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A TREATISE ON THE ABUSES OF THE LAWs; particularly in
Actions by Arrest-pointing out numerous Hardships and Abuses in the different Courts, from the Commencement of an Action to its Conclusion; and the various Extortions, from the High Sheriff to the Bailiff's Follower : together with the System of the King's Bench Prison, and the SpungingHouses in London, Middlesex, and neighbouring Counties -shewing also the enormous Expense Parties are put to on small Debts; the cruel Practice of bringing numerous Actions, only to increase the Costs: and the Necessity for establishing a Court, in which the Tradesman can recover his small Debt. -The whole tending to shew, that the Arrest on Common or Mesne Process (as now carried on) is equally oppressive to the Plaintiff and Defendant. By James Pearce, Gent. an Attorney of Twenty Years Practice in London, and who has served the Office of Under-Sheriff of London and Middlesex, London, printed 1814.
Good laws are the most important benefit capable of being bestowed upon human society. In proportion to the value of good laws is the value of every thing which has a tendency to produce them. Among the things which have a tendency to produce good laws, few are more powerful than the indications of the defects which belong to existing laws.
This is a truth which we have on former occasions had an opportunity of presenting to the notice of our readers. And it is a
truth the value of which we deem it of cardinal importance to im! print on the public mind. It is of little or no use to dwell upon
those particulars in which the laws completely answer the important ends of law. In those particulars there is need of no alteration. It suffices that the benefits accrue, and that things remain as they are.
But it is of great importance to point out
all those particulars in which the laws fail of answering the grand purposes of law; because, without such information, no amendment will take place. In as much, then, as good laws are a greater benefit than bad laws, in so much is the accusation and exposure of what is vicious in the laws, a greater benefit than silence. It is evident that any thing like praise bestowed upon the defective parts of the law is one of the greatest injuries which can be committed against society.
The sort of persuasion, then, which too much prevails, that it is good to be always applauding things established, and not good to be frequent in the exposure of faults, is a most pernicious PREJUDICE. It is not only at war, as every reader perceives, with the interests of truthr; it is not only the direct course for being cheated of the truth, depriving the intellectual part of one's nature of its appropriate fruition; hence of weakening and depraving the intellect, holding it in a state of folly and delusion : --but it is the most effectual course for depriving society of all the advantages of improvement; of condemning it to the perpetual endurance of all the evils under which it may any
time happen to labour ; of compelling it to be (what is the unavoidable result of imperfect laws) immoral and vicious ; when it might be (what is the certain result of good laws) a pattern of morality and virtue ;-compelling it, in short, to suffer physically, intellectually, and morally, when in all these respects it might flourish and enjoy.-- On all occasions, unspeakably different is the man who speaks only to flatter, and the man who speaks only to inform : on no occasion is that difference more remarkable than when it is required to speak of the qualities of the laws.
On this account we bestow our highest approbation upon the gentleman who has benefited his country by the useful and most important little volume, which we now present to the notice of our readers, and which we should wish to be in the hands of every man in the kingdom. We are extremely happy Sir Samuel Romilly agrees with us on these important heads; and has given his sanction to this very seasonable attempt to disseminate a knowledge of some of the worst corruptions of the law, by' manfully permitting the author to publish that it was dedicated to him by permission. If the people at large could in sufficient numbers be made fully acquainted with the lamentable facts--the multitude of lamentable facts, which this work attests; --the vile, the ruinous, the disgusting scene, which it lays open to view; an alteration could not fail to be soon effectedalteration by which a greater quantity of human misery-unne
cessary, gratuitous human misery, would be prevented; than could be so immediately done by almost any other legislative act. It only requires a general dissemination of the knowledge of the case, to ensure the production of this most important effect. That dissemination, therefore, is one of the most momentous of all the services which an Englishman can render to his country.
The author begins with a remark which, though in some degree incidental, we think of sufficient importance to be held up to view; that though the practices of the law were familiar to him during the business of twenty years, yet it was not till he began to write upon the subject of abuses, that he was in any tolerable degree aware of their extent.
“ When I began,” says my intention was to point out the different abuses and hardships in our courts of law ; my practice for many years, as an attorney, having convinced me that they were numerous and extensive. To my great surprise, however, when I entered upon them, one abuse branched out into another, and the torrent came upon me with such rapidity-betraying such a system of corruption, abuse, extortion, perjury, and of every thing badthat I found I must go through the whole, or relinquish the task altogether.”
We are willing to hold up this passage as a sort of an apology , -such as it is— for practising lawyers. When one sees the manifold corruptions of the system, and the mass of cruelty and oppression of which they are the cause, one is almost constrained to call for the vengeance of heaven upon a set of men who can be familiar with such scenes of iniquity, and can go on coolly from day to day, from year to year, nay
age extracting their own profit out of factitious and needless misery, without expressing so much as a sense of its existence. But we see from this confession of a man who proves that he has no love to the corruption, that in regard to the vices of the law the scene of practice is not the school of discovery; and that a man may be very familiar with those vices, and yet have little conception of their existence. There seems to be in the practice of the law a kind of blinding efficacy with regard to goodness or badness. If any thing is but law; in the view of the practitioner that is enough : all then is equal. Indeed the blinding efficacy is not all; there seems to be also an estranging efficacy; which makes practitioners in general detest the very question as to goodness or badness ; and very willing to run down, nay even to persecute, every man who thinks it his duty to push the important inquiry.
In addition to the intimate knowledge which he had of the system, the author was encouraged to proceed by finding, says
he_5 that, as the charges had increased imperceptibly, corruption had increased in an equal degree—that I was attacking no man's character-that I was doing no man an injury--that I was combating a system which had got to an alarming height—that, if I succeeded in a small degree, I was benefiting society--that every fact I should state was capable of proof-that I was capable of establishing them before any tribunal in the kingdom-and that I needed no occasion to state an exaggeration, muchlessa falsehood." -From this passage we find it incidentally asserted, that the charges i, e, the expense of law proceedings-a great evil as all the world acknowledge-have up to this period been increasing, not diminishing. We find it also asserted, that the corruptions practised under colour of law-another odious evil, as all the world acknowledge-have, in this enlightened age, been not diminishing, but increasing.--It is surely high time that such a tide should turn.
It is one branch only of the practice of the law which is taken for the subject of the present volume. It is that course of proceedings which the law prescribes, or at least allows to be pursued, for the recovery of debts. This, it may easily be conceived, is the most copious source of law business.
In order to introduce into a complicated subject as much distinctness as possible, in the introduction of which the chief talent of our instructive author does not consist, it is necessary to classify, in some degree, the cases in which the process of law becomes the medium for the recovery of debt.
They may be divided into-first, Those in which the question of the debt is really doubtful, and the decision of the judge to settle the doubt, is all that is required and second, Those in which the question of the debt is really not doubtful, and what is wanting is the compulsory process of the law to extract payment of the debt.
Of the first sort the cases are very small in number compared with those of the second ; and as no peculiar abuse attends them which is not exemplified in those of the second, we shall not treat of them further than by any incidental reflection which may
The second sort, namely, those in which the compulsory process of law is employed to enforce payment of a just demand, may again be divided into two species; the first, where the party sued is able to pay; the second, where he is not able.
Under a bad system of law-where delay, intricacy, uncertainty, and expense prevail-there is so much encouragement to a dishonest inan to withhold payment of a just debt, though
fully able to pay, that the number of cases of this description cannot be small.
Of those, however, who are sted for debt, the most numerous class by far consists of those unhappy men who are unable to pay. Of course, when we say unable, we mean that sort of inability which admits of degrees. We mean that sort of inability which nothing but some extraordinary sacrifice can enable a man immediately to surmount.
It is this last class of cases, therefore, which, as the most numerous, it is of vast importance to explain. As the abuses, too, which are exemplified in this class are the materials out of which the abuses exemplified in the other classes are composed, the elucidation of this class is in reality the elucidation of the whole.
We shall not be very solicitous about the explanation of law terms. Our reader is either acquainted with them, or it is of little importance to the present purpose whether he is, or not. We shall endeavour to describe things, in such common language as all will understand.
In using the instrumentality of law for the recovery of a debt, the first operation is of the nature of a summons to the party against whom the demand is brought, either to pay the deht, or appear before the judge on a certain day to receive the judicial decision.
This operation, it is evident, is necessary; and all that is required is—that, as the operation in itself is simple in the highest possible degree, it should be performed in the most simple manner, in a manner the most intelligible, the most convenient, and the least expensive possible to the parties.
Is this the mode in which this very simple operation is performed by English law? Alas ! no: very much the contrary indeed. It is so contrived, that this is one of the most obscure, and intricate, and puzzling of all the parts of procedure; and what with their originals, their bills of Middlesex, their latitals, their ac etiams, their quo minuses, their si fecerit te securums, their cupiases, &c. &c. the lawyers have made the simple business of a notice either to pay a debt, or appear before the judge, a perfect mystery; which throws an impenetrable cloud over the very commencement of a suit, and perplexes and obscures it through all its winding and tedious progress to the very end. It is chiefly of importance to our present purpose to state, that the business, as we shall see more fully hereafter, is not performedin the cheapest possible manner, but with a large creation of expense.
Upon the day in which the defendant is summoned to appear