Thursday, 14 July 2011

Sir John Fortescue on Parliament

From De Laudibus Legum Angliae by Sir John Fortescue (c.1394-c.1480), ch. 18:

"It only remains to be enquired whether the Statute Law of England be good or not. And, as to that, it does not flow solely from the mere will of one man, as the laws do in those countries, which are governed in a despotic manner; where sometimes the nature of the Constitution so much regards the single convenience of the Legislator, whereby there accrues a great disadvantage and disparagement to the subject. Sometimes also, through the inadvertency of the Prince, his inactivity and love of ease, such laws are unadvisedly made as may better deserve to be called corruptions, than laws. But, the Statutes of England are produced in quite another manner: Not enacted by the sole will of the Prince, but, with the concurrent consent of the whole kingdom, by their Representatives in Parliament. So that it is morally impossible but that they are and must be calculated for the good of the people: and they must needs be full of wisdom and prudence, since they are the result, not of one man's wisdom only, or an hundred, but such an assembly as the Roman Senate was of old, more than three hundred select persons; as those who are conversant in the forms and method of summoning them to Parliament, can more distinctly inform you. And, if any bills passed into a law, enacted with so much solemnity and foresight, should happen not to answer the intention of the legislators: they can immediately be amended and repealed, in the whole, or in part, that is, with the same consent and in the same manner as they were at first enacted into a law."