The first mode, already allowed in every civilised nation, needs amendment in various ways, especially in regard to the subordination of the penal action to the plaint of the injured person, which ought to be restrained, and even abolished. In fact, whereas this right has hitherto been regulated by law only in view of the legal and material gravity of the offence, it should in future be made to depend on the perversity of the offender; for society has a much greater interest in defending itself against the author of a slight offence if he is a born criminal or a criminal lunatic, than in defending itself against the author of a more serious crime, if he is an occasional criminal or a criminal of passion. And the necessity of bringing a private action in regard to certain offences is only a source of abuses, and of demoralising bargains between offenders and injured persons.
On the other hand, this prosecution by a citizen who has been injured by a crime or an offence ought to have more efficacious guarantees, either for the exercise of the rights of the injured person, or against the possible neglect or abuse of the Public Prosecutor. If, indeed, he is obliged to take up every charge and action, he is also (in Italy and France, but not in Austria or Germany, for instance) the only authority as to penal actions, and consequently as to penal judgments.
In Italy, out of 264,038 cases which came before the Public Prosecutor in 1880, six per cent., or 16,058, were ``entered on the records,'' or, in other words, they were not followed up; and in 1889, out of a total of 271,279, the number of unprosecuted cases was 27,086, or ten per cent. That is, the number had almost doubled in ten years.
In France the annual average of plaints, charges, and trials with which the Public Prosecutor was concerned stood at 114,181 in the years 1831-5; at 371,910 in 1876-80; and at 459,319 in 1887. And the cases not proceeded with were 34,643, or thirty per cent., in 1831-5; 181,511, or forty-eight per cent., in 1876-80; and 239,061, or fifty-two per cent., in 1887. That is to say, their actual and relative numbers mere nearly doubled in fifty years.
Is it possible that in ten, or even in fifty years, the moral conditions of a nation, and its inclination to bring criminal charges, should be so modified that the number of cases devoid of foundation should have been almost doubled? It is certain that in different nations and different provinces there are varying degrees of readiness to bring charges against lawbreakers rather than to take personal vengeance. But in one and the same nation this vindictive spirit and this readiness to bring charges cannot vary so greatly and rapidly, especially within ten years, as in Italy; for the persistence of popular sentiment is a well- known fact. It is rather in the disposition of the functionaries of the Ministry of Justice, which is far more variable, that we must look for an explanation of this fact, which is also accounted for by the tendency to diminish the statistical records of crime.
Now, why must the citizen who lodges a complaint of what he considers a crime or offence submit to the decision of the Public Prosecutor, who has allowed his action to drop? This consideration has led to the subsidiary penal action, already allowed in Germany and Austria, and introduced in the draft codes of procedure in Hungary, Belgium, and France, which is a genuine guarantee of the individual as against the social authority. We must not, however, deceive ourselves as to the efficacy or frequency of its operation, especially in the Latin nations, which have none too much individual initiative.
The second form of private prosecution is that of the ``popular punitive action,'' which existed in the Roman penal law--which, it may be said in passing, is not so insignificant as the classical school has supposed. The statement of M. Carrara, too often repeated, that ``The Romans, who were giants in civil law, are pigmies in penal law,'' is not in my opinion correct. It is true that the Roman penal law was not organised in a philosophical system; but it exhibits throughout the wonderfully practical judgment of the Roman jurisconsults; and indeed one cannot see why they should have lost this sense when dealing with crimes and punishments. On the other hand, I am inclined to think that the importance of the Roman civil law has been exaggerated, and that the spirit of the corpus juris springs from social and economic conditions so different from our own that we can no longer feel bound to submit to its tyranny. The penal law of the Romans, however, contains several maxims based on unquestionable common sense, which deserve to be rescued from the oblivion to which they have been condemned by the dogmatism of the classical school. Examples of these are the popular punitive action; the distinction between dolus bonus and dolus malus, which belongs to the theory of motives; the stress laid upon intentions rather than upon their actual outcome; the law of exceptio veritatis in cases of slander, which under the pharisaism of the classical theory serves only to give immunity to knaves; the penalty of twofold or threefold restitution for theft, in place of a few days or weeks in prison; the condemnation of the most hardened criminals to the mines, instead of providing them with cells, as comfortable as they are ineffectual--apart from the consideration that the firedamp in mines and the unhealthiness of penal settlements would be less mischievous if their victims were the most dangerous criminals rather than honest miners and husbandmen.
To return to the popular penal action, it is so commonly advocated, even by the classical school, that it is necessary to say another word on the subject.