Page images
PDF
[ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][ocr errors][graphic][graphic][graphic][graphic][graphic]
[merged small][merged small][ocr errors]

Of all secular offices the judicial is the highest in dignity, importance, and solemn responsibility. In England, the independence of the judges is regarded as a sacred right, a constitutional privilege, and safe-guard which it would be sacrilege to trench upon ; and accordingly the dignitaries of Westminsterhall have been created utterly independent of the Crown and its Ministers, and responsible only to the Houses of Parliament. In this country it necessarily happens, that both the Queen's and Company's judges are more dependent upon the ruling powers; yet, we trust, that India may never be doomed to see judicial dignity compromised," or the liberty of the subject invaded.

High and varied are the qualifications necessary to constitute a fitness for the performance of the judicial functions. The judge is called upon to elucidate the most intricate subtleties of law, to investigate, carefully and minutely, complex details of circumstances and events, to weigh conflicting testimony, to discriminate between the improbable truth and the plausible falsehood, the vrai and the vraisemblable:-upon his fiat may depend the rights and liberties, the property and the lives of his fellow-creatures. It is true that in England all questions of fact, whether in civil or criminal matters (and in this country in all criminal matters), are referred to the decision of a jury of twelve men; but it is well known to what extent the presiding judge can influence their verdict by a hint, and, in many cases, control it altogether by a simple expression of his opinion. We have frequently been amused to observe the eagerness with which the jurors turn round to listen to the judge when he commences summing up the evidence, and the close attention with which they mark each expression. Bewildered by the counter-statements and flat contradictions of a host of witnesses, bamboozled by the learned sophistry of the advocates on either side, perplexed by their own vague and fluctuating impressions, the twelve worthy and honest occupants of the jury-box hail the address from the bench as the revelation of a superior being. They willingly place entire confidence in the opinion of one who can have no interest in wilfully misleading them, whose solemn office alone seems to guarantee his integrity, and whose varied and lengthened experience lends weight to his advice and suggestions. Whatever light appears to be thrown upon the case by the coruscations of the

• we trust that Sir John Cam Hobhouse wiss yet entertain a similar opinion, or else that the united voice of India may drive it into the ears of the “deaf adder 1"

advocate's ingenuity, the jury are apt to mistrust, and to regard it as a will-o'the-wisp which threatens to lead them into the quagmires of doubt and uncertainty; while, on the other hand, every ray which emanates from the judge, is hailed as a safe and sure beacon-light ! It is curious and interesting to observe, in how few brief and simple sentences an able and experienced judge will often unravel the most complex tissue of contradictions and discrepancies; separating the few grains of ore from the mountains of rubbish, demolishing the flimsy web which sophistry had artfully wove, furnishing a simple clue to the apparently inextricable labyrinth, and rendering clear and plain what had just before appeared to be involved in hopeless darkness and uncertainty.

The learned subject of this sketch, is well qualified, by natural endowments and acquired experience, to fulfil the duties of his high station. Sir Edward Ryan has presided as Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of this presidency for above four years, having previously sat on the bench some seven years as Puisne Judge. We are not aware that his lordship was distinguished at the English bar by the oratorical qualities, which belong to the mere advocate; but his name is well known to the profession, by the learned reports which he conducted, in conjunction with the late eminent Chief Justice, Sir William Oldmall Russell. It is a trite remark, that the best and most brilliant advocates rarely make other than indifferent judges, and although the present day furnishes two or three striking exceptions, the general rule most unquestionably holds good. Perhaps Erskine and Garrow were the two most remarkable instances of its truth. The eloquent and successful advocate, who has suddenly exchanged the bar for the bench, does not readily adapt his feelings and habits to his novel position. His mind has been so long warped by legal subtleties, that it becomes enamoured of hair-splitting niceties, of distinction; prefers the ingenious to the solid in argument, betrays a lurking disposition to take up the difficult side of every question, and often, at the outset of the inquiry, is unconsciously and permanently biassed by hastily adopted notions; while, again, in addressing the jury, force of habit occasionally hurries him into a vehement and impassioned appeal to their feelings in favour of one party or the other, instead of the calm, dignified, and impartial tone which ought ever to characterize the address from the bench.

From faults of this character, Sir Edward is wholly free. We have often been surprised to observe, how skilfully he avoids betraying, in the least degree, the leaning of his opinion, during the progress of a tedious investigation, or a lengthened argument. In vain does the labouring counsel suggest a hypothesis nearly analogous to his own case, or craftily insinuate some ingenious query to sound the bearing of his lordship's mind:—Sir Edward smilingly parries the oblique attack, and, perhaps, puts a question in return which floors the querist! The learned Chief Justice's experience in India, has imparted to him very considerable knowledge of the native habits and character, a knowledge most useful in deciding upon disputed facts. We have seen the learned judge subject a Hindoo or Mussulman witness to a most vigorous crossexamination, chiefly, too, upon points untouched by the counsel, who had already examined and cross-examined him, and thus succeed in eliciting some circumstance which ultimately determined the fate of the cause. In no country more than in India, is it necessary to compare the direct testimony adduced, with the testimony furnished by circumstances; for almost daily experience, unfortunately, presents instances where a host of witnesses have concerted together, beforehand, to invent and support some ingenious tale, with its lying accompaniment of the minutest circumstances, and so artfully is it contrived, and so well tutored are its suborned supporters, that it requires no small skill to detect a single flaw or discrepancy. But experience will occasionally suggest a line of cross-examination which elicits some “damning circumstances;” and we have thus sometimes seen the Chief Justice astonish the plaintiff's counsel, after they had closed their elaborate case, although the defendant had scarcely called a single individual to support his meagre defence, by quietly observing, that the Court did not believe a single syllable uttered by a single

witness for the plaintiff, and that, accordingly, he must make up his mind to be nonsuited.

The learned chief justice is endowed with a very fair share of the quality so essential to a judge, clearheadedness. His mind rapidly seizes the bearing of a case, distinguishes the matters which affect the point at issue from all that is useless and irrelevant, and skilfully reduces the complexities of an involved argument to one or two simple questions. We have rarely seen his lordship allow himself to be blinded by sophistry, or imposed upon by verbiage. The advocate who should attempt to succeed by the employment of plausible fallacies, or by involving his meagre argument in a misty halo of high sounding language, would expend his breath and ingenuity in vain. Altogether, the learned judge appears to more advantage in deciding a knotty point of law than in determining a disputed question of fact, in comparing and contrasting precedents and authorities than in weighing evidence and probabilities. It has struck us, that when once a doubt has crept into his lordship's mind, it takes a great deal indeed to satisfy such doubt. The same used to be alleged against Lord Plunket, and the peculiarity may not necessarily arise either from obstinacy of opinion or confusion of ideas, but rather from an over-subtlety, which, once aroused, starts objection after objection and doubt after doubt, until the harassed mind beholds inseparable difficulties arising on every side. Yet we have frequently known a most dubious and difficult question clearly and satisfactorily decided upon the spur of the moment, without any timid qualification of the opinion expressed. We do not think that the Supreme Court in general postpones its judgments, for after-deliberation, much more frequently than the Courts of Westminster-hall, at least in the modern day. It is alleged by the bar at home, that in the olden time, when Kenyon, Mansfield, Buller, and other cotemporaneous worthies, were wont to preside, a delay in pronouncing judgment was a most rare occurrence, while in these degenerate days the cur. adv. vult. (intimating that the bench is slightly bamboozled and craves time for further deliberation) is the most frequent of all judicial announcements. They of the old school, however, must not forget that my Lord Eldon's doubts became a bye-word.

In manner, Sir Edward Ryan is peculiarly mild and urbane, yet with no lack of judicial dignity. His language is clear and well expressed, but quite unpretending and totally devoid of oratorial elegance. With the profession his lordship is almost universally a favourite, from his kind and ready compliance with expressed wishes as far as custom and etiquette will permit, his courteous mode of address to all of whatever standing and consideration, and his polite attention to the longest and dullest speech which a silk gown and cambric bands empower learned gentlemen to inflict upon the Court!

« PreviousContinue »