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recent Session has added 271 to the list, so that there are in all 26,297 Local, Personal, and Private Acts of Parliament which control, qualify, or dispense with the general law.
It has now become almost impossible to calculate the amount of property, or the number of individuals, locally or personally subjected by so many thousand statutes to exceptive laws : but the Special Acts which relate to railways alone are shown by recent returns to control property to the extent of upwards of 350,000,0001. sterling, and to regulate the transit over at least 8000 miles. If the inquiry were extended to the case of turnpikes, towns improvements, piers, docks, harbours, and other public works, -gas, water, insurance, banking, and other companies, regulated by special Acts of Parliament, it would appear that our modern system of private legislation has created exemptions from the general law of the land, exceeding in point of number, and outweighing in operation, the privileges, liberties, franchises, seignorial rights and exemptions, royal grants and concessions of the worst period of arbitrary rule and corrupt government.
We purposely use the term 'modern'in speaking of private legislation, for it is of very recent growth. Of the 26,000 local, personal, and private statutes already referred to, a very inconsiderable number date earlier than the eighteenth century; a very large proportion have received the Royal Assent in the present reign. It has been reserved to our times to witness the encouragement of evils, which were supposed ages ago to have been put an end to, with the suspending and dispensing authority of the Crown, - with the prerogative vagaries, the exclusive grants, — the arbitrary acts of the Tudors and the Stuarts.
Private statutes and constitutions have ever been treated by jurists as an anomaly — LAWS ex vi termini having a general and not an individual operation. Our system of private laws resembles in several points that of the privilegia and beneficia which at different periods of the Roman history had such various operation. In both instances the practice began with extraordinary and anomalous proceedings being resorted to for effecting private injury, punishment, or ruin; and in our own country, as under the Empire, the system of State concessions has grown up to confer on privileged bodies powers and immunities which are opposed to general right and the welfare of the community.
In the oration pro domo (c. 17.) Cicero has a bitter invective against the practice of private legislation (to which he was himself a victim); and in his treatise de legibus iii. 19.) he more deliberately denounces the system : Majores in pos
- the party
terum providisse ; in privos homines leges ferre noluerunt id est enim privilegium quo quid est injustius ? cum legis • hæc vis sit, scitum est jussum in omnes.' Like the privilegia crudelia et perniciosa bewailed by the Roman orator, our own Private Acts were originally designed to confer not a benefit but an injury. The Acts of attainder of the period of the Wars of the Roses successively dealt in the most summary way with the lives, the fortunes, the honours and estates of the adherents of those who lost the vantage ground, who came off victorious being, by the omnipotent authority of Parliament, free to gratify their revenge, uncontrolled by the traminels, the forms, or the doctrines of law.
The earliest parliamentary attainder—that of the Duke of Clarence, in the reign of Edward IV.—is generally fixed upon as the origin of our system of Private Acts; and in the authorised edition of the Statutes at large the distinction between Public and Private Statutes is first made in the reign of Richard III., when the titles of eighteen Private Acts are given. These are in truth highly characteristic of a system essentially bad ; we take them from the Table of Private Acts in the second volume of the Statutes at large.
1. Titulus Regius, under which Title all the Reasons and Allegations devised to prove the King to be true and undoubted Heir to the Crown, are set forth at large, and the same allowed, ratified, and enacted by the Lords and Commons, and his Brother's Children made Bastards.
* 2. An Act for the King to have the Lands and Possessions of Henry, Duke of Exeter, and of the Duchess, his Wife.
3. An Act for the Attainder and Conviction of Henry, Duke of Buckingham, John, Bishop of Ely, William Knevitt, John Rushe, Thomas Nandike, Henry, Earl of Richmond, Jasper, Earl of Pembroke, George Browne, Thomas Lewkenor, Knight, John Gulford, and many more.
4. An Act to enable the King to make Grants of the Possessions of the Persons attainted.
* 5. An Act for the Attainder of the Bishops of Ely, Sarum, and Exeter.
6. An Act against Margaret, Countess of Richmond. 7. An Act for the Attainder of Walter Roberd.
'8. An Act for the Archbishop of Canterbury to enjoy the Rent of 11l. 12s. per Annum out of the Manor of Ifielde.
* 9. An Act to reverse the Attainders made by King Henry the Fourth against Thomas Percy, Earl of Worcester, and Henry Percy, Earl of Northumberland.
10. An Act for Viscount Lovell to have and enjoy the Manors of Thorpe, Waterville, Alwinkle, Achirch, and Chelviston, in the County of Northampton, &c.
11. An Act for James Tirrel, and Anne, his Wife, Daughter and Heir of John Arundell, touching the Lands of Arundell, being now attainted.
* 12. An Act for the Provost and Fellows of the College of Saint Andrew of Neathercaster, in York, for the enjoying of Forty Acres of Land, upon Part whereof the College is builded.
13. An Act for Confirmation of Letters Patents made by King Edward the Fourth to the College of Fodringbey.
14. An Act for the City of Canterbury, touching the Aldermanry Lands, and Alderman of Westgate, and other things in the City of Canterbury.
* 15. An Act of Restitution of John Durrant of Colleweston to all lis Lands and Tenements.
• 16. An Act for the Inhabitants of the Town of Crowland to have the Games and Marks of Swans.
17. An Act touching the Executors of John Don, Mercer of London.
• 18. An Act that the King shall have Wardship of Lands holden of the Duchy of Lancaster by Knight Service, notwithstanding the Trust put in other Persons.'
It will be seen that the private legislation of Parliament at this period hardly extended further than the passing Acts of Attainder and special statutes for altering the descent of honours and estates; we find no instances of special Acts giving arbitrary authority to mere private bodies, such as are now so freely couceded — no special immunity or dispensation even given to individuals from the ordinary law of the land. At this period, indeed, the special interference of Parliament was not very often demanded for such objects. The general laws which protected the property and the persons of Englishmen were deemed too delicate objects to be specially dealt with or modified for the immediate advantages of corporations and companies, and the prerogative lawyers anciently contended for an inherent right in the Crown to grant all other special immunities which were then deemed necessary, and to concede personal exemptions from the operation of merely prohibitive laws. There are certainly a great many instances to be found of this power of specially dispensing in favour of individuals, with prohibitive laws, being exercised by the Crown from the reign of Henry III. up to the revolution of 1688, whilst no records exist of similar dispensations by Act of Parliament.
The petitions to the Legislature appear in early times to have prayed all kinds of relief; and the diligent antiquary may find among our ancient records samples of such petitions which were summarily referred, not to select committees, but to the sereral courts where they were properly determinable. In a Parliamentary roll of the time of Edward I., reciting that 'the people
who came to Parliament were often delayed and disturbed, to • the great grievance of them and of the court, by the multitude • of petitions laid before the King, the greatest part whereof ' might be dispatched by the Chancellor, and by the Justices :' it was provided that all the petitions which concerned the seal should come first to the Chancellor, and those which concerned the Exchequer to the Exchequer, and those which concerned the Justices and the law of the land to the Justices, and those which concerned the Jews to the Judges of the Jews; and if
the offences are so great, or if they are of grace, that the • Chancellor, &c. cannot do it without the King, then they shall • bring them with their own hands before the King to know his • pleasure, so that no petitions shall come before the King and • his counsel but by the hands of his said Chancellor and other chief ministers; and thus the King and his counsel may, without
the load of other business, attend to the great business of the ' realm and of foreign countries.'
When the rule became more generally established for the sanction of Parliament being required to such extraordinary grants and concessions as were not warranted by the Common Law, and which before it had been the practice to get ratified only by mere charter or royal licence, the new functions of Parliament seem to have been exercised with great forbearance. The virtue was gone out of those arbitrary grants and licences from the Crown which the curious may find in such abundance, in the patent and close rolls of the Norman Kings and which under the heads of • Prerogative,' &c., occupy so prominent a place in the black letter abridgments of Lord Rolle and Sir Robert Brooke; but the Rot. Parl. are for many ages afterwards almost devoid of instances of similar grants and concessions : once perhaps in half a century we find on the rolls of Parliament a Special Statute to ratify or enlarge the peculiar privileges of the City of London; and such solemn concessions are also to be found respecting other cities; with these exceptions however, and such other important occasions as the supply of the Metropolis with water, &c., in the sixteenth century *, few Private Acts of Parliament exist of more than a hundred years old, which concede local privileges, the right to levy tolls, or compulsory
* It is not generally known that the New River Act was not the first special statute passed for this purpose. The Corporation of London enjoyed many extensive powers under a former Act 35 Henry 8. c. 10., which, though abandoned for the purposes intended, seem to have led to the acquisition by the Corporation of London of a considerable estate in land under the pretence of digging for water. See on this subject Stowe's Survey, lib. i. c. 6.
powers of any kind. The adultery of Lady Roos induced the Parliament of 1699 to grant her husband a Special Act of Divorce, and thus to lay the ground of an exclusive jurisdiction in divorce cases which has been habitually resorted to ever since. In addition to these Divorce Bills, Parliament then principally interfered in its system of private legislation, for some special 'cause, to naturalise a foreigner, or to remove the impediments on the conveyance of landed estates. The Private Acts of Elizabeth's time, already alluded to, are for the most part Estate Acts, or for the reversal of the attainders of the period of the civil wars. Lord Clarendon describes the applications to Parliament the year succeeding the Restoration, for Special Acts for setting aside conveyances alleged to have been made through fraud or coercion during the troubles, to have ‘ exceedingly disquieted and
discomposed the House, every man being so much concerned • for the interest of his friends or allies, that he was more • solicitous for the despatch of those than of any which related
to the King and the public;' but this was a temporary pressure merely. The private business of Parliament does not seem to have very materially increased, even when the principle became settled that tolls could only be levied under Parliamentary sanction.
The reports of the Municipal Corporation Commissioners show that up to the beginning of the eighteenth century there were only fifty-seven Special Acts for the purposes of local government throughout England and Wales; but at the time of the Reform of the Municipal Corporations in 1835, these Statutes had increased to the number of 700, and at the present moment there are said to be nearly as many in force for the Metropolis alone. In the last century, indeed, Parliament established the lax practice of substituting for general regulations an endless variety of private Acts for each distinct branch of Local Government. Till a recent date, Local Courts for the administration of justice existed only under such special concessions ; private statutes regulated the support of the poor, of the church, and the clergy, whilst the same special sanction has almost invariably been required for the formation of public highways, canals, railways, tramroads, bridges, harbours, docks, piers, ferries, &c., the enclosure of waste lands, the protection of river navigation and fisheries, the watching, lighting, paving, and cleansing towns and populous districts, and still more recently the providing cemeteries for the dead.
No matter how universal the mischief to be redressed, and how numerous the applications for relief, private and special was substituted for public and general legislation; and when