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When we cast our minds back upon the progress of the present generation, one sees how much is to be dated from the Reform Bill; but that of the practical moving power, the far greater part is due to the freedom of thought and action to which that great measure gave play.
What a Minister of Justice could do, would be to give birth to the free energy that wants scope for action. A generous reliance on the truth and intelligence of the country,—a determined enunciation of what should be done,-a frank summoning to aid, of all able and willing to serve, and a candid consideration of the suggestions of all, - with an instant acceptance of what should meet with general approval,-are the necessary means of working at this juncture; and though, after repeated efforts to incite to a course of this kind, as often ineffectual, we cannot pretend to the hope that we once had, we would fain trust that, yielding to the unmistakable expression of opinion in Parliament, the Government will not for long withhold its acquiescence and support in a better course.
To this end we must come at last, that no good progress can be made in Statute Law consolidation, or law amendment of any sort, without a Minister of Justice, acting under responsibility to a well-informed House of Commons, conversant with the operation of law on every class of its constituents. We believe that no minister will work effectually without this condition; but then, if there were a Minister of Justice, he would have an interest in bringing the House of Commons to a proper state of intelligence, while anything like a hesitating, devious course would provoke their scrutiny and censure.
The House of Commons, too, being systematically charged with measures of law reform involving technical detail, would have recourse to committees to consider such matters systematically: a Committee of Tribunals, and a Committee on Bills and legislative measures, and perhaps one or two others, would find work enough for many sessions to come; and if the leaders of the various parties of the House-those incorrigible defaulters—were to act regularly on such committees, these measures would take a different position, and become, not only Cabinet measures, to be supported by Government, acting intel.
ligently and energetically in the prosecution of them through Parliament, but measures in which all parties would feel an interest.
The law officers of the Crown are too much engaged to have the active conduct of weighty measures. They are excellent supporters, but indifferent managers. It is not their forte, and it is unjust to cast the duty upon them.
Independent members ought to have more assistance in their attempts. Their services as pioneers in legislation are not sufficiently appreciated. It is of great service to the magnates of the House to have the straw moved by the guerilla force. Members should have the assistance of the officers of the House, reinforced of course by proper aid, in preparing their measures; and we would suggest that it should be a standing order, “That when leave is granted to bring in a Bill, the Clerk of the House should direct a competent officer to attend the gentlemen appointed to prepare the Bill, and assist them in its preparation; and that in preparing every measure, regard should be had to such standing orders as may be in force."
We will not stop now to say what those standing orders should be; it is enough to point out a means of quietly establishing a uniform practice, and of relieving our legislation of the inconsistencies in which it so much abounds.
We have travelled over a wide field somewhat cursorily. It was necessary to bring into view the various considerations that are to be regarded. It is too much the fashion for ever to cry out for some one thing as a panacea for all our ills; with the effect of insuring disappointment from every success.
We want now a clear idea of our position ; we want an active Minister of Justice; a House of Commons disposed to pay attention to the subject; a Profession willing to assist; a Judiciary conversant with legislation as well as law; a People, and a Press too, alive to their wants; a few large measures of a comprehensive character, instead of a hundred partial inconsistent measures; and above all we want the Statute Law Commission to work eflectually in good faith on that work of consolidation, which must be the prelude to any extensive and effective scheme of law amendment. VOL. I. NO. II,
We say "good faith,” for it is scarcely good faith to work upon the present bit-by-bit fashion, and to shut out from participation in the work every person who has bestowed thought upon it, so that no one can divide the suffrage with Mr. Bellenden Ker; employing young men, at inadequate recompense, to assist him;-in fact to do nearly the whole work for crumbs of bread, while he eats the big loaf. It made one almost blush the other day to hear in the House the extravagant eulogiums bestowed upon Mr. Bellenden Ker; eulogiums that obtained no credit, but which we wish could have been sustained by the production of a single piece of creditable work.
The only work that has passed on this head is the Sleeping Statutes Bill, or, as it is more recently called, the Statutes-notin-use Bill, which has put an end to many obsolete laws that disgraced our Statute-book. This work has been done by Mr. Locke King, a lay member, who ought to be the representative of the Statute Law Commission in Parliament, as he has in fact been its controller and manager there. To him the country owes much for his active zeal for several years, and we believe too for the fact that the Commission has kept on the work at all.
Patiently we wait for the dénouement. Parliament has hitherto been deceived. Every year's success in this direction will earn a retribution of disgrace that cannot be postponed for long. We have done our best to avert the evil day; we trust that, let the precise date of the issue be when it may, the work will be done at last.
The strangest thing of all is, that while the utmost discontent is everywhere expressed, by friend as well as by foe, the matter goes on in its present way. This is attributed to the skilful conjunction of allies, from both sides of the House, which Mr. Bellenden Ker has obtained by the present composition of the Commission, a body of names to sanction, not of energies to work; but the failure to fulfil the promises of the early part of the session, made by Sir Fitzroy Kelly, whose bills, it is believed, at the date of the present writing, are not yet ready, has well nigh destroyed this ground of assurance.
Our hope must be in the appointment of a Minister of Justice; a subject which is in the able hands of Mr. Napier, who is to have the support of Lord John Russell, and other leading men from all sides of the House. The difficulty has, up to the present moment, been in getting a day for the discussion.
We trust that, between this and the ensuing session, the whole subject will take new ground, and that the law-reforming members on both sides of the House will have a field-day, taking care to insist that it is graced with the presence of those personages who constitute the ministerial forces, present and expectant, and that the discussion is so conducted as to make it clear to the people how they are affected by it; that it is not a lawyer's question but a people's question, and that it is of a nature to be understood by every intelligent person, if it be presented by the head and front of the subject, and not in any awkward or bye manner.
“The consolidation of our judicial institutions, and the consolidation of our law, by the agency of a Minister of Justice, devoting himself entirely to the task,” may be made, we think, a very intelligible passage in an address to constituencies; and we trust that the discussions in Parliament between the present moment and the coming of our next ordeal (a general election), will be so managed as to make such a passage pregnant with meaning.
For ourselves we beg to intimate that our votes are to be bestowed on candidates who will pledge themselves to the faithful consideration of the practical popular measures indicated by
Postscript. The Lord Chancellor's proposed statement having been postponed till a later day in the session, we are compelled to forego our purpose of referring to it in this number. We must follow the example of Parliament, and remit it to our next occasion of meeting our readers, with the simple expression of regret that matters of such deep interest should be so deferred and be kept out of discussion by Parliament and the Press for so long a period.
In the House of Commons, the number of professing Law Reformers is considerable; but we look in vain amongst them for men possessing at once comprehension of mind, knowledge, and, combined with these, that tact and conciliatory demeanour without which the other attributes specified will lead to small results. The harvest of useful measures for cheapening and consolidating our law, for abolishing effete tribunals, and localizing the administration of justice, is indeed ripe and ready for the sickle ; but where are the reapers to gather it in ?
ART. VIII.—THE EVIDENCE IN PALMER'S CASE.
1. The Queen v. William Palmer. Official Report of the Minutes
of Evidence on the Trial at the Central Criminal Court,
May 14 to May 26, 1856. George Hebert, 88, Cheapside. 2. The “ Times” Report of the Trial of William Palmer for the
Murder of John Parsons Cook at Rugeley. Ward & Lock, 158, Fleet Street. 1856.
THE trial of William Palmer, indicted for the wilful murder
of John Parsons Cook, demands some notice in our pages, for other reasons than the enormity of the offence perpetrated, or the extraordinary interest which it has produced throughout every grade of society.
It is difficult accurately to define what should make one trial more than another rank among the causes célèbres. Sometimes the high position or peculiar relationship of the parties concerned, --sometimes the barbarous cruelty employed, or the remarkable agents engaged to effect crime, or the marvellous mode in which detection has ensued, may give an unusual character to a prosecution ; at others a romantic tone and conflicting doubts as to the verdict have left the impress of a real or false notoriety upon the proceedings in the Criminal Court. In later times, the trials of Thelwall, Rush, Greenacre, and Courvoisier, in England, of Burke in Scotland, of Kirwan in Ireland, of