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Five New Points of Criminal Law

The existing Criminal Law has been found in trials for Murder, to be
so exceedingly hasty, unfair, and oppressive--in a word, to be so
very objectionable to the amiable persons accused of that
thoughtless act--that it is, we understand, the intention of the
Government to bring in a Bill for its amendment. We have been
favoured with an outline of its probable provisions.

It will be grounded on the profound principle that the real offender
is the Murdered Person; but for whose obstinate persistency in being
murdered, the interesting fellow-creature to be tried could not have
got into trouble.

Its leading enactments may be expected to resolve themselves under
the following heads:

1. There shall be no judge. Strong representations have been made
by highly popular culprits that the presence of this obtrusive
character is prejudicial to their best interests. The Court will be
composed of a political gentleman, sitting in a secluded room
commanding a view of St. James's Park, who has already more to do
than any human creature can, by any stretch of the human
imagination, be supposed capable of doing.

2. The jury to consist of Five Thousand Five Hundred and Fifty-five
Volunteers.

3. The jury to be strictly prohibited from seeing either the
accused or the witnesses. They are not to be sworn. They are on no
account to hear the evidence. They are to receive it, or such
representations of it, as may happen to fall in their way; and they
will constantly write letters about it to all the Papers.

4. Supposing the trial to be a trial for Murder by poisoning, and
supposing the hypothetical case, or the evidence, for the
prosecution to charge the administration of two poisons, say Arsenic
and Antimony; and supposing the taint of Arsenic in the body to be
possible but not probable, and the presence of Antimony in the body,
to be an absolute certainty; it will then become the duty of the
jury to confine their attention solely to the Arsenic, and entirely
to dismiss the Antimony from their minds.

5. The symptoms preceding the death of the real offender (or
Murdered Person) being described in evidence by medical
practitioners who saw them, other medical practitioners who never
saw them shall be required to state whether they are inconsistent
with certain known diseases--but, THEY SHALL NEVER BE ASKED WHETHER
THEY ARE NOT EXACTLY CONSISTENT WITH THE ADMINISTRATION OF POISON.
To illustrate this enactment in the proposed Bill by a case:- A
raging mad dog is seen to run into the house where Z lives alone,
foaming at the mouth. Z and the mad dog are for some time left
together in that house under proved circumstances, irresistibly
leading to the conclusion that Z has been bitten by the dog. Z is
afterwards found lying on his bed in a state of hydrophobia, and
with the marks of the dog's teeth. Now, the symptoms of that
disease being identical with those of another disease called
Tetanus, which might supervene on Z's running a rusty nail into a
certain part of his foot, medical practitioners who never saw Z,
shall bear testimony to that abstract fact, and it shall then be
incumbent on the Registrar-General to certify that Z died of a rusty
nail.

It is hoped that these alterations in the present mode of procedure
will not only be quite satisfactory to the accused person (which is
the first great consideration), but will also tend, in a tolerable
degree, to the welfare and safety of society. For it is not sought
in this moderate and prudent measure to be wholly denied that it is
an inconvenience to Society to be poisoned overmuch.

Charles Dickens

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