It is not surprising that many persons should shrink from passing years in witnessing and taking part in such scenes; and it must be added, that the fees paid both to counsel and attornies for transacting criminal business are extremely small. Indeed, though there can hardly be a more difficult or delicate task than that of conducting a complicated prosecution, the great majority of cases are so plain and short, that they may safely be entrusted to the most ignorant or incompetent; briefs in them are, in fact, given away either by rotation or by favour. The consequence is, that, except in political trials, or in cases of a very grave character, such as the more aggravated class of murders, or in those which are of a semi-civil nature—as criminal informations for libel or assault, fraudulent bankruptcies, extensive embezzlements, or great mercantile frauds—it is very uncommon for men eminent either as barristers or as attornies to enter a criminal court.
When, however, we have divested our minds of these impressions, the real gravity of the subject becomes so apparent, that if it is not recognised at once, it can never be perceived. The moral significance of deliberately branding a fellow-creature with an indelible stigma, of blasting his prospects for life, of exposing him to something like the certainty of utter moral ruin, and, in certain cases, of deliberately, wilfully, and publicly killing him, is such that it would be simply impertinent to illustrate or to enlarge upon it. I propose, in the present paper, to give an account of some of the principal features of the system by which this awful national duty is discharged. It requires but a very slight acquaintance with any part of the law of England to disabuse a man of the illusion that what he may write upon such a subject can have any technical value; but though it would be impossible, within moderate limits, to enter into details sufficiently minute to interest or to instruct legal practitioners, it is not impossible to draw an outline of the general structure, character, and procedure of the Criminal Law, which, if free from gross error, will be neither uninstructive to general readers, nor altogether uninteresting to members of the profession.
The law of England is composed of three principal branches, of very unequal authority. These are, Statutes, Reports, and Text-books. The Statutes begin from Magna Charta (9 H. 111.), and extend to the present year. The Reports are records of the decisions of the Courts upon particular states of facts, involving sometimes a more or less distinct enunciation of the principles upon which they proceed. Including the early series, called the Year-books, they cover a period extending from the reign of Edward II. downwards. The Text-books, of which Bracton is, perhaps, the oldest now in credit, [Bracton wrote Temp. H. III., and has frequently been quoted in modern times. Glanville, who wrote Temp. H. II., is, I believe, considered rather out of date.] were written by a variety of private authors, from the reign of Henry III., and are of all shades of value,—the opinions of Littleton, Coke, Sheppard, and some other writers, being of almost as high authority as the express enactments of Parliament; whilst others—especially the later ones—neither have, nor claim, any independent weight, and aim merely at the merit of being indexes, more or less accurate and convenient, to works of authority.
These depositories contain two different kinds of law, known respectively as Common and Statute Law. The Statute Law consists of Acts of Parliament, and the Common Law comprises a number of old traditions, long since reduced to writing by a variety of text-writers, and a series of judicial expositions and comments on every branch of the law, contained in a great number of reported decisions upon particular states of fact. I may observe once for all—what must be obvious enough to any one who impartially considers the subject—that the power which the Judges possess of pronouncing, with authority, which of several views upon a particular subject is the true one, and what are the principles to be followed upon questions arising for the first time, is a qualified power of legislation. The Criminal Law may, therefore, be said to consist of two branches, of which each is subject to increase by a species of legislation proper to it; the Statute Law, by the unqualified legislative powers of Parliament ; the Common Law, by the qualified legislative power entrusted to the Judges. I will endeavour to draw a very broad outline of the relation of these branches to each other, and of the separate provinces with which each of them is concerned.
The earliest notions on the subject of crime are so very obvious as to be almost universally adopted. Probably, every country in which there is anything approaching to civilization agrees in punishing the intentional destruction of life, the infliction of wounds, the appropriation by one man of the goods of another, certain outrages against women, burning houses, and some forms at least of what in ancient times was called crimen falsi—such, for example, as perjury, cheating, and the simpler kinds of forgery. In early times it was supposed to be an easy thing to give sufficiently plain descriptions of these offences for the purposes of justice; and, no doubt, where it is possible to decide every case on its own merits, without creating a precedent by the decision, there would not be the same difficulty in the undertaking as there is at present. Such general descriptions are still to be found in Bracton and other ancient writers, who, for the most part, copied his statements. [Such was Bracton’s authority, that Staundford’s Pleas of the Crown, written in the 16th century, are little more than an annotated Bracton, with later statutes and cases, as a lawyer would now say, ‘entered up.’—4 Reeves’ Hist. Eng. Law, 566.] By degrees it was found that there were large classes of crimes which the course of society developed, and for which such definitions did not provide. Acts of Parliament were accordingly passed, from time to time, to punish them. This accounts for one large class of our penal statutes. A further discovery was, that the loose descriptions of crime which passed for definitions left great gaps in the law if they were strictly construed; and this gave rise to an immense crop of judicial decisions, explaining, adding to, and distinguishing from, the descriptions in question, in the hope of stretching the old phrases to meet new circumstances, without the assistance of the legislature. The ancient definitions, as explained by judicial decisions, were called ‘the common law,’ ‘the unwritten law,’ ‘the general custom of the realm,’ and so forth—partly because tradition once really had some connexion with them, partly because the use of such phrases concealed the fact that the Judges in reality made, though in form they only declared, the law. This system, though rude and imperfect in some particulars, and though arbitrary and technical to a very high degree in others, was very little interfered with by Parliament till very modern times indeed. The 25 Edw. III., which gave an authoritative exposition of the Common Law, as to treason, is almost the only instance in early times of an interference by express enactment with the course of judicial decision. Indeed, the discretion of the Judges was anciently so much more extensive than it is at present, that legal anomalies caused less practical inconvenience, and attracted less attention, than has since been the case. People, too, were more inclined to look upon law as a science, which had its own necessities and difficulties like mathematics, and were less alive to the fact that we can make what laws we please. Sir Michael Foster’s discourses on Crown Law, and especially his attempts to reduce the distinction between murder and manslaughter to reasonable principles, are excellent illustrations of the manner in which a very able mind, familiarly acquainted with the technicalities of its profession, struggled to put a reasonable construction upon obsolete, unmeaning, or absurd distinctions. [Foster’s Crown Law, Discourse II. ch. v. and viii.]
The result of the whole is, that till within the last thirty years the law consisted of descriptions of the commoner kind of crimes, partly very ancient and partly modern, but forming in the aggregate a coherent system—very incomplete, no doubt, and far from being reasonable where it was complete. The Statute Law upon the subject was a vast mass of enactments aflixing punishments—generally the punishment of death—to all sorts of acts, with no regard whatever to genus or species.
This state of things attracted considerable attention, principally in consequence of the writings of Jeremy Bentham; and within the last thirty years many efforts have been made to consolidate and simplify the Statute, and to regulate the Common Law. They have, however, been marked by so curious a want of system, that the two branches of the law are mixed together in a manner of which nothing but illustrations can give the least conception. Goods were classified, for example, at Common Law as being either choses in possession or choses in action—the latter class comprising such moveables as the owner had a right to possess, though he had not the custody of them. Thus a watch is a chose in possession—money due, a chose in action. It was held to be essential to the crime of theft that a man should deprive another of the possession of his goods, and hence it followed that choses in action were not the subject of larceny.” [4 STEP. Com. 184. Another reason was, that they were of ‘no value.’] This was obviously the rule of a rude age, in which there was very little personal property ; but it was adhered to even after bills of exchange, bank-notes, and other chases in action (for a bank-note is only evidence of the holder’s claim on the bank), had become common; and in order to avoid the inconvenience arising from the fact that such writings were not the subject of larceny, Acts were passed (of which 7 & 8 G. IV., c. 29, s. 5, is now in force) by which it was made felony to steal ‘ any talley order or other security whatever entitling or evidencing the title of any person or body corporate to any share or interest in any public stock or fund, whether of this kingdom of Great Britain, or of any foreign state, or in any fund of any body corporate, company, or society, or to any deposit in any savings’ bank, or’ to ‘ steal any debenture, deed, bond, bill, or warrant, order, or other security whatsoever, for money or for payment of money, whether of this kingdom or of any foreign state, or any warrant or order for the delivery or transfer of any goods or valuable thing.’ The law therefore now stands thus: Choses in action are not the subjects of larceny by Common Law ; but almost every sort of chose in action which has a material existence is the subject of larceny by statute.‘ The law, as a general principle, forbids the use of any one of the ten cyphers; but by express enactment it allows every one to use 1, a, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, or 0, when he has occasion. It is really no exaggeration to say that the ingenuity of the Legislature has been racked to reduce the Common and Statute Laws respectively to the position of the clauses of the famous Highgate oath—never to drink water when you can get wine, unless you like drinking water better. Unfortunately, though it is comparatively easy to use so general a phrase as ‘chose in action,’ it is very difficult to count up the whole of its component parts so as to be able to deny of each of them individually what you have affirmed of all collectively; and inasmuch as the exception does not quite exhaust the rule, it still applies occasionally. It was a question, for example, whether a post-office order was within the statute; [R. v. Gilchrist, 2 Moo. Cr. Ca. 223.] and it has been held that an unstamped cheque not made payable to bearer is not.[R. v. Yates, Ry. & Mo. 170] This instance affords a good illustration of the existing relations between Common and Statute Law. The Common Law lays down a broad and bad principle—the Statute Law deprives it of force in every particular case that occurs to the draughtsman of the bill; but as it is no easy matter to give an exact equivalent of one general term in many terms less general, there always remains a certain debateable land between the rule and the exception intended to repeal it, which furnishes a large proportion of those anomalies and absurdities with which English law is so often reproached. It is a fanciful but not quite inappropriate comparison to say that the juncture between the Common and Statute Law is something like the moraine between a glacier and its bank. Each has its own structure and its own irregularities; but the juncture of the two opposes to progress the combined difficulties of rock, mud, ice, and crevasses.
When we pass from the relation of the two great branches of the law to their specific peculiarities, we find ourselves upon clearer ground. What remains of the old Common Law is circumscribed within very narrow limits, and may be described as consisting almost entirely of principles and definitions. The principles of the Common Law relate mostly to certain broad preliminary questions which apply equally to all crimes, whatever may be their nature. A very good notion of their general objects may be obtained from the early chapters of the Code Pénal, or the Code of Louisiana. Taking the former of these as my guide in the distribution of the subject, I will briefly indicate their scope.
The preliminary dispositions of the French code classify offences as crimes, délits, and contraventions, according to the gravity of the punishments which they incur. The classification into treasons, felonies, and misdemeanours of the English law is a Common Law classification, but it is curiously anomalous and unmeaning. An attempt to murder was at Common Law only a misdemeanour, whilst to steal twelvepence was a capital felony. Statutory provisions have increased this confusion; for it is a felony to embezzle, and a misdemeanour to obtain goods by false pretences. Another of the preliminary dispositions of the Code Pénal regulates the guilt of attempts to commit crimes. This matter depends with us partly upon the Common Law, the rules of which relating to it are very obscure, but the question itself is one of the greatest difficulty. The first book of the Code Pénal enumerates and classifies punishments. This subject is amongst us regulated almost entirely by statute; the fines and imprisonments inflicted for misdemeanours or contempts are almost the only Common Law punishments now in use. The second book of the Code Pénal relates to the responsibility of infants and lunatics, and to the law of principal and accessory. These subjects are regulated amongst us principally by the Common Law, and form nearly its most important title; but the most important branch of all is undoubtedly that which relates to procedure, including the rules of evidence.
It would be impossible to characterize in a few words principles of so wide an application. The entire want of any reasonable classification of crimes or punishments is, I think, a very great defect in the law, though it must be admitted that so many considerations are connected with the whole subject of legal punishment, that it is impossible to look upon it merely from a legal point of view. Crimes, however, might be advantageously and easily classified, and some not inconsiderable anomalies [Such, for example, as the forfeiture incident to felony, and the right of challenging jurors denied to misdemeanants.] would be removed in the process. The law which regulates the responsibility of those who, in the broad legal sense of the words, are ‘non compotes mentis,’ rests, I think, upon a very sound principle indeed, with which it would be most disastrous to tamper. Perhaps the most curious instance upon record of the substantially legislative character of the force which we give to judicial decisions is to be found in the fact that the whole law upon this subject is regulated by the answers given by the Judges, in 1843, to certain questions referred to them by the House of Lords, in the case of M‘Naghten, the assassin of Mr. Drummond. The law of principal and accessory, on the other hand, is in some of its features exceedingly harsh. For example, if several persons are engaged in a common design to pick a pocket, and in its execution one of them murders the person to be robbed, all are guilty of murder. I shall fully consider the merits of the Common Law procedure and rules of evidence hereafter.
Besides the Common Law principles, there are still in use a considerable number of Common Law definitions of crimes. Indeed, that system still exercises very great influence upon the legal conceptions of all the commoner offences. I have already given an illustration of the sort of relation in which the old definitions stand to the new enactments; but the definitions themselves, which the statutes explain, have various special peculiarities which must be studied by any one who wishes to appreciate English Criminal Law. It has become fashionable to speak of the English mind as being a stranger to refined speculation; but, amongst the numerous contradictions of this view which experience supplies, none is more remarkable than that which is conveyed by the history of English Law. It would be much more like the truth to say that in this department of knowledge the principal defect of the English mind is the habit of over-refinement. The wonderful interpretations given to the apparently simple language of the Statute of Frauds, the whole of the system of special pleading which grew up under what were called the New Rules, and the strangely-distorted feats of ingenuity which are still to be seen in Fearne’s Contingent Remainders, are standing illustrations of this truth. None, however, are more curious than those which are to be found in the Common Law definitions of crimes. There is a distinction in kind between the view which is taken of crimes by the Common and by the Statute Law. The Common Law originally aimed at being a philosophical system; and, though the principles of logic, morality, and politics on which it reposed are now to a great degree exploded, its ancient character still clings to it so far that its definitions are, for the most part, generic and not specific. The Statute Law, on the other hand, hardly ever aims at generic definitions, but confines itself almost entirely to the creation of specific offences. For example, the Common Law gives a generic definition of theft. The Statute Law creates the particular offence of stealing in a dwelling-house above the value of five pounds, and affixes to it a specific punishment. The Common Law contains a general definition of forgery; [2 RUSS. Cri. 318] but the Statute Law [11 G. IV. and W. IV. c.66] has specified so many varieties of forgery, such as the forgery of Exchequer-bills, deeds, dividend-warrants, &c., that the offence of forgery at Common Law has been nearly superseded. Indeed it would require great ingenuity to commit it, without committing at the same time a statutory offence. [Whilst these sheets were passing through the press, the problem was, perhaps, solved by a man who forged the name of an eminent artist on the back of a picture to increase its value. A case was reserved to determine whether the solution was sound.] The principal crimes to which Common Law doctrines still apply are, as might have been expected, those which are common to all nations and to all states of society. Theft and homicide are the most important, and the definition of each of them supplies most characteristic illustrations of the genius of the system. If it were desirable to characterize them in a few words, I should say that the specific peculiarity of Common Law definitions of crime is, that having been originally descriptions, they have been manipulated into definitions. The oldest definition of theft still in force is that of Bracton— Furtum est secundum leges contractatio rei alieae, cum animo furandi, invito illo domino, cujus res illa fuerit; [BRAC. Fo. 150 b.] and after various extensions and adaptations by Coke, Hale, and others, it was defined by East as ‘the wrongful or fraudulent taking and carrying away by any person of the mere personal goods of another, from any place, with a felonious intent to convert them to the taker’s own use, and make them his own property, without the consent of the owner.’ It is obvious that the ‘animus furandi’ in the first, and the word ‘ felonious’ in the second of these definitions, entirely destroy their value, because they introduce into the definition the term to be defined. It must, however, be remembered that Bracton wrote long before there were reports, and whilst the law was really in a great measure traditional; and indeed it is obvious from the whole tone of his book that he aimed at nothing more than a description of the system which he saw in action. His account of theft is instructive enough, if this is borne in mind. Its deficiencies, considered as a definition, were no doubt speedily discovered, when in the natural course of events it came to supersede the authority of oral tradition. Incidents were then grafted upon it, and technical meanings affixed to its different members, in order to adapt it to particular cases, and it thus grew by degrees into the cumbrous and, to the ordinary reader, utterly unintelligible definition which I have quoted from the modern author. Who, for example, would understand that by a ‘taking,’ Sir John East understood a taking out of the owner’s possession, which possession might be actual or constructive, and that, if the owner delivered the goods to the thief as his servant, he did not divest himself of the possession, whereas, if he delivered them to him not as servant but as baillee, he did; and that, therefore, if a servant sent out to exercise a horse rode off with him, he would transfer him from his own possession qua’ servant (which was the master’s possession) into his own possession qua” thief, which would be larceny; but that if, on the other hand, a man gave a carrier a parcel of goods to carry, he parted with the possession of them—so that if the carrier appropriated them, he would not be guilty of theft unless he cut open the parcel and stole part, in which case he would, because, though the possession was transferred, it was only the possession of the parcel as given and not the possession of its contents, however arranged. All this learning is contained in the word ‘take,’ and there is almost as much in the word ‘feloniously,’ and not a little in the words ‘carry away.’ Lord Burleigh certainly nodded his head to much less purpose. [First Report of Crim. Law Com. p. 20, &c., and 2 Russ. Cr. p. 29, &c.]
The history of the famous words ‘malice aforethought,’ in the definition of murder, is very similar. ‘Aforethought’ is a word to which it is impossible to attach any meaning at all which is not absolutely universal. No act is ever consciously done which is not done of some motive ‘aforethought,’ for the intention must precede the act ; and whether it precedes it by a second or by a year, it equally precedes it. Malice, also, is a word of the vaguest kind, and its legal interpretation makes it almost unmeaning, for it may be either express or implied; and the Judges seem from time to time to have determined to imply it whenever they found a case of homicide in which they thought the criminal ought to be hang, and which did not fall within the natural meaning of the definition of murder. For example, ‘a man wilfully poisons another; in such a deliberate act the law presumes malice, though no particular enmity can be proved.’ [1 RUSS. Cr. 483.] So if A. kills B., meaning to kill C., the law considers that the malice ‘transit in personam.’ In short, having given a forged bond, the law keeps by it a quantity of forged receipts, to use as occasion requires. If we consider the phrase ‘ Murder is the killing a person under the King’s peace with malice aforethought’ as a description of the crime, it is a good one, for it would probably characterize fairly enough the distinctive features of a very large proportion of murders; but if we look upon it as a definition, it is a very bad one indeed, for there are many murders to which it does not apply. The Judges, considering themselves tied down to the words ‘malice aforethought,’ stretched them, by such fictions as I have attempted to describe, to the required extent. [2 EAST, Pl. Cr. 552-4.]
There is a strange peculiarity about the definitions of murder and manslaughter, which is, I believe, almost unique in the history of English law. The ‘murdrum’ which Bracton mentions was not our murder, but was merely secret killing, and was distinguished from other homicide, not by its gravity nor by its punishment (for manslaughter was, till modern times, a capital though clergyable felony), but by the fact that it gave rise to what was called a ‘presentment of Englishry,’—that is, unless the murdered man were proved to be an Englishman, and not a Norman, it was presumed that he was a Norman, and the township was fined. The only qualifications of homicide known to the ancient Common Law were homicide se defendendo, and homicide per infortunium; the modern distinction was established entirely by judicial distinctions and refinements, and its intricacies and defects may therefore be considered as a palmary example of the character of Common Law definitions of crime. [4 REE. Eng. Law, 536.]
This short sketch will give some general notion of the character and scope of the Common Law in relation to crime. I will proceed to give a short account of the existing state of that part of the Statute Law which refers to the same subject. It is the special peculiarity of English Acts of Parliament to abstain from laying down general principles. They consist almost exclusively of particular provisions adapted to specific circumstances. This is specially true of the Acts of Parliament which refer to crimes and their punishments. They never lay down a principle as to responsibility, procedure, or evidence; they hardly ever define any large class of crimes; but they are full of definitions of different species of acts which subject men to punishment, and which were either not reached by the Common Law at all, or punished too severely, or not severely enough. The Statute Law on crime was, till lately, excessively intricate. It was, in fact, distributed over the whole Statute Book from the reign of Edward I. downwards. Much, however, has been done within the last thirty-five years to simplify and consolidate it, and it has the advantage of being readily accessible in a portable shape—for the statutes relating to Criminal Law have been collected and classified by Mr. Welsby in so efficient a manner, that Lord Campbell declared in the House of Lords that he never heard a statute cited in Court which was not to be found in that collection. I shall, therefore, in speaking of the present state of the statutes upon crime, refer only to this work. Omitting all the merely formal parts of Acts, and expunging repealed sections, but containing very full notes of the cases which have arisen upon the various enactments, it forms a volume, in royal octavo, of 269 pages, in which are printed, at full length, all the Acts, or parts of Acts, now in force and relating to the subject of crime, from the 1st Edward II., st. 2, to the 16 and 17 Vic., c. 121—i.e., from 1307 to 1853. The number of the statutes is 156, and they belong to the following reigns:—
Edward II. . . . 1
Edward III . . . . 2
Richard II . . . . 1
Henry V . . . . 1
Henry VI . . . . 1
Elizabeth . . . . 2
James I . . . . 3
William and Mary . . . . 4
Anne . . . . . 1
George I. . . . . 1
George II. . . . 5
George III. . . . 18
George IV. . . . 28
William IV. . . . 21
Victoria . . . . 67
The Act of Edward II. refers to breach of prison; those of Edward III. to treason, and juries de medietate linguae; that of Richard II. to forcible entries; that of Henry V. (obsolete, but still in force) [By G. IV., c. 64, s, 19, violations of it are quite immaterial.] is the ‘ Statute of Additions,’ i.e., of titles to be given in indictments; Henry VI.’s statute refers to forcible entries; Elizabeth's to the same subject, and to the punishment of perjury; the three of James I. to Popish recusants serving in foreign armies, to forcible entries, and to the abolition of the right of sanctuary; the four of William and Mary to malicious informations, trials for treason, the embezzlement of Government stores, and blasphemy; the statute of Anne also refers to trials for treason; the Acts of George I. are the Riot Act, and an Act about naval stores; those of George II. refer to perjury, to assisting prisoners to escape from prison, to the embezzlement of stores, and to impeachments for treason; the Acts of George III. relate to the following crimes: treason, the administration of unlawful oaths, inciting troops to mutiny, the embezzlement of stores, serving foreign states, libel (Lord Erskine’s Act), and the disturbance of public worship. There are also two Acts which remedy inconveniences arising from the existence of such ancient local jurisdictions as Nottingham, Lincoln, and Bristol, which are counties in themselves, and one authorizing the detention of prisoners acquitted on the ground of insanity. The questions involved in laws regulating the doctrine of treason and the functions of juries in cases of libel are political rather than legal, and the same may be said of the Riot Act. The other offences which have been mentioned are unimportant, or very uncommon, except indeed perjury, as to which, it is to be observed that the statutes regulate only the punishment and procedure, whilst the crime itself—many of the incidents of which are very technical and not very reasonable—is defined by the Common Law. It may therefore be concluded that no part of our existing Statute Law upon the subject of crime in common use, and applicable to the ordinary routine of offences, with the single exception of the Act which gives aliens a jury de medietate, is older than the reign of George IV. In other words, our whole Criminal Statute Law has been re. enacted within the lifetime of men still young. The great subjects of Criminal Law—those which form the most important titles of the Code Pénal or the Criminal Code of Louisiana—are coining, theft, arson and other malicious injuries to property, forgery, and offences against the person. [Out of 25,972 cases tried in 1855, only 574 are not included under these heads.] On these subjects, the Acts of 2 William IV., c. 34, which consolidates the laws relating to offences against the coin; the 7 & 8 George IV., c. 29, which consolidates the law of larceny; [Including horse-stealing—but see 7 William IV., c. 86—and embezzlement.] the 7 & 8 George IV., c. 30, which consolidates the law respecting arson and malicious mischief; the 11 George IV. and 1 William IV., c. 66, amending the law of forgery ; and the 7 & 8 George IV., c. 18, amended by the 7 William IV. and 1 Vic., c. 85, relating to offences against the person, contain the kernel of what may be called the working Criminal Law of the land. These six Acts contain altogether 234. clauses of practical importance, many of them, however, merely repeal other Acts which are re-enacted, whilst others supply obvious defects of the Common Law, such, for example, as the 23rd section of the Larceny Act, which makes it a misdemeanour to steal title-deeds ; or the 31st, which makes dogs, and birds, and other pet animals, the subject of larceny. It may probably be said, without exaggeration, that an Act of about 200 sections would apply to nineteen-twentieths of all the crimes tried in a year. The dispositions of the Code of Louisiana upon the same subjects contain, as nearly as I can calculate, 399 articles. It must, however, be remembered that these contain all the law upon the subject, Common as well as Statute Law, and that the calculation is in every way a very rough one. The remainder of the Criminal Statute Law applies principally to very uncommon offences. About ten Acts refer to treason, and four to sedition, illegal drilling, &c. Others are of a very special and peculiar character. An Act (7 William IV. and 1 Victoria, c. 36), containing forty-nine sections, regulates offences against the Post-office. The 6 & 7 Victoria, c. 40, contains, in thirty-six sections, a number of special rules about the prevention of abuses in silk and woollen manufactories. A very well-known and most useful statute, 14 & 15 Victoria, c. 100, is entirely devoted to the prevention of a number of quibbles by which offenders had escaped. It provides, for example, that if a man is indicted for embezzlement he shall not be acquitted if he is proved to have committed larceny; that coin or bank-notes may be described in indictments as ‘money,’ and other matters of the same kind. An Act (7 Geo. IV., c. 16) against personating soldiers at Chelsea or Kilmainham, and another (14 & 15 Victoria, C. 19) against laying wood, &c., on railways, form part of the Criminal Law. Acts explaining and amending other Acts, Acts varying the amount of punishment and the treatment of offenders, and, above all, the penal clauses of Acts of a merely administrative character, combine to give the subject greater apparent complexity than it really possesses.
With regard to the merits of the law itself, as distinguished from those of its administration, it may, I think, be said that though confused, irregular, and difficult to understand in the last degree, it is substantially good enough, though it must be admitted that the most important requisites of a good criminal system are so plain and so universally admitted, that it could hardly be otherwise. The Common Law definitions are, I think, generally speaking, very bad, and some of the Common Law doctrines harsh and absurd; but the evil of bad definitions of crimes in quiet times is not a very important one to the public at large. An enormous majority of the crimes which occur would fall within the loosest definition; and with respect to the cases in which a bad definition causes a failure of justice, it really matters very little whether you punish 17 thieves per 1000, or 16 and a very large fraction. Still it is not the less true that bad definitions of crimes are a serious evil. They bring discredit on the administration of justice, and they foster a sort of fraudulent and perverted ingenuity amongst legal practitioners which is very objectionable. They also induce jurymen to tamper with their oaths. There can be no doubt that this is the case with the definitions of murder and manslaughter. They are so grossly absurd that they are not and cannot be strictly acted upon. Very many cases of murder might be cited more venial than many cases of manslaughter ; and the consequence is, that in practice, murder means a crime for which the jury think a man ought to be hung, and manslaughter one for which they think he ought not to be hung. Unless we are prepared to contend that the jury ought, in every instance, to assess the guilt of the prisoner according to their own views of the case, this cannot be regarded as a slight evil. It may be impossible to produce a definition which will entirely exclude hard cases ; but there can be no doubt that, though the line can never be drawn perfectly, it might be much better drawn than it is with us. It must also be remembered that, in unquiet times, a loose definition of crime may shake the foundations of society. When Hastings hung Nuncomar, he used the law for a purpose for which it was never designed. Cases might well be imagined in which a partial jury and a vindictive Government might hang an innocent man for murder without departing in the least degree from the law.[A. laps B. in the face, B. stabs him; this is manslaughter. A. shoots at a fowl, intending to steal it; one grain of shot hits B., who dies of lockjaw a month after; this is murder. The fowl, instead of a hen, is a wild partridge; it is manslaughter. A., B., C., D., and E. are stealing apples; F., the owner of the tree, collars A., who resists. B., C., D., an E. throw stones at him, and the stone thrown by D. kills him; this is murder in all five. A. has reason to think that B. has seduced his wife; runs home, finds some evidence (though not conclusive evidence) of the fact, and stabs B.; this (per Watson B., R. v. Davies, Liverpool Summer Assizes, 1857,) is ‘manslaughter of the lowest degree.’ See 2 Russ. Cr. Bk. III. ch. 1, and 4 Rept. on Cr. Law, xxviii. &c.] Coroners‘ juries have more than once found verdicts of wilful murder against soldiers or policemen in times of popular excitement; [As in the case of the Six-mile-bridge rioters] and there can be no doubt at all that the law is so loose upon the subject that cases might occur in which such conduct would involve the Courts and the Government in the most serious embarrassment. It would be no light thing to pardon a political partisan who was clearly a legal murderer, on the ground that the law of murder is absurd, and that juries had, as a general rule, had the good humour to perjure themselves so far as to call such offences manslaughter.
[The question whether it would be possible to improve the law by codification is one which is naturally suggested by the foregoing observations; but it is so extensive, and has been so fully discussed by other, that I prefer not to enter upon it. I may be allowed to make a single observation upon one detached part of the subject. It is usually denied by the opponents of codification that that process would popularize the knowledge of the law. In the course of a tour which I made some time since in Switzerland, I used frequently to ask my guide (a Savoyard, who therefore lived under the Code Napoleon) various questions about the punishments of particular forms of robbery, smuggling, and so forth. He answered them with surprising readiness and detail, though they would have puzzled most English lawyers. I would also advise persons who make the objection in question, to compare the law of French novelists with that of English novelists. Balzac, Bernard, and George Sand are infinitely superior to any English novelists (except Scott and Fielding) with whom I am acquainted in this respect.]
It would be impossible to obtain any general view of the character of English Criminal Law without some acquaintance with the character of its component parts, but the attainment of such knowledge is merely a means to understanding the general character of its present administration; for the whole system would be most unfairly judged if the unquestionably irregular and confused outline of its doctrines were looked at, to the exclusion of all consideration of the manner in which they are brought to bear upon the actual transaction of business. It is only from a personal acquaintance with the transactions of criminal courts, or from an attentive and intelligent study of reports of their proceedings, that it is possible to form any opinion upon the subject worth having.
It is necessary, in order to understand any system, to consider the object which it proposes to accomplish; and it may be asserted with respect to Criminal Law, that the choice lies between two views of it. We may consider a criminal trial either as a public investigation, having for its object the ascertaining of the truth with a view to the infliction of punishment; or as a private litigation between two persons, one of whom tries to persuade the Judge that the other falls within a class against which the law has denounced certain punishments. These two views may, for the sake of distinctness and shortness, be called the inquisitorial and the litigious theories; and I shall attempt to show that the litigious view of Criminal Law has with us gradually superseded the inquisitorial theory, and that it is at present the great leading principle which lies at the bottom of our whole criminal procedure. I shall next proceed to illustrate this proposition from our existing practice, and to consider the advantages and defects of our own theory as compared with those of the French Courts, which appear to me to afford a very perfect illustration of the peculiar characteristics of the inquisitorial theory of criminal justice.
The Anglo-Saxon Criminal Law was almost exclusively litigious. It was set in motion by private, and not by public prosecutors, and the object of its criminal proceedings was rather the exaction of damages than the infliction of punishment. [1 KEMBLE, Any. Sax. ch. x. p. 267; 2 HALLAM's Mid. Ag. 386] To what extent this continued after the Norman Conquest, [2. HALL, M.A. 462-7; 1 MAD. Hist. Exc. p. 215.] is a very obscure question. In the compilation known as the Leges Henrici Primi, [Ancient Laws and Insts. of Eng. p. 215.] pecuniary mulets, or weres, form the principal penalties; but the view taken of the functions of royalty by the Conqueror and his successors was so different from that of their predecessors, whilst the power at their command was so incomparably greater, that it is reasonable to suppose that they disliked a system which must have been very unfavourable to public peace, and little dependent on the will of the King. It is a very probable supposition that justice was administered for some time after the Norman Conquest on two different and co-existing systems,—that the Curia Regia, and the King’s Justices, treated offences as crimes, whilst the County Courts treated them as injuries. It is, however, well known that the central rapidly encroached on the local jurisdiction. The appointment of Justices in eyre, as a permanent institution, by Henry II., was perhaps the most important step in this direction. In the next century a system was established of which Bracton has preserved to us a most minute account, and from which our existing arrangements were developed by a progress so natural and gradual that it can only be traced by comparing together the state of things at different periods, separated by considerable intervals of time. The system in question was what is usually called Trial by Jury; but it may be described more expressively, and, strangely enough, with more technical accuracy, by the less familiar name of Trial by Inquest. The importance and the specific character of the inquest has hardly been duly recognised by writers on our legal history. In very early times, judicial business was only one branch—doubtless the most important branch—of what we now know by the name of the Administrative Government; and though the Norman passion for technical procedure speedily reduced it to an exact, or comparatively exact shape, both our judicial and our executive systems bear innumerable marks of their ancient intimate connexion. The inquest was one of the most important methods of administration in early times. When communications were slow, and the art of writing comparatively unknown, the information which would now be collected in a comparatively informal manner was obtained by judicial inquiry, and nothing was more common or obvious than to order the executive officer of the Government to summon people who could give him information upon any required head, and to certify their report to the King. This, for example, was the machinery employed for the compilation of Domesday Book, and it was also put into action on very trifling occasions. Inquests sat to determine almost every matter in which the King was interested, in virtue of his feudal rights to wardships, reliefs, escheats, marriages, and so forth. [1 PALG. Eng. Com. 273.] The Justices in eyre were far from being mere Judges; they were also great administrators. In very early times they assessed talliages, and when Bracton wrote, [BRACTON, Bk.III. ch. 1.] they inquired not only into the commission of crimes, but into all sorts of details relating to the property and the prerogative of the Crown. In all these matters they proceeded on the information of inquests—of persons, that is, locally acquainted with the facts, and sworn to give true information about them. It was thus inevitable that in the administration of criminal justice, which formed the most important branch of their oflice, the Justices should avail themselves of the ordinary means of obtaining information; and the description given by Bracton in several places, of their procedure, shows that they did, in fact, take that course. He mentions two kinds of trials: the first by appeal, [Apellatio, calling; not appeal in our modern sense of reference from Court to Court.] at the suit of a private person; the second by the country, or inquest, proceeding on common report, certified to the Justices by a body which was the early representative of the modern Grand Jury. It is from trials of this kind that our modern criminal procedure is derived. Their object was not the adjudication of vengeance on the suit of a private person—for this was provided for by the system of appeals—but an inquiry on the part of the public into the truth of an accusation.
‘I have now to speak,’ says Bracton, ‘of those who are indicted by public report, which raises a presumption which must prevail’ (cui standum est) ‘till the person indicted has cleared himself from the suspicion. Suspicion arises from report, and from report and suspicion arises a weighty presumption which, however, admits of disproof or exculpation. Suspicion is of many kinds. First, if a. report arises amongst good and weighty persons. Suspicion also arises from antecedent circumstances, which must prevail unless the contrary is proved ; as, for example, if a man is appealed by an approver, and flies on account of the appeal, and returns on the death of the approver,’ &c. &c. Since reports produce suspicion, ‘We must consider what kind of report is sufficient for the purpose, and whence it must arise. To raise suspicion, a report ought to rise amongst good and weighty persons. . . . . for the vain talk of the crowd ought not to he listened to. The Justice, therefore, if he is discreet (since it is by reason of the report and suspicion that the jury are to inquire into the truth of the matter whether the accused is guilty or not), ought in the first place to inquire, if he doubts, and if the jury is suspected, from whom those twelve have learnt what is contained in their verdict about the accused, and on hearing their report about this he will easily be able to determine whether there is deceit or iniquity. Perhaps one, or the majority of them, will say that they learnt what is contained in their verdict from one of the jurors, who, on being questioned, will perhaps say that he learnt it from such a one, and thus the question and answer will descend from one to another till it reaches some vile and abject person to whom no credit ought to be given. [BRACTON, iii. c.23.]
Parallel passages in Fleta and Britton enable us to form a pretty clear conception of the manner in which criminal trials were conducted under this system. The Grand Jury certified the fact that suspicion existed ; thereupon the Justices, by the help of the Sheriff, deputed twelve men, who combined the present functions of a jury with those of witnesses, to examine into the truth of the accusation, and gave them a charge which answered to the modern form of giving the prisoner in charge to the jury, [This form, now in use, is as follow:—After the arraignment and the swearing of the jury, the clerk of assize says—‘Gentlemen of the jury , the prisoner A. B. stands indicted of the wilful murder of C. D. To this indictment he has pleaded not guilty. Your charge is to inquire whether he is guilty or not.’ This is almost a translation of BRACTON.] and not to the modern summing up. The jury retired and considered the matter in private, and it does not appear that the Justices presided over their deliberations, or that any witnesses were examined before them. It would seem, however, from the passage to which I have referred, as well as from other authorities, that the Justices had a right to interfere if they thought proper, and were, therefore, not absolutely bound by their verdict; that if the jurors could not agree, the Court might add others to their number until a verdict was obtained; and that in extreme cases they might— at least in Henry III.’s time—altogether supersede the judicial functions of the jurors, treat them as mere witnesses, and act independently on their evidence without any verdict whatever. [Possunt tamen justitiarii si viderint expedire ex cause necessaria si grave crimen latens sit et juratores forte amore, odio, vel timore celare voluerint veritatem, separare juratores ad invicem, et quemlibet per se et separatim, examinare ad veritatem sufficienter declarandam.—BR. iii. 2, 3, fo. 143-6.]
These authorities show, with the greatest clearness, that, in its original institution, the objects of English Criminal Law were inquisitorial. I shall attempt to mark some of the principal steps by which it became litigious. It is not easy to lay down any certain test by which administrative and judicial functions may be distinguished; but the existence or the absence of a well-defined system of procedure supplies one which, though not perfect, throws much light upon the subject. Such a procedure pervaded both departments of the Government in very early times, and as it became more formal and settled, it naturally converted into courts of justice institutions which originally corresponded very closely to our modern public offices. The history of the Curia Regia of the Exchequer, and of the Privy Council, supply palmary illustrations of the truth of this assertion. In the progress of society the various provinces of the Judges, the jurors, and the witnesses, would naturally be defined and systematized. To collect a knot of men from the neighbourhood in which an occurrence took place, and to get them to come to a conclusion upon their own knowledge, or on the reports with which they might be acquainted, is obviously a mode of investigation which is fit only for a very rude age. Every step in civilization would therefore tend to divest the jury of the character of an inquest, and to invest them with the functions of judges, and as the Justices in eyre gradually lost their administrative, and assumed the judicial character, all their leanings and habits of mind would induce them to look upon trials rather as instances of litigation than as inquiries for administrative purposes. To this it must be added, that the growth of English liberty and the high, free, and generous spirit of the nation, gave a powerful impulse to the course of events in the same direction. Instead of freeing the ancient administrative officers of the Crown from the trammels entailed by the cumbersome character of the machinery at their disposal, the national instinct imposed upon them restrictions even more definite, and confided to them a discretion more limited, until, by degrees, a system of legal procedure was developed out of what was, perhaps, at one time, little more than an official routine.
The epoch of the transition from the inquisitorial to the litigious theory of Criminal Law is marked by the time when the Grand Jury ceased to inquire and present on their own knowledge or suspicion, and began to do so on the evidence laid before them by private prosecutors. In ancient times, private persons could bring criminals to justice only by an appeal, in which, unless the evidence was of the very strongest kind, the appellee might ‘wage his body,’ i. e., challenge the appellor or accuser to battle. This practice, though not absolutely abolished till within living memory, was greatly curtailed in the time of Henry VI. by a judicial decision, which established the principle that appeals could not be tried pending an indictment. [3 REE. Eng. Law, 419] It seems a fair inference to conclude that at this period criminal trials had become so far litigious that private prosecutors could indict whom they pleased before the Grand Jury, as the effect of the decision would otherwise have been to supersede the private prosecutor’s remedy.
The practice of submitting evidence to a jury was not fully established till the time of Henry IV; [HALL. Mid. Ag. Suppl. Notes, 258.] and in the subsequent reigns, down to the time of the Revolution of 1688, some traces of the original inquisitorial character of criminal trials remained. The most remarkable of them were the practices of interrogating the prisoner, and that of stating to the jury, on the authority of the Court, facts not in evidence. It is self-evident that the first of these proceedings is inquisitorial and not litigious. The other is a legitimate consequence of the theory that it is the province of the jury to inform the Court of matters on which it is ignorant, so that if the Judges are already satisfied of a particular circumstance, there is no need to prove it to the jury. In Throckmorton’s trial [I St. Tr. 870. 1 S. T. 1271.] the prisoner was not only interrogated at great length, but several confessions were read against him. Although an offer was made to call some of their authors, it was made rather as a matter of favour to the prisoner than for the sake of trying out the case. In the trial of Udall, in 1 590, the same course was taken. Irregular and unjust as such proceedings may appear to us, there can be no doubt that they are justifiable if the primary object of the verdict of the jury is to satisfy the minds of the Judges and not to record the impression left upon the jurymen themselves by hearing the evidence. The practice of fining the jury for a verdict unfavourable to the Crown, though according to our views a gross and barefaced iniquity, and though even under the Tudors it was considered a very oppressive act, may be explained by reference to the original character in which jurors acted. It is natural enough that if the primary function of jurymen was to supply information to the Government they should be compellable to supply true information, and be punished for not doing so; and this was the principle of the ancient process of attaint. [The practice survived till the year 1670—see Bushell’s Case, 6 St. Tr. 9 7, 829.]
Independently of the vestiges which might still remain under the Tudors of the ancient inquisitorial theory of Criminal Law, another powerful agency was at work which tended permanently and definitely to impress upon it that character. This was the criminal jurisdiction of the Council, which, after it had been exercised with more or less regularity for a great length of time, was confirmed by statute in 1486. [3 Hen. VII, c. 1. See also 1 HALL. Const. Hist. p. 72, &c.] The power given by that Act, which regulated if it did not constitute the famous Court of Star-Chamber, applied only to ‘great riots, unlawful assemblies,’ and various forms of intimidation and corruption; but the procedure was modelled upon that of the Civil Law, and there was a constant disposition on the part of the Judges to extend the powers of the Court much further than the statute warranted. Ordinary procedure was at that time so much a matter of indefinite custom, that it is impossible to overrate the importance of the example set to the ordinary courts of justice by such a body; and it must be observed that the Court not only conducted trials in the matters legally subject to it entirely upon the inquisitorial principle, but that it also collected evidence and discharged duties not unlike those of a French Juge d’Instruction, in respect of offences which were to be tried by the Common Law Courts. The most striking illustration of this fact is to be found in the reading of Mr. Jardine on the use of torture, in which he shows that, during the reigns of Elizabeth and James I., the Council frequently issued warrants for the infliction of torture in order to extort confessions from prisoners accused of horse-stealing, robbery, murder, and other private crimes, which confessions were afterwards to be given in evidence against them at Common Law. The Common Law Judges sat in the Star-Chamber as well as in Westminster Hall; and we need only read the trials of Throckmorton and Udall to convince ourselves of the deep influence which that fact exercised over their ordinary procedure in their own Courts. No French Judge could submit a prisoner to more searching interrogatories than were administered to these two persons.
During the interval between the Restoration and the Revolution, the whole spirit of the administration of criminal justice underwent a deep change. The establishment of the Commonwealth and the execution of Charles I. certainly produced a powerful reaction; but they greatly and permanently abridged the distance between the King and the nation, and went far to destroy the mysterious sanctity with which the authority of the Government had formerly been regarded. This change nowhere appears more clearly than in the reports of the political trials of Charles II. and James II. Under the Tudors and the early Stuarts, the position of the royal power was sufficiently high to give some weight to their claim to be engaged in the investigation of truth, for the purpose of administering justice when they prosecuted for political offences; but under Charles II. and James II. it was impossible to see in such trials anything else than a furious personal struggle for life or death. To force, to terrify, or to persuade the jury into authorizing them to kill their enemies, was the all but undisguised object of the prosecutors in the State Trials of those days. There was hardly any pretence of impartiality, and the parties were not in such a relative position as to give the Crown that sort of superiority which is implied in the institution of a public inquiry. The Star-Chamber and its forms had been swept away, and the litigious theory of Criminal Law was established at once by the simple fact that the most important class of criminal trials became palpably and obviously nothing else than litigations prosecuted with the most vehement personal feeling, and involving the dearest personal interests.
Still, however, in respect of private crimes, something of, the old inquisitorial character of Criminal Law remained. Several cases during this period, not connected with politics, are reported in the State Trials, and in all of them the matter seems to have been more in the hands of the public authorities before it was brought into Court than is the case at present, whilst in each of them the Judges interrogated the prisoner. The most remarkable of these cases are those of Colonel Turner [6 S.T. 565.] tried for burglary in 1669,and Count Koningsmark, [9 S.T. 1.] tried for the murder of Mr. Thynne in 1682. In each of these instances the principal witness for the Crown was the committing magistrate, who not only closely questioned the prisoners upon the circumstances which inculpated them, but personally made investigations closely resembling those of a French Juge d’Instruction. They also stated in Court a great variety of circumstances which in the present day would not be admissible in evidence, in order to account for their suspicions having been aroused. In both cases, also, the prisoners were interrogated—Turner rather roughly and very strictly, and Count Koningsmark favourably, and no doubt with a corrupt View to his acquittal. The trial of Mr. Hawkins; [6 S.T. 921.] a clergyman of Aylesbury, for theft, is an instance of a purely litigious criminal proceeding, although the prisoner was twice questioned by the Lord Chief Baron Hale. In this case, however, the accusation was sustained by the grossest perjury, and was got up entirely for base private ends.
From these observations it may be concluded that at the commencement of the last century the feeling that a criminal trial was a litigious and not an inquisitorial proceeding, was established by the bitter experience of half a century, and the attention of the Judges, placed at last in an independent position, was turned to the propriety of making the litigation fair for both parties. This tendency may be observed in some statutory provisions of the time, such, for example, as the Act giving the prisoner the benefit of counsel and a right to a copy of the indictment in cases of high treason; but in the ordinary routine of the administration of criminal justice, the principle could only be realized by the process of judicial decision. The legislative powers which were and are exercised by the Judges have at all periods of our legal history been important, and during the eighteenth century they were exercised with greater freedom and boldness than at present. The particular steps by which our existing system was established are very obscure; but it is an undoubted fact that, whereas in criminal trials before the Revolution of 1688, no one of our present rules of evidence was well established, [Except, perhaps, that which excludes hearsay evidence. It was recognised by Jeffreys in Lord W. Russell’s trial—9 S. T.619. It is the only rule of evidence referred to in the instructions drawn up for the use of Algernon Sydney, by Sir W. Williams—Ib. 826. It was also laid down vaguely in the case of Mary Moders, tried for bigamy in 1663-6 S. T. 276. ] ‘and none habitually observed, we find by the end of the century that our existing rules were established in all their rigour, though certainly not with their existing profusion of detail, which is for the most part the growth of the present century. It is also certain that one great principle upon which they proceeded was, that the same rules applied to criminal as to civil cases—in other words, they were founded expressly upon the litigious as opposed to the inquisitorial theory of criminal justice. Any one who will study the early volumes of the State Trials, and compare them with those which relate to the eighteenth century, will find abundant proof of the fact that the practice of the Courts during the period uniformly tended to a systematic assimilation of criminal to civil trials. That this most important change was brought about by the judgest in discharge of that qualified exercise of legislative power which the practice of the country entrusted to them, is proved by the absence of any express statement by the principal writers on Crown Law of the rules of evidence which now form so prominent and characteristic a part of our system. [Bentham was by no means the first person to denounce ‘Judge-made law.’ To say nothing of Junius’s attacks on Lord Mansfield, there are numerous instances in the State Trials of the popular dislike to the law of the Courts as opposed to the laws enacted by Parliament. The subject is discussed by Hobbes on very wide grounds indeed, in the ‘Dialogue of the Common Law,’ 6 English Works, p. 1, &c.] Except in respect to questions of competence, Sir Matthew Hale says hardly anything on the subject; whilst Hawkins, Blackstone, and Foster are equally silent. The effect of the rules of evidence may be briefly summed up by saying that they proceed upon the supposition that a criminal trial is an action between the plaintiff and the defendant, in which the Judge is passive, merely regulating the proceedings and transmitting to the jury the statements of the opposite parties; and that they impose upon the plaintiff or prosecutor the obligation of adducing proofs of a certain determinate kind, sufficiently powerful to leave upon the minds of the jury no reasonable doubt that the defendant or prisoner falls within a certain category. The only ministerial function performed by the Judge is the apportionment of punishment; the rest of his office is purely judicial. As a plaintiff in a civil action, so the prosecutor in a criminal trial is to prove his case, and in doing so he receives no assistance from any public functionary whatever. In short, an English criminal trial may be considered as the discussion of the question: shall we grant the prosecutor’s demand that the prisoner may be punished? In order to be able to secure the discussion of this question, the prosecutor must, in the first place, satisfy the Grand Jury that it is a request which he has a right to make. The proceedings before the committing magistrate are conducted on precisely the same principle, and are calculated to give the prosecutor security that the prisoner shall be forthcoming when he is wanted; but he could, if he pleased, dispense with them altogether. The whole effect of our criminal procedure is to regulate the manner in which this request is to be put forward, and the terms on which it will be granted. In point of form, no doubt, the Crown is in every case the prosecutor; but the real prosecutor has so entirely superseded the Government in the character of plaintiff, that there is at least one important practical distinction between cases in which the Crown’s function is substantial and those in which it is only nominal. In the former, the counsel for the Crown has a right to the last word, whether the prisoner calls witnesses or not.
The great cardinal principle of English criminal procedure is this. No request that a person may be punished shall be granted unless the person who makes it, by proofs of a particular kind, convinces beyond all reasonable doubt, twelve men selected in a particular manner, of the guilt of the person with respect to whom the request is made. It is needless in this place to say anything of the qualifications of jurors—therefore two points remain to which our attention must be directed: What is the nature of the effect to be produced on the minds of the jury? What are the means of producing it which the law allows to be employed?
Every one would admit that evidence of guilt of some amount of cogency is necessary in order to warrant the infliction of punishment; and this raises a question as to what standard of cogency is to be adopted. Innumerable discussions have taken place upon this subject. Thus, for example, writers of considerable reputation have maintained that a conviction upon what is called circumstantial evidence is not justifiable unless the circumstances proved are inconsistent with the prisoner’s innocence, [This is the opinion of Mr. Wills, the author of an Essay on Circumstantial Evidence, one of the very few books on English Law which is interesting, or even intelligible, to an unprofessional reader.] —a condition which, in all human probability, never was and never will be fulfilled; whilst so great a man as Jeremy Bentham proposed that the jury should declare what were the odds as to the prisoner's guilt or innocence—whether five to one, seven to one, or ten to one—and that unless a certain degree of probability (say, for example, seven to one) were reached, punishment should not be inflicted. These are, perhaps, the most famous suggestions upon this subject which have been made in this country, though under the Civil Law the evidence of two witnesses was required in capital cases, and a variety of rules were laid down about plena and semiplena probatio.
The question is one of grave practical importance, for it frequently gives rise to discussions which command a great deal of public attention in cases where a conviction—especially a conviction for murder—has been obtained upon circumstantial evidence; and proposals are frequently made, sometimes of the wildest kind, for restricting the powers of juries in cases which rest upon proofs of that description. I think that the confusion which exists upon the subject arises from the fact, that almost all writers upon it have attempted ‘to estimate the force of evidence on a wrong principle. Their object has been to say, whenever such and such conditions are fulfilled, men will be convinced, and not otherwise. Therefore prisoners ought not to be convicted unless such and such conditions are fulfilled. The true principle appears to me to be to estimate the value of evidence entirely by the effect which it does in fact produce upon the minds of those who hear it. The value of evidence is surely measured as exactly by the state of mind which it produces as a force is measured by the weight which it will lift. If a set of circumstances are put in evidence which, though consistent with the prisoner’s innocence, leave no doubt at all in the minds of those who hear of them as to his guilt, the evidence does as much, produces as great an effect, and is therefore experimentally proved to be as strong as if they had been inconsistent with his innocence. It may, however, be said that what will satisfy one man's mind will not satisfy another’s, and that therefore such a test of the value of evidence, as its power of satisfying the minds of a jury, is indeterminate. This, no doubt, is true. It is an indeterminate test, but we can have no other. We cannot say no man shall be convicted unless there are six pounds or eight yards of evidence against him; and Bentham has conclusively shown that it is not much less foolish to require the evidence of two or of three witnesses, for innumerable cases may be put in which the evidence of a single man is from circumstances far weightier than that of several. Almost all language which does not apply to matters of weight and measure is indeterminate, but it is not therefore unmeaning. What is meant by a ‘safe’ bridge? Certainly not one which contains a few trifling flaws, for probably no bridge is quite free from imperfections. No one, however, could describe the varieties or degrees of imperfection which would render it unsafe. The phrase, however, is not only not unmeaning, but is capable of having a clear technical signification attached to it, for it would be easy to provide that any bridge should he considered ‘ unsafe’ which the surveyor of the district should adjudge to be so. The effect of the existing rules as to the amount of evidence necessary for conviction is precisely analogous to this. We all know what that state of mind is which we call doubt, and no definition would make it clearer to us than it is already, and we likewise all know what that state of mind is which we call certainty. We are therefore able to say, with respect to any given subject upon which we have thought, whether or no, as a matter of fact, our minds are in a state of doubt; and the law says that the amount of evidence necessary for a conviction is that amount, be it greater or less, which will place twelve jurymen in a state of certainty. This amount, of course, varies very much according to the composition of the jury, and therefore the test is an indeterminate one, though it is perfectly applicable. It may, however, be observed, that this view of the nature of the jury’s functions supersedes the controversies to which I have referred respecting circumstantial evidence. On this view of the subject they become questions not of principle but of fact, and resolve themselves into an inquiry as to the character of the combinations of circumstances which have in point of fact satisfied juries of the guilt of accused persons.
A plausible objection to this view may be founded on the right which the Judges exercise of directing an acquittal in cases in which the evidence breaks down upon a particular point, which practice may be said to indicate the necessity that some specific amount of evidence should be offered to the jury, and not merely such an amount as relieves their minds from doubt. The most remarkable instance of this which can be mentioned is Lord Cardigan’s case, [1 TOWNSHEND’S Mod. St. Tr. 229. &c.] in which the prisoner was acquitted by the House of Lords, acting on the advice of Lord Denman, because there was no evidence to show that the Harvey Garnett Phipps Tucket mentioned in the indictment was the same person as the Harvey Tucket who was wounded on Wimbledon Common. Close attention will, however, show that this objection is only apparent. The Judge has no power whatever to control the verdict of the jury. Even in the most extreme case of all—if no evidence were offered for the prosecution, and the jury chose to convict— the only remedy would be a pardon from the Crown. Cases, I believe, have occurred in Ireland, where the jury, under the influence of strong party feeling, persisted in convicting in the face of the Judge’s direction to acquit, and the Court was obliged to take their verdict. The true explanation of the practice, as far as it relates to the present question, is, that the jury are to form their opinion from the evidence only, and not from general antecedent probabilities ; and that the Judge, whose mind is trained to the task, exercises the right of warning them of gaps in the chain of evidence which an uninstructed mind would fill up from extra-judicial considerations. A man is charged with shooting Harvey G. P. Tucket. It is proved that he shot Harvey Tucket. Upon what grounds would a reasonable man suppose that Harvey Tucket was also called Garnett Phipps? The indictment itself could be no proof of the facts which it alleged; and the only considerations which could remove the doubt would be quite independent of the evidence produced at the trial. They would be, for example, such as this—that it would be very unlikely that an indictment should be drawn up without any reference to any real fact; that it was matter of universal notoriety that Lord Cardigan had shot a Mr. Tucket in a duel, and that nobody ever heard of his shooting more persons than one of that name; so that, in all probability, the person referred to by the evidence would be identical with the person named in the indictment. Now, it is one of the principal objects of the rules of evidence to withdraw such general considerations from the minds of the jury, and to obtain from them an account of the state of mind produced in them by evidence of a much narrower description. The practice, therefore, of which I am speaking, amounts to nothing more than a warning on the part of the Judge, that the legitimate sources of opinion are failing the jury on a particular point, and that they must not have recourse to others. It is, moreover, a warning only, and not an express authoritative command, although no doubt it invariably acts as such.
Such being the nature of the result to be obtained, what are the means by which the law allows it to be produced? They are limited by the famous system called the rules of evidence—rules, I believe, almost entirely peculiar to this country, and the objects of the most vehement attack and passionate defence. Though these rules have been applied to an infinite number of cases, and have been so overlaid with comments, illustrations, applications, and corollaries, that they form a large and complicated branch of the law, they are in themselves very few and very simple. They may, indeed, be reduced to the following principles :--—First, the evidence must be confined to the point at issue—that is, it must tend to prove or to disprove some or one of the material averments of the indictment; secondly, the best possible evidence must be produced—for example, the contents of an existing writing must be proved by the production of the writing itself ; thirdly, hearsay evidence of a fact is not admissible; fourthly, no one is bound to answer questions which criminate himself — an accused person may not be questioned at his trial—and as husband and wife are one person in law, they cannot be witnesses for or against each other.
The object of these rules is, first to restrict the quantity, and secondly to guarantee the quality of the proofs on which the jury are required to form an opinion. That they answer the first purpose most effectually cannot be doubted; and it is a most important one. If it were allowable to lay before a jury every consideration which could possibly affect their minds in relation to the guilt or innocence of an accused person, there would be no end to trials, and verdicts would ultimately be given from party feeling, prejudice, or a thousand other improper motives. Whether, as a general rule, they secure the second object is a question of fact, which nothing but experience can decide. My own impression is, that two out of the four rules might be advantageously relaxed. I think that, for many reasons, the rule which makes an accused person or his wife incompetent witnesses, is a bad one; it affords a certain amount of protection to crime, and is a very great hardship on innocence. The very fact that suspicious circumstances are put in evidence is in substance, though not in form, an interrogation of the prisoner. It amounts to an inquiry whether he can give any explanations on the subject, and few things weigh more strongly against him than omission to do so. It would surely be better to ask the question in so many words than to do it covertly; and though it may be true that a man will often lie to save himself, we must remember that the weight of testimony depends far more on its truth than on the credit of the person who gives it? [See below] The rule requiring the production of the best evidence is very technical, and often operates very harshly. For example, matters of record can only be proved by the production of the record. A man was tried for procuring abortion, and was acquitted. The Judge did not agree with the verdict, and directed him to be re-committed, and indicted at the next assizes for murder (the Woman having died). He was accordingly indicted, and pleaded autrefois acquit; but as he was a poor man, and was not able to instruct counsel before the assizes began, he had not been advised to procure the piece of parchment technically called the record; and though his counsel offered to call the Clerk of Assize who had taken the former verdict, and to produce the memorandum made by him officially at the trial—of which memorandum the record itself was only a transcript—this evidence was excluded, and the man was capitally convicted, and transported for life. [The case is not reported. My account of it rests on the recollection of the prisoner’s counsel, which may' possibly be inaccurate, as the matter happened several years ago. It is, however, obvious that such a case might happen. In the particular instance referred to, the lea could not have been supported if the record had been produced.—Reg. v. De Salvi, Cen. Cr. Ct., Oct. Sess. 1857.] No doubt the non-production of an original document may, under particular circumstances, be very suspicious; but whether it is so in the particular case or not, would seem to be a question rather for a jury than for the Court.
Besides these rules as to the nature of the evidence itself, there are several rules of great importance as to the mode in which it is to be elicited, which illustrate more clearly than any other part of the proceedings the litigious character of English criminal justice, for they avowedly rest on the principle that the witness favours the party who calls him. The most important of these rules are, that the side which calls a witness must not ask him leading questions—questions, that is, which suggest the answer. So, too, a man is not at liberty to contradict his own witness, for to do so would be, to use the Scotch phrase, to ‘approbate and reprobate.’ It is asking the jury to believe so much of your own story (for it is the essence of the whole system to look upon the witness as the organ of the party calling him) as makes in your favour, and to disbelieve what makes against you. The most characteristic feature of all, and that in which our own differs most widely from the French system, is the circumstance that the evidence is produced and marshalled, not by the Judge, but by the counsel who are the representatives of the litigant parties; and that, except in apportioning punishment or in the decisions of questions of law arising incidentally, the functions of the Judge are entirely passive.
The nature of the evidence requisite to convince a jury, and the practical operation of the rules of evidence, can only be gathered from facts. I will, therefore, attempt to show the value of the standard of certainty which is produced by the joint operation of the principles and rules which I have attempted to delineate. Its value can never, by its very nature, be absolutely determined, but some notion may be formed of its exigency by a statement of the circumstances of two cases which illustrate, first, the maximum strength of evidence on which juries have refused to convict, and, secondly, the minimum strength of that on which they have convicted. It may, perhaps, appear to many persons that the evidence accepted in the second case is not so strong as that which was rejected in the first; but the line which separates that amount of proof which does from that which does not exclude doubt is not straight, but bends a little from side to side, according to the temper of the jury.
Mr. Belaney, a surgeon, was tried at the Old Bailey in 1844 for the murder of his wife. Towards the end of May in that year, the prisoner and his wife made mutual wills in each other’s favour. On the 1st June they came to London from Sunderland, and on the 4th went into lodgings. On the 8th, at a quarter before eight in the morning, the prisoner called in his landlady, saying that his wife was very ill; but he refused to send for a doctor, saying that he was one himself—that she had a heart complaint, that she would not recover, and that her mother had died some months before in the same way. Various remedies were administered by the prisoner and the landlady, and at last a medical man was fetched; but before he came the deceased had died. The prisoner certified that her death was caused by brain fever. Prussic acid was found in the stomach. It appeared that the measures taken by the prisoner were not calculated to promote recovery from the effects of that poison. The prisoner had bought prussic acid the day before his wife’s death; and when the landlady came into the room, there was a tumbler close to the head of the bed, about one-third full of a liquid which, though clear, was whiter than water. Two days after, the prisoner told the doctor who examined the body that he had bought the prussic acid to use it under a prescription for a complaint of his own (and it was true that such a prescription had been given) ; that in opening it, the stopper stuck in the neck, and that, in using a tooth-brush to force it out, he broke the bottle; that he poured the prussic acid into a tumbler, and went out to get another bottle for it; but that he changed his mind, and began to write a letter, and that in his absence his wife took the poison by mistake. There was a paper of Epsom salts and an empty tumbler near the tumbler which contained the other liquid, and the prisoner told the medical man who was called in that his wife had taken no medicine but salts. He further said that he had destroyed the prussic acid bottle in distress at his own carelessness. In opposition, however, to this story, it was shown that two days before his wife’s death he had written a letter to say that she was unwell—that two medical men had seen her—and that, in consequence, he meant to give up an intended visit to Holland. In another letter, written on‘ the day of her death—of which it was uncertain whether it was written before or after the event—he said that two medical men had seen her, and that one of them pronounced her heart to be diseased. All this, as well as the statement that his mother-in-law had died of a heart complaint, was false. The jury acquitted the prisoner, considering probably that it was just possible that his explanation might be true. [WILLS’ Circ. Ev. 159.]
The case of John Donnellan forms a curious contrast to this. He was tried at Warwick, in 1781, for the murder of Sir Theodosius Boughton, his brother-in-law. Sir Theodosius, generally speaking, had good health; but his brother-in-law several times falsely represented it to be very bad. One day he was ordered to take a mild dose, and the evening before he took it Donnellan falsely told his mother that he had got his feet wet. When he took the dose, which was given him by his mother, he complained that it tasted of bitter almonds; and in about half-an-hour he died. Donnellan came in soon after, and asked Lady Boughton where the bottle was. She showed him two; and when they were pointed out, he poured some water into one, shook it, and emptied it into a basin. She told him not to do so, and he immediately poured water into the other bottle, and put his finger to it, saying he did so to taste it. Donnellan had a still in his room for distilling roses; and, soon after the death of the deceased, brought it full of wet lime to a servant to clean. He made a variety of false statements about the circumstances of the death, and, in a correspondence with the guardian of the deceased, told various falsehoods tending to prevent an examination of the body. Before the coroner he tried to prevent Lady Boughton from giving evidence as to the rinsing of the bottles, and he tried to persuade the coroner that the death had been caused by arsenic bought to poison fish. The medical evidence was very meagre indeed. One of the witnesses swore that on opening the body he had a sharp biting taste in his mouth, like that produced by laurel water in subsequent experiments; and others gave their opinions that the symptoms of the death were caused by that poison. On the other hand, the famous John Hunter swore that the symptoms might have arisen from other causes, and that the appearances on dissection arose from putrefaction. Donnellan was found guilty, and hung. [WILLS’ Circ. Ev. 192.]
If we compare this with the recent cases of Madeleine Smith and Spollen, there can be no doubt that the standard of certainty required has risen of late years. Several causes have contributed to this result, many of which do not belong to my subject ; but one may be noticed, because I do not think sufficient attention has been paid to it. Up to the year 1836, so much of the old inquisitorial theory of Criminal Law still prevailed, that counsel were not allowed to address the jury for the prisoner in cases of felony. This was a rough, though probably an unintentional and even unconscious substitute for the practice of interrogating the prisoner. He had to tell his own story in his own way; and if he did not stoutly assert his innocence, and explain the facts which made against him, the jury naturally suspected him. Since prisoners have been in all cases allowed the benefit of counsel, this has entirely changed; for at present the contention of the prisoner's advocate is not that his client is innocent, but that he is not proved to be guilty. The former state of things was curiously illustrated in the cases of Eugene Aram and William Andrew Horne.
The leading facts of Eugene Aram’s case, and the singular circumstances which brought his guilt to light, are too well known to require re-statement ; but the immediate cause of his conviction curiously illustrates the point to which I have referred. The principal evidence against him was that of the approver Houseman, which was confirmed in the following particulars:—A skeleton was found in the place and position indicated by him as that in which Clark, the murdered man, had been buried; it was proved that, shortly before his disappearance, Clark had told Aram, in Houseman’s presence, that he had received his wife’s fortune, and had it in his pocket; it was shown that Houseman had been at Aram’s house after midnight on the day of Clark’ s disappearance ; and, above all, it was proved that certain goods belonging to Clark were dug up, shortly after his disappearance, in Aram’s garden. Inasmuch, however, as, shortly before that event, Clark had contrived to possess himself of a quantity of property, with which on the occasion of his murder he was supposed to be absconding, Aram might naturally enough have shared in the fraud without being concerned in the assassination. The evidence, indeed, seemed to be consistent with, and even to point to the conclusion that Houseman and not Aram was the murderer. All this might very possibly have been successfully urged by an advocate; but when Aram chose, in defending himself, to assume a speculative tone, and instead of denying his guilt, taxing Houseman with the crime, and explaining or denying the other circumstances of the case, to deliver a highly finished and curiously elegant essay on the inconclusiveness of the evidence, studiously avoiding throughout anything like a denial of his guilt, he gave the Judge an opportunity of observing that his defence did not look like innocence; and he was convicted and executed accordingly. [His defence was written and preserved verbatim. The conciseness and polish of the style are wonderful. If it is true that before the summing up of the Judge the jury were ready to acquit him, great credit is due to their taste. The speech has all the grace and simplicity of Greek, and does not contain a single claptrap sentence.]
The case of William Andrew Home is still more extraordinary. He was convicted at Nottingham, before Chief Justice Parker, on the 10th of August, 1759 (just a year after Aram’s trial), of the murder of his natural child, by exposure to the cold, in February, 1724. [This is a far stronger case of tardy punishment than Governor Wall’s, which Lord Campbell speaks of as unexampled. His trial took place only twenty years after his crime; Aram’s about thirteen years. There have been other examples of trials (R. v. Clewes, at ‘Worcester, in 1830, and R. v. Roper, at Leicester, in 1836,) which ended in acquittal twenty-four and thirty-four years respectively after the facts to which the referred—WILLs’ Circ. Ev. p.49.] The principal evidence against him was that of his brother Charles, who accompanied him on the occasion from Butterley in Derbyshire, to Annesley in Nottinghamshire, where the child was exposed. The only corroboration of his story was given by some witnesses who remembered finding the child in the place and at the time described; but this was of little weight, as such an occurrence would be a common article of news. Another circumstance which certainly added something, though perhaps not much, to the weight of Charles Horne’s testimony was, that in the interval between the crime and the trial be repeated the same story to several people, and especially on one occasion, when in the immediate prospect of death. This could not be put in evidence at the present day, under our own, though it possibly might be under the Scotch rules respecting hearsay evidence. [The principle laid down by the Judges in Madeleine Smith’s case was, that evidence of what third persons said in the absence of the prisoner was admissible when the circumstances were not such as to show the existence of any motive for falsehood.] The prisoner’s own statements, however, made very strongly against him. To one witness, who told him of the accusation, he said, ‘Tell Charles he can’t hang me without hanging himself, and that if he behaves well I will be a friend to him.’ He sent another witness to his brother to hear what was said when the warrant was granted, and upon hearing that he had described the horses on which they rode, observed, ‘What occasion had he to tell that? It was malice, it being done thirty or forty years ago. He will hang himself as well as me.’ When the constable came to arrest him, he hid himself. The prisoner said in his defence that he knew nothing of the crime, and called witnesses to prove that his brother had used language showing a wish to hang him, that he might have his estate. He was convicted, and hung at Derby on his seventy-fourth birthday. It is impossible to doubt that his silence as to the expressions imputed to him must have weighed heavily with the jury; and it is equally plain, that if he had been defended by counsel, plausible hypothetical explanations of them might have been put forward. It is easy for an advocate to say, ‘My client’s mouth is stopped, and he cannot give his own account of the matter; but can you be sure that the expression quoted may not have been so and so?’ But a man can hardly say in his own person, Perhaps I may have meant something different from what I said; nor can he deny the words imputed to him without putting himself in direct contradiction with the witness who affirms them.
The nature and value of the standard of certainty thus obtained, is curiously illustrated by reference to the general characteristics of mistaken convictions. It is vain to hope that human ingenuity will ever be able to devise a system under which such occurrences will never take place. At a certain point, the burden of proof must shift from the prosecutor to the prisoner; and if he is unable to rebut the presumption raised against him, conviction must follow. There are two ways by which innocence may be protected. The trial may be looked upon as a public inquiry, in which evidence proving the prisoner’s innocence is as important as evidence proving his guilt; or it may be looked upon as a litigation, in which each of the parties has to prove what makes in favour of the proposition for which he contends,—and if the latter view is taken of the subject, protection can only be given to an innocent man by requiring very clear and very weighty evidence from the prosecutor. I have attempted to show how far this is accomplished under our system, and it is obvious that the standard adopted affords a very strong security to innocence. The following is, perhaps, as curious a proof as any on record that, though strong, it is not absolute:—In 1758, a Mr. Barnard was tried for writing a threatening letter to the Duke of Marlborough. In November, 1757, the Duke received two letters demanding a ‘genteel support for life,’ and declaring that, in default of obtaining one, the writer would murder him. The first letter made an appointment with the Duke at 10 A.M. on the next Sunday, at a certain place in Hyde Park; and the second in the west aisle of Westminster Abbey, at 11 an. on another Sunday. The Duke kept each appointment, and at each met the prisoner—on the first occasion alone, no one else being near; and on the second, in company with a person whom he afterwards left in order to approach the Duke. On both occasions the Duke spoke to the prisoner, and on both the prisoner denied having anything to say to him. The Duke afterwards received a third, and subsequently a fourth letter, in which the prisoner was mentioned to him by name. Each of the three letters referred to the circumstances of the former meetings. In consequence of the fourth letter, the Duke wrote to the prisoner, who came to him, and turned out to be the same person whom he had met in the Park and the Abbey; and some conversation passed between them upon the subject of the letters, in which the prisoner neither seemed surprised nor denied their authorship. He succeeded, however, in proving to a demonstration that the two meetings were accidental, and in showing, by other considerations, the extreme improbability of his guilt. In the absence of such evidence he would have been undoubtedly, and most justly, convicted. If evidence strong enough to exclude so unlikely an occurrence were required to be given in all cases, no one ever would be convicted at all. [19 S.T. 815.]
Other cases might be quoted which have had a very tragical ending; they are all reducible to one typical form. A man intending to murder another, goes into his bedroom with a drawn knife, finds him already murdered by some one else, drops the knife in the blood, is found, tried, and hung. Some twelve or fifteen strange cases of this sort are stated by Mr. Phillips, in his Essay on Capital Punishment. A popular conclusion is, that circumstantial evidence cannot be relied upon. It is a sufficient answer to say, that without it the administration of criminal justice would entirely cease. In a great majority of cases there is little else, and no case whatever is independent of it; indeed, a conviction on direct evidence alone could never be obtained for any serious crime. If several men swore that they had seen another stab a man in the street, and if no one had seen the body, or knew anything of the murdered man—if there was no blood on the supposed murderer, no weapon, and no evidence of malice against any person whatever, nothing even to show that he was near the spot at or about the time—conviction would be out of the question; yet all these facts are circumstantial, and not direct evidence. It is easy, as a matter of rhetoric, to say that it is better that ten guilty persons should escape than that one innocent one should suffer; but it would be absurd to attempt to maintain as a matter of logic, that it was better that ten thousand guilty persons should escape than that one innocent one should suffer. The occasional condemnation of the innocent is an unavoidable evil which will happen under all systems; and just as we know when a railway is made that a certain number of people will be killed in making it, so we know that whenever a nation administers justice, it will sometimes punish innocent men. There is, however, one special cause of such catastrophes which is peculiar to our own procedure, and which might be easily removed. I allude to the extraordinary haste with which trials are at times conducted. Bellingham shot Mr. Perceval, was arrested, committed, tried, and hung, within little more than a week, and was thereby prevented from setting up the defence of madness. I myself heard a man sentenced to death [At the Northampton Summer Assizes in 1855.] on one Friday for a murder committed on the preceding Friday. The prisoner’s appearance was imbecile, and he was known to suffer from epileptic fits. He was pardoned on the ground of insanity, but not a word was said of this in court; and he was not even defended, except by a gentleman to whom the Judge handed the depositions from the bench alter the trial had begun, and who was not only unacquainted with the facts, but heard the evidence for the first time in court.
The influence of the litigious principle is as strongly marked in the rest of our criminal procedure as upon the rules of evidence. From the arrest of the prisoner down to the verdict of the jury, no public functionary is in any way bound to investigate his guilt, and the‘ prosecutor receives no other assistance from the law in collecting his evidence, than he would have in a civil action. He is a mere private person, and has no official character whatever. When, as is frequently the case, a policeman is the prosecutor, his official position makes no kind of difference in his powers—his acts as prosecutor are in every respect as unofficial as those of any private person. The same principle applies in exactly the same manner to prosecutions conducted by the solicitor to the Treasury, as agent for the Government. He has no advantage over any other solicitor, but prepares the case for trial exactly as a private attorney would in a civil action for damages. The only difference in principle between civil and criminal proceedings in the preliminary procedure is, that in the latter the accused person is liable to be, and generally is, taken into custody; but this fact must be viewed in connexion with two other circumstances, which give to it a character altogether different from that of the apparently analogous practice in France. In the first place, imprisonment before trial is with us intended exclusively for safe custody, and is not in any way whatever made subservient to the collection of evidence. [Always in practice, though the place in which the proceedings take place is not an open Court (11 & 12 Vic. c. 42, s. 19). It is to be observed, however, that the accused person has the right of being defended from the very first, either by counsel or by attorney—such, at least, is the invariable practice, but it might, I think, he a question whether 6 & 7 W. IV., c. 114, gives a statutory right to that effect. This is otherwise in France.] It is only allowed after sufficient evidence has been given publicly, and subject to all the rules of evidence, to persuade a police magistrate or justice of the peace, who stands in no sort of official relation to the prosecutor, that a strong suspicion of the guilt of the accused person exists; and, in the second place, accused persons are bailable in this country in all cases whatever, though a discretion exists as to taking bail—the principle being, that bail ought never to be refused when the appearance of the prisoner can be secured by it. In France, délits only are bailable, but crimes (which answer roughly to felonies) are not — the reason being, that with them the preliminary imprisonment is not merely precautionary, but is one of the principal means of obtaining evidence. It may further be added, that the practice (which in one or two cases still exists) of arrest on mesne process in civil actions was precisely analogous to that of committal for trial, except that it bore far more harshly on the defendant than the correlative practice bears on the prisoner.
When the case actually comes to trial, the recognition of the litigious principle is, if possible, still more express. The prosecutor and the prisoner almost exactly replace the plaintiff and defendant. If the prosecutor or his witnesses do not appear, or if the prosecutor offers no evidence, the prisoner is acquitted; and if he chooses to forfeit the sum in which he is bound over to prosecute, he can always defeat justice if he pleases. The rules which regulate the addresses of counsel to the jury, and the sharp division which exists between the evidence for the Crown and the evidence for the prisoner-each side calling its own witnesses and eliciting their testimony by questions, and each in its turn cross-examining the witnesses called on the other side—are equally analogous to the proceedings in a civil action, and the Judge is as entirely passive in the one case as in the other. The practice—almost peculiar to the English law—of never interrogating the prisoner, is to a great extent founded on the old rule (now abolished) which made the parties to actions incompetent witnesses; and the parallel might, if necessary, be drawn out to almost any length.
In France, on the other hand, a criminal trial is nothing else than the last stage of an elaborate public inquiry, carried on by an organized public department, of which the tribunal which ultimately tries the prisoner is in some degree the head. The general principle upon which the system rests is embodied in the first article of the Code d’lnstruction Criminelle. Its terms are—‘L’action pour l’application des peines n’appartient qu’aux fonctionnaires auxquels elle est confiée par la loi.’ The nature of the machinery provided for the purpose of discovering and punishing crimes is as follows:—There are in France twenty-seven Cours Impériales. At each of these there is a Procureur-Général, who has various deputies and substitutes. In every arrondissement there is a Juge d’Instruction (chosen for three years, from the Judges of the Civil Tribunal), and in every Tribunal de premiere instance there is a Procureur de l’Empereur. The commissaries of police, the agents of police, the gendarmerie, and other inferior officers, are under the orders of these authorities, who form, as the French phrase is, a ‘ hierarchy,’ extending from the gendarmes to the Procureur-Général. The Procureur-Général himself is a sort of Judge Advocate, being so far a member of the Cour Impériale that he sits on the bench during trials, and interferes ex officio on many occasions in the course of them. The functions of these various officers (who constantly correspond with each other, and stand in the closest official relation) are almost entirely inquisitorial. They receive and collect evidence of every kind in reference to any crime which has been committed, and constantly interrogate the accused upon every point of the charge, and confront him from time to time with the witnesses. They have it in their power to place the accused in solitary confinement (an secret), and constantly exercise it, the object being to prevent him from communicating with his friends, and from forming any systematic defence. They keep him in ignorance of the depositions which may have been made for and against him, and then question him on the facts to which they refer. By comparing together these various sources of information, they gradually elaborate a theory on the subject which, in complicated cases, has often innumerable ramifications, and is supported not only by arguments of a most refined character, but also by considerations drawn from the manner in which the witnesses give their evidence, the degree of frankness shown by the accused in his answers, and many other circumstances. This is called ‘instructing the process 3’ and the final results of the ‘instruction’ are embodied in an acte d’accusation—a document which not only recapitulates all the grounds from which the Ministère Public infers the guilt of the accused, but also frequently states and refutes by anticipation the arguments for the defence. An intimate connexion exists between the officers who ‘instruct’ the process and the Cour Impériale, which finally tries the case. A committee of that body, consisting of three judges, form a sort of grand jury, called the Chambre des Mises en Accusation. This body, after hearing the Procureur-Général, determine whether or not there is ground enough to put the accused person on his trial, and they may if they please cause additional evidence to be collected, on the same terms as the inferior magistrates. The Cours Impériales have also the right of instituting proceedings in the first instance. When the question of the mise en accusation is under discussion, the person accused, or the partie civile (i.e., any one who seeks to recover damages for injury done him by the crime), may lay mémoires before the Judges, who must hear them read before they decide. If, to use our own phrase, the Chamber finds a true bill, the affair is sent before the Cour d’Assises of the department, a sort of Circuit Court, in which one of the Judges of the Cour Impériale sits as President; or if the department be that in which the Cour Impériale itself is situated, the case is tried before a committee of that body sitting as a Cour d’Assises. After the opening of the assises, the prisoner is interrogated in private by the President. The witnesses are cited by the Procureur-Général or the prisoner, and the President has a discretionary power of calling in any additional witnesses whom he thinks it desirable to hear. The trial begins by the reading of the acte d’accusation; the Procureur-Général then presses the case against the prisoner, speaking generally with far more warmth, and expressing a much more decided opinion, than would be thought becoming in this country. The President then interrogates, first the accused, and then the witnesses, the Procureur-Général deciding on the order in which they are to be called. There are no rules of evidence; and in the first instance the witnesses tell their own story in their own words, and without any interruption whatever, the effect of which often is that they make long speeches not very material to the question. After the deposition is completed, the President cross-examines; and after his cross-examination is over, the counsel for the prisoner may put any further questions if he pleases, but he can only do so through the President. This privilege is hardly ever exercised, and this in itself forms a broad distinction between a French and an English trial; for, in the latter, the cross-examination of witnesses is one of the most important and most characteristic parts of the proceedings. After the examination of the witnesses, the advocate for the partie civile, the Procuereur-Général, and finally the advocate for the prisoner, address the jury; lastly, the President sums up. But this part of the proceedings has less importance in France than with us, and the resume’ is as often as not confined almost entirely to a recapitulation of the arguments of the counsel?
[As to the Juge d’Instruction, see Code d’Ins. Grim. eh. vi.; the Procureurs de l’Empereur, ch. iv.; the Mises en Accusation, ch. ix.; also Bk. II. Tit. II. ch. i. As to the composition of the Cours d’ Assises, Bk. II. Tit. II. ch. The functions of the President, Art. 266-70 ; of the Procureur-Général, Art. 271-83; the procedure before the Cours d'Assises, 310-356.]
It is obvious, from this short sketch of French procedure, that it has little reference to the litigious view of criminal justice. Hardly any discretion or independent action is allowed to the prisoner from the very first. He cannot manage his defence in his own way, but, on the contrary, the Ministère Public manages it for him, counterchecking it as the proceedings go on, and too often concluding in favour of his guilt from any confusion or falsehood on the part of witnesses favourable to him. The issue of the trial is virtually almost decided before it begins, because it is only the last act of a continuous process; and thus it is hardly an exaggeration to say that the jury in a French Court is an anomalous excrescence. As its introduction into France is no older than the Revolution, and as the greater part of the Code Napoleon is a mere recast of laws which existed long before that time, it may very probably be the case that the whole scheme of French criminal procedure may have been adapted to the ancient system, in which the object was to convince the minds of the Court ; and it must always be remembered that the Tribunaux Correctionnels, which can imprison for ten years, and deprive men of civil rights, and before which nearly nineteen-twentieths of the French criminal trials take place, try causes without juries.
In order to place before our own minds the character of the French system, we must suppose the attorney for the prosecution, the committing magistrate, and the counsel for the Crown, to stand to each other in the relation of official superiors and inferiors, and we must further suppose the counsel for the Crown to be a sort of assessor to the Judges of Assize. To complete the system, we must substitute for the fifteen Judges a much more numerous body, scattered over the country in threes and fours, each group having under their official authority all the committing magistrates and all the prosecuting counsel and attornies within a wide district, and discharging themselves the functions of grand jurymen. We must also suppose the procedure to be secret until the day of trial, and the accused to be liable to close confinement, varied only by as many interrogatories and private confrontations with witnesses as the Judge ‘ instructing the process’ might think advisable. If a prosecution is to be considered as a public investigation, it is obvious that those who are to conduct it must stand in some relation of this sort to each other. A system in which the prosecuting attorney, who collects the evidence; the committing magistrate, who weighs it; the grand jury, who keep a sort of nominal check upon it; the counsel for the Crown, who exercises an absolute discretion, not only as to the order in which the witnesses are produced, but as to their being called or not, and as to the questions which shall be put to them ; and finally, the Judge and jury, who decide the case, are all absolutely independent of each other, is fitted only for the purpose of ascertaining, by a series of successive tests, the weight of the prosecutor’ s assertion that the prisoner is guilty. The result of the French system, on the contrary, is the gradual elaboration of a theory on the subject of the crime, supported by a mass of evidence which has been collected and arranged by a set of public functionaries intimately connected together, and bound by all the ties of official esprit de corps and personal vanity to maintain the accuracy of the conclusion at which they have arrived.
It is difficult by mere generalities to convey an adequate notion of the differences of the two systems. I have already given several specimens of the results obtained by the English procedure; and, in order to show how the opposite principle works, I will proceed to examine with some minuteness a case which excited great interest in France some years back—the trial of the monk Leotade, for rape and murder.
The case, told as an English lawyer would tell it, is as follows:—On the 16th of April, 1847, at half-past six o’clock in the morning, the body of a girl of fourteen, called Cecile Combettes, was found in the corner of a cemetery at Toulouse, close to the wall of the garden of a monastery, and rather further from another wall which separated the cemetery from a street called the Rue Riquet. The body rested on its knees, toes, and elbows, and the left cheek and temple were on the ground and were covered with mud. The ground was wet, but there were no footsteps upon it. A patch of moss, with the earth to which it adhered, had been detached from the convent wall, and some fragments of it were found in the hair of the body. This moss appeared to have been loosened by the rubbing of certain branches of cypress which overhung the wall of the Rue Riquet, and reached that of the monastery. On the top of the monastery wall were several broken plants, and especially a geranium, which had lost all its petals. A petal of geranium and some sprigs of cypress were found in the hair of the body. On the garden side of the monastery wall there were also one or two plants which had been disturbed. There was found in the garden itself a piece of cord, and in the hair of the body a thread of tow. There were also some footsteps in the garden, and marks of the feet of a ladder. Of several ladders found in the monastery, one corresponded to the marks in width, but not in the form of the extremity—but there had been rain in the night, which would alter the shape of the marks. On the other hand, there was a lamp in the Rue Riquet itself, which threw its light on the wall of the cemetery, and a sentinel was stationed further up the street. From these circumstances it was suggested that the body must have been, in some manner or other, dropped over the monastery wall into the place where it was found.
The last time when the deceased was seen alive was on the morning of the 15th of April, soon after nine, when she went with her master, a bookbinder named Conte, to the convent. He went upstairs to the director on business, leaving her with orders to wait for him to bring back some empty baskets. He also gave her his umbrella to hold. When he came back she was gone, and the umbrella was leaning against the wall. From the testimony of several witnesses, it was proved that she had left the passage where her master had stationed her within a few minutes after his departure, and by about a quarter-past nine. Suspicion fell in the first instance on Conte, who was arrested. When under arrest, he said that he had seen Leotade and another monk, called Jubrien, talking together in the passage when he entered it; and to a certain extent he was corroborated as to Jubrien by Jubrien’s own statement. Leotade slept, on the night after the murder, in a room from which he could have reached the garden by the help of a key found in his possession; and on the day after the murder, on hearing that a girl in Conte’s service had been found dead in the cemetery, but before the cause or the circumstances of her death were known, he used expressions which certainly might be construed into an imputation on Conte. The deceased, on a medical examination, appeared to have died of a blow on the head which broke the skull, and had obviously been subjected before her death to great violence of another kind. From the state of the contents of the stomach, it was proved that her death must have taken place within a short time after her last meal, and consequently not long after she was last seen alive. A feather, some grains of corn, and stalks of hay were found on the body, in a position which, to a certain degree, indicated that they had been brought from the scene of the crime; and in the monastery garden, near the corner formed by the two walls, were several barns, in one of which was a heap of corn, and in another some hay; but there was no evidence that they bore marks of disturbance. To these buildings Leotade’s occupations in the convent gave him access, and in one of them he kept rabbits and pigeons.
This was the whole case against Leotade, as it would have stood according to our rules of evidence. No one would maintain that, upon that evidence alone, it would have been desirable to convict him. Since, however, he was convicted, it will furnish some light on the expediency of our rules of evidence, to see what in this case was the character of the testimony which they would have excluded, and which did, in fact, produce a conviction. It consists of two great divisions— the prisoner’s own answers when interrogated, and the detection, or supposed detection, of efforts made by the other monks to suppress evidence and to suborn false witnesses. The arrests of Conte, of Leotade, and of Jubrien (who was at one time suspected), took place in April, 1847, and the trial began on the 7th and lasted till the 26th of February, 1848. It was then broken off on account of the Revolution, and was begun again on the 16th of March and ended on the 4th of April, the seventeenth day of the inquiry. During great part of the time that the prisoners were in confinement, they were constantly interrogated. Conte, whose imprisonment was comparatively short, had to repeat no less than thirty times the statement he made as to having seen Leotade and Jubrien together. Leotade himself was examined and reexamined continually about the way in which he had passed his time on the day in question. He was questioned, for example, on the 18th, 23rd, and the 26th of April, on the 3rd and the 6th of May, and on the 17th of December; and on his trial he was taxed with all the inconsistencies which could be discovered between his statements on these different occasions, and with any discrepancies which existed between any one of them and his statement in Court. By these means a good deal of confusion was detected, or said to be detected, on several points, the most important of which were—first, that in his earlier statements he did not mention his having passed part of the morning on which the crime was committed in writing his compte de conscience, whereas at his trial, and on one preceding occasion, he did; and secondly, that he failed to give a satisfactory account of the shirt which he had worn on the day in question. All the convent linen was used in common, each monk having a clean shirt supplied to him from the common stock every Saturday. Certain marks were found on one of the dirty shirts which had been worn during the week in question, which seemed to indicate that it had been worn by the murderer, though the indications were far from being conclusive. There were about one hundred and eighty monks, some of whom, and amongst them Leotade, belonged to the ‘Pensionnat,’ and others to the ‘Noviciat.’ The shirts of the two classes were differently marked, though they were occasionally mixed. The shirt in question belonged to the ‘Noviciat,’ so that it was unlikely, though possible, that Leotade might have worn it. There was not a shadow of evidence that he actually had worn it, except the fact that he maintained that he had not changed his shirt on the Saturday after the murder, and that the reason which he gave for not having done so was apparently false. It was also stated, in the acts d’accusation, that all the rest of the monks had accounted for their shirts, and that none of them owned to having worn the shirt in question; but no independent evidence of this vital assertion was given to the jury.
The second division of the evidence is infinitely more voluminous than the first, and consists almost entirely of what, under our system of procedure, would have been the cross-examination of the prisoner’s witnesses. The principal objects of the defence, as we should have them arranged, were, in the first place, to prove that the deceased left the convent alive; and secondly, to establish an alibi on behalf of the prisoner. To this the prosecution replied by charging all the witnesses on both points with systematic perjury and subornation of perjury. It would be wearisome to enter into a minute examination of the merits of these conflicting statements. It is sufficient to say that the general nature of the argument, founded on this part of the evidence, was, that Leotade must be guilty, inasmuch as much false testimony was given on his behalf; and that in order to make out that the testimony was false, such a mass of collateral matter was gone into, as to what various people said to each other, as to the letters which they wrote, and as to the expressions which they had dropped in casual conversation, that it is hardly possible to understand or to follow the discussion. The most trifling gossip was not excluded. One man, for example, was permitted to inform the Court that he had told somebody else, on hearing of the news, that he felt sure that if the girl had entered the convent she would never leave it alive; and the President told him, with great gravity, that if the fact was so, his remark was ‘une appréciation quelque peu prophétique.’ Still more singular is the observation of the acte d’accusation itself, that the place in which the crime was conjectured to have been committed ‘semble predestiné pour un crime.’ But the strangest of all these supplementary articles of evidence was supplied by the Juge d’Instruction himself, who said that, on one occasion during the course of his examination of Leotade, he thought from his manner that he was about to confess, and that though he had certainly explicitly denied the crime, still ‘s’il faut dire toute ma pensée j’ai cru et je crois encore que Leotade a été an moment de me faire un aveu.’ Moreover, continued the magistrate, ‘ en interrogeant Leotade pour la premiere fois son trouble était extreme et comme a la fin on lui disait retirez-vous, il manifesta une joie qui pour moi trahit la possibilite' de sa culpabilite', et sans l’intervention de M. le Procureur-Général je le mettais immediatement en arrestation.’ Such is the kind of evidence which, in a case of this importance, is admitted under the French system. That it is admitted at all, is a consequence of the whole character of the proceedings, which far more resemble the proceedings before English Commissioners of Inquiry than the proceedings before an English Court of Criminal Law. The members of the Cour Impériale, including the Procureur-Général, the Juge d’Instruction, and the Procureurs du Roi, jointly and severally devote all their energies to the collection of every sort of information or suggestion in any way bearing on the case in hand. The mass of matter thus collected is enough to bewilder any jury, and must virtually make them almost entirely dependent on the direction of the Court.
The manner in which the evidence is laid before the jury is not less illustrative of the principle of the whole trial than the character of the evidence itself. As I have already observed, the ‘ Instruction’ does not leave, or even permit, the prisoner to frame his own defence in his own way, but takes that business out of his hands, and draws unfavourable conclusions from the shortcomings of his witnesses. If an alibi is relied upon in England, the prisoner’s attorney sees the witnesses, prepares the proofs, and instructs his counsel of their character, and it is at the trial that they are for the first time judicially considered. In France, the prisoner is interrogated as to where he went, what he did, and whom he saw, from the very first; and any person whom he mentions is immediately called before the J uge d’Instruction, and examined upon the subject apart from the prisoner. That a prosecutor, public or private, wishes to convict the prisoner upon the same principle which makes a sportsman desirous to bag his game, is a matter of perfect notoriety; the consequence is, that this system, which, at first sight, appears so humane, in reality has a constant tendency to resolve itself into duels between the authorities, the prisoner, and his witnesses. In Leotade’s trial more than sixty witnesses were called, and the trial occupied nearly three weeks, to say nothing of the instruction, which was spread over seven or eight months. More than half of these witnesses were called literally for the sake of contradicting each other. Thus, for example, an old woman, called Sabatier, said that she had seen the murdered girl under circumstances which would show that she had left the monastery alive. No less than ten witnesses were called to refute her, yet her evidence upon the subject was given, and its falsehood proved, months before the trial; and the whole matter might, there_ fore, have been safely laid out of account. In an English Court she would, of course, have been called, if at all, for the prisoner; and if his advisers had seen reason to distrust her— as they probably would, for she was a mere foolish gossip—she would not have been called at all. Another illustration of the same thing occurred in respect of the evidence of the different monks. The acte d’accusation is divided into two parts, of which the first is occupied by arguments to show that the crime was committed in the monastery, and the second by arguments to show that it was committed by Leotade. According to our principles, the first of these questions would be utterly immaterial except in so far as it bore upon the second; but the French Court so managed matters as to make the question of Leotade’s guilt almost subordinate to the question of the guilt of some one member of the convent. Four-fifths of the evidence given at the trial consists of refutations by the prosecution of rumours circulated, or supposed to have been circulated, on behalf of the monks, and of exposures of the falsehoods told upon various isolated parts of the case by other monks not shown to have been connected with the prisoner. A single illustration will show the endless confusion which such a mode of proceeding is calculated to produce. Evidence, says the acte d’accusation, which would give a different turn to the procedure, had been announced by the newspapers. It was said that the lad Vidal (who was in the parloir when the girl entered the passage) had seen the girl leave the monastery. The Juge d’Instruction ‘prepared to receive this evidence, and, at the same time, took measures to check it’ (de la controler.) After much inquiry, he found out that Vidal was in communication with the principal members of the monastery; and the lad himself gave his evidence with many qualifications, and much hesitation. In consequence of these inquiries, the acte d’accusation expressly declares that ‘la cour n’a-t-elle pas hésité a déclarer que la déposition de Vidal ne meritait pas la confiance de la justice.’ Notwithstanding this, he was one of the principal witnesses against the prisoner, for he stated that he had been present at a sort of meeting in which various influential members of the monastery took part, and at which they concocted evidence tending to prove that the girl had left their establishment.
Upon this subject many witnesses were examined, and a great deal of contradictory assertion and very violent language passed between all parties. It does not seem to have occurred to any one that the whole debate was quite beside the question. That Vidal could not prove that the girl had gone out alive, was admitted by himself in his very first answer; and if that‘ point failed, it was perfectly immaterial to show that any amount of perjury and subornation of perjury had been employed to establish it. That such a state of things should exist would, no doubt, he very discreditable to a religious establishment, but it is absurd to say that it would tend to prove Leotade’s guilt. If he personally had suborned false witnesses it would have been very different, but as he was in close custody, that was out of the question ; and it was surely most unjust to make him responsible for what, at most, was the criminal conduct of most unwise partisans. [The almost offensive closeness of the logic of English criminal procedure contrasts curiously with the looseness, both in argument and assertion, of what the French characteristically call the ‘ débats,’ and must be something of a stumbling-block in the way of the theory that the French are a pre-eminently logical, and the English a ‘thoroughly illogical’ nation.]
Perhaps the most curious feature in French procedure to an Englishman is the narrowness of the sphere within which the functions of the jury are confined. They are frequently obliged to take for granted, on the authority of the Court, the most important parts of the evidence. In the case of Leotade, the strongest facts against him were the imperfect and conflicting accounts which he gave of the employment of his time on the day in question. The fact that this was so, was proved solely by the procès verbaux taken at the different interrogations. Although Leotade urged repeatedly that he had been so tormented by questions, so intimidated and browbeaten, that he was quite confused, and did not know what he said, no evidence appears to have been produced to disprove his assertion. It seems to have been assumed, that official acts were not to be questioned, and that official assertions must be true. It is a slight but significant illustration of this temper, that when a brigadier of gendarmerie and a monk differed, the President told the latter that the former had a right to the confidence of justice both as a witness and as a ‘functionary.’ Nothing is more common than to hear English Judges warn the jury to be very careful about believing too easily the evidence of policemen, or skilled witnesses. An even stronger illustration is to be found in the fact, that the jury who tried Leotade were each supplied with a copy of the acte d’accusation—a document which closely resembles, in its style, length, and objects, the opening speech of an English prosecuting counsel. As the evidence swelled to a size altogether unmanageable, this was almost equivalent to Prejudging the case. [An account of Leotade’s trial, entitled ‘Procès du frère Leotade,’ was published at Leipzig in 1851.]
Upon the whole, I can hardly doubt that an inquisitorial system of criminal procedure would be very unfit, both on political and on juridical grounds, for this country. It is inconsistent with trial by jury, which can only exist where the questions to be decided are very definite, and the grounds upon which they are to be decided are plain and weighty. Even if judges are able to found conclusions as to a man’s guilt or innocence upon the expression of his face, the degree of confusion in his statements, the amount of presence of mind which he possesses, and the quantity of falsehoods into which he may be seduced by fear or by folly, as well as by conscious guilt—and that they can do so with any certainty 'I do not the least believe—juries assuredly cannot. If, therefore, we are determined to have juries, we must have rules of evidence, and an impartial judge to enforce them. In other words, we must have a litigious, and not an inquisitorial procedure. It must also be remembered, that the inquisitorial principle can only be carried out by a degree of interference with individual liberty which no one in this country would endure. The investigations which attornies carry on in the ordinary course of their business are not always very agreeable to those whom they affect; but who would submit to the humiliation of being summoned before some petty country police inspector, to give account of a chance expression about some trial which had attracted public attention; or of being subjected to a ‘ searching investigation into the whole’ of one’s ‘past life,’ conducted by the clerks of a local police-office, because it was just possible that the result might throw light upon some such inquiry? Such proceedings would make the administration of justice absolutely odious to all classes of ‘society. The superior efficiency of the inquisitorial system is extremely questionable. Every acquittal is a misfortune, because it either implies that an innocent man has been accused, or that a guilty one has escaped; but acquittals are as common in France as in England, and their convictions appear to me to be, in difficult cases, far less satisfactory. Whether the French system of criminal procedure is a more efficient instrument than our own for the discovery of guilt, is a question which admits of much doubt. The standard of certainty which it requires to support a conviction is unquestionably much lower than ours, and the field over which it collects evidence much larger; but it is a most remarkable fact, that the proportion of acquittals to convictions in cases tried before a jury is almost precisely the same in both countries, about one casein four ending in that result. Indeed, if we exclude, in counting the English acquittals, the cases in which the bill is thrown out by the grand jury, there are considerably fewer, as the proportion in England would on that calculation be rather less than one in five. General considerations, however, throw less light on the weak points of a system than an examination of the causes which may have produced its failure in instances where it undoubtedly has failed. I have already expressed my view of the general character and causes of English legal mistakes. I will proceed to examine shortly a French case of the same kind, which very lately attracted great attention all over France.
On the 2nd of July, 1848, a man named Lesnier was convicted of murder and arson, committed on the person and house of one Gay, from whom he had bought the reversion of a piece of land for a life annuity of about three pounds. On the night of the [stb of November, 1847, Gay’s house took fire, and the persons who came to put it out found him dead on the floor with a blow on the head, apparently given by a hammer. There was no evidence whatever to connect any one with the fact ; but Lesnier alone had any interest in the old man’s death, and before it took place he had several times expressed to several persons a wish that he might die. Gay had had some wine in his possession at the time, which must have been removed before the fire, as no trace of it were found. The wine was not traced to Lesnier or any one else. A week after the murder, a man named Daignaud declared that Lesnier and his father had attempted to rob him on the road about a week before the murder, and that he had struck the son with the point of his umbrella; but no reason seems to have been either asked or given for his delay in making the accusation. [In the acte d'accusation against Daignaud, he is said to have sworn that he was attacked the night bq/hre his deposition (Afl: Lesn. I. 31). In the evidence of the Juge de Paix (II. 33), it is said that some time after the murder he complained of having been attacked a week before it happened. Such a blunder was either scandalously careless or grossly dishonest. Its manifest tendency (intentional or not) was to shield the authorities from the imputation of having been imposed on by an utterly contemptible falsehood. What credit could possibly be due to a man who kept back for weeks such a charge against persons whom he saw every day of his life?] It was, however, considered to injure the characters of the Lesniers so much that both of them were forthwith arrested on the charge of the murder of Gay. About five weeks after their arrest, a woman named Lespagne, who was the mistress of the younger Lesnier, and who had already been examined without any result, volunteered a statement that Lesnier had told her some days before the murder that ‘in eight days Gay would be dead, and that he (Lesnier) would make him turn his eyes as he had never turned them before,’ and that after the murder he had admitted that he had caused it. Six weeks after this she repeated some more expressions of a similar kind, and said that on the day of the murder Lesnier’s sabots were spotted with blood, and that on the day when Daignaud said he had been robbed, Lesnier had complained of having been struck in the side. On this evidence principally, Lesnier the son was convicted of arson and murder with extenuating circumstances, and sentenced to travaux forcés for life. According to our views of evidence, Daignaud’s declaration would have been inadmissible; and according to any view, Mme. Lespagne’s, one would suppose, must have been most suspicious, on account of the slow and gradual manner in which it was brought out. No English jury would for a moment have listened to such evidence, and the simplest cross-examination would have destroyed its value, for the only reason assigned for the delay in giving it was totally inconsistent with its truth. It was, that the witness was afraid of Lesnier. She was a married woman, and said that Lesnier had employed the most violent threats in order to effect her seduction; and yet she asserted that, after threatening to shoot her and strangle her, he asked her to poison her husband, and told her that he intended to commit a murder. On the other hand, she had an obvious motive for accusing Lesnier, inasmuch as on his arrest she was reconciled to her husband. How such shallow and incoherent lies could obtain credit for an instant is inconceivable, especially as the subsequent proceedings showed that plenty of witnesses were prepared to prove that the seduction was all on her side and not on Lcsnier’s. Many other circumstances, mostly very trivial, were stated in the acte d’accusation as making against the Lesniers. One, however, is noticeable: they had suggested that Lespagne, the husband of the younger Lesnier’s mistress, had himself committed the murder, upon which the acte d’accusation remarks that they ‘cherchaient a détourner les soupgons de la justice en les dirigeant sur un homme honorable.’ Seven years after Lesnier’s conviction, Lespagne was himself convicted by a second jury of the very same murder, and of having suborned the false testimony of Daignaud and Madame Lespagne against Lesnier. Hereupon a third jury was empanelled to try whether Lesnier or Lespagne were the real culprit; and nothing can be more curious than to compare the acte d’accusation of 184.8 with the speech of the Procureur-Général on Lespagne’s first trial in 1854. It appeared that Lespagne was a man of some property, and that he was connected with the Maire of the Commune, who had made himself rather conspicuous in bringing forward and eliciting the evidence of Madame Lespagne. Lesnier, on the other hand, being a mere Government schoolmaster, was a new comer, had no connexion with the place, and was on bad terms with the cure', who was jealous of his functions, and, as he said, courted his sister. Under these circumstances, says the Procureur-Général, ‘les preventions locales étaient maitresses absolues du terrain, les indices les plus imaginaires contre Lesnier étaient avidement recherchés et recueillies. L’atmosphère était pleine de soupçons sur lui et au besoin de justifications pour Lespagne. Abandonné de tous, l’innocent restait sans defense, tandis que le coupable s’abritait impunément derrière les puissances de la commune. Rien enfin ne résume mieux la situation que ce mot caractéristique de Lespagne lui-même: ‘Tant que Sarrazin père et fils et le cousin Lacrompe seront là, je n’ai rien à craindre.’ ’
‘Comprenez vous, maintenant, Messieurs les J urês, ce que s’est passé en 1847? La justice a suivie alors ses errements ordinaires: elle a fait ce qu’inevilaà/ement elle doit faire lors-qu’ elles informe sur un crime. Comme elle n’apoint le rion (le la divination, elle a pris les premiers renseignements auprès des autorités locales; elle a respire’ leurs impressions, et cil‘convenue, abusée par elles, clle s’est malheureusement laissée entraîner dans leur voie. Pour ses yeux, comme pour les leurs, des indices contre Lesnier se sont trouvés mis en lumière; la culpabilité de Lespagne est restée dans l’ombre.
‘ C’est au milieu d’une telle situation, en présence d’esprits ainsi disposés, que se produiserent tout-à-coup, à. la charge de Lesnier, deux temoignages accablants; accueillis avec une sorte tl’aeclamation par l’opinionjaetlce du pays, et combinés, d’ailleurs, avec une détestable habileté, ils ont pu facilement surprendre la confiance du juge.’[Aff. Les. I. 157]
It would be impossible to find a juster or a more vigorous condemnation of the whole principle of French criminal procedure. If the task of bringing the guilty to justice is taken out of the hands of individuals and confided to an organized body of public officials, the result must eventually be that the prejudices and rumours of every small administrative division of the country will be embodied in a tangible shape, and stamped by practised skill with an official value to which they are by no means entitled, whilst anything which interferes with the theory which the Government officers are elaborating will be treated as impertinent and suspicious. The only solid security for individual justice, in such cases, is to be found in the maintenance of a deep distinction between judges and prosecutors, and in a resolute refusal, on the part of the Government, to give any official authority or assistance to any man whatever, functionary or not, simply because he accuses another of a crime. Whether it might not be desirable to retain, at the public expense, standing counsel and attornies for the prosecution of criminals, is quite another question.
[It is unnecessary to examine in detail the trials which terminated the ‘affaire Lesnier.’ I can only say, that it seems to me that Lespagne was convicted on evidence almost as unsatisfactory as that which was urged in the first instance against Lesnier. He was convicted of having suborned Daignaud on Daignaud’s own word, Daignaud being by his own account a man who would swear away another person’s life for fifteen francs. The principal evidence against him as to the murder was that of his wife, whose whole story was agreed on all hands to be one tissue of lies. All that she could say was that he had confessed the crime to her. Finally, he confessed himself that he had accidentally killed Gay, but his confession was obviously false in many points. He several times retracted it, and he urged that it had been extorted from him by threats and promises. This was denied; but the nature of the inducements which on the French system are considered allowable, may be inferred from the following extract from the evidence of M. Viault, the Juge de Pair:—
‘En qualité de juge de paix et a cause de l’influence que je croyais devoir exercer sur l’accusé, lorsque je vis qu’il rétractait constamment endant les audiences des 12, 13, et 14, les aveux qu’il avait fait lors de son arrestation, je crus devoir me rendre aupres de lui a la prison pour l’engager a dire la vérité. M. Princeteau, son defenseur, qui m’y avait précédé, avait inutilement tenté de l’y decider. Moi-même je le trouvait inébranlable; peu apr‘cs je dis a ses parents do tenter s cet efi'et de nouveaux efforts, je me rendis avec eux et avec M. Princeteau derechef a la prison. Pressé alors trés vivement i1 finit par dire: Eh bien, oui! vous le voulez ma téte tombera; je suis force d’avouer que c’est moi qui suis la cause involontaire de sa mort; je l’ai poussé, il est tombé ala renverse, et sa téte aura sans doute porté sur un instrument aratoire, de la vient sa blesser.’——Afi Les. II. 33.
The wonderful looseness of the reports admitted under this system is curiously exemplified by the evidence of a woman who said that her father-in-law told her that Mme. Malefille told him that young Malefille had said (she did not say how he knew it), that Lespagne had committed the murder. It afterwards appeared that young Malefille had heard all he knew from Mme. Lespagne, who was, ex hypothesi, perjured, and who lied on every occasion from first to last.]
I would not be understood to be an indiscriminate eulogist of our own system of procedure. Heartily approving of its main principle, I think that it labours under many very grave practical defects. It is an admirable system if it is fully worked out, but this only happens when the accused person has money enough to avail himself of all the privileges which the law gives him. Palmer’s trial was perhaps as perfect a specimen of a criminal proceeding as any time or country could produce. A man accused of no less than three distinct murders, and the object of the most vehement popular hatred, was tried for one of them without even a passing allusion to the other two. Every fact bearing on the case was brought out, either on the one side or the other, with perfect fulness and marvellous clearness, and without the admission of a single redundant fact, or the exclusion of a single material one. The result is, no doubt, highly satisfactory ; but it must be remembered that Palmer had friends who spent several thousand pounds in his defence, and that if he had been a poor man he would have found it a terrible thing to have to defend himself against the law officers of the Crown. Our system throws a very heavy task indeed on the poor and ignorant—the task of managing their own defence. It no doubt surrounds them with securities against a condemnation on weak grounds. It enacts, as a condition of inflicting punishment, what is often considered a foolishly high standard of proof. It allows a man ample opportunities for defending himself, but it does nothing whatever to help him in doing so. It must never be forgotten, that to question an innocent man is to assist him; or that in the confusion and distress incidental to a public trial it is a very difficult thing for the untrained intellect to seize the bearing of the various points of the evidence. The importance of this observation can only be appreciated by those who see the common, unromantic, uninteresting routine of ordinary criminal business. On these occasions, criminal procedure is a very different thing from what it is on the great legal field-days which attract universal attention. A great political trial for high treason or sedition, or a murder case in which the Crown and the prisoner are represented by the most experienced members of all branches of the legal profession, shows the working of the rules of evidence, and the character of the standard of certainty required by the jury, in a very different light from that in which the very same rules and principles are displayed by the trials which take place for petty offences at the Assizes or the Quarter Sessions. In Palmer’s trial, for example, the fact that no explanation was given of the purchase of the strychnine was all but conclusive, because the defence was prepared with so much skill and care that it would certainly have been explained, if possible; but it is by no means equally clear that the absence of any explanation of some suspicious remark made by a man accused of fowl-stealing ought to weigh strongly against him, because it may very likely never have struck him that it was suspicious. Not one man in five who is tried is defended, and not one in twenty has any very clear conception‘ of the bearings of the evidence against him. To call upon the common run of criminals to defend themselves is a sort of mockery. To repeat a statement made elsewhere [Papers of the Juridical Society, vol. i. p. 474.]—
I cannot describe the difficulties under which such persons labour without resorting to a familiarity of illustration which I hope will be excused. The common run of criminal trials passes somewhat thus:—Ten or twelve awkward clowns, looking, as a very eminent advocate once observed, like overdriven cattle, are crowded together in the dock. Their minds are confounded by formulas about challenging the jury, standing on their deliverance, and pleading to the indictment. The case is opened, and the witnesses called by a man to whom the whole process has become a mere routine, and whose very coolness must confuse and bewilder a densely ignorant and most deeply interested hearer. After the witness has been examined, comes a scene which most lawyers know by heart, but which I can never hear without pain. It is some— thing to the following effect:—
Judge.—Do you wish to ask the witness any question ’?
Prisoner.—Yes, sir; I ask him this, my lord. I was walking down the lane with two other men, for I heard—
Judge—No, no; that’s your defence. Ask him questions. You may say what you please to the jury afterwards, but now you must ask him questions.
In other words, the prisoner is called upon without any previous practice to throw his defence into a series of interrogatories, duly marshalled both as to the persons to be asked and as to the subject to be inquired into—an accomplishment which trained lawyers often pass years in acquiring most imperfectly. After this interruption has occurred three or four times in the course of a trial, the prisoner is not unfrequently reduced to utter perplexity and forgetfulness, and thinks it respectful to be silent. Hardly any ignorant person can tell a story of the simplest kind without endless maundering, irrelevant, and extremely wearisome details, and hardly any judge has the patience to sift out the grain of wheat from the bushels of chaff which are on such occasions put before him.’
It must not be forgotten,' in relation to this matter, that the standard of certainty required by juries in common cases is much lower than in matters of life and death. Nor is this at all to be regretted, for no one who considers the subject can doubt that the reasonableness or unreasonableness of suspending the judgment on a particular state of facts, depends very greatly on the importance of the consequence involved. If the object of taking a dose of medicine were to relieve a trifling ailment, all reasonable doubt as to the wisdom of taking it would be removed by very humble advice upon the matter; but if it were certain that the dose would either kill or cure the patient, the very same advice would go for very little. For these reasons I should conjecture that the largest part of the very few wrong convictions which take place in this country occur in obscure and uninteresting cases. I should imagine that under the French system the very opposite would be the case. It is not, however, in such cases alone that our system bears hardly upon poor men. Trials for murder frequently occur, in which the nicest scientific questions arise, and in which the accused person is too poor to call skilled witnesses on his side of the question, or even in some cases to employ counsel. In the spring of the present year, a man named Nation was tried for murder at the Somersetshire Assizes. Amongst other things, a knife was found upon him, on the blade of which, Mr. Herapath, the well-known chemist, discovered, with a microscope, a scale, which, as he said, must have come from the inside of a human throat. Now, whether this opinion was true or not, no one who remembers Palmer’s trial can doubt that if the prisoner had been rich enough, he might have called other medical men who would not have agreed in it. At the last Bodmin Assizes a case occurred of a somewhat similar character. An old man was accused of poisoning his grandchild with phosphorus. Only a very few cases of the use of phosphorus as a poison have occurred, yet in this instance Mr. Herapath, who was called for the Crown, was again the only witness. The case ended in an acquittal; but if the old man had been convicted, it would have been most unsatisfactory to have had only one-sided testimony on so diflicult a subject. In this instance the prisoner could not even afford the expense of being defended by counsel, and, according to the common practice in such instances, a barrister was requested by the Judge to undertake his defence on the spot. It is surely impossible that justice should be done to subjects involving such delicate questions, both legal and medical, on a moment’s notice.
All these anomalies are direct consequences of the principle that a criminal trial is litigious, and might, I think, be easily removed by a little contrivance. The first and most serious defect would be, in a great measure, remedied by making the prisoner a competent Witness, liable, like any other person, to be questioned according to the ordinary rules of evidence. The repugnance usually felt to this measure arises partly from an undefined and really unintelligible notion, that a man has a sort of right, as against society at large, to refuse to answer questions which might criminate himself without incurring suspicion by such conduct. It is a very difficult thing to argue against a feeling in favour of which no plausible reason can be suggested; but another ground upon which this proposal is objected to, is more intelligible: it is, that no one can be trusted to perform an operation so delicate. I do not see why the function might not be devolved upon the counsel. The counsel for the Crown would, of course, be allowed to treat the prisoner as a hostile witness—that is, to ask him leading questions. Each side would use their discretion about calling him ; and if the prisoner were not defended by counsel, his own statement might be treated, either by the counsel for the Crown or by the Judge, as evidence upon which he might be cross-examined. If the prisoner, being defended, were not called, this would be, under some circumstances, very suspicious.[ It might, perhaps, be as well in such a case to lay down a rule as to the right to reply, analogous to that which exists as to witnesses to character—via, that in general the counsel for the Crown should not reply if the prisoner only were called, though he might have the strict right to do so if occasion required. Many difficulties are connected with the right to reply. As the Judge sums up, it would, I think, be only fair that the prisoner should have the last word. In Scotland this is so. The evidence comes first, then the speech for the Crown, and then the defence. It is so in France, also.] The principle of the competency of the parties to an action to testify in civil cases, is found to work extremely well, and it would be in strict accordance with the whole of our system to assimilate criminal proceedings to them. It is clear that there would be no sort of analogy between such a practice as I suggest and that which obtains in the French courts. The two systems would still proceed as they do now, upon fundamentally different principles.
Our system of criminal procedure undoubtedly errs more seriously, and much oftener, in acquitting the guilty than in convicting the innocent, and its defects in this particular are almost entirely the consequence of the want of any person officially bound to conduct prosecutions. The whole of this subject was elaborately discussed before a late Committee of the House of Commons, and their recommendations, together with the evidence by which they are supported, are so easily accessible, that it is unnecessary for me to do more than refer to them. I may, however, observe that it seems to me quite possible that the system recommended by their report might be adopted without trenching in any degree on the litigious character of our procedure. So long as the public prosecutor had no powers beyond those which private prosecutors have now, the principle would be untouched.
Having thus attempted to sketch the composition, the principles, and the working of our Criminal Law, I shall conclude by a short comparison of so much of the statistics of criminal justice lately published, both in this country and in France, as illustrates its efficiency and the severity of its punishments. With the moral aspects of the matter my present subject has no connexion.
Sentence of death was, in England, in the year 1855, either passed or recorded (generally the latter) against 50 persons, but only 7 of these were executed— all for murder. Of the remaining 43, one was held to penal servitude for life, 24 were transported for life, 8 were transported for 14 years and upwards, 6 were held to penal servitude for 6 and 4 years, and 4 were imprisoned. In France, 61 persons were sentenced to death, of whom, 28 were executed, 1 killed himself in prison, 30 were held to ‘travaux forces,’ and 2 were imprisoned for life. It is singular that 19 of the men executed in France committed their crime from ‘cupidité;’ whilst 4 of the 7 men executed in England were actuated by jealousy, and only 1 by a wish to rob. In England, 48 persons were transported for life, 55 for more than 15 years, 220 for from 10 to 15 years, and 93 were held to penal servitude for more than 6 years, 406 for more than 4 and less than 6 years, and 1542 for 4. years. In France, 240 persons were sentenced to ‘trnvaux forcés’ for life, 3 to the same punishment for 40 years, 5 for 30 years, 4 for 25 years, 211 for 20 years, 1 for 18 years, 78 for 15 years, 1 for 14 years, 45 for 12 years, 192 for 10 years, 4 for 9 years, 192 for 8 years, 77 for 7 years, 140 for 6 years, and 177 for 5 years. In all, 1 130 persons were sentenced to this punishment for upwards of 5 years; whilst 1040 were sentenced to recluaion, and 2445 to simple imprisonment for similar terms. So that, in all, sentences for upwards of 5 years were passed on 4615 persons in France; whilst in England there were but 822, and only 2364 included sentences for 4 years.
It is obvious, from these facts, that French sentences are both heavier and commoner than English ones. The population of England and Wales is about half as great as that of France, [England and Wales, 17,817,609; France, 35,781,628.—Alm. de Gotha, 1855] yet executions in France are four times as numerous as in England, [Of the fifty persons sentenced to death in England, twenty were convicted of crimes which are not penal in France. Sentence of death is never passed in such cases, but only recorded—a foolish form, which means transportation for life.] and sentences of travaux forces à perpetuité, or reclusion perpetuelle, [Ten persons were sentenced to this punishment.] more than five times. It must also be remembered, that the sentence of transportation for life in England means, in fact, transportation for about ten years; and that the real value of all other sentences of transportation or penal servitude is very much smaller indeed than their nominal value. This is not the case in France to anything like the same degree. It is, however, in respect of punishments for venial offences that the extraordinary lenity of our law is most apparent. Justices of the Peace with us can sentence to six months’ imprisonment for aggravated assaults; and, in certain cases, if a prisoner chooses to plead guilty of simple larceny, they may, if they please, sentence him to a similar punishment; but, except upon a conviction before a jury, no heavier sentence can be pronounced. [Justices can inflict heavy fines in certain revenue cases, and they can commit for a year in default of sureties.] Of about 20,000 persons convicted by juries in 18 5 5, no less than 17,327 were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment, of whom 13,420 were imprisoned for less than six months.
Of course, a large additional number of persons were sentenced to various terms of imprisonment not exceeding six months by police magistrates, but of these the returns take no notice.
But in addition to these cases, the Tribunaux Correctionnels, which act without a jury, tried no less than 103,344 persons, of whom only 11,620 were acquitted; 3382 were condemned to surveillance by the police, and 3 56 to loss of various civil rights.
[ . . . . FIGURES CUT . . . . ]
Calculating half of the sentences of from two to five years as above three or more than 2500 times as many. Whether our system is unwisely lenient, or the French system unwisely severe, is a question which it is not my purpose to discuss; but the fact of the difference is worthy of more attention than it has received. It may, however, be observed, that there is no such marked difference in the security of life and property in the two countries as to raise a strong and obvious presumption in favour of the severity of the French law.
The history of the lenity of English punishments is very curious. Almost all crimes were originally capital. Afterwards the whole subject fell into inconceivable confusion, in consequence of the capricious manner in which Parliament assigned the minimum of punishment in particular cases; and at last, by the 9 and 10 Vic., c. 24§ 1, minimum punishments were altogether abolished, the judges being empowered in all cases to give as little transportation or imprisonment as they pleased. This curious arrangement is justified in practice by the fact that any conceivable definition of crime includes many more cases than its authors had in view. Thus, in the Code Pénal, Art. 309, it is enacted that blows or wounds given voluntarily, and unintentionally causing death, shall be punished by from five to twenty years’ travaux forcés, and that, if there is premeditation or waylaying, the punishment shall be travaux forcés for life. A schoolboy lies in wait for another to give him a thrashing. The other has a delicate chest, breaks a blood-vessel, and dies. This is within the definition; but what can be said of the punishment? In England, the offence would be manslaughter, and the boy might no doubt be transported for life, but he might also be fined a shilling.
The English system, however, involves one great disadvantage. There is no uniform standard of punishment, and thus the penalties of crimes differ according to the private judgments of all the judges and all the chairmen of quarter sessions, and so many circumstances weigh with them that the differences are at times almost incredible. I have heard two different boys sentenced for almost identically the same offence (stealing from the person), to six months’ hard labour, and to six years’ penal servitude. I have also heard a woman sentenced to fourteen years’ transportation, and a man to four months’ imprisonment, for passing forged notes—on the same circuit, but by different judges. A late judge of great eminence adopted a theory, not long before his death, that punishments for first offences ought to be severe. His brother judge did not share it, and the consequence was, that at half the towns on the Midland Circuit, imprisonments ran from eight to eighteen months, whilst at the others they were more often four, six, or eight. It may not be very easy to say whether a servant who drinks his master’s wine should go to prison for four months or for eight, but it is rather odd that the question should turn upon his being tried at Nottingham or Derby.
It may be interesting to notice, in conclusion, the comparative frequency of some of the graver crimes in the two countries. There were, in France, 107 persons accused of political crimes. In England, there were none. In France, there were 1 11 persons tried for meurtre (which would include many of the worst cases of manslaughter), 249 for assassination, 18 for parricide, 200 for infanticide, and 46 (of whom 2 1 were women) for poisoning. These numbers include attempts. In all, 614 persons were accused of wilfully destroying, or attempting to destroy, life. Besides these, 90 persons were charged with one form of what we most confusedly call manslaughter—viz., causing death unintentionally by blows or wounds; and 326 were tried for causing death by negligence. The negligence in 81 cases consisted in furious driving. In England, 57 persons were accused of murder, 39 of attempts to murder. Only 1 1 were capitally convicted on the first charge, and 10 on the second; and 264 persons were tried for manslaughter. In crimes of violence not attended with fatal consequences, the proportions are very different. In France, there were 132 cases of wounding, which disabled the wounded person for twenty days or more; in England, there were 299 cases of shooting, stabbing, and wounding with intent to do grievous bodily harm. In France, there were 773 cases of rape and assault with intent; in England, 234. In France, the persons so assaulted were, in no less than 594 cases, under fifteen years of age. In France, there were 86 trials for procuring abortion; in England, only 5. On the other hand, there were but 8 cases of bigamy in France, against 86 in England. The cases of perjury, and subornation of perjury, were 144. in each country. These last results may probably be attributed, to a great extent, to the foolish lenity shown to these crimes in England. Four years’ penal servitude is the greatest punishment which can be awarded to an offence which may be made the instrument of the most atrocious murder, or to one which, though often venial, occasionally combines the grossest cruelty with the most disgraceful treachery, and has been fairly described as a rape by fraud.
Crimes against property are so differently defined in the two countries, that it would be very difficult to compare their frequency with any approach to accuracy.
Cambridge Essays, 1857.