The Ashburton Guardian. Magna est Veritas et Prevalebit. THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 3, 1881. The Law of Libel.
TOWN EDITION. [lssued at 4.20 p.«*.j
The Bill brought into Parliament last session by Mr Sheehan for amending the law of libel did not receive the attention which its intrinsic importance deserved. The Bill proposed to place the power to conduct a criminal prosecution in this case as in all others in the hands of the law officers of the Crown, and the alteration is much required. Criminal offences tried in the Supreme Court are always supposed to be offences against the Queen, and in prosecutions for criminal libel, the cases are included in the ordinary criminal calendar, and every subpoena to a witness is issued in the name of the Queen. The police, however, have nothing to do with such such cases, and any Tom, Dick, or Harry, who desires to injure a newspaper proprietor out of malice, or whose inordinate conceit leads him to fancy that any fault found with himself in print is an awful crime, is allowed to burlesque Her Majesty, and make use of her name to bring himself before the public as an injured man to whom a great public wrong has been done. In endeavoring to rectify this abuse, Mr Sheehan’s Bill was without doubt a step in the right direction. Its only failing was that it did not go really far enough, and rectify the other abuses by which newspaper proprietors are often unjustly annoyed, harassed in the discharge of their duties, and put to expense.
We are quite aware that it may be argued that the use of the Queen’s name in a criminal prosecution for libel is merely one of several innocent fictions of the law. It is quite true that in the case of every prisoner who is tried for any offence, the jury are told that for “ that issue he has thrown himself on his country, which country you are.” More arrant nonsense could scarcely be spoken. Take the case of Ned Kelly, for instance. So far from “ throwing himself on his country,” that was about the last thing in the world he would attempt to do ; in fact, he had just been for months trying as hard as he could to throw himself off his country, and get out of it. And then also as to the jurymen. They are persons, not things, and though they certainly sometimes look like so many lumps of mullock, they are not a country, or even a single acre of one. These statements to jurymen, though foolish, are mere pieces of innocent twaddle. With libel prosecution fictions it is different.
But besides Mr Sheehan’s objections there are others. With regard to all other offences, there is a division into civil and criminal—some belonging to one class, some to the other, but none to both. How absurd it would seem to everybody, for instance, if a burglar were merely sued civilly for the amount of damage he had done to the door he had broken in, or for the value of the property he had carried off! Or, on the other hand, what would be thought in these days if every creditor were allowed to arrest a man who dishonored a bill or failed to pay an account against him on the day when it fell due'! Why, in three months’ time, every gaol in the colony would be crammed to suffocation. But according to the present law of libel the offence is one for which a person who imagines himself aggrieved may either prosecute criminally or sue socially, or even adopt both courses at the same time.
And the absurdity in the present law does not end even here. The person who imagines himself injured may even prosecute the actual offender in the criminal court and sue a third person, namely, the newspaper proprietor, who may know nothing about the matter, and be as innocent as the babe unborn, in the civil court for damages as well. On the same principle, to be consistent, the law should give the power to every prosecutor for forgery not merely to get the forger arrested, but also to sue the stationer who sold the pen, ink, and paper, by means of which the forgery was made, for damages. If, indeed, it could be proved that from malice, or any similar cause, the newspaper proprietor actually conspired with the libeller, he could be, and should be, included in the same indictment, but not otherwise. And even this is not all that is objectionable in the present law. Whether to put more money into lawyers’ pockets or not, in all prosecutions for libel, though the case must first of all come before the Police Court in order to see if there is a primti Jade case against the accused before it is sent for trial before the Supreme Court, the whole preliminary proceedings are a mere farce, as the magistrate cannot hear any evidence as to the truth of the alleged libel, or of the public grounds which justified its publication, or in fact any evidence as to anything which would tend to shew that it was no criminal libel at all. Such appears to be the law as laid down by the late Lord Cockburn.
To add to all this mass of confusion, folly, and iniquity in the present law of libel, the Supreme Court Judges in our colonies are not at least at one on the question, what constitutes a libel ? According to Justice Johnston, of this colony, any thing which tends to bring a person into discredit or ridicule is a lible. According to Chief Justice Stawell, of Victoria, a published statement, though it may bring a person into discredit, and though even it may be not actually true, and to a certain extent prompted by malice, yet if the malice be not more than might ha/e been expected under the circumstances, and , if i the person bad reason to believe
that he was publishing the truth at the time, and that he was doing it for the public interest, it would be no libel. On the whole, we are strongly inclined to think that the present law of libel is a complete blot on our Statute Book, a remnant of a comparatively barbarous age, when the printers’ and newspaper writers’ duties consisted not in freely publishing the truth for the good of the people, but in servile pandering to men ot wealth and power.
R. M. Court. —At the R. M. Court this morning, before Mr J. Nugent Wood, a married woman applied for a protection order. Mr Crisp appeared in support of the application, and Mr Ireland represented the husband. The order was granted by consent. The civil case, Bell v. Orton, was reinstated, on the application of Mr 0. W. Ireland, who appeared for plaintiff, plaintiff to defray all costs in connection with such reinstatement. Mr Crisp appeared for defendant.
Accident. —An accident occurred last evening to Mr Alfred Porter, who left town tor his home on the West Belt, between 10 and 11 o’clock, and fell down on the way, breaking his leg in two places. When found he was in a good deal of pain. A cab was at once summoned, and the sufferer was conveyed to the Hospital, where he received the immediate attention of Dr Ross. This is the third time within the past twelve months that Porter has met with a similar accident, and the cause is said to have been the same in each case. When he broke his leg on the second occasion, he was warned to be very careful, as a repetition of the accident might necessitate the amputation of the limb. Fortunately, however, amputation will not, in this Case, we understand be necessary.
Ashburton and the Christchurch Exhibition. —The idea mooted at the meeting of the Industrial Association last evening, viz., that an Ashburton Court should be opened at the Intercolonial Exhibition to be hold in Christchurch in March next seems to us to be a good one. There will doubtless be a good many exhibits from this town aild district, and if those exhibits go up in the ordinary way they may be scattered, figuratively speaking, to the four winds of Heaven ; that is they may be scattered about the Exhibi,ion in such a way that strangers who do not know Ashburton and her capabilities, will be unable to form any notion of the importance of the place. But to lump all our exhibits together and to open a special court to contain them where they may be seen side by side would be to at once attract attention to the resources of the place. It would, in fact, be the best advertisement perhaps that Ashburton could have, and would benefit the exhibitors both individually and collectively. Let us hope that although the proposal fell td the ground last night, the idea of opening a special court for Ashburton will yet be carried out.
Exchanged the Bench for the Bar. —District Judge Shaw, Dunedin, has resigned, to practice in the legal profession. It is not decided who will succeed Messrs Shaw and Simpson, as it is said that there is great difficulty in obtaining lawyers of the requisite standing and experience who would give up their practice for the comparatively small salaries paid to District Judges and Resident Magistrates. The Election Writs. Wiring from Wellington yesterday the Press special says :—The date of the general election will not be definitely fixed or the writs issued till the result of Saturday’s affair is known, as should anything serious come of that event, it might be necessary to summon Parliament at once. Should all go well the writs will most probably be issued next Monday or Tuesday, fixing the date of election for about the 7th or Bth of December. This of course must not be taken as authoritative. Events might involve more or less change of plana. Cricket. —A scratch match will take place on the Domain Ground on Monday afternoon next, between the chosen eleven for the Christchurch and other matches and fifteen other players, selected from the Borough and County Clubs. Play will commence at two o’clock sharp. Good Templary. —At the usual weekly meeting of the Safe Retreat Lodge, Ashburton, held last evening, the following officers were installed : Bro. J. McDonald, W.C.T.; Bro. L. F. Andrewes, W.V.T ; Bro. J. R. Murray, W.S.; Bro. J. Hardley, W.P.S.; Bro. J. Mullaney, W.T.; Bro. W. Parkin, W.C.; Bro. E. Watkins, W.M.; Bro. R. Hepburn, W.1.G.; Bro. Golding, W.0.G.; Bro.H. Cotterill, W.R. H.S.; Sister Murray, W.L.H.S.; Bro. C. Vincent. W.D.M.; Bro. J. Pauling, W.A.S. The report of the W.P. Secretary showed that twelve new members had beeninitiatedduring the past quarter. After some other business had been transreted, and a vote of thanks accorded to the Returnig Officers the Lodge closed in the usual manner.
Qua Treatment of the Moaeis. — Mr C. Richmond has addressed a long and interesting letter to the Nelson Evening Mail on the native difficulty, tracing its history from the early days. He concludes as follows :—“ The New Zealand Government, through all their diversities, and amid all their mistakes, have ever been unanimous in holding out a friendly hand to the Maori race. Forced in self-defence into a struggle, the colony has shown at all times great good temper and selfcontrol. Its sins have been occasional credulity and weakness, never harshness. We are as clear of “ blood guiltiness ” as Mr Gladstone himself, and England’s youngest offshoot may claim, in her dealings with the Maoris, to have led the honorable way which England herself had never trod until, unde’’ Mr Gladstone, she withdrew from Afghanistan and retroceded the Transvaal to its inhabitants. No barbarous race has ever met with usage from its more civilised neighbor comparable for liberality and fairness with the treatment of the Maori by the colonists of New Zealand. ” Ashbubton Cheese and Blttee Factory.—We must congratulate the promoters of the proposed Cheese and Butter Factory for the spirited aud energetic way in which they have gone to work in endeavoring to establish a local industry of so much importance in our midst. The idea was not mooted, we believe, many weeks ago, and already a provisional directorate has been formed and a prospectus issued, the scheme is before the public and the shares are likely to be liberally subscribed for. Let us hope the concern will be the success which it promises to be. It will be a proud day for Ashburton when she is able to say that she initiated the Cheese and Butter Factory system in this Island. Scholastic. —The following is told of Bishop E—, of Massachusetts :—“ Visiting one of the churches of his diocese, he requested that the Sunday School children should be assembled to be catechised. The good bishop put this question rather suddenly to the little boy who stood trembling at the head of his class— ‘ ‘ Who made the world V The little fellow, with quivering voice, replied, ‘ I didn’t. The bishop, astonished at the answer, demanded —‘ What do you mean, sir V Still more frightened, the lad replied—‘lf I—did I won’t—l won’t do it again. ’’ This reminds us of Punch’s story about Magna Charta. “ Who signed Magna Charta 1” enquired the teacher of a trembling urchin. No reply. “ WI« signed Magna Charta?” again enquired the teacher, in a still louder voice. “Please sir, ’t wasn’t me sir,” was the terrified reply. ’
In Explanation. — ln case our readers may feel surprised,at the limited number of our cablegrams to-day, we may mention that telegraphic communication between Adelaide and Port Darwin is interrupted, the wires being down.
Wakanui Road Board. —ln consequence of there being no quorum in attendance this morning the monthly meeting of the above was postponed until Saturday next. Wesleyan Home Mission. —A public meeting is to take place this evening in the above church, when the claims of the above Mission will be advocated by the Revs. J. A. Taylor and Thomas Pee. It is expected that the addresses will be both interesting and instructive, and some valuable information on church work in the scattered districts of the colony imparted,
Narrow Escape or a Young Lady.— The daughter of Captain Fitzen, aged . 7, attempted to enter a train at Caversham yesterday morning while it was in motion. She fell between the train and the platform/, She escaped with a cut forehead and Some severe bruises. Had she not drawn herself close up between the platform and the train wheels she must have been killed on the spot. ' Matters at tue Front. —The Wellington correspondent of the Fteia telegraphed yesterday ;—“lt is .still fully believed by experts that Te Whiti, Tohu, and' Company, will simply station themselves in Parihaka and refuse to budge. It may then be a matter of some, trouble to “move on” a couple: of thousand people, including women and children. Mr Bryce is said, however, to have his plans thoroughly matured. The total force at the front may now be summed up roughly in rotind numbers as follows: Constabulary, nearly 900; ’Volunteers from other places, nearly 1,000 ; local Volunteers, 600 or 60t); in all, something like 2,500 men. The Government have been obliged to refuse all : offers, from every part of the colony since last Saturday morning, as Mr Bryce telegraphed very positively not to send any more at present, as he did not want them, and an excessive number would embarrass rather than assist him. Every effort is being used to improve the camp commissariat provisions at the front. The fact is that the Government have more men that it bargained for, and this has caused some unavoidable temporary inconvenience.”