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Sir James Mackintosh's Address respecting the Criminal Laws.-Trial
by Battle Abolition Bill.- First Report of the Secret Committee, on the Expediency of the Bank resuming Cash Payments.- Proceedings in both Houses respecting the Claims of the Roman Catholics.
SIR James Mackintosh, on of the alarm created by some spe
March 2, in rising to address cies of crimes, a committee was the House of Commons concern- appointed “ to examine into and ing the system of Criminal laws, consider the state of the laws rebegan with noticing some con- lating to felonies, and to report cessions made by the noble lord to the House their opinion as to (Castlereagh) which would tend the defects of those laws, and as much to narrow the grounds of to the propriety of amending or difference between them, in so repealing them.” The persons much as both were agreed that of whom the committee were then the state of the criminal law in composed were Mr. Pelham, Mr. this country called for investigą. Pitt. Mr. G. Grenville, Mr. Lyttion, and that a select committee tleton, Mr. C. Townshend, and would be the proper course to Sir Dudley Ryder. The first pursue in it. Proceeding then to resolution in which these distinthe narrower question, which was guished persons agreed, was, a comparison between the noble « that it was reasonable to exlord's system and his own, he pro change the punishment of death ceeded to show that in accord for some other adequate punishance with the usage of the House, ment. A bill was brought in, he should propose that the House founded on the resolutions of the itself should nominate separate committee: it passed this House, committees; whereas the noble but was thrown out in the House lord proposed that the committee of Lords. In 1770, another alarm, which had been named, should occasioned by the increase of a again nominate three committees. certain species of crime, led to Sir James found no difficulty in the appointment, on November giving his own proposition the 27, of another committee, of superiority to that offered by the which Sir Charles Grenville, Sir noble lord.
William Meredith, Mr. Fox, He next inquired into the ex: Mr. Serjeant Glynn, Sir Charles amples which the House of Com. Bunbury, and others, were memmons afforded him by their former bers. That committee was occuproceedings, and he began with pied for two sessions with the that of 1750, when, in consequence subject, in the second of which
they they brought their report to ma. Having (said Sir James M.) turity. Ii passed the House of concluded my general remarks, I Commons, but was thrown out by will now enter into a few illustrathe House of Lords.
tive details. Among these, we Sir James M. now said, that it shall take no notice of the least was upon these precedents that important articles, but go directly he had formed, and that he brings to those which constitute the forward, his motion. But he main purpose of the eloquent must first mention what his ob- speaker's address. ject is not, in order to obviate The real state of the case ( said the misapprehensions of over- he) is, that in the first or highest zealous supporters, and the mis. class of felonies, the law has been apprehensions of desperate oppo. executed in every case; that in nents. "I do not propose to form the middle class it has sometimes a new criminal code. Altogether been executed ; and that in the to abolish a system of law, ad- lowest class it has not been exe. mirable in its principle, inter- cuted at all. To correct this woven with the habits of the anomaly, so injurious, and so sub. English people, and under which versive of the great purposes of they long and happily lived, is a criminal jurisprudence, is the proposition very remote from my object that I have in view. notions of legislation. Neither For the sake of clearness, the is it my intention to propose the hon. and learned member divided abolition of the punishment of the crimes against which our death. I hold the right of in- penal code denounces capital flicting that punishment to be punishment into three classes. that part of the right of self- In the first, murder, and murdefence with which societies, as derous offences, or such as are well as individuals, are endowed. likely to lead to murder, such as Nor do I wish to take away the shooting or stabbing with a view right of pardon from the crown: to the malicious destruction of on the contrary, my object is to human life, on which the law is · restore to the crown the practical invariably executed; in the seuse of that right. The main part cond, arson, highway robberies, of the reform which I should pro. piracies, and other offences, to pose, would be to transfer to the the number of nine or ten, on Statute Book the improvements which, at present, the law is carwhich the wisdom of modern ried into effect in a great many times has introduced into the cases. On those two divisions, practice of the law. One of my he admitted, for the present, that objects is, to approximate them: it would be unsafe to propose any to make good men the anxious alteration. Many of the crimes supporters of the criminal law, comprehended in them ought to and to restore that zealous at- be punished with death; and he tachment to the law in general was persuaded that a patient and which has distiguished the people calm investigation would remove of England among the nations of the objections of a number of the world.”
well-meaning persons who are
of a contrary opinion. But look- expressly directed by the law for ing from these offences at the offences, which, in the adminishead of the criminal code, to the tration of the law, are never more other extremity of it, he saw a severely punished than with transthird class of offences, some con- portation, either for life, or for nected with frauds of various limited periods. On this subject, kinds, but others of the most fri- he took occasion to pay an affectvolous and fantastic description, ing remembrance to the late Sir amounting to about 150 in num- Samuel Romilly, with whom he ber, against which the punish- fully concurred in thinking, that ment of death is denounced by the punishment of death ought the law, although that punish- not to attach by law to any of ment is never at present exe- those offences for which transcuted. There can be no doubt portation is a sufficient punishthat these capital felonies should ment. In this case, he joined his be expunged from our Statute- late friend in the conviction, that book as a disgrace to our law, the balance of advantage is deand as creating a false opinion, cidedly against the continuance much more sanguinary than it has of the existing system. ever been rendered in practice. The House (said he will still There are many more capital fe- bear in mind that I do not call lonies of a similar nature, which for the abolition of the punishare the relics of barbarous times, ment of death, but only in those and which are disgraceful to the cases in which it is rarely, and character of an enlightened and ought never, to be carried into thinking people. For such of effect. In such cases I propose fences, punishments quite ade- to institute other milder but more quate, and sufficiently numerous, invariable punishments. Nothing, remain, which the wisdom of the in my opinion, can be more injulegislature may order to be in- rious than the frequency with flicted.
which the sentence of death is The debateable ground on this pronounced from the judgmentsubject (Sir James Mackintosh seat, when it is evident, even to goes on to say) is afforded by a those against whom the punish. sort of middle class of offences, ment is denounced, that it will consisting of larcenies and frauds never be carried into effect. In of a heinous kind, though not ac- all nations, an agreement becompanied with violence and ter- tween the laws and the general ror. I do not propose, in any feeling of those who are subject degree, to interfere with the disc to them, is essential to their ef. cretion of the judges in deciding ficacy; but this agreement be. upon any crime to which the comes of unspeakable importance punishment of death ought, under in a country in which the charge some circumstances, to attach; of executing them is committed, but to examine whether or not it in great measure, to the people is convenient, upon the whole themselves. I know not how to view of the subject, that death contemplate, without serious apshould remain the punishment prehension, the consequences that VoL, LXI.
may attend the prolongation of a tion on the motion made by the system like the present. My ob- hon. and learned gentleman, not ject is, to make the laws popular, from a wish to oppose him, not to reconcile public opinion to from any disposition to throw nbtheir enactments, and thus to re- stacles in the way of inquiry, but deem their character. The just because he conceived the adopand faithful administration of the tion of the hon, and learned genlaw is the great bond of society. tleman's views would tend to seIf those who hold the reins of go- parate the inquiry into the state vernment, instead of attempting of the criminal law, from the ina remedy, content themselves quiry into the nature of punishwith vain lamentations at the ments; thus defeating the united growth of crime, that growth consideration of such important must continue to spread a just and concomitant topics; and bealarm.
cause he therefore thought the I will now, Sir, conclude by appointment of the committee of moving, “ That a Select Com- last night was the step most calmittee be appointed to consider culated to lead to advantageous of so much of the Criminal Laws results. as relates to Capital Punishments Among the speeches in favour in Felonies, and to report their of his hon. and learned friend, observations and opinion of the one of the most decided was, that same, from time to time, to the of Mr. Wilberforce. He began House."
with declaring, that in his long Lord Castlereagh then rose; experience of that House, he had and after complimenting the hon. never heard a more able address, and learned member on a speech, a more splendid display of proin the temperate and candid style found knowledge of the subject, of which he was sure he joined with such forcible reasoning from the whole House, he said, that the facts which that knowledge the true question on which he was had called forth. He had not at issue with the hon. and learned only derived great pleasure from gentleman was, to consider the what he had heard, but also from species of proceeding which what he had not heard in the would be most likely to lead to a course of the discussion ; namely, wise and salutary result. In his those arguments, or rather those notions concerning this matter, it objections, against alterations of, was evident, that the noble lord or inquiry into, old laws and cushad a decided preference to a toms, which had been so vehepractical view of the subject, mently urged at former periods. while he held, in profound con. He had heard opinions at that tempt, what he called the ab- time, which any man would blush stract and visionary opinions of to hold at the present day. No his antagonist. These differences such objections were, however, constituted the whole of his argu- made on this occasion; and the ment, which he concluded with a only one to the motion of his hon. motion. He felt it, he said, his and learned friend was, that it duty to move the previous ques. would be better to refer the
matter batter to the committee pro- “ That that question be now put," posed by his noble friend. Why the House divided : Ayes, 147; should he prefer the expectation Noes, 128: Majority in favour of of a committee, when he might Sir James Mackintosh's motion, have one at the present moment, 19. The main question was then when there were so many reasons put and agreed to; and a comurging to the immediate inquiry? mittee was appointed, consisting Why should not some alteration of several leading members. be made, which would take from a jury the painful task which they
Trial by Battle Abolition Bill. had so often to perform at pre- The Attorney General having, sent? and yet that could be done on March 19, moved the order of by an alteration of the laws. It the day for the farther considerahad been said, that our laws had tion of the report of this Bill, not been made all at once, but had Sir F. Burdett rose, to consider been the result of gradual legisla- at large how it would affect the tion. That was the fact; but it right of appeal, with which, he argued nothing against the ori. conceived, it had nothing whatginal motion. It was thought a ever to do, any more chan an insafe way of checking the crime, dictment at common or statute to fix the penalty of death against law. It was, he thought, a meaits commission. But experience sure which went to increase the taught, that this was a most er- power of the Crown, inasmuch roneous mode of legislation. The as it would deprive the subject of persons with whom we had to an appeal against what might be deal, were such as were careless, an illegal and unjust extension as well of this life, as of the life of the power of the Crown in parto come. They looked not to doning criminals in cases of murthe enormity of the crime, but to der. After a considerable disthe chance of escaping the punish- cussion upon this subject, Sir F. ment. Ought, then, the system Burdett moved, to leave out from to be continued which this very the word " That,” to the end of principle brought into action? If the question, in order to add the not, there was the very best rea- words, “ That this bill be recomson for a committee. He could mitted.” not but think, that instead of Mr. Sergeant Copley said, that being considered hasty in their he would rather that the bill of desire for a committee on this his hon. and learned friend should subject, they ought rather to be be lost altogether, than that an accused of being tardy in not attempt should be made to carry having called for it before; and it into effect with the amendment that the legislature was to blame proposed to be made. He then in having so long neglected a adduced a considerable number matter wherein human life was at of facts, to show, that the right stake.
of appeal was still acted upon, Several other members spoke and considered as the law of the upon this occasion. At length, land. Proceeding to the speech the previous question being put, of the hon. baronet, he said he