William Morris. Commonweal 1887

Insurance Against Magistrates


Source: “Insurance Against Magistrates” Commonweal, Vol 3, No. 98, 26 November 1887, p. 377;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford.


The meeting held is the Memorial Hall on November 18th will do good service if the protective League inaugurated by it keeps to its promise (as I see no reason for doubting that it will) of helping all persons without distinction of opinion who ‘get into trouble’ in their endeavours to defend freedom of speech. Stewart Headlam in his speech on that occasion said nothing less than the bare truth when he said that no poor man had any chance of obtaining justice in a magistrate’s court, — in which, by the way, he would doubtless have included the Middlesex Sessions if he had had any experience of judge Edlin. No better instance of the necessity of some corporate protection for the victims of the law could be given than what happened on the morning of the meeting, when nine prisoners convicted by Ingham’s drum-head court-martial were able to appeal against the unjust and malignant sentences pronounced against them by an ancient piece of incompetence, no doubt inspired by orders from headquarters. I believe none of these poor men would have been able to appeal but for the responsible bail provided for them chiefly through the efforts of Mrs Besant, whose untiring energy and devotion throughout the whole affair will surely win her a place in the hearts of all working men. It has been stated in these columns before, but may as well be stated again, that no one can appeal from a magistrate’s decision unless he can find two sureties who will bind themselves to pay the costs of the appeal if rejected; — where can a poor man find such sureties who may have to pay 50 in case of failure?

The struggle for mere freedom of speech (whatever it may lead to) will certainly be a long and arduous one. Even the present idiotic Tory Government will not be easy to get rid of; and though it is possible that a Liberal Government would treat us better, at least for a while because the Liberals may be forced to take the matter up and come in on it, yet such a trifle as a mere change of ministry will not cure the gangrene of the law-courts; nor will it have much influence on the reaction which is obviously setting in and which is the necessary accompaniment to the obvious progress of revolutionary ideas. The struggle will be a long one, and must be carried on by us in a manner which will mean steadily and pertinaciously harassing the apparently all-powerful executive on all sides. The League which the Pall Mall Gazette has set on foot will, if it performs its functions duly, take up one side of the attack, and will assuredly do good service. All Socialists will be glad to see Mrs Besant’s name on the committee as an earnest of due fulfilment of its promises; and although ‘votes of thanks’ are not in favour amongst us, it would be unfair and ungenerous not to acknowledge the great services which the Pall Mall Gazette has done to the popular cause throughout this agitation. Well-to-do people especially should join this League, and help it both with their money, for a good deal of that will be necessary, and also by sending in their names as persons to be relied on for the prisoners taken in the war for bail and sureties of Freedom of Speech.

William Morris. Commonweal 1887

Insurance Against Magistrates


Source: “Insurance Against Magistrates” Commonweal, Vol 3, No. 98, 26 November 1887, p. 377;
Transcribed: by Ted Crawford..


The meeting held is the Memorial Hall on November 18th will do good service if the protective League inaugurated by it keeps to its promise (as I see no reason for doubting that it will) of helping all persons without distinction of opinion who ‘get into trouble’ in their endeavours to defend freedom of speech. Stewart Headlam in his speech on that occasion said nothing less than the bare truth when he said that no poor man had any chance of obtaining justice in a magistrate’s court, — in which, by the way, he would doubtless have included the Middlesex Sessions if he had had any experience of judge Edlin. No better instance of the necessity of some corporate protection for the victims of the law could be given than what happened on the morning of the meeting, when nine prisoners convicted by Ingham’s drum-head court-martial were able to appeal against the unjust and malignant sentences pronounced against them by an ancient piece of incompetence, no doubt inspired by orders from headquarters. I believe none of these poor men would have been able to appeal but for the responsible bail provided for them chiefly through the efforts of Mrs Besant, whose untiring energy and devotion throughout the whole affair will surely win her a place in the hearts of all working men. It has been stated in these columns before, but may as well be stated again, that no one can appeal from a magistrate’s decision unless he can find two sureties who will bind themselves to pay the costs of the appeal if rejected; — where can a poor man find such sureties who may have to pay 50 in case of failure?

The struggle for mere freedom of speech (whatever it may lead to) will certainly be a long and arduous one. Even the present idiotic Tory Government will not be easy to get rid of; and though it is possible that a Liberal Government would treat us better, at least for a while because the Liberals may be forced to take the matter up and come in on it, yet such a trifle as a mere change of ministry will not cure the gangrene of the law-courts; nor will it have much influence on the reaction which is obviously setting in and which is the necessary accompaniment to the obvious progress of revolutionary ideas. The struggle will be a long one, and must be carried on by us in a manner which will mean steadily and pertinaciously harassing the apparently all-powerful executive on all sides. The League which the Pall Mall Gazette has set on foot will, if it performs its functions duly, take up one side of the attack, and will assuredly do good service. All Socialists will be glad to see Mrs Besant’s name on the committee as an earnest of due fulfilment of its promises; and although ‘votes of thanks’ are not in favour amongst us, it would be unfair and ungenerous not to acknowledge the great services which the Pall Mall Gazette has done to the popular cause throughout this agitation. Well-to-do people especially should join this League, and help it both with their money, for a good deal of that will be necessary, and also by sending in their names as persons to be relied on for the prisoners taken in the war for bail and sureties of Freedom of Speech.