HC Deb 11 February 1830 vol 22 cc328-32
Mr. O'Connell

presented a petition from several individuals, praying for such a Reform in the Law as would make it what it was not at present—cheap, intelligible, and expeditious. The petition also prayed the House to call upon intelligent persons, to draw up draughts of an "all-comprehensive code of law" for this country. He would read some extracts from it, because the subject was of great importance, and because he might hereafter call further attention to it. The petitioners said, that in so far as the respective consciences of the petitioners will allow, they entertain the sincerest disposition to conform themselves in all things to the good pleasure of those who are set in authority over them; that when by any of them a wish is expressed to know what that pleasure is, he is bid to look to the law of the Land; that when a man asks what the same law is, he learns that there are two parts of it, that the one is called Statute Law, and the other Common Law, and that there are books in which these same two parts are to be found; that when a man asks in what book the Statute Law is to be found, he learns that so far from being contained in any one book, however large, it fills books composing a heap greater than he would be able to lift; that if he thereupon asks in which of all these books he could upon occasion lay his hands and find those parts in which he himself is concerned, without being bewildered with those in which he has no concern, what he learns is, that the whole matter is so completely mixed up together, that for him to pick out the collection of those same parts from the rest is utterly impossible; that if he asks in what book the Common Law is to be found, he learns, that the collection of the books in which, on each occasion, search is to be made for it are so vast, that the house he lives in would scarcely be sufficient to contain it; that if he asks, who it is that the Statute Law is made by, he is told without difficulty, that it is by King, Lords, and Commons, in Parliament assembled; that if in continuation they proceed any of them to ask, who it is that the Common Law has been made by, they learn, to their inexpressible surprise, that it has been made by nobody, that it is not made by King, Lords, and Commons, nor by any body else; that the words of it are not to be found anywhere, that in short it has no existence, it is a mere fiction, and that to speak of it as having any existence, is what no man can do without giving currency to an imposture. When upon observing that by every judge it is spoken of as a reality, and that he professes to be acting under it, they ask whether it is not he that makes it, they are told that this is what no Judge ever does, and that by any of the learned Judges a question, what part of the Law is of his making, would be received with indignation and resented as calumny; that when seeing men put to death, and otherwise grievously punished by order of the Judges, a man asks by what authority this is done, he learns that it is by the authority of Statute Law or Common Law, as it may happen; and if he thereupon asks whether, when it is upon the authority of the Common Law that the Judge does this, lit is not by this same Judge that this same Common Law is made, he still receives the same assurance that no Judge ever makes law; and that a question, what part of the law is of his making, would be received with indignation, and resented as calumny, while the truth is, that on each occasion the rule to which a Judge gives the force of law, is one which on this very occasion he makes out of his own head, and this not till the act for which the man is thus dealt with has been done, while by these same Judges, if the same thing were clone by the acknowledged legislature, it would be spoken of as an act of fragrant injustice, designated and reprobated in their language by the name of an ex post facto law; all this while they are told that they have rights given to them, and they are told to be grateful for those rights. They are told that they have duties prescribed to them, and they are bid to be punctual in the fulfilment of all those duties; and so (they are told) they must be if they would save themselves from being visited with condign punishment; hearing this they would really be grateful for these same rights, if they knew what they were, and were able to avail themselves of rights of which they have no knowledge; being in the nature of things impossible, they are utterly unable to learn for what as well as to whom to pay the so called for tribute of their gratitude: as to these same duties, they would endeavour at least to be punctual in the fulfilment of them, if they knew but what they were; but to be punctual in the fulfilment of duties, the knowledge of which is kept concealed from them, is equally impossible; that which is but too possible, and too frequently experienced by them is, the being thus punished for not doing that which it has thus been rendered impossible for them to do; thus while the rights they are bid to be grateful for are mere illusions, the punishments they are made to undergo are sad realities; finally, thus it is, that they who in so far as such oppression admits of their being so, are his Majesty's dutiful and loyal subjects, are dealt with as were the children of Israel under their Egyptian task masters; and the petitioners hear of tyrants, and those cruel ones; but whatever they may have felt, they have never heard of any tyrant in such sort cruel, as to punish men for disobedience to laws or orders which he had kept them from the knowledge of; they have heard much of cruelties practised by slaveholders upon those who are called their slaves, but so far as regards the mode of treatment the petitioners thus experience, whatever be the cruelties practised upon slaves, never have the petitioners heard this to be of the number of those cruelties; the negro, so long as he does what he is commanded to do, and abstains from doing that which he is forbidden to do, the negro, slave as he is, is safe; in this respect his condition is an object of envy to the petitioners, and they pray that it maybe theirs; they have heard not a little of the pains taken by the House in the endeavour to put an end to those same cruelties; they cannot refuse to any such endeavour the humble tribute of their applause, but they hope they are not altogether unreasonable in their wish to receive from the hands of the House the benefit of the like endeavours, and what the petitioners hereby pray for, is as follows: "1st, that the House, in and by its votes, may be pleased to give invitation to all persons so disposed to send in each of them a plan of an all-comprehensive code, followed by the text thereof, this text, either the whole of it at the same time, or in successive portions, as he may find most convenient; 2nd, that for indemnifying each such contributor from the expense of printing, the House may be pleased to give authority to him to send in such his work in manuscript to any person authorized by the House to print its proceedings, that is to say, for the purpose, and subject to the limitation, hereinafter mentioned, under the assurance that the same will be printed along with the other proceedings of the House, in like manner as Acts of Parliament are at present; 3rd, as to the persons of such contributors, the petitioners humbly insist that, from the liberty of sending in drafts for this purpose, no person shall stand excluded, no not any person whatsoever, for suppose, for example, a foreigner to send in a draft better adapted to the purpose than any draft sent in by any of his Majesty's subjects, the petitioners see not why his being so should debar them from the benefit of it, and assuredly they see not any reason whatever for any such apprehension as that by the House, the circumstance of the draftsman's being a foreigner should ever cause a less well-adapted draft to be applied and sanctioned in preference to a better adapted one; 4th, as to the expense that might be eventually attendant on the printing of such drafts, it is no more than the petitioners are perfectly aware of, but there are two arrangements which, taken together, they cannot but rely on as sufficient to reduce within a moderate compass the amount of that expense; 5th, one is, that it be an instruction to every contributor that no such contributor shall receive the benefit of the accommodation thus afforded, unless to each article, or set of articles, in his proposed code, the reason, or set of reasons, by which it was suggested, on which it is grounded, and to which it trusts for its explanation and reception, be appended; 6th, the other is, that by the House power be resolved to itself, by the hands of any person or persons for that purpose thereto appointed, to put a stop at any time to the printing of any such draft, after which, should the impression be continued, it will be at the contributor's own expense, but that, to assist him in the faculty of thus making a virtual appeal to public opinion, such part of his draft as shall have been already printed shall be delivered to him, to be disposed of as be shall think fit," &c.