Page images

We cannot conclude these observations without one remark upon a ground of opposition frequently taken up against proposed reformations. Difficulties thrown in the way of improvements because they will occupy more time, or overload the courts with business, are amongst the most disgraceful modes of opposition resorted to by those who tremble at all innovations. They imply a total ignorance or disregard of the objects of law and government, with a cunning perception of what has the strongest tendency to enlist upon their side the selfishness of power. It cannot be too often repeated, that to hurry the execution of laws is an atrocious tyranny; it were scarcely worse to trust to the wisdom and benevolence of an irresponsible will, than to the pretended administration of laws confided to the ultimate decision of ignorance, or limited to a particular time by some arbitrary allotment; or by any other measure than that which is required for a full and complete investigation of every case.

It has been suggested by the Commissioners, who have made a valuable report upon the subject of county rates, that the present Court of quarter sessions should be abolished in respect to the trial of prisoners; and a lawyer substituted in their stead. Not, indeed, as a single measure, but as forming part of a system for dividing the country, for such judicial purposes, into smaller districts, and appointing more frequent periods of trial. To this suggestion we cannot accede; the whole train of our reasoning upon the existing tribunal, is founded upon different and opposite views; even the shortening the interval between commitments and trials would impose an intolerable burden upon the juries, without adequate relief to the offenders. It is extraordinary how the most enlightened understandings, when once they set themselves to improvement, are liable to overlook all evils but the one they seek to remedy—the frame of society is constructed to preserve the many from the few, the quiet from the restless, the honest from the thief; and yet there is to be an incessant call upon the attendance of juries, witnesses and functionaries, to preserve the latter description of society from a short imprisonment before trial,-an infliction which after all is, we believe, invariably taken into consideration in diminution of the sentence upon conviction. This, it is true, is not

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

applicable to those who are really innocent under circumstances of apparent guilt; but to those the whole proceeding is an evil, the commitment, the trial, the public shame; and for this we fear there is no complete remedy, whilst man's judgment upon testimony is fallible; but there is a mode of diminishing this evil, namely, care and selection in the appointment of justices with honest intentions and judicious views.

A gentleman, well known for his active and discriminating benevolence, being requested to consider the case of an injured individual, made answer: "Sir, I have no sympathy with injured individuals, and I always distrust a man with a case." We are much of this gentleman's way of thinking, and the very last class of injured individuals with whom we feel the least inclination to sympathize are persons suffering from unproved accusations of dishonesty, for trials on false or unfounded accusations are certainly not frequent enough to call for the consideration of the legislature.

There is also an objection to the substitution of barristers for the present tribunal of justices, which appears to us entitled to great consideration, and, if we are correct in the following supposition, decisive. The constant succession of circuits proposed, will take away all chance of practice, and, therefore, all inducements to attendance, in the superior Courts. Is it possible to suppose that the men appointed to this judicial office, however learned in the law at first, will, without any collision with other legal minds, without attendance at the trial of causes, without occasionally breathing a legal atmosphere, preserve that learning? Will they not in a short time sink to a level in legal knowledge with the chairman of the quarter sessions, without having the counterbalancing advantages which his station and fortune confer?

Differing, however, as we do, upon these points with the Commissioners, we cannot but express our opinion of the value of many of their other suggestions, not adverted to here, because not bearing immediately upon the precise subject of this article;-one other, indeed, there is, intimately connected with it, and therefore not to be passed over, namely, the attendance of counsel at the quarter sessions; this they recommend as eminently advantageous, and in this we fully concur. It is of

great public utility, in which term is included utility to the innocent prisoner; for whatever tends to a full investigation tends to his acquittal as well as to the conviction of the guilty; and the nearer these objects are attained, the greater is the public benefit.



As Burke's name in the Senate, is the name of Buller in Westminster Hall. Few political questions of enduring interest have been discussed during the present century within the walls of St. Stephen's, in which appeals are not repeatedly made to the authority of the sagacious statesman, "looking both before and after;" his warnings full of prescience, his sayings of comprehensive wisdom, and treasures of judgment and imagination, are lavishly drawn forth by each succeeding speaker, as certain to enforce conviction and conclusive of the debate. A similar respect is paid in the Courts to the opinions of the judge. In discussing principles of law, his dicta, his doubts, more weighty than other men's certainties, the inclination of his opinion, though not always assented to, invariably command respect both from the bench and the bar. We shall proceed to trace the rapid and brilliant course to legal eminence of this able lawyer,-the alumnus and colleague of Lord Mansfield, destined and worthy to have been his successor, the master spirit though not the chief of his Court.

Francis Buller was the second son of James Buller, Esquire, one of the members for Cornwall, by his second wife Jane, a daughter of Allan, Lord Bathurst, and was born at his father's seat, in 1746. The family, from its antiquity and alliances, had long been eminent among the ancient aristocracy of Devon and Cornwall. Notwithstanding the incredulity of country gentlemen, some lawyers have pedigrees The portrait of an ancestor in his judicial robes, hung by the bed side of the room in which he was born, and may have given the first impulse to his childish aspirations. He was placed in a private school in the West of England; and then, instead of being removed to the University, was transferred,

with his own entire consent, to an attorney's office. He was determined to make himself thoroughly master of his profession, and, like a good artificer, in the words of Lord Bacon, "did not dread the smoke and tarnish of the furnace." In Trinity Term 1767, he was matriculated at the Middle Temple, and became a pupil of Mr. Ashurst, a celebrated special pleader, with whom he afterwards sat as colleague for many years upon the bench. The advantages to a pupil of a special pleader's chambers, depend almost exclusively upon himself. The great majority may be characterized as Westend, or drawing-room pupils, and pay their 100 guineas, read the newspapers, discuss the topics of the day, copy a stray opinion, draw a declaration on a bill of exchange, make up a rubber at billiards, and exeunt. By students of this class was Buller tempted, but had too much firmness to yield to their temptations. In mature life, when in the company of a young gentleman of sixteen, he cautioned him against being led astray by the examples or persuasion of others, and said, looking back with pardonable complacency to his own fortitude, "if I had listened to the advice of some of those who called themselves my friends when I was young, instead of being a Judge of the Court of King's Bench, I should have died long ago a prisoner in the King's Bench." The first to enter, and the last to quit chambers, eager to unravel the mysteries of that subtle science, and delighted with its logical finesse, he soon became a useful, and of course favourite pupil. At the expiration of two years he took out a certificate as special pleader, and being warmly recommended by his late tutor, he was soon fortunate enough, notwithstanding his extreme youth, to acquire a large practice and many pupils. He was called to the bar, by the Middle Temple, in Easter Term 1772, at the earliest opportunity that he could be, not having an academical degree to shorten the probationary period of five years. In a work entitled, "Strictures on the Lives of Lawyers," and written by a shrewd observer, it is asserted, that his accession to business was immediate, and his practice as a barrister considerable from the first. In Term business he had no equal, and in every motion of consequence or special argument, he was always engaged, and at home. Very early in life he seemed to have entered into

a recognizance to think and talk of nothing but law, to make himself the Sulpitius or Coke of his age. His astonishing success introduced the custom of making special pleading an introduction to the profession. It had hitherto been the fashion for students to saunter through the Courts, and to catch any stray fragment of legal law amid the intervals of gossip; a plan of desultory study still much in vogue with our professional friends on the other side the Channel. For the talents of an advocate, says Espinasse, and legal acquirements, Buller soon ranked among the first of his day. To show the extent of his practice at the bar, it is only necessary to refer to Cowper's Reports, where there will be found few cases of any importance, in which his name does not appear; and his arguments were equally distinguished for research, ingenuity, and sound law. It has been asserted indeed, probably with truth, that he was more successful in his addresses to the Bench, than to Jurors; he was unfortunate in his speeches to the passions, and could not make a forcible appeal to the feelings and the heart. However shrewdly he cross-examined, however pertinently he pointed his remarks, with whatever dexterity he managed the details of his case, there was still wanting the happy art, by which a skilful counsel identifies himself with his client, makes others feel by appearing to feel himself, with playful sarcasm laughs a case out of Court, or in the storm and tempest of his passion, hurries along the twelve honest men in the box, and compels their verdict in his favour. But though Buller could not vie with such a leader at Nisi Prius as Dunning, who played with his audience as on a musical instrument, he was superior to the Wallaces and Lees of his day; and appears, during his short continuance at the bar, to have been retained in all the trials of interest which amused that frivolous age. Among these we may instance the trial of the Duchess of Kingston, the extraordinary case of the Chevalier D'Eon, and the trial of Doctor Dodd. It may be mentioned as a curious proof of the inefficacy of even capital punishments to deter from crime, that the foreman of the jury, who was most eager to convict Mr. Buller's unfortunate client, and to over-rule the more compassionate feelings of his brother jurors, should himself have been tried subsequently before Mr. Justice

« ՆախորդըՇարունակել »