Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sedition by Example XXIV: John Roche

(Being another example of the absurdity of our archaic law of sedition)

New Zealand's pettiest sedition prosecution is undoubtedly that of Father John Roche. A Catholic priest visiting from Australia, Father Roche got into a discussion with a soldier in the bar room of the Waverley Hotel. According to the subsequent report, "after a discussion on Irish politics, the conversation turned to conscription, and the recent referendum on the question in Australia". The discussion "heated up", and at some stage Father Roche said

The Germans are a better civilised nation than the british; you are a fool to go to the war.

For saying this, Roche was charged with sedition. While the judge was sympathetic, he was "surprised that a clergyman, presumably a man of education, should say the German nation was more civilised than our own". That remark lent "an unpleasant flavour" to the discussion, and suggested disloyalty. Roche was convicted, and fined 5 pounds plus costs; he subsequently returned to Australia.

(Unfortunately I neglected to note the date on the photocopied newspaper article, but a reference to it can be found in the notes to Sweetman's Bishop in the Dock: The Sedition Trial of James Liston).