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A Postponement Promise Repudiated

page 24

A Postponement Promise Repudiated.

On the application of Mr. Baxter (counsel for the Citizens' Committee and the Mau) at the opening of the Royal Commission in Samoa for a postponement as promised by the Prime Minister, the Chairman (Sir Charles Skerrett) replied:—

"The statement of the Prime Minister was made at the time when it was assumed that Mr. Nelson would be coming to Samoa by the same steamer as the Commission. The idea was to give him a few days to ascertain the position for himself; but he did not arrive, and the conditions seem to be substantially altered."

Anyone who has read the published correspondence between the Prime Minister and Sir John Findlay on the question of the promised postpone-ment cannot possibly arrive at any other conclusion than that either the Prime Minister or the Chief Justice of New Zealand, who was Chairman of the Commission, has grossly and deliberately misrepresented the matter. Hear Mr. Baxter's reply to the Chairman's remark about altered conditions:

"They are so far as he is concerned, but they are not so far as counsel is concerned, except for the worse. If he had been here, he would have been of some assistance to us."

Mr. Baxter then pointed out that he had briefed no Native evidence at all. "My unfortunate position is that I do not know what evidence the Natives are able to give," was Mr. Baxter's statement, and as the European members of the Committee had been ordered by the Minister to avoid all contact with members of the Mau, it was difficult for anyone to know what evidence could be offered by them. All the Chief Justice would say in reply to this was: "I venture to say that the less the Native evidence is briefed the better it will be in the interests of truth: so far from that being a disadvantage in the investigation of the truth, it appears to me to be a distinct advantage." Apparently these sage remarks were not meant to apply to the well-briefed Native evidence called by the Administration so far as truthfulness was concerned. The Chairman also made a reference to "Mr. Nelson's wilful abstention from taking part in the investigations before the Commission," which was quite uncalled for, when he must have been aware that I had remained in New Zealand to complete my consultations with Sir John Findlay, legal advisor to the Committee, and was returning to Samoa with all speed.

Two days before I arrived, the Samoans deliberately refused to appear before the Commission. It was only after urgent pleading by the Hon. Mr. Williams, Acting-Chairman of the Citizens' Committee, that they reluctantly agreed to appear. I was present in the Court House when Mr. Slipper, second counsel for the petitioners, walked out of the Court at about 3.45 and informed Mr. Baxter and myself that he would simply refuse to continue, as the Chief Justice had bombarded him with interpolations and interruptions all day. On an application for an adjournment that day, the Chairman, evidently realising the position agreed without demur, even though he took it very badly when an adjournment was asked for before 5 p.m. on another occasion for reasons easily as good.

Even though our counsel had reason to protest against the way the proceedings were being reported, and corrections had had to be allowed, no facilities were given for two typistes especialy engaged in Sydney to check the reports on behalf of the petitioners, or to accompany the Commission on the malaga to Savai'i, with the result that we were not given the opportunity to check any of the proceedings held in Fagamalo (Savai'i).