Wednesday, April 09, 2003

Gary O'Connor, who blogs at Statutory Construction Zone, emails with a link to Blackstone's Commentaries on the subject of tort limitations [to read the original from the link click Edit, Find, enter 379 and enter; the full quote runs from p. 379 to p. 381]. Here's some background on Blackstone, for the uninitiated.

I have taken the liberty of correcting the archaic spelling from the original to ease readability:

The impartial administration of justice, which secures both our persons and our properties, is the great end of civil society. But if that be entirely entrusted to the magistracy, a select body of men, and those generally selected by the prince or such as enjoy the highest offices in the state, their decisions, in spite of their own natural integrity, will have frequently an involuntary bias towards those of their own rank and dignity: it is not to be expected from human nature, that the few should be
always attentive to the interests and good of the many.


Here therefore a competent number of sensible and upright jurymen, chosen by lot from among those of the middle rank, will be found the best investigators of truth, and the surest guardians of public justice. For the most powerful individual in the state will be cautious of committing any flagrant invasion of another's right, when he knows that the fact of his oppression must be examined and decided by twelve indifferent men, not appointed till the hour of trial; and that, when once that fact is ascertained, the law must of course redress it. This therefore preserves in the hands of the people that share which they ought to have in the administration of public justice, and prevents the encroachments of the more powerful and wealthy citizens. Every new tribunal, erected for the decision of facts, without the intervention of a jury, (whether composed of justices of the peace, commissioners of the revenue, judges of a court of conscience, or any other standing magistrates) is a step towards establishing aristocracy, the most oppressive of absolute governments.

As Gary notes, "This isn't some 20th/21st century liberal talking, it's an 18th century conservative!" Which begs the question of why we are revisiting this issue over and over, every 10 years or so. Perhaps we're seeing the latest "step towards establishing aristocracy"? Thanks for the [always] timely email, Gary.

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