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Evan Whitton
29 November, 2005  
A brief history of sedition

The origins and evolution of sedition from 1450, when printing was reinvented, to today, where we find Howard and Ruddock dusting down the old H. Talbot Gibbs’ plan. Evan Whitton also unveils his new book, a mercifully brief and fun tome called Serial Liars (order now)


How exhilarating to be on the same side as superstars of the legal trade, including I. McClelland (Ronnie) Barker QC.

Ronnie gave the sedition law initiated by those wizened gnomes, Jackie the Lackey and P. Cruddock, a fearful spray in the SMH of November 14.

It only remains to add a brief timeline on the sinister origins and development of pre-publication censorship/chill (PPC), which is what sedition law really is.

c. 1450. A goldsmith, J. Gensfleisch Gutenberg, reinvents printing in Mainz, Germany. The ensuing “information explosion” petrifies scoundrels in the trade of authority.

1501. Sex-crazed Rodrigo Borja, aka Pope Alexander VI, invents PPC to prevent clerics criticising his greed, his nepotism on behalf of his bastard spawn, Cesare and Lucrezia Borja, and his carnal orgies, including a Ballet of the Chestnuts. (Don’t ask.)

image1534. Serial spouse Henry VIII (seen here) invents the own church and an act to license all printed work. The Licensing Act forestalls criticism of his church, his sacred person as self-elected Pope, and of corrupt public officials, including judges.

1695. Whigs let licensing laws lapse after Charles Blount tricks the Licenser of the Press, Edmund Bohun, into licensing a pamphlet, King William and Queen Mary Conquerors, which is deeply offensive to the real conquerors, Whig conspirators against James II.

1704. D. Defoe’s invention of modern journalism, and hence “democracy”, petrifies corrupt politicians and judges, but hypocrisy rules out a return to licensing: a “free” press confirms Britain’s superiority over woggish Europe. Eighteenth century minds no less cunning than Jackie’s are thus obliged to invent five disguised forms of PPC: taxation, bribing proprietors, secrecy, libel law, sedition law.

1712. Robert Harley (Inner Temple 1682) puts a tax on newspapers. Splendid results: several journals disappear overnight, including Defoe’s Review and Addison and Steele’s Spectator; surviving proprietors tend to be amenable to bribes, open or disguised, to produce “echo chamber” journalism, and to enjoy near monopoly.

18th century. Whigs make it a crime to report parliament. Libel law, which has discouraged exposure of respectable organised criminals since 1275, continues its valuable work; the crime of seditious libel is defined as:

“Written censure upon any public man whatever for any conduct whatever, or upon any law or institution whatever.”

Judges exclude jurors from libel verdicts, thus ensuring guilty verdicts.

1855. H.J. Temple (Viscount Palmerston) abolishes tax on newspapers.

image1889. R.A.T. (Ratty) Gascoyne-Cecil (Marquess of Salisbury) – pic – invents Official Secrets Act to stop civil servants leaking in the public interest. Secrecy is not confined to “the safety of the State”. Spook (MI5) Sir M. Furnival-Jones later says: “It is an official secret if it is in an official file.”

1911. H.H. Asquith (Lincoln’s Inn 1876) uses a terror hobgoblin, mythical German spies, to get an even more lethal Official Secrets Act through the House in 30 minutes flat.

1988 – December. Former Chief Justice H. Talbot Gibbs unsuccessfully offers R.J. Lee Hawke a sedition paper suggesting prison for anyone revealing scandals which politicians, bureaucrats and spooks prefer to keep secret.

2000. In a first in 145 years Jackie imposes tax on newspapers.

2005. Jackie and the Crudman reinforce PPC with new sedition law. They bravely say dear old Harry, lately buried at the crossroads with a stake through his heart, would approve.

But Crudders has been in the House since 1973, Jackie since 1974. They must know that Harry himself should have been behind bars for his outrageous lie – a profit of $2,782 is a loss of $186,046 – in Curran (1974), which not only perverted justice but ripped $3 billion off the treasury.

imageFootnote: Your correspondent has been roused from habitual torpor just long enough to complete a trilogy on the majesty of the law. Serial Liars follows Trial by Voodoo (1994) and The Cartel (1998).

Mercifully brief, the book includes material from this sprightly organ, and details the 26 anti-truth devices which unfortunaely make our system a tiny bit immoral.

There is some fun stuff which law schools seem to have forgotten, or never knew: how and when profoundly dubious Pom judges let litigation lawyers take control of the process.

And the small adjustments Australia can make to achieve a really nice system.

Serial Liars is available here.