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relative to the poor; but rather to call the reader's attention to a few of the most leading and important.

Perhaps there is no duty a justice of the peace is called upon to execute which displays more strongly the importance and utility of the body as a numerous one, than the cognizance of the primary charge against suspected offenders. The legal course of criminal prosecution, is either to convey the accused with or without a written warrant before a magistrate to be committed or bailed for trial, or discharged: or else to prefer a bill of indictment at the next quarter sessions or assizes, and if the bill is returned a true bill, to apprehend the offender upon a bench warrant. The first mode of proceeding, however, is the one usually adopted, particularly in felonies, as the latter obviously leaves the supposed criminal every opportunity of escape which time can furnish. therefore is a duty of the most important kind both to the public and the accused, which every justice may be daily called upon to execute. Let the following comparison of the numbers of persons committed, tried, and convicted, show the manner of its execution.


By the tables made from a return to the House of Commons for the year 1835, the number of offenders committed for trial during that year amounted to 20,731, of which more than two-thirds, viz. 14,729, were convicted, 4059 were acquitted, and of the remaining 1943, they were either not prosecuted or the grand jury threw out the bills.—Thus more than twothirds of those committed were found guilty of the charge preferred against them, and nearly seven-eighths were put upon their trials by the grand jury; this result is sufficient to remove from the body of committing magistrates the imputation of exercising the function indiscreetly or oppressively. For let us see what is the duty of a justice of peace upon the apprehension of a suspected person. "The justice before "whom such prisoner is brought is bound immediately to "examine the circumstances of the crime alleged."-" If upon "this inquiry it manifestly appears either that no such crime " was committed, or that the suspicion entertained of the prisoner was wholly groundless, in such cases only it is lawful totally to discharge him. Otherwise he must either be "committed to prison or give bail."-Blacks. iv. 296. Thus

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it is only where suspicion is wholly groundless that the magistrate is justified in discharging the accused. Now of the above number committed upon suspicion nearly seven-eighths would have been certainly apprehended upon the finding of the grand jury, and when from the remaining eighth are taken those who were discharged for want of prosecution, there will remain only a small portion against whom the bills of indictment were thrown out; as to which number, one may readily conceive many circumstances might occur between the commitment and the sitting of the grand inquest, to prevent the attendance of all the necessary witnesses. And with respect to those few cases, in which it may be supposed that upon precisely the same evidence the grand jury and the magistrate came to a different conclusion, it should be remembered that the same degree of suspicion which justifies a magistrate in committing for trial or holding to bail, will hardly warrant a grand jury in finding a bill of indictment, otherwise there would be little use for the intervention of that inquest.

Judging therefore by the above test of the mode in which this duty is performed, it is not easy to suggest a system more favourable to a just administration of this part of our law, certainly not to a more convenient one.

Paid officers in the appointment of the crown, approaching towards the number of the present justices, would be objectionable in a twofold view, both as to the expense, and to the increased influence their nomination would confer upon the minister of the day; and any great reduction of the number of functionaries would so much increase the burden of instituting prosecutions, as to operate directly to the encouragement of offences. For suppose this function were intrusted to one, two, three, or some few more paid officers in each county, how much would the burden and expense of prosecutions be increased by the necessity of conveying the accused to a distance from the place of apprehension, for the purpose of this primary inquiry? In the year 1826 more than 16,000 prisoners* in England and Wales were committed to take their trials, omitting those who were bailed; suppose a justice to reside within every

* Seventh Report of the Prison Discipline Society.

circuit of ten miles: each of those prisoners must have been conveyed, upon an average, five miles to the justice to be charged, and thence to the county gaol. Instead of five miles let the average be twenty, and the inconvenience of commencing prosecutions would be so great, as to diminish at least half the number. The sense both of public justice and private injury has its limits, and great personal inconvenience will extinguish the zeal of either.

Important as this duty of commitment for trial is, the judicial functions of the justices in sessions are not less so; the number and quality of the offences which four times a year are submitted to their final determination, nearly as numerous though not of such deep criminality as those which are tried by the judges of the superior courts, renders it most essential to the liberty and security of the subject, that none but honourable and worthy persons should be in the commission. There is no punishment save that of death which they may not inflict in common with the judges of the land, and even this sentence it is within their jurisdiction to pronounce, were they to exercise the power of trying capital offences vested in them by their commission. But from this they invariably forbear. Although, therefore, the nice distinctions which arise upon the legal construction of most actions where guilt is made liable to the penalty of death, are removed from the consideration of this tribunal, it is obvious that in offences against property, the value of the property stolen in no degree affects the legal quality of theft, and the definition of larceny requires as strict and nice an application in a doubtful case where sixpennyworth of hay is in question, as where goods of great price are the subject. Moreover, there are many misdemeanors disposed of at the quarter sessions, the consideration of which frequently requires a familiarity with legal views, and a power of discerning the slightest shades of difference.

To discriminate the legal quality of the offence: to judge of the technical form of the indictment: to decide upon the various questions relating to the admissibility of evidence which arise in the course of almost every trial where the prisoner is defended by counsel: to sum up the evidence to the jury with impartiality and clearness, and give them some

comprehension how the law is applicable to the particular case: all of which the subject has a right to require shall be performed with ability and integrity: and afterwards to exercise that most fearful of human powers, which is the sanction of all laws, the infliction of punishment proportionate to the crime: would seem to require the security of a particular education, much legal learning, much practical experience, and above all, immediate responsibility. And yet without a particular education, without legal learning as to far the greater number, with no more experience than what about twelve days in the course of the year at divided intervals can confer, and with scarcely any practical responsibility, the county magistrates exercise these functions, and with advantage to the public. Whence is this apparent anomaly? It arises from various causes.-In almost every county there are some members of the Bench who either have been educated to the profession of the law, or else possessing talents and inclination for business, have industriously acquired a competent knowledge of that branch of it, which is applicable to this duty, and which lies in no extensive compass; the influence of such men gives imperceptibly a direction to the whole Bench. The presence also of practising lawyers affords a means of acquiring immediate information upon new or complicated questions. But above all, the love of justice, which ought to govern the conduct of all gentlemen, and does govern that of the greater part who assemble at the sessions, strengthens the capacity for administering it, by exciting attention to the facts of each case, and the reasoning of others upon them. To this may be added a truth, for which, if authority is wanted, it may be found in the various observations of Lord Bacon, that human affairs, the practicks of life, are of a coarse texture, too much refinement is unfitted to deal with them, and impedes their progress: plain understandings, which look at the subject before them in a direct view, arrive at just conclusions by regarding only the strong and prominent points; and therefore though sometimes a technical impediment is overlooked, or an unfounded objection allowed, it may be doubted whether an innocent person is not as little likely to suffer from an unsupported charge at the quarter sessions, as before the higher tribunals; sub

stantially the proceedings are as just, though technically less perfect.

These judicial duties may be divided into two parts, the trial of the fact, and the sentence after conviction.

It has been supposed that no remedies exist for the correction of error in the decision of legal questions during the trial. This is a mistake; precisely the same remedies exist as in all other courts of justice, a writ of error to be brought by the prisoner or defendant, as to matters on the record, and a reservation of the points of law at the option of the bench for better consideration, according to the following express direction in their commission. "Provided always, that if a

case of difficulty upon the determination of any of the pre"mises before you or any two or more of you shall happen "to arise; then let judgment in no wise be given thereon "before you or any two or more of you unless in the presence of one of our justices of the one or other bench, or of one ❝ of our justices appointed to hold the assizes in the aforesaid "county."


These remedies indeed, though provided, are rarely or never resorted to, and one of our proposed amendments is, that the latter, which is far the more ready, should be made compulsory upon the justices, instead of being left, as it is in practice, altogether discretionary.

As to the first, it is obvious that a man convicted at the sessions of a petty felony, is not likely to find funds to carry on the process, and if he could, in the accumulation of business in the King's Bench, his many months of imprisonment, diversified by the tread mill, and solitary cell, would probably all be undergone before the legality of the sentence were decided. But the other: the suspension of the judgment till the point of law can be submitted to one of the judges of the land, a measure expressly required of the justices in the commission under which they act, is of easy adoption, and whenever the assizes follow close upon the sessions, or the offence requires either transportation, or imprisonment beyond the intervening time, might be as efficacious as the reservation of similar questions by the judges of our superior courts. It is rare indeed that a doubtful question of criminal law is decided ultimately by a single judge, perhaps too rarely, as superior

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