+ ~ -
Please report pronunciation problems here. Select and sample other voices. Options Pause Play
Report an Error


SAID Lord Bacon, "So great is the
accumulation of the statutes, so often do those
statutes cross each other, and so intricate are
they, that the certainty of the law is entirely
lost in the heap." Lord Bacon said this when
the number of our public statutes was two
thousand one hundred and seventy-one. Thus,
the profoundest brain that ever a wig covered,
pronounced itself to be lost in the maze of a
law constructed of two thousand one hundred
and seventy-one disjointed statutes. From
his day to our own, the maze has been
incessantly in progress of enlargement. New
laws are hung on to the outskirts of the rest,
faster than new streets on the outskirts of
this our metropolis; new legal neighbourhoods
spring up, new streets of law are
pushed through the heart of old established
legislation, and all this legal building and
improvement still goes on with little or no
carting away of the old building materials
and other rubbish. We have actually made
simple addition to the statutes since her
Majesty's happy accession, of a number
actually greater than the whole sum known
in Bacon's time. One hundred and thirty-
four public acts were passed only in the very
last session of parliament. The present
number of our statutesleaving private bills
and Scotch law out of calculationis no fewer
than eighteen thousand two hundred and
ninety, which are inscribed in five-and-fifty
volumes upon somewhere about fifty thousand
pages. If, therefore, two thousand statutes
perplexed Bacon, what sort of a legal genius
must he be, who can feel easy with eighteen
thousand on his mind? It is manifest that
in these law-making days it should need nine
Bacons to make one Judge.

Let us go back to Bacon's time, and hear
what, on the prompting of that wise man,
James the First said to his parliament:
" There be in the common law divers contrary
reports and precedents; and this corruption
doth likewise concern the statutes and acts of
parliament, in respect that there are divers
cross and cuffing statutes, and some so penned
as they may be taken in divers, yea contrary
senses; and therefore would I wish both
those statutes and reports, as well in the
parliament as common law, to be at once
maturely reviewed and reconciled; and that
not only all contrarieties should be scraped
out of our books, but even that such penal
statutes as were made but for the use of the
time which do not agree with the condition
of this our time, ought likewise to be left out
of our books. And this reformation might,
methinks, be made a worthy work, and well
deserves a parliament to be sat of purpose for
doing it."

To this day we are still asking for this
mature revision and reconciliation; while we
add heap to heap confusedly, and mingle
living laws with dead. There are on the
books ten thousand dead statutes for England
alone, relating to subjects as vain as the
carrying of coals to Newcastle. " The living
die in the arms of the dead," said Bacon;
and we are at this day only echoing his warning.
We labour under written and unwritten
law, common law and customs, and distinct
systems of legislation for England, Scotland,
and Ireland; to say nothing of special laws or
privileges for such other of the British isles
as Jersey or the Isle of Man. Before the
Union, there were two thousand two
hundred and sixty-three statutes peculiar to
Ireland; and thirteen hundred have been
added since. To administer these laws, we
have courts with machinery so defective that
they not only delay justice, but sometimes
decide unjustly; and, to remedy that evil,
we have another tribunal for the restraining
of the first, and maintaining the balance of
equity by means of a machinery most
cumbrous and iniquitous of all. Not satisfied
with courts of law and equity, the country
has, for the administration of its justice, three
sets of ecclesiastical courts, acting on a third
set of principles, and so contrived that they
may all be brought into judgment on the
same case at the same time, and arrive each
at its own distinct and different conclusion.
These ecclesiastical laws are, moreover, so
exquisitely contrived that even an Archbishop
of Canterbury, once caught by a finger, may
as has just happenedbe dragged, against
his will, into a life-long litigation, and be
forced to spend thousands of pounds upon a
suit for the object of which he cares much
less than a farthing. Finallythere is a
great deal more, but time and matter press
us to be quickfinally, there is the highest