Sources of Law.
Mr. H. A. Powell delivered an admirable lecture in Lingley Hall last Friday evening on “The Sources of English Law.” After a few introductory remarks the lecturer said that the world has only developed two great systems of municipal law-the Roman and the English- and these are substantially the legal systems of Christiandom to-day. The Roman law, which was really Rome’s greatest work; is substantially the law of the Continent of Europe, of the South American States, and of the Province of Quebec. The English law, speaking in general terms, is the law of the British Empire and of the United of America. Without going into ethnological discussions, we may take it for granted that law is inseparable from society. With the association of men into families, tribes, clans or communities, arose customs which regulated the conduct of the individual, so far as it concerned the common welfare. What regulated this conduct, by whatever name it may be called, was law-law in its simplest and most elementary stage. So the simple customs of the homogeneous society of our early ancestors contain the promise and essence of modern jurisprudence. Modern law is simply a growth from these early customs in accordance with that all-pervading law of evolution, which is the open sesame to so many of the mysteries of the universe. With education and its induced extension of the franchise come socialist, nihilist and dynamiter. Strict laws upon our statue book will of themselves avail naught. Upon pulpit, platform and press is known the solemn responsibility of inculcating moral and Christian ideas which shall make the laws smite with a force that shall crush the evils that threaten modern civilization. “Our laws,” said Lord Bacon, “are as mixed as our language, and as our language is as much the richer, the laws are the more complete.” The judiciary is the most irresponsible body in the British empire, and it, and not the parliament, developed the greater portion of the laws. The judiciary can stultify the action of parliament itself by putting a perverse construction on its enactments. It can defy the law, quash the indictment against the prisoner and let the murderer go free. In law a judge can do no wrong. If he degrades his position the only method of punishing him is by impeachment before parliament. The judges of our land are put upon their honor to exercise their discretion according to their honest interpretation of the law. The trust is a momentous one, but the trustees have not betrayed the hearts that loved them. The excellence of our common law is due to the labors of the judges. They took the laws of Edward the Confessor as a basis, and refashioned them, and in so doing they laid all knowledge under tribute. They borrowed from the old Roman law, from the canon law, from the customs of merchants, from natural justice, from the teachings of Christ, analyzing, adjusting and assimilation, until our laws assumed their present form. Referring to legal maxims, the lecturer said there was a grim humor about the presumption that every person knows the law. Lawyers may differ about it, the judge’s decision may be reversed, which the law coolly takes it for granted that the poor ignorant client knows exactly what the law is, yet that very presumption is absolutely essential to the preservation of society. The citizen moves in law as in the atmosphere, and only knows of its existence when it is put in motion. All we have to do to confirm to the common law is to be honest and honorable. The question of extending the franchise to women was discussed at some length, but the lecturer was unable to see any sufficient reason for the change, as he held that the stability of society rests ultimately on physical force. Women can and do influence legislation, but if by the extension of the franchise say reform should be crystalized into legislation against the votes of men, who would obey the laws? And who would punish the law-breakers!