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Leverhulme
4 November, 2009  
London Calling

Self-righteous BBC show gives the BNP plenty of free oxygen … Remembering the legendary lawyer David Shapiro … Judge ordered upstairs by wife


imageThe biggest news in the past week or so has been the appearance of British National Party leader Nick Griffin on BBC’s Question Time.

The program is supposed to be about current issues but was almost totally devoted to Griffin.

His appearance didn’t boost the BNP’s standing, although you hear his deranged views in most pubs and transport caffs.

It was a gruesome affair. Nick is reminiscent of that chap in the Da Vinci Code called Silas who practised severe corporal mortification.

When someone is giving him a hard time you can almost see Griffin’s brain saying, “Quickly! Now move into sense-of-humour mode”.

imageHe then laughs in an odd way.

Just as unattractive were the self-righteous members of the panel: the oleaginous Jack Straw (pic); the Dewsbury Diva, Baroness Warsi; the Lib Dem with the style of a used-car salesman, Nick Huhne; and a smug woman called Bonnie Greer who was obviously chosen because she was a playwright.

Members of the audience were strident. They were like the passengers on Agatha Christie’s Orient Express who each had a stab at the victim so they’d feel better.

Instead of attacking Griffin, it might have been more effective to let him explain himself.

But the BBC can be patronising and viewers are not often not allowed to think for themselves.

imageAt one point there was an exchange, which some thought more sinister than Griffin’s frankly bonkers ideas.

Griffin (pic) said he didn’t want to answer a question about Holocaust denial lest he be prosecuted under European law.

Huhne said it wasn’t the law in Britain.

Straw then said: “As Justice Secretary, I promise you, if you want to explain why you don’t believe it…” and then intimated that it would be OK for Griffo to spout forth.

So Straw now believes he is the law.

That’s troubling.

* * *

A legendary lawyer died early in October.

imageDavid Shapiro (snap) was a renowned civil rights attorney in the United States who worked on the Hollywood blacklist case.

At the age of 67 Shapiro re-invented himself and went to London to promote mediation to a sceptical profession.

He became a partner at the international firm of S.J. Berwin and worked almost right to the end.

He was a kind but intimidating man.

In later years he hobbled around the office on crutches or took a motorised scooter, which made him look like an overfed Davros from Doctor Who.

He terrified the staff and his conversation was peppered with expletives, but he could also be very funny.

I met him a few years ago and he told me a story.

As a young man, he appeared as counsel in the Supreme Court of the United States.

The case had constitutional implications and Shapiro and his team booked into a motel days in advance to prepare. He said:

“Over many hours, my colleagues threw everything at me: all the questions that the judges were likely to ask.

I went into court and sat down at counsels’ table. I was fully prepared and ready to go.

Then I heard the sound of my father’s voice. He said, ‘That’s my boy up there’.

To my horror the usher brought my mother and father to sit right behind me.

The judges filed in and I got to my feet.

I was brilliant. I answered everything they threw at me. Then Mr Justice Frankfurter (seen here) imagestarted.

He was firing very tough questions at me. I answered them all.

Suddenly, there was one I didn’t know the answer to. It was an awkward moment.

Then I heard my mother say quite loudly, ‘Who’s that little weasel giving our David a hard time’?”

It’s not clear to which case Shapiro was referring, but it’s probably Cole v Young.

You can hear counsels’ submissions HERE.

Isn’t it wonderful that an oral argument from a case heard 53-years ago is now online?

Shapiro’s is an assured and polished performance. It’s hard to believe he was only 27.

He won by a majority of 6 to 3 and the majority included Felix.

Shapiro finished his story by saying he eventually told Justice Frankfurter that he didn’t know the answer to his question.

The great judge replied:

“Neither do I. I’ve been asking it for 40 years.”

* * *

In October 2007, I told Justinian readers about an elderly High Court judge whose wife had said: “Come upstairs and let’s make love.”

He replied: “Darling; I’m afraid it’s either one or the other.”

Well, I saw him the other day. He looked very happy.

He volunteered the information: “I know it’s a bit personal but my wife and I have no need for Viagra.”

“In fact,” he said, “we make love almost every night of the week.”

“Almost Monday; almost Tuesday; almost Wednesday …”