The Ashburton Guardian. Magna Est Veritas Et Prævalebit. WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 20, 1890. AMENDMENT OF THE LAW OF LIBEL.
One of the Bills to be dealt with this session, and which, fortunately, has not been included m the proposed slaughter of innocents, is of the utmost importance to the newspaper Press of the colony. We allude to the amendments proposed m the law of libel. Under existing conditions, no matter how carefully or judiciously a newspaper is conducted, the proprietor thereof is m daily and hourly dread of prosecution for libel. Such action may arise from the publication of proceedings at a public meeting, a correspondent's letter to the editor dealing with a public matter, the report of a discussion at the table of a local body, an ordinary paragraph, an editorial written with no other earthly object than to guide public opinion into a sound channel, or any legitimate effort to expose vice or knavery. All the responsibility of public utterances is placed upon the newspaper proprietor's shoulders, and any person feeling aggrieved has only to wait upon a solicitor, and proceedings are at once initiated to compel an unreserved apology, or squeeze from the unfortunate journalist substantial damages. Very often the apology demanded is granted, even when the facts of the case are as originally printed; but the newspaper proprietor is compelled to take this course m preference to contesting an action, which, although he may win, will cost him a considerable sum of money, as the plaintiff is often a man of straw who cannot pay his own law costs, to say nothing of the costs of the other side. Under the law, as proposed to be amended, however, the New Zealand journalist will be placed m a more independent position, and a considerable amount of anxiety and responsibility for the acts of others will be removed from his shoulders and placed where they properly belong. The platform speaker, the member of a local body, or other person uttering a libel, will, should the new provisions be placed on the Statute book, he held responsible not only for uttering a libel, but for publication thereof. Fair and accurate reports of public meetings and Court proceedings will be privileged, but, as at present, and rightly so, the publication of blasphemous and indecent matter will be actionable, and it will j still remain beyond the power of newspapers so inclined—fortunately there | are few of these m New Zealand—to vilify and malign respectable and unoffending persons. The most important amendment is a clause which j will effectually prevent frivolous and vexatious libel actions being brought against newspaper proprietors. This clause provides that " no criminal prosecution shall be commenced against any proprietor, publisher, editor, or any person responsible for the publication of a newspaper for any libel published therein without the order of a Judge at Chambers being first had and obtained." Notice of intention to make such application to the Tudge shall be given to the person accused, who may be heard against such application. The foregoing clause will place it beyond the power of designing persona to woppy and harrass newspaper proprietors when fcljpy know well beforehand, or should do so, ihst they are not likely to be awarded even -q^a farthing damages. A Court of Summary Jurisdiction, may also, under the proposed new regulations, (and which are already law m England), if of opinion after hearing evidence that there is a strong or probable presumpr tion ththt the jury on trial would acquit the person <ehai»g«d ( dismiss the case; or if the libel be only of a trivial character, may deal with the cage, and if the libel be proved, inflict a, penalty not exceeding ,£SO. It v. ill alao be compulsory on the part of any person entering an action for libel to satisfy a Ju4ge of the Supreme Court that he is m a position to pay the costs of defendant should au ody^r/se verdict be returned, and failing this gu^r^j^^e. the case may be remitted to the Resident Magistrate's Court for final settlement, IPhfise #j?@ nojt unreasonable provisions to make, M#d should they finally pass the Legislative Council, the only source from whence obstruction has come, the position of a joupn&lisfc m New Zealand will be equal to ikuct of jifs bj>etjiren m England,