Page images

III. The next species of subordinate magistrates are justices of the peace, the principal of whom is the custos rotolorum, or keeper of the records of the county.

The sovereign is the principal conservator of the peace within all his dominions; and may give authority to any other to see the peace kept, and to punish such as break it; hence it is usually called the queen's peace. The coroner is a conservator of the peace within his own county, as is also the sheriff. Constables, tythingmen, and the like, are also conservators of the peace within their own jurisdictions; and may apprehend all breakers of the peace and commit them, till they find sureties for their keeping it. But the principal conservators of the peace are the justices nominated by commission under the great seal, which appoints them all, jointly and separately, to keep the peace, and any two or more of them to inquire of and determine felonies and other misdemeanors : in which number some particular justices, or one of them, are directed to be always included, and no business to be done without their presence, the persons so named being usually called justices of the quorum.

The number of justices for each county is now unlimited ; they ought to be of the best reputation, and most worthy men in the county, and must have in real property 1001. per annum clear of all deductions, or a reversion or remainder with reserved rents amounting to 3001. per annum.

As the office of these justices is conferred by the crown, so it subsists only during the pleasure of the sovereign, and is determinable, 1. By the demise of the crown; that is, in six months after. 2. By express writ under the great seal, discharging any particular person from being any longer justice. 3. By superseding the commission by writ of supersedeas. 4. By a new commission, which discharges all the former justices not included therein. 5. By accession to the office of sheriff or coroner.

The power, office, and duty of a justice depend on his commission, and on the several statutes which have created objects of his jurisdiction. His commission, first, empowers him singly to conserve the peace. It also empowers any two or more to hear and determine felonies and other offences; which is the ground of their jurisdiction at sessions. And as to the powers given to them by the several statutes, which have heaped upon them such an infinite variety of business, that few care to undertake, and fewer understand, the office; they are such, that the country is greatly obliged to any worthy magistrate, that without sinister views of his own will engage in this troublesome service. And therefore, if a justice makes any undesigned slip, great indulgence is shown to him in the courts of law; for he cannot be sued for any oversight, without notice beforehand; so as to have an opportunity of making amends.

· IV. The office of constable is one of considerable antiquity. They were ordained by the statute of Winchester to be appointed at the court-leets of the franchise or hundred over which they preside, or, in default of that, by the justices, for the better keeping of the peace. They were called afterwards high constables, to distinguish them from the petty constables, instituted in the reign of Edward III. These latter have two offices : one ancient, the other modern. Their ancient office is that of head-borough, tithing-man, or borsholder ; an office as ancient as the time of King Alfred; their more modern office is that of constable merely, to assist the high constable. They are chosen by the justices at a petty sessions holden yearly for that purpose.

The general duty of all constables, both high and petty, as well as of the other officers, is to keep the peace in their several districts; and to that purpose they are armed with very large powers, of the extent of which, considering what manner of men are for the most part put into these offices, it is perhaps very well that they are generally kept in ignorance.

The justices may swear-in special constables if disturbances exist or are apprehended; and any one of the secretaries of state may order persons to be so sworn in, though exempt by law from so serving.

These ancient officers have, however, been almost entirely superseded by the modern police force now established throughout the kingdom; the justices having now power to appoint a chief constable, and such chief constable to appoint other constables; the whole, when sworn in, having all the powers, privileges, and duties which any constable duly appointed has within his constablewick.

V. The office of surveyor of the highway dates from the reign of Queen Mary. Every parish is bound of common right to keep its high-roads in repair ; unless, by tenure of lands or otherwise, this care is consigned to some particular person. From this burden no man was exempt by our ancient laws, whatever other immunities he might enjoy : this being part of the trinoda necessitas to which every man's estate was subject; viz., expeditio contra hostem, arcium constructio, et pontium reparatio. The surveyors were originally appointed by the constable and churchwardens of the parish; and, till recently, were chosen annually by the inhabitants, or if the inhabitants omitted to elect, by the justices. But parishes may now be united by the justices into a district, for which a highway board is elected, consisting of resident justices and way-wardens chosen by each parish, by whom the district surveyor is appointed. His duty is to put in execution the laws for the repairs of the public

highways; his powers for this purpose being very extensive. The expense is paid by a rate levied in the same manner and on the same persons and property as the rates for the relief of the poor.

VI. The last of the subordinate officers or magistrates I have to mention here, are the overseers and guardians of the poor.

The poor of England, till the time of Henry VIII., subsisted entirely upon private benevolence, and the charity of well-disposed Christians. The monasteries were, in particular, their principal resource; and among other bad effects which attended these institutions, it was not perhaps one of the least that they supported and fed a very numerous and very idle poor, whose sustenance depended upon what was daily distributed in alms at the gates of the religious houses. But, upon their dissolution, the inconvenience of thus encouraging the poor in habits of indolence and beggary was quickly felt; and several statutes were made in the reign of King Henry VIII. and his children, for providing for the poor and impotent, which, the preambles to some of them recite, had of late years greatly increased. These poor were principally of two sorts: sick and impotent, and therefore unable to work; idle and sturdy, and therefore able, but not willing to exercise any honest employment. After many other fruitless experiments, by statute 43 Eliz. c. 2, overseers of the poor were directed to be appointed in every parish,

They are appointed by the justices, and their duties are to raise competent sums for the necessary relief of the impotent, old, blind, and such other poor as are not able to work; and secondly, to provide work for such as are able, and cannot otherwise get employment. And for these joint purposes they are empowered to make and levy rates upon the several inhabitants of the parish.

One defect in this measure was confining the management of the poor to small parochial districts, which are frequently incapable of furnishing proper work, or providing an able director. However, the laborious poor were then at liberty to seek employment wherever it was to be had; none being obliged to reside in the places of their settlement but such as were unable or unwilling to work, and those places of settlement being only such where they were born, or had made their abode.

After the Restoration a very different plan was adopted, which rendered the employment of the poor more difficult, by authorising the subdivision of parishes; greatly increased their number, by confining them all to their respective districts; gave birth to the intricacy of our poor laws, by multiplying and rendering more easy the methods of gaining settlements; and, in consequence, created an infinity of expensive lawsuits between contending neighbourhoods concerning those settlements and removals.

A remedy was attempted by 22 Geo. III. c. 83 (Gilbert's Act), enabling parishes to unite with others, in order to provide poorhouses for the reception of paupers, and directing the appointment of visitors and guardians for each parish; who were authorized to contract for supplying the poor with diet and clothing, or, as it was termed, farming the poor. This act is in operation in a very few places.

By other statutes restrictions were imposed on the obtaining of settlements, which gave rise to more litigation between parishes ; and further facilities were given for the erection of workhouses. But the gravest abuses nevertheless pervaded the whole administration of these laws. The philanthropic but erroneous views of the local authorities led in many cases to a profuse and indiscriminate expenditure; and from this there resulted a marked demoralization of the labouring classes of the district. The amount annually expended in the relief of the poor became, in consequence, such a serious burden on the rest of the community, that it was found necessary not only to reconstruot the machinery for its distribution, but to revise the principles of our previous legislation.

This was effected in 1834 by the Poor Law Amendment Act. Commissioners were appointed, and the administration of relief to the poor was made subject to their direction and control. They were authorized to unite adjacent parishes into one Union ; . the administration of relief being then vested in a board of guardians, elected by the ratepayers, of which the justices of the peace acting for the county were ex officio members. Relieving officers were appointed to superintend and assist in the administration of the relief and employment of the destitute poor; and the overseers left to collect the poor rates, and keep the accounts.

The practice, which had long obtained and been found to be productive of much evil, of giving out-door relief to the able-bodied poor, unless under special circumstances and in cases of emergency, was at the same time put an end to; the law of settlement was simplified and improved, if such a phrase may be applied to a system thoroughly vicious in principle; and provision was made for the more equitable assessment of property and the collection of the poor-rates; for compelling putative fathers to maintain their illegitimate children; for the proper election of guardians; the care of pauper lunatics; and the regulation of schools.

The powers of the commissioners were in the mean time continued down to the year 1847, when all their powers and duties were transferred to certain ex officio commissioners and to one commissioner appointed by the crown, who act under the designation of The Poor Law Board.

Several acts have been subsequently passed, however, relating to

other branches of the poor laws, leaving the laws relating to the relief of the poor in such a state of complexity, as to render their speedy consolidation a work rather of necessity than of mere convenience. The most recent legislation on this subject happily tends to the breaking up of that exclusive parochial system which has so long fostered and preserved the laws of settlement, the most mischievous, in the eyes of political economists, that have ever appeared in the statute rolls of the empire.



Allegiance, natural or local—Who are aliens—Denizens Naturalization. Having treated of persons as they stand in the public relations of magistrates, I now proceed to consider such persons as fall under the denomination of the people; the first and most obvious division of whom is into aliens and natural-born subjects. Natural-born subjects are such as are born within the dominions of the crown of England; that is, within the legiance, or allegiance of the queen : and aliens, such as are born out of it. Allegiance is the tie or ligamen, which binds the subject to the sovereign, in return for that protection which the sovereign affords the subject; the oath of allegiance, which must have been taken by every subject when required, and as it was administered for upwards of six hundred years, containing a promise “ to be true and faithful to the king and his heirs, and “ truth and faith to bear of life and limb and terrene honour, and “ not to know or hear of any ill or damage intended him, without “ defending him therefrom.” But, at the Revolution, the terms of this oath being thought to favour too much the notion of nonresistance, another form was introduced, which is more general; the subject only promising “ that he will be faithful and bear true alle“ giance to the king," without mentioning “his heirs," or specifying in the least wherein that allegiance consists. The oath of supremacy was principally calculated as a renunciation of the pope's pretended authority; and the oath of abjuration, introduced in the reign of King William, very amply supplied the loose and general texture of the oath of allegiance. For these several declarations, however, has now been substituted one single oath, which recognises the right of

« PreviousContinue »