Page images
PDF
EPUB

reason I did embrace, and do now with joy, this method of giving quiet to the Courts, jurisdiction to Juries, liberty to the Press, and satisfaction to the People. I thank my friends for what they have done; I hope the publick will one day reap the benefit of their pious and judicious endeavours. They have now sown the seed; I hope they will live to see the flourishing harvest. Their Bill is sown in weakness, it will, I trust, be reaped in power. And then, however, we shall have reason to apply to them what my Lord Coke says was an aphorism continually in the mouth of a great sage of the Law," Blessed be not the complaining tongue, but, blessed be the amending hand."

[ocr errors]

worody

LETTER

On Mr. Dowdeswell's Bill for explaining the Powers of Juries in Prosecutions for Libels.*

AN improper and injurious account of the

Bill brought into the House of Commons by Mr. Dowdeswell has lately appeared in one of the publick papers. I am not at all surprised at it; as I am not a stranger to the views and politicks of those, who have caused it to be inserted.

Mr. Dowdeswell did not bring in an enacting Bill to give to Juries, as the account expresses it, a power to try Law and Fact in matter of Libel, Mr. Dowdeswell brought in a Bill to put an end to those doubts and controversies upon that subject; which have unhappily distracted our Courts to the great detriment of the Publick, and to the great dishonour of the national Justice.

That it is the province of the Jury, in informations and endictments for libels, to try nothing more than the fact of the composing, and of the publishing averments and innuendos, is a doctrine

The manuscript, from which this letter is taken, is in Mr. 'Burke's own hand-writing, but it does not appear to whom it was addressed; nor is there any date affixed to it. It has been thought proper to insert it here as being connected with the ,subject of the foregoing Speech...

VOL. X.

K

held

held at present by all the Judges of the King's Bench, probably by most of the Judges of the kingdom. The same doctrine has been held pretty uniformly since the Revolution; and it prevails more or less with the Jury according to the degree of respect, with which they are disposed to receive the opinions of the Bench.

grace

This doctrine, which, when it prevails, tends to annihilate the benefit of trial by Jury, and when it is rejected by Juries tends to weaken and disthe authority of the Judge, is not a doctrine proper for an English Judicature. For the sake both of Judge and Jury the controversy ought to be quieted, and the Law ought to be settled in a manner clear, definitive, and constitutional, by the only authority competent to it, the authority of the Legislature.

Mr. Dowdeswell's Bill was brought in for that purpose. It gives to the Jury no new powers; but, after reciting the doubts and controversies (which nobody denies actually to subsist), and after stating, that, if Juries are not reputed competent to try the whole matter, the benefit of trial by Jury will be of none, or imperfect, effect, it enacts, not that the Jury shall have the power, but that they shall be held and reputed in law and right competent, to try the whole matter laid in the information. The Bill is directing to the Judges concerning the opinion in law, which they are known to hold upon

this subject; and does not in the least imply, that the Jury were to derive a new right and power from that Bill, if it should have passed into an Act of Parliament. The implication is directly the contrary; and is as strongly conveyed as it is pos→ sible for those to do, who state a doubt and controversy, without charging with criminality those persons, who so doubted, and so controverted,

Such a style is frequent in Acts of this nature; and is that only, which is suited to the occasion. An insidious use has been made of the words enact and declare, as if they were formal and operative words of force to distinguish different species of laws producing different effects. Nothing is more groundless; and I am persuaded no lawyer will stand to such an assertion. The gentlemen, who say, that a Bill ought to have been brought in upon the principle, and in the style, of the Petition of Right, and Declaration of Right, ought to consider how far the circumstances are the same in the two cases; and how far they are prepared to go the whole lengths of the reason of those remarkable laws. Mr. Dowdeswell and his friends are of opinion, that the circumstances are not the same, and that therefore the Bill ought not to be the

same.

It has been always disagreeable to the persons, who compose that connexion, to engage wantonly in a paper war, especially with gentlemen, for

[blocks in formation]

whom they have an esteem, and who seem to agree with them in the great grounds of their publick conduct: but they can never consent to purchase any assistance from any persons by the forfeiture of their own reputation. They respect publick opinion; and therefore whenever they shall be called upon, they are ready to meet their adversaries, as soon as they please, before the tribunal of the Publick, and there to justify the constitutional nature and tendency, the propriety, the prudence, and the policy of their Bill. They are equally ready to explain and to justify all their proceedings in the conduct of it; equally ready to defend their resolution to make it one object (if ever they should have the power) in a plan of publick reformation.

Your correspondent ought to have been satisfied with the assistance, which his friends have lent to Administration in defeating that Bill. He ought not to make a feeble endeavour (I dare say, much to the displeasure of those friends) to disgrace the gentleman, who brought it in. A measure, proposed by. Mr. Dowdeswell, seconded by Sir George Saville, and supported by their friends, will stand fair with the Publick, even though it should have been opposed by that list of names (respectable names I admit), which have been printed with so much parade and ostentation in your papers.

It is not true, that Mr. Burke spoke in praise of Lord Mansfield. If he had found any thing in

Lord

« PreviousContinue »