1902 Encyclopedia > Smuggling


SMUGGLING denotes a breach of the revenue laws either by the importation or the exportation of prohibited goods or by the evasion of customs duties on goods liable to duty. Smuggling is, as might be expected, most prevalent where duties are high. The best preventive is the imposition of duties so low in amount and on so few articles that it becomes scarcely worth while to smuggle. Legislation on the subject in England has been very active from the 14th century downwards. In the reign of Edward III. the illicit introduction of base coin from abroad led to the provision of the Statute of Treasons (25 Edw. III. st. 5) making it treason to import counterfeit money as the money called " Lushburgh." Such importation is still an offence, though no longer treason. After the Statute of Treasons a vast number of Acts dealing with smuggling were passed, most of which will be found recited in the repealing Act of 6 Geo. IV. c. 105. In the 18th and the early years of the 19th century smuggling (chiefly of wine, spirits, tobacco, and bullion) was so generally practised in Great Britain as to become a kind of national failing, and the smuggler was often regarded as a popular hero, like the contrabandista of modern Spain. The prevalence of the offence a century and a half ago may be judged from the report of Sir J. Cope's committee in 1732 upon the frauds on the revenue. The smuggler of the 18th century finds an apologist in Adam Smith, who writes of him as "a person who, though no doubt highly blamable for violating the laws of his country, is frequently incapable of violating those of natural justice, and would have been in every respect an excellent citizen had not the laws of his country made that a crime which nature never meant to be so." The gradual reduction of duties has brought the offence in the United Kingdom into comparative insignificance, and it is now almost confined to tobacco. Most of the existing legislation on the subject of smuggling is contained in the Customs Consolidation Act, 1876 (39 and 40 Vict. c. 36, ss. 169-217).

The main provisions are as follows. Vessels engaged in smuggling are liable to forfeiture and their owners and masters to a penalty not exceeding £500. Smuggled arid prohibited goods are liable to forfeiture. Officers of customs have a right of search of vessels and persons. Fraudulent evasion or attempted evasion of customs duties renders the offender subject to forfeit either treble the value of the goods or £100 at the election of the commissioners of customs. Heavy penalties are incurred by resistance to officers of customs, rescue of person or goods, assembling to run goods, signalling smuggling vessels, shooting at vessels, boats, or officers of the naval or revenue service, cutting adrift customs vessels, offering goods for sale under pretence of being smuggled, &c. Penalties may be recovered either by action or information in the superior courts or by summary proceedings. In criminal proceedings the defendant is competent and compellable to give evidence. The Act applies to the United Kingdom, the Isle of Man, and the Channel Islands. Besides, the Customs Act, 50 Geo. III. c. 41, s. 16 (the corresponding Act for Scotland is 55 Geo. III. c. 71, s. 9), enacts that a hawker's licence is to be forfeited on his conviction for knowingly selling smuggled goods. The Merchant Shipping Act, 1854 (17 and 18 Vict. c. 104, s. 243), makes any seaman or apprentice, after conviction for smuggling whereby loss or damage i.i caused to the master or owner of a ship, liable to pay to such nuster or owner such a sum as is sufficient to reimburse the master or owner for such loss or damage, and the whole or a proportional part of his wages may be retained in satisfaction of this liability. Additional provisions as to smuggling are also contained in 42 and 43 Vict. c. 21 and 44 and 45 Vict. c. 12. A smuggling contract is generally illegal. But it may be valid, and the vendor may recover the, price of goods, even though he knew the buyer intended them to be smuggled, unless he actually aids in the smuggling so as to become particeps criminis. Contracts to defraud the revenue of a foreign state are, according to English decisions, not illegal. There is a German decision, more consonant with international morality, to the opposite effect.

The penalties for smuggling in the United States will be found mainly in tit. xxxiv. ch. 10 of the Revised Statutes. The seaman guilty of smuggling is liable to the same penalty as in England, and in addition to imprisonment for twelve months, s. 4596.

A considerable amount of historical information on this subject will he found in Dowell's History of Taxation and Pike's History of Crime in England.

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