[The libel trial Rex v. Pemberton Billing related specifically to an article on the dancer Maud Allan and a private performance of Oscar Wilde’s Salome.]
THE scandalous Old Bailey libel case ended with the acquittal of the defendant. Whether it should have been tried in public or in camera is a question for either side of which a strong argument can be urged. If it had been tried secretly, the public would have imagined that the authorities were hushing up awkward facts. On the other hand, an open trial, with its horrible revelations, was a danger to public morals, and it was worth much to avoid that risk. At any rate, the case was heard in open court, and, apart from the nature of the alleged libel, the proceedings were unseemly and disorderly without any precedent in our own time. The Court was now and again reduced to the state of a bear-garden; witnesses bawled at the top of their voice; women screamed; one witness called the judge a liar, and bedlam seemed to have broken loose. Almost the only thing in the whole proceedings that it is possible for us to approve is Mr Justice Darling’s strictures on the production of improper plays and dances, whether in public or in private, by subscription or by other means. The law, said his lordship, must be altered. The censor may prohibit the public production of an objectionable play, but the law at present appears to leave it possible to arrange for a private or semi-private performance.