1902 Encyclopedia > Benefit of Clergy

Benefit of Clergy

BENEFIT OF CLERGY, an obsolete but once very important feature in the English criminal law. It was a relic of the claim of exemption from the authority of the common law tribunals on the part of the clergy, and marked the extent to which the demand was acceded to in England. The conclusion of the protracted conflict was that the common law courts abandoned the extreme punish-ment of death assigned to some offences, when the person convicted was a clericus, in holy orders, and the church was obliged to accept the compromise and let a secondary punishment be inflicted. For the more atrocious crimes the partial exemption was not obtained, and hence offences I came to be divided into clergyable and unclergyable. According to the common practice in England of working out modern improvements through antiquated forms, this exemption was made the means of modifying the severity of the criminal law. It became the practice for every convict to claim and be allowed the benefit of clergy ; and when it was the intention by statute to make a crime really punishable with death, it was awarded " without benefit of clergy." A full account of the origin and progress of the system will be found in the 28th chapter of the fourth book of Blackstone's Commentaries. The benefit of clergy in cases of felony was abolished in the modifications of the criminal law by Sir Robert Peel in 1827 (8 Geo. IV. c. 28).

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