The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 72
Chapter X. — Lawyers' Quibbles
His lordship looked exceedingly uncomfortable, not to [unclear: s] mortified, and this caused great embarrassment amon[unclear: g] confrères. He was about to say something, as if anxiou[unclear: s] restore his dignity—which seemed to have completely [unclear: desert] him during the lesson I read him about compensatio[unclear: n]-could only stammer a few incoherent words about cruelty, [unclear: the] and illegality. His followers, seeing his embarassment, [unclear: push] a lawyer forward—a little man with a huge wig, under which he almost disappeared.
"We want none of your rhetoric, nor your insolence either but shall insist on having our legal claims recognise[unclear: d]," burst out. To which I quietly replied:
"As for legal claims, you have absolutely none. As a [unclear: lawyer] you ought to know so much, that a legal claim can only be [unclear: ma] under existing law, and not under laws that had once existence but have been repealed. You know what the present law [unclear: in] and according to that your claim could not be granted, for [unclear: th] simple reason that it would be contrary to law, and [unclear: hence] illegal."
"By what right have all these statutes been annulled?"
"Rather a strange question this for a lawyer. What right does it require to repeal any Act of Parliament save another Act? I repeat it again, if you have nothing better to urge [unclear: i] support of your claim than the law, that is the written [unclear: enaaments] of the stronger party, then you may as well save yourself further trouble. You are free, however, to appeal against the law on grounds of equity—that is, you would have to argue you case by what you call 'rhetoric.'"
"Is sentiment to take the place of law?"
"No; but law must be based on principles of equity, other wise the law is inequitable; or, as the same term is spelle[unclear: d] modern times (whereby its true meaning is half hidde[unclear: n]. iniquitous. You know perfectly well that 'laws'—that is lawyers' justice—have always been changed and altered, making illegal to-day what was legal yesterday, and vice versa. [unclear: Then] is nothing new, therefore, in changing a law, nor in enforcing obedience to it after it has been changed. Indeed, it was page 49 always the business of your profession to enforce the law as it stood, whether it was just or unjust. With you lawyers the word 'justice' had but one meaning, namely, the enforcement of the provisions of the law. No matter whether it made awards to scoundrels and crushed the innocent, so long as it could be shown that judgment was in accordance with the written law it passed under the name of justice."
"We want no lecture from you, but our rights."
"I am giving you your 'rights '—your legal rights—since you will have it so. You appeal to 'law,' and sneer at the principles of justice and equity as 'rhetoric.' Be it so. My judgment then is that the law is against you. Is not that all you can reasonably expect on those terms?"
"But this law is monstrous, as it benefits some at the expense of others. Is that your idea of equity?"
"No, it is not. If you can show that the law is iniquitous, you have made out a good case; but you decline to discuss principles of justice."
"I decline to recognise any new principles of law or legislation. There is no precedent for such a monstrous iniquity, such wholesale robbery."
"Very well; since you will have it so, I allow you to argue the justice of the law from your own point of view, that is, on grounds of precedent. I have already told you that there is ample precedent for changing a 'law '—more correctly speaking an enactment. Our present enactment may be neither just nor wise. What of that? Is there not ample precedent for enforcing such a law, nevertheless?"
"On what ground?"
"On the ground of expediency, the leading principle of all past legislation."
"But law has always been held to protect property and liberty, while this law deprives people of both. This is an arbitrary law, which favors some at the expense of others."
"Can you mention a single law you have helped in passing that did not do the same; that was not therefore arbitrary in the strictest sense of the word? Since you refuse to discuss principles of equity let us get at your own principles of legislation. You have taxed people—forced them to make certain contributions to the public revenue. Was that not equivalent to taking part of a man's property?"
"But taxation is necessary, as without it Government cannot be carried on. You will say perhaps that you can plead the same thing. But then you are singling out one class only for taxation—landowners."
"Not landowners, but land-values, and that because we hold that these values belong to all. But of that more when you will condescend to discuss principles. At present, to give you every page 50 advantage, I will admit, for argument's sake, that it is a [unclear: class] tax. What then? Precedence is all in favor of class taxation as I will show you. Have you not singled out people who keep horses or valets for special taxation?"
"That was done because people who can afford such thing can also afford to contribute to the public revenue."
"Good! Then I take it that one of your canons of taxation is that people who have should be made to pay, simply because they have it, and irrespective of how they got it. Is that it?"
"Provided you do not take too much."
"I see. Then you think it would not be arbitrary? You have also taxed tea, currants, coffee, chicory, beer, and tobacco. [unclear: You] are aware that this tax was not, in the majority of cases, [unclear: pa] by well-to-do folks. What was your guiding principle in [unclear: th] case?"
"These are very stupid questions. A revenue we must have somehow, and this is about the easiest way of getting [unclear: it] Besides, the people who pay it are not even aware of it."
"Oh! we are getting at your principles of justice by degree. Then, according to your moral code, pilfering in the public interest is justifiable, provided it can be done deftly, without [unclear: th] people from whom you take it being aware of it?"
"But the taxes which the State collects for public purpose are not pilfering"
"I thank you for this admission, although I do not share you view. If a man is made to pay more than he receives in [unclear: retur] for it, it is theft, by whomsoever it is committed. For in [unclear: th] case, are not some benefited at the expense of others?"
"The customs tax is levied on every person, without distinction, and is therefore perfectly equitable."
"That is not true. It is not collected on absentee landowners; and even if it were, the tax does not fall equally [unclear: hea] on all. For instance, a child in a mill earns four shillings week. Out of this he has to pay, in taxes on tea and [unclear: currarge] at least threepence a week, or one-sixteenth of his earning. Do your dukes and lords pay one-sixteenth of their incomes in customs duties? And even if they did, would the takin[unclear: g] £100 from a weekly revenue of £1,600 mean the same thin[unclear: g] the taking of 3d. from 48d.?"
"We cannot enter into that. We stand here for our rights."
"So do the millions of people to whom you have denied their rights these many centuries. You want law accordin[unclear: g] precedent. Well, what precedent is there? This—migh[unclear: t] right. For your laws, were they not all the enactments of the stronger party made in party interests?"
"Guided by principles of justice."
"Oh, fie, fie on your cowardice to pretend such a thing. Have you not admitted yourself that you got your revenu[unclear: e] page 51 best you could, and that the only principle by which you were guided was the setting of it—no matter how you got it and what were its consequences?"
"Its consequences were law and order."
"Every brigand who has power to enforce his mandates maintains law and order, according to your view of law. But let us further into the principle of your laws. You have taxed the poor toiler and rich landowner, taking from the former an incomparably larger percentage of his earnings than from the latter. But how did you apportion the benefit bought with these taxes?"
"Every citizen shared alike in the benefits of Government."
"That was a legal fiction, or, in plain English, a gross and palpable falsehood. If a road was made out of this public fund, did the landless toiler benefit as much by the expenditure as the owner of the land? Or did the poor drudges in mill and mine benefit equally with your classes when millions were spent in foreign wars? Was it in the interest of the toilers that you maintained armed forces in Egypt and Ireland, and not rather in the interest of bondholders and landowners? Is it not true that whenever improvements were made out of the public funds, the rents of the landlord and the taxes of the tenants were increased at the same time? Was it not but yesterday that a proposal to assess such increased expenditure on the property, the value of which was enhanced by it, was strenuously opposed by your clients?"
"Because it was against law; an innovation which was resisted by landowners because it was against their interests."
"Just so. And therefore the masses have now so altered the law that it should be in their own interest. Is it not simply a question of which party or class can best serve its own interests? On that score, then, we can cry quits. We might I reply that we tax landowners because taxes are needed, and I they can best afford to pay it—seeing that rents are earned without any effort whatever. But we have much stronger grounds than that to justify our mode of raising revenue. We say that these ground rents are paid by the people, the whole of the people, alike, and are due to the presence of the people and the public expenditure; hence in taxing the revenue derived from the presence of the people for public purposes we are taxing all alike. I might also point out to you how differently the well-being of the community is affected by such a substitution of a land tax for other forms of taxation; but I fear that would have no interest for you—that you would call it—"
"Rhetoric and nonsense!"
"Quite so. Therefore I have no more to say to you. You want to hear practical common sense only—legal common sense. Well, it is this: the people do not find it any longer practical or page 52 expedient to toil and moil and allow a set of idlers to take [unclear: all] their earnings from them, and to be starved both in mind and body. They have been taught by your class that this was [unclear: b-ing] done in obedience to 'law,' and that this was your [unclear: o] sanction. They have therefore now so altered this law [unclear: th] such things shall no longer be legal. This, gentlemen, [unclear: setting] the legal aspect of your case. But you are free to appea[unclear: l] higher grounds—on grounds of equity and justice—against the validity of the law itself; for we do not base our claim to [unclear: t] land on fictions of the law, but hold that we all have an [unclear: equ] and inalienable right to it. Show that we are wrong in [unclear: th] and you have won your case—no matter what the [unclear: consequence] may be."
"Very well, I will."