Billeder på siden

After treating of London, Middlesex, and Surrey, the principal counties, Mr. Pearce says a few words respecting the state of the business in other counties.

“I do not mean," says he, “ to include the high sheriffs of counties : the system has not quite reached them ; but who can tell how soon it may ? it may perhaps have found its way even to their superiors.

“If we look round the neighbouring counties, we shall not only find, as in London and Middlesex, the under sheriffs generally the same men, but in the county of Surrey, the same under sheriff for twenty years together, and always the same deputy sheriff, as well as in the counties of Kent and Essex. The same system prevails, and they act exactly upon the same principles as in London and Middlesex, except trifling variations of practice, and fees of allowance to the officers. If a man is arrested at Maidstone, or Grav d, and tenders the debt and costs, or the debt, and 101, for the costs, under Lord Moira's Act, he cannot get discharged until a search is made at the deputy sheriff'soffice, Middlesex, though he may even lose his voyage by such detention. No person can doubt the illegality of it, or that the object is to make the defendant pay for the search and discharge, and not merely for the protection of the sheriff. In Surrey a man is dea tained two or three hours more than is necessary, until a search is made, the deputy sheriff chusing to have his office in Middlesex, instead of his own county where it ought to be. The search is made for the protection of the sheriff, though at the expence of the defendant's liberty and pocket. It appears, therefore, but reasonable that his accommodation should in some measure be considered also.” Observe that Mr. Pearce here says

66 The systein may perhaps have found its way even to the superiors” of the high sheriffs. If by the system, he means, the practice of drawing profit, like the sheriffs, out of the expenses extorted from the suffering victims of process, he might have spoken a little more confidently. The judges do, and always have extracted great profits out of these expenses ; and the greater the height to which the abuses of the process are carried, the greater still are the profits of the judges. Were the abuses of it--and it is all over but one great abuse-cut off, the judges would lose a great source of gain. The most authentic intelligence we have on the interest which the judges still possess in the increase of law charges, was communicated by that highly important committee of the house of commons, of which the present Speaker of the house was chairman, and which reported on finance in 1798. The result is thus shortly and forcibly expressed by Mr. Bentham. "Fees thus rendered the matter of corruption. Various channels, some open, some more or less disguised, through which this matter has been taught to flow, into the pocket and bosom

of the judge. Examples :-Receipt propriâ manu ;-Sale of a fee-yielding office for full value ;-Fine, or bonus, on admission ;-Fee-yielding office given in lieu, and to the saving of the expense, of other provision, for a son, or other near relation, he doing the duty, or else not doing the duty but paying a dea puty ;--Fee-yielding office given, or the profit of it made payable, to persons standing as trustees for a principal, declared, or undeclared ; if undeclared, supposed, of course, to be the judge himself. *"

In the case supposed of the man arrested at Gravesend, we see a specimen, of the mode in which, in particular instances, business is made for the sake of extorting fees ; and for the sake of these mischievous fees, to what hardships individuals are daily exposed.

The spunging-house system is not much carried on in the country, because the officer would not find his account in it. The system of bribery, however, is rather more safe in the country than in town. This is a part of the business of which it is fit the reader should have some conception. It is thus described by Mr. Pearce :

“ For instance, where a man is now and then visited by a bailiff, he tells him he had better drop him a line, should any writ come against him. This is what they call doing the business pleasantly and like gentlemen: he does so, and the defendant immediately returns hina his fee by letter, saying, that he shall see him soon ; or, if he goes to him, they talk the matter over. The defendant says it will suit him better a short time hence : the officer tells him, there is no occasion to hurry it, that he will manage it for bim a fortnight or so; and that he supposes all is right; meaning, that the debt and costs are intended to be paid. The defendant replies in the affirmative, and the officer writes to his employer, previous to the return, that he has not been able to arrest the defendant, and desires another writ to be sent witla a longer return, as he is rather shy. Another fee is taken, and another and another, doubled, perhaps, each time ; and, when the plaintiff's attorney becomes pressing and ihreatens to put it into the hands of another officer, or complaints come from the sheriff's office, the officer lays hold of the defendant without any notice whatever, and will not suffer him to depart without the debt and costs are paid, or a good bail-bond procured. He begins to think he may get into a scrape, he then takes his regular fee, of two or four guineas, as the case may be, which he has not yet had, and applies for his legal caption fee, one guinea in London. And here I cannot help observing, they are better collected than by an officer in London, Middlesex, or Surrey ; because they are not so much dependent upon their employers.

[ocr errors][merged small]
[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

Many of the attorneys put the officers off from time to time, and, if hard pressed, they tell them plainly, it is enough for them to give them business, they don't expect to be inconvenienced about fees. The officers, of course, know their customers ; but, on an average, they do not get one fee out of three.

In London and Middlesex, the officers are more nice ; for, after being bribed from time to time, they will not arrest the defendant at all: it hurts their feelings. But he is arrested by another officer, and then told by the first, that his employer was so displeased with him, that it was taken out of his hands. Bribery, therefore, is the worst system a man can adopt, unless he means to be off; for the officer is otherwise too deep for him. It ends in an enormous expence and exposure, and comes to the same thing at last. This is the way the cfficers get their money, by keeping the defendants out of prison, not by putting them in. When they go into confinement, one fee more only remains to be had, and that a very small one in comparison.

« I shall now say a few words about the lock-up houses themselves, in the neighbouring counties."

“It is not worth an officer's while, in counties, to trouble himself with a lock-up house, he therefore takes a couple of rooms, barred, at one of the principal towns, the most central ; and in one of the neighbouring counties, it is like the cage in a country town, and the persons in it are stared at by the populace and every stage-coach passenger


passes. “In another neighbouring county there is a lock-up house, worse still, if possible. One room, under ground, in which the prisoners are locked in, all day, as well as all night, (in their bed-room,) excepting meal times. By ringing the bell, they may get out for a little time, but they are soon locked up again.”

It may be of some use to assist in letting the public know that the officers may always be prosecuted for extortion. We shall insert the following passage from Mr. Pearce, which however might have been more satisfactory,

* An action for extortion is the only check that can be kept upon the officer, and if it was more frequently brought than it is, it would be of great service to the public. I mean when they really extort and take exorbitant fees. A man's own feelings, who gives to the officer, can best tell him what is right on such an occasion. There is no risk, certainly, in bringing the action, for the officer always returns the money and pays all costs immediately; he koows he has not the smallest chance to resist it ; and, I need not add, there can be nothing dishonourable in so doing.”

It would have been desirable, had Mr. Pearce informed us, what is expressly directed by the law, to be paid to the officer ;for every farthing beyond thạt, is extortion, and ought to be punished. In one passage, p. 25, he says "the law allows the officer nothing; no fce at all." But in another passage, p. 67,


he speaks of the legal caption fee of the officer-one guinea in London." If this guinea be legal, it appears that nothing more is legal: all besides is extortion, and ought to be punished. But when he recommends to bring an action, he should have mentioned the money which is requisite to bring an action ; and how many of those whom the officer has plundered, have no money remaining. The officers will pay costs—but what costs? Those which are ordered by the courts to fall upon the unsuccessful party. Beside these, there are, however, other charges to no slight amount, incurred by the other party, and for which no allowance is made. He that oppresses the

poor man, when law is expensive, has little to dread from the law.

One other case of hardship, which cannot be called peculiar, because it relates to the whole expanse of England, excluding the circle of the metropolis, is of a nature so extraordinary, so totally useless, so oppressive, in the most numerous set of cases, so savagely cruel, that one can hardly believe in its existence when one hears it attested.

A man who may reside in the country, at the distance of 150 or. 200 miles from town, being arrested, and having given bail to the sheriff, wishes afterwards from his inability to defend the action, or for the satisfaction of his bail, or some other cause, to render himself to prison, or the bail themselves wish to render bim, to get rid of their liability ; in that case, there is no alternative for the defendant but to come up to town, in order to be surrendered to the prison of the court; and I have known many defendants, who could ill afford it, put to heavy expences, as well as being forced to suffer great inconvenience, from leaving their families. I have also seen bail put to 40..or 50l. expence, in effectuating a defendant's surrender, by being under the necessity of bringing him up themselves from a great distance. Why should not a man, thus circumstanced, have the option of surrendering himself, or of allowing the bail to surrender him, to the county gaol, or the prison next his residence, on condition that a certificate of his being so rendered should be transmitted to town, since the object of the defendant going to prison would be equally as well answered? I need not mention the numerous hard cases in every term. I shall, however, state two, which happened a short time ago.

A few terms since, a poor man, eighty years of age, travelled up from Yorkshire to surrender himself to an action, in which he had been arrested for a small sum of money : he was so exhausted from the fatigues of the journey, that he died in the King's Bench prison a few days after his surrender ; and had he, from the severe indisposition, or any other cause, been laid up only for twenty-four hours on the road, his bail might have been fixed with the debt and costs.

Again, a poor woman of great an age, under similar circumstances, was obliged to come up from the neighbourhood of Huddersfield in Yorkshire; and, upon her surrender, she was so impoverished, that she was obliged to be put immediately upon the poor's box, not having wherewith to subsist.”'

On that part of the procedure of the law which relates to the recovery of debts, taken by Mr. Pearce for the subject of his book, we have only yet been able to notice the commencing step; the operations which the law prescribes for ensuring the appearance of the defendants, when called upon, before the judge. Few things can be conceived which more deeply concern our countrymen, than the scene which we have united our endeavours with those of Mr. Pearce, to lay open to their view. Ilere, for the present, we shall make a pause. The remaining parts of the business we shall endeavour to explain at a future opportunity.

[To be continued.]

Penitentiary Houses, Houses of Correction, the Hulks,

New South Wales.

When the great and important subject of impRISONMENT formerly occupied our attention, we considered it not only as it applied to debtors, but also to criminals, and not only as an instrument of safe-custody, to preserve the persons accused in a forthcoming state, for the decision of the judge, or the effects of its execution ; but even as an instrument of punishment, or correction. In this light the different bridewells, and all those establishments in the country which assumed in any degree the character of penitentiary houses, or houses of correction, fell to be considered. Their adaptation to the end which they purported to serve, and their agreement or disagreement with the principles of humanity, in both of which respects we found them wofully deficient, escaped not our attention.

There was, however, another class of institutions, intended to answer the same purposes with bridewells and houses of correction, to which at that time we did not extend our remarks. Our discourses upon that important point cannot be regarded as complete, even in the limited point of view in which we thought it belonged to THE PHILANTHROPIST to consider the subject, so long as the class of institutions to which we now allude remain unreviewed. It is obvious that we have in our eye those resources for the punishment of crime, or the reformiation of the criminal, which the legislature has provided in

« ForrigeFortsæt »