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NOTES., Issue 8013, 16 September 1889
La.st week aomething waß said in thiscolumn about the coming of Tin- Small Bird spring. From bud and blosXiiisaiifp. som, piping thrush and soaiing lark, to Mr J. C. Brown, Tuapeka's chosen, ia not a very poetical transition. But in this lower world poetry and prone are often strangely jumbled togetherMr J. C. B. is also reminded by our British birds that spring is here. It is not, bowever, their singing or mounting that he thinks of, but their voracious appetites. Hft sees sparrows flying about Wellington with straws in their bills, and his thoughts are of the poor farmers round Lawrence, who, like farmeis in many other parts of the colony, have suffered severely from these little depredators. Being a patriotic gentleman, as well as a faithful representative, he could not do leaathanlend them a hand among the log-rollers; and we accordingly read that he is urging the Government to help the local bodies—by donations of cash, of course—to stamp out the small birds pest. The acclimatisation societies could snrely never have dreamt that it would require an alliance between the Government and the local bodies to hold their small feathered protends in check. And yet they might well have hesitated before introducing sparrows and greenfinches, the principal offenders. Both of these species had a, bad character at Home, and a very little reflection would have assured anyone acquainted with rural affairs that they would be much more troublesome here, where the climate is not severe enough to keep down their numbers. They were, in fact, not long introduced till their phenomenal increase and tremendous appetites alarmed farmers and gardeners, who began to speak of the acclimatisers in anything but respectful terms. The latter, however, would not listen to a word against the birds, alleging that, though they might pilfer a little grain or turnip seed here and there, they did far more good than harm. They told the farmers that but for their good offices in destroying all kinds of noxious insects there would be no crops to pilfer. But it was of no use. The farmers did not exactly know how much grub sparrows and greenfinches destroyed, but they knew only too well how their crops suffered, and their remarks 1 about the acclimatising gentry became more and more uncomplimentary. Every field of grain had great patches prematurely whitened, but not to the harvest. There was nothing but the chaff left. The. small birds thus prevented the young shoots from being eaten by grabs, only that they might themselves have the pleasure of devouring the succulent young corn. This would never do. The farmers, after seeing the fruit of their labors filched from them year afcer year, at length got permission to poison or otherwise exterminate the whole race of hard-billed birds. But extermination is no such easy matter. The farmers are unable for the task; the local bodies have also failed; hence Mr Brown's appeal to the Government to lend their aid. It has been suggested that the acclimatisation societies should be compelled to assist in undoing the mischief they have done. But this after all would hardly be fair. The societies were very injudicious—very ignorant indeed, which in such a matter they should not have been—but they had no evil designs against the colony ; they thought, in fact, that they were conferring a great benefit upon it. And they have had sorrows and disappointments of another kind. Captain Raymond's specific for rabbits has nearly exterminated their pheasants, partridges, and Californian quail; and what phosphorised oats have left the poaching settlers threaten to destroy. In such calamitous circumstances it would have been the height of cruelty to make our acclimatisers do penance by poisoning sparrows and greenfinches. It is all the same to be regretted that spring, which wakes the music of the groves, should remind farmers and Governments of such a barbarous necessity; and all, we say, through the blunders of the acclimatisation societies. Who does not pity the poor Premier? What a time of it he must have Poor had with so many "'prentice Sir Ilarr): hands" in the Cabinet. Mr Fisher spared the brewers, and Mr Hislop " went" for the Judges. Oddly enough, the Premier seems to have had a liking for Mr Hislop. He is said to have been a promising lad; but so was the other—and neither, according to report, waß of a particularly amiable disposition. There is really no accounting for tastes. But though Sir Harry would have shielded his Colonial Secretary, the dignity of the *' Lords" was offended, and that honorable body censured him so sharply that he thought fit to retire. Nor can we believe that Sir Harry Atkinson will break his heart over the matter. Had Mr Hislop not nearly wrecked his Government ? And do we not know that the Premier holds selfpreservation to be the first law of Nature ? We suspect he must even have chuckled | heartily over his ex-colleague's Oamaru speech. It is the first time in the history of New Zealand politics that an ex-Minister has begged certificates of good conduct from his acquaintances and read them aloud in the ear of the public. A new departure not to be applauded! Nobody doubted that District Judges were responsible to Government. This great "constitutional principle" is undisputed. And, whether Judge Ward was right or wroDg in trying the Christie case, Mr Hislop was shockingly wrong in going for him as he did. But this he can't see. He thinks it was only a slight indiscretion that a Minister should go out of his way—out of his office, rather—to fly at the throat of a Judge who had decided a case against his (the Minister's) client! What next, we wonder ? And whose turn is it to go next 1 A few days ago it was rumored that Mr Fergus was to resign. His admiring constituents evidently think him in danger. The Queenstown electors, in public meeting assembled, have resolved that the Opposition are very naughty in attacking the Government in general, and Mr Fergus in particular, and that their confidence in their patriotic representative is unshaken. Dr Douglas also telegraphs to the hon. gentleman from Frankton, saying that his constituents in that quarter are quite sure he could never have done what Mr Hislop did. The sense of humor must be rather deficient in the Frankton electors; and it would seem as if both they and their Queenstown compatriots feared lest it should be their representative's turn to go next. Time will show, as well as who is to march after him, if his fate is really decided. Mr G. F. Richardson appears to keep a pretty firm seat, although he, too, has made some mistakes; and Mr Mitchelson retains his, if we may so say, by the mere force of inertia. The " good, heavy man "of the Miuistry was fast asleep (not diplomatically, we trust., i.e., in the interest of the Aucklanders) when the Otago Central Bill was, on a certain memorable occasion, shunted during the Premier's absence. He must have got a sharp rebuke for his neglect; but the probability is that he too will retain his portfolio during the present Parliament. But we are much mistaken if Sir Harry Atkinson ever puts to sea again with bo many "rawrecruits."
On July 6 the English Supreme Court of Judicature, in its appellate An Important jurisdiction, pronounced judgDecislon. men t fa a tnat j n f u t ure must rank among the " leading cases." The case in question has a most important bearing on the law in telation to privilege as affecting administrative
'bodies with quasi-judicial functions, and in ■relation to the law of libel as affectif.g Ihe iPress when commenting on matters of public interest, even though the character of an individual should be hostilely reviewed. We read from ' The Times's' report that < * the question raised was whether, if a medical man has been struck off the register of medical men by the Council —the General Council of Medical Education for Great Britain—for a certaincause, and they publish ■4he feet and the cause, he is entitled to have their decision reconsidered and reviewed by the Court on an application for a mandamus to restore him, or to maintain an action for libel against them for the publication." The facta shortly stated were these:—Dr Allnutt, a duly licensed praoti•fcioner, published—and caused to be sold in London and the provinces—a work entitled 'A Wife's Handbook,' the nature of which may be gathered from its title. The Medical Council came to the conclusion that the publication was against public morals, and therefore adjudged its author guilty cf " infamouß conduct in a profession;! respect," and under the powers conferred by section 29 of the Medical Council Act (21 and 22 Vic., chap. 10) they directed the proper functionary to erase his name from the register of qualified practitioners, which was accordingly done. This constituted the first cause of action Dr Allnutt brought, and ii' respect to •which he moved the Courts for a mandamus to compel the Council to restore his name to the register, on the ground that that body was without jurisdiction, inasmuch as there was no evidence to justify the conclusion that they had arrived at. The second branch of his complaint—that of 'libel—was based on the Council's publication in their annual volume (the minutes of their proceedings) of the fact that his name had been erased from the register for the offence before - mentioned. Ihe Medical Council pleaded that the Act of Parliament creating them conferred ample jurisdiction ; and that being so, " they are the sole judges of what waß done during the inquiry.'" The case went to trial before Baron Pollock, who held that the plaintiff had no right of action under either branch of his complaint, and gave a verdict for the Medical Council: hence the appeal. As the Medical Practitioners Bill (included in the batch of measures about to receive the coup de grace, a Bill that ia sure to be heard of next session) is framed on the tines of the English Act which was successfully relied on in the case under notice, the faculty in this colony will be interested in hearing that the Court of Appeal, in its elaborate judgment, affirmed that in view of the express wording of the statute the Medical Council had established their claim to be constituted the sele judges of the matters involved in the charge brought against Dr Allnutt, and that the Courts had no power to review their decision.
The importance of the other dictum of the Court in this case lies in the fact Vrivll that it extends the principle of '• privilege to publication, made without malice, to cases where it is to the interest of the general community that tho deliberations of a public body, constituted as the Medical Council are, should be " impartially and accurately " reported. The Judges point out that medical men enjoy extensive privileges; that a practitioner whose name has been erased from the register is not disqualified irom practising ; that patients or medical men invited to meet him in consultation " might reasonably desire to know the nature of the offence in respect to which the erasure was made, in order to determine whether they would still continue to employ or meet him." As the register would not disclose this information, it was absolutely necessary in the public interest that recourse could be had to the recorded decision. They went so far as to say that, in their opinion, " the Medical Council would in many cases fail in discharging their social and moral duties to the public if they shrank from the responsibility of making known to the public" the grounds on which they acted; and thai reports of their proceedings, provided always that they were unbiassed and accurate, were quite as much privileged as those of Court 3of law. A few extracts from the judgment are worth giving, as showing that the Judges at Home are prepared to concede "privilege" to publication of the reports of the proceedings of several public bodies not at present protected, even though " the character or conduct of individuals is impugned." It seems to us, having regard to the nature of the tribunal, the character of the report, the interests of the public in the proceedings of the Council, and the duty of the Council towards the public, that this report stands on principle in the same position as a judicial report. It would bo stating the rule too broadly if it were held to justify the publication of proceedings such as theße. The proceedings must be directly judicial, or had in a Court of justice. I can find the law nowhere so broadly states, nor do I think in these days it waold be bo laid down. The Court must adapt the law to the necessary condition of society, and must from time to time apply as best it can what it thinkß is the good sense of rules which exist to cases which have not been positively decided to come within them, . . . New and important bodies were from time to time constituted by the Legislature, such as the London County Council, and other county councils throughout the country—bodies to whom the most important duties are entrusted—duties in which the community at large are interested. Is it to be said that a bona fide, honest, and accurate report of the proceedings of these bodies is not privileged, because in the course of the proceedings the character or conduct of individuals is impugned? Such a result would be most mischievous; it would impede the free action of these bodies and deprive the public of information which, in our opinion, they are entitled to.
NOTES., Issue 8013, 16 September 1889
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