THE LIBEL ACT
Jhe Bill to amend the law of libel which has passed the Legislative Council, and now awaits its second reading m the House of Representatives, is a wise, liberal, and necessary measure, and it is to be hoped that it will be passed without substantial amendment. It proposes to protect newspapers m publishing fair and accurate reports of public proceedings; the privilege of the Press extending to the proceedings of all Courts of Justice, City and Borough Councils, Harbor Boards, and other local bodies, select committees of either House of Parliament, and generally of all officers of State acting at the request of any Government office or Department. Protection is also extended to reports of speeches at public meetings, provided that any reasonable letter or statement m refutation or explanation is given insertion. The onus of libel is very properly thrown upon the person who utters it 'and who for the purposes of the Act is regarded as ipso facto the publisher of the libel. Where an action is brought against more newspapers than one for the publioation of the same libel the actions may be consolidated and damages and costs divided among the defendants, and when the libel is of a trivial character the case may be deoided by a Resident Magistrate without the necessity for remitting it to a jury. Furthermore if an aotion is brought by a man of straw security for costs may be insisted upon, and the husband or wife of the person charged with, criminal libel is to be a competent, but not compellable witness. Further no oriminal prosecution may be commenced against the proprietor, publisher or editor of a newspaper for any libel published therein without an order of a judge m chambers being first had and obtained. Application for such order can only be made after notice has been given to the person accused, who is to have the opportunity of being heard against the granting of the order sought, The immunity granted by the Aot is not to extend to the publication of any blasphemous or indecent matter. The Bill appears to us to be an eminently fair one and as to its necessity there can be no two opinions. We sincerely hope that it will be passed as printed.
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