Front Page Titles (by Subject) 25.: REPUTED THIEVES MORNING CHRONICLE, 30 OCT., 1823, P. 2 - The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I
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25.: REPUTED THIEVES MORNING CHRONICLE, 30 OCT., 1823, P. 2 - John Stuart Mill, The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I 
The Collected Works of John Stuart Mill, Volume XXII - Newspaper Writings December 1822 - July 1831 Part I, ed. Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson, Introduction by Ann P. Robson and John M. Robson (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1986).
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This letter glosses “Liberty of the Subject,” a letter by “Vindex” (of St. John’s Square), dated 20 Oct., that appeared in the Morning Chronicle of 23 Oct., p. 4. (In that letter Vindex, the employer of the boy sent to the treadmill, refers to his earlier letter, “Unjustifiable Conduct of a Constable,” which was sent to the Morning Chronicle, but not published.) Rogers, the magistrate, is linked by Mill with Maurice Swabey (see No. 20), the quashing of whose convictions is reported in “The Late Convictions under the Vagrant Act,” The Times, 20 Oct., 1823, p. 3. The apprehension of “reputed thieves” by a constable was provided for by 3 George IV, c. 55, Sect. 21 (1822), an addition to the Temporary Vagrancy Act, 3 George IV, c. 40 (1822). Mill’s letter, signed “The Censor of the Judges” as is No. 16, is headed as title, subheaded “To the Editor of the Morning Chronicle,” and is described in Mill’s bibliography as “A letter on the practice of sending reputed thieves to the treadmill, signed the Censor of the Judges, which appeared in the Chronicle of 29th [sic] October 1823”
(MacMinn, p. 4).
The case which was communicated to you by your correspondent Vindex, on Thursday the 23d instant, is worthy of attention, as a specimen of the paternal solicitude of Magistrates for the safety of our property. A boy was seen by a petty constable in the street looking at a game at marbles. For this heinous offence, he was carried before the sitting magistrate, Mr. Rogers; and on the oath of the constable that he was a reputed thief (although his master was so entirely ignorant of his true character, as to speak highly in his praise), he was sent by Mr. Rogers to solace himself at the Tread Mill.
This vigilant Magistrate probably took example from one of the Swabey convictions, recently quashed at the Kingston Sessions. On a public occasion, an individual was seen in a crowd by a police officer. He was not, indeed, attempting to commit any criminal act, by the confession of the officer he was merely standing in the crowd like any one else. But then the officer knew him to be a reputed thief, or, at least, to keep company with reputed thieves: besides, on searching his pockets, he discovered a pair of scissors, inclosed in a sheath, whereupon he carried him before that active guardian of public morals, Mr. Swabey, by whom he was sent to the Tread-mill, under the Vagrant Act.
Some incredulous critics, indeed, have presumed to insinuate that a reputed thief means a person thought or said to be a thief, and that it is somewhat hard to punish a man for being so unfortunate as to fall under suspicion; they have farther ventured to hint that a man may have an enemy, sufficiently unprincipled to affirm, in the hearing of an officer, that he is a thief; or that, in a moment of irritation, any one may apply to him that name; and that, in all these cases, an officer of little discernment might, with a safe conscience, swear him to be a reputed thief. Nay, these sceptical reasoners have carried their audacity so far, as to doubt whether the veracity of a police officer always deserves implicit confidence; seeing that he has a strong interest in perjury, as a means of acquiring (not to speak of bribes), a character for zeal and activity, without the trouble of hunting out real offenders; seeing, moreover, that he may perjure himself with perfect safety, since it is utterly impossible for any one to prove that he is not a reputed thief.
But Mr. Swabey and Mr. Rogers are well aware that scepticism is an infallible sign of a narrow understanding. Superior to vulgar prejudices, they know how to place a proper degree of confidence in the virtue of mankind: and indeed it were strange, if that perfect veracity which so eminently distinguishes watchmen, did not extend to their fellow labourers in the cause of social order, the police officers.
With all due deference, however, to such high authorities, I cannot help thinking that this anxiety to punish reputed thieves implies an incapability of detecting real ones. If the perpetrators of every offence were duly brought to trial and punished, is it not clear that every one who is convicted as a reputed thief would, if innocent, be punished for no crime at all, and, if guilty, be punished twice for the same offence? One of two things, therefore, is the case—either the punishing of reputed thieves is utterly absurd and wicked; or the state of the law is such, that crimes frequently escape detection and punishment.
The case is, that the laws against theft are so disproportionately severe, that out of ten who are robbed, nine are unwilling to prosecute; that the expences of the law are so enormous, that out of a hundred who are willing to prosecute, ninety-nine have it not in their power; and, lastly, that be the fact as clear as the sun at noon-day, it is much more than an even chance that the thief escapes by a quibble.
To remove these obstacles, the wise framers of the Vagrant Act permit summary convictions, not for actual, but for reputed theft. There is ingenuity in the contrivance; but I venture to submit as a sort of insinuation, whether it would not be better to remove the obstacles to the detection of criminals, by mitigating the Penal Code, by abolishing law taxes,1 by simplifying the law so that hired advocates shall not be needed, and by abolishing all the absurd fictions, all the quirks and quibbles, by which justice is so often eluded in the English Courts of Law.
They will not do this; it would hurt the interest of Learned Gentlemen. But to see men of unblemished character treading at the mill for being reputed by a Police officer to be thieves, neither hurts their interests nor their feelings. When will the public learn to think for themselves, instead of trusting to those who are interested in deceiving them?
The Censor of the Judges
[1 ]As was done by 5 George IV, c. 41 (1824). In a note to Jeremy Bentham’s Rationale of Judicial Evidence, 5 vols. (London: Hunt and Clarke, 1827), which he edited in the next few years, Mill comments that Bentham had written a passage “before the late repeal of the stamp duties on law proceedings, . . . one of the most meritorious acts of the present enlightened administration” (Vol. IV, p. 624).