March 25.
Withers, j.
( 302 )
“ 1 am not satisfied with the evidence already recorded. I think“ further, evidence should be gone into before the case can be“ decided satisfactorily. I will leave it to my successor to examine“ more witnesses, if he considers necessary, and give a decision.”
What an unhappy admission of inability to decide a simple case !It was the obvious duty of the Magistrate, if he had any doubt asto the guilt of the accused, to give him the benefit of that doubtand acquit him. He does not say on what point he wishedfurther evidence, or whether that evidence was wanted for theprosecution or for the defence.
Then, what happens on the 6th December. 1808, more than ayear after the institution of the proceedings ? The man is triedover again, an exact duplicate of the original trial. The plaint isexplained to the accused, and he claims to be tried.
The complaint was that the accused had quitted his employer’sservices without leave or reasonable cause on the 1st May, 1897).At the close of the prosecution the new Magistrate (Mr. Gunetileke)alters the charge to one of non-attendance at work to peel cinna-mon at the time and place he had contracted to do. The newMagistrate, after hearing evidence for the accused, convicted himof that charge.
Now, it seemed to me that the most just way of dealing withthis case was to hear counsel on the proceedings of the firsttrial; and if the respondent’s counsel satisfied me that theprosecution had made out the charge on which the accused hasbeen convicted at the second trial, I should let the convictionstand. If he was unable to satisfy me that the accused was guiltyof the offence charged, then I should do what the Magistrateshould have done at the.first trial, and acquit the accused.
The complainant swears that the accused never attended towork on his estate on any day after signing the contract. On theother hand, the accused swears that as long as he was able to hedid attend to work, and that he was obliged to desist from workowing to an affection of his eye. It was this conflict of evidencethat overcame the Magistrate at the first trial. He gave up theproblem in despair, and left it for his successor to solve. Now,that was not the way to administer justice. As it is very doubtful,indeed, that the accused committed any offence at all under theLabour Ordinance, I shall do now what the Magistrate should havedone then, and acquit the accused. No explanation has beenoffered for the delay in instituting these proceedings. The offenceis said to have been committed on the 1st May, 1897, but it wasnot till the September following that the case was instituted.
I set aside the conviction and acquit the accused.