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English law had been expounded by eminent judges and applied to the varying circumstances of society, until they had expanded into a comprehensive system of jurisprudence, entitled to respect and veneration. But however admirable its principles, its practice had departed from the simplicity of former times, and, by manifold defects, went far to defeat the ends of justice. Lawyers, ever following precedents, were blind to principles. Legal fictions, technicalities, obsolete forms, intricate rules of procedure, accumulated. Fine intellects were wasted on the narrow subtleties of special pleading; and clients won or lost causes, - like a game of chess, – not by the force of truth and right, but by the skill and cunning of the players. Heart-breaking delays and ruinous costs were the lot of suitors. Justice was dilatory, expensive, uncertain and remote. To the rich it was a costly lottery ; to the poor a denial of right, or certain ruin. The class who profited most by its dark mysteries, were the lawyers themselves. A suitor might be reduced to beggary or madness ; but his advisers revelled in the chicane and artifices of a lifelong suit, and grew rich. Out of a multiplicity of forms and processes arose numberless fees and well-paid offices. Many subordinate functionaries, holding sinecure or superfluous appointments, enjoyed greater emoluments than the judges of the court; and upon the luckless suitors, again, fell the charge of these egregious establishments. If complaints were made, they were repelled as the promptings of ignorance ; if amendments of the law were proposed, they were resisted as innovations. To question the perfection of English jurisprudence was to doubt the wisdom of our ancestors, - a political heresy, which could expect no toleration.

The delays of the Court of Chancery, in the time of Lord Eldon, were a frequent cause of complaint ; and Delays in the formed the subject of Parliamentary inquiry in Chancery. 194, 870, &c.; Romilly's Life, ii. 219, 302; iii. 9; Twiss's Life of Lord Eldon, ii. 116, 2:25; Reports of Commons on offices held by members, 1830–31, No 3.22; 1833, No. 671; Report on Viscellaneous Expenditure, 1847-48, No. 513; and on Public Offices, 1856, No. 368.

Defects of the

both Houses." In 1813, a vice-chancellor was appointed, to expedite the business of the court ; but its complex and dilatory procedure remained without improvement. Complaints continued to be made, by Mr. Michael Angelo Taylor, Mr. Williams, and others, until, in 1825, a commission was appointed to inquire into the administration of justice in that court.? In 1828, Mr. Brougham exposed the complicated abuses

of the courts of common law, and the law of real Common Law property. His masterly speech, of six hours, dis

played the combined powers of the philosophic jurist, the practised lawyer, the statesman, and the orator. Suggesting most of the law reforms which have since been carried into effect, and some not yet accomplished, it stands a monument to his fame as a lawgiver. Commissions of inquiry were immediately appointed; and, wben their investi

gations were completed, a new era of reform and

renovation was commenced. Thenceforth, the amendment of the law was pursued in a spirit of earnestness and vigor. Judges and law officers no longer discountenanced it; but were themselves foremost in the cause of law reform. Lord Brougham, on the woolsack, was able to give effect to some of his own cherished schemes ; and never afterwards faltered in the work. Succeeding chancellors followed in his footsteps ; and Lord Denman, Lord Campbell, Sir Richard Bethell, and other eminent jurists, labored successfully in the same honorable field of legislation. The work was slow and toilsome, - beset with many difficulties, and generally unthankful; but it was accomplished. The procedure of the

Law reforms,

1 Romilly's Life, ii. 368, 386, 392; iii. 13, &c.; Twiss's Life of Lord Eldon, ii. 167, 199.

2 lbid., ii. 474, 486, 567; iii. 321, et seq.

8 Feb. 7th, 1828, Hans. Deb., 20 Ser., xviii. 127; Lord Brougham's Speeches, ii. 311.

4 Acts and Bills of Lord Brougham, by Sir Eardley Wilmot, Intr. xv. et seq.; Ivi., et seq.; Ixxx.; Speech of Lord Brougham on Law Reform, May 12th, 1848, Hans. Deb. 3d Ser., xcviii. 877.

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court of Chancery was simplified ; its judicial establishment enlarged and remodelled ; its offices regulated. Its delays were in great measure averted; and its costs diminished. The courts of common law underwent a like revision. The effete Welsh judicature was abolished; the bench of English judges enlarged from twelve to fifteen; the equitable jurisdiction of the court of Exchequer superseded; the procedure of the courts freed from fiction and artifice; the false system of pleading swept away; the law of evidence amended; and justice restored to its natural simplicity. The law of bankruptcy and insolvency was reviewed ; and a court established for its administration, with wide general and local jurisdiction. Justice was brought home to every man's door, by the constitution of county courts. Divorce, which the law had reserved as the peculiar privilege of the rich, was made the equal right of all. The ecclesiastical courts were reconstituted; and their procedure and jurisdiction reviewed. A new court of appeal, of eminent learning and authority, found in a judicial committee of the Privy Council ; — which, as the court of last resort from India and the colonies, from the ecclesiastical courts and the court of Admiralty, is second only to the House of Lords in the amplitude of its jurisdiction. The antiquated law of real property was re-cast; and provision made for simplifying titles and facilitating the transfer of land. Much was done, and more attempted, for the consolidation of the statutes. Nor have these remarkable amendments of the law been confined to England. Scotland and Ireland, and especially the latter, have shared largely in the work of reformation. Of all the law reforms of this period, indeed, none was so signal as the constitution of the Irish encumbered estates court.

Such have been the more conspicuous improvements of the law, during the last thirty years. Before they had yet been commenced, Lord Brougham eloquently foreshadowed the boast of that sovereign who should have it to say " that he found law dear, and left it cheap; found it a sealed book, left it a living letter; found it the patrimony of the rich, left it the inheritance of the poor; found it the two-edged sword of craft and oppression, left it the staff of honesty and the shield of innocence.” The whole scheme of renovation is not yet complete; but already may this proud boast be justly uttered by Queen Victoria. In reviewing the administration of justice, the spirit and

temper of the judges themselves, at different peSpirit and teinper of riods, must not be overlooked. One of the first the judges.

acts of George III. was to complete the independence of the judges by providing that their commissions should not expire with the demise of the crown.

It was a necessary measure, in consummation of the policy of the Revolution ; and, - if unworthy of the courtly adulations with which it was then received, — it was, at least, entitled to approval and respect. The tenure of the judges was now assured ; and their salaries were charged permanently on the civil list.

The law had secured their independence of the crown; but the spirit of the times leagued them closely with its authority. No reign was more graced by the learning and accomplishments of its judges. They were superior to every corrupt influence; but all their sympathies and predilections were with power. The enemies of Lord Mansfield asserted “ that he was better calculated to fill the office of prætor under Justinian, than to preside as chief criminal judge of this kingdom in the reign of George III.”? Neither Lord Mansfield himself nor any other judge deserved so grave a censure ; but, with the illustrious exception of Lord Camden, he most eminent magistrates of that reign were unfriendly o liberty. Who so allied to the court, so stanch to arbitrary principles of government, so hostile to popular rights and

1 King's Message, March 30, 1761; 1 Geo. III. c. 23; Walpole Mem., i. 41; Cook's Hist. of Party, ii. 400. In 1767 the same law was extended to Ireland, on the recommendation of Lord Townshend, the lord-lieutenant Walpole Mem., iii. 109.

2 Wraxall Mem., ii. 307.


remedial laws, as Lord Mansfield, Lord Thurlow, Lord
Loughborough, Lord Eldon, and Lord Ellenborough? The
first and last of these so little regarded their independence,
in the exercise of the chief criminal judicature of the realm,
that they entered the cabinet as ministers of the crown, and
identified themselves with the executive government of the
day. What further illustration is needed of the close rela-
tions of the judgment-seat with power? But no
had principles of freedom and responsible government gained
ascendency, than judges were animated by independence and
liberality. Henceforward they administered justice in the
spirit of Lord Camden; and promoted the amendinent of the
laws, with the enlightenment of statesmen.

The deepest stain upon the policy of irresponsible govern-
ment is to be found in the history of the criminal
law. The lives of men were sacrificed with a code.
reckless barbarity, wortbier of an Eastern despot, Capital

punishments or African chief, than of a Christian state. The common law was guiltless of this severity ; but as the country advanced in wealth, lawgivers grew merciless to criminals. Life was held cheap, compared with property. To llil hang men was the ready expedient of thoughtless power. From the Restoration to the death of George III., period of 160 years, no less than 187 capital offences were added to the criminal code. The legislature was ablc, every year, to discover more than one heinous crime deserying of death. In the reign of George II., thirty-three Acts were passed creating capital offences : 2 in the first fifty years of George III., no less than sixty-three. In such a

The criminal


1 “Penal laws, which are in the hands of the rich, are laid upon the poor; and all our paltriest possessions are hung round with gibbets. – Goldsmith's Vicar of Wakefield.

2 Speech of Sir W. Meredith, 1777; Parl. Hist., xix. 237.

8 Lord Grenville's Speech, April 2d, 1813, on Sir S. Romilly's Shoplifting Bill; Hans. Deb, 1st Ser., xxv. 525. This excellent speech, however, is scarcely reported in Hansard, but was printed separately by the Capital Punishments Society.

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