MR. PURNELL’S CONTEMPT OF COURT.
(From the Timaru Evening Telegraph.-) Contempt of Court is either an offence committed against the dignity of justice herself or tho saying or doing of something which amounts to a refusal to comply with the prescribed rules of form and order. Contempt of Court is to be classified under two heads, direct and consequential. Direct contempt is an open insult to the Judge himself, or resistance to him, or others, officially employed, and the law provides' heavy punishment to . meet any such cases. Consequential contempt is the persistence in acts or speech* which tend to obstruct the business in hand, or indirectly detract from the assumption of dignity with which justice enrobes her Judges while in. their official capacity. It is absolutely necessary that the proceedings of our law courts should be conducted in such a manner that any disrespect or insolent behaviour, on the part of either counsel or witnesses, should he promptly suppressed, and, if advisable, punished. To ensure this, power, almost unlimited, is permitted to our Judges and Magistrates to deal with cases of the kind at v ill. This provision is certainly a wise one, but one that calls for tho exercise of great discretion in its application. For a judge to use his prerogative hastily, and perhaps when under the influence of excitement, attendant upen the usual circumstances in which he is placed, must as surely tend to lessen his dignity as the supposed contempt he seeks to punish. We are led to these remarks on reading an account of the “scene in Court” at Ashburton the other day, when Mr. Purnell was sentenced to seven days’ imprisonment for alleged contempt of Court. Mr. Purnell, from what we can gather, was interupted, while conducting his case, by the opposite counsel, to which he properly objected. We know little of law courts’ routine, but we certainly consider that one side of an argument at a time is necessary to enable the presiding authority to arrive at a just and equitable decision. Both at once, and Judge, counsel and witnesses altogether, can only lead to confusion and a total subversion of dignity and fair play, and is liable to cause the proceedings to be esteemed only in the light of a farce, and the court to become a favorite resort of the omnium gatherum. The contempt of which Mr. Purnell appears to have been guilty consisted in his respectfully declining to sit down, in the middle of his case, leaving the advantage to the opposite side. We are inclined to commend him for, this, provided he acted becomingly, and with all the respect and obeisance due to the immaculate Bench. For refusing to sit down when ordered, he was adjudged guilty of contempt and for answering back to tho Magistrate’s querulous offer of half-an-hour to consider the matter that “ he did not want any time for consideration,” he was awarded seven days. To most people it will be obvious that the offer of conciliation was misplaced. If Mr. Purnell had rendered himself liable to the censure of the Court, it certainly savors of weakness and undecidedness, that he should have been offered a parley when in the custody of the constable, and half-way 1
out of the room. It looks as if the; Magistrate had repented of his somewhat' hasty ruling the moment it was given, and desired to compromise. Seven days; imprisonment inflicted on a barrister of the Supremo Court, in a lower Court, is a heavy sentence, and v e fail to see that Mr. Purnell merited such 'an extreme stretch of judicial authority. Wo have no knowledge of Mr. Purnell, we do not remember to have heard of him before, and our arguments are deducted from the aspect of this case as we see it. Whether or. not he was guilty of contempt of court, the arbitrary and irritable exercise of a power that at all times should only be resorted to in grave cases, cannot lend to uphold the consequences and dignity of . our .Halls of Justice. In accepting Mr. Purnell’s statement, we cannot term it apology, the Magistrate showed clearly enough that, on his side, he was only too willing to grasp at any excuse that opened the way for mature reflection to retrieve the error of rash and petulant commission, and wc hardly know who comes out of this paltry affair the best, the Magistrate, the Lawyer, or the Policeman. For our part, if we had given a man seven days, we should have taken precious good care that he got it, especially after we had signed the warrant for his committal. Or, had it been our lot to have stood in Mr. Purnell’s shoes, we would have taken the seven days, knowing that we could fall back on a sufficient remedy for the apparent injustice and stigma cast upon us. As the case stands at present, the lawyer has achieved a splendid advertisement for nothing, the easilj aroused dignity of a minor court of justice has been mollified at a loss of self-respect; and—-the constable is minus his prisoner ; perhaps, • after all, the most desirable consummation towhich this unpremeditated farce in three acts , cuuld have been brought.
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