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Powers of the Police.
with the rapid strides of civilisation in some of its aspects have imparted peculiar importance.
One of these topics, which as yet has only been cursorily alluded to, is that of the Police. It was seen in an earlier part of this treatise that the first institution of the Metropolitan Police by Sir Robert Peel in 1844, as a substitute for the older and then wholly ineffectual system of parochial constabulary, marked an important stage in the advance of that more centralised method of government which the modern conditions of society were rendering imperative. The reform of the municipal corporations, ten years before, supplied a ready machinery for the extension of the practice of imparting to the police force an official character and distinct organisation under a competent authority, which has gone far to supersede altogether the use of the watchman and the parish constable. The extension of the same sort of institution to counties, and the progressive enlargement of the area covered by the metropolitan police, together with the increase of their powers, are all harmonious steps in the same direction of making the police force of the country a substantial constitutional element of constantly increasing importance in reference to the liberty of the subject. In foreign countries, indeed, and especially in France, even under the most various forms of government, the police have been so highly organised, and invested with so great an amount of independence, both of legislative and of central executive control, that it is well known that they have constituted a physical and moral force of so portentous a description that neither political parties nor even influential private persons, and still less the dependent classes of society, have been able to
move with any freedom in directions against which the police have determined, for reasons of their own, to oppose a barrier. It would not be in place here to investigate the causes of a state of things which is as much lamented by the more intelligent statesmen on the Continent as it is matter of just reproach on the part of States possessing better securities for public liberty. These causes, in France at least, under the Republic, are being brought to the surface; and inasmuch as the undue preponderance of the authority of the police is found to have been connected with some of the greatest scandals and difficulties which the Government in that country has had to encounter, there is some hope that the country will be delivered from a thraldom which is worse than any other because it subsists mostly in the dark, and by its very nature defies the remedies of judicial investigations, parliamentary debates, and outspoken public opinion, which modify, and tend in time to correct, all other abuses.
Nevertheless, the fact of this vicious fungus growth of police officialism in other countries suffices to point out for the benefit of such countries as England and her colonies, and the United States, which possess the securities of the Habeas Corpus procedure and are habitually jealous of police aggression, some of the inherent dangers to public liberty which cling to a highly organised system of police administration. There are already too many instances presented in Courts of Justice in this country of these dangers having made their appearance.
It is to be remembered that the direct tendency of a growth of population, and of attendant civilisation, is first to multiply Statutes, and then to multiply police who shall carry them into effect. In England the police
at the present time in the metropolis and most great towns are charged, over and above their habitual functions of detecting crime and capturing criminals, with an inordinate mass of business which is simply cast upon them because there is no other class of persons to do the work, and because their relations to the police courts and the magistrates who preside in them render it convenient to use one and the same machinery for carrying out all the rules, bye-laws, regulations, and minute provisions which the bulky load of Statutes affecting the local administration of such a city as London require to be carried into effect. Thus, not only the Poor Law, with all its complicated and innumerable provisions, but the Licensing Laws, the Vaccination Laws, the Public Health Laws, the Education Laws, the laws relating to the taxation and control of horses, dogs, and vehicles of every description, have all to be administered by one and the same body of police, in addition to the arduous and responsible functions which they have to perform in helping to administer the ordinary criminal law. One result must be, the multiplication of the I police force to the point needed by the increase of business; this multiplication must imply, at any rate for a time, the descent to a lower class of the population to supply the men for the service, and the dispensing with the more strict conditions and qualifications which a smaller demand for men would have admitted of. Other results are, an increase of difficulty in superintendence; a progressively ascending scale of delegated authorities, diffusing the responsibility, wbile the very number of the persons employed prevents individual officers from acquiring a character and reputation of their own ; and an esprit de corps, quite as often adverse as favourable
to the public interests, taking the place of original energy and the sort of proud and honourable independence which is easily dissipated when mankind is compelled to move in closely compacted masses. The dangers here indicated cannot be avoided by any other legislative precautions than such as are implied in imposing the most efficient forms of inspection, and according the best attainable securities in the way of civil and criminal remedies against delinquent officials. Nevertheless, to point out these dangers is of itself to help to remove them. When once it is clearly understood that, in spite of their training and discipline, their generally superior education, and their average good personal character, they are notwithstanding a class dangerous to public liberty, then to be fore-warned is to be fore-armed. The position of an ordinary policeman—and still more that of a skilled detective in a police court, may be contrasted with that of a poor halfarticulate wretch who cannot tell his or her own story simply because the law is unknown, the accusation is not understood, the facts relevant to the enquiry are not apprehended, and language has never hitherto been used except in the most vernacular shape for a few constantly recurring needs in a very familiar society. The magistrate understands the policeman, and has understood him in countless similar cases, when he has used much the same words, and with much the same assurance of their truth. It is an obvious consequence that a sort of understanding should grow up between the magistrate and the police, the general result of which is that, oath for oath, the police are always believed, and the accused never. It has already been pointed out that, even where an energetic defence is presented and
is successful, the accusation itself may, for all the most precious purposes of life and character, be equivalent to conviction and sentence. These facts are generally best known to the best and most highly-trained judges, and it is a familiar assertion, founded, no doubt, on truth, that a policeman has a much worse chance of having his unsupported testimony believed by a Judge of Assize than by a Chairman of Quarter Sessions, or, still more, by a Justice of the Peace at Petty Sessions. When once the facility, the articulate expression, the absence of hesitation, and the plausible self-respectful assurance of the police in giving their evidence are fully discounted, the dangers of that evidence going for more than it is intrinsically worth are largely reduced, if not annulled.
Another topic which has recently acquired prominence has been that of the intrinsic value of trial bv jury, and, more particularly, of trial by jury as it now exists in England, where a jury of twelve must be unanimous. The case in favour of retaining, or rather, of imposing, jury trial in civil matters has been abandoned, since the institution of the County Courts has introduced the practice of only allowing a jury of six when one of the parties requires it; and the Supreme Court of Judicature Act, following the analogy already supplied by the Probate and Divorce Court, has given the greatest facilities for allowing questions of fact as well as of law to be tried by the Judge without a jury if the parties consent. The argument in favour of retaining trial by jury in criminal cases, at any rate for the heavier species of crimes, rests rather upon necessities which might occur in a conceivable condition of society, than upon any belief in the superior value of the verdict of a jury over the decision on the same