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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

The Object of the Commission

The Object of the Commission.

On the almost unsupported evidence of a hired informer named William Lambert, John James Meikle was, on the 17th December, 1887, convicted of sheep-stealing in the Supreme-Court at Invercargill, and the cruel sentence of seven years' imprisonment with hard labour was awarded to a man who had nothing previously against him but a trivial conviction for common assault. On 17th June, 1895, having served his term Mr. Meikle turned the tables upon his accuser and secured Lambert's conviction for perjury in respect of the evidence given for the Crown in 1887. Claiming to have there-by established his own innocence, Mr. Meikle at once petitioned Parliament for redress, and on the 9th October, 1895, the Public Petitions Committee of the House of Representatives reported in his favour as follows:—

"That the Committee are of opinion that, after eliminating Lambert's evidence, who has since been convicted and is now serving a sentence for perjury, there was not sufficient evidence adduced at petitioner's trial to warrant his conviction on the charge preferred against him.

The Committee are also of opinion that the request of petitioner to have his name removed from the prison record's of the Colony merits the serious consideration of the Crown.

The Committee recommends the Government to make provision on the Supplementary Estimates for the payment to petitioner of a sum of money by way of compensation for the loss he has sustained in connection with his business, the legal costs incurred in defending the charge preferred against him, and securing the conviction of Lambert for perjury, and also by way of compensation for the imprisonment he has suffered."

Mr. Seddon's Government, however, refused to give effect to this recommendation on the ground that in his report on the petition which Mr, Meikle had addressed to the Governor from prison, Mr. Justice Ward, who had tried the case, had expressed his entire concurrence in the verdict, and that even the conviction of-Lambert he had declined to admit Mr. Meikle's right to an acquittal. For ten years the petitioner battled to reverse this decision, but Mr. Seddon refused to page 6 accept the recommendation of a Parliamentary Committee as a sufficient warrant for the practical overruling of a verdict recorded according to law and supported by the judge at trial. At last, however, the growing power of public sympathy and indignation made the deadlock intolerable, and yielding to the request of an influential deputation appointed by a public meeting of Wellington citizens, the late Government wisely decided to get an authoritative judicial ruling on the value of the judicial barrier to the granting of the Petitions Committee's recommendations which they had hitherto regarded as insuperable.