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OF THE COURT OF GENERAL GAOL DELIVERY,
WITH THE FORM OF TRIAL OF A PRISONER, AND THE CONSEQUENCES OF HIS CONVICTION.
This is a court of peculiar dignity and splendour: the governor, the bishop, his archdeacon and vicars-general, the deemsters, the clerk of the rolls, the water-bailiff, and attorney-general, together with the twenty-four keys, all presiding therein, for the purpose of trying any crime which, by the law of the island, is deemed capital; those of a subordinate nature being heard and determined before the magistrates, conformably to the statute of 1753.
The proceedings, as directed by the statute of 1777, exemplify all the humane and beneficial consequences which attend the inquiry of a grand jury in the other parts of the united empire, with this difference, that an English grand jury is restricted to the hearing of evidence only on behalf of the prosecution ; but, in the Isle of Man, depositions are also taken on the part of the prisoner in his presence, which compassionately affords him a preparatory trial, and gives the jury, as well as the prisoner, the benefit of that excellent maxim, audi alteram partem, and enables them with more certainty and precision to say, by their verdict, whether the prisoner shall be called before the awful tribunal of the general court, or be immediately discharged.
At the trial before the general court, the verdict of the first jury is produced, and previous to the trial, the prisoner may challenge fifty-four of the jury of general gaol-delivery; the constitution requiring that four good men should be summoned out of every parish in the island, amounting in number to sixty-eight men, A jury of twelve being impannelled, they are sworn and charged by the deemster; the prisoner is arraigned on the indictment by the clerk of the rolls, and the prosecution is conducted by the attorney-general. And here again the humanity of the Manks law is conspicuous, in allowing council to plead for the prisoner (which is not the case in England *), although, for time immemorial, it has been permitted by the law of Scotland, who may crossexamine the evidence for the crown, plead for the prisoner, and reply to the attorney-general.
When the pleadings are concluded, and the jury are agreed on their verdict, a very ancient and remarkable ceremony ensues. The deemster demands of the foreman, in the Manks language, 6 Vod fir charree soie ?" May he that ministers at the altar, continue to sit?" If the foreman answers that he may not, it is understood to be the precursor to the verdict of guilty, and the bishop and his clergy immediately retire; but should the answer be in the affirmative, the verdict of not guilty is returned, and the prisoner is instantly discharged.
* If there ever were an instance innocence being justified by means of counsel, the law which deprives the accused of that benefit is evidently unjust. Marq. Beccaria:
It is remarkable that the above custom prevails in the British House of Lords ; it being determined in the Earl of Danby's case, that the lords spiritual have a right to stay and sit in court in capital cases, until the court proceeds to the vote of guilty or not guilty.
After trial and conviction (the extraordinary privilegium clericale being here unknown) the senior deemster pronounces the awful sentence of death, which consists of being hanged by the neck till dead; no other punishment for capital offences being here used, except that for treason; but the execution must be delayed till the pleasure of his Majesty is known.
With regard to the crime of treason, as it stood previous to the revesting act, it is thus defined by the ancient laws, viz. “ Rising against the king's or lord's lieutenant or governor ; breaking the church or the house of the lieutenant, or any of the king's council; robbing or beating the lieutenant, or coming in arms against him, &c. And the sentence was, “ forfeiture of lands and goods; drawing with horses; then hanged and quartered, and their heads stricken off, and set upon the Castle Town over the burn ; another quarter at Halland * Town, the third quarter to be set at Ramsay, and the fourth at Douglas."
Respecting the ancient punishment, when the offence was not deemed capital, by an ordinance of Sir John Stanley, King of Man, made at his Castle of Rushen in 1422: “ If the prisoner be the king's born man, and hath made faith and fealty, and put him in grace, if he be indicted and no manour in his hand, or the verdict be given that he ought, by the law of Man, to have his life; he must forfeit his goods, and then shall he have his choice of three things by the deemsters judgment ; first, he shall choose whether he will rest in prison a year and a day with substance of the prison ; viz. he shall have bread, one part meal and the third part ashes, and to drink of the water next the prison door ; the second is to forswear the king and all his land; or else, for the third, to pay the king three pounds."
* Now called Peel.
The consequences of being capitally convicted, so far as relates to forfeiture, are the following, by an ordinance of the council and Keys in 1504: “ All felons goods, as horses, mares, oren, and kine above two years old, belong to the lord, and those that are two years and under to the coroner.' By a record in the Liber Scaccarii*, it
appears that in case a person under the fourteen years shall be arraigned for felony, the deemsters shall not proceed to trial, but shall cause the prisoner to be whipped at the governor's pleasure.
It is remarkable, and certainly redounds greatly to the honour of Manksmen, that since the revesting act of the island in the British crown in 1765, his Majesty has had few opportunities of exercising one of the most amiable of his prerogatives, there having been only two insular capital convictions, in the long period of half a century.
* A. D. 1601:
OF THE COURT OF COMMON LAW, AND TRIAL
The trial by jury or per pais having been used in all countries which adopted the feudal system, so in this island, from remote antiquity, a jury of four “ boni homines” from every parish, like the Gothic nembda, which was collected out of every quarter of the country, “ binos, trinos, vel etiam senos, ex singulis territorii quadrantibus *," were summoned to serve on the “ great inquest,” and part of their duty, after a charge from the deemsters in the Celtic or Manks language (which is continued to this day), consisted in presenting to the deemsters in open court, every offence against the community that had been committed since the last court. It was especially their duty to present those who had abjured the land, and had returned again without the lord's special pardon and license, and also to present the coroners and petty officers who neglected their duty, and all mechanics who did not execute their occupations according to the old laws.
With regard to the establishment of the trial by jury in this place, of what remote date or time soever it might be, it is more than probable that no conquest or change of government did ever abolish it; indeed, so universal was the practice of investigating all differences and wrongs by a jury, that the act of Tynwald -t which * Stiernhook, de jure Goth. I. 1. c. 4. + Appendix, common law court.