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Wednesday, 8 November 1911

Senator ST LEDGER (Queensland) . - Under proposed new sub-clause 2, the Minister is framing the Act so that a statutory declaration may be submitted to the Court, and when it is submitted to the Court, then, under proposed new sub-clause 3, it is to be equivalent to evidence, and the matter must be gone into. In other words, a statutory declaration, by these two provisions, is made evidence; but we are now practically asked to say that the evidence of a man who cannot get a witness shall not be evidence. The Minister is discriminating in regard to this privilege. I am quite willing to add to my amendment the words " duly witnessed." If the Minister will not accept that alteration, he will do a great injustice to many persons. He must be aware that, in Australia, it is impossible, in many instances, for men to find a justice of the peace to witness a statement in writing. What is the basis of the franchise ? That it shall be as free as possible, and surrounded with all facilities which we can reasonably give to the people. Yet, in the matter of dealing with evidence under this measure, we are asked to say that the signature to one class of declaration shall be witnessed, and that the signature to another class shall not be witnessed. I think it will do justice to the whole case to allow the written declaration of the defendant, duly attested, to be accepted.

Senator Guthrie - By whom?

Senator ST LEDGER - Is not the signature to a will allowed to be attested by any person ; and, if so, why should not the signature to a declaration of this kind be attested by any person ? A man may dispose, by will, of thousands of pounds' worth of property, and the law regards the bequest as quite good if the testator's signature is witnessed by two persons, who might be anybody.

Senator Guthrie - In the presence of two witnesses, and in the presence of each other.

Senator ST LEDGER -Yes; but under the law, any person may witness a signature to a will. Why not give to an elector who is called upon to answer a charge under the Electoral Act the privilege which is ordinarily given to a person who makes a statutory declaration - namely, that of writing out his case, and having it duly attested?

Senator Ready - Such a statement would not be accepted by a court of law. Senator ST. LEDGER.- It would be if we provided for it in this measure.

Senator Ready - The honorable senator does not convince me of that.

Senator ST LEDGER - If we provide in an Act of Parliament that a written statement signed by the defendant, and duly attested, shall be considered by the Court, the magistrate will say, " I must accept this statement as evidence."

Senator Guthrie - Would such a statement be accepted as evidence in a will case?

Senator ST LEDGER - Of course it would be, unless it were disproved. The moment a will, signed by a testator, and duly witnessed, is lodged in a Probate Court, it stands good unless it can be shown that the signatures are forgeries. In other words., the signature of the testator, duly witnessed, must be taken to be what it purports to be, unless there is evidence to the contrary.

Senator Guthrie - Or unless the will is challenged.

Senator ST LEDGER - Quite so. We are content to allow property worth hundreds of thousands of pounds to be so disposed of. Why not allow a defendant accused of not enrolling himself as an elector to make a similar declaration?

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