1902 Encyclopedia > Bribery


BRIBERY, public offence, may be defined as the administration of a bribe or reward, that it may be a motive in the performance of functions for which the proper motive ought to be a conscientious sense of duty. When this is superseded by the sordid impulses created by the bribe, a person is said to be corrupted, and thus corruption is a term sometimes held equivalent to bribery. The offence maybe divided into two great classes,—the one characteristic of despotisms, where a person invested with power is induced by payment to use it unjustly ; the other, which is an unfortunate characteristic of constitutional govern-ments, where power is obtained by purchasing the suffrages of those who can impart it. The former offence is in every sense the more odious and formidable, and indeed it may be said, that until a country has outgrown it, there is no room for the existence of elective bribery, since the nations among which justice is habitually sold appear to be far below the capacity of possessing'constitutional rights.

When Samuel in his old age challenges a rigid scrutiny of his conduct, he says, " Whose ox have I taken, or whose ass have I taken ? or whom have I defrauded ? whom have I oppressed 1 or of whose hands have I received any bribe to blind mine eyes therewith." And Amos, when denouncing the condition of the Israelites under Jeroboam, says, " They afflict the just, they take a bribe, and they turn aside the poor in the gate from their right." It is a natural propensity, removable only by civilization or some powerful counteracting influence, to feel that every element of power is to be employed as much as possible for the owner's own behoof, and that its benefits should be con-ferred not on those who best deserve them, but on those who will pay most for them. Hence judicial corruption is an inveterate vice of imperfect civilization. It is so deeply seated among Oriental races, that the attempts by controlling authority to eradicate it have been often futile. It has been the main impediment to the employment of natives in the British Eastern empire, since no external appearance of respectability, or apparent systematic routine of business, can be relied on as securities that the whole organization is not contaminated by systematic bribery. It is difficult to get the Oriental mind to understand how it is reasonable to expect the temptation of a bribe to be resisted. In the Russian empire this Oriental character-istic has had another conflict with the demands of a higher civilization. The organization of the Government requires that the empire should be honestly served by its official men, but their morality is of the humblest Oriental standard, and force will not change it. In no country, perhaps, has the offence been visited with more dire chastisement where it has been discovered, yet by the concurring testimony of all who are acquainted with Russian society, not only the official departments, but the courts of law are still influenced by systematic bribery. There is, perhaps, no other crime on which the force of law, if unaided by public opinion and morals, can have so little influence; for in other crimes, such as violence or fraud, there is generally some person immediately injured by the act, who can give his aid in the detection of the offender, but in the perpetration of the offence of bribery all the immediate parties obtain what they desire, and are satisfied.

The purification of the bench from judicial bribery has been gradual in most of the European countries. In France it received an impulse in the 16th century from the high-minded chancellor L'Hôpital. In England judicial corruption acquired a painful, but perhaps a wholesome renown, from the fate of the illustrious Bacon. In Scotland for some years after the Revolution the bench was not without a suspicion of interested partiality; but during the present century, at least, there has been in all parts of the empire a perfect reliance on its purity. The same may be said of the higher class of ministerial officers. There is no doubt that in the period from the Revolution to the end of Queen Anne's reign, when a speaker of the House of Commons was expelled for bribery, and the great Marlborough could not clear his character from pecuniary dishonesty, there was much corruption in the highest official quarters. The level of the offence of official bribery has gradually descended, until it has become an extremely rare thing for the humbler officers connected with the revenue to be charged with it. It has had a more lingering exist-ence with those who, because their power is more of a constitutional than an official character, have been deemed less responsible to the public. During Walpole's administration there is no doubt that members of Parliament were paid in cash for votes; and the memorable saying, that every man has his price, has been preserved as a characteristic indication of his method of government.

One of the forms in which administrative corruption is most difficult of eradication is the appointment to office. It is sometimes maintained that the purity which characterizes the administration of justice is here unattainable, because in giving a judgment there is but one form in which it can be justly given, but when an office has to be filled many people may be equally fitted for it, and personal motives must influence a choice. It very rarely happens, however, that direct bribery is supposed to influence such appointments.

It does not appear that bribery was conspicuous in England until, in the early part of the 18th century, constituencies had thrown off the feudal dependence which lingered among them; and, indeed, it is often said, that bribery is essentially the defect of a free people, since it is the sale of that which is taken from others without payment. It is alluded to by Fielding and Smollett, and had become conspicuous in the days of Hogarth, who represents it in its double shape of demoralization; one picture shows a reckless expenditure of money among profligate expectants, whose demoralization is a systematic source of profit to them, while another presents us with the impoverished father of a family urged against his conscience to relieve the misery of his wife and children by the sale of his vote.

In England electoral bribery has been the subject of much legislation, which culminated in the Corrupt Practices Prevention Act of 1854 (17 and 18 Vict. c. 102). By this Act the following persons shall be deemed guilty of bribery, and shall be punishable accordingly :—
1. Every person who shall directly or indirectly, by himself or by any other person on his behalf, give, lend, (fee, or offer, promise, or promise to procure, &c, any money
or valuable consideration to or for any voter or any other person in order to induce any voter to vote or refrain from voting, or shall corruptly do any such act on account of
such voter having voted or refrained from voting at any election.
2. Every person who shall similarly give or procure or promise, &c, any office, place, or employment to or for any voter or other person in order to induce him to vote, &c.
3. Every person who shall make any gift, loan, promise, etc, as aforesaid to any person to induce such person to procure the return of any person to serve in Parliament or the vote of any voter.
4. Every person who shall, in consequence of such gift, procure or engage, promise or endeavour to procure the return of any person or the vote of any voter.

5. Every person who shall pay any money with the intent that it should be spent in bribery, or who shall pay money in repayment of any money wholly or in part expended in bribery.

Persons so offending are guilty of a misdemeanour (in Scotland, of an offence punishable by fine and imprisonment), and shall be liable to forfeit the sum of £6100 to any person who will sue for the same, together with costs. Sect. 3 extends the offence (1) to persons who before or during an election shall receive or contract for any money, &c, for voting, or refraining, or agreeing to vote or to refrain from voting; and (2) to persons who, after the election, receive money, &c, on account of any person having voted or refrained, &c. Such persons shall be guilty of a misdemeanour and forfeit £10.

Treating is defined in Sect. 4. Every candidate who gives, procures, or pays for any expenses incurred for meat, drink, or entertainment, or provision to or for any person in order to be elected, or for being elected, or for the purpose of corruptly influencing such person to give or refrain from giving his vote at an election, &c, shall be deemed guilty of treating, and forfeit £50 to any person who shall sue for the same; and every person corruptly accepting such meat, drink, &c, shall be incapable of voting at such election. Persons found guilty of bribery, &c, or from whom penalties as above mentioned have been recovered, shall be struck off the list of voters by the revising barrister. Prosecutions and actions under the Act must be begun within one year. Other sections of the Act prohibit giving cockades to voters at elections, or supply-ing them with refreshments on account of their having polled or being about to poll. Any candidate for a county, city, or borough found guilty by an election committee of bribery, treating, or undue influence by himself or his agents shall be incapable of being elected or sitting in Parliament for such county, city, or borough, during the Parliament then in existence. Up to 1868 disputed elections were dealt with by committees of the House of Commons, but the Parliamentary Elections Act (31 and 32 Vict. c. 125) has transferred the jurisdiction to Her Majesty's judges (see ELECTIONS). The report of the judge is to have the same effect as the report of an election committee under the old law; and if he reports that corrupt practices have extensively prevailed, a commission of inquiry may be issued under 15 and 16 Vict. c. 57. Candidates reputed by the judge to be guilty of bribery shall be incapable of being elected to the House of Com-mons for seven years, and during the same period may not (1) be registered as voters ; or (2) hold office under 5 and 6 Will. IV. c. 76, or 3 and 4 Vict. c. 108, or any municipal office; or (3) hold any judicial office, or act as justice of the peace. Other persons found guilty of bribery after having had an opportunity of being heard suffer the same disquali-fications. Similar provisions against bribery, &c.,at munici-pal elections are contained in the Act 35 and 36 Vict. c. 60.

If the election commissioners, appointed under 15 and 16 Vict. c. 57, report the extensive prevalence of corrupt practices, bills may be brought in for the dis-franchisement of the constituency. Bridgewater, Beverley, Sligo, and Cashel were so disfranchised in 1870. Four boroughs—Totnes, Beigate, Great Yarmouth, and Lancaster—were disfranchised by the Bepresentation of the Psople Act, 1867, for corrupt practices. In the case of a vacancy in a constituency where corrupt practices have prevailed at last election, the House may disfranchise it indefinitely, either by a resolution to that effect or by negativing the motion for a new writ.

The judges manifested great repugnance to the new jurisdiction conferred on them by the Elections Act, and vigorously remonstrated against it during the passage of the measure through Parliament. It was feared that the purity of the bench might be sullied by being brougnt into close connection with political contests. Public opinion, however, had distinctly condemned the House of Commons Election Committees, which where necessarily anything but judicial in character, and were, besides, tainted with the suspicion of being frequently actuated by political motives. Many petitions have now been tried by the judges, and in a manner which has given great satisfaction to the country. One consequence of the new system which might have been anticipated is the introduction of more precise definitions into the phraseology of election law. " Agency," for example, and " valuable considera-tion," have been treated by the judges according to the ordinary meaning of the words in courts of law, and candidates have been unseated for the acts of persons, technically their "agents," but personally unknown to them, and for gifts, generally reputed laudable, but legally falling within the definition of bribes. Bribery flourishes most vigorously in the English borough constituencies ; and the secret voting introduced by the Ballot Act seems to have had very little effect on the practice, on account of the fidelity with which the corrupt voters keep their promises. In a recent election inquiry before commis-sioners, witnesses declared their belief that a quarter, or even more, of the constituency was permanently corrupt, and held the balance between the two political parties. Extensive bribery under the guise of charitable distribu-tions of coal, provisions, &c, seems to prevail in many constituencies, and a still more indirect form is the payment of large subscriptions to public purposes. Recently, it has been observed, constituencies have shown a marked preference for wealthy candidates with some local connec-tion.

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