“Marine Scandal”, 1899
In the official, and probably subterranean, archives of the General Assembly Library in Wellington lies the 380-page report of the Marine Commission of 1899 which tells the story of the “Marine Scandal”. The tribunal differed from many of its kind by reason of the fact that the Premier of the colony, Seddon, spent several hours in the witness box refuting serious charges preferred against him and one of his principal Ministers, the Minister of Marine, W. Hall-Jones. It was not a trial in the ordinary sense of the term, but since it involved the impeachment of the Premier and his Government, it had no less a judicial character than one of Her Majesty's highest Courts. The proceedings lasted a full 15 days and at the end of the hearing District Judge Ward and Dr Joseph Giles found that the charges of wrongful use of ministerial powers by Seddon and Hall-Jones in the matter of the issue of master mariners' certificates were entirely unfounded. The case arose out of an attack from the floor of the House of Representatives by John Hutcheson, a ship rigger, who was also a member of Parliament for the city of Wellington. Far more than the personal integrity of the individuals concerned hung on the outcome of the investigation, and on that account alone it takes its place among the more significant judicial hearings in New Zealand's legal history.