Sir Ethelred & the Sweeney


The Government, especially MI5, wish the Justice and Security Bill enabling secret courts to be enacted. When enacted, the Justice and Security Bill will remove the last vestige of Magna Carta. A wish now reinforced by the recent trial of Vicky Price and the media furore raised when, in discharging the jury, Mr Justice Sweeney said:

In thirty years of criminal trials I have never come across this at this stage, never.

Advocates and judges must — de facto — by their learned counsel, lead a jury of reasonable men in their duty to deliver justice wisely. Indeed, it is on a jury that the reasonable man can be considered a prince, served by the maxim — sapientes principes sapientum congressu.

jury

Using the pretext of inadequate jurors, as a justification to attack a constitutional right, dating back to Magna Carta, would most surely have been vehemently opposed by Sir Ethelred Rutt K. C.. The dismissal of the jury by Mr Justice Sweeney reminded me of Sir Ethelred’s advocacy to the jury in perhaps his most convoluted action¹, which had already   lasted for thirteen days when Sir Ethelred made his closing speech for the plaintiff. A closing speech that ended this protracted trial when Sir Ethelred said:

May it please your Lordship, members of the jury, ‘me learned friend’ has just completed an eloquent speech which continued for two days. But the passages which pained me most, members of the jury, were the sickly compliments he paid to you.

At fairly regular intervals in his dreary recitations from documents and Law Reports he would break off to tell you that you were intelligent men and women and therefore you would think this; that you were men of the world and so would have noticed that; that you were reasonable, attentive, honourable, and God knows what, and so would certainly conclude the other. Perhaps he thought the only way in which he could hope to keep you awake was to throw bouquets at your heads.

Now, ladies and gentlemen, I do not propose to slobber insincerities at you; in a case, the most complicated dispute in my experience, how can you poor mutts be expected to get a grip of this colossal conundrum without the assistance of any documents at all? No shorthand notes, no maps, no accounts, except now and then when his Lordship decides it is time you were given a bone to play with, and we let you have a hasty glance at a diagram that doesn’t matter. The whole thing’s fantastic! There you sit on your hard seats, with scarcely room to wriggle, wondering what it is all about.

Decent fellows, I dare say, some of you, but with no particular intelligence or financial training, and wildly divergent in character and opinion. I look at you, twelve good men and true—or rather, ten good men and true and two women—and I try to think of any simple subject about which the twelve of you would be likely to agree unanimously if you were assembled together by chance in any place outside this Court; at a dinner-party, on a committee.

The simplest questions of fact, morals, ethics, history, arithmetic—and you’d be all over the shop. And yet when we shut you up in a cold room with nothing to eat you can arrive at unanimous decisions about questions that baffle the wisest brains of the Bench and Bar. I find that highly suspicious.

Members of the jury, for the reasons adumbrated I consider it quite idle to discuss this difficult case with you at all. Though I spoke with the tongues of men and of angels and for as long as ‘me learned friend’, it would still be a complete gamble which side you came down on.

One of us two is right in this case and represents truth and honesty; the other does not; and all I propose to tell you is that I am the one who is right. But I will fortify that bald assertion with the reminder that I have at least, to your knowledge, told the truth about ‘me learned friend’, about the jury system, and about yourselves. And I ask you to argue that if I am demonstrably truthful and right about so much I am probably truth­ful and right about the rest”.

Foreman: “We find for the plaintiff”.

The Judge: “But I haven’t summed up! This will take three days”.

The Foreman: “Milord, it is not necessary. We are all sure Sir Ethelred is right. Milord, it is the wish of the jury to give three hearty cheers for Sir Ethelred Rutt”!

The Judge: “Oh, very well. Judgement for the plaintiff. This jury must not serve again”.

¹ BRITISH PHOSPHATES AND BEEF-EX­TRACT, LTD. v. THE UNITED ALKALI AND GUANO SIMPLEX ASSOCIATION.

4 responses to “Sir Ethelred & the Sweeney

  1. Pingback: Misleading Cases: Reprise | Aasof getting serious!

  2. Pingback: Justice Scalia meets A.P. Herbert – Peter Barnett - My Telegraph

  3. Pingback: Justice Scalia meets A.P. Herbert | Aasof getting serious!

  4. Pingback: Why is a jury? | Aasof getting serious

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This site was created for members and friends of My Telegraph blog site, but anyone is welcome to comment, and thereafter apply to become an author.

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The Real Economy

Hello, I’m Ed Conway, Economics Editor of Sky News, and this is my website. Blogposts, stuff about my books and a little bit of music

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