Page images
PDF
EPUB

pageant should be once more reproduced, were it only to prove how ill adapted it was for the modern purpose required. And in this historical point of view it may not be waste of time to note some of the particulars wherein it egregiously failed.

The arbitrament of political controversies between equal and independent nations is sufficiently difficult under the most favourable circumstances, for the obvious reason that it is of necessity extremely hard to constitute a court capable at once of appreciating the just claims of both sides, and of rising superior to the passionate and partial importunities of either. But immeasurably more difficult is the task of arbitrating between suzerain and vassal, the aggressor and the aggrieved, the lord paramount of conquest and his brow-beaten if not beggared subjects. Whether the dispute lie between a distant and comparatively diminutive community on the one hand, and the contumelious power of centralism on the other, or whether the question be one raised on the part of deposed or mediatised princes and the exchequer of an imperial dynasty, there is need of the greatest care in selecting the judges, and of the greatest precaution against the law's delay, the insolence of office, and the conscious or r conscious interposition of personal, party, and national predilections. It is a matter of daily observation how men, who, as jurors in a common lawsuit, would stare contemptuously at any attempt to tamper with their independence, betray no conscientious scruple, and affect no sting of shame, at being importuned, threatened, and talked over, when they have votes to give as peers or commoners, electors or elect, on questions involving quite as certainly and clearly the character of individuals or the interests of the public. This is so even when the controversies are between follow-subjects or neighbours ; how much more when the complainants are strangers, aliens, it may be recent foes, or doubtful allies, whose reputation has been hardly dealt with, and whose means of correcting misimpression are practically nil; while the respondent in the political suit stands upon the presumption of national honour, and appeals to all the interests and feelings interwoven with national pride. It is hard. even for a moment to set the balances fair, but it is useless and hopeless to try and do so, if there be no staid, learned, responsible, and, above all, jealously limited number of arbiters, in whose hands the scales are to be held. From the days of the Ecclesia of Athens and the Senate of Rome, to those of the Convention Parliament and the National Assembly of France, there has never been a practically indeterminate assembly, elective or hereditary, which has not signally failed whenever it undertook to perform judicial duties. It would seem as if there were in the

nature of the thing a fault ineradicable. Apart from the multiplied chances which a multitudinous jury presents, that part of the case may be heard by one set of men and part by another, neither of whom, therefore, can properly join in giving judgment, though both are empowered to do SO;—there is the still more fatal characteristic of all such assemblies, that they are necessarily constituted of materials egregiously unequal in their intellectual abilities, that they are palpably for the most part untrained for such work, and that they are invariably prone to evade or repudiate openly the individual responsibility of forming and expressing a decision, because that decision may not be decisive. It is idle to answer that logically this is unreasonable and unsound. The fact that in such cases men are not governed by logic is too plain ; and equally plain is the fact that a supreme court of appeal, whether it be composed of

very

a

priests or laymen, delegates or citizens, soldiers or civilians, is capricious, inconsequential, impulsive, and morally impotent, -just in proportion as it resembles a popular assembly instead of a strictly limited and specially chosen bench of. justice. It is the instinctive sense of this truth that has made the hereditary peers, in the exercise of their ordinary jurisdiction, habitually abstain from taking part in the appeals between man and man that are brought before them. Every one knows and understands that not one in a hundred of the Lords feels himself justified in meddling with these appeals, even to the extent of putting a question to a witness, or asking for the explanation of a phrase. Ilow much more, then, does it behove the members of such an assembly to abstain where the power of the Crown or of the nation at large is on one side, and the equities invoked by a conquered prince or people are upon the other? What was wanted in 1788, and what is wanted still, was a high court of federal jurisdiction, consisting of the best men to be found in the legislature, the administration, and the law, on whom the great responsibility might safely be devolved of trying a complicated issue, and of putting on record the reasons of their decision. By some such method as this, the proceedings might have been brought to within decent limits as to cost and time, and the ineffable mockery of f justice avoided which the prolongation of the impeachment for seven years, and the unassessed mulet of the defendant in £100,000 of costs, entailed.

When Hastings was at last summoned by the Chancellor to appear before the Lords on the 230 April 1795, to receive judgment, but twenty-nine peers in their robes were in attendance. A good many more, who shrank from sharing the judicial responsibility, appeared in their ordinary costume near the steps of the throne, curiously observing

Scotch peers.

the forms of procedure, as though it concerned them not. The members of the Upper House had been considerably augmented in the interval, and numbered now two hundred and sixty-two. Of these, forty-nine had acceded by inheritance, and forty-four had been created, or elected as

Pending the suit, eighty-seven who sat in the previous Parliament had died, or had not been reelected. Looking worn and aged by the anxieties of his seven years' trial, Hastings advanced to the bar, and once more knelt in submission. In turn the peers were called upon to say on their honour whether he were guilty or not. Six answered in the affirmative; in the negative twentythree. The six who were for condemnation were the Duke of Norfolk, the Earls of Carnarvon, Radnor, Fitzwilliam, and Suffolk, and the Chancellor, Lord Loughborough. Those who voted for acquittal were Markham, Lord Archbishop of York, the Dukes of Bridgewater and Leeds, the Marquis of Townshend, the Earls of Beverley, Warwick, Coventry, Mansfield, Morton, and Dorchester, Viscount Falmouth, the Bishops of Rochester and Bangor, and Lords Fife, Somers, Rawdon, Walsingham, Thurlow, Hawke, Boston, Sandys, and Middleton. Lord Loughborough then pronounced the judgment of acquittal, and ordered the risoner to be discharged. What a moment was that of supreme excitement and exultation! Surrounded by nobles, prelates, courtiers, soldiers, India directors, agents, dependants, flatterers, and friends of all sorts, the phlegmatic little man was almost overpowered with gratulations. When they had ceased, ambitious hope once more stirred within him; and for a season he had cause to fancy that fortune might return. His costs during the trial amounted to £76,528, and other expenses which it entailed had exhausted nearly all the accumulations of his guilty reign.

a

On

A meeting of East India proprietors voted him, by way of compensation, £4000 a year for twenty-eight years; and capitalising the sum to meet his known exigencies, they advanced him £42,000, together with a loan of £50,000, vested in trustees for the purchase of Daylesford, that darling object of his boyish dreams, for which he had gone so far afield, and waded so deep in sin and shame. Daylesford was won at last. The reaction in his favour spread; and by the advice of many influential friends, he resolved to petition the Crown for the reimbursement of his legal expenses. Ministers, notwithstanding, held aloof, and no persuasions could prevail on Pitt to present his petition to the King

Sir Elijah Impey likewise escaped punishment. December 12, 1787, Sir Gilbert Elliot brought forward a motion for his impeachment in a speech of great ability. He charged him with “gross corruption, positive injustice, direct disobedience, intentional violation of the Acts under which he held his powers, and with having suborned evidence and given to falsehood the sanctity of an affidavit.” The ex-Chief-Justice had, he said, been guilty of the most “scandalous enormities; he had perverted law to the purposes of tyranny; and thus he had alienated the hearts of the people of India, and had stained the name of Britain. Next to the duty of bestowing honours on great and distinguished men who, being intrusted with the custody of the lives and properties of their fellow creatures, had preserved them against outrage and oppression, was the necessary, though painful, task of drawing down the vengeance of Parliament on the head of a servant whose pride had stretched his power into tyranny, and whose avarice had perverted his trust into plunder ;-more than any other species of delinquency did the crimes of a judge

.

« PreviousContinue »