Bacon & judges

Print edition : February 25, 2011

Excerpted from Of Judicature (Francis Bacon (15611626); Essays, Civil and Moral.)

JUDGES ought to remember that their office is jus dicere, and not jus dare; to interpret law, and not to make law, or give law; else will it be like the authority claimed by the Church of Rome, which, under pretext of exposition of Scripture, doth not stick to add and alter, and to pronounce that which they do not find, and by show of antiquity to introduce novelty. Judges ought to be more learned than witty, more reverend than plausible, and more advised than confident. Above all things, integrity is their portion and proper virtue. Cursed (saith the law) is he that removeth the landmark. The mislayer of a mere stone is to blame; but it is the unjust judge that is the capital remover of landmarks, when he defineth amiss of lands and property. One foul sentence doth more hurt than many foul examples; for these do but corrupt the stream, the other corrupteth the fountain.

Judges must beware of hard constructions, and strained inferences; for there is no worse torture than the torture of laws: especially in case of laws penal, they ought to have care that that which was meant for terror be not turned into rigour.

[A]nd let no man weakly conceive that just laws and true policy have any antipathy; for they are like the spirits and sinews, that one moves with the other. Let judges also remember, that Solomon's throne was supported by lions on both sides: let them be lions, but yet lions under the throne: being circumspect that they do not check or oppose any points of sovereignty. Let not judges also be so ignorant of their own right, as to think there is not left to them, as a principal part of their office, a wise use and application of laws; for they may remember what the apostle saith of a greater law than theirs: Nos scimus quia lex bona est, modo quis e utatur legitime [We know that the law is good, if a man uses it lawfully].

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