J. BECKETT AND ORS. Vs. MRS. WENDY E. NORRIS
HIGH COURT OF MADRAS
J. Beckett And Ors.
Mrs. Wendy E. Norris
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Mockett, J. -
(1.) THE petitioners are the committee members of the Kodaikanal Club. They have been convicted of defaming Mrs. Norris, who, as the wife of a member, is privileged to use the club under rule IV, Clause 2 of the Club Rules. She is not of course a member of the club. The penalty imposed by the learned Magistrate was a fine of Rs. 10 on each accused. This is a most unfortunate case in many respects. The complainant was no doubt (although dealing with her own countrymen) entitled to avail herself of the remedy by prosecution rather than by civil action in damages. The effect has been curious in a community used to, what I will describe as, the right rather than the privilege of giving evidence on oath. Although it has been of the utmost importance in this case that they should (the burden of proof being cast upon them) be able to give evidence on oath, the accused have been prohibited from doing so owing to the proceedings being in a criminal forum. I will return to this aspect of the case later.
(2.) THE facts are as follows : - -The Kodaikanal Club has opened its door to members of the Services - -Officers are honorary members - -and on two nights a week, the dance room is thrown open to British Other Ranks of His Majesty's forces. The Other Ranks are confined to the dance room and are prohibited from using certain other rooms of the club of which the reading room is one. They are also (no doubt for good and sufficient reasons) not allowed to consume intoxicating liquors in the Club. Mrs. Norris receives a number of British Other Ranks at her house "Speke" as paying guests at a small charge, and there is no doubt that she is much interested in their entertainment and welfare. On the 28th October, 1943, by Ex. G, the Honorary Secretary on behalf of the committee, wrote to the complainant's husband, Dr. Norris in Ceylon pointing out that Mrs. Norris at about 9 -15 p. m. on the 26th October, was in the reading room before the fire with Other Ranks. It was pointed out that the presence of Other Ranks as guests was restricted to the recreation room on Tuesdays and Fridays from 7 -30 to 10 -30 p.m. The letter concludes: " The Committee will be glad if you and Mrs. Norris will observe this rule in future". By Ex. G -1, Dr. Norris acknowledged Ex. G and apologised saying that he was in no doubt that the breach of the rule by his wife was due to inadvertence. On 10th February, 1944, the alleged defamatory letter by the Honorary Secretary (Ex. A), was sent to Dr. Norris, who was still in Ceylon. It reads as follows:
On 29th October 1943 as instructed by the committee, I wrote to you on the subject of your wife having introduced non -members (B.O. Rs.) into the club. On that occasion the President personal v spoke to your wife and explained to her the breach of the rules, which she had committed.
You replied in your letter, dated 3rd November 1943, expressing regret in the belief that your wife had acted inadvertently in ignorance of the rules.
I am now directed by the committee to bring to your notice that on the night of Tuesday February 1st, 1944, a member of the Committee found your wife and several R.A.F. (B O. Rs ) drinking in the reading room of the club - -a place, which they are not allowed to enter. The committee also learns that on the after -noon of 8th February, 1944, your wife was also seen in the reading room alone with a B.O.R. On the same night after the dance a servant of the club reported that your wife was with several B.O. Rs. in the reading room and she asked for them to be served with intoxi -eating drinks.
I am directed by the Committee to inform you that, in their opinion, the conduct of your wife is injurious to the harmony and interests of the club with reference to R. XII (2).
I am also directed to inform you that in the event of any further such breach of the rules by your wife, after you had an opportunity of communicating with her," the Committee acting under R. XII (4) will proceed to withdraw from her the privilege of using the club.
I am forwarding to you separately a copy of the rules of club and I am sending to your wife a copy of this letter.
It will be seen that there are three incidents referred to - -one on the 1st February the second on the afternoon of the 8th February, and the third on the evening of the 8th February. I am not concerned with the second incident as the Magistrate has quite rightly paid no attention to it, since the Committee apologised. Apart from that, on the face of it, it is clearly not defamatory. The charge against the accused differs in one respect from the actual alleged incident. It will be seen in the letter, Ex. A, incident No. 3 reads thus:
On the same night after the dance, a servant of the club reported that your wife was with several B.O. Rs. in the reading room and she asked for them to be served with intoxicating drinks.
(3.) IN the charge, this incident is reproduced as follows:
That on the same night she was with B.O. Rs. in the reading room and asked for drinks to he served to them.;
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