Page images
PDF
EPUB

grounds, and summarily convicting the offenders. A few wholesome provisions such as we have already suggested for regulating the duration of the assessor's inquiries, the proper appropriation of penalties and also for awarding costs in certain cases, would suffice to prevent this inquiry being either dilatory or expensive: and there can hardly be much doubt that it would be altogether effective.

To get rid of the corrupt element at elections, and more completely to make a distinction between the honest and dishonest, it is necessary to deprive of the franchise all persons of proved bad character—not only, as the law professes to do now, the actual felon convict, but everyone who, within—say fiveyears previously has been legally adjudged guilty of any felony, conspiracy, or fraud; or of bribery or intimidation or other corrupt practices at any election, or attempts to commit those offences; and on proper proof being given at the revision of the voters' lists, the Revising Barrister should be required to strike out the names of any such person from the voters' lists; and whether so struck out or not the vote of be held bad on the subsequent scrutiny; and the voter who, in defiance of such objection to his exercise of the franchise, presumed to exercise the same, or claimed so to do, should be deemed guilty of a misdemeanour, and sufficiently punished accordingly.

These provisions would, it seems to us, serve more effectually as a protection against corrupt practices than any that have yet been suggested; not omitting the remedy so loudly called for by some reformers—the ballot. That mode of protecting the voter at the poll, would, it appears to us, serve very little to put an end to electoral corruption. The ballot-box, wherever it is adopted, may perhaps serve to screen the individual voter from personal annoyance or remonstrance. He may be enabled to make it doubtful how he has voted on any particular occasion. He can, in the dark, give full vent to his good or bad propensities, put in the black or white ball from a motive of personal spleen or sordid gain by the event of the election. That

any such

person should

event may equally depend on the use of corrupt influence and pecuniary bargains with electors to secure it. It may be equally sure that bribery has done its work, and that the victorious majority has been bought; but the screen of the ballotbox, though it cannot prevent this, will effectually save each offender from punishment for his dishonesty.

As long as our elections continue to be conducted by means of open voting, there can be little difficulty in getting, on the spot, immediately after any election, at the truth affecting any suspected voter's conduct. This always comes to be considerably distorted at a distance both of time and place. Moreover, when those who are engaged in the work of corruption find that, instead of the inquiry commencing, as it does now, rarely and capriciously, it followed inevitably in every case, they would

pause in their distasteful work; and if, as the result of such an inevitable inquiry, those who had been a party to corrupt practices at the election, by giving or receiving or promising bribes, or endeavouring in any way to coerce or intimidate the voter, were to find their evil-doings altogether inoperative, and themselves shut out for the future from the pale of the franchise, and branded, in company with the condemned criminal, as ineligible for any place or office of trust, high or low; those who now dare the risk of the penalties the law holds out, would hesitate before they offended, and from the mere instinct of self-love avoid the business of bribery, as bringing even to themselves immediate loss instead of gain ; being convinced, after all, that, even in election matters, honesty is the best policy.

Since writing the above, we have seen the Government Bill - For the More Effectual Prevention of Corrupt Practices and Undue Influence at Parliamentary Elections.” This Bill contains inany important and useful provisions, and adopts some of the suggestions made in the Law Magazine and Law Review, e.g., the establishment of a court of enquiry into corrupt practices on the spot, in lieu of the present system; the defects and abuses of which we have endeavoured to point out--and the

[ocr errors]

addition to the existing penalties for bribery, etc., on the part of the candidate, of that of disqualification to sit in Parliament. The material difference between the provisions of this Bill and of that which was published in our columns,* is that in the Government Bill the commissioners are to be appointed by the speaker to enquire into corrupt practices, only after a petition has been presented by a defeated candidate, or any three electors, bound by recognizance to the amount of one thousand pounds for the costs of the petition—whereas it will be seen that our plan consists in an enquiry into the proceedings at every election, by the returning officer and competent assessors, before the return of the writ. We see no reason to abandon the arguments we have already adduced in favour of our own plan as the most certain mode of securing regularity and fair dealing in the conduct of the election. It is but too notorious that by a judicious outlay of money from the same coffers as those which supplied the bribes, a threatened election petition many generally he very cleverly arranged before any effectual step has been taken to expose and subject to just punishment the iniquities of the election—and there is nothing in the Bill now before us to prevent this being done. Moreover the expenses of the proposed commission, when corrupt practices have really to be enquired into, will certainly not be less than those of the assessors proposed by ourselves; and where the duties of the assessors happily justify them in finding that the proceedings at the election are free from any imputation, the expenses incurred by them, must, as we have already observed, be so small as to really be of no moment, considering the great advantages that would arise from the enquiry being known to be inevitable.

We view the Government Bill, however, as a step in the right direction, and we venture now to suggest that if in committee there were incorporated with it some of the clauses in the Bill proposed by us, a very great step would be made in checking one of the greatest evils of out time.

* See Law Magazine and Law Review for August, 1866.

126

ART. VII.-THE ENGLISH BAR.

W!

[ocr errors]

HILE it is our principal object to direct attention to the

present position and future prospects of the English Bar we shall endeavour also to throw some light upon the constitution and government of that learned corporation-a subject little understood beyond the limits of the legal world. Most persons of education, indeed, comprehend the distinction between barristers and attorneys, and the difference between their respective functions; but even of these, few are able to appreciate the meaning and relative dignity of the several denominations and grades of which the Bar consists ; fewer still are conversant with its rules of practice and discipline. Latterly, however, the fame, good or evil, of certain legal personages, has aroused a more lively interest in barristers and their fortunęs. Of some lawyers at the present time practising at the Bar, of some who still adorn or who lately adorned the Bench, all men say all good things; unhappily also, the misdoings of some eminent advocates of high forensic and in some cases of senatorial position, with their sudden collapse in utter ruin alike of character and fortune, were not long ago the subject of general marvel and discussion. In truth, society at large is deeply concerned in the honour and integrity of the Bar, inasmuch as in the discharge of their duties barristers are closely connected with the highest of human interests—the administration of justice.

“ They are entrusted with interests, and privileges, and powers almost to an unlimited degree. Their clients must trust to them at times for fortune, and character, and life.

“ The law entrusts them with a privilege in respect of liberty of speech which is in practice bounded only by their own sense of duty, and they may have to speak upon subjects concerning the deepest

interests of social life, and the innermost feelings of the human soul. The law also entrusts them with the power of insisting upon answers to the most painful questioning; and this power again is, in practice, only controlled by their own view of the interests of truth.

"It is of the last importance that their sense of duty should be in active energy proportioned to the magnitude of these interests."

We have here borrowed the language of Lord Chief Justice Erle from the judgment delivered by him in the case of Kennedy v. Brown and wife, which is to be found in the 13th volume of the “ Common Bench" and the 32nd volume of the Law Journal Reports;" language having the greater weight, inasmuch as it fell from the lips of that high-minded judge. In this passage, in our opinion, he has nobly and truly expressed the grave responsibilities and duties which rest upon advocates. Men's dearest interests must at need be confided to them, and high qualifications, as well of honour as of ability, are demanded from them. Although, therefore, we regret that some scandalous offendings have stained the fair fame of that noble and useful calling, we believe that both society and the profession will gain by their exposure.

For many years to come, at all events, we need not fear a repetition of the career of Mr. Edwin James.

The most reckless adventurer will probably esteem the position once ostensibly held by him, even at the moment of its fairest promise, dearly purchased by the risk of similar disgrace. Impecuniosity and impudence will, for a while, at least, we hope, cease to recommend lawyers of dubious character to the confidence of constituents of any shade of politics. The governing bodies of the Bar, aroused to greater vigilance over those amenable to their authority, will surely avail themselves of the earliest opportunity to effect much needed reforms in their own tribunals.

The Bar of England may be divided into two main branches, namely, the Equity and the Common Law Bar. The former confines itself to practice in the Courts of Chancery, which, with a single exception-the Chancery Court of the Duchy of Lan

« PreviousContinue »