The Ashburton Guardian. Magna est Veritas et Prævalebit. SATURDAY JUNE 29, 1889. THE LAW OF LIBEL.
The law of libel is one upon which many — perbapß .nost — newspaper publisher* are able to speak feelingly. Many of them have had to suffer for reporting in good faith, public utterances of which the only libel waß in their truth. Others have been mulct in heavy oosts by defending attempts by men of straw to extort damages for some alleged slander, the injured innocents being found wanting when court fees and lawyers' bills came to be settled ; and others again have been glad to compromise black-mailing actions by the payment of a Bam oi money, rather than incur liability lor the bills of costs, "Which would inevitably fall to the defendant's lot— win or lose — to discharge. Instances of the deliberate newspaper publication of a libel are extremely rare. When political or personal feeling has run high an editor haß been known to overstep the limits of the law, but as a rule the libels for whioh newspapers have suffered have been of [ others' making, published in all innocence. At present privilege only extends to fair and acourate reports of proceedings in courts of law, and a recent ciroumstance has shown that there is some doubt as to what constitutes a oourt of law, a threatened action being based upon the publication of a statement upon oath made in the bankruptcy section oi the (Supreme Court before an official assignee. A recant English case is oited by a contemporary, in which the alleged libel consisted of the publication by the defendants of the text of a judgment given in their favor in a previous action for libel taken against them by the same plaintiffs. This second action was carried through all the courts up to the House of Lords, by whom the case was dismissed on technical grounds. The Lord Chancellor held that such a publication, even if made in good faith and without malice, might by reason of not placing the whole case before the public become libellous^ and this was fully concurred in tyßfeee of his lordship's coadjutors a^^ft ceptocf with slight reservation bj^B? fourth,; This Beems to be the^^K weak point in the English law^m is evident that judgments should be considered privileged, so long as I they are not published maliciously, and it is to be hoped that this point will be amended in the changes which Government© "[propose to make this session in the law of libel — which proposals have occasioned these remarks. It is stated that the proposed measure is to closely follow the lines of the English Act, which provides that criminal prosecutions can only be instituted by the consent of a Judge, and legalises fair and accurate reports without malice of all lawful public meetings, aud of public bodies constituted under any Act, Where actions 'are brought against several newspapers for practically the same libel, the Judge may order all actions to be consolidated, and the verdict and costs to ba divided between the various defendant^. The British Actg of 1881 and 1887 confer privilege on all fair newspaper reports of proceedings of Court 1 , exercising jndical authority, and those ot any Vestry, Town Oounoil, School Board, Board of Guardian?, or local authority or similar statutory body, or of any public meeting lawfully convened for a lawful purpose and open to the public, it being provided that no protection is given to matter not pub lished in the interests of the publio, nor if it can be proved that the report was published malioioaslv. If any such reIport should be libellous tb,e liability in respect ♦•hereof* attaches, not to the newsi paper which IS *he meclintn of publioation, but to the actual author of the libel or slander. r J he proposals, so far as we are informed of their purport, are fair and jast, and such aa rospeptable newspapers— which those of JSew Zealand, we believe, without exception, are —are entitled to the protection of. The law as it now stands in this country opens tho door, as we have shewn, to black-mailing and persecution, and if the proposed Bill be passed into law the session will have produced at leaßt one useful measure,