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A Judicial Puzzle., Issue 7914, 23 May 1889
A Judicial Puzzle.
Perhaps the met fortunate, and possibly the most bewildered individual in the colony just now is Mr Stephen Cutler, who ha? occupied so largely both public attention and the attention of Her Majesty's judges during the last few months. Cutler has been tried I once for murder and twice for perjury during the last few weeks ; on the charge of murder he was acquitted, and it is, of course, only known to Mr Stephen Cutler himself in what degree he deserved that piece of good fortune. Cutler's acquittal on the capital charge was secured by the exertions of a long procession of witnesses, thirteen in all, who swore in one solid platoon that Cutler was not in Market lane on the evening wheu the unfortunate Chinaman was kicked to death, Thirteen oaths seem sufficient to prove an alibi, and Cutler marched from the dock a free man. But the police believed that the evidence which saved Cutler represented a huge conspiracy to commit perjury, and the loud swearing thirteen are making their appearance in instalments in the dock instead of the witness-box to answer that charge. The first five were promptly found guilty by as many juries, and received the terrible sentence of nine years' imprisonment each. The stern language which Mr Justice Williams employed is still within the memory of the public. " I do not hesitate to say," hi 3 Honor declared, "that a more huge or more elaborate conspiracy to commit perjury has ever been unearthed in this Court. The ' Winter' perjury cases, as they were called, bad as they were, neither for skilful elaboration, ingenious adaptation, corroborative and harmonious strength, nor as regards the number engaged, approach the perjury of which you five men have been found guilty." "The severest penalty," His Honor held, "was necessary to suppress perjury, a crime which may not only imperil life, liberty, the right of property, and the well-being of society, but which may paralyse the administration of the common law." It is perfectly clear sailing up to this point. The men who, to rescue their "pal" from tho gallows, had elaborated a huge scheme of perjury, were properly overtaken by judicial penalty. Their false oaths, however, had succeeded, and Cutler, having been acquitted of the charge of murder, could not be retried. Cutler, however, on the principle that one good turn deserves another, had gone into the witness-box when his hardswearing mates were being tried, and added his oath to theirs. If they were perjurers, it was plain so was he ; and public opinion, shocked at what seemed the undeserved escape of a murderer, welcomed with satisfaction the prospect that at all events the criminal would be punished as a perjurer. But here come the circumstances which may well bewilder the public understanding. Five distinct juries, having exactly the same evidence submitted to them, were unanimous in finding that perjury had been committed. Cutler, the fons et origo of the whole trouble, has been tried by two juries successively, who have had before them the same evidence on which the previous juries had decided. One of the juries before whom Cutler was tried failed to agree ; tho other brought in a verdict of acquittal ! Here, then, is a state of things which may well set the public agape with mere amazement. Taking the bare recital of the facts, ninetynine persons out of a hundred would declare, without any hesitation, that there had been a gross failure of justice. The question of fact to be decided is whether Cutler was in Market lane at tho time of the murder. Five juries, on the evidence submitted to them, unhesitatingly declared "Yes." In the recent trial of Cutler fourteen witnesses were produced against him, and, to quote from the charge of the Chief Justice, " all positively, from their personal observation, Bwore that the prisoner was in Market lane that day. They spoke from various standpoints, and they observed from different points; bat they all united in
this—that the prisoner was in Market lane, and taking an active part in what was going on in Market lane that duy." That the Chief Justice himself held the evidence to be conclu&ive is clecr. "His Honor thought that stronger evidence could not be given that the prisoner was in Market lane than that which described the prisoner's manner, which was such as to fix the attention of people in the locality upon him." Here, then, on a question of fact, we have the verdicts of five juries, the testimony of fourteen witnesses, and the declaration of the Chief Justice that "stronger evidence could not be given " than that which was advanced in this particular case, and yet Cutler was acquitted ! He is, we repeat, a singularly fortunate individual. Melbourne ' Telegraph.'
A Judicial Puzzle., Issue 7914, 23 May 1889
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