As is our custom, we celebrate Tax Day with a reading, usually drawn from the British lawyer, novelist, and humorist A.P. Herbert, best remembered for his series of Misleading Cases in the Common Law. Today's reading comes from his report of the case of Rex v. Puddle, in which, relying on information from that pertinacious litigant Albert P. Haddock (the author's alter ego), prosecuted a tax collector for blackmail. As Mr. Justice Trout, the judge in Mr. Herbert's story, gives his instructions to the jury, he says:
The prisoner in the dock, a Collector of Taxes for the district of South Hammersmith, stands charged with the odious crime which is commonly described as blackmail. That expression dates from very early times, when it was the custom to pay tribute to men of influence who were allied with certain robbers and brigands for protection from the devastations of the latter. The practice was made illegal by a statute of Queen Elizabeth's time, and ever since it has been classed by our Courts among the most contemptible and dangerous offences. A person, who, knowing the contents, sends or delivers a letter or writing demanding with menaces and without reasonable cause any chattel, money, or other property, commits felony and is liable to penal servitude for life. * * *
Now Mr. Haddock, the prosecutor in this case, received a letter from the prisoner demanding money. The letter was printed in ink of a bright red colour, and that is a circumstance which you may will take into account when you come to consider the intention of the letter and the effect which it may have had upon the mind of the recipient. For red is notoriously the colour of menace, of strife, of bloodshed and danger; and it is worthy of note that the prisoner's previous communications to Mr. Haddock had been printed in a quiet and pacific blue. The letter was as follows:
Previous applications for payment of the taxes due from you * * * having been made to you without effect, DEMAND is now made for payment, and I HEREBY GIVE YOU FINAL NOTICE that if the amount be not paid or remitted to me at the above address within SEVEN DAYS from this date steps will be taken for recovery by DISTRAINT, with costs.
E. Puddle, Collector.
'Collector,' I may observe in passing, was in other centuries a word commonly used to denote a highwayman. But you will not allow that point to influence you unduly. * * *
You will then have to ask yourselves, Was this menacing demand for money made with reasonable cause? You will bear in mind that Mr. Haddock is not a debtor or criminal; he has not taken another's property or done any disgraceful thing. his only offence is that by hard work he has earned a little money; and the suggestion is now made that he shall give away a fifth part of that money to other people. That being his position, you might well expect that he would be approached not with brusquerie but with signal honours, not with printed threats but with illuminated addresses.
[The jury eagerly found the prisoner guilty of blackmail, and he was sentenced to penal servitude for life, and solitary confinement for ten years, the sentences to run consecutively. The Court congratulated Mr. Haddock.]
Tomorrow we will return to our usual jovial support for the social welfare state.