customary law." No part of the criminal law is more important than the statute of 25 Edw. III., which declared what offences were high treason by common law. Before that statute was passed, the law upon the subject was regulated by what was then, in the strictest sense of the word, a "customary law." The oppressions which arose out of the uncertainty which was the necessary consequence of such a state of things, were so intolerable that the passing of the Act is one of our great constitutional landmarks; and yet the definitions of high treason contained in that act—which, it will be observed, was declaratory of the common law, so that, according to Mr. Best, it must have been a statute not of language, but of principles—were so loose that, after undergoing all sorts of distortion in order to meet particular cases, it was found necessary to supply their deficiencies by a whole series of subsequent enactments. This instance proves three things—first, that an unwritten law may be an instrument of oppression, not because of its inherent tendency, but simply because it is not written; secondly, that the mere fact of recording it, or, as Mr. Best would say, codifying it, may be a great boon to society; and thirdly, that the "principles" of which it consists may be of such a nature as to require subsequent written qualifications to make them intelligible or available for any good purpose whatever.

When Mr. Best says that an unwritten law is a law of principles, he has a meaning; but it is one which his language seems to us very ill fitted to convey. He means that, under the pretence of expounding the common law upon a given subject, the judges do in fact exercise a qualified right of legislation, which proceeds upon legal principles, and not upon strict express rules. This, no doubt, is very true, and we think it is very desirable that such should be the case; but why is the power dependent upon the fiction which produced it? Why should not the right of the judges to legislate upon certain questions, subject to certain limitations, be expressly recognized? We could suggest many reasons why such a right would be more beneficial to the public, and more desirable for the judges themselves, than the function which they at present discharge; but the question is too large to be treated incidentally. At present we merely wish to point out that the advantage is one thing, and the fiction which supports it quite another, and that the legislative powers of the judges might be as completely separated from the fiction that they are only interpreters of the common law as the power of disentailing an estate from the cumbrous machinery of fines and recoveries.

If it is not true that the common law is a "law of principles," still less is it true that the statute law is a "law of language." As Mr. Best would probably say himself, decipit antithesis. Can there be any real opposition between principles and language, or are there any principles which cannot be put into writing? It would be a practical bull to ask Mr. Best to announce them by any ordinary means of communication; but perhaps, in some future publication, he will favour us with an account of the symbolic actions by which the nearest approach to a knowledge of these mysteries may be obtained. To our apprehension, the statute law is full of principles. The Inheritance Act lays down six or eight of the broadest principles that any lawyer could wish for. The Statute of Limitations, the Act for shortening the time of prescription, the Bankruptcy Act, the Statute of Frauds, and the various statutes relating to treason and other political offences, abound in principles. Is it not just as much a. "principle" that goods left in the order or disposition of a bankrupt shall pass to his assignees, as that the best evidence must be given? Is it not as much matter of principle that it is high treason to levy war against the king as that it is larceny to take and carry away the goods of another animo furandi? Or will Mr. Best contend that the words which embody a principle so long as they are in Hale or Blackstone, cease to embody it when they are put into Acts of Parliament? If he does not maintain this, what can he possibly mean by saying that the written law is a law of language? The question of the degree of discretion vested in the judges is quite independent of the question whether that discretion is regulated by written or by customary law. A Court may be entirely deprived of discretion by a custom, yet invested with it by a statute. Like many other ingenious writers, Mr. Best has, we think, been deluded by an epigram. Language and principle, custom and writing, oppose each other so patly in words, that nothing can be more seductive than the notion that they exhaust the question. Like Mr. Disraeli's "territory constitution," they have a faux air of truth and profundity about them, of which we can quite understand the seductiveness. They furnish the sort of antithesis which M. Michelet would print in a paragraph by itself, followed by something beginning with "voila.'" But when we come to examine the matter, they convey about as much real information as the famous cry of Messrs. Taper and Tadpole—"Our young Queen and our old institutions."

We reserve for future notice some of Mr. Best's more detailed objections to the scheme which he opposes.

Part 2: November 8, 1856.

We stated last week the general grounds upon which we are unable to agree with Mr. Best in his view of the danger of codifying English law; but besides his general objections to the measure, he has brought forward a number of specific objections, which appear to us to furnish additional proof of the inherent weakness of the cause which he defends.

Mr. Best's first objection is, that the precedents urged in favour of codification fail to support it; and he examines the cases of the Code Napoleon and the Roman Law at some length, dismissing in a few lines the argument founded on the codes enacted in several of the United States. When, however, he remarks that he is "not aware that the Americans have codified the common law," or that, if they have, they have done so "partially and recently," we must observe that it would have been well to have said something of the Code of Louisiana, which certainly did codify the common law, and which has been in full operation for upwards of forty years. With respect to the Code Napoleon, Mr. Best's argument is so curious that we are unable to understand its application. He says that, before the Revolution, part of the country was governed by the Roman law, and part by customary law, the customs varying in different provinces; and that the inconvenience of this state of things led to various projects of codification, which were finally carried out by the Code Napoleon—which was therefore an act of legislation, giving a new uniform law to countries previously governed by different law. From this he draws the strange conclusion that the Code Napoleon can form no precedent for this country, where the law is uniform. No doubt it is perfectly true that the circumstances of England in the present day are sufficiently unlike those of France before the Revolution; and we are not aware that any one doubts that some of the reasons which made a code desirable in France do not apply to England. But it does not follow that the success of a code in France can afford no precedent as to the probable success of a code in England. Surely Mr. Best need not be told that cases may sometimes be quoted which are not on all-fours with the particular case at issue; and such a case, in our opinion, is that of the Code Napoleon. One thing, at any rate, it shows, by Mr. Best's own statement. If ever any nation had an opportunity of comparing the respective advantages of written and customary law, the French were in that position. There was no reason why the Coutume de Paris might not have been extended over the whole of France, if experience had shown that written law was a mere law of language, but unwritten law a law of principles. So far as the precedent goes, it proves that a nation which had the best opportunity of comparing the two systems preferred a written to an unwritten law, and that when they gave a uniform system to the whole country, they embodied it in the form of a written code, instead of adopting the plan of giving universal extension to any one of the unwritten customs which preceded it. But the precedent does not stop there, though there Mr. Best leaves it. Belgium, the Rhenish Provinces, and the kingdom of Sardinia still retain the Code Napoleon, notwithstanding the overthrow of the political system which introduced it; and in some of these States, at any rate, the laws which it superseded were customary laws. Nothing can be more certain than the fact that the opinion of the French nation, under all its different forms of government for centuries past, has been in favour of codes, as opposed to unwritten customs.

Mr. Best's argument on the subject of Roman Law is still more remarkable. He contends that it was due to two causes— the enactment of the "Perpetual Edict" in the time of Adrian, and the nature, expense, and scarcity of ancient books. The "Perpetual Edict" was a codification of what, in some degree, answered to that part of our law which goes by the name of Equity, issued once for all, instead of being issued from year to year. He supposes that the materials from which the Pandects and Codes were compiled might have filled about thirty volumes printed in the modern type, and he states that the original authorities were so scarce as to be hardly attainable. "These two circumstances, and especially the latter," says Mr. Best, "seem to me sufficient to render the codification of the Roman law indispensable in that country;" and they also, as we understand him, constitute such a difference between the cases of England and Rome as to destroy the value of the precedent for our own guidance. Surely this is a strange argument. It is true that our own equity enjoys the full advantage of being in an uncodified state; and it is also true that we have substituted bound books for papyrus rolls, that our laws cannot be comprised in thirty volumes, and that the original authorities are easily accessible in the sense of being contained in plenty of public and private libraries in London. So far, no doubt, the cases of Rome and England differ entirely; but they differ like the terms of a sum in Double Proportion, which may be stated thus:—If a mass of matter equal to thirty printed volumes made codification "indispensable" when books were scarce and hard to get at, what will a mass of matter, consisting of many hundred printed volumes, render necessary when books are plentiful and comparatively cheap? The mere mechanical facilities for reading do not enlarge the capacity of the human brain. No man ever did, and probably to the end of time no man ever will, know the whole of the law of England as it is in 1856. The scarcity or plenty of books, the convenience or inconvenience of their shape, their costliness or cheapness, and the like, are only the means by which the state of things which renders codification "indispensable" is produced—that state of things being the difficulty of ascertaining or understanding the provisions of the law. If it were necessary for this object to read one thousand neat 8vo volumes, sold for £5, it would be just as necessary to codify, or in some way or other to simplify the law, as if it were contained in thirty black-letter folios, costing some hundreds of guineas. Mr. Best's argument really seems meant to prove that it does not matter how voluminous or complicated the law may be, if it is only contained in handsome volumes, readily accessible to those who have the means of buying them. The truth is, however, that though English law reports are very handsome and convenient specimens of printing and bookbinding, their number is so great that the mere expense of buying them as they come out is very serious; and the quantity published is such that no one who is occupied in the business of the profession can spare the time to read them. This evil is so enormous, and so obvious to every one familiar with the subject, that we never knew any one, except Mr. Best, throw a doubt upon the subject. To him, however, the subject presents itself under what is certainly a novel point of view. He is of opinion that the anomalous condition of English. Law is really advantageous. "The mass of authority," we are told, "in English law is much more apparent than real. Much of the old works is conversant about laws which have long ceased to exist, and almost everything in them applicable to our law at the present day has been transferred to digests and text-books, which give the practising lawyer the information he requires; and the greater the alterations made in the law, the more of these old works will drop into oblivion. But as these digests and text works have no binding authority, and can only be used as directory, almost all the advantages of codification are obtained by them, while the characteristic evils of converting Common Law into Statute law are avoided."

Indexes seemed to Lord Bacon to be of little use except to the makers of them; and we suspect that the universal testimony of the profession in our own day would be, that it is utterly useless to read, and utterly impossible to remember, the vast majority of the digests and text-books of which Mr. Best speaks so highly. With a few creditable exceptions, they are mere indexes, consisting of the shortest possible statement of the points decided by particular cases; and every lawyer knows that it is only as indexes that they are of the slightest use, and that it is quite impossible for any one who wishes to do his work properly to trust to their reports of the cases to which they refer. To attempt to get any general or scientific knowledge of law from text-books and digests, is like trying to get a notion of the architecture of a building by looking at the bricks of the wall through a magnifying glass. The necessity of depending upon such helps is quickly degrading the bar from a profession into a trade. The ablest men know no more than where to look for what they want. It is perfectly true that the "mass of authority in English Law is more apparent than real;" but this is an aggravation instead of an alleviation of what is complained of. A man may swim in the water, or may walk on dry ground; but no human energies can cope successfully with mud. An English lawyer has to decide not only upon the meaning, but upon the value of his authorities. Acts of Parliament, cases and text-books, common law, and statute law, contradict, explain, jostle, cross, and qualify each other in such extraordinary confusion, that to separate the "apparent" from the "real" authority is constantly a task of the utmost difficulty. Great masses of our law can hardly be said to be either dead or alive, and whilst it is in the process of passing from the one state to the other, the fact may, to a certain extent, diminish the mass of authority; but by that very process, slow and gradual in the extreme, the perplexity of the law is enormously increased.

Another of Mr. Best's objections to codification is of a kindred nature. He says that it is the tendency of written law to be overrun with comments. We shall not stop to consider how far this is peculiar to what Mr. Best understands by written law, or how far the illustrations of the proposition which he draws from the history of the Code Napoleon are correct. But we may observe that, though our own law is uncodified, it is all written, and that, whether from that or from any other cause, it is overrun with comments to such a degree as to be altogether unmanageable. Codifying it can hardly make it worse in this respect. In our opinion, it would greatly improve it. The existing system of reporting is the great cause of the enormous voluminousness of the law. Codification would involve, as matter of necessity, the introduction of a system of a very different kind—a system in which the reporter should be the recognised officer of the Court, instead of a person engaged in a private speculation. If the law were once reduced to anything approaching to a system, it would become far more natural to entrust to the Judges the right of deciding what cases might advantageously be published with the view of supplying deficiencies or clearing up doubtful points.

We will notice only one more of Mr. Best's objections to codification, but it is a most characteristic and instructive one. He says that codification of the common law would lead to codification of constitutional law, but that "the value of paper constitutions is written in blood in the history of almost every nation of Continental Europe," for the "obvious reason that nothing but a customary constitution—one that has its roots in the habits and affections of the people—has much chance of withstanding the attacks of an armed executive." In answer to the objection that Magna Charta, the Petition of Right, the Bill of Rights, and the Habeas Corpus Acts are all written laws, he answers that they contain but a small part of the constitution of the country, and were "levelled almost exclusively against abuses in the actual order of things." We do not remember to have ever met with a more unfortunate argument or a more suicidal illustration. The reason why "paper constitutions" have so often failed is, not because they were written, but because they were not "rooted in the habits and affections of the people" to whom they were given. What little force they may have had was entirely owing to the fact that they were written. Can Mr. Best seriously think that, if the Charte of 1815 had been left in an unwritten condition, it would have had a greater hold of the French nation than in fact it had? It would not have lasted a week. The true way of putting the case is, that no custom can possibly last unless it is popular. Mr. Best uses this to prove that, if a custom is put into writing, it loses its popularity. This is much as if, from the fact that none but a strong man can recover from a bad illness, we were to deduce the consequence that, upon his recovery, he would be sure to become weak. Mr. Best's illustrations from English history are, if possible, more unlucky still. That the Bill of Rights was a pro tanto codification is perfectly clear; but, says Mr. Best, "it was levelled at abuses in the actual order of things." Is not this the clearest possible proof that the Parliament which passed it considered a written law upon the subject preferable to a custom, because that custom was sure to be matter of dispute and uncertainty? What Mr. Best has to prove is, that the liberty of the subject was put in peril by the Acts to which he refers, inasmuch as they one and all reduced to writing a "customary constitution" which had "its roots in the habits and affections of the people." By the same rule, people ought to lend money without taking a note-of-hand for it, and brokers and merchants ought carefully to eschew dock-warrants and bills of lading.

Our own estimate of the advantages, the possibility, and the importance of codification, differ, not only from those which Mr. Best maintains, but from those which he combats. We feel little doubt that a codified state of the law would be, for all the reasons commonly alleged, infinitely better than that which at present exists; but we also feel that so much of the law requires not only collation but alteration, that to codify it in its present form—and, we may add, in the present condition of legal knowledge—would only be to perpetuate mistakes. There are many preliminary measures which must be effectively carried out before codification can even be hoped for. Not to mention the necessary alterations of the law itself—the consolidation and expurgation of the statute law, the growth of a more scientific system of legal education, and some reform, at least, of the system of reporting are essential prerequisites to such an undertaking. When, however, by these processes, we have winnowed the enormous heap of statutes, cases, and rules, of which our law consists—and we do not believe it would be possible to find any system which contains an equal amount either of chaff or of good grain—it would, we imagine, be perfectly possible to record, in a not unmanageable bulk, the various principles which lie at the root both of our case and statute law, with such illustrations of their leading applications as would guide the discretion of the Judges in applying them to any given circumstances. Our view of the nature of codification differs from Mr. Best's so widely that we should describe it almost by the very terms which he applies to the common law. We should say that a properly constructed Code, though of necessity expressed in human language, was essentially distinguished from a mere statute book or digest, by consisting almost entirely of principles, and hardly at all of arbitrary enactments, and that it would, therefore, necessarily leave to the Judges a far wider discretion than they at present exercise, in many cases.

It seems to us that, if Mr. Best understood the proposition which he contests, he would see that it only embodies his own views, and that the way to get a 'law of principles' is to extract the principles upon which the present law is founded from the mass of precedents in which they are embedded, and to embody them in a permanent form. The truth is that our laws are already codified, in a strange and clumsy manner. The Reports and the Statute Book together hold in solution an admirable code, and all we wish is to see it precipitated. Mr. Best will understand us when we refer to the long line of cases upon the subject of the variations which may be imported by parol evidence into a written contract. Why should not the principles upon which they have been decided be disinterred from the thirty or forty volumes over which they are now scattered, and form one or more articles in that chapter of the proposed code which would relate to evidence? "But," asks Mr. Best, "what information would an unprofessional reader get from an article in a code stating that 'the best evidence must be given?'" He would probably get as much as a person altogether ignorant of Latin would obtain from the announcement that "As in praesenti perfectum format in avi." Every person moderately well acquainted with the subject must know, that to whatever extent codification may be carried, nothing but serious study can ever enable a man to understand a code. We agree with Mr. Best in regarding the notion that society can ever do without lawyers, or that law can ever be learnt without most serious attention and study, as the wildest of all wild dreams; but though this is quite true, it is no less true that arrangements can be made which will enable a really serious student to obtain a far wider and more scientific knowledge of law than any one has now. Mr. Justice Coleridge, indeed, is of opinion that no one ever read, or could remember, a criminal Code, but that it is enough, for all practical purposes, to read Russell on Crimes, and to enter up in it the cases decided by the Court of Criminal Appeal. We can only say that to us the difference between the two operations is very much like the difference between learning Greek grammar by the help of the Eton Syntax, and learning it by reading, without any previous grammatical training, the notes to Porson's four plays of Euripides. It is no more possible to state the precise cases in which the reduction of the law to a scientific form would conduce to the better administration of justice, than it is possible to state precisely beforehand the particular improvements which the progress of a scientific study of medicine would confer upon the treatment of disease; but it appears to us little more reasonable to doubt the probability of the one result than of the other.

Saturday Review, October 16 and November 8, 1856.

No comments:

Post a Comment