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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 64



As a Court would:—or perhaps we ought to say should—rule upon a proceeding or petition which comprised various ground, some of which were proved, it is unnecessary for the purposes of the enquiry to consider further the instances referred to in the evidence before the Election Judges. The two cases already dealt with, or:—for that matter:—one alone, should have sufficed to avoid the return; but the other acts of alleged bribery which engrossed most of the time of the Court are in themselves deserving of attention, if only as affording interesting studies of evidence. We refer, of course, to the incidents mentioned in the evidence of Middleton and Askew. We quite Concur in the view expressed by both Judges that the evidence of Askew was unreliable. We by no means admit that it was wholly untruthful. We think it was given in such a way, and involved so many contradictions, that no reliance can be placed on any part of it, but that it must be discarded altogether. A very different estimate, however, is to be formed from a careful consideration of Middleton's evidence and the testimony of the witnesses called by the Respondent against him. The Chief Justice and Mr JusticeGillies both concurred in rejecting Middleton's testimony, the Chief Justice treating "Middleton and Askew's evidence together" and adding "it was not necessary to go further into the matter." Mr Justice Gillies also coupled Askew and Middleton together and dismissed them as "witnesses utterly devoid of credit." We presume that His Honor meant something else than the ordinary meaning of his words. He was speaking no doubt under the pressure of some excitement and most likely did not intend to base his rejection of the evidence upon the fact that Askew and Middleton were men who had no credit left. He probably meant that their statements were unworthy of belief. But we venture to think, apart from the proof necessary to support the petition, that their Honors were wrong in so summarily dismissing Middleton's evidence, and we will endeavour by a short analysis to supply the omission of the Judges in that respect. As before stated, we discard Askew's evidence altogether, but in so doing we reject much that otherwise would corroborate Middleton's story, as also much that would be at variance with it. There is as much one way as the other, and nothing is lost by treating both Middleton's evidence and that of the Respondent's witnesses on the same subjects, apart from Askew's statements. Much was made of the reduced circumstances of Middleton, and personal appearances were decidedly against him. He looked, and confessed to be, what Mr Justice Gillies with such unction termed "an hotel loafer," although not "an old soldier." But unless some new rule of evidence is to be introduced whereby persons who are poor, or dissipated, or unfortunate, who have no friends and few acquaintances, are to be considered as incapable of giving evidence in courts of law, we do not see that testimony, even by the outcasts of society, should be otherwise dealt with than in the ordinary way, regard of course being had to the probabilities of each case. Now, one of the strongest probabilities in such a case as Middle- page vi ton's is that, being of the class to be approached by an active and astute canvasser, the man was just the sort of person to be influenced by a bribe.

The fact of an interview between Middleton and Anderson on the polling day is admitted on all hands. The conflict is as to what was said. Middleton's evidence is that he told Anderson the purport of a message which had (rightly or wrongly) been delivered to him the night before to the effect that if he (Middleton) would vote for Watt and use his influence with the discharged soldiers Anderson would give him some book-keeping and other work. According to Middleton, this was assented to by Anderson, who asked him to go into the hotel they were then opposite and have a drink. All this is denied by Anderson, who is corroborated by a person named Stretch, with whom Anderson (according to their joint evidence) approached Middleton, who is said to have volunteered the statement that he "had just voted for Watt, and was working for him." This, on the other hand, was categorically denied by Middleton. Anderson and Stretch concur in saying that Middleton was present with them in the hotel, and so far agree with his account of the transaction; but Anderson said he did not ask Middleton to drink, although Stretch corroborates Middleton in saying that he had a drink at the same time as the others.

A curious episode in connection with the evidence on this point deserves to be referred to. At the conclusion of the Respondent's case, in the course of which denial had been given to the statement by Middleton, that the bribe was offered without Stretch being present, the Petitioners' counsel asked leave to call two witnesses who were able to prove that Middleton was correct in saying that he had a meeting with Anderson outside the public-house door when Stretch was not there, but the Judges refused permission to examine such witnesses.

The relative truth or falsity of Middleton or Anderson, remains to be tested by other incidents. The witness Stretch, who knew Middleton in former days under happier auspices, was unable, when questioned by the Respondent's counsel, to say anything against his genera 1 character for veracity.

The next event in order of date was the significant one of Middleton asking for a loan of £2 from Anderson, which, of course, was not for a moment entertained. The election was over, and a petition threatened, and it clearly would have been a very unwise thing for Anderson to pay up; besides, the security was so wretchedly bad that to concede such an application would have been a reflection on Anderson's business reputation. An incident in connection with this application, however, deserves honorable mention as qualifying for the detective service. It seems that Askew, before alleged to have been the medium of the message as to work from Anderson to Middleton, was naturally enough made the medium for the application of the £2 by Middleton to Anderson, and that the conversation turning on the rumored charges to be brought against Anderson for his doings in connection with the election, a number of questions of the most formal kind were propounded to Askew, who, of course, was ready to swear on the Bible, or anything else, that nothing improper took place. During this interview, Brockman, who is described as Anderson's "manager," was in hiding, and took a note in pencil of questions and answers, which he afterwards transcribed into ink. This Brockman deserves to be remembered, for assuredly something further will be heard of him, and, in case of any doubt as to his whereabouts, it may be reckoned a safe thing to look for him in the vicinity of a keyhole. The questions and answers were significant and exhaustive in themselves. They seem indeed worthy of a place in "A complete guide to contested elections." Take, as a sample, the one which related to the alleged attempt to bribe Middleton. (The question is put by Anderson, and taken down by Brockman in secret.) "Did I ever, directly or indirectly, through you page vii offer any sort of employment to Mr Middleton?" Seeing that no one had (as far as is known) ever informed Anderson up to this time that Middleton had invented such a story, it is somewhat significant that negative evidence should be attempted to be made (and duly recorded by Brock-man:—behind the scenes) about a conversation such as Anderson swore in Court never took place ! This, however, seems to have escaped the lynx-eyed Chief Justice, and would, if it ever occurred to the mind of Mr Justice Gillies, have probably been treated as "devoid of credit."

We admit that in the end the charge of bribery alleged to have occurred in Middleton's case was not sufficiently proved. It was not necessary that it should, in view of the clearly substantiated charges of intimidation and bribery in the cases of Flyger and Friend, but we have referred to it as throwing a side-light on the evidence of Anderson which is open to criticism in many points, even where least strongly in conflict with the other side. Weighed against the concurrence of testimony relating to his conduct during the contest, Anderson's evidence is deprived of any importance other than as a warning to others who would "run" a candidate with what at first appeared only a desperate chance of success. It will be well that the triumph of the Respondent should not be taken as a precedent for future guidance in elections. We are convinced that with a more temperate enquiry, guided by principles of law less startling in their originality than those laid down by the Judges, a different result would, in not dissimilar circumstances, be attained.

Printed at the office of the Wanganui Hekald, Taupo Quay, Wanganui.