An Algerine Law Suit.
AN officer of police parades the city at uncertain hours, and in all di|rections, accompanied by an executioner and other attendants. The process of his court is entirely verbal. He examines into all breaches of the customs, all frauds, especially in weights and measures, all sudden affrays, disputes concerning per|sonal property, and compels the perfor|mance of contracts. He determines causes on the spot, and the delinquent is punished in his presence. The usual punishments, he inflicts, are fines, beating on the soles of the feet, dismemberment Page 166 of the right hand; and, it is said, he has a power of taking life; but, in such case, an appeal lies to the Dey. If complaint is made to him of the military, the priests or officers of the court navy, or customs, or against persons attached to the families of the consuls, envoys, or other represen|tatives of foreign powers, upon suggestion, the cause is immediately reported to the Dey, who hears the same in person, or deputes some officer of rank to determine it, either from the civil, military, or re|ligious orders, as the nature of the cause may require. In fact, this officer of pol|ice seldom judges any cause of great im|portance. The object of his commission seems to be the detection and punish|ment of common cheats, and to suppress broils among the vulgar; and, as he has the power to adapt the punishment to the enormity of the offence, he often exer|cises it capriciously, and, sometimes, ludi|crously. I saw a baker, who, for selling Page 167 bread under weight, was sentenced to walk the public market, three times each day, for three days in succession, with a small loaf, attached by a ring to each of his ears; and to cry aloud at short distances "bread for the poor." This excited the resentment of the rabble, who follow|ed him with abundance of coarse ridicule. Besides this itinerant judge, there are many others, who never meddle with suits, unless they are brought formally before them, which is done by mere ver|bal complaint; they send for the parties and witnesses, and determine almost as summarily as the officer of police. I confess that, when I left the United States, the golden fee, the lengthy bill of cost, the law's delay, and the writings of Hones|tus, had taught me to view the judicial proceedings of our country with a jaun|diced eye; and, when I was made ac|quainted with the Algerine mode of dis|tributive justice, I yearned to see a cause Page 168 determined in a court, where instant de|cision relieved the anxiety, and saved the purses of the parties; and where no long winded attorney was suffered to perplex the judge with subtle argument or musty precedent. I was soon delighted with an excellent display of summary justice. Observing a collection of people upon a piazza, I leaned over the rails, and dis|covered that an Algerine cadi or judge had just opened his court. The cadi was seated cross legged on a cushion with a slave, with a whip and batten on one side; and another with a drawn scimitar on the other. The plaintiff came forward and told his story. He charged a man, who was in custody, with having sold him a mule, which he said was sound, but which prov|ed blind and lame. Several witnesses were then called, who proved the con|tract and the defects of the mule. The defendant was then called upon for his defence. He did not deny the fact, but Page 169 pleaded the law of retaliation. He said, he was a good Mussulman, performed all the rites of their holy religion, had sent a proxy to the prophet's tomb at Medina, and maintained an idiot; that he never cheated any man before, but was justified in what he had done, for, ten years before, the plaintiff had cheated him worse in the sale of a dromedary, which proved broken winded. He proved this by sev|eral witnesses, and the plaintiff could not deny it. The judge immediately order|ed the mule and the money paid for it to be produced. He then directed his at|tendants to seize the defendant, and give him fifty blows on the soles of his feet for this fraud. The plaintiff at every stroke applauded the cadi's justice to the skies; but, no sooner was the punishment inflicted, than, by a nod from the judge, the exulting plaintiff was seized and re|ceived the same number of blows with the batten for the old affair of the broken Page 170 winded dromedary. The parties were then dismissed, without costs, and the judge ordered an officer to take the mule, sell it at publick outcry, and distribute the product, with the money deposited, in alms to the poor. The officer proceeded a few steps with the mule, and, I thought, the court had risen, when the cadi sup|posing one of the witnesses had prevari|cated in his testimony called back the of|ficer, who had charge of the mule, order|ed the witness to receive twenty five blows of the batten, and be mounted on the back of the mule, with his face to|wards the tail, and be thus carried through the city, directing the mule to be stopped at every corner, where the culprit should exclaim; "before the en|lightened, excellent, just, and merciful cadi Mir Karchan, in the trial of Osman Beker and Abu Isoul, I spoke as I ride." The people around magnified Mir Kar|chan for this exemplary justice; and I Page 171 present it to my fellow citizens. If it is generally pleasing, it may be easily intro|duced among us. Some obstinate peo|ple may be still attached to our customary modes of dispensing justice, and think that the advocates we fee, and the prece|dents they quote, are but guards and en|closures round our judges, to prevent them from capriciously invading the rights of the citizens.