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by reference or quotation. But reports however unworthy of encouragement from the selection of cases or manner in which they are detailed, if they contain an opinion on a single point on which none has till then been extant, cannot with safety be neglected. The latest and best will naturally be consulted most, but not one in the whole catalogue can be disregarded; and every addition that has been made to it from the year books down to the last blue covered number which has been carried round by the law-bookseller's boy, draws an unaffected sigh from the lawyer, because it extends the line of front along which he is obliged to fight. As the most persevering industry, with every help he can borrow from Digests and Indexes, will not enable him to become acquainted with all, to which is he to give the preference? Is he to betake himself to the earliest, the latest, or those generally esteemed the best, which very possibly may be neither the one nor the other? In the mean while every augmentation of the number more bewilders him, and feeling that they already exceeded what the mind could grasp, he gives up in despair all idea of searching for general principles to connect or controul them.. Had this opinion been merely our own we should have hesitated in expressing it so decidedly, but we believe it to be very generally entertained, and have reason to know that several
of high eminence in the law, and among others the late Justice Dampier and Sir S. Romilly concurred in it, and that Sir V. Gibbs, when Chief Justice of Common Pleas, repeatedly and strongly expressed himself to the same effect, both in words and writing. If the excessive accumulation of reports has so unfavourable an influence upon the bar, it is not less pernicious upon the bench, as it enables those who are placed there to give much greater latitude to their natural disposition or acquired habits of thinking and acting than they could have done before. The judge who is of a timid or contracted mind will do nothing, however consonant to reason and principle, if a case can be quoted to him in which it ever was decided otherwise; while another, who undervalues precedent, and wishes to make every thing bend to his own peculiar views, is supplied by the present inundations of reports with precedents whether right or wrong to support any change or strained interpretation of principle or practice.
We proceed now to Acts of Parliament, the number of which is swelling with as much rapidity as reports in courts of law.
In the edition of the Statutes at Large by Tomlins and Raithby, which is the most condensed of any hitherto given to the public, they form 16 volumes in quarto and two parts, froin Magna Charta to the end of 1818, 5 volumes and a half of which comprise the acts from King John to the end of the reign of George CC4
II., the remaining 10 and a half being filled with those of the present reign. Since the Union with Ireland a huge closely printed volume has been published every two or three years, and the average number of public acts passed in each of the last 18 years amounts to 140. At this rate of accumulation, their size at the end of the present century will have swelled to 50 of such ponderous quartos, and the number of public acts to 14,000.—a suitable companion to the 800 or 1000 volumes of Reports which at that epoch are likely to grace a lawyer's library. If any person should take the trouble to verify this statement it will be found rather to fall below than to exceed the truth, and when the surprize which it is calculated to create has subsided, the first question we are irresistibly impelled to ask, is, Is all this mass of legislation necessary? If it is, it becomes our duty to submit to it with the silent resignation with which the inhabitants of the Alps survey a superincumbent glacier, which they perceive year after year increasing and descending, and which they are conscious must at last overwhelm them. For that this must be the inevitable effect of the present multiplication of laws if suffered to continue is incontrovertible. We,' says Lord Stair in the dedication to his Institutions of the Law of Scotland, as it stood in his time, are not involved in the labyrinth of many and large statutes whereof the posterior do ordinarily abrogate or derogate from the prior, that it requires a great part of a life to be prompt in all those windings without which no man can with sincerity and confidence consult or plead, much less can the subjects, by their own industry know where to rest, but must give more implicit faith to their judges and lawyers, than they need or ought to do to their divines. But the necessity of so many enactments ought not to be hastily conceded. If there is any one subject on which experience, and the concurring streams of knowledge of every kind have given us an incontrovertible superiority over our ancestors, it is in that of legislation, and by the use of proper means, there can be no doubt that the evil complained of, if not entirely removed, might at least be greatly, alleviated. Among the chief causes of the present size of the Statute law are the number of Revenue laws, the number of laws prohibiting or encouraging importation and exportation, the number of local and temporary laws, a love of legislation, and the inaccurate and slovenly manner in which the whole body of Acts of Parliament are drawn up. We shall make a few observations on each of these heads separately.
1. The number of Revenue Laws. During each of the last eighteen years, the number of acts passed, which relate strictly to the revenue, bas amounted to 40, and those which are connected with them indirectly, and but for them would never have
existed, existed, to neurly 20 more. This comprises almost one-half of the whole laws annually enacted, and considering how many are now passed each session, it is surely a very large proportion. When we reflect too on the extraordinary rapidity with which fiscal law has sprung up in this country, it adds much to the regret and apprehension with which every one who values an intelligible system of law cannot fail to regard it. The great æra of taxation only began towards the conclusion of the American war, and when it is considered how many articles of trade and manufacture, and how many descriptions of private property are now subject to its regulations which were formerly exempt from them, no one can doubt the obnoxiousness of the present multiplied revenue acts, merely as a body of complicated law to which obedience must be paid. The revenue laws too, are, from their very nature, the most involved and incumbered with provisions of any in the Statute Book. When we take into account the difficulty of effectually securing to government a duty imposed for the first time; that fraud, ingenuity, and the gradual advancement of science open one loop-hole after another for the evasion of duties, which it requires a fresh act of Parliament to close; that new duties and penalties are added to old ones, and old ones totally or partially repealed; that it may become necessary to levy a tax formerly imposed by new officers, at a different place, or in a different manner; and that through the whole series of enactments introducing these alterations there is invariably inserted a clause of reference to all former acts on the same subject, it may easily be conceived what a chaos the Revenue law has now become. Of this clause of reference, which is the main cause of the confusion existing, take the following instance, out of thousands that might be offered : it is in the 46th section of the 43 Geo. III. c. 68. And be it further enacted, that every act of Parliament in force on and immediately before the 5th day of July, 1803, by which any rules, regulations, conditions, restrictions, were made, established or directed for the ascertaining the value of any goods, wares or merchandise, or for the remitting or allowing of any deduction of any duties on account of damage, or for the better securing the revenue of customs, or for the regular importation into, or exportation from Great Britain, or the bringing or carrying coastwise, or from port to port within Great Britain, or the entering, landing, or shipping of any goods, wares or merchandise whatever, except where any alteration'is expressly made by this act, and all provisions, clauses, matters, and things relating thereto, shall and are hereby declared to be, and remain in full force and effect.' The clause of reference contained in every act by which Excise duties are im
posed is of still more complicated nature. And when it is considered, that the acts now in force with regard to spirits alone amount to more than 140, and that others on the same subject, though either expressly or impliedly repealed, still stand on the Statute Book, and must be occasionally consulted in order to explain those which are in existence, it would be marvellous if the trader should not be foiled in his attempt to understand what it requires all the ingenuity of an exciseman, and the utmost skill of the barons of the Exchequer to unravel. The whole succession of Stamp Acts are counected in the same manner. Such indefinite references are no doubt convenient to those by whom Acts of Parliament are drawn up, and may be esteemed safe by the Exchequer; but must, of necessity, be harassing in the extreme to all who have to consult or act upon them. Indeed the exclusive attention of a professional life is scarcely sufficient for the attainment of a competent knowledge of any one branch of them.
Besides being objectionable on account of their intricacy and number, which are the only points of view in which they properly come under consideration here, it ought not to be overlooked that they materially abridge the subject in the controul and management of his own property. Soap, candles, and the distillery are under the Excise lock and key; and in almost every other exciseable manufacture, it is indispensably requisite for the manufacturer to give previous notice to the Excise officer of the different operations before they are begun. It is not only disagreeable and injurious to submit to this, because a man is not permitted to carry on the difficult steps of the process at the time and in the way that would be most advantageous to him, but sometimes spoils the perfection of the manufactured article, of which conclusive evidence as to glove leather was produced before the Committee of the House of Commons on the leather trade, which sat during the year 1814. The immoral tendency of the present system of Revenue Law presents objections of a still more weighty nature. The variety and high rate of duties at present imposed, offer such irresistible temptation to illicit trade, and every species of contrivance by which the King can be defrauded; penalties so exorbitant are incurred, that the offender calculates on their not being enforced; the sanctity of an oath is so grossly abused; and so much encouragement is given to that worst of all necessary evils—informers, that the depravation of character, and irregular habits occasioned by the extension of the Revenue laws to so many articles of trade and manufacture cannot be contemplated without feelings of the deepest sorrow. One always suspects the possibility of that being good as a measure of finance, which is so obviously hostile to good order aud morality.
The encouragement offered by the Revenue law to informers is one of its most objectionable parts. By 22 Geo. II. c. 36. not only the importer, but all subsequent sellers, and also the makers up of foreign embroidery, and gold and silver lace, are subjected to have the goods burnt, and pay a fine of 100l. for each piece discovered, the half of which is given to the informer. By 18 Geo. II. c. 26. and 7 Geo. III. c. 43. any person importing or selling, except for exportation, or wearing French lawn or cambric, is made subject to a penalty of 51. for each offence : but if the wearer is prosecuted, and discovers upon oath the person from whom the same was purchased, he is relieved from the penalty. The 19 Geo. III. c. 19. which imposes penalties on persons who sell tea without having the words Dealers in Tea' painted over their doors, and on those who buy tea of such persons, indemnifies the seller, if he informs against the buyer. The 11 Geo. I. c. 30. imposing penalties on the seller of prohibited or run goods, and also on the buyers of such goods, or goods which the seller pretends to have been smuggled, exonerates the party who shall first prosecute the other with effect, from the penalties incurred by himself. By 4 and 5 William and Mary, c. 15. every person who insures prohibited or smuggled goods, and every person who agrees to pay any sum of money for such insurance, incurs the penalty of 5001.; but if the insurer discovers the fraud, he may keep the insurance money, is discharged from his own penalties, and is entitled to half the sum forfeited by the party making the insurance : or if the insured turns informer he is to receive back his insurance money, is discharged from his own penalties, and entitled to half the sum forfeited by the insurer. The most direful necessity can scarcely reconcile one to so revolting a method of effecting the intentions of the legislature, as thus to convert master and servant, buyer and seller into spies and informers against one another, in direct violation of some of the most sacred obligations by which society is held together.
We are aware it is too high a question for us to pronounce upon, but we cannot help thinking that although the indirect taxes imposed by the revenue laws accord with the most approved principles of political economy, yet when they embrace so many objects as they at present do in this country, and the duties enforced by them are so high, it becomes a matter of grave consideration, whether it would not be prudent to retrace our steps, and instead of coutinuing or extending those existing, whether it would not be better and cheaper for the government and easier and less corrupting to the people, to have the same sum raised by a few heavy taxes instead of many small ones. Should such a plan be ever deemed advisable in practice, it will at least have this recommendation,