Saturday, 27 October 2007

John Brooks

The strength of the religious views of John Brooks, grandfather to Frederick Vincent Brooks, are illustrated in the court transcript quoted in this article taken from a issue of Richard Carlile's 'The Lion' from 1828.


WHEN a politically legal murder was to be committed at Chester, on Bruce the schoolmaster of Stockport, and Magennis who fired a pistol at Birch the constable, the court declared that the oath of a Deist was good, and that it was enough for a man to say that he believed in God to make his oath respectable. Wherever the political purposes of the crown, or the inclinations of the Judges have been in question, the courts have thus ruled. But, in two instances, where Deists have been prosecutors of thieves, two Judges have declared that a theft shall not be proved by the oath of a Deist. These two cases were decided at the Old Bailey, the first, in the person of Mr. Carlile, by the present Recorder, Newman Knowlys ; the second, in the person of Mr. Brooks, by Mr. Sergeant Arabin. Mr. Carlile certainly refused to say any thing about the word God, either as an admission or a denial, avowing no knowledge upon the subject, the Recorder refusing to define any thing about God, so as to communicate any knowledge of the word to the prosecutor. Mr. Brooks, in his case, simply expressed an absence of superstitious veneration for the New Testament, which Mr. Sergeant Arabin said was sufficient to induce him to reject the evidence and to encourage the thief, Mr. Brooks's case is the more singular and anomalous, inasmuch as, the day before, he had prosecuted another thief to conviction at the Clerkenwell Sessions; a circumstance that demanded, on the one or the other side, the immediate interference of the Secretary of State for the Home Department. The one or the otherof the courts must have been in error, the one to suffer, or the other not to allow, a conviction.

Subsequently, Mr. Brooks was called on a jury in the Palace Court, and there, informing the judge, that his oath had been rejected as a Deistical prosecutor, no objection was made to his taking the oath, and becoming a Deistical juror! He was sworn and sat as a juror. There seems to be more sense and honesty in Westminster, than in the City of London, on this subject, as is further seen in the following article, which has appeared in several papers, relating to Mr. Brooks's appointment to the constabulary :—

The ancient Court of Burgesses, by whom all constables and other officers for the city and liberty of Westminster are chosen, held the annual court leet for swearing in constables for the ensuing year. The usual lists were handed in, and those who answered were either sworn in, excused, or fined, as the respective cases might be; but one gentleman set up an excuse of rather a novel kind. Mr. John Brooks, of Oxford Street, stationer, in being called for the parish of St. Anne, Soho, came forward, and addressing the Court, said he had no objection to the trouble and inconvenience attending the serving the office of constable, but he must object to taking the oath always required.

Mr. Robson (the Clerk of the Court.)—Upon what ground do you object
to take the oath?
Mr. Brooks.—I beg leave to inform the Court that some time ago, being a witness at the Old Bailey in a case of robbery, I was questioned as it my belief on certain points of religion, and on answering conscientiously on the points mentioned, Mr. Serjeant Arabin declared that I was an unfit person to be sworn, and that in fact, my evidence must be rejected. The judge of a superior court having refused to suffer the oath to be administered, I conceive that the example must be followed here upon the same grounds.
Mr. Robson, sen. (the Chairman.)—Administer the oath officer, let Mr. Brooks be sworn.
Mr. Brooks.—I will not submit to be sworn in one court when the oath has been refused to me in another. Besides, I object altogether being sworn upon the New Testament.
Mr. Robson, jun.—That is not a valid excuse. The Court here know of no objection to your taking the oath faithfully to perform the duties of constable.
Mr. Brooks.—But what is the use of my undertaking the office of constable, when my evidence is inadmissible in a court of justice, according to the declaration of a learned judge ?
Mr. Robson, jun.—Then, Sir, you must be fined. The same objection was made last year by Mr. Leigh Hunt, but the Court decided that he was liable, and fined him in the usual way.
The Chairman,—Officer, call Mr. Brooks upon his fine.
The officer then called John Brooks to come into Court and save his fine of £8.
Mr. Brooks.—I am here, but I object to be sworn.
Mr. Robson, jun.—You had better take the book, Mr. Brooks.
Mr. Brooks.—No, I will not. In the performance of my duty as a constable, it is very probable that my evidence may be necessary in cases extremely important to the interests of justice. I might, for instance, be called upon to apprehend parties concerned in great offences, and be able to give testimony which would go a great way towards convicting the offenders. How foolish should I then look, and how justice would be defeated, when I appeared in the Court at the Old Bailey and was told by some such sage as Mr. Justice Arabin that my evidence could not be received.
Mr. Robson, jun.—You must either serve or be fined.
Mr. Brooks.—I object to be sworn.
Mr. Robson, jun.—You cannot serve without being sworn.
Mr. Brooks.—Then I cannot serve at all.
Mr. Robson, jun. then entered Mr. Brooks as fined in the sum of £8.
Mr. Brooks said he would not pay the fine, and would resist any attempts to enforce the payment thereof.

Carlile, R. (1829) The lion Vol. IV, July 3-Dec 25, p.451-453, Fleet Street
Original from Harvard University

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