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Jeremy Bentham

The Collected Works of Jeremy Bentham: The Correspondence of Jeremy Bentham, Vol. 7: January 1802 to December 1808

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Editor’s Notepg 167Editor’s Note1758To Sir Thomas Troubridgec.22 December 1802 (Aet 54)

On the occasion of the Navy Abuse Bill, I observe questions2 among the gentlemen of the Long Robe, on the subject of one of the clauses, which they say is a very cruel3 one, because the tendency of it is to make a man criminate himself.4

Their tenderness has suggested to me the following queries, to which it would be a great satisfaction to my mind if any such gentlemen,5 or any other, would have the goodness tofurnish me with an answer.

The Lord Chancellor hears causes every day, in the course of which a man is compelled, by his Lordship's authority, to disclose facts, the effect of which is to deprive him of the whole of his estate; of the whole, at least, of that which, without impeachment of his probity, he has always looked upon as his. Query—How much greater is the hardship of being made, by the same means, to give6 such part of the estate a man calls his own, as he has acquired by a pg 168fraud upon the public, than that of giving up the whole of what a man possesses without fraud?

Was there ever an instance, since the beginning of time, in which this rule was of any the smallest use to a man that was not guilty? Is it in the nature of things that it ever should be? A man whofeels himself innocent—is he not anxious, on every occasion, as he values his character, to receive7 the benefit of it?

Wherein consists the humanity of letting go the guilty, that thus they may keep on triumphing in guilt, preying upon the public, and injuring the innocent?

Could any mortal alive ever find anything else to say in favour of this rule of common law—a rule, observed in some instances, and not observed in others—than that of its being established?

Is there anything that should prevent the legislature from suspending or even repealing in toto, if they should see cause, a rule that, when first laid down, was laid, God knows when, by God knows who, and for no reason that has ever been assigned by anybody?

If it be so good a thing that a man should not be compelled or allowed to criminate himself,8 would it not be a still better thing, if nobody else were ever to be made to criminate him? A man's passion for bearing false witness against himself, is it so violent that it would be dangerous to allow him the means of gratifying it?

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Editor’s Note
1758. 1 Bowring. x. 400–1. Introduced by the statement: 'Bentham sent to Sir Thomas Trowbridge at the Admiralty, the following remarks on the Chancellor's speech on the Navy Bill, and the letter was also printed in The Times of 24th November, 1802.' In fact the letter, addressed to the editor, appeared in The Times of 24 December. The version printed by Bowring as addressed to Troubridge was presumably taken from a draft or copy which is now missing. Differences between the two versions, apart from variations in punctuation, are recorded in the footnotes.
Sir Thomas Troubridge, 1st baronet (1758?–1807), was a lord of the admiralty 1801–4 (Correspondence, vi. 457 n.).
Editor’s Note
2 The Times: 'qualms'.
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3 The Times: 'very bad and cruel'.
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4 A bill 'for appointing Commissioners to enquire and examine into any irregularities, frauds, and abuses, which are, or have been lately practised in the several Naval Departments' was introduced in the Commons on 13 December and passed its third reading on the 18th; it received the royal assent on the 29th. In a Commons debate of 17 December, several MPs who were lawyers, including J. de G. Fonblanque and French Laurence, objected to a clause in the bill which empowered the commissioners to examine parties upon oath concerning abuses in which they might themselves have been involved. In a debate in the Lords on 21 December, the lord chancellor (Lord Eldon) made the same objection in strong terms: 'I t was a maxim of the Constitution, that no man should be made to answer a question, that either criminated himself, or tended so to do; and he would rather the effect of any abuses should continue, than such a principle of the Constitution should be infringed.' These remarks were printed in The Times of 22 December, and it seems likely that Bentham wrote the letter on that day.
Editor’s Note
5 The Times: 'Learned Gentleman'.
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6 The Times: 'give up'.
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7 The Times: 'wave' (i.e. 'waive').
Editor’s Note
8 The Times: 'should not be made to criminate himself'.
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