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The Pamphlet Collection of Sir Robert Stout: Volume 78

A Cross Misconception

A Cross Misconception.

In consequence of this ruling, Meikle decided not to withdraw from the Commission, and the issues were allowed to stand unamended. Nevertheless the Commissioners, as though thankful to find any questions to which they could return a definite answer, have answered these two questions in the negative without a word to explain that an answer apparently unfavourable to the accused was inevitable on page 9 technical grounds in both cases. To the critical reader the insertion of the italicised phrase in the second answer—" The conviction of the said William Lambert did not per se raise a reasonable presumption that the claimant was innocent or was wrongly convicted"—conveys a warning that the answer is abstract and technical. But a majority of readers are not critical, and some of the most intelligent newspapers in the colony have sprung to the conclusion that the general result is one of "Not Proven," and that these two answers are a definite negation of anything more. As the Commissioners were addressing, not an assembly of lawyers, but the public at large, it was surely a part of their duty to guard against so gross, yet so easy, a misconception. That these issues should have been so framed, and having been left unamended after protest, should have been so answered, and having been so answered should have been so widely misunderstood, is but other illustration of the cruel injustice which has dogged this unfortunate man for the last twenty years. After dismissing these ridiculous issues in this technically correct but practically misleading fashion, the Commissioners proceed to a re-statement of "the real questions intended to be referred to us" in the following terms:—
(a)Has sufficient evidence been adduced before us to show that the claimant was guilty or was innocent of the crime of sheep-stealing, whereof he was convicted?
(b)If the evidence is insufficient to enable us to arrive definitely at either conclusion, is the question of the guilt of the claimant so far left in doubt that, if he were now being re-tried by us as a jury upon an indictment for the said crime, he ought to be acquitted upon the ground that the said crime had not been sufficiently proved against him?