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Colonial Cases

R. v. Long, 1861

[criminal libel]

R. v. Long

Supreme Court, India
Wells J., 19 July 1861
Source: The Times of India, 1 August 1861

 

THE trial of the Revd. Mr. Long for libel, as we learn from an Extra of the Hurkaru, terminated on the 20th instant in a verdict of guilty.  The indictment was based upon the following passage in the author's preface; the writer is apostrophizing the Planters, and addresses them as follows:-

The editors of two daily newspapers are filling their columns with your praises; and whatever other people may think, you never enjoy pleasure from it since you know fully the reason of their so doing.  What a surpassing power of attraction silver has!  The detestable Judas gave the great preacher of the Christian religion, Jesus, into the hands of odious Pilate for the sake of 30 Rupees; what wonder then if the proprietary of two newspapers, becoming enslaved by the hope of gaining one thousand rupees, throw the poor helpless people of this land into the terrible grasp of your mouths.

   That the Supreme Court of Calcutta should have allowed a criminal indictment for libel upon such grounds to go before a jury, is a proceeding not to be matched, we are persuaded, in modern times.  The report of the first day's proceedings will be found below.

   Since writing thus far, the rumour that has been floating about Bombay as to Mr. Long's sentence, is confirmed to us.  He has been sentenced to pay a fine of 1000 Rs., and to a month's imprisonment.

Source: The Times of India, 1 August 1861

SUPREME COURT. - July 19, 1861.

[CRIMINAL SESSIONS.]

(Before Sir Mordaunt Lawson Wells, Kt.)

THE QUEEN ON THE PROSECUTION OF WALTER BRETT vs. JAMES LONG.

[The greater part of this report is blacked out.]

THE Indictment charged the prisoner under several counts with publishing a pamphlet called the Nil Durpan, containing libellous matter against the Editor of thr Englishman.

 

Source: The Times of India, 6 August 1861

...

Mr. Justice Wells, addressing the defendant, asked him if he had anything to urge in mitigation of punishment.

   The defendant proceeded to read a written statement, and had proceeded to some length, when he was stopped by the Chief Justice, who expressed himself of opinion that the defendant was alluding to matters altogether irrelevant to the case.  The defendant shortly after concluded.

   JAMES LONG, - After a careful and patient investigation of the charge preferred against you, the Jury returned a verdict of guilty on both counts, and the Court having refused to arrest the judgment on the motion of your learned Counsel, it is now my painful duty to award the punishment called for by the verdict of the Jury.    After an anxious consideration of all the circumstances of the case, you have been convicted of the offenbce of willfully and maliciously libeling the proprietors of the Englishman and Hurkaru newspapers, and under the second count, of libeling, with the same intent, a class of persons designated as the indigo planters of Lowe Bengal.

   I most earnestly, I may say most strongly and pointedly, called upon the Jury to uphold and vindicate, if necessary, by their verdict the right of free-discussion, and to be careful, lest by their verdict the liberty of the press might be endangered.  In summing up the case, over and over again I recognised and maintained the right of every man to instruct his fellow-subjects by every sincere and conscientious communication which may promote the public happiness; and I stated distinctly and emphatically the privilege possessed by every man, of pointing out those defects and corruptions which exist in all human institutions

   Nevertheless, the Jury pronounced a verdict which I have the satisfaction of feeling rests upon a constitutional bases and cannot be used thereafter against the liberty of the press.  There is not a person who would have rejoiced more than myself if the Jury had returned a verdict of not guilty, on the ground that they believed you had acted conscientiously and for the interest of society in publishing this book, I grieve to say that that verdict could not have given without those twelve gentlemen believing that you have been actuated by a feeling of animosity towards the indigo planters, in publishing and circulating such a gross and scandalous libel.

   Partly through your instrumentality nearly three hundred libels have been circulated, and, according to the evidence of Mr. Jones who gave his evidence most properly, with the apparent sanction of the Bengal Secretariat, and at the public expense.  I am bound to say that such a proceeding is without parallel in the history of Government departments in England; and as one of the Judges of the Supreme Court it is my duty to state, and I do so most sincerely, that I trust such a transaction may never occur again in this country, as such a proceeding must necessarily undermine that feeling of respect and confidence which ought to exist on the part of the governed towards those who are placed in authority over them.

   I did at the trial, as I now do, scrupulously abstain from expressing any opinion, directly or indirectly, as regards the personal motives or feelings which actuated the officers of Government in sanctioning the circulation of this book.  It is the safe plan in life always to assume that public men act from pure and just  motives until the contrary is established; and it does not follow by any means that the officials who allowed the paper to be circulated acted in the slightest degree illegally.  The pamphlet was sent forth unaccompanied by a single word of caution or explanation, and the indigo planters of Lower Bengal have no means of tracing the extent of the injury inflicted upon them by the circulation of the libel; but is there not reason for apprehending that certain persons in England may have been induced to bring forward serious but groundless charges against the indigo planters?  It is quite impossible to realize fully the irreparable mischief you have occasioned by causing this libel to be circulated in England.

   There is one feature in this case I cannot pass over without special notice.  I mean the position you hold in society as a clergyman of the Church of England.  I am certain the Bishop of Calcutta, of whom it may be said that he is respected and beloved by the entire Christian community, will deeply lament the circumstance of one of his clergy being convicted of libeling a large and influential body of men scattered over a portion of his extensive diocese; and I am well assured that the great body of the clergy, with few exceptions, will sympathize with their Diocletian on the present occasion.  The fact of your being a clergyman is an aggravation of your offence, and when you set forth publicly in Court that the advance of Christianity is impeded by the irreligious conduct of many Europeans, I think such an expression of opinion on your part when called upon to receive the sentence of the Court, for libeling many of your countryman, is rather out of place.  And perhaps the great majority of the Europeans may think that your conduct has not done much to promote real practical; Christianity.

   You of all men ought to have [inculcated] and stood forth as the [????] of that inestimable ..............

 

 

 

Source: The Times of India, 13 August 1861

THE JUDICIAL FARCE.

(From the Indian Field, July 27.)

   THE Supreme Court has just been the scene of a theatrical representation, calculated to lower the highest tribunal in the country in the estimation of the public, and to bring disgrace on the administration of justice.

   Sir Mordaunt Wells entirely forgot the functions of the presiding judge and assumed those of the counsel for the prosecution, in so much that even Mr. Peterson and Mr. Cowie as well as other and more disinterested members of the bar were staggered and scandalized by his conduct.  In truth, his charge was a second and a much worse, because a stronger edition of the address of the prosecuting counsel.

...

   Neither the verdict nor the sentence is of the slightest importance.  They have the sanction neither of the law nor of justice.  The reverend defendant stands both before his Maker and his fellow-men clear of malice.

 

Note

See also Editorial, The Times of India, 10 August 1861. - "We deeply regret to see the Supreme Government of this country dragged through the dirt by this Indigo faction, from the disgraceful subservience of the Supreme court to the political passions which are raging in Calcutta. ..."

Published by Centre for Comparative Law, History and Governance at Macquarie Law School