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THE COURTS.—TO-DAY.

SUPREME COURT-CIVIL SITTINGS.

(Before His Honor Mr Justice Williams and a special jury.)

Guthrie v. Lang. —Claim, LI ,000, damages for alleged slander. Sir R. Stout appeared for plaintiff; Mr L. R.'Chapman (instructed by Messrs Stewart and Holmes) for defendant. The [statement of claim set forth (1) That plaintiff is, and was at the time of the committing of the grievances hereinafter mentioned, a shipping agent doing business in Dunedin ; 5 (2) that on March 12 last defendant falsely and maliciously spoke and published of the plaintiff in relation to his said business and the carrying on and conducting thereof by him the following words“ There isn’t a bigger rogue in Dunedin than Guthrie (meaning thereby the plaintiff), and I would sooner walk up Princes street with two than be seen speaking to Guthrie. If any of you had LSO in your pockets, whether you had a wife and children or not, he (meaning thereby the plaintiff) would follow you up and down the wharf until he had swindled you out of the money, and it did not matter if there was a wife and children left to starve”—meaning thereby that the plaintiff cheated, and was guilty of fraudulent conduct in his said business ; (3) plaintiff therefore prayed judgment for LI,OOO as damages.

The defendant in his statement of defence said that he did not speak and publish of the plaintiff in relation to his business and the carrying on and conducting thereof by the plaintiff the words set out in the statement of claim.

Sir R, Stout, in opening the case, said that the jury had two issues to decide—namely, first, if defendant used the words complained of in relation to his business ; and, second, if so, what damages plaintiff was entitled to recover. The defendant, by his statement of defence, did not deny speaking the words, but denied that he used them in relation to plaintiffs business and his carrying on of the same. Mr Chapman said he did not assent to that.

Sir U, Stout said that that was what the plea meant. The way in which the matter came about was that three captains of coasting vessels were on the day in question conversing on the cross wharf, and in the course of the conversation plaintiff’s name was mentioned, and defendant used the words complained of in relation to and concerning him ancl his business as a shipping agent. Counsel submitted that defendant’s object was to injure plaintiff in his business, and if he had any charge to bring against plaintiff he should do so in a proper manner instead of slandering him in the manner he had done.

Henry Guthrie, plaintiff, stated that he had been twenty-five years in Dunedin, and had been a shipping agent for twenty years past, The duties of such an agent were to procure charters, collect freights, and, when a captain was part owner, to pay part earnings to his wife or family. Captain Ryffel is owner of the Crest of the Wave, Captain Wares master of the Cora, Captain Connor master of the Enterprise, and Captain Lang master of tho Isabel Anderson, Witness acted as agent to secure cargo for all the first three boats.

To Mr Chapman: Defendant is a rather hot-headed man. There had been an arbitration affair between them some time ago, and on one occasion when defendant entered a room where the witness was, the latter said “ Am I to sit in the room with this man ? I shall have to ask my solicitor before I do that.”

Sir R. Stout: What led up to that remark ?

Witness said ho had received a letter from Williams and Kettle accusing Lang of theft, and that caused him to make the remark.

Mr Chapman objected to this evidence. Sir R. Stout said it was his learned fiiend himself who had brought it out. To His Honor: That took place two years ago, and witness and defendant had had no dealings together since then. He had no ill-feeling towards defendant. John Wares, master of tho Cora, said he had known plaintiff for seventeen years, and he had acted as agent for tho Cora. Witness, defendant, and Captains Ryffel and Connor were talking together on the cross wharf on the day in question. Defendant offered to charter witness’s boat for Hokitika, but said: “Mind, if I charter you Henry Guthrie must have nothing to do with the vessel.” He added that he could get L2O or LSO from Keith Ramsay whenever he liked. Witness replied that neither Ramsay nor Guthrie would part with money unless they saw they could get it back. Defendant then used the words contained in the statement of claim.

To Mr Chapman: The conversation lasted for about half an hour. Defendant was not more blustery in his language than usual. What he said did not alter wit r ness’s opinion of plaintiff. Witness did not think at the time that defendant had been drinking, but defendant afterwards told him that he had been. Defendant never said he was sorry for saying what he did of plaintiff". To Sir R. Stout: The following day defendant told witness that he could prove what he had said about plaintiff. Edward Ryffel, master of the Crest of the Wave, gave corroborative evidence, and added that Captain Connor is now in the North Island,

To Mr Chapman : Defendant was not louder in his talk than usual; he was generally a little rough. What he said did not affect witness’s opinion of plaintiff. Plaintiff's case having closed, Mr Chapman said he would not call any witnesses. Sir R. Stout, in addressing the jury, said that defendant was afraid to go into the witness-box and give an explanation of the words he had used and which he had made ten times worse by subsequently asserting that he could prove them, instead of offering an apology or withdrawing them, ffe did not wish to press hard on defendant, but people must bo stopped from making attacks of this sort on other persons and their businesses. If it were true that defendant is a hot-tempered man, the sooner he is cooled the bettor.

Mr Chapman said that a more paltry “ nippony-ha'penny.” case never came into the Court and occupied the jtimo of that great institution. If the case could have come within the provisions of the Police Offences Act, the utmost penalty that could have'been inflicted was L 5; but plaintiff had magnified the' affair to such an extent as to make a large claim for 'damages. Counsel submitted that tho words used by defendant wejre simply an ebullition of abpje from a map of a rough class, and who, besidea, bad rankling in his breast the memory of the insult that plaintiff had offered him two years before, No injury had been shown to have been done to plaintiff or his business, and ho could not recover unless some such injury had been caused or was probable to be caused by defendant’s language. Defendant had been taunted with being afraid to go into the witness-box, but the simple explanation was that he was abusive, and that if tho words quoted were not the exact words that he used they were very near it. The evidence of plaintiff’s witnesses showed that defendant’s language had no effect whatever on their estimation of plaintiff, and the bringing of the action was something like using a steam-hammer to craok a hazel nut.

His Honor said the case was one of verbal slander, The mere use of abusive language was not actionable in tins way unless special damage followed—which was not the ease here—or unless it was clearly proved that the words spoken were spoken of a person in respect to his trade or business, and injury to it was likely to follow. The jury would have to ponsider, first, whether the words in this ease wefp used with respect to plaintiff’s business, ami, second, if they were of such a nature as to render it likely that his business would be injured thereby. If this were the case, plaintiff would be entitled to a verdict for something ; if not, defendant would be entitled to a verdict.

The jury retired for a quarter of an hour, and then catpo ipto Court to ask his Honor what was the smallest Bum to carry costs. His Honor said there was a difference of judicial opinion as to whether a jury should be told that or not. Some Judges refused to tell a jury; others did tell them. Judge Richmond, for instance, did one way and Judge Chapman another. Sir R. Stout said that Judge Richmond

refused to tell a jury ; Judge Chapman told them.

His Honor said that he had been asked the question on a previous occasion, but had forgotten what reply he gave. After consideration he would now tell the jury that 40s was the smallest sum that would carry costs.

The jury retired for ten minutes more, and then brought in a verdict for plaintiff for a farthing damages. Sir R. Stout asked His Honor to certify for costs of the special jury. His Honor declined the application, saying that in a case of this sort, if a jury liked to find a farthing damages, the usual rule should be followed—there should be no costs. RESIDENT MAGISTRATE’S COURT. (Before E. H. Carew, Esq., R.M.) Dr de Zouche v. A. J. Leggatt (Invercargill).—Claim, L2O 5s 4d, money lent and expenses of transmission by wire. Mr Sinclair appeared for plaintiff.—Judgment by default. E. J. Bryant v. G. Garrick.—Claim, L2 4s, for rent —Judgment by default, G. R. West v, B. Hawkins.—Claim, L2 133, for goods supplied.—Judgment by default.

J. Morgan v. S. Wilkinson.—Claim, L 8 10s, value of certain tools of trade alleged to be unlawfully detained by defendant. Mr A. S. Adams for plaintiff; Mr Thornton for defendant.—Judgment for defendant. CITY POLICE COURT. (Before Messrs J. D. Feraud and J. Elmer, J.P.s.) Drunkenness. Mary Ellen Mahoney, with twenty-three previous convictions, was sentenced to three months’ imprisonment, with hard labor.

Perjury, Henry CorUh Bennett was charged on the information of George Wallace with committing perjury on April 30 while giving evidence in the case Wallace v. Campbell. Mr D. D. Macdonald appeared on behalf of the prosecutor ; Mr J. F, M. Fraser for accused.—Mr Macdonald said that accused had stated that, in a conversation between himself, the prosecutor, and a man named Hastie, Wallace had stated that ho had put LSO into a business with Campbell.—Evidence in support of the charge was given by Heury Ralfe (clerk of the Court), John Logan and William Langlands (Justices of the Peace). George Wallace (who denied making the statement alleged by accused, who was then a witness in the case) admitted having laid the present information against accused after he had been similarly charged, but stated that he was not influenced by that in any way, as he had fully intended to lay an information against Bennett. In cross-examination by Mr Fraser, witness first said that the sum of LSO was not mentioned at all, and subsequently said that the sum of LBO was mentioned, but he could not remember the words that were used.—William Hastie, a farmer residing at the Taieri, said that in the course of a conversation which he had with Wallace and Bennett several matters were discussed.—[A lengthy discussion here took place regarding whether certain questions could be asked by Mr Macdonald, and the Bench ruled that the questions could not be put.l—Mr Fraser said that he was convinced accused could not bo sent up for trial, because there must be two competent witnesses before a committal could bo made, and in the present case the witnesses called gave evidence at variance with one another. The evidence to establish a prima fade case was wilfully omitted.—The Bench, after a short retirement, said that a prima fade case had not been established, and the case would be dismissed.

Assault —Angus Wickland was charged by Joseph Jones with assaulting him, Mr A. C. Hanlon appeared for complainant.—Complainant said that after defendant had struck him he took up an axe and threatened him, while he held the axe over his head.— Evidence was given by Louis Bellman and others, after which the Bench said accused had been guilty of an aggravated assault, and would be fined 40s, and costs I7s Gd, in default fourteen days’ imprisonment. One month was allowed in which to pay the fine.

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Permanent link to this item

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Bibliographic details

THE COURTS.—TO-DAY., Evening Star, Issue 7979, 7 August 1889

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THE COURTS.—TO-DAY. Evening Star, Issue 7979, 7 August 1889

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