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one to publish any thing that comes into his head? To calumniate, to blacken, whomsoever he pleases ? No; the same laws that
person and the property of the individual, do also protect his reputation; and they decree against libels, when really so, punishments of much the same kind as are established in other countries. But, on the other hand, they do not allow, as in other states, that a man should be deemed guilty of a crime for merely publishing something in print; and they appoint a punishment only against him who has printed things that are in their nature criminal, and who is declared guilty of so doing by twelve of his equals, appointed to determine upon his case, with the precautions we have before described.
The liberty of the press, as established in England, consists therefore (to define it more precisely) in this, that neither the courts of justice, nor any other judges whatever, are authorized to take notice of writings intended for the press, but are confined to those which are actually printed, and must, in these cases, proceed by the trial by jury.
It is even this latter circumstance which more particularly constitutes the freedom of
the press. If the magistrates, though confined
But whether the authority of the judges be
And though the law in Eugland does not allow a man, prosecuted for having published
a libel, to offer to support by evidence the truth of the facts contained in it* (a mode of proceeding which would be attended with very mischievous consequences, and is every where prohibited), yet, as the indictment is to express that the facts are false, malicious, &c. and the jury, at the same time, are sole masters of their verdict,—that is, may ground it upon what considerations they please, --it is very probable that they would acquit the accused party, if the fact asserted in the writing before them, were matter of undoubted truth, and of a general eyil tendency. They, at least, would certainly have it in their power.
And it is still more likely that this would be the case, if the conduct of the government itself was arraigned; because, besides this conviction which we suppose in the jury, of the certainty of the facts, they would also be influenced by their sense of a principle generally admitted in England, and which, in a late celebrated cause, was strongly insisted upon, viz. That," though to speak ill of individuals “ deserved reprehension, yet the public acts “ of government ought to lie open to public
* In actions for damages between individuals, the case,
I mistake not, is different, and the defendant is allowed to produce evidence of the facts asserted by him.
examination, and that it was a service done “ to the state to canvass them freely.'
And indeed this extreme security with which every man in England is enabled to communicate his sentiments to the public, and the general concern which matters relative to the government are always sure to create, have wonderfully multiplied all kinds of public papers. Besides those which, being published at the end of every year, month, or week, present to the reader a recapitulation of every thing interesting that may have been done or said during their respective periods, there are several others, which making their appearance every day, or every other day, communicate to the public the several measures taken by the government, as well as the different causes of any importance, whether civil or criminal, that occur in the courts of justice, and sketches from the speeches either of the advocates, or the judges, concerned in the management and decision of them. During the time the parliament continues sitting, the votes or resolutions of the house of commons are daily published by authority; and the most interesting
* See Serjeant Glynn's Speech for Woodfall in the prosecution against the latter, by the attorney-general, for publishing Junius' Letter to the King.
speeches in both houses are taken down in short-hand, and communicated to the public in print.
Lastly, the private anecdotes in the metropolis, and the country, concur' also towards filling the collection
and as the several public papers circulate, or are transcribed into others, in the different country towns, and even find their way into the villages, where every man, down to the labourer, peruses them with a sort of eagerness, every individual thus becomes 'acquainted with the state of the nation, from one end to the other; and by these means the general intercourse is such, that the three kingdoms seem as if they were one single town.
And it is this public notoriety of all things that constitutes the supplemental power, or check, which, we have above said, is so useful to remedy the unavoidable insufficiency of the laws, and keep within their respective bounds all those persons who enjoy any share of public authority.
As they are thereby made sensible that all their actions are exposed to public view, they dare not venture upon those acts of partiality, those secret connivances at the iniquities of particular persons, or those vexatious practices