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Decisions of the Superior Courts of New South Wales, 1788-1899

Moore v Howe [1826] NSWSupC 9

libel - law reporting

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Forbes C.J., 9 and 10 February 1826

Source: Australian, 16 February 1826


SUPREME COURT.  (Thursday)

The Attorney General[1 ] nominated that he should, to-morrow, call the attention of the Court to a paragraph in the Sydney Gazette of Wednesday,[2 ] reflecting on the character of a crown officer, Mr. W. H. Moore.

His Honor observed, that he had read the paragraph alluded to, and did not hesitate saying it had excited his indignation, as an unjustifiable attack on the character of Mr. Moore; as indecent as it was injudicious.  He could not say how the Court would act; but, he did not doubt that it would go a full length to protect their officers.


On the opening of the Court, this morning, the Attorney General rose and observed, that he was desirous of calling the attention of the Court to a paragraph which appeared in the Sydney Gazette Newspaper of Wednesday the 8th inst headed Libel Cases, and containing some remarks on Mr. W. H. Moore.  The paragraph in question appeared as if applied by the Court, to Mr. Moore; and, therefore, that gentleman was anxious to clear himself from its censure.  A communication had been made to Mr. Howe,[3 ]solicitous that no such interpretation should be put upon the article; and, that the observations regarding Mr. Moore, should not be considered as coming from the Court.  The Attorney also observed that, it was desirous, if parties had personal disputes, that the Court should not be made the agent in conducting them.  The Judge having looked at the paragraph, said it appeared to be in the shape of an Editorial comment; and, intimated, at the same time, he thought explanation was desirable.  It was also to be wished that, as every facility was given to reporters attending Courts and for publishing important trials, an Editor should not publish any thing calculated to give offence to private individuals, at least, by any comment of his own.[4 ]



[1 ] Saxe Bannister.  Moore, the complainant in this case, was Bannister's acting successor as Attorney General.

On 4 December 1826, Forbes C.J. wrote an important letter about press freedom.  He said that it was necessary to control what he called press licentiousness, especially in a convict colony.  Writings which attacked the magistracy, which stated that convicts were held illegally or treated harshly, or which claimed that there was undue severity in military discipline, were all dangerous in such a society.  Source: Forbes to Horton, Historical Records of Australia, Series 4, vol. 1, pp 644-646.

[2 ] 8 February 1826.

[3 ] Editor of the Sydney Gazette.

[4 ] It was this failure to distinguish reporting from editorial comment which made the Gazette an unreliable source of legal reports.  The Australian was less susceptible to doing this, at least while Dr Wardell was the editor.  He sold the paper to A.E. Hayes in November 1828 (Australian, 17 March 1830, p. 3).  By 1829, the Australian was showing a similar tendency towards poor reporting of legal cases; see for example, the edition of 16 December 1829.




Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University