The Press. SATURDAY, AUGUST 10,1878.
Thb Electoral, or as it might be termed, the Representation Bill, of the Government will be viewed by every section of the community with amazement. For some months the Premier has addressed meetings by the dozen from one end of New Zealand to the other, and one of his leading and favorite topics has been the iniquitous illiberality of the existing law of Representation in this colony. No opportunity was lost of proclaiming to the working man that his rights as a citizen were withheld, and that, at the hands of the present Administration alone, could he receive help. The injustice of a property qualification was continually attacked, and the propriety of one residential vote, and one only, as frequently insisted on. That a member of the House, who held no place in a government, should preach a doctrine of the kind, if he believed in it, would not necessarily cause surprise, or call for special remark, but that a public man leading a Ministry should announce such a programme of policy in the country, and when Parliament meets present a measure such as the one now under consideration, is a proceeding that might well give rise, not only to surprise, bnt also to indignation. The Bill is in nearly all its provisions almost the exact opposite of everything in the way of representation that Sir G. Grey has publicly put forward as being demanded by right and justice. We shall show in what respects the new proposal differs from the law under which the franchise in New Zealand is at present exercised, and it will then be easily seen whether the promises of the recess are going to be redeemed by the measure of Ministers. By the Constitution Act, any man twenty-one years old, having a freehold of the value of £50 which he has held for six months, or a leasehold worth £10 a year, or occupying a house worth £10 a year in a town, or one worth £5 a year outside of a town, for six months, can qualify. Now the proposal of the Government is as follows, omitting the mere legal phraseology. The qualification is briefly one of £25 for "lands or '.' tenements," held at law or in equity, of which possession has been held for six months. As regards householders, the qualification is fixed at £10, with a condition of six months' occupation. It appears, therefore, that the £5 household qualification outside towns is to be done away with. Whilst, it is extremely unlikely that under the Constitution Act, now in force, any freeholder could be disqualified by reason of his freehold being worth less than £50, it is highly probable that cottages in the country might not always reach the value of £10 a year. The reduction in the case of freeholders will be no relief, for none is required, since there is no one under a disability. On the other hand, the abolition of the £5 household franchise may, in some instances, deprive persons of a vote to which, under the present system, they are entitled. It is difficult to discover any signs of the march of Liberalism in' such an arrangement as is proposed. Again, by the Lodger Franchise Act, 1875, a man living in lodgings, worth £10 a year, which he had occupied for twelve months, could qualify. The Government propose to abolish this privilege. The Act of 1875 has not, until lately, been much used, but within the last few months many claims under it are reported to have been made in some parts of the colony. This appears to have been the signal for the Ministers to eliminate the Act from the Statnte book. It is not given to ordinary minds to recognise in this movement any striking manifestation of liberal principles. It may well be doubted whether the deprived lodger will find complete consolation in the " resi- " dential" qualification, inasmuch as this is made available only to those who have resided for " two years in the colony, and " for six months in the district"
A midst this maze of different qualifications, one looks in vain for a simple principle on which everyone who, by the possession of either some property, however small, or a guarantee for hie being a bond-fide colonist through residence for a reasonable period, would possess the right to a vote. It would seem that both the miners and Maori special qualifications are to be retained. These involve points and conJ siderations that may, with advantage, be ' separately dealt with. Of so much of the Bill as treats of the common electoral franchise, we have no hesitation in saying that it is, without exception, the grossest imposition that has ever, in the name of Liberalism, been palmed off upon a people, and that its only merit lies in certain improvements in the electoral machinery to which we shall refer later. If evidence* were wanted of the spirit in which the whole measure has been conceived, it may be found in the 21st clause, which "expressly declares" that no one possessing more than one qualification in the same electoral district, shall have any more votes than he would have if he possessed only one qualification. Everybody knows, or ought to know, that ench is the present state of the law, that it has never been otherwise, and that no one has ever sought to change \ it. There would be just as much sense in introducing into a Bill to legalise j marriage with a deceased wife s sister, a clause " expressly declaring " that a man should not many a second wife during the lifetime of the first. The clause is merely a feeble attempt to cover, by mere words, the disgrace that the Government incur by repudiating the policy publicly announced by their chief. It is paying but a poor compliment to the public intelligence to suppose that so transparent and silly an artifice could be successful.
I Of the task which we hare set ourselves of describing the actual condition and probable future of our judicial organisation, the most difficult portion awaits us. It is comparatively easy to point out the shortcomings of the Resident Magistrate's Court, and to expatiate on the benefits to be fairly anticipated from the coming amongst us of a District Jndge. The first lie on the eurfaee, known and patent to all men, and easiest of all to be perceived by those who are quite ignorant how many high qualities—untrained—go even to failure. The second are largely matters of imagination. We can readily appreciate, a priori, the exceeding value to » judge of professional l«aming, especially when we may look to see it accompanied by lengthened experience. We forget how easily these advantage* may be rendered, nugaiory by personal faults, and expect unmixed benefit f nun the coining change. But how epeak of—how <«yen venture to suppose, there can be defects in the Supreme Court judicature — & Court whoe* erfftr-m o£ piveedure seems to eoinbin* all ihat is venerable in antiquity with all that in valuable in modern inrea-
tion —which at home is of proved adequacy to deal effectually with the most complicated questions of fact, and the deepest and most recondite analogies of la W —which had strength enough twentyfire years since to shake off an accumulated mass of antiquated forms and adopt itself with a wonderful degree of success to the enlarged necessities of social advancement —which, at this moment, is passing through a second great stage of improvement, of which it.will be much to say that it has carried the system somewhat in advance of what, for the last twenty years, has been in daily operation in our own colony.
Tot the Supreme Court has certainly not given entire satisfaction. It is accepted but we are not charmed with it. It is unquestionably the case that the welcome which is ready beforehand for the District Court comes equally from two classes of suitors. It proceeds not at all more sincerely from the unsuccessful claimant for £100 before the Resident Magistrate than from another who dares not even sue for twice the amount in the Supreme Court. The causes of the failure are different, but the result is the same. We admit that we expect nothing from what is popularly called " justices' justice," because law is a thing we give the justices credit for knowing nothing about; but we complain that we get nothing from the Supreme Court, because by the time it has opened the oyster for us all but the shell has disappeared. A tradesman in Christchurcb, who by the nature of hia business is under the necessity of running large accounts with his up-country customers, is thus placed in a very em- j b&rrassing position. If he goes into the Magistrate's Court, he does so under the penalty of sacrificing whatever excess there may be over the £100, which forms the limit of his Worship's jurisdiction. If he proceeds in the Supreme Court, he does iso at a cost of time and money out of all proportion to anything which can be recognised as necessary, or even reasonable. He is lucky indeed if he rcovers his demand within four months after he has commenced his suit; and the probability is that quite half a year will elapse before he hears anything of it. A delay of this kind is, we need not cay, a serious impediment to business; but this is not all. To prove his case, he has had to engage skilled professional assistance, and to follow up his adversary through all the same subtleties of pleading and intricacies of practice as if the case between them involved some novel and difficult problem of law, and could not be decided or even understood, without recourse to the ancient black letters. And this brings about a worse evil than either delay or expense. It adds inevitably the terrible element of uncertainly. Every man feels, when he comes to regard himself as a possible plaintiff in the Supreme Court, that from causes which he cannot prevent the operation of, and which are quite independent of the merits of the case, he may fail to get justice, and be saddled with an additional expense, equal perhaps to the amount of his claim. Wβ by no means say that he is right, but this is what he fears. To the common apprehension the Supreme Court is not cheap, it is not expeditious, and it is not relied upon as right.
It is impossible in a single article to enter fully into this complaint, or determine satisfactorily how far it is just. For our own part, even the illustration we have given, which we believe to be not at all exaggerated, seems to shut us up to the admission that there is a real grievance, and that it calls for a remedy. While, however, we say this, we believe the fault lies, not mainly with the system itself, and but slightly with their Honors the Judges. "Wβ conceive the ill result complained of, viewed in its most prominent aspect, to be due almost entirely to the application of the system to cases for which it is almost entirely unnecessary. Elaborate and costly as is the machinery of the Supreme Court, we doubt if any portion of it could be omitted with safety to the suitors, when the business in hand is to deal with some of the complicated problems which will readily rise to the mind of any merchant in Christchurch. There cannot be too many safeguards against error, or too many resources for correcting it afterwards, when the matter at stake, independently of the amount, depends upon the decision of some new point connected, we will say, with the law of general average, or stoppage in transitu, and this again probably upon a further question whether something done or said by one of the parties amounts to a sufficient ratification of the act of a stranger to enable him to rely on the law of agency. But it is ridiculous to set at work machinery designed for this purpose, when all that is wanted ie to recover, say, a butcher's bilL A demand of this sort ought to be left to the jurisdiction of the Magistrates' Court, because there cannot possibly be anything in it which a Magistrate cannot dispose o£ In snch a suit, from beginning to end, there can but be three questions. Was the meat supplied, was the price fair, and was it eatable. To get to the bottom of each an investigation, it surely does not need the long array of proceedings—writ, declaration, plea, demurrer, issues, special jury, verdict, judgment, motion to eet aside verdict, rule absolute, new trial, appeal, and writ of error, which are the daily bread of the gentlemen of the legal profession. These, as anyone knows who has had the misfortune to get into our Supreme Conrt, are the regular stages which he will pretty certainly have to pass through before he gets out at the other end. The mere statement of them brings the question we have been considering—whether a butcher or a draper ought to be driven into the Supreme Court for his money only because hie demand happens to exceed £100—to a reductio ad absurdwn.
We have not, however, done -with the subject. At the risk of being charged with unfurling the standard of rebellion, we have invaded the sacred precincts of the law, and challenged the good sense and usef ulnees of the most time-honored forms of our legal procedure. Having ventured so far, we may as well go on, and so we propose to take an early opportunity of referring to one or two other matters in connection with the Snpreme Court, which, to our apprehensions, would be all the better for reforming.
Boabd op Hhazth.—At the regular fortrightiy meeting of the Board of Health held ye*;<-rday, the draft of a new bye law, relative to keeping swine within tlie prteinete of the city, wae submitted by Meser» Garrick and Cowltshaw for the Board's approval. The consideration of the matter irae deferred till the next merting. It was suggested in the course of the bneia<-ee that fcr the future it would be de»ir-«ble for the Baard to bo furuUhed with a n turn of all eaewi ol infections diimst- admitted ir.to the Hospital, to be iead with, the naepeetor '« report,
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Press, Press, Volume XXX, Issue 4068, 10 August 1878
The Press. SATURDAY, AUGUST 10,1878. Press, Volume XXX, Issue 4068, 10 August 1878
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