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

O'Reilly v. Hall [1838] NSWSupC 66

libel - law reporting - legal profession, discipline of - champerty and maintenance - legal practitioners, division of profession

Supreme Court of New South Wales

Willis J., 2 July 1838

Source: Sydney Herald, 4 July, 1838[ 1]

Before Mr. Justice Willis, and a Special Jury.

O'Reilly v. Hall  -  This was an action of libel, damages laid at £1,000.  The plaintiff is an Attorney or the Supreme Court, and the defendant Editor of the Sydney Monitor.  The libels complained of were published in the Sydney Monitor of the 7th, 12th, and 14th of March, in which a report of a trial of an action in the Supreme Court was given, where a person named Ford sought to recover compensation from two labouring men, named Place and Tallentine, for not fulfilling a contract they had entered into, to remove a certain quantity of stone, and in which a verdict was returned for the plaintiff, damages thirty nine shillings, and the Judge certified to deprive the plaintiff of his costs.  In this report certain remarks were attributed to Mr Justice Burton, and in commenting on the trial the defendant accused the Attorney who brought the action, not mentioning the plaintiff's name, of hunting up actions, and said that he, as well as the Counsel in that case, deserved to be struck off the rolls, and that instead of the division of the bar being a benefit to the public, he did not believe that so dirty an action would have been brought before the bar was divided.  Mr O'Reilly being the Attorney who conducted this case, threatened Mr. Hall with an action; upon which, in the following number of the Monitor, the defendant published a long article in which he accused Mr. O Reilly of having been suspended for three months for obtaining money from a prisoner for the purpose of defending him and then leaving him undefended; and, finding that this was incorrect, in the following number he stated that he was suspended for taking an assignment of property in payment of his fees from a person named Godfrey.  For the plaintiff, it was shown that instead of Mr. O'Reilly hunting up the case of Ford v. Plaice, Ford went to him, and MR. O R did not proceed until he had taken the opinion of Counsel; and that the report of the trial was not correct.  That although he was suspended from acting as an Attorney for three months it was shown that he was suspended for having taken an assignment of goods from a man named Baldwin, charged with receiving in stolen property, and not from Godfrey as was stated in the Monitor.  The defendant called no witnesses, but the Attorney General in a lengthy speech contended that the first article was intended more as a comment on the division of the bar than an attack on Mr. O'Reilly, which was evident from his name not being mentioned; that in the following article the gist of what was stated by the defendant was true, Mr. O'Reilly was suspended and so far from the offence for which he was suspended being aggravated in the Monitor, the charge stated in the Monitor was only a fraud, while the offence for which he was actually suspended is known in the law books as champetry, an indictable offence.  Mr. Justice Willis prefaced his charge by remarking that he was of opinion that the most free and unrestrained discussion respecting all public proceedings of Courts of Justice, but it is libellous to report them incorrectly or intersperse them, with remarks; so it has been held that to introduce a report by the words "Tricky Attorney" is libellous.  (The article complained of was headed "Jobbery in the Supreme Court.")  The Jury retired for about an hour and returned a verdict for the plaintiff, damages £25.

Counsel for the plaintiff, Messrs. Therry, Foster, and Windeyer; for the defendant, the Attorney General.  (The case occupied the whole day.)

 

Notes

[ 1]See also Australian, 6 July 1838; Sydney Gazette, 10 July 1838.  The Gazette reproduced the articles from the Monitor.

Published by the Division of Law, Macquarie University