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"A Straight Talk on Courts"

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Emily Murphy, "A Straight Talk on Courts," Maclean’s 28.18 (1 Oct. 1920): 9.

"Editor's Note—Mrs. Murphy has been a magistrate for a number of years now, and in the accompanying article she tells of some of the things she has learned. Perhaps the most striking statement is to the effect that magistrates are pressed by the civic authorities behind them to secure a large number of convictions and fines for revenue purposes, thus perverting their work. She also tells some interesting stories of her work from the inside, with terse comment on the relations of the fair sex to the law" (9).

* * *

"In his 'Recollections of a Police Magistrate,' Colonel George T. Denison, of Toronto, wrote, 'I may also say that I depend upon an intuitive feeling as to a man's guilt or innocence, and not to weighing and balancing the evidence. I depend upon this feeling in spite of evidence.'

'Spoken like a woman,' said certain contemptuous critics, and yet in this sentence the veteran magistrate opens a large question.

Most police magistrates contend that their decisions have their basis solely on the evidence adduced but, when on some slight technicality, the conviction is quashed in a higher court the magistrate will usually say that if the learned judge could have seen the defendants and their manner of giving evidence the conviction would have been sustained.

In a word, the majority of magistrates in spite of their high, inflexible intent, are actually influenced by intuition, or shall we more properly say by the manner of the witnesses, their voices, and by the fleshly tablets of their faces? Colonel Denison is the first one who has dared to speak the truth.

On one occasion, when I had the honor of sitting with him on the bench in Toronto, he remarked, "I'll dismiss this charge. I don't like his mug," and, as an actual fact, the complainant to whom the police magistrate referred was a most ugly man, a loose lumpish fellow who might almost be cousin-German to a gorilla. I didn't like him either. In truth, I felt about him what Mr. De Quincey said concerning Mr. Coleridge, that while he was probably a worthy Christian he was much too fat to be a person of active virtue" (9).

 
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