Wagga Wagga Express and Murrumbidgee District Advertiser, Sat 29 Sep 1866 1
Tuesday, September 25, 1866.
(Before the Police Magistrate.)
INDECENCY.— Henry Walker and Mary Heffernan were charged with indecency, and, having pleaded guilty, were each sent to gaol for one month.
LARCENY.— Louis Marcus appeared on bail from Sydney on the above charge, but, as the prosecutor did not appear, the case was adjourned for one week, the prisoner being released on his own recognisances.
SLAUGHTERING LICENCE.— Robert Payne applied for and obtained a license as above.
Wednesday, September 26.
(Before the Police Magistrate.)
DRUNKENNESS AND FROFANITY.— John Dwyer was brought up by the police on the above charge, and was fined £I or one month’s imprisonment.
UNSOUND MIND.— Samuel Parkenson was again brought up on remand on this charge, and, upon the evidence of Dr Morgan, was discharged as recovered.
Friday, September 28.
(Before the Police Magistrate.)
ASSAULT.— Richard Blyth was charged with assaulting John Cottrell. Constable Ryan stated that on Thursday evening he was sent for to the Albion Hotel, and on arriving there was told that a man named George Crowther had been fighting another man named John Cottrell, in front of the bar, when a brick was thrown which struck Cottrell on the forehead, who imnediately fell down. The brick inflicted a nasty wound, and the forehead of Cottrell was very much swollen.
Hannah Moxham said she was landlady of the Albion Hotel, and. was present when the brick was thrown. It came from the direction of the front door, but she did not see who threw it. Cottrell was not in attendance, and the prisoner was remanded until the 1st October.
THE COLONIAL GRAND JURY.
THOUGH we are frequently reminded that our courts of justice are constituted, and our laws are administered as nearly as possible in accordance with English models, there are some important particulars in which these models have been most widely departed from, and, as might have been expected, where this has been the case, the colonial system has been found to work much less satisfactorily than that which has grown up and been perfected by the successive experiences of many generations in the old country. These remarks could not, perhaps, be more forcibly exemplified than by a comparison between the English and colonial methods of procedure in reference to the conduct of criminal prosecutions. In England, after a prisoner has been committed for trial, his case is submitted to the consideration of a grand jury, composed of picked men of the highest standing and ability in the county in which the trial is to take place. Those gentlemen then examine the evidence to be produced against the accused, and if they think it sufficiently conclusive, they find a true bill, and the case is sent into court, but if they deem it too weak and inconclusive to support a conviction, they find no bill, and the prisoner is thereupon discharged. By this method, overy case is carefully investigated by an intelligent body of men in whom the public repose implicit confidence, and if, after this, a prisoner is dischargedl without the formality of a regular trial, the public are perfectly satisfied that the grand jury must have had very good grounds for the conclusion they have arrived at. But in this colony a very different system prevails. There is no grand jury here, but its functions are discharged, or are, at all events, supposed to be discharged, by the Attorney -General for the time being, and, as this officer has an immensity of other work to perform, and as a thorough examination of the depositions in every case of committal must of necessity occupy a great deal of time, the public are driven to the conviction that the duty must be either delegated to other and irresponsible hands, or be so hurried over as to render it impossible that it can be performed in a satisfactory mariner, and are therefore by no means satisfied that the conclusions arrived at are justified by the depositions supposed to have been examined. There is a want of confidence in the system altogether, and a general feeling that the practice of this colony should now be assimilated as closely as circumstances will permit to that of the mother country. When the colony was first founded, the materials for the formation of a grand jury were altogether wanting, and, under the condition of affairs existing in those days, the vesting of a corresponding power in the hands of the Attorney-General was doubtless as good an expedient as could have been adopted. The population was small, and that officer, it is to be presumed, was not then over-encumbered with work. But the small penal settlement of those days has now expanded into an infant nation, and the arrangement which was then made for an exceptional state of things, and which, for the time, answered its purpose well enough, is now discovered to be totally unsuited to the altered condition of colonial society, and should therefore be forthwith amended.
We are quite aware that many obstacles would present themselves in any attempt which might be made to organise a grand jury, which would closely resemble the English type. The population of the country districts is still sparse, and the difficulty of procuring, especially in these districts, the services of a sufficient body of educated men to whom the whole community could look up with confidence and respect while in the discharge of this trust, would be great. But difficulties of this nature are not insuperable, and as the country becomes settled they will year by year gradually disappear, and even granting, too, that, in some instances, it would be found impossible to overcome them, there would still be no reason why the idea of organising grand juries should be altogether discarded. Other means would still be open for effecting the same object, either by the appointment, in Sydney, of a board of Queen’s Counsel or other competent men to examine the depositions in all criminal cases and to decide upon sending them to trial or the reverseor indeed by almost any plan which could be suggested rather than leave the whole of this duty to be performed by the single brain of the Attorney-General. It is too much for any one man to accomplish, and it is folly to suppose that even under ordinary circumstances it can ever be faithfully performed. Much of the work must necessarily be entrusted to some subordinate who will thus be entrusted with a virtual power of acquittal over men charged with grave offences, which it is extremely dangerous should be wielded in secret. But if, under ordinary circumstances, the duties of an Attorney-General in these matters prove too onerous for the powers of one man, how much more impossible must it be for that officer to give anything beyond the most cursory attention to this work, when, as in the present instance, in addition to the regular duties of his office, he is in the enjoyment of large a professional practice at the Bar, and, above all, is Premier of the colony to boot? The fact is that the Attorney-General of this colony has quite enough to do to conscientiously discharge the ordinary duties of his office, and neither can nor does fulfil the functions of general grand juror of the country either with credit to himself or with satisfaction to the public, and the sooner the trut is placed in the hands of those who have both the time and inclination to faithfully discharge it the better will it be for the due administration of justice.
1 Wagga Wagga Express and Murrumbidgee District Advertiser, (NSW), Sat 29 Sep 1866, p. 2. Emphasis added.