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of the prerogative of privileged reports as these rights are defined and declared by the Acts of 1881 and 1888, which were the first legislative attempts to deal with these aspects of the general question. That a fair, honest, bona fide report of the proceedings of any public meeting should be absolutely protected has now at last come to be recognised, and the main purpose of recent enactments was to settle that matter beyond any possibility of doubt. The immunity thus sought to be imparted to fair reports has, however, been considerably imperilled by an untoward decision of the House of Lords in the case of McDougall v. Knight (5 T. L. R. 421), which is of such considerable importance that I deem it right to give in full the grounds and reasons of that remarkable decision as contrasted with the more prudent reasons for a contrary view expressed in the reversed ruling in the same issue by the Court of Appeal. One cannot but feel that the present state of the law as declared by that final decision is so unsatisfactory as to call for immediate redress, and one cannot but feel also that it was never contemplated that there should ever be any question or doubt of the primâ facie impartiality of a judge's charge or the judgment of a Court. То constitute a mere reporter who attends to report such utterances, or the editor who revises them in the printingoffice, judges of such matters, as is the effect of that decision, is to invest them with an authority and a responsibility they do not seek and are not qualified to discharge, while it casts an undeserved reflection upon judicial utterances which a long experience of their characteristic fairness does not warrant or justify. This is a defect which so imperatively suggests alteratior as to need no argument to recommend the change
to the sense of the Legislature. Except for that deficiency the law as regulating the reports of public meetings held for a lawful purpose has at last been reduced to an intelligible and proper form, and in effecting this purpose the most useful function of the Press is safeguarded.
As to the legitimate limits of public criticism, the principles now regulating and controlling that necessary exercise of the duty of publicists have had their latest authoritative exposition in the case of Merivale and Wife v. Carson (5 T. L. R.) which will be found as fully commented upon in these pages as its weight and importance justify. As was seen, however, by the decisions in the Era, and later in the Pall Mall Gazette, cases, the law on the point seems to' require some modification, and presses unduly hard on newspapers.
The improvements in procedure and practice effected by the Act of last session merit attention, and must be regarded as necessary, proper, and useful changes. Any legislative attempt to prevent vexatious litigation is a gain to the public, and it seems strange how such admitted defects as are now cured by the salutary provisions respecting the consolidation of actions--the giving in as evidence of proofs of previous verdicts obtained in the same cause, and the wholesome reform brought about by the substitution of a judge's order for the fiat of a public prosecutor obtainable on ex parte application, together with those other useful subsidiary changes made by the late Act-could remain so long encumbering the free and fair course of the law in libel actions. These reforms are so recommendable as to suggest some wonder how the unsatisfactory
condition of affairs they have altered could be permitted so long to continue uncured and unremedied.
The Registration Law was one of the chief purposes of the Act of 1881. It strove to do away with the old cumbrous machinery of proving publication and ownership; but, as I have endeavoured briefly to point out, it falls short of that end and contains two most serious defects. Indeed it is a question if these drawbacks do not render the measure entirely illusory and useless in these respects. Under its provisions any ad interim change in the proprietorship or incidents of the publication of a paper need not be registered, so that a print started any time between the August of every year, when the register is closed practically, to the following July when it is opened, cannot be forced to be registered, and the protection intended to be afforded as against ephemeral publications or mushroom prints does not within that close time exist. Generally the evidence of registration in any case cannot therefore be accepted as the conclusive proof it was intended it should be, and a plaintiff will in case of doubt or dispute be forced back on the old proofs such as they
This defect can be cured by making compulsory the notification to the registrar of any and every change in the proprietorship or publication of a newspaper whenever and howsoever such change takes place. The omission to oblige newspaper companies as such to register under the Act cannot but be regarded as a deficiency and a drawback which also requires to be remedied.
I have striven within a short compass to give some account of all the recent important libel actions wherein any important principle was decided or any authorita
tive declaration of the law delivered. In selecting these test cases, I have endeavoured to give the most truly typical ones dealing with the various phases of this comprehensive subject. Every enunciation of a principle that I have reproduced is in the exact words of the judge who made it, and no statement will be found in this work without the previous warrant of judicial authority.
The law of libel being a case-made law is the outgrowth of public opinion, and every legislative modification attempted has been to cure some admitted grievance, or to formulate the principle of a decision. It is thus the product of the age evolved from the wants of society, and the shape and form it has taken are due to the varying phases of public opinion.
I cannot dismiss the subject without a reference to the valuable help I derived from Mr. Blake-Odgers' excellent work on “ Libel and Slander.” I have not in any degree trenched upon his province, and in fact most of this book will be found more a supplement to than a substitution of any existing work, as it concerns itself mainly with issues and decisions subsequent even to his latest edition.
The complexity of the subject and the wide-reaching extent of the principles now understood as regulating the law must be my excuse for any defects which may be found in this work; and the fact that it is, up to the date of its publication, the only book yet published dealing with the Act of 1888 exclusively, and largely with previous enactments bearing on the subject of newspaper libel, is perhaps the best plea in justification for what otherwise might seem for me presumptuous undertaking, and perhaps a work of supererogation in
view of such admitted authorities as Folkard's Starkie and Odgers' “Libel and Slander.”
From my brethren of the Bar I confidently claim the indulgence they generously and characteristically extend to well-meaning work whenever they find it. They best understand the difficulties of the task I have undertaken, and can with that knowledge appreciate an honest effort to deal with the question.
My friends and fellow workers of the Press may, I should venture to hope, find this book of some utility. Should they do so to any extent, I shall be abundantly compensated for the labour bestowed upon it.
RICHARD J. KELLY.
21 Great Charles Street,
Mountjoy Square, Dublin.