As those who know me will be aware, I studied law, briefly and unhappily, emerging from University with an indifferent degree in the subject and a profound dislike for the profession. A few spells as a juror and a couple of half-bungled convenancing transactions later, not much has changed.
Occasionally some event reinforces that view that, however clever some lawyers may be, they are not overly burdened with common sense. And that any legal process can and will be prolonged to the utmost extent if there’s a drink in it for them.
So I was taken by the following headline from the BBC yesterday: “Criminal proceedings against the late Labour peer Lord Janner over sex abuse charges have ended because of his death, an Old Bailey judge has said.”
It’s the intervention of that Old Bailey judge that makes it, isn’t it? It took one of the finest legal minds in the land – I had lunch once at the Old Bailey, and they are indeed bright – to decide that there was no point in prosecuting a corpse.
I realise Janner was a wrong ‘un, with new cases of abuse still coming to light. I know some of the victims wanted to see him in the dock. (To aid compensation claims?) But what did they think the courts could do?
Prop him up, El Cid-style, in the box? “And how do you plead, guilty or not guilty?” Silence. “I think we’ll make that a not guilty, m’lud.”
Cross-examination would have been interesting, too, if a bit protracted. And precisely what sentence did they have in mind, had the awful process of the law found the peer, still dead, guilty? “Hanging’s too good for ‘im, I say.”
And how much did this ridiculous farrago cost the legal system, apparently, we hear almost every day, reeling under the impact of “the cuts”? So how much did it cost the tax-payer?