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testamentary causes ; matrimonial causes for separation and for nul-
1. Three hundred Courts peculiar.
These peculiar courts, in many cases presided over by parsonjudges, appointed and removable by the lord of the manor, are burlesques upon justice :-does the minister contemplate sparing them? Will he hesitate in crushing them? Are they to be only re-constructed and deprived of their civil' jurisdiction ? The thing is ludicrous; and the notion must be scouted by parliament. If any of the Exeter school demand why we object to the continuance of their ecclesiastical authority ; we reply, because they are utterly incompetent to perform the ends of justice. The Commissioners declare that “the jurisdiction to be exercised in these different courts is not defined by any general law. It is often (they add) extremely difficult to ascertain over what description of causes the jurisdiction of any particular court
operates.' The Lord Chancellor during the debate on the Church Discipline Bill, on the 4th of June last, thus described the Courts peculiar :
• The only power that now existed for correcting the offences of the clergy resided in the ecclesiastical courts, and what did their Lordships think was the nature of those courts? He spoke not of the courts of the Archbishop, for they were well known, nor yet of the courts of the Bishops, because those were also known ; but perhaps their Lordships were not aware that besides these principal courts there were nearly 300 other ecclesiastical courts, all of them having jurisdiction for the trial of ecclesiastical offences, the great difficulty consisting in defining what that jurisdiction was. These minor courts were wholly incompetent for the duties they had to discharge; the
officers were in many instances deputies, at a salary of ten guineas a year, men of no experience or learning, of little or no knowledge of the principles of the law they were called upon to administer: and yet the inquiries instituted before them might involve, not merely the fortune and worldly interests of clergymen, but their name and character. The average number of the causes that came before these courts in a year, did not give more than one-half cause to each court, so that there was no opportunity of obtaining the advantage of experience and practice; and, at the same time, from the multitude of the modes of appeal that existed, there were caused the greatest delay, expense, and vexation.'
And then, just fancy a man of piety and learning summoned before the court,' seated at an oak table in the blue parlour of the Rose and Crown,' the head, because the only public house in the village or the manor, to give an account of his doctrine, and to answer to the charge of having preached tenets contrary to the articles, homilies, &c. ; is this seemly?
But the Report of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners must be regarded as conclusive on this part of the case. "We think,' they observe at page 22, that the whole jurisdiction of these
peculiar, both contentious and voluntary, should be ABOLISHED; and we are induced to come to this conclusion by the following among
other reasons :
With respect to the contentious jurisdiction, it is wholly impossible that justice can be administered efficiently, and with satisfaction to the public. In the majority of the peculiar courts, and perhaps in all, there neither are, nor can be, efficient and experienced judges, officers, advocates, or practitioners. The emoluments are too small, and the number of causes too few, to insure these requisites for the due administration of justice. Consequently no confidence is reposed in these tribunals; and delay arises, and expense is incurred, in applying for letters of request, or in resorting to other means of escaping the jurisdiction. In some cases too, the grievance is enhanced by the multiplication of appeals.
With regard to testamentary cases, the inconvenience is, perhaps, the greatest. There cannot be expected, and, in fact, there are not to be found, safe places of custody for the wills to be deposited in the registries; and thereby the most important titles to real and personal estate may be endangered. In admitting testamentary papers to probate in common form, according to the existing state of the law, an accurate knowledge of the rules which ought to govern the practice is very essential; but where the opportunities of acquiring experience are few, such accuracy cannot be attained. In cases where it is necessary to make searches, the multiplication of courts for the probate of wills, of course greatly increases the trouble and expense. On the question of bona notabilia, many difficulties result from these searches, and sometimes more serious injury.
It would be easy to set forth many other reasons, inducing us to suggest the entire abolition of these jurisdictions; but as we are not aware of any one benefit which would result from their continuance, we conceive that the circumstances already stated will suffice. We therefore propose that the peculiar jurisdiction should be abolished.'
So much for number ), the Courts Peculiar. Let us now turn to number 2, or the Diocesan Courts. Are these courts merely to be deprived of the power of persecuting? Is part of their jurisdiction to be preserved? Again we must refer those who are favourable to a discriminating law, abolishing the
civil jurisdiction, and retaining their spiritual or ecclesiastical power, to the deliberate recommendations of the Ecclesiastical Commissioners ;* • In the course of our inquiry we became cono vinced of the impracticability of having JUDGES DULY QUALISFIED WITH A COMPETENT Bar and skilful practitioners to
administer in the diocesan courts the testamentary and matrimoonial laws which involve matters of such very high importance
to the parties litigant, and to the public. The RETURNS which have 'been obtained from the diocesan registries show that the annual
amount of business, and the emoluments of the judges and other officers, and of the practitioners in these courts, MAKE IT IM• POSSIBLE IN THE GREATER NUMBER OF THE DIOCESES, THAT EFFICIENT COURTS CAN BE MAINTAINED.'
The Commissioners dismiss the Diocesan Courts by recommending the entire transfer of the contentious jurisdiction (i.e. the power to judge and determine differences between contending parties) possessed by them, to the provincial courts ; and no one can fairly peruse the statements just quoted, and the facts with which the report abounds, without feeling satisfied that it would be an act of folly and unjust not to abolish these mock tribunals. All attempts to patch them up, must be unsatisfactory and idle: no man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for thereby the rent is made worse. Without entering further into the questio vexata of church discipline, or discussing the propriety of narrowing still more the jurisdiction of the courts of York and Canterbury, we conclude by protesting against any thing short of the extirpation of the diocesan and peculiar courts, joined with the abolition of the civil jurisdiction of the provincial courts. If they are not abolished, like the staff of a mi
* The followiug individuals composed the Commission: the archbishop of Canterbury, the bishops of London, Durham, Lincoln, St. Asaph, and Exeter, Lord Tenterden, Sir William Draper, Lord Wynyard, Sir. N. C. Tindal, Sir W. A. Alexander, Sir John Nicoll, Sir C. Robinson, Sir Herbert Jenner, Sir C. E. Carrington, and Stephen Lushington, and Cuttar Ferguson, Esqrs.; the deliberate opinion of sucli a body carry, in this case, peculiar weight.
litia, their powers can be enlarged at any particular exigency; and the breath of a Tory ministry can in a moment resuscitato them, to enter afresh, like an awakened giant, into the field against truth and liberty !
It is not to be expected that these relics of superstition and hierarchical tyranny will be surrendered without a struggle. They are too german to the system from which they sprang to be readily relinquished by its supporters. But their doom is sealed and cannot be much longer delayed. Denounced by the wise and considerate of all parties, branded with an infamous parentage, pregnant with evil but impotent for good, they stand out an anomalous and bateful institution, abhorrent to English freedom, and an insult to the christian faith. It remains to be seen what the government and parliament will do; but we must not trust to the supposed friendliness or professed intentions of either. Too implicit confidence has been the error and the crime of Dissenters in past days. Unaccustomed to the language of conciliation and respect from men in power, it's not to be marvelled at if they have suffered themselves to be ensnared by the good opinions and respectful treatment—so far at least as words are concerned-with which they have recently been entertained. Nor are we disposed to place all this to the account of mere hypocrisy, or even of political finesse. Some of our contemporaries, whose zeal far exceeds their charity and wisdom, may do so, but we cannot. It partakes, in our judgment, neither of candour nor of sagacity, and is adapted to irritate auxiliaries, rather than to combine and stimulate friends. We are not so forgetful of the past as to be unmindful of the services rendered to our cause -the cause of religious liberty, and therefore of christian truth-by some members of her majesty's present government. Those services were rendered at a time, and with a promptitude and zeal which bespoke their sincerity, and entail on us a debt of lasting gratitude.
But while we make this admission in all frankness and sincerity, we are at the same time concerned-deeply, growingly concerned-to admonish the Dissenters of Great Britain, against that easy credence and implicit trust of men in office, which, as recently exhibited, has gone far to render us a laughing stock to our neighbours. Under God, we must trust ourselves and ourselves only. We must take our cause into our own hands, and with all the energy of men deeply versed in their principles and resolved on their vindication, must stand out open, unmasked, and fearless ; having no reserve, and seeking no counsel from the world. So long as we trust our cause to politicians - no matter
whether whig, radical, or tory—that cause will be betrayed and tampered with ; will be patronized one day, and looked upon with coldness the next. Our course is simple, and requires only an honest mind to be pursued successfully. Where aid is proffered, let it be thankfully received ; but it is at the peril of our fidelity to enter into any compromise,—to be parties to any treaty, implied or expressed, whereby principle may be surrendered to expediency, and the moral power of our communities be diverted from its legitimate occupation to the achievement of petty triumphs. The practical grievance' ground, long held by the metropolitan leaders of dissent, is in our solemn judgment an erroneous, short-sighted, and treacherous position. It is a surrender—not intentional, we well know, but still practically a surrender, of the high and holy ground of religious obligation, the duty owed to God and his truth, for the promotion of our personal comfort and social respectability. In the one struggle, self is lost in the purity and heavenly-mindedness of the object sought; in the other, it is the very God of our idolatry, under whose banner we fight, and to whose glory all our mainly tend.
The course to be adopted in future does not admit of a moment's doubt, and the sooner we address ourselves to it the better. Our principles must be clearly unfolded, their legitimate applications and tendencies must be pointed out. We must address ourselves to the judgment and conscience of the nation; and in the spirit of our holy faith, must summon the religious of all parties to do justice to the insulted name and supremacy of their Lord. There is a power in such an appeal as this, before which spiritual wickednesses in high places, must fall prostrate. It will carry with it the beneficent aspect of a religious enterprize; and though opposed by prejudice and denounced by interested partizanship, will ultimately disabuse the judgment of this great empire, and effect another Reformation more scriptural, and far more complete, than that which our fathers wrought in days of old.
Our opponents are preparing the way of our triumph by the illustrations they supply of the temper and tendency of their system. A few years back, and their ecclesiastical courts may have been represented as innocuous though unseemly institutions. But they cannot be so now. The sleeping tiger has sprung from his lair, and his bloodthirstiness is as great as ever. The system is the same it always was, and there are not wanting men
-we say it in the fullest confidence in the truth of our declaration-who possess the will to work it with all the murderous energy it displayed during the palmy days of the Stuarts. If any doubt our statement, let them look to Chelmsford jail. Oh, ye bishops and dignitaries of the parliament-made church, and ye especially among her members who profess the spirit of the meek