The Ashburton Guardian. Magna est Veritas, et Prevalebit. MONDAY, APRIL 11, 1881. The Dog Registration Act.
TOWN EDITION. > [lssued at 5.35 p.m.]
The rigid interpretation which has been put upon the Dog Registration Act by the Bench, arid which, if correct, leads to the inference that every dog owner in the colony must necessarily be fined once at least per annum, does not seem to accord with the opinion of the Dunedin Bench, which reads the Act in what we take leave to think is a more sensible way. A man being summoned before the latter for having in his possession four unregistered dogs, pleaded that the animals were the property of the Hunt Club ; that the Club was getting a pack together; and as soon as it was formed the whole of the dogs of which it was composed would be registered. The plea was held sufficient justification for the omission to register for the time being, and the charge was dismissed. We regard this decision as being not only consistent with common sense but also with that axiom of our criminal law which requires proof, both that the law has been broken and that it has been broken wilfully, although the intention may doubtless be inferred from more circumstances that one. As trifling fines havq generally been imposed for breaches of the new Act, it may be contended, in some quarters, that it is not worth while making a fuss, even if persons have been wrongly fined. The sufferers, however, are not likely to take this view of the matter, neither do we. A man ought not to be wrongly convicted of an offence against the law, even if the penalty imposed is but a slight one ; and there are often collateral expenses incurred in these proceedings, in the shape of loss of time and otherwise, which makes the penalty heavier than it looks. However, an irritating sense of injustice is awakened, which is extremely detrimental to that feeling of veneration for the laws which it is so desirable should pervade the community. We are sure there are numbers of persons in this district who have receetly figured in the Police Court as defendants, charged with breaches of the Act in question, who have felt deeply aggrieved at the convictions recorded against them, not that they care for the few shillings extracted from their pockets, but because they know they have not wilfully infringed the law, while in many instances they showed conclusively that they had endeavored to obey it, but had been prevented from doing so by circumstances over which they had no control
The subject under notice is, however, as a correspondent of this journal recently pointed out, involved in the larger one of police administration. Our legislators are gradually encompassing us With,; a network of petty offences, which devolves upon the police a multi-
tude of functions with which they had formerly nothing whatever to do —or to speak more precisely, which enables the police to assume to themselves a multitude of functions formerly beyond their control. In olden times, the duties of the police were virtually confined to the lowest class of society; but in New Zealand the policeman is an ominpresent being, poking his nose into people’s private affairs in a fashion which an English community would not, half a century ago, hove tolerated for an instant. This highly mischevious interference, it may be observed, attains its maximum in a country place where everybody knows, or fancies he knows, a good deal about everybody else’s affairs, and where the police becomecognizant ofmatters which, in large towns, they would never hear about, and which certainly, according to English ideas of police functions, in no way concern them. When, indeed, penal laws are enacted as much for the purposes of raising revenue as for the punishment of acts injurious to the welfare of society, it is a natural consequence that the guardians of the law should be spurred to an unhealthy activity, and that the Courts and other authorities should gradually lose sight of the importance of preserving the liberty of the subject intact. The frequenters of the Police Courts of the colony cannot fail to notice how often the law is stretched to support a police prosecution; and how much more strictly the evidence is construed when a private individual undertakes the unpleasant task of prosecuting a supposed offender than when the police perform that office; although there is not the shadow of a reason for making any such distinction.
Returning, however, to the Dog Registration Act, we decidedly think that its provisions want relaxing, and that a reasonable time should be allowed every year for people to register. We think, too, that the Government should stop the prosecution of people for what, after all, is not a very heinous offence. An example now and then would suffice for the ends of justice ; at any rate, fair warning should be given before these wild onslaughts are made on the public. The Act itself is a most incongruous and ill-devised one. It is obviously objectionable to embody two distinct and conflicting principles in the same statute. We have here a revenue law and a law for the prevention of a public nuisance—which might be created were a check not placed upon the keeping of dogs— rolled into one. We shall not deny that a dog tax is a legitimate means of raising revenue. It is, indeed, open to argument whether the sum which can be raised in this way is large enough to compensate for the annoj’ance which such a tax is likely to occasion. On principle, however, such a tax is defensible ; but then, treating it as a tax, it ought only to be regarded as a debt due to the Crown, like the Land or Property Tax, and should be recoverable in a court of law in the ordinary way. On the other hand, should the limitations on the keeping of dogs be deemed the essence of the measure, then the revenue principle should be expunged, and it should not be made the interest of the local bodies to urge the police to institute prosecutions for casual breakers of the law. The two principles which run through the present Act, we repeat, ought never to be joined in a statute on any subject whatsoever, and so long as they are made to co-exist the public will have just cause of complaint if the Act is rigorously enforced.
Postal. —Mails for the United Kingdom, etc., via Brindisi (for specially addressed correspondence only) will close at Ashburton on Wednesday, 13th inst., at 10 am. Late fee letters may be posted in the mail van up to the time of its departure. Not Even' a Drunk. —There was a clean charge sheet at the Resident Magistrate’s Court this morning. Masonic. —A lodge of instruction of the Ashburton Kilwinning Royal Arch Chapter is convened for to-morrow night, by advertisement appearing elsewhere.
A. A. and P. Association. —A meeting of the General Committee of the Ashburton Agricultural and Pastoral Association will be held at Quill’s Hotel tomorrow evening, at 7.30 o’clock. Quoits. —A meeting of the members of the local Quoit Club was held on Saturday evening, at which it was decided to play matches with the clubs of the surrounding districts during the coming season.
To The Unemployed —Advertisements are published by us this evening notifying tho following openings, viz. ; —A man to dig potatoes, a station carpenter, and a boy to milk. Tender!, —Particulars of tenders required by Messrs Fooks and Son, for building ; by the South Rakaia Road Board, for road making, repairing, <fcc.; and by Messrs Roberts and Winter, for planting—are published in another column. Opening for a Local Industry.—Mr T. Bullock notifies, through the medium of our advertising columns, that he has for sale cheap a capital site for the establishment of a bacon factory.
Railway Holiday Arrangements.— The train arrangements for Good Friday are published in our advertising columns. On the north and south lines and branches passenger traffic will be as usual, goods traffic only being suspended.
Church Anniversary. Services in connection with the Seafield Wesleyan Church Anniversary, were conducted yesterday afternoon and evening by the Rev W. Keall, who preached on both occasions. A large congregation met at the former service, but at about three o’clock - as mentioned in another column —the proceedings abrupt!}’ terminated, the fire at Mr Lawry’s residence causing quite a stampede from the place of worship. The excitement of a fire and its associations in such a quiet little village as Seafield usually is, affected, however, the evening service, and there was but a small attendance. It is to be hoped that the tea meeting, to be hold on Friday next, will be hold under somewhat more favorable auspices. Ashburton Racing Club. —A meeting of the committee of chis Club was held at Quill’s Commercial Hotel on Saturday afternoon last. Present—Messrs Fooks (in the chair), Stitt, Carter, Digby, Jacobson, and the Secretary. It was decided to hold a steeplechase meeting on the 27th May, and to accept Mr Carter’s offer of a course for the day’s racing on Grove Farm. The meeting decided to adhere to last year’s programme, except in regard to tbe added money, which will be increased in some instances. A ground committee, consisting of the following gentlemen was appointed :—-Messrs Digby, Quill, Fooks, Jacobson, and 1 Stitt. The committee will go over the course on Saturday next at 2 p. m. Mr Crisp sent in his resignation as member of the committee, but it was decided that it be not accepted. ; This was all the business, and the meeting adjourned.
Cheetsey Literary Institute;, — A meeting of the committee of the'“above Institute was held on Saturday evening last to consider the advisability of reopening the library, it having been closed during harvest operations. It was resolved that it be at once re-opened, the subscriptions to date from Ist May. It was decide 1 that all books out bo ordered to be returned for classification. It was resolved that Mr Fowler, junior, be appointed caretaker at L 6 per annum. After conversation as regarding the debt remaining on the Institute, a sub-committee was formed to make the necessary arrangements for holding an entertainment early in May in aid of the funds.