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See The Happy Moron

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I remember reading a ditty the other day: “See the happy moron, he doesn’t give a damn, I wish I were a moron, My God perhaps I am,” and my thoughts turned immediately to trial by jury, that perennial hoary chestnut.

It has reared its ugly head again following a speech from Lord Judge, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, where he warned that the jury system is threatened by the internet generation, who no longer get their information by listening to people speaking. 

As evidence of this, he cited his grandchildren as being ‘switched off’, presumably when he rose to address them over the breakfast table.

Now I don’t know what Lord Judge did in a former life to earn an honest crust, but he’s been away from the coalface since 1988, when he was first appointed a High Court Judge, so I wonder why, after all these years, he feels qualified to pontificate.  I suspect it may have something to do with the need to be seen to say something, anything, to underscore his recent elevation.

On any view, these pearls of wisdom are anything but, and tackle the problem from the wrong end.  The mischief is compounded by a spokesperson from the Bar Council, that antediluvian body supposedly representing the interests of barristers, who condoned the demise of “florid and colourful advocacy” in favour of the multimedia as adjuncts and tools to help the advocate make his case in the most effective way.  Absolute garbage!

A little basic research would not come amiss.  The reason why juries ‘switch off’ is because barristers have lost the art of advocacy, and have replaced it with prolixity.  Trials have become longer and, inevitably, more boring, as advocates fail to distinguish between relevance and irrelevance, so they throw in the lot, and expect the jury to do their work for them.

The art of cross examination has been dead for many years, and final speeches would test the patience of a saint in style and content.  The all comers record was a final speech lasting a full week.  That’s twenty five hours!  At least that particular advocate was disbarred, not because of his final speech I hasten to add, and he’s now practising his unique brand of advocacy beyond these shores. 

My style of advocacy could indeed be described as “florid and colourful,” I’ve never regretted it, and though I say so myself, nor have the juries I’ve addressed.  I do a fair amount of public speaking, and as I rise to my feet, I remember the advice I was given when I first started out:

“A good speech should be like a woman’s dress.  Long enough to cover the essentials, and short enough to be interesting.”

Arguably my most effective speech to the jury came at the end of a three week trial, delivered entirely in verse, and lasting all of eight minutes.

Go into any crown court in the land, and odds on you’ll hear boring monotonous repetition.  And this is not confined to the advocates.  Trial judges are equally to blame, and the likes of Lord Judge and the Court of Appeal must bear their share of responsibility. 

Trial judges must be far more proactive in regulating the proceedings, stamping down on prolixity and concentrating on the main issues.  They are most at fault when it comes to summing up the case to the long suffering jury.  Time and again, like incompetent advocates, they simply repeat the evidence, almost verbatim, throwing in the lot and expecting the jury to do their work for them and sort the wheat from the chaff.

Juries listen daily to the spoken word, usually in front of the television, and successful television producers are well practised in the art of presenting information in an interesting and digestible form, concentrating on the main issues and dispensing with verbiage. That’s what advocates should learn, so it’s back to the drawing board.

The new breed of ‘advocate’, coming as they do from the ranks of solicitors with no training in the art, and no feel for it, are the main culprits, but the Bar is not beyond reproach.  Pupillage is intended to give embryonic barristers a taste of advocacy outside the lecture hall, but gifted advocates are rapidly becoming a dying breed.

I’m in favour of giving juries greater control over the proceedings.  When they’ve heard enough, and they’re bored rigid, they should have an X Factor buzzer which they can press and bring the lamentable performance to an end.  Now that’s what I call using the multimedia as effective “adjuncts and tools” in the trial process.

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