pretext or other to refuse to discharge the party although he was entitled to it by law, or delayed their decisions from time totime so as to prolong the imprisonment of persons who were obnoxious to the King for their political opinions or had incurred his resentment in any other way.
The great and inestimable value of the habeas corpus act of the 31st Charles II. is that it contains provisions which compel courts and judges and all parties concerned to perform their duties promptly in the manner specified in the statute.
A passage in Blackstone's Commentaries showing the ancient state of the law upon this subject and the abuses which were practiced through the power and influence of the Crown, and a short extract from Hallan's Constitutional History stating the cirmstances which gave rise to the passage of this statute, explain briefly but fully all that is material to this subject.
Blackstone in his Commentaries on the laws of England (3rd vol., 133, 135) says:
To assert an absolute exemption from imprisonment in all cases is inconsistent with every idea of law and political society, and in the end would destroy all civil liberty by rednering its protection impossible.
But the glory of the English laws consists in clearly defining the times, the causes and the extent-when, wherefore and to what degree the imprisonment of the subject may be lawful. This it is which induces the absolute necessity of expressing upon every commitment the reason for which it is made that the court upon a habeas corpus may examine into its validity and according to the circumstances of the case may discharge, admist to bail or remand the prisoner.
And yet early in the reign of Charles I. the Court of King's Bench relying on some arbitrary precedents (and those perhaps misurnderstood) determined that they would not upon a habeas corpus either bailor deliver a prisoner though committed without any cause assigned in case he was committed by the special command of the King or by the Lords of the Privy Council. This drew on a parliamentary inquiry and produced the Petition of Rights-Charles I. -which recites this illegal judgment and enacts that no freeman hereafter shall be so imprisoned or detained. But when in the following year Mr. Selden and others were committed by the Lords of the Council in pursuance of his Majesty's special command under a general charge of "notable contempts and stirring up sedition against the King and the Government," the judged delayed for two terms (including also the long vacation) to deliver an opinion how far such a charge was bailable. And when at lenth they agreed that it was they however annexed a condition of finding sureties for their good behavior which still protracted their imprisoment; the chief justice, Sir Nicholas Hyde, at the same time declaring that "if they were again remanded for that cause perhaps the court would not afterward grant a habeas corpus being already acquainted with the casue of the imprisonment. " But this was heard with indignation and astonishment by every lawyer present, according to Mr. Selden's own account of the matter whose resentment was not cooled at the distance of four and twenty years.
It is worthy of remark that the offenses charged against the prisoner in this case and relied on as a justification for his arest and imprisonment in their nature and character and in the loose and vague manner in which they are stated bear a striking resemblance to those assigned in the warrant for the arrest of Mr. Selden. And yet even at that day the warrant was regarded as such a flagrant violation of the rights of the subject that the delay of the time-serving judges to set him at liberty upon the habeas corpus issued in his behalf exicted universal indignation at the bar. The extract from Hallam's Constitutional History is equally impressive and equally in point. It is in vol. 4, p. 14:
It is very common mistake and not only among foregners but many from whom some knowledge of our constitional laws might be expected to suppose that this statute of Charles II. enlarged in a great degree our liberties and forms a sort of epoch in their history. But through a very beneficial encatment and eminently remedial in many cases of illegal imprisonment it introduced no new principle nor confered any right upon the subject. From the arliest records of the English law