In a review of Donald McRae’s book, The Old Devil: Clarence Darrow, the World’s Greatest Trial Lawyer, published by Simon & Schuster, The Guardian’s legal affairs man Marcel Berlins last week complained about the loss of theatricality and passion among today’s barristers.
Noting that Darrow (pic) invariably appeared on behalf of the underdog and often won apparent lost causes, Berlins wrote:
“He did so by sheer persuasion, backed by a powerful presence, a magnetic way with words and, above all, what must have been extraordinary oratorical skills, an actor’s talent as much as a lawyer’s.”
Berlins, no mean raconteur himself as well as a huge wine buff, named Edward Marshall Hall as Darrow’s only English equivalent, saying that crowds would form at courts to hear him speak.
“On one occasion, defending a pathetic prostitute on a charge of murder, he ended his plea to the all-male jury by pointing to her and, with a sob in his softest voice: ‘Look at her. God never gave her a chance. Won’t you?’
The jury acquitted.”
Berlins (pic) concluded that today’s barristers have abandoned vocal and behavioural flair for hum-drum legal profundities delivered in a flat monotone.
“Much more effective, no doubt,” he grumbled, “and so boring”.
A couple of days later two briefs from Matrix Chambers, Alex Bailin and Alison Macdonald, took issue with The Guardian’s grumpy commentator and recalled an incident from the flamboyant career of their former colleague, Tony Jennings QC.
“When representing a man charged with masturbating a dolphin, Tony had adduced evidence that the aquatic mammal sometimes uses its sexual organ as a foraging tool. In closing, he reminded the jury that ‘You don’t often see a man pushing his trolley around Tesco’s with his penis, do you?’ Unable to disagree, they duly acquitted.”
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The case of Dr David Kelly (pic), the senior government scientist found dead near his home in Oxfordshire on July 18, 2003, has come back to haunt the British government and the judicial establishment.
His body was found in woodlands after he had been subjected to repeated grillings by security committees about media leaks.
The stories sourced to those alleged leaks were to the effect that the Blair government had gone to war in Iraq knowing that claims about weapons of mass destruction were untrue.
Kelly left no suicide note and none of his colleagues believed the veteran United Nations arms inspector was the type to crack under pressure.
However, Lord Hutton’s inquiry concluded that Kelly killed himself, giving a timely boost to Tony Blair and leading to the resignations of BBC director-general Greg Dyke and chairman Gavyn Davies.
Now a team of 13 doctors is launching a legal challenge to Hutton’s patsy findings.
Based on the medical opinions of a number of eminent specialists, the doctors are convinced that Kelly was murdered.
Their report calls Hutton’s conclusions “flawed” and they are demanding the resumption of a full inquest under the Coroners Act.
The original inquest was suspended in extraordinary circumstances on the orders of then Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, who deemed that the Hutton inquiry fulfilled “the functions of an inquest”.
Hutton’s verdict was that “the principal cause of death was bleeding from incised wounds to the left wrist” exacerbated by “silent coronary heart disease” and the ingestion of pain-killers.
David Halpin (pic) a retired lecturer in anatomy at King’s College London, said on behalf of the group mounting the challenge:
“We reject hemorrhage the cause of death and see no contrary opinion which would stand its ground. I think it highly likely he was assassinated.”
The doctors concur that the bleeding from the ulnar artery would not have been sufficient to cause death.
The two ambulance officers who collected the body also stated that there were only minor bloodstains at the scene.
The doctors are represented by solicitor Martin Day of Leigh Day & Co and barrister Richard Harmer QC.
Hutton (snap) has form.
He represented the Ministry of Defence at the inquest into the 1972 killing of Northern Ireland civil rights marchers in 1972.
In 1999 he was part of a panel that overturned a Law Lords decision in favour of the extradition of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.
Meanwhile, a film entitled The Anthrax War directed by Bob Coen is receiving enthusiastic reviews at fringe screenings in London and has been bought by SBS.
It gives details of Kelly’s role as head of microbiology at the UK’s Porton Down, the top secret laboratory for research into germ and chemical warfare.
Apart from books and films, there’s got to be an opera out of all.