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Citation of Statutes: of Statutes: The The Mansfield
By C. T. CARR, M.A., LL.D.
"One should view events in the sequence of yearly seasons and not date the past by reference to the persons then in office in each country, as if their names were a better guide to history. It is not an exact method, for an event may happen at the beginning or in the middle or at any other point of their period."-Thucydides, v, xx. THERE WAS once a High Court judge who said he never could understand all this business about 20 & 21 Victoria. The confession was perhaps not a proper manifestation of judicial nescience, but it invites attention to an anachronism by which lesser folk have been perplexed and irritated.
More than three centuries ago Arthur Hopton, a mathematician and astrologer, wrote in his Concordancy of Years of the "inconveniences that happened to vulgar wits and mean capacities through reckoning time by the regnal year, because that period never exactly corresponds with the secular (or, as he called it, the "ecclesian") year. "The year of any Prince's reign (as yet) began in one year of Our Lord, taking part of the same, ending in the next, and participating likewise thereof; by which means when a question is made by the regnal year only, the common doubt is to which year of Our Lord it answers unto." King James I., in whose time the astrologer was writing, very nearly began his reign at the beginning of what was then the calendar year, but there was a discrepancy of a few hours which made all the difference.
Hopton is said to have been a friend of Selden, and he dedicated his book to Sir Edward Coke, but
he was not thinking exclusively of the citation of Acts of Parliament. Our trouble in respect of them is greater than the inconvenience which he mentions, for, in the citing of Acts, the regnal year is not the only stumbling-block. They are not cited by the regnal year in which they receive the royal assent, but by the regnal year or years of the Parliamentary session in which that assent is given. Just as it is too much to expect the regnal year to coincide exactly with the secular year, so it is too much to expect that the Parliamentary session will always coincide with the regnal year. To take a concrete case, let us see how the system is working at the present moment. King George V. came to the throne on May 6th, 1910. After the 1924 General Election a new Parliament began in November, 1924, that is to say in the fifteenth regnal year of His Majesty. Any Acts passed in March or April of 1925 are consequently referred to as being of the regnal year" 15 Geo. 5." Parliaments being mortal, it is not safe to assume in April of 1925 that the session will endure until the sixteenth regnal year. But, as soon as the session has got past the date of May 6th, it has spread itself over two regnal years; therefore Acts passed in June or July of 1925 must be referred to as of "15 & 16 Geo. 5." Indeed it seems to be the better opinion that even the Acts passed before May 6th and hitherto labelled by the single year (15 Geo. 5) should at this stage attract to themselves the second year and thereafter be cited by reference to the two regnal years (15 & 16). Elementary as these details may be to those who are accustomed to them, the system of citing Acts by a reckoning of Parliamentary sessions expressed in terms of regnal years is not without inconvenience
1 If a session lasted over three regnal years, we might get a threefold reference to "15, 16 & 17."
2 See Ilbert, Legislative Methods and Forms, p. 273.
to the vulgar wits and mean capacities of others. It caused plenty of trouble when pleading was a more technical matter than it is to-day. It causes confusion still. An Act is not passed in two years. This natural fact was judicially announced in Langley v. Haynes,2-a case where the declaration had recited the statute made on November 2nd anno 2 & 3 Edwardi sexti, and the court said "cest jour ne puissoit estre en deux ans del dit Roy." Subsequently, in Nutt v. Stedman,3 a statute was pleaded as an Act made in the 8th and 9th year of the reign of William III. "You ought," said the judges, “to plead it of the 8th year when the session began, for in law an Act cannot be made in two years, and, though so mentioned in the statute book, it cannot be good." The orthodox way, as Patteson J. pointed out, was to refer to the Act as the statute passed in the session of Parliament held in the 8th and 9th years of the reign of King William the Third and intituled " etc. This full-dress style of citation is even now occasionally favoured.5 In so far as it introduced the title of the Act, it had merit; but it is much too cumbrous for modern use, and, as we shall presently see, it was dispensed with in 1850. It is now nearly extinct, and no more need be said of it. Our present quarrel is with the present method of citing Acts by reference to Parliamentary session. and regnal year-a method which leads to unnecessary arithmetic, and which burdens our memories not only with the dates on which the various Kings and Queens of England ascended the throne, but also with such political events of their reigns as
1 Lord Mansfield once non-suited a plaintiff for describing as "4 Ph. & Mar." an Act which, on reference to the Parliament Roll, appeared to be "4 & 5 Ph. & Mar."; see Rann v. Green (1776) Cowp., 474.
2 (1591) Moore, 302.
(1735) Fortescue, 372.
4 R. v. Biers (1834), I Ad. & Ellis, at p. 330.
5 It still appears occasionally in Orders in Council under the Foreign Jurisdiction Act; see, for example, S. R. & O. 1924 (No. 324), P. 397, where 34 words are used to describe the Promissory Oaths Act, 1868.
upset the course of Parliamentary sessions. We shall confuse "20 Vict. c. 1" with "20 & 21 Vict. c. 1" (a totally different Act), or "22 Vict. c. 12" with "22 & 23 Vict. c. 12," for want of remembering the political history of 1857 and 1859, how Lord Palmerston went to the country because something had happened in China, or how Lord Derby dissolved because of the forty-shilling freeholder. All this effort of arithmetic and mnemonics is a heavy tax upon vulgar wits and mean capacities. There may be plenty whom it will not inconvenience, but there must be plenty more who will sympathetically identify themselves with Fanny Price in the Mansfield Park schoolroom. Poor Poor little Fanny, it will be recalled, scandalised her two cousins Julia and Maria Bertram (aged twelve and thirteen) by her terrible ignorance. She was ten years old and had never heard of Asia Minor.
'How long ago is it, aunt, since we used to repeat the chronological order of the Kings of England with the dates of their accession and most of the principal events of their reigns?" "Yes," added the other, "and of the Roman emperors as low as Severus, besides a great deal of the heathen mythology and all the metals, semi-metals, planets and distinguished philosophers."
"Very true indeed, my dears, but you are blessed with wonderful memories, and your poor cousin has probably none at all."
If this immortal dialogue awakens sympathy towards those who lack the full Mansfield Park equipment for citing statutes, can we show any modern reasons why that ancient method should be abandoned in favour of something simpler?
The answer, it is submitted, is in the affirmative. Two things have happened in the last 150 years which make all the difference. In the first place citation of Acts by reference to Parliamentary session has lost its significance. It was the common law rule that an Act came into force as of the first day of the
session in which it was passed unless some other date was specified in the body of the statute. Reference to the session not only identified the Act but also gave the date of its operation. Judges had to take judicial notice of the beginning of Parliament and of prorogations and sessions.1 But that reason for citing the Parliamentary session no longer exists. The Acts of Parliament Commencement Act of 1793,2 which recites that the common law rule was productive of great and manifest injustice, directs the Clerk of the Parliaments to endorse on all future Acts the day, month and year on which they receive royal assent, and declares that this endorsement shall be the date of their commencement.
A second argument against the Mansfield Park method of citing statutes is this. The system of reckoning by regnal years was formerly familiar not only in royal documents and in judicial records, but even in private life and correspondence. John Paston, writing to his wife to identify a certain money transaction, says "it was about such time as the Duke of Bedford was last in England, which, as it is told me, was the eighth year of King Harry V. or the eighth year of King Harry VI." "Written at Calais the 28th day of March in the 17th year of Edward IV." is a typical finish to one of the Paston letters. But we do not date our correspondence in that way to-day. The anno domini reckoning has beaten the regnal year out of the field. And the general tendency to think of dates in terms of the secular year has asserted itself in the very text of the statute book. As an alternative to the Mansfield Park method we have now for many years enjoyed a much more convenient way of citing Acts by a descriptive title linked with a reference to the secular year. Informal short titles of a self-explanatory
1 See, for example, R. v. Wilde, (1671) 1 Levinz, 296.
233 Geo. 3 c. 13.