[Reynoldsʼs Newspaper, 18. Juli bis 15. August 1869]

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Reynoldsʼs Newspaper. Nr. 988, 18. Juli 1869. S. 2.
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OUR RURAL MAGISTRACY.

TO THE EDITOR OF REYNOLDS’S NEWSPAPER.

SIR,—Few persons see more thoroughly into the wretched system of caste pervading English society than those who are in frequent attendance upon the farces enacted by country justices. In the superior courts, and even in county courts, one expects to find a smattering of Mr. P. A. Taylor’s recently defined judicial requisites—to wit, “tact, temper, and discrimination”—but, in the case of country justices, the only essential qualifications laid down by the law of the land are the possession of either “blood” or soil. Brains are not wanted, else I should not so often hear the expression applied to the |41 rural magistrate, “He is not all there.” Character can be of no account, else we should not see these men one hour signing the commitment of some poor “spinning-wheel” proprietor to the house of correction and the very next hour paying a visit to the nearest select gambling hell of our “noble aristocracy.” If a stripling is the son of a peer, he becomes a country justice as a matter of course, as soon as there is the slightest indication of anything akin to whiskers. As a representative of the great county families, he goes and lounges away an idle hour or two upon the bench, in the same spirit and style which sends him to the opera when in town. Perhaps of the two employments, the former is the most fascinating. For the time being, he feels himself a grand personage, surrounded by obsequious policemen, a subservient clerk, and a lowly and reverent populace. With covered head he sits in an easy chair, and his commands, like the mandates of other great potentates of the earth, are only uttered to be obeyed. He seldom smiles, and never reddens with passion until some well-known gamekeeper gets into the witness-box, and narrates some fearful onslaught on a rabbit-hole. If the representative of justice has become venerable, he will, at petty sessions, take a comfortable snooze during the examination of witness; but, if he is young, he will crack jokes with his associates, or book a bet upon the next St. Leger.

Your country magistrate enjoys a case under the poor laws. On all such occasions he comes from the board of guardians (where, as an ex officio member, he is a legislator on a small scale), ready primed with one side of the pending trial. For instance, a poor man is summoned to show cause why he should not contribute to the support of his parent, aged seventy-five, who had been a labourer all his life at 12s. a week, and not saved sufficient to purchase himself an annuity for his declining years. The relieving officer of the union is complaining witness, and makes a strong case against the offending son. The undutiful defendant has 13s. a week, a wife and only three young children, yet he is allowing his aged parent to luxuriate upon the public rates. “What have you to say to this charge?” says the representative of justice. “I am very sorry, your worship, but I can’t spare anything out of thirteen shillings a week; I wish I could.” The scene becomes impressive, as this creature, who never knew what hunger really was, exclaims, “All nonsense; you are an unnatural vagabond, and must pay the relieving officer half a crown a week. We are bound to protect the ratepayer from such pests as these, who would make the community keep the parents, who gave to them the privileges of English citizenship.” We take the man who has desired wife and family. He is brought into court manacled to a felon. Six weeks previously the prisoner at the bar could not get a job or work, and therefore as a last resource he went upon the tramp. From town to town he wandered, partaking of the voluptuous entertainment of the vagrant ward of “bumble dom” at night. He earns a penny or two by putting coal into a cellar, or perhaps even a shilling at a temporary job. Before his own belly has had one good fill, the man in blue is after him, and he gets a free ride to the lock up of his native town. He is a prisoner, and he has no money. In vain he protests that he can get no work; with a contemptuous sneer, he is told he will not want for work at the place to which a mockery of justice consigns him.

In game cases, none of the bench goes to sleep. If the prosecutor should not happen to be a magistrate, he will for the time being be allowed a seat alongside the dispensers of the game-laws. He goes through the formality of being sworn, but is not required to stand in the box appropriated to ordinary witnesses. Any little incident which might have escaped him during his examination is whispered to the ministers of justice, among whom he is received as an upholder of the British constitution. Sitting in that elevated position, he can watch his minions, the game-keepers, as they swear one against the other in angry competition to secure the heaviest penalty against their helpless victim. Often have I seen men convicted under these atrocious laws, for no other offence proved against them than wandering up some quiet lane, perchance in search of a primrose or a daisy. Residents in large towns have not the slightest conception of the intolerance which these game-laws sanction. Only a few weeks ago I was present when a respectable tradesman had, as the bench seemed to imagine, the audacity to summon a policeman for what impartial minds could not fail to designate as a most brutal assault. Upon the public highway he had been throttled, struck down, searched, with his clothes half torn off his back, and the justification was pleaded that the man’s pockets were bulky, and that, therefore, under the iniquitous poaching Prevention Act, the policeman had a right to search and misuse a man without warrant or any other instrument of legal authority. It was attempted to be made out that the man had unjustifiably resisted this interference with his personal liberty, and he was fined 5s. and costs, while the policeman became the pet of a game-preserving magistracy.

Among the other uses to which a rural bench is put, is that of deciding matters of contract between master and servant. A linen draper’s assistant, a housemaid, or a butler can “run away” without any chance of being hauled up before “the great unpaid.” That which in one class of the community amounts to a simple breach of contract, to be adjusted by a civil judge, renders a poor agricultural servant or bricklayer’s labour liable to be dragged up before a magistrate as a fugitive slave was wont to be into the olden time in any of the Southern States. These cases have always seemed to me to be pre-eminently relished by your country justice. Believers in feudalism, and holding to the creed that the bulk of mankind were born to be serfs, their sympathies flow exclusively in one direction. Though never having themselves done an hour’s honest hard work in their lives, they take care that those “beneath them” shall know who is master. In the case of agricultural servants, they resist the wholesome rule of a month’s wages or a month’s notice—a rule which prevails with all other grades of annual domestic hirelings. “Back to your master, or to prison,” is the rule. Surely it is time the working classes roused themselves in opposition to this abominable relic of an age of slavery.

At the sound of the words “trade unions,” your country justice holds up his hands with pious horror and indignation. A man connected with a strike had better compromise the most trivial assault, the most paltry indiscretion, than run his chance of getting justice before a bench of either town or country magistrates. There is scarcely a crime known to the law which is so heinous as that of working men combining to get a fair day’s wages for a fair days labour. Legislation may do something to help this progressive movement, but until there is a sweeping change in the method of administering rural justice in England, I see no hope for the life of the labourer being anything else than “endurance filched from death.”

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Reynoldsʼs Newspaper. Nr. 992, 15. August 1869. S. 7.
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A SERIOUS CRIME!—

At the Bromley petty sessions on Monday last, Ellen Smith, a poor woman who gets her living by charing and washing, living at Orpington, was charged with the unlawful possession of a faggot of sticks. Police-constable 186 R, who produced a handful of sticks, said that he met the prisoner, whilst off duty, going home with a bundle of sticks. She told him she had gathered them in the wood of Mr. Berens, one of the county justices for the Bromley division. Mr. F. A. Lewin: What have you got to say to the charge? Prisoner: If you please, your worships, I had no money to buy coal, and as I was passing through Mr. Berens’ wood I gathered a few sticks to boil my kettle. There is a path through the wood, and I gathered the sticks by the side of the path. The bench fined her 2s. 6d. and 2s. 6d. costs, or seven days. As she was leaving the dock Mr. Edlmann expressed the hope that it would be a caution to her never to touch sticks in gentlemen’s woods again.|

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Reynoldsʼs Newspaper. Nr. 992, 15. August 1869. S. 7.
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THE RIOTS AT MOLD.

August Anmerkung von Jenny Marx

The Commission for the Flintshire Assizes was opened by Lord Chief Justice Bovill. The calendar contained the names of seven colliers who had been committed on a charge of riot and assault. The prisoners were brought from Flint under the escort of a detachment, of the 1st Dragon Guards, who remained on duty outside the hall. There was also a large number of the 4th King’s Own stationed in the town, and all the police were armed with swords.

In charging the grand jury (of which Sir Stephen R. Glynne was foreman), the Lord Chief Justice, after praising the general good character of the people of the Principality, said that, unfortunately, at this assize there were two serious cases in which several indictments would be presented. Under ordinary circumstances he should not have thought it necessary to do more than call their attention to the general nature of the charges contained in the indictment; but in this instance the charges seemed to have assumed so much importance, and was of such great interest to the public, to the whole of the inhabitants of the county of Flint, and especially to a large body of working men, that he thought it right to let no doubt rest on the mind of anybody as to what was the law with respect to riots. It was the first duty of the Crown, of magistrates, of sheriffs, of constables, and of all who were concerned in the administration of the law, to protect and preserve the public peace. In doing so they afforded the best protection, both to men’s persons from death and violence, and also to property and its secure enjoyment. As the law must be administered in the name of the Crown and by the instrumentality of others, all those who acted as ministers of the law had a special protection thrown around them in the execution of their duty; in all cases effectual protection was given by the law, and their authority must always be vindicated. In making these observations, he wished it to be understood that there was no class of the community so interested in the preservation of law and public peace and protection of property, as the working classes of this country. It was in their interest especially that the law must be supported; it was to the law that they must look for the protection of their rights and their property. After some further remarks, his lordship said he was aware that magistrates were often placed in positions of considerable difficulty, as were all those who had the command of power for the purpose of putting down disturbances. On the one band, they were bound to act; on the other, they were bound not to exceed their duty; and very often cases of great difficulty and nicety would arise, requiring the soundest judgment, the firmest head, and great discretion. If such persons exercised a sound judgment and discretion, the law would protect them. The main object in all such cases must be to prevent and suppress disturbances of the public peace, and to do so effectually. It was sometimes supposed to be necessary, in cases of riots and before active measures were taken, that the Riot Act should be read. It should be publicly known that where the violence of the mob was so great as to prevent or obstruct a magistrate in reading the proclamation, greater effect was given by the law to that act of obstruction than if the proclamation had been read. All those who were acting in concert together became amenable to the law, and, if death ensued, all would be guilty of murder. He had felt these observations to be necessary, looking at the feeling which had prevailed in this part of the country. There had been an amount of bloodshed which it was dreadful to contemplate, arising out of the unruly conduct of men who had in view so inadequate an object.

In the course of the afternoon the grand jury found a true bill against the six prisoners who have been in goal for the past two months on the charge of riot. They threw out the bill against the seventh man, who was admitted to bail.

Soon afterwards, when all the other business had been disposed of, the six prisoners were arraigned, and each pleaded “Not guilty.” Their names are Isaac Jones, 39; William Griffiths, 48; Bowland Jones, 26; Gower Jones, 18; Richard Jones, 35; and William Hughes, 23; and they were indicted for feloniously wounding two persons with intent to do them grievous bodily harm, and also with feloniously wounding them with intent to resist and prevent the lawful detainer of two prisoners.

Under another indictment they were charged with unlawfully committing a riot and assaulting the police in the execution of their duty.

Mr. M’Intyre appeared for the prosecution; Mr. Morgan Lloyd and Mr. I. Williams defended the prisoners.

The circumstances out of which this charge arose as described by the prosecuting counsel occurred on the 2nd of June, when two men, named Ishmael Jones and John Jones, were committed for a month’s imprisonment for assaulting the undertaker at the Leeswood Green Colliery. The prisoners were being removed from the cells to the railway under a guard of soldiers about seven o’clock, when stones were thrown. At first the police and the soldiers took no notice, but as they approached the station, stones—of which there were considerable quantities, owing to the works that were carried on close by—were thrown in increasing number. The greatest forbearance was shown by the soldiers, notwithstanding the provocation which they received. Some of them were forced by the stones to seek refuge in the small room used as a telegraph-office, where the prisoners were also taken. The crowd went up to the office, broke in the windows, and stoned the persons within. The officer who was in command (Captain Blake) seeing several of his men and others of the police severely wounded, some so seriously that they have not yet recovered, was ordered by Mr. Clough, a magistrate, to fire on the mob. One or two shots were fired from the telegraph-office and others from the platform of the railway station. The mob, finding that the soldiers were determined to retain their prisoners, fell back.

Mr. M’intyre, in his opening speech, submitted to the jury that it was not necessary to show that either of the prisoners threw a stone, but that all he had to do was to show that they were in a crowd which was acting in concert. He should, however, call witnesses to show that the prisoners were seen throwing stones and actively engaged in the attempt to rescue the prisoners.

Captain Blake and other witnesses were called.

Lord Chief Justice Bovill, in summing up, said his only surprise was that, with so numerous a body of soldiers and constables who went through the eventful fifteen or twenty minutes, all escaped with their lives. It was fortunate for them, but still more fortunate for the prisoners, because, had death followed, it would have been the duty of the prosecution to have preferred charges of wilful murder against them. He had ruled that the men who were, on the day of the riot, being taken to the railway station were in lawful custody, and there was no excuse for attacking and wounding the constables. It must be made out to the satisfaction of the jury that the wounds were inflicted with one or other or all of the intents mentioned in the indictments in order to find the prisoners guilty. It was scarcely possible, and not necessary, to prove which man threw the stone that wounded any particular individual. The jury must judge from the numbers and conduct of the mob. He asked for what purpose 1,500 people remained one hour and a half after the men were committed to prison? No answer had been suggested by the prisoners’ counsel. He had been unable to discover with what lawful object the mob threw stones. Captain Blake deserved the greatest commendation for the humanity with which he exercised the power entrusted to him; for when the soldiers were ordered to fire, they were not to do so ineffectually.

The summing up occupied more than three hours and a half. The jury consulted for a quarter of an hour. They “Acquitted” Richard Jones, but “Convicted” all the other prisoners on all the counts.

The Lord Chief Justice, in passing sentence, said it was a painful thing that the prisoners should be placed in so serious a position. They were responsible for the loss of life and for the bloodshed that had occurred, and had run the most serious risk. They had endeavoured by violence to break the law and to defy authority. They thought to overpower a small body of men and to escape detection. The wonder was that hundreds of them did not welter in their blood. If such things were permitted, there would be an end to all order. But the law was too powerful for such attacks. They might be successful for the moment, but the consequence must recoil on the heads of all who had recourse to violence. It was impossible to look lightly on such an offence; but he had power to mitigate the extreme sentence which the law allowed. It was necessary to prevent the recurrence of such attacks. He sentenced each of the prisoners to penal servitude for ten years.

The sentence produced much sensation in court.

Inhalt:

  • Social cases. 1869