Front Page Titles (by Subject) From the Right Honourable Sir Alexander Johnston, to the Right Honourable Charles W. Williams Wynn, President of the Board of Controul. - The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 2
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From the Right Honourable Sir Alexander Johnston, to the Right Honourable Charles W. Williams Wynn, President of the Board of Controul. - Jeremy Bentham, The Works of Jeremy Bentham, vol. 2 
The Works of Jeremy Bentham, published under the Superintendence of his Executor, John Bowring (Edinburgh: William Tait, 1838-1843). 11 vols. Vol. 2.
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From the Right Honourable Sir Alexander Johnston,
26th May 1825.
I have the pleasure, at your request, to give you an account of the plan I have adopted, while Chief-Justice and First Member of His Majesty’s Council in Ceylon, for introducing trial by jury into that island, and for extending the right of sitting upon juries to every half-caste native, as well as to every other native of the country, to whatever caste or religious persuasion he might belong. I shall explain to you the reasons which induced me to propose this plan, the mode in which it was carried into effect, and the consequences with which its adoption has been attended. The complaints against the former system for administering justice in Ceylon were, that it was dilatory, expensive, and unpopular. The defects of that system arose from the little value which the natives of the country attached to a character for veracity,—from the total want of interest which they manifested for a system, in the administration of which they themselves had no share,—from the difficulty which European judges, who were not only judges of law, but also judges of fact, experienced in ascertaining the degree of credit which they ought to give to native testimony,—and, finally, from the delay in the proceedings of the court, which were productive of great inconvenience to the witnesses who attended the sessions, and great expense to the government which defrayed their costs. The obvious way of remedying these evils in the system of administering justice, was—first, To give the natives a direct interest in that system, by imparting to them a considerable share in its administration; secondly, To give them a proper value for a character for veracity, by making such a character the condition upon which they were to look for respect from their countrymen, and that from which they were to hope for promotion in the service of their government; thirdly, To make the natives themselves, who from their knowledge of their countrymen can decide at once upon the degree of credit which ought to be given to native testimony, judges of fact, and thereby shorten the duration of trials, relieve witnesses from a protracted attendance on the courts, and materially diminish the expense of the government. The introduction of trial by jury into Ceylon, and the extension of the right of sitting upon juries to every native of the island, under certain modifications, seemed to me the most advisable method of attaining these objects. Having consulted the chief priests of the Budhoo religion, in as far as the Chingalese in the southern part of the island—and the Brahmins of Ramiseram, Madura, and Jafua, in as far as the Hindoos of the northern parts of the island were concerned,—I submitted my plan for the introduction of trial by jury into Ceylon to the governor and council of that island. Sir T. Maitland, the then governor of the island, and the other members or the council, thinking the adoption of my plan an object of great importance to the prosperity of the island, and fearing lest objections might be urged against it in England, from the novelty of the measure—(no such rights as those which I proposed to grant to the natives of Ceylon ever having been granted to any native of India)—sent me officially, as first member of the council, to England, with full authority to urge in the strongest manner the adoption of the measure, under such modifications as his Majesty’s Ministers might on my representations deem expedient. After the question had been maturely considered in England, a charter passed the Great Seal, extending the right of sitting upon juries, in criminal cases, to every native of Ceylon, in the manner in which I had proposed; and on my return to Ceylon with this charter in November 1811 its provisions were immediately carried into effect by me. In order to enable you to form some idea of the manner in which the jury-trial is introduced amongst the natives and helf-castes of Ceylon, I shall explain to you—first, What qualities a native of Ceylon to be a juryman;
2dly, How the jurymen are summoned at each session;
3dly, How they are chosen at each trial; and,
4thly, How they receive the evidence and deliver their verdict.
Every native of Ceylon, provided he be a freeman, has attained the age of 21, and is a permanent resident in the island, is qualified to sit on juries. The fiscal, or sheriff of the province, as soon as a criminal session is fixed for his province, summons a considerable number of jurymen of each caste, taking particular care that no juryman is summoned out of his turn, or so as to interfere with any agricultural or manufacturing pursuits in which he may be occupied, or with any religious ceremony at which his caste may require his attendance. On the first day of the session, the names of all the jurymen who are summoned are called over, and the jurymen, as well as all the magistrates and police-officers, attend in court, and hear the charge delivered by the judge. The prisoners are then arraigned; every prisoner has a right to be tried by thirteen jurymen of his own caste, unless some reason why the prisoner should not be tried by jurymen of his own caste can be urged, to the satisfaction of the court, by the advocate-fiscal (who in Ceylon holds an office very nearly similar to that held in Scotland by the Lord Advocate;) or unless the prisoner himself, from believing people of his own caste to be prejudiced against him, should apply to be tried either by thirteen jurymen of another caste, or by a jury composed of half-castes or Europeans. As soon as it is decided of what caste the jury is to be composed, the registrar of the court puts into an urn, which stands in a conspicuous part of the court, a very considerable number of the names of jurymen of that class out of which the jury is to be formed: he continues to draw the names out of the urn, the prisoner having a right to object to five peremptorily, and to any number for cause, until he has drawn the names of thirteen jurymen who have not been objected to. Those thirteen jurymen are then sworn, according to the forms of their respective religions, to decide upon the case according to the evidence, and without partiality. The advocate-fiscal then opens the case for the prosecution (through on interpreter if necessary) to the jury, and proceeds to call all the witnesses for the prosecution, whose evidence is taken down (through an interpreter if necessary, in the hearing of the jury,) by the judge; the jury having a right to examine, and the prisoner to cross-examine, any of the above witnesses. When the case for the prosecution is closed, the prisoner states what he has to urge in his defence, and calls his witnesses; the jury having a right to examine, and the prosecutors to cross-examine them, their evidence being taken down by the judge. The prosecutor is seldom or ever, unless in very particular cases, allowed to reply, or call any witnesses in reply. The case for the prosecution and for the prisoner being closed, the judge (through an interpreter when necessary) recapitulates the evidence to the jury from his notes, adding such observations as may occur to him on the occasion. The jury, after deliberating upon the case, either in the jurybox, or if they wish to retire, in a room close to the court, deliver their verdict through their foreman in open court; that verdict being the opinion of the majority of them. The most scrupulous care is taken that the jury never separate, nor communicate with any person whatever, from the moment they are sworn, till their veroict is delivered as aforesaid, and has been publicly recorded by the registrar. The number of native jurymen of every caste in Ceylon is so great, and a knowledge beforehand what persons are to compose a jury in any particular case, is so uncertain, that it is almost impossible for any person, whatever may be his influence in the country, either to bias or to corrupt a jury. The great number of jurymen that are returned by the fiscal or sheriff to serve at each sessions—the impartial manner in which the names of the jurymen are drawn—the right which the prisoner and prosecutor may exercise of objecting to each jurymen as his name is drawn—the strictness which is observed by the court in preventing all communication between the jurymen when they are once sworn, and every other person, till they have delivered their verdict, give great weight to their decision. The native jurymen being now judges of fact, and the European judges only judges of law, one European judge only is now necessary, where formerly, when they were judges both of law and fact, two, or sometimes three, were necessary. The native jurymen, from knowing the different degrees of weight which may safely be given to the testimony of their countrymen, decide upon questions of fact with so much more promptitude than Europeans could do, that since the introduction of trial by jury no trial lasts above a day, and no session above a week or ten days at farthest; whereas, before the introduction of trial by jury, a single trial used sometimes to last six weeks or two months, and a single session not unfrequently for three months. All the natives who attend the courts as jurymen obtain so much information during their attendance, relative to the modes of proceeding and the rules of evidence, that since the establishment of jury-trial, government have been enabled to find among the half-caste and native jurymen, some of the most efficient and respectable native magistrates in the country, who, under the controul of the supreme court, at little or no expense to government, administer justice in inferior cases to the native inhabitants. The introduction of the trial by native juries,—at the same time that it has increased the efficiency and dispatch of the court, and has relieved both prisoners and witnesses from the hardships which they incurred from the protracted delay of the criminal sessions,—has, independent of the savings it enabled the Ceylon government to make immediately on its introduction, since afforded that government an opportunity of carrying into effect, in the judicial department of the island, a plan for a permanent saving of ten thousand pounds a-year, as appears by my report, quoted in page 8 of the printed collection of papers herewith sent.* No man whose character for honesty or veracity is impeached, can be enrolled on the list of jurymen. The circumstance of a man’s name being upon the jury-roll is a proof of his being a man of unexceptionable character, and is that to which he appeals, in case his character be attacked in a court of justice, or in case he solicits his government for promotion in their service. As the rolls of jurymen are revised by the supreme court at every session, they operate as a most powerful engine towards making the people of the country more attentive than they used to be, in their adherence to truth: the right of sitting upon juries has given the natives of Ceylon a value for character which they never felt before, and has raised in a very remarkable manner the standard of their moral feelings. All the natives of Ceylon who are enrolled as jurymen, conceive themselves to be as much a part, as the European judges themselves are, of the government of their country; and therefore feel, since they have possessed the right of sitting upon juries, an interest which they never felt before in upholding the British government of Ceylon.
The beneficial consequence of this feeling is strongly exemplified in the difference between the conduct which the native inhabitants of the British settlements in Ceylon observed in the Kandian war of 1803, and that which they observed in the Kandian war of 1816. In the war between the British and Kandian governments in 1803, which was before the introduction of trial by jury, the native inhabitants of the British settlements were for the most part in a state of rebellion: in the war between the same governments in 1816, which was five years after the introduction of trial by jury, the inhabitants of the British settlements, so far from showing the smallest symptom of dissatisfaction, took, during the very heat of the war, the opportunity of my return to England to express their gratitude through me to the British government, for the very valuable right of sitting upon juries, which had been conferred upon them by his present Majesty, as appears by the addresses contained from page 16 to page 50 in the printed papers herewith sent. The charge delivered by my successor, the present chief-justice of the island, in 1820, contains the strongest additional testimony which could be afforded of the beneficial effects which were experienced by the British government from the introduction of trial by jury amongst the natives of the island. See that charge in pages 289 and 290 of vol. x. of the Asiatic Journal. As every native juryman, whatever his caste or religion may be, or in whatever part of the country he may reside, appears before the supreme court once at least every two years, and as the judge who presides, delivers a charge at the opening of each session to all the jurymen who are in attendance on the court, a useful opportunity is afforded to the natives of the country, by the introduction of trial by jury, not only of participating themselves in the administration of justice, but also of hearing any observations which the judges in delivering their charges may think proper to make to them, with respect to any subject which is connected either with the administration of justice, or with the state of society or morals, in any part of the country. The difference between the conduct which was observed by all the proprietors of slaves in Ceylon in 1806, which was before the introduction of trial by jury, and that which was observed by them in 1816, which was five years after the introduction of trial by jury, is a strong proof of the change which may be brought about in public opinion, by the judges availing themselves of the opportunity which their charging the jury on the first day of session affords them, of circulating among the natives of the country such opinions as may promote the welfare of any particular class of society. As the right of every proprietor of slaves to continue to hold slaves in Ceylon, was guaranteed to him by the capitulation under which the Dutch possessions had been surrendered to the British arms in 1798, the British government of Ceylon conceived, that however desirable the measure might be, they had not a right to abolish slavery in Ceylon by any legislative act; a proposition was however made on the part of government by me, to the proprietors of slaves in 1806, before trial by jury was introduced, urging them to adopt some plan of their own accord, for the gradual abolition of slavery. This proposition they at that time unanimously rejected. The right of sitting upon juries was granted to the inhabitants of Ceylon in 1811: from that period, I availed myself of the opportunities which were afforded to me, when I delivered my charge at the commencement of each session to the jurymen (most of whom were considerable proprietors of slaves,) of informing them of what was doing in England upon the subject of the abolition of slavery, and of pointing out to them the difficulties which they themselves must frequently experience in executing with impartiality their duties as jurymen, in all cases in which slaves were concerned. A change of opinion upon the subject of slavery was gradually perceptible amongst them; and in the year 1816, the proprietors of slaves, of all castes and religious persuasions in Ceylon, sent me their unanimous resolutions, to be publicly recorded in court, declaring free all children born of their slaves after the 12th August 1816, which in the course of a very few years must put an end to the state of slavery, which had subsisted in Ceylon for more than three centuries.
I have the honour to be,