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IMPORTANT DECISION ABOUT BIGAMY., Issue 7957, 12 July 1889, Supplement
IMPORTANT DECISION ABOUT BIGAMY.
CURIOUS TRIAL CASES, [From Ocr Special Correspondent. ) London, May 17. A decision of considerable importance to “ grass ” widows and unattached husbands was come to in the Law Courts on Saturday by a conclave of fourteen of England’s wisest judges. Hitherto it has been necessary for wives with missing husbands (or husbands with missing wives), who wish to guard against a charge of bigamy, to wait seven years before marrying again. Tho judges have now come to the conclusion that this is too much to ask. In the slow old days of sailing vessels, Robinson Crusoes, and desert islands, an occasional traveller or ancient _ mariner might be involuntarily expatriated for six years or so. Now, what with steamers and telegraphs, such a catastrophe is hardly possible. Generally it is puw devilment which induces a man to keep his existence secret from his wife for four or five years and then to burst upon her with u prosecution for bigamy. The law has played into the hands of eiioh scoundrels a great deal too much latterly. Henceforward the victim will merely have to prove to the Courts that she had good reason for supposing her husband dead, and—well—dead to her he will remain. No period of probation is fixed. You will easily see that what might be too long in one case might not be long enough in another. “Act with good-feeling and commonsense and trust your case, if trouble should ensue, to a judge and jury,” is the advice now given by the Bench in conclave, and sound advice it scema. Of course, test cases were required to bring about this decicision. They are thus described by a daily paper;— “ There were, it appears, lately two women named respectively Tolson and Strippe—the law in its rude fashion will not allow polite prefixes who, after being married, were deserted by their husbands. Mrs Tolson aud Mrs Strippe thereupon, like good, dutiful, and law-abiding spouses, waited for years for the return of their errant consorts, and waited all in vain. No Mr Tolson brightened or darkened the portals of Mrs Tolson’s dwelling ; nor could it be said that one fine summer evening, when the lamp was burning in MrsStrippe’s boudoir, and the fair occupant was sitting sadly with her head buried in her hands, having recently put the fatherless children to bed, the long-lost Mr Strippe hurried up the front grave] walk, cast a look of mingled agony and rapture into the window, and in a moment more clasped his wife once again in his manly arms. On the contrary, the sober prose of the affair is that the ladies married again; they had been informed that their husbands were dead, and they believed the authoritative story. It so happened that in both cases—which were tried together for the sake of convenience, but which had no real connection with each other—the wives had waited nearly seven years befoie the ceremony of re-marriage took place. Now tho law says that, after a wife has not heard of or from a husband for as many as seven years, a prosecution for bigamy is impossible ; and, if these ladies had consented to regulate their love affairs by the advice of a good practical solicitor, they would, no doubt, have been advised to put off the nuptial day until the exact period had actually expired. Unfortunately for themselves they did not take this course; and, when it turned out that Messrs Strippe and Tolson, so far from being defunct, were both of them alive and kicking against tho hymeneal proceedings of their respective better halves, the thunderbolt of a prosecution for bigamy was launched. The cases were originally both tried before Mr Justice Stephen, who directed the jury that if a woman reasonably believes her husband to bo dead, and re-rnarries before the seven years, that is no defence against a charge of bigamy. Not that Mr Justice Stephen himself formed this view; but ho felt that tho law required clearing up on the point, and he considered that the best way to have it elucidated was for the woman to bo convicted and then fer the justice of tho conviction to be tested by the Court for Crown Cases Reserved. The jury convicted, being bound to do so by tho Judge’s direction; but they also found in each case that the woman had acted under a bona fide belief that her husband was dead.
“When Judge met Judge in the subsequent tug of legal war which took place in the Crown Court, there were found to be nine in favor of quashing the conviction, and only five in its support. In the majority were counted the Lord Chief Justice, Mr Justice Stephen himself, as well as Justices Wills, Pay, Smith, Hawkins, Grantham, and Charles, The minority is not to be despised, considering that it contained Mr Justice Manisty and Mr Huron Pollock, and three other learned justiciars ; still it is the view of the majority whieh stands, and so it is now declared t* bo the law of England that, where a woman has reasonable cause for believing her husband to be dead, she can marry again within seven years without exposing herself to ail the pains and penalties which bigamy entails. If a man chooses to absent himself from home, and remain for the space of three years without corresponding with his wife, most people would say that he had forfeited all right to ejairp the conjugal happiness which he had known so little how to appreciate when it was within his grasp. There are a few wives who might think differently—who would declare it worth while to wait for an absent spouse all their life long. A touching story of this sort is told in Mr and Mrs Hall’s delightful book of Thames reminiscences—of the handsome river boatman who married a rather vixenish woman a good deal his senior, who was nevertheless a good mother to his children, and as true ns steel to him. One evening the Thames waterman took his craft for a paddle, and he was not seen again for ten years. Appearances led to the supposition that he had been drowned ; but the wife never believed the theory, and kept his place at table and his room always ready for him, and a lamp perpetually burning in the window of the little cottage. The stray away did return, and the wife never allowed him to be questioned as to where he had been all those years. He himself merely vouchsafed the information that he had been “seeing the world.” For one case of this sort there are a thousand where the man who deserts his home is not, and is not thought, worth waiting for indefinitely ; and the law in punishing bigamy must take into consideration, not the isolated instance of real inability to return, but the huge preponderance of instances in which absence either denotes death or is really intentional.”
IMPORTANT DECISION ABOUT BIGAMY., Issue 7957, 12 July 1889, Supplement
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