« EelmineJätka »
Under the reforms in the administration of civil justice may be particularized the better regulation of juries; the abolition of the antiquated forms of real actions, which had survived the lapse of ages only to subserve the purposes of chicanery; fresh improvements in the proceedings by way of ejectment, prohibition, and mandamus ; the many important and elaborate improvements which have been introduced in the forms of process and pleading; the reformation of the law of evidence; the establishment of county courts throughout the kingdom, for the decision of civil cases up to a certain amount, so as to dispense justice cheaply and speedily at the doors of the people (a return, it will be noticed, to the policy of our Saxon ancestors); the creation of the court of probate, and of the court for divorce and matrimonial causes; and the renewed efforts which have been lately made to improve the administration of the law of bankruptcy.
With respect to the improvements of criminal justice, we may notice the consolidation of the law relating to most of the principal offences; the abolition of the benefit of clergy, and of appeals; the better regulation of the law of principal and accessory, of commitment and bail, and of venue; the introduction of a variety of provisions tending to simplify the course of proceeding, and to deliver it from technical difficulties; the allowance of counsel, in all cases, to address the jury for the prisoner; the remarkable mitigation which has generally taken place in the antient severity of our criminal punishments; the establishment of a tribunal for the decision of such points of criminal law as shall arise in the course of the trial and be reserved by the judge; and the recent withdrawal, from the eye of the general public, of the execution of criminals who have been sentenced to death for murder.
Finally, we may here refer with feelings of hope (though mixed with some anxiety) to the attempt just made to remove such obstacles as still remain to the speedy and effectual administration of justice, by the establishment of a Supreme Court of Judicature, uniting and consolidating in itself the former superior courts; and intended to form one grand tribunal both of original and appellate jurisdiction, in one or other department whereof redress may be obtained for all injuries, whether civil or criminal, in accordance with the rules of law as modified by the principles of equity.
[Thus therefore, for the amusement and instruction of the reader, have been delineated some rude outlines of a plan for the history of our laws and liberties, from their first rise and gradual progress among our British and Saxon ancestors, till their total eclipse at the Norman conquest, from which they have gradually emerged and risen to the perfection they now enjoy, at different periods of time. It has been shown that the rules of law which regard the rights of each member of the community, whether considered in an individual, a relative, or a social capacity, the private injuries which may be committed in violation of these rights, and the wrongs which affect the public, or crimes, have been and are every day improving, and are now fraught with the accumulated wisdom of ages; that the forms of administering justice have also, (particularly in our own times,) received the assiduous care of the cultivators of legal science; and that our religious, civil, and political liberties, so long depressed in popish and arbitrary times, and occasionally threatened with absolute extinction, have since, in a constant course of progressive development, commencing at the happy era of the Revolution, been effectually vindicated and established. Of a constitution so wisely contrived, so strongly raised, and so highly finished, it is hard to speak with that praise which is justly and severely its due; the thorough and attentive contemplation of it, will furnish its best panegyric.]
The admiration that it is calculated to inspire should lead to some reflection on the duties which attach to citizens born to so noble an inheritance. It was the stern task of our forefathers to struggle against the tyrannical pretensions of regal power: to us, the course of events appears to have assigned the opposite care, of holding in check the aggressions of popular licence, and maintaining inviolate the just claims of the prerogative.
But, in a general view, we have only to pursue the same path that has been trodden before us,- to carry on the great work of securing to each individual of the community, as large a portion of his natural freedom as is consistent with the organization of society, and to increase, to the highest degree that the order of divine Providence permits, the benefits of his civil condition. A clearer perception of the true nature of this enterprise, of the vast results to which it tends, and of the obligations by which we are bound to its advancement, has been bestowed on the present generation, than on any of its predecessors. May it not fail also to recollect, amidst the zeal inspired by such considerations, that the desire for social improvement degenerates, if not duly regulated, into a mere thirst for change ;—that the fluctuation of the law, is itself a considerable evil;—and that, however important may be the redress of its defects, we have a still dearer interest in the conservation of its existing excellencies.
END OF THE WORK.
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