The Ashburton Guardian. Magna est Veritas et Prævalebit. WEDNESDAY, MAY 1, 1889. SERVED HIM RIGHT.
Onr Ohristchurch evening contemporary, the " Telegraph," draws attention to a very remarkable libel case just disposed of at Home by the Court of Queen's Bench. It appears that some time ago an advertisement appeared in a. London paper intimating that a young girl was in want of a situation, whereupon a young man replied by post stating that he had no situation to olfor, but making immoral proposals. The letter was opened by the mother of the girl, who handed.it to the police, by whom the writer was arrested and prosecuted, the indictment before the Kecorder being that he had " unlawfully and. maliciously written and published to a young lady of virtuous and modest character a defamatory letter of, and concerning her, and of, and concerning her character for virtue and modesty. At the close of the case for the prosecution counsel for the prisoner submitted there was no case to go to the jury on" the grounds that to write and j send to a person a letter of the kind set out in the indictment was not an indictable offence ; that the letter was neither a defamatory libel nor an obscene libel ; that there had been no publication of the libel. The Recorder declined to stop the case, and left it to the jury, who convicted the prisoner on all counts of the indictment. Judgment was respited, and the prisoner, who seems to have baen a young man of means, waß admitted to bail. The case then came up for decision in the Court of Queen's Bench, the question being, was the prisoner properly convioted ? Counsel for him in tho higher Court argued that the letter was a mere incitement to commit private immorality, and that had never been held to be a criminal offence, that even if defamatory there had been no publication of the letter. Counsel for the Crown oontended that the prisoner had been properly convioted of writing and publishing a defamatory libel calculated to provide a breach of the peace. Lord Coleridge, in giving judgment, said— lt appears to me there is a very short and plain ground upon which the conviction can be sustained. It is a conviction upon the indictment which charges that the letter sot out is a defamatory libel tending to defame and to bring into contempt the character of the person to whom it was sent. lam of opinion that the letter is of such a character that it tended to provoke a breach of the peace. At all events tho sending of such a letter to the person to whom it was pent might, under tho circumstances of her position and character, reasonably and probably tend to provoke a breaoh of the peace on her part or on the part of those connected with her. The jury must be takon to have found that it was a defamatory libel which was calculated to provoke a breach of the peace. For that short around I am of opinion that tho conviction must be confirmed. Justices Manisty, Hawking, Day, and Smith ooncurred." Many persons will no doubt bo surprised to find the law of libel sufficiently far-reaching to have enabled tho punishment of tho offender even where the " libel " was published to no one save the person libelled, but it is very satisfactory to see that this is the case, and that the writers of offensive letters can be made to suffer even though their insults are not intended by them to be known by anyone besides the addressee. In the case under notice the scoundrel deserved the punishment he got, and his well-earned sentenco will probably be tho means of restraining other rascals who are only kept within the bounds of ordinary decency by their enforced respect for the terrors of tho , law.