Another expedient is often employed in the payment of public officers: I refer to the fees which they are sometimes authorized to receive on their own account, from those who require their services.
This arrangement is attended with a specious advantage, and a real danger. The advantage is, that the reward seems to be exactly and directly in proportion to the labour performed: the danger lies in the temptation given to such officers to increase their emoluments, by increasing the difficulties of those who need their services. The abuse is easily introduced. It is very natural, for example, that an individual who has been served with an extraordinary expedition, should add something to the accustomed fee. But this reward, bestowed on account of superior expedition in the first instance, infallibly becomes a cause of delay in all which follow. The regulated hours of business are employed in doing nothing, or in doing the least possible, that extraordinary pay may be received for what is done out of office-hours. The industry of all the persons employed will be directed to increasing the profit of their places, by one another mutual assistance; and the heads of departments will connive at the disorder, either for their share of the benefit, or out of kindness to their inferiors, or for fear of rendering them discontented.
The inconveniences will be yet greater, if they relate to a service covered with a mysterious veil, which the public cannot raise. Such is the veil of the law. The useless and oppressive delays in legal procedure arise from very complicated causes; but it cannot be doubted, that one of the most considerable of these causes is the sinister interest which lawyers have in multiplying processes and questions, that they may multiply the occasions for receiving fees.
Integrity is more easily preserved in public offices in which there are no fees, than in those where they are allowed. A lawful right often serves as a pretext for extortion. The distinction between what is permitted and what is prohibited, in many cases, is exceedingly minute; and bow many temptations may occur of profiting by the ignorance of strangers, when circumstances will insure impunity! An easy method of detecting offences is a great restraint. Whenever therefore fees are allowed, a list of them should be publicly fixed up in the office itself: this will operate as a protection to the persons employed against suspicion, and to the public against vexation.
This mode of rewarding services, supposes that the individuals who stand in need of them should bear the expenses of the establishment. This is true only in case the benefit is solely for those individuals: in all other cases, fees constitute an unequal and very unjustly assessed tax. We shall have occasion to recur to this subject shortly.