Ovens & Murray Advertiser

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Opinions seem to be pretty fairly divided as to the operation of the New Felons Apprehension Act. Some regard it as worse than inoperative. This some journals inform us that it is being abused; that the police are exceeding their province, and pushing the Act further than was ever intended, and that the effect of imprisoning men on mere suspicion, under the fifth section of the Act, and keeping them in durance vile for weeks, will be but to create bushrangers, and increase crimes against life and property. Some years ago, it will be remembered that a somewhat similar statue was enacted in the sister colony of New South Wales for a like purpose, namely the outrooting of a dangerous gang of ruffians, whose depredations had caused a feeling of insecurity and terror to permeate all classes of the community, and it is now roundly asserted that the effect of the carrying out the provision of this Act was then to foster and increase crime, to render criminals desperate, and to cause a number of embryo thieves and even murderers to be called into existence. This we very much doubt. Those to whom we allude have been extremely bitter at the continued enforced detention of the fourteen men now in the Beechworth gaol on a charge of giving such information to Edward Kelly, a proclaimed and proscribed outlaw, and his associates, as would facilitate the commission by them of further crimes. It is argued, and at first sight with considerable show of justice, that these men were arrested, so far as society knew, partly on suspicion of being accomplices of the outlaws – that they were confined in gaol – that when bought up a remand was asked for and granted, and that when brought up the second time a further remand was applied for and granted, the only ground given for the remand being that the police were unable to produce their witnesses; the constables because they were out in the bush on duty engaged in searching for the Kellys, and the civilians because it would not be safe for them to come forward and give their evidence, the mere rehearsal of which would place their lives in jeopardy. It is urged that after the first remand some tangible and direct evidence should have been brought against the men who it was asserted, had been guilty of no offence, and whose only crime was that they were either related, or at some time had been acquaintances of the outlaws. To some people with but little knowledge of the country, and still less of the men implicated, the continued imprisonment of these men seems a hardship, and a great deal of capital is made out the liberty of the subject, and the glorious privileges conferred upon Englishmen by the grand old Magna Charta. Perhaps it does seem hard that these men should be thus kept in confinement without being definitely apprised with what they are accused of, and some may imagine that several of those thus in prison are perfectly innocent men, and that the deprivation of their liberty is a foul injustice. This is a debatable matter, and we quite agree with what Mr Foster PM said in getting a further remand, that the reasons advanced by the police in asking for the remand were both reasonable and sound, and that they were fully justified in making the application, and in acting as they had done under existing circumstances. It is surely not to be imagined that the police Act, and arrested these men without good and sound reason, and without knowing well that they were in some way implicated, and knew more than they would care to divulge, and it is equally improbable that the law would have been put to motion without due consideration. We believe that the police were perfectly justified in making the arrests they did, and we say this having a due appreciation of the genius and scope of the Act, and with an intimate knowledge both of the country, and also of the majority of the men now in custody. Then with regard to the reasons given for a remand, they are perfectly feasible, and under the exceptional circumstances of the cases, and the disturbed and disordered state of society, are certainly worthy of consideration. It is no exaggeration to say the men are afraid to come forward to give evidence against the Kellys, and it is perfectly true that were the Crown to exercise its full powers and compel their attendance, it would place their lives in jeopardy. It is all very well for people who live their case in large townships, with plenty of protection, to sneer at what has been styled the Kelly scare, and to express doubt whether it has any existence, but let them go into the country districts, and they will find the dread of the outlaws by no means exaggerated. No doubt Mr Bowman and Mr Sadleir made a great mistake when they granted the concession they did, and it was fortunate Mr Foster was shrewd enough and firm enough to decline to become a party to any agreement which might be entered into, otherwise there would have been a decided danger that the ends of justice would have been frustrated.

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