Page:Ruffhead - The Statutes at Large, 1763.djvu/9

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In the rude State of human Government, while personal Strength and Courage were chiefly held in Esteem, as Qualities most conducive to Honour and Security, Men yielded with Reluctance to the Obligation of Civil Institutions, which were calculated to abridge and restrain their natural Rights and Prerogatives.

During this early Dawn of Legislation, the unpolished Genius of the People, is visible even in the Construction of their Laws, which are, most of them, hastily drawn up without Order and without Precision.

The antient Statutes of this Kingdom, afford abundant Examples of such Irregularity and Inaccuracy; being, most of them, formed without any settled Precedent; and seeming, in particular Instances, rather to be Provisions extorted by some predominant Influence, than Laws instituted by the concurring Assent of a regular Legislature.

Some Degree of Order, however, beamed forth under the Reign of Edward I, many Laws of that Time being penned with a Brevity and Perspicuity, which might do Honour to more enlightened Days. But still the greater Part of the Statutes even of that Reign, and of those immediately succeeding, are not only vague and unsettled in Point of Form, but are sometimes defective in Substance. In many, there are no Words expressing by what Authority they were promulgated; and in those wherein the enacting Authority is declared, it is variously described. In some Instances, the Laws seem to issue from the King alone; several Acts running in the Form of Charters and Patents. In others, they seem to proceed from the King and Lords jointly, without the concurring Assent of the Commons.

It is observable likewise, that Offences are sometimes loosely and ambiguously described; and, in many Statutes, no certain Penalty is inflicted on the Offender;[1] whereby the Courts of Justice were not only entrusted with a Latitude of Construction respecting the Offence, but with a dangerous discretionary Power of punishing the Delinquent; which afforded room for Partiality and Oppression.

The Laws of those Times were likewise extremely defective with regard to civil Proceedings, whereby, in many Instances, the Courts of Judicature were left open to Temptations, and exposed to Menaces: And, even in the Decline of the feudal Policy, they were easily corrupted or overawed by the Influence of the Crown, or of some potent Baron.[2]

  1. Many of the penal Statutes only enact that the Offender shall be punished at the King's Pleasure; some, that he shall make grievous Ransom to the King: And others are merely prohibitory, or admonitory.
  2. See Maddox's Hist. of Exchequer