As the only object of a trial should be to seek the truth and fairly to administer justice, in a Masonic trial, especially, no recourse should ever be had to legal technicalities whose use in ordinary courts appears simply to be to afford a means of escape for the guilty. Masonic trials are, therefore, to be conducted in the simplest and least technical method, that will preserve at once the rights of the Order and of the accused, and which will enable the Lodge to obtain a thorough knowledge of all the facts in the case. The rules to be observed in conducting such trials have been laid down by Doctor Mackey in his Jurisprudence of Freemasonry and he refers to them in the present article. They are as follows:
1. The preliminary step in every trial is the accusation or charge. The charge should always be made in writing, signed by the accuser, delivered to the Secretary, and read by that officer at the next Regular Communication of the Lodge. The accused should then be furnished with an attested copy of the charge, and be at the same time informed of the time and place appointed by the Lodge for the trial.
Any Master Mason may be the accuser of another, but a profane cannot be permitted to prefer charges against a Freemason. Yet, if circumstances are known to a profane upon which charges ought to be predicated, a Master Mason, may justly avail himself of that information, and out of it frame an accusation, to be presented to the Lodge. Such an accusation will he received and investigated, although remotely derived from one who is not a member of the Order. It is not necessary that the accuser should be a member of the same Lodge. It is sufficient if he is an affiliated Freemason. We say an affiliated Freemason, for it is generally held, and we believe correctly, that an unaffiliated Freemason is no more competent to prefer charges than a profane.
2. If the accused is living beyond the geographical jurisdiction of the Lodge, the charges should be communicated to him by means of a registered letter through the post-office, and a reasonable time should be allowed for his answer, before the Lodge proceeds to trial. But if his residence be unknown, or if it be impossible to hold communication with him, the Lodge may then proceed to trial—care being had that no undue advantage be taken of his absence, and that the investigation be as full and impartial as the nature of the circumstances will permit.
3. The trial must commence at a Regular Communication, for reasons which have already been stated; but having commenced, it may be continued at Special Communications, called for that purpose; for, if it was allowed only to be continued at regular meetings, which take place but once a month, the long duration of time occupied would materially tend to defeat the ends of justice.
4. The Lodge must be opened in the highest Degree to which the accuser has attained, and the examinations of all witnesses must take place in the presence of the amused and the accuser, if they desire it. It is competent for the amused to employ counsel for the better protection of his interests, provided such counsel is a Master Mason. But if the counsel be a member of the Lodge, he forfeits, in Doctor Mackey’s opinion, by his professional advocacy of the accused, the right to vote at the final decision of the question.
5. The final decision of the charge, and the rendering of the verdict, whatever be the rank of the accused, must always be made in a Lodge opened on the Third Degree; and at the time of such decision, both the accuser and the accused, as well as his counsel, if he have any, should withdraw from the Lodge.
6. It is a general and an excellent rule, that no visitors shall be permitted to be present during a trial.
7. The testimony of Master Masons is usually taken on their honor, as such. That of others should be by affidavit, or in such other manner as both the accuser and accused may agree upon.
8. The testimony of profanes, or of those who are of a lower Degree than the accused, is to be taken by a Committee and reported to the Lodge, or, if convenient, by the whole Lodge, when closed and sitting as a Committee. But both the accused and the accuser have a right to be present on such occasions.
9. When the trial is concluded, the accuser and the accused must retire, and the Master will then put the question of guilty, or not guilty, to the Lodge.
Not less than two-thirds of the votes should be required to declare the accused guilty. A bare majority is hardly sufficient to divest a Brother of his good character, and render him subject to what may perhaps be an ignominious punishment. But on this subject the authorities differ.
10. If the verdict is guilty, the Master must then put the question as to the nature and extent of the punishment to be inflicted, beginning with expulsion and proceeding, if necessary, to indefinite suspension and public and private reprimand. To inflict expulsion or suspension, a vote of two-thirds of those present is required, but for a mere reprimand, a majority will be sufficient. The votes on the nature of the punishment should be viva voce, the living voice, or, rather, according to Masonic usage, by a show of hands.
Trials in a Grand Lodge are to be conducted on the same general principles; but here, in consequence of the largeness of the Body, and the inconvenience which would result from holding the examinations in open Lodge, and in the presence of all the members, it is more usual to appoint a Committee, before whom the case is tried, and upon whose full report of the testimony the Grand Lodge bases its action. And the forms of trial in such Committees must conform, in all respects, to the general usage already detailed.