[From Lex Scripta, 1819]
IF the laws of a country be the barometer of a people, with respect to civilisation, an attentive observer cannot fail to be impressed with more than ordinary interest, on the perusal of our Insular Statutes. The situation, extent, and commercial relations of this island, render it peculiar; and the influences to which, under such circumstances, it is necessarily exposed, are attended with peculiar effects. One of these effects appears to be an extreme acuteness in the people, with regard to every thing connected with their constitutional rights. Their laws being few, and framed, from time to time, as the occasion required, to meet some public exigence, or to prevent some pressing inconvenience, they have become almost traditional. From the most indigent and humble individual, to the highest and most opulent, there exists a sort of tacit and intimate connexion, not only from the common ties of alliance or of blood, (which, by the bye, form no inconsiderable link in the chain,) but also from that free intercourse, that ease of communication, and that facility of intelligence, which so contracted a region naturally affords.. Hence, not only are the laws better adapted to the ordinary requisitions of justice, but legal process is less complicate, than in a more extensive sphere of society. Every thing which has respect to the laws and customs is clear and easily comprehended. Law, of consequence, is cheap and familiar, and to this cause, perhaps, as much as to the poverty of individuals, is owing that rage for litigation, which seems to characterise the people.
However this may be, the laws of the Isle of Man are well accommodated to the state of the country; and this, considered abstractedly, and in a philosophical view, might seem a natural consequence. Improvements in laws and institutions, which progressively take place in a community, are the result, not of the mental exertions of men of superior powers, so much as the silent march of the whole mass towards the point of civilisation. Acts of legislation are not passed with the same ease, as theories of law are written; nor are resolutions of importance carried with the same facility, as amendments are proposed. Laws, which contain the colective wisdom of a nation, are not formed at the selfish or arbitrary instance of a few interested individuals, who seek their own exclusive accommodation. In the ordinary course of things, it will be found, that common sense, and common experience, and mutual consent, from a sense of mutual conveniency, turn into laws; and original principles are thus gradually moulded into legal enactments. National manners and customs are not the production of momentary caprice, or peremptory adoption. They flow spontaneously through the slow lapse of ages, from various external and adventitious causes,) operative on the native genius of a people. All that legislators can do, is to give this stream, which is perpetually flowing, a favourable direction; and this direction is evident in our Manks code. It does not resemble the rapid and majestic flow of the mountain torrent, or the grandeur of the roaring; cataract, which rushing over rocks and abrupt precipices, urges its headlong course through various countries, sweeing before it every obstacle, which would resist its impetuous force; it is rather pure, placid, equable stream, whose current glides quietly, though obscurely, along, through verdant meads and flowery pasturesscenes of rural retreat, communicating a breathing freshness and salubrity to all within the peaceful margin of its influence. Our statutes are marked with an appropriate simplicity and fitness to the ends for which they were designed. The mode of their operation is congenial to the temperament and circumstances of the people, and well adapted to every rank and condition of society. Admirably calculated to promote the ends of justice. they are easy of construction; and, grounded on the solid bases of reason and! common sense, they are neither fettered by ingenious subtleties, nor obscured by useless intricacies of technical phrase. It is one of the excellencies of our code, that it is not voluminous. It requires not the application of a long life, either to peruse, to comprehend, or to form an estimate of the nature of our jurisprudence. The business of the Manks bar is not perplexed with needless recitations of special pleadings, or with long and laborious glosses and tedious annotations. The laws are plain, simple, summary, to all capacities intelligible. Their administration, likewise, is attended with so light an expenditure, that the door of justice is open equally to the poor and to the rich. The expence is sufficiently competent to the punishment of the wantonly litigious; and yet not so enormous as to subject a poor man to the painful alternative of enduring oppression or privation without a prospect of redress.
The Legislature of the island are elected in a manner peculiar; and although it may have the appearance of self-election, it cannot with propriety be so termed:* yet,when it is considered how small a portionof the population is capable of an accurate discrimination (if character, and how numberless were the evils which would arise from a popular election, in a country whereso many intimate connexions must inevitably interfere, it is happily ordered that the members of that House should be elected in the accustomed form. It is surely more probable that persons of reexpectable rank and property, whose individual interests are of a nature so extensive as to be intimately blended with the real advantage and general welfare of the community at large, should be more capable of appreciating the merits and the competency of persons to be elected, than a few petty demagogues, started up here and there, in town and country, who, with a smattering of law, and availing themselves of a mean popularity, take every opportunity of inveighing against their rightful superiors. In short, it is so much the interest of the House of Keys, as a body, that every member be independent, that there is no just ground of arppehension, that this House will ever be surprized into an improvident election. The jealousy natural to every human bosom, against the admission of persons into association, who are not of equal pretensions; the overweening consequence of real property; the counteracting influence of the relative degrees of independence; not to say anything of that importance which arises from casual instances of a sound judgment, matured by a liberal education, travel, and general experience; these circumstances considered, it must appear next to an impossibility, that a man of base and vitiated morals, or of broken fortunes, should ever be admitted; nor is there any reason to fear, that the influence of turbulent and purse-proud disposition, which, from a silly temerity, or the dint of a sturdy perseverance, would carry any thing, right or wrong, its own ways will ever be complied with, in an assembly where a majority of suffrages is virtual vox populi, vox Dei.
An attempt at a publication of the Statutes at length, was made by CHRISTOPHER BRISCOE, in the year 1797; but from its very imperfect and mutilated state, its inferior paper and type, and its want of sufficient documeut to stamp its accuracy and authenticity, it failed to afford general satisfaction. Previously to this, and so far back as the year 1792, an Abridgment of the Manks Statutes appeared, under the form of an alphabetical arrangement, from the hands of an erudite and eminent lawyer of great talent. On the acknowledged merits of his publication, it were perfectly superfluous to offer an eulogium. The same year appeared the Commissioners' Report, in large folio, of which a few copies only were printed: this digest was made in obedience to the requisition of the British government, in order to ascertain the regal and manorial rights of His Grace the DUKE OF ATHOLL, as well as to represent the internal state of the island, with respect to its existing laws, revenues, and customs. From this latter work, which, of course, as to its authenticity may fully be relied on, the present impression is taken; with the exception, however, of the several subsequent statutes which have since been enacted. These, with the kind aid of our professional friends, are added, in orderly arrangement, according to the dates of their promulgation. We trust we need no apology for giving the old laws in their ancient, though obsolete terms, conceiving it to be more correct to present; the public with a faithful transcript, than to attempt any amendment or alteration in a compilation, the chief merit of which consists in the accurate and literal copy of an original. Our readers are presented with a copious Table of References, without which, indeed, this work were incomplete; though the statute laws of the island have never heretofore been published with an Index.
We forbear to descant on the vast importance of particular Acts, which have within late years been passed, whereby the privileges of our island are materially affected.; nor would we enter upon a vindication of certain measures now proposed in the Bills lately published, for the perusal of our countrymen. We conceive it not to be our province to intermeddle with matters of state policy, or party opinion; Satisfied that the wisdom of our Legislature is fully adequate to every end and purpose of its administration, for the good of the country; and that a private individual who would presume to dictate or obtrude his opinion, in opposition to its formal and.deliberate proceedings, must be either more than ordinarily sapient, or superlativelyotherwise
DOUGLAS Feb. 1819.
When there is a vacancy, either by death or resignation, the House of Keys meet, and propose two proper and qualified persons to the Governor, for his dernier election of one of them. His choice fixes the member.
The Council are composed of men whose high appointments of public trust stamp them at once with competency; and of whom no deficiency of qualification can be predicated, so long as they forfeit not that independence of mind, which delegated rank and respectable moral character secure.
It must be remembered that at this time the House of Keys was continually in opposition to the Duke of Athol who had been made Governor in 1798. They are also attempting to avoid the introduction of popular election!
The printer was George Jefferson who took a very conservative line in politics.