THE ADMINISTRATION OF JUSTICE IN ASHBURTON.
To the Editor.
Sin, —I feel sure that your readers will agree with me that the position taken by our Resident Magistrate in the case of Edniiston and Gundry v. Ireland, heard to-day, should not bo allowed to pass without some comment. Indeed, I think I am justified in suggesting that the time has arrived when the Mayor of our Borough is in duty bound to call a meeting, not only of the ratepayers of the Borough, but also of the residents in the county, to thoroughly consider the way in which justice is administered in our local Court.
Mr. Gundry, one of the plaintiffs in the suit mentioned, admitted on oath, and Mr. Guinness, the Magistrate who heard the case, also admitted that a private interview had taken place betweem-them (Mr. Guinness and Mr. GundryiAv Mr. Gundry’s office relativWlf, True, that both these g<mthin3PK<M.'ted that the conversation took place only bn the subject of money being paid into court. .Nevertheless, the very fact that such an interview did take place, and take place the very day before the case was heard, is, as Judge Johnston stigmatised Mr. Guinness’ judgment in the case of the Police v. Patterson, “ monstrous.” In any case the proper person to go to for information on this subject—payment into Court—was the Clerk and not the Magistrate, who is not supposed to know anything about the caso till it comes before him in open Court. I assure you, Sir, that when I was informed this interview had taken place, and knowing the terms of intimate friendship existing between Mr. Guinness and Mr. Gundry, I was convinced that I had an uphill and almost hopeless case to conduct: indeed, had I not had full confidence in my case, both on the merits and on the law points, I should have unhesit itingly objected to Mr. Guinness sitting to decide it. As it was, because I objected to Mr. O’Reilly cross-examining one of his witnesses, my objection was at once pounced upon by the R.M., and my case was characterised as “ a suspicious one.” I admit that a very suspicious circumstance did during the hearing crop up, and one which requires the strictest investigation. I submit that the public is not to be put off with mere assertions that only this, only that, occurred. A Magistrate who is to decide a case goes the clay before the trial and has a private interview with the plaintiffs, with one of whom he is on the terms of most intimate friendship. At the trial that self-same Magistrate characterises the defendant’s case, as “ suspicious,” because the counsel for the defendant insists upon a well-known principle of law, that a party to a suit cannot treat his witness as hostile and subject him to cross-examination, unless that witness is manifestly hostile, which was not the case Fere. After considerable hesitation he allows the counsel’s fee, but takes the unusual course of disallowing the expenses of the defendant’s witnesses, only answering, when asked to give his reasons for disallowing these expenses, that he was not “ bound to give any reasons.” I ask • your readers, what are the thoughts suggested to them on reading these facts 1 Does not this case point out the necessity for a strict and thorough investigation ? In the case of Bryant v. Wilcocks, heard not long ago, the whole matter turned upon a receipt, which the defendant refused to show to the plaintiff or to “ his solicitor. Had this receipt been shown, the case would have been withdrawn, the plaintiff being nonsuited. I submitted that no costs should he allowed to defendant, for, I argued, if the receipt had been shown to us, we would not have proceeded with the case. Still Mr. Guinness ■allowed costs. When I asked for his reasons, the same answer came, he was. not bound to give any reasons. Then why were costs refused in the present case ? Mr. Guinness at first said that he did not think the present ■ case one in which costs should be allowed, because it might have been amicably settled if “ a more accommodating spirit ” had been shown by ray client. I immediately told him that both my client and I had seen Mr. Gundry and told him he was suing the wrong man, and offered to let him withdraw without costs, but that Mr. Gundry had decided on going to trial. Seeing no loophole of escape, Mr. Guinness allowed counsel’s fee. t asked for the expenses of witnesses ; my application was refused. Why ? Because, ferjoth, we had not taken Mr. Charles Branson to Mr. Gundry and explained to him our case? According to Mr. Guinness’ view, our duty was, without knowing what the case was against us, gone and showd our whole case, our hand, before the other side. I many years at the bar and have never yet heard such a “monstrous ” suggestion. Again, if our not having done what Mr. Guinness said we should have done was a good reason, for disallowing the costs of witnesses, surely it was an;, - equally good reason for disallowing my fee. No, sir, this was not the real reason. The real reason will be apparent to all who read;tliis letter. ■ .
I again submit, sir, that the Magistrate's conduct, in this “suspicious* case, requires more than cursory comment, and I assert, without fear of contradiction
that the confidence of the public in the due and fair and unbiassed administration of justice will be, if it is not already, completely shaken, when such private incan take place, when such inHHrncc can sway the judicial mind and Hfcblic attention is not directed to the Sjvil.— l am, Ac.,
Gerald D. BrANSON. Ashburton, April 13.
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