A LIGHT GRILLING The significance of the date was not lost on prosecutor Bruce Erroch, as he introduced a police witness to the jury. “You used to be a constable with Northern Constabulary but on April Fools’ Day that all changed, didn’t it?” he asked.
Our regular Court Shorts compiler is laying down his notebook – here are some favourites from years gone by.
• DOUBLES JEOPARDY One of the many anecdotes about the late and much-lamented Lionel Daiches has the QC “enjoying a very good lunch” before visiting a client in Bar-L. “Is there anything else you think I can do for you?” he asked at the end of the consultation. “Yes,” came the lag’s reply. “Before you go, would you breathe on me one more time please, Mr Daiches?” After another lunch, legend has it that Daiches rose to his feet and, with his trademark eloquence, beseeched the judge to allow his client, this poor downtrodden wretch, to walk from court and be embraced by the warm sunshine of a Glasgow afternoon. An unimpressed judge retorted: “Mr Daiches, we are in Perth and it’s raining.”
• TOILETRY HUMOUR In the historic, first slopping-out case, a witness was shown various items issued to inmates … toothbrush, comb and the like, not forgetting plastic urine bottle and chamber pot. Each had to be identified for the record by its number on the list of productions. As the witness held aloft the pot, Lord Bonomy asked: “What number is that?” Immediately, he added: “Don’t say number two.”
• SIGHT FOR SORE EYES As counsel was about to cite a well-known precedent, Lord Gill remarked with a sigh: “You can take that as read – many times.”
• OPEN AND SHUT CASE Asked if he could see in court the man police had brought to him to be examined, the dental expert hesitated and said: “I’m really not sure … I would probably recognise his teeth.”
• A PINT OF ORDER The judge, Gordon Coutts QC asked how to spell the name of the witness, and Simon Di Rollo QC said: “G-R-O-S-C-H. It’s the same as the lager without the L, I think.” Mr Coutts replied: “You can’t have lager without an L.” Mr Di Rollo stated: “Tennent’s.”
• NO LEG TO STAND ON Was it because a bang on his head had affected his memory, or because he knew his mate had been uninsured and had fled from the scene of the accident? Either way, the injured motorcycle pillion passenger was not for revealing to the police the identity of the driver. Lady Paton takes up the story: “He appeared unwilling to disclose the name of the motorcyclist until his uncle, who was present in the hospital and who was encouraging him to give information, leaned (no doubt inadvertently) on his broken leg. He then told the police …”
• COMPANION PIECE The witness picked out the accused in the dock, saying he was the man sitting beside the woman with blonde hair. “She is an escort,” prosecutor Peter Ferguson QC explained and then, on seeing the Reliance guard raising her eyebrows in his direction, quickly added: “Sorry … a custody officer.”
• AURAL CHARGE “I understand you may have some problems with hearing, is that right?” asked Lord Clarke to total silence from the witness box.
No selection would be complete without a contribution from the master, Edgar Prais QC (retired)
• TEXTBOOK DELIVERY The appeal court was never his natural environment – he was much happier in front of a jury – and, during one of his visits, he was hammering home a point, quoting authority after authority, when Lord Ross broke in to question the need to waste time with a submission when the Crown had already conceded the point. “I just wanted to show I had done my homework,” Prais replied.
• ALL SEWN UP Prais rose and announced that he appeared for the accused. “Can I hear you, Mr Prais?” Lord Jauncey interrupted. He tried again, upping the decibels, and the judge again interrupted with the same question. This happened three or four times until Prais was virtually shouting himself hoarse. Then, he realised one of the buttons on his waistcoat was undone and, presumably, he was not in proper dress to address the bench.
• PRIME FACIE EVIDENCE Lord McEwan had to explain that LOL at the end of a text meant “Lots of love” and he knew that because that’s how his children signed off their texts to him. This was apparently before the matter was, er, clarified as “laugh out loud” by the Prime Minister. “That’ll explain how I don’t know it … my children don’t love me,” quipped Prais.