Slike strani

their effect in England. This may be granted, but this concession falls very short of proof that an act, viz. the utterance of particular words, which takes place in Scotland, in reality takes place in England. [We agree with our learned contributor's criticism of the first reason for upholding the conviction, but as to the second we think Mr. Justice Wright's opinion correct. It is too late to complain of the law of larceny and allied offences for being subtle.—ED.]

The considerations which induced the Court to sacrifice a good deal of logical consistency for the sake of convicting the defendant in R. v. Ellis may easily be understood from the following question with which Mr. Justice Hawkins has concluded his judgment. Would it not be revolting to good sense if it could be truly said that the law in this commercial country was such that the defendant could avert the consequences of his crime by alleging that, though he had beyond all question obtained the goods by fraudulently false pretences, he could not be punished because his false pretences were made in Glasgow ?' The argument implied in the question is best answered by two others. Is not the principle that crime is local obsolete? But is it not revolting to good sense that in this law-respecting country the judges, in order to escape from the effect of a legal rule which ought to be abolished or modified by Parliament, should try to convince themselves that an offence was committed in the county of Durham, which was in fact committed, partly at least, in Glasgow?

The sixteenth-century sages of the law were fond of pointing out how many more doubts arose on the language of statutes than on points of pure common law. Their comments continue to be justified by the modern state of the reports. Take, for example, the cases reported in the Queen's Bench Division for the first month in this quarter. They number twenty-seven. Of these not more than five could be decided without reference to the statute book. We ought, perhaps, in strictness, to say not more than four, for R. v. Rhodes, '99, 1 Q. B. 77, 68 L.J. Q. B. 83, though it refers to the common law offence of obtaining goods under false pretences, involves the consideration of the Criminal Evidence Act, 1898. Judging therefore by the cases in the Queen's Bench Division for January, we may say that not much more than one-seventh of the cases decided by the judges turn wholly upon the rules of the common law. This is partly due to the multiplication of statutes ; partly also, we may hope, to the common law being well settled on most matters of everyday business.

[ocr errors]

The mere extension of the statute law may seem in itself to be a matter of comparative indifference, for many parliamentary enactments are simply the restatement of some common law principle, but enthusiasts who expect great advantages to the public from codification must face two facts.

The one is that the expression of a rule in a definite written form does not of itself preclude disputes as to its meaning. The fourth and the seventeenth sections of the Statute of Frauds have, we may be pretty sure, given rise to more cases, in other words, to more discussion as to the meaning of these two enactments, than have any two well-known rules of common law or of equity.

The second fact is that English judges have contracted the babit of construing the provisions of an Act of Parliament in a much narrower spirit than the spirit in which they construe legal principles which are not embodied in a statute ; in construing a statute the Courts look to its words ; in applying a principle of law they look to its meaning. This difference in the method of interpretation may be inevitable, yet if its existence be granted the objection felt by many English and by almost all American lawyers to schemes for codifying the common law are felt to be more reasonable than they at first sight appear. Lawyers fear to exchange principles construed according to their spirit for enactments construed according to their letter. However, nobody in this country wants to codify the common law all at once. And the partial codification of well settled law which has already taken place has not been found to raise new doubts or increase litigation.


Are the public aware that Parliamentary legislation is year by year increasing the number of legal duties imposed upon individuals ? No one can, without breaking the law, expose goods for sale on the carriage way, and he who commits this offence may come within the scope of more than one Act imposing separate penalties (Wandsworth Board of Works v. Pretty, '99, 1 Q. B. 1, 68 L.J. Q. B. 193). Under one of the earlier Salmon Fishery Acts any person commits a crime who has 'in his possession any unclean or unseasonable salmon, or any part thereof' (Morris v. Duncan, '99, 1 Q. B. 4,68 L. J. Q. B. 49). Various and numerous are the offences which are created, many, in other words, are the duties imposed upon us all by the Licensing Acts, and so difficult has it become to keep within the path of legality that the House of Commons itself has gone very near breaking a law imposed by Parliament (Williamson v. Norris, '99, I Q.B. 7, 68 L.J. Q. B. 31). How immensely the duties and liabilities of employers have been increased by the Workmen's Compensation Act, 1897, is proved by

[ocr errors]

a whole line of cases such as Woodham v. Atlantic Transport Company, '99, 1 Q. B. 15, 68 L.J. Q. B. 17, C.A.; Billings v. Holloway, '99, I Q. B. 70, 68 L.J.Q. B. 16, C. A.; Smith v. Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Company, '99, 1 Q.B. 141, 68 L. J. Q. B. 51, C. A.; Powell v. Brown, '99, 1 Q.B. 157, 68 L. J. Q. B. 151, C. A.; Lowe v. Pearson, '99, 1 Q. B. 261, 68 L. J. Q. B. 122, C.A. Nor is there the least reason to suppose that this new line of cases is one of which it is possible to predict the length. Manufacturers who think they are at liberty to pollute a flowing stream with matter discharged from their factories may be warned by the River Ribble Joint Committee v. Halliwell, '99, 1 Q. B. 27, 68 L.J. Q.B. 20, that they go very near a breach of the law, and shipowners will find that their duties to seamen discharged abroad are considerably increased by the interpretation which the Courts have put on the Merchant Shipping Act, 1894, s. 186 (Purves v. Straits of Dover Steamship Company, '99, 1 Q. B. 38, 68 L. J. Q. B. 38).

Now this tendency to increase the legal duties of private citizens may or may not be politic. One fact, however, is indisputable, though it is often, if not disputed, certainly ignored; every increase in the legal duties imposed by law upon individuals means a diminution of individual freedom. Sentiment and fashion all run in favour of State intervention ; in other words public opinion is opposed to the protection of personal freedom.

Parker V. Alder, '99, 1 Q. B. 20, 68 L. J. Q. B. 7 marks the very extreme limit to which the law can wisely go in extending the duties of individuals, for it shows that under an Act of Parliament a man may be made guilty of an offence which might well be called a disgraceful crime without incurring any moral guilt. A farmer undertakes to deliver pure milk to a customer in London. He delivers the milk in a perfectly pure condition to a railway company, but before the milk reaches the customer, it has, without any fault on the part of the seller, been adulterated. The seller has then committed an offence within the Sale of Foods and Drugs Act, 1875, and is liable to a penalty. He is, in short, made legally responsible for an act for which he is in no wise morally responsible, since he had no means of preventing the act being done. This is surely rather a serious state of things. The maxim mens rea facit reum has in it much good sense. Teach men that acts which are morally innocent are crimes, and they will soon draw the inference that crimes are not moral offences.

The Lord Chief Justice treats the judgment of the Court in Parker V. Alder as a deduction from the principle that a master is responsible for the unauthorized acts of his servant. • It has been decided in Brown v. Foot, 66 L. T. 649, ... that an innocent vendor of milk is undoubtedly liable for the unauthorized act of his servant in adulterating it. It becomes therefore at once apparent that there is really no material difference between this case and that, because a vendor is no more able to prerent the adulteration by a dishonest servant than he is to prevent ailulteration by strangers such as the servants of the rail. way company' ('99, 1 Q. B. p. 25).

The words underlined contain a fallacy. A master cannot prevent his servant from adulterating milk in a given instance, but he may dismiss a servant guilty of adulteration, and therefore there is at any rate some rough justice in treating the act of the servant as the act of the master. But a farmer who employs a railway company to carry his goods cannot dismiss the servant or the stranger who adulterates it; he does not even know who is the person deserving dismissal. But there is a further point to be considered which seems to have escaped the attention of the Queen's Bench Division. The rule that an employer is to be held liable for unauthorized, or even for forbidden, acts done by his servants is in itself a deviation from the principles of strict justice, though a deviation justifiable by, considerations of obvious expediency, and it is a very serious thing to extend the limits of an anomalous rule. It is well that exceptions to general principles should always be treated as exceptional. The judgment in Parker v. Alder may be justifiable on grounds of expediency, but the Court which pronounced it would have done well to acknowledge that it involved a perilous extension of an exceptional rule justifiable only on the ground of its obvious utility.

[This and the two preceding notes, all from a very learned contributor, represent only his own opinions. We think it more respectful to him to let them stand with this warning than to modify them into something which we could just pass as editorial.]

An'action for malicious prosecution will lie against a corporation.' This is decided-contrary to a considerable body of earlier though luckily not authoritative opinion, including Lord Bramwell's—by Cornford v. Carlton Bank, Lim. ('99, 1 Q. B. 392, 68 L. J. Q. B. 196). It is rather hard for us to realize the difficulties of former generations on such a point. There is an obvious logical difficulty in attributing intention, motive, malice, or, in short, any kind of human feeling to a fictitious being created by law. But there is no greater anomaly in attributing malice to a corporation than in attributing to it any other human sentiment. If therefore a corporation cannot entertain malice, so neither can it have a remedy against any course of actions which involves deceit, defamation, or any kind of injury to the feelings or reputation of the corporation, which would be absurd. The sum of the matter is that if the law deals, as it must, with artificial persons, the fiction of their personality must be carried, notwithstanding any logical puzzles, as far as convenience and justice may require.

On the dissolution of a corporation what becomes of its choses in action ?

This is the curious question raised, though not as yet finally decided, by In re Higginson & Dean ('99, 1 Q. B. 325, 68 L. J. Q. B. 198). In 1847 a trading firm became bankrupt, and a corporation, the Royal Bank of Liverpool, created by statute, proved in bankruptcy with other creditors. In 1887 the bank was dissolved by an order of the Court under the Companies Acts. At a later date it was discovered that the bankrupt firm was entitled to certain railway shares of considerable value. The official receiver recovered the value of the shares amounting to £6,500, and held the proceeds as trustee in bankruptcy. Another creditor moved to expunge the proof of the dissolved corporation, and claimed that the money to which the corporation had been entitled as creditor was divisible among the still existing creditors. The County Court judge expunged the proof. The Attorney-General appealed on behalf of the Crown. The judgment of the Queen's Bench Division, reversing the order of the County Court judge, has held that on the dissolution of the corporation the proceeds of the shares in the hands of the official receiver had passed to the Crown as bona vacantia, and the Crown was entitled to the amount.

None but a very daring critic would venture to lay down that the decision of the judgment of the Court given In re Higginson & Dean is wrong, and hesitation is the more necessary because the practical result of the judgment is apparently fair, for we may presume that in some form or other the bona vacantia which have fallen to the Crown will be distributed among the members of the dissolved corporation or their representatives. Still from a merely speculative point of view the decision of the Court is open to some criticism, and the language of the judgment delivered by Wright J. suggests that the Court, while satisfied with the conclusion reached, were not perfectly clear as to what was the line of reasoning by which it was best arrived at. A chose in action is after all nothing but a claim by A against B to be paid a certain or uncertain sum of money. A ceases to exist and leaves no representative. How then can the claim of A have any existence ?

But the very idea of bona vacantia involves the existence of the

« PrejšnjaNaprej »