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A FORTNIGHT FOR THE FRANCHISE.

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A FORTNIGHT FOR THE FRANCHISE. BY MARIE WINTON EVANS. "Twenty shillings, or fourteen days That, we understood, through the interven- tion of a more intelligible official of the court, was the translation of the mumblings of a genial but stupid-looking old gentleman who sat dispensing justice at the South- Western police-court on the 21st of March, 1907. It was a bright, spring morning, and the yard behind the court was thronged with women, carefully guarded by a number of stalwart policemen, awaiting their turn to receive sentence for daring to approach the precincts of the House of Commons with a petition to the Prime Minister, praying for the extension of the elementary rights of citizenship to their sex. The yard was narrow, the space limited, so that, whichever way we moved or turned, we encountered a stolid representative of English law and order. As each case was called, the officer re- sponsible for the arrest hustled his prisoner into the presence of "Justice" I had previously regarded my arrest as a commonplace affair; but in this I had reckoned without suspecting the store of imagination possessed by a London police- man. Standing in the dock, I listened with increasing surprise, as this gallant officer, notebook in hand, engaged the attention of the court by relating the marvellous heroism he displayed in affecting the capture of such a dangerous disturber of the peace. So fanciful was the account he read, that it was only my actual presence in the dock that enabled me to recognise myself as the great offender referred to. The exaggerated report of the policeman, the inaudible mutterings of the magistrate, and the absolute lack of opportunity afforded the prisoner to say anything in defence, made the entire proceedings a farcical travesty of justice. Indeed, it was only after being hustled out of the court that I understood I was not discharged, as I supposed I was, but was sentenced to a fine of twenty shillings or imprisonment for fourteen days. Such being the usual procedure in an English police-court, with its curt officials, the unquestioned evidence of the policeman, and the unseemly haste to finish the day's work, there cannot be any doubt that hundreds, if not thousands, of poor people are unjustly fined and imprisoned every year through their inability to understand the proceedings, and the impossibility to receive a fair hearing. It is an axiom of English law that every- one is held innocent until proved guilty in practice, however, a prisoner is treated as guilty until he is proved innocent; and certainly, in an English police-court, a person arrested is a person convicted. Having refused to pay the fine, and still attended by the gallant officer who had dis- tinguished himself by my capture, I was hurried up a flight of stairs, and safely secured within a heavily barred enclosure containing a few cells, where I found two of my fellow prisoners already installed. It was not until then that the brave con- stable felt justified in withdrawing his guard, having now safely delivered me into the hands of prison authorities. One by one our number was increased, and with each new-comer came the same tale of surprise at this, their first introduction to the system of administrating English justice. General indignation was expressed at the summary method of the Court, as each prisoner had something to say in defence of her conduct, which had been perfectly orderly and constitutional. But only police evidence was heard. The result was a confused notion of what he sentences were. As one by one they came up the grim, stone staircase, some who had refused to pay the fine wondered what the alternative was to be; some who had to be bound over protested against a sen- tence they had not understood while one or two who had been bound over for six months had a confused idea that it meant six months' imprisonment. Not one knew to which division she had been sentenced. Though the leaders of the Woman's Movement refused to pay their fines on principle, the unpleasant impression was received that the main object of the system was not so much to administer justice as to grind money, in the shape of fines, out of poor prisoners, for the up-keep of well-paid officials. It is a profound distrust of this unsatis- factory method of dealing with offenders that accounts for the sympathy that prevails among ordinary people for a prisoner who successfully evades the law. The long wait of four hours before our removal were spent sitting on the stone stairs leading down to a bare passage containing a number of cells that were quite inadequate for the reception of so many prisoners. One of these cells was occupied by four ordinary criminals who were locked in, and the cheer- lessness was intensified by their cries for air and for water. The tediousness of these hours of weary waiting was relieved by the kindness of Mrs. Despard (General French's sister), and Miss Mansell, who, with admirable forethought, provided all of us with much needed food and refreshments—the last palatable meal we could hope to see for at least fourteen days Notebooks, pencils, and note-paper were distributed, and letters were hurriedly written and handed out to be posted, as all relatives and friends were refused permission to see us. At half-past three a police inspector, calling our names in the order in which we had appeared before the magistrate, opened the strong, iron gate just sufficient to allow one to pass through at a time, and we were hurried down into the courtyard below, where five vans stood drawn up in readiness to receive us. Our passage to the vans was lined on either side by a cordon of stalwart police- men, and, gripped by a burly officer, each prisoner stepped between this guard of honour" into her little cell in Black Maria. Our van having received its full complement of prisoners, an officer mounted guard, the door was locked, the wide gates of the court- yard were thrown open, and, amid cheers from the assembled crowd, we waved adieux to friends, and the Ouitlanders by pre- destination," were driven off in the uncom- fortable carriage of Edward the VII. for a fortnight's sojourn in Holloway Castle (To be continued.)

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