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representatives, where a bribery scandal will be in all probability treated as a good joke.
The history of society in England carries us back to the period of many offences which have gradually given way to proper legislative treatment—to the time of the outrages arising from religious intolerance, which the criminal code could not grapple with, but which ceased with the laws for religious emancipation--to the days of the wholesale smuggler, whom no penalties could deter, whilst capricious legislation, wearing the semblance of trade protection, offered him encouragement, but who gave up when these were removed and trade was made free-to the days of the infamous traffic in human beings which defied all the rigours of our laws against the slave-trade, but ceased, at least as far as Englishmen were concerned, when our law established free labour throughout the einpire. So electoral corruption will cease, when proper means are taken, by the substitution of a simple for an artificial system, to keep under subservience to order and law the proceedings at our elections, enabling those who wish to have the honest protected from the dishonest voter—to see all irregularities inquired into inexpensively, at once, and on the spot-to remove, in fact, the briber's protection, to neutralise his efforts, to brand him with dishonour, and to make the business of those who are engaged in electoral corruption altogether an unsuccessful one, instead of, as at present, the only dishonest calling that the law practically protects and encourages.
In previous articles on the subject now before us* we have traced the growth of electoral corruption from the time when it showed itself in the simple form of a bribe to the returning officer, to these our days, when the sad truth is conveyed to us that the term “purity of election” is merely used by way of derision—when it is no longer a question whether corrupt practices generally prevail at our elections, but whether the scandal on any given occasion is so notorious as to call for extraordinary notice and extraordinary treatment. The sub ject was further dilated on in a paper recently read by the present writer before the National Association for the Promotion of Social Science,* and we make no apology for now reiterating some of the observations already published in that paper on the subject of the failure of legislation hitherto to deal effectually with this great evil.
* See Law Magazine and Law Review for May and August, 1866.
“Penal legislation has been tried and found altogether inefficacious. The heavy machinery of Parliamentary Committees and Parliamentary Commissions has been kept in work raking up the foul substratum, but not advancing one step in purifying the stream. Moral influence, which has put down so many vices, in this instance is altogether powerless. The eager spirit of competition here sets honourable scruples altogether at defiance, leaving to do its worst the odious maxim that everything is fair at an election;' and whilst competing candidates bid almost without reserve against one another, the possessors of the thing bid for say they are only doing as their neighbours do in making all they can in the market.
Bribery is no new crime. It prevails in some countries in a low scale of civilization as a part of the ordinary transactions of daily life ; we shall find that our statute book and our older law books speak of bribery of judges and every kind of public officer, and indeed the records of our courts show that the general laws against bribery had to be put in force even where the accused was decked in the judicial ermine. Not to go back to more ancient times, we learn from these records that in the reign of Edward III. a chief justice was convicted of receiving five several bribes from persons who awaited judgment in his court.f In the next reign we find a Lord Chancellor solemnly charged in Parliament with taking a bribe of £40 from a suitor ;I and six years after the Great Revolution of 1688 had driven a corrupt dynasty from the throne, the records of Parliament disclose that a thousand guineas from Guildhall tempted the Speaker of the House of Commons to get the City Orphan's Bill to be passed, thus conferring on the lucky Corporation a legal right tax for their own benefit all coal imported into London.
2nd February, 1867.
+ Co. 3 Inst. 147. Rot. Parl. 7, Ric. 2, 1384: Part 2, Nos. 12 to 15.
“Happily at this day the notion of corrupting our judges by a bribe is never dreamt of, and our statesmen and government officials are proof against all such attempts on their integrity. The force of public opinion, no less than the honourable feeling of our public men, secures this ; but were they not so actuated, the preventive against their taking a bribe would be found not in the rigour of the penal laws, but in the direct and inevitable consequences to themselves. A charge of corruption at this day against a judge or magistrate, or any public officer, would be instantly investigated in the proper quarter, and the delinquent, dismissed with ignoming from his office, would find himself permanently precluded from holding any other. This remedy is wholly efficacious. The officer, high or low, nay, the professional man, the agent, or the servant who has been corrupted by a bribe, is thenceforth practically a ruined man. He has been invested with a trust, and has forfeited it by his own act. tainty of the punishment tends most effectually not only to prevent bribery and corruption, but to keep up a tone of feeling that deters those who would otherwise attempt the offence. Are those entrusted by the law with the elective franchise, and with the great duty of choosing our representatives in Parliament, to be dealt with on a different principle ? Is our representative system to be always subject to pollution at its source, and the investigation into bribery and corruption in this case always to be dilatory and uncertain, and the delinquents practically to escape with impunity? Is there any reason to doubt that if an equal certainty of detection, and a similar result followed in the case of electioneering bribery as in other cases, that the evil would die a natural death? Is it not possible to effect this by the substitution of a more simple and expeditious procedure with reference to our elections, for the cumbersome machinery now in
“ At present, as we all know, the Queen's writ for an election is returnable on a certain day (not less than fifty days from the day it is issued), and the sheriff or other returning officer having given notice of the day fixed for the election, the nomination takes place on that day, and the polling on the next. The day after the close of the poll the only duty now devolving on the returning officer is to cast up the votes, declare the poll, and proclaim the members. Bribery, corruption, and intimidation may have run riot at the election ;
deceased or absent voters have been personated by impostors; the election, in fact, have been a mere mockery; but as soon as the clerks employed to cast up the poll books have finished their sums, the returning officer has only to proclaim that the candidate who heads the poll is duly elected ; and he can only be unseated by an election committee, sitting in London many weeks or months afterwards, with just so much of the facts before them as the Parliamentary agents may agree to supply them with. The right to retain the seat may be made a matter of amicable arrangement between those gentlemen, or may be contested and ultimately disposed of at a ruinous cost between the rival candidates; but unless to the expenses already incurred the committee should deem it right to suggest the addition of those of a commission of inquiry, the bribers and the agents of bribery and corruption altogether escape punishment-indeed, are too often well paid for their additional trouble. The agents can always contrive to make things pleasant,' and the free and independent electors live to hope for another election, and to join in the laugh at the so-called laws for prevention of bribery and corruption.
“It is to the House of Commons itself that this state of things is for the most part to be attributed. The writ for the election of a Member of Parliament is a writ issued by the Crown in accordance with the law of the land, and the question of its due return is by the fundamental rules of our Constitution as much a matter of mere law as any question raised by a quo warranto or other strictly legal proceeding. By an Act of Henry IV.(11 Henry IV., c. 1,) the examination as to the due return of such writs was distinctly conferred on the judges of assize; but, as the House of Commons has gradually usurped this jurisdiction [to their own great scandal, and to the practical abolition of freedom of election;] until that august assembly think well to put an end to the anomaly, bribery and corrupt practices at elections will prevail, whether electors vote openly or by ballot."
The time has now we hope arrived when the anomalous claims of the House of Commons to have the exclusive cognisance in election matters will give way to a jurisdiction more in accordance with the fair spirit of our constitution and the first principles of justice, which prohibit men sitting as judges when their own personal interests are involved. We do not despair of seeing this concession at last made with a good grace, and further, of finding, instead of our present clumsy legal contrivances for dealing with corrupt practices at elections, provisions made which will have the effect of preventing as well as punishing such offences, and securing, without the questionable aid of the ballot-box, freedom and purity of election.
Our readers will remember that the plan we have already proposed,* consists of two parts. First of all in securing at every election, before the return of the writ, such a supervision of the proceedings, on the spot, as the circumstances of each particular case
may warrant : all corrupt practices being at once brought to light, and the first step towards the discomfiture and punishment of the wrongdoers taken before they have obtained the advantage:-and in the second place in an effectual system of revision, weeding altogether from the voters' lists the names of all who have shown themselves, by their corrupt conduct, to be unfit to be admitted within the pale of the franchise, or who, having already forfeited their social status by the commission of crime, or fraud, have not retrieved their character by subsequent good conduct.
The ordeal to be gone through before the return of the writ, should be of such a character as, without involving the necessity of the expenditure of time or money more than the circumstances of each case may call for, should afford a full guarantee that the member returned has really been duly elected. With this view we have proposed that the Revising Barrister, as Assessor to the Returning Officer, immediately after each election should enter on a legal supervision or scrutiny of the proceedings, armed, as election commissions now are, with sufficient powers for getting at the truth, he would be able effectually to deal with all irregularities and illegal or corrupt practices at the election by treating as invalid all votes objectionable on those
* In the August number of the Law Magazine and Law Review of last year will be found the sketch of a Bill for carrying out the writer's suggestions.