Page images
[ocr errors]


I will now request your attention to that part of the article which relates, to that which I have called an important public question:

“It cannot be denied that the scandals which have lately been afloat concerning more than one well-known member of the Bar have shaken the public opinion, hitherto prevalent, in the honour and high tone of the profession. Scarcely had Mr. Edwin James vanished from the scene, when two other learned gentlemen, one of whom is a scholar and a genius, and the other, though neither of these, still a barrister in some practice, and lately elevated to the rank of Queen's Counsel, became the subjects of a notoriety, painful to themselves, and discreditable to the whole profession.'

Then follows a long passage about the mischief which arises from allowing gentlemen to be called to the bar in order to obtain secondrate public offices, who do not possess sufficient legal knowledge to qualify them for practising at the bar. That has nothing to do with Mr. Seymour ; it is, perhaps, an evil which would be best remedied by not appointing men to such offices until proof was given that they had something more than a mere nominal standing at the bar, and that they had made themselves acquainted wlth the principles and practice of their profession. Then, upon this first question, I do not find anything of any importance until we come to the close of the article, and there I find that the person who wrote it does plainly express an opinion, which he had a perfect right to do, and which is entertained by a great many besides himself, that if the censure was justified-if, mind- I do not pretend to say it was-Mr. Sey

mour ought to have been disbarred. He says:

" It is not our intention to enter into any consideration of the specific charges brought against Mr. Digby Seymour, because, like the rest of the public, we are not yet in possession of the means for deciding on them impartially, with a full knowledge of the facts. But when we consider that we have on the one hand the deliberate opinion of a number of honourable and distinguished men, who have gone fully into the case; and, on the other, the bare assertion of innocence by an interested person, who declines to take the plain course of publishing a complete statement of the circumstances, and that person one who publicly stated that the Benchers had given a verdict in his favour, when he held their condemnation in his hands—we cannot hesitate for a moment as to the verdict we must pronounce.

Until Mr. Digby Seymour has shown to the public, by a full and ungarbled publication of the evidence given before the Benchers, that their judgment was unjust, we must continue to believe that it was delivered in accordance with the truth, and that the censure therein was merited."

[ocr errors]

Then he goes on to say, in another part:

“ We observe that in the last epistle the writer expresses some regret that the editor who fell into this (to a layman) very natural mistake, had not violated the privilege of Parliament thereby, and thus afforded to Mr. Digby Seymour the opportunity of laying the whole matter before the House. But why wait for a breach of privilege? Honourable members have, before now, become the subjects of unjust suspicions, and have, thereupon, themselves moved the House for the appointment of a Select Committee of Inquiry, with the full conviction that they would thus clear their scutcheons of blot. If Mr. Seymour be indeed enrolled, as he assures us, among the army of martyrs, why does he not take the same simple and straightforward course? Or, if his native modesty prevent him from obtruding himself on Parliament, why should not some other M.P. clear the character of the House by moving for such a committee, and instituting such an inquiry? By all means let us have some investigation ; let the chairman of the committee send for books, persons, and papers ; let the members sift the whole matter to the bottom; and when Mr. Digby Seymour has come out of the scrutiny, not merely as white as wool, but with a refulgent crown of martyrdom to boot, let the House at once abolish the Benchers—and the Bar too, if it lists and let it further transmit the sufferer's claims to the canonizing council which is shortly to assemble under his Holiness, in order that St. Seymour, of Sunderland and Southampton, may be duly added to the calendar. Let it not be supposed, however, that we are prepared to record any approval of the conduct of the Benchers. We have not the slightest doubt that they acted in this painful business with perfect integrity, and with the best intentions, but it is impossible to acquit them of foolishness and error. In the first place, we are clearly of opinion that if they considered Mr. Digby Seymour guilty of even one of the charges brought against him, (and they admit that they did so,) they were bound to have disbarred him. Censure, however abjectly received when it was pronounced, was no adequate punishment for such an offender. Very recently, an unknown member of the Bar has been expelled from its ranks for offences certainly not greater than the charge which the Benchers say was proved against Mr. Digby Seymour. Is it right the public should suppose that, while the whole severity of power is brought to bear against the weak, there is a dread of enforcing discipline in the case of a Member of Parliament and a Queen's Counsel? In the second place, it is quite clear that the judgment of the Benchers ought to have been screened immediately after it was pronounced. We cannot conceive what reason could be given for maintaining secrecy. And, thirdly, we are strongly of opinion that when Mr. Seymour challenged the publication of the evidence, it should at once have been given to the world. The honour of the Bar and the dignity of the Bench demanded such a course, and we deeply regret that ill-advised counsels to the contrary

have prevailed in the parliament chamber of the Inn. We cannot, however, concur in the idea that investigations before the Benchers into the conduct of every accused member of the Bar should necessarily be held in public. The adoption of such a rule would, we thick, be a great evil. The jurisdiction of the Bench is exercised in what has been justly termed “a domestic forum,' and the nature of such a tribunal is essentially different from that of an ordinary court of law. To parade questions of etiquette, and even of morality, before the public would be often unjust to the accused, and would add no security to the discipline of the profession. But we are alive to the mischief occasionally produced by the present practice, especially when an unscrupulous man makes capital out of the very priracy which has alone saved him from utter ruin. Perhaps it would be well to give to the accused in all cases the option of a public hearing. In the proposal which has been made for a conjoint committee or council of the four Inns, to conduct inquiries of this kind, and to administer the discipline of the Bar, we most entirely concur. Such a measure would reassure the public as well as the profession, and have a good moral effect ; and, as the institution of such a body would be only following up the precedent already set by the establishment of the Council of Legal Education, which has worked admirably, we may hope that the Benchers will see the wisdom and expediency of making this step in advance without any further delay.”

Gentlemen, I say that that part of the article at least is a discussion, and a very proper discussion, of the conduct of the Benchers. The object of it is to show that if they thought themselves justified in passing their censure, it was due to the profession and the public that they should disbar their offending member. It tends to show, no doubt, that they had taken, from the best and most honourable motives, a very lenient view of the case, and that the observations made upon their conduct by Mr. Seymour, at Southampton, and in the press, were wholly undeserved.

Gentlemen, the next question which is discussed in this article, is one, if possible, of still greater importance. I really do not know what public question, not involving national honour, or national disgrace, can be of more importance. People may entertain different opinions about it; but I submit, with the utmost confidence, to you, that it is a matter of great public interest and importance to ascertain; Whether the minor patronage of the law is honestly bestowed upon deserving men, or given away, as respects gentlemen of the long robe in Parliament, without inquiry as to personal and professional character, to obtain from them, or to secure from them, an obsequious and obscure adhesion to the Government of the day ; and whether

the still higher patronage of the Crown, in relation to the profession of the law, the bestowal of the honours of the profession by the Lord Chancellor, is influenced by fair and honest, or indirect and political motives. I can hardly conceive a question of purely domestic interest more important than that. I shall endeavour, in the few observations that I have to make upon it, to discuss it with the caution and the justice with which it ought to be discussed ; but that it is a matter of grave public interest and importance, no one can entertain a doubt.

Now let us see what the facts before the writer in the LAW MAGAZINE, were when he took up his pen to write this article. A gentleman, comparatively speaking a mere junior on the Northern Circuit, (when I say a mere junior, he was of eight years' standing ; but there were plenty of juniors there in good practice of fifteen and twenty years' standing,) had, within two years after he became a Member of Parliament, been gratified by an appointment to what, to a man of his standing at the Bar, was very considerable promotion—the Recordership of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Mr.Seymour, when I was questioning him yesterday, seemed inclined to defend himself against a supposed charge of having used his Parliamentary position to obtain that appointment, as if I was imputing to him some personal dishonour or disgrace in so doing. I meant nothing of the kind. It would be idle and unjust to attack the personal honour of any gentleman in Parliament who accepted, or made it known that he was willing to accept, an appointment of that kind; but it is quite plain that a great scandal had, before this article appeared, arisen, and that the scandal was occasioned principally by this circumstance—that a gentleman, a member of our profession, of only eight years' standing at the Bar, much junior to many eminent men on his own Circuit, had been appointed to a comparatively high office--the Recordership of Newcastle-upon-Tyne--and appointed, as it turned out, just at the very time (of course it was not known to the Government, of that I am quite sure, or they would not have done it) when he was engaged in transactions on which he must look back with regret, and in respect of one of which he knows that he was connected with a number of persons professing to be gentlemen, but who could have been nothing better than swindlers. Mr. Seymour was so engaged in the years 1852, 1853 and 1854; and, at the end of that year, in the month of December, he was appointed to the office of Recorder of Newcastle-upon-Tyne. Now, far be it from me to say that Mr. Seymour was not competent to discharge the duties of that office. There can be no question that Mr. Seymour is a gentleman of considerable ability. There can be no question that, with an honest intention to discharge the duties of that office properly, (and I do not impute the contrary,) he is quite competent to do so. It is not that Mr. Seymour was incompetent. It is not that Mr. Seymour had obtained the office by any unworthy means, or by any deliberate bargaining about his votes, that is the matter of complaint in this article; the thing that is complained of in the article is a regular long-established system since the time of the Reform Bill, of giving the minor patronage of the profession to gentlemen of the long robe who are in Parliament, to the exclusion of men often much more deserving of, and more competent to discharge the duties of such offices. Mr. Seymour yesterday, when I asked him what was usual in these matters, referred to two other cases in which he said (and I do not suppose he would tell us what he did not know to be true) the same thing had been done on his own Circuit for men of less than his standing in 1854. That is the very evil which this article complains of; that, instead of ascertaining—as I say it is the duty of the Crown, and of the Government of the country, to ascertain—who are the best men, by their position at the Bar, their personal character and attainments, for important offices, the offices are given to gentlemen who have seats or connexions in Parliament. That is the subject of complaint. It does not refer merely to offices ; it refers expressly, as we shall find presently, to Government briefs; and there is no doubt, and it must be openly said, without imputing personal dishonour, as respects the practice, either to the recipient or to the individual who gives the preferment, that it is a great mischief to our profession that really deserving, hard-working men and sound lawyers, some of them perfectly fit to be raised to the Bench, should be deprived of a fair share of such appointments, and that they should be given to men of whom nothing is known, who have not been long enough at the Bar to make it perfectly certain what their character is, and what their attainments are, in preference to persons who ought to be promoted. I do happen to know that, as to some minor offices not in the gift of the Government, but of the Judges, the learned Judges, or some of them at least, have taken great pains to ascertain from the seniors on their respective Circuits what men upon them there were who really deserved, on account of their learning, their attention to the profession, and their personal character, such patronage as is at the disposal of the Judges ; and if the Government of the country would do the like, depend upon it such scandals as have arisen in this case never could take place at all ; but, if they will, merely

« PreviousContinue »