Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Magazine article The Spectator

Ancient & Modern

Article excerpt

AS the wretched Louise Woodward goes off to jail for 15 years for second degree murder of the baby Matthew Eappen, the abysmal Eappen parents seem delighted that `truth and justice' have been served. But what have truth and justice got to do with each other?

When one reads court cases from 4thcentury Bc Athens, it is clear that the facts of the case in hand (`the truth') were of some importance. But they were not the whole story. Both defence and prosecution spent a great deal of their time expatiating on other issues. This was not merely so that lawyers could make money. The length of the two speeches was strictly regulated by a water-clock (the same for both sides), and anyway the speeches were given by the actual parties involved (though there was nothing to prevent anyone paying for their speech to be written by an expert like Demosthenes).

The point is that, rather as in an American court case, the whole event was a public show. Courts were open to the public (American proceedings are televised) and the public needed to be wooed as much as the jury. Moreover, in a Greek court there were no rules of evidence and no judge. Both sides slugged it out, one speech apiece, sat down and the jury (without further discussion) voted. …

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