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Friday, 9 August 1912

Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) . - At the outset of my remarks, I should like to clear some of the ground which has been covered during this debate. Some matters have been imported into the discussion which, while perhaps illuminating it, are not essential to our deliberations upon this Bill.- Repeated reference has been made to the action of the Chairman of the Sugar Commission in relation to one of the witnesses who appeared before him. It would be the grossest exhibition of ostrich sense for honorable senators to pretend that we can entirely divorce our criticism' of the Bill from those actions. I wish that the two things could be dissociated. I believe that the measure has been submitted for our consideration, simply because of certain incidents in connexion with the inquiries of that Commission.

Senator McGregor - Suppose that it has been. What harm is there in that?

Senator ST LEDGER - There is certainly no harm in my criticising it. In my judgment, the trouble is entirely due to the foolishness exhibited by the Chairman of the Commission. The incidents connected with the relation of the Chairman of that body to one of the witnesses who appeared before it on behalf of the Colonial Sugar Refining Company have already been dwelt upon by honorable senators, and the action of Mr. Justice Gordon has been severely criticised. In this connexion, I am irresistibly reminded of some very profound remarks which were made by the Judge who tried a certain case in which I happened to be engaged some time ago. The trial was a protracted one, and counsel upon both sides were extremely anxious to keep back the major portion of their hands. When the proceedings had reached a crucial stage, it became necessary to call a certain individual as a witness, and to produce certain documents. The witness appeared in the box, and the Judge asked him what certain documents meant, and why he had made certain statements. The man replied, " To the best of my ability I have given the information which I thought ought to be given ; and there has been produced on my behalf documents which 1 thought were sufficient for the purpose." The Judge at once replied. " 1 believe that you are an honest man, and that, within what you deem to be your legal rights, you have behaved as an honest man ; but I say that your opinion of what constitutes honesty and fair play does not accord with the conception of most honest and fairminded men." Applying that incident, I have no hesitation in affirming that Mr. Justice Gordon's conception of impartiality and fair-mindedness does not accord with what ought to be the conception of any man who is 'called upon to fill the responsible position of Chairman of a Royal Commission. I think it is only fair that I should have said so much with regard to the relations between the Chairman of the Commission and the witness, whose conduct caused so much trouble, and has led to the introduction of this measure. I accept Senator Vardon's statement with regard to Sir John

Gordon. I retorted, while he was speaking, that the very excuse which the Chairman of the Commission made was a strong accusation against him, bearing in mind the well-known proverb, "He who excuseth himself accuseth himself." There was nothing to warrant the Chairman telling the witness that he had told " a deliberate lie." No matter what the circumstances were, no Britisher, however humble he may be, is expected to abide quietly by a charge like that.

Senator de Largie - What about Sir John Gordon's almost abject apology?

Senator ST LEDGER - The Chairman of a Royal Commission should not allow himself to get into such a position. He should not use expressions insulting to a witness. I have had some experience of all classes of Courts, and I have never heard a Judge allow himself to use such an expression to a witness in the box. I have heard Judges, in summing up to juries after evidence was concluded, express strong opinions about persons or matters. But, as a rule, Judges do not allow such expressions as " deliberate lie " to fall from their lips, until they have heard the pros and cons of the case. The whole trouble, in this instance, arose out of the fact that a witness desired to make a statement, and that the Chairman of the Commission insisted that he should first answer questions put to him. I believe that a whole series of questions, seventy or eighty in number,had been submitted to the witness, and that he was required to go categorically through them before he made his statement. Every one who has had experience of Law Courts knows that, both in civil and criminal cases - especially criminal cases - when a witness goes into the box and says, " I should prefer not to answer counsel's questions until I have made a statement," it is usual not to refuse his request. In my professional experience, it has happened, over and over again, that counsel on both sides could not get what they desired out of a witness, because the witness wanted to take that position. I have heard the Judge say, " Let the man make his statement first." Sometimes that has happened in civil cases, also.

Senator Pearce - Did that happen before the name of the witness had been obtained ?

Senator ST LEDGER - That is a technical objection. It was Sir John Gor don's weakness that he relied too much on his technical powers, and thereby, unfortunately, caused unnecessary friction and confusion At this stage I ask leave to continue my remarks at the next silting.

Leave granted; debate adjourned.

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