Tuesday, 9 August 2016

9th August 1816: Baron Graham's charge to the Jury of the Leicester Assizes

Having opened the Leicester Summer Assizes the day before, on Friday 9th August 1816, Baron Graham delivered his charge to the Jury. Having recently been thoroughly intimidated by a pro-Luddite crowd at the recent Nottingham Assizes, Graham made the responsibilities of the Jury quite clear, along with the legal framework of what would be a hugely important trial of a notorious figure, James Towle. The Leicester Chronicle of 31st August carried a write-up of Graham's speech, apparently at the request of the Grand Jury:
Delivered by Mr. Baron GRAHAM, to the Grand Jury of the County of LEICESTER, at the Summer Assizes, on the Ninth of August, 1816.—[Published at the request of the Grand Jury.] 
Gentleman of the Grand Jury,
it is with great concern that I observe—indeed the public ear has already caught the alarm—that some commitments in the calendar attest the renewal of those outrages which aimed at the property and lives of individuals, endanger the great commercial interests of the country, the public peace and security, and the stability of all order and good government. 
It is in your recollection, that some a few years ago, the frequency and flagrancy of these offences drew from the Legislature a law, by which it was made a capital offence, "If any person should, by day or by night, enter, by force, into any house, shop, or place, with an intent to cut, or destroy, any framework-knitted pieces, stocking or lace, or other articles, being in the frame or machine, or to cut or destroy the frames or machines, or should wilfully and maliciously break, destroy, or damage, with intent to destroy any frames, or machines of the like description." But the Legislature has since given a decided proof of its clemency, by disarming that law of the capital part of its sanction. 
The Legislature thought, perhaps, and the country indulged the hope, that some examples of justice—a sense of the danger and criminality of outrages so intolerable—and the general indignation, had brought the mad and thoughtless back to their senses, and had awed the more malignant and determined into a prudent and cautious reserve and inactivity. 
That Act was, therefore, repealed, and the present Act of the 54th of the King was substituted in its place. 
By this act, the same offences described in the same terms, are made punishable by transportation for life, or for such term, not less than 7 years, as the Judge shall direct. 
The words of this act—"If any person or persons, by day, or by night, by force, enter into any house, &c. with intent"—to do that which is made a felony, seem to embrace the case of a constructive burglary; and though it might admit of that construction, yet the words of the act seem to take away, in these instances, the capital part of the punishment. It is not, therefore my wish or intention, nor, I believe, of those who are to advising in these prosecutions, to put any strained construction upon this act of Parliament. 
But, Gentleman, it has happened in the case which is to come before you—and happened almost as the inevitable consequence of these desperate enterprises—that the persons engaged in them have, in the prosecution of their purpose, fallen into the commission of a higher and more aggravated offence. 
By a salutary law of the 43d of the King, which bears the name of an illustrious character, and which experience has proved—it is enacted, amongst other things, that "If any person or persons shall wilfully, maliciously, and unlawfully shoot at any of his Majesty's subjects, or shall wilfully, &c. (even) present, point, or level, any kind of loaded fire arms at any of his Majesty's subjects, the person or persons so offending, their counsellors, aiders, and abettors, knowing of, and privy to such offence, are declared felons, and shall suffer death without benefit of clergy." 
For this offence the prisoners will probably be indicted; and though I would almost have been prepared to say that where many combine to effect, by force, an unlawful purpose, which leads to the disturbance of the public peace, or danger to the lives of individuals, and by stronger reason where the avowed, premeditated, and prepared purpose is, to kill the defenders of their lives and property, the act of violence of any one, though short, as by singular felicity in this case, of occasioning death, might justly be ascribed to all,—it is rendered clear of all doubt, by the express words of this act, involving, in the same degree of guilt, the counsellors, aiders, and abettors. 
There is, Gentleman, another offence in your calendar which calls for observation—a case unconnected, I believe, in the particular instance with the offences which I have mentioned, but deeply connected with them, as forming one of the principal elements of those despicable combinations by which the public peace has been so long disturbed, the safety of individuals so long endangered, and property to an immense amount consigned to destruction—I mean the offence of administering unlawful oaths. 
By the 37th Geo. III. Cap. 123, it is enacted—omit the preamble because it has been solemnly determined that the purview of the act goes beyond its preamble—that "If any person shall, in any manner or form, administer, or cause to be administered, or assist, on the present at, and consenting to the administering, or taking of, any oath, or engagement, purporting or intending, to bind the person taking the same, to engage in any routinous or seditious purpose, or to be of any association, society, or confederacy, formed that any such purpose, or (mark what follows) to obey the orders or commands of any committee, or body of men, not lawfully constituted, or of any leader or commander, or other person, not having authority by law for that purpose, or not to inform or give evidence against any associate, &c. shall, on conviction, be adjudged guilty of felony, and may be transported for a term not exceeding 7 years." 
You will have no difficulty in applying this act to the case before you, if the evidence supports the charge. 
But the act is more material, as it points to those offences which have so long spread terror over the manufacturing towns and places of this and a neighbouring county. 
Gentleman, it is high time that these dangerous and desperately wicked associations should be disgraced, discountenanced, and shamed out of the country; that the misguided members of them should be made to feel the irresistible force of the law, and to distrust the comparatively feeling efforts of combined wickedness and savage revenge of imaginary injuries, when opposed, not only to the union of every man of courage and virtue in the Kingdom, butt of every man who has sense enough to know the value of life and property. 
We may expect every difficulty to be thrown in the way of the due administration of justice—we may expect that personal danger will be threatened to the active Magistrate, and intimated even to the seat of justice—but these terrors are held out always I hope, sometimes I am sure, in vain:—or, if what might be, should befal the individual who stands, forwarded in the faithful and manly discharge of his his duty his duty, the head and heart of the Constitution would remain unshaken and intire, and the vengeance of the law would fall with greater force and certainty upon accumulated crimes. 
With law and justice on our side, and that high support which accompanies the honest discharge of import duties, we have nothing to fear from associations formed in the avowed contempt of law, of justice, of humanity, of religion; and should the secret springs of these combinations lie deeper than some suspect, we must unite our efforts to preserve that greatest of human blessings, and that which we enjoy above any nation upon earth, THE BLESSING OF A GOVERNMENT BY LAW by which we are all bound.

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