Magazine article The Spectator

Putting the Case

Magazine article The Spectator

Putting the Case

Article excerpt

Opening a case means telling a story clearly and in a way which holds the jury's interest, a novelist's talent. Cross-examination is as exciting and risky as bull-fighting: the advocate either moves in for the kill or gets tossed into the air with his trousers ripped and his dignity in tatters. The final speech, the last act, is perhaps the most fascinating and enjoyable part of the trial. By that time you have identified your friends and enemies on the jury and you can encourage the one and try to convert the other. No one interrupts you, unless the judge is an unreconstructed old bruiser set on a conviction, in which case you can gently persuade the jury that, given his grim determination to pot your client, it would only be fair to redress the balance and acquit. At the end of the final speech and I remember making one which lasted six hours - you sink back into your seat, exhausted and sweating. Your responsibilities are over. You have done your best, and what happens next is up to the judge and jury, and the relief must be what actors feel when the final curtain comes down, or mountaineers when they've reached the summit. For better or for worse, the job's over.

All advocates have their favourite final gambits. The great Sir Edward Marshall Hall used to point to his unfortunate client in the dock, a prostitute, perhaps, accused of murder, and say in tones of deep emotion, `Look at her as she sits there, members of the jury. God never gave her a chance. Will you?' And he would stretch out his arms as though he were a pair of scales and proclaim the evidence evenly balanced, for and against. `But in one scale, members of the jury, you put that little feather weight, the presumption of innocence.' One arm rose into the air. `And then it's your duty to acquit!' A hard-hearted judge told one jury that he was always glad when Sir Edward got to his balancing act because it was a relief to know that the speech was almost over.

The present collection of closing speeches comes from America, and I have no doubt that the advocates who made them, with varying degrees of success, went through the same feelings of excitement, terror and liberation as we did week after week down at the Old Bailey. William Kunstler, an admirable defender of unpopular clients, `the poor, the persecuted, the radicals and the militants, the black people, the pacifists and the political pariahs', battled nobly for the Chicago Seven, charged with violence after Major Daley had unleashed police with tear-gas and batons during protests at a Democratic convention in Chicago. His clients didn't help him by calling the judge a pig, racist and fascist, or Mr Magoo. …

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