Over a century ago, a British judge was late for court so he hailed a cab and told the driver to take him to the Royal Courts of Justice.
"Where are they," asked the driver.
"You mean to say that you don't know where the law courts are?" asked the judge incredulously.
"Oh! The law courts," replied the driver. "But you said the courts of justice."
Frank Kingdon-Ward was one of the first Europeans to explore Tibet.
Of his visit in 1926, he writes in Explorers All:
"We saw here nothing of the Oriental cruelty of which one hears so much in the West. We did see one criminal, a thief who was condemned to wear leg-irons for life, and passed on from (village to village) as a horrible warning. He was clanking cheerfully about his work when we saw him."
The word Devil's Advocate actually comes from Canon Law. In the Vatican, when arguments are being presented to have a person declared a saint, the Church appoints an official to find flaws in this evidence. This official is called the "Devil's Advocate" and has come to mean a person who espouses a cause just for the sake of argument.
A judge was riding horses one day with a young lawyer. They came to a stretch of open country and noticed a hangman's noose hanging from a tree. The judge turned to his companion and jokingly said: "Parsons, if that gallows had its due, where do you suppose you would be?"
"Riding alone," came the quick reply.
In an action being argued before a judge, a lawyer addressed the jury for a very long time.
At one point, the judge could not help himself but to remark: "Sir, you've said that before."
"Have I, my Lord?" replied the lawyer. "I'm very sorry. I quite forgot."
"That's ok," replied the judge. "I forgive you as it was a very long time ago."
Many years ago, when the death penalty by hanging was still in vogue, a doctor was giving evidence before a judge who had already heard contrary evidence from other doctors. The judge asked the doctor if he was sure of his testimony in light of the evidence from the other doctors.
"I am quite certain, my lord," said the doctor.
"Doctors sometimes make mistakes," said the judge.
"Lawyers do too, my lord," came the retort from the witness.
"Ahh, but doctors' mistakes are buried," answered the judge.
"That is true, my lord, but lawyers' mistakes frequently swing!"
An American judge gave a horse thief a stiff and long prison term; ten years of hard labor.
"Have you got anything to say before you are removed," asked the judge.
"Nothin', jedge, 'cept that yer pretty darn liberal with other people's time!"
One judge became frustrated with a lawyer's arguments and he pointed to one of his ears and then to the other and said: "what you are saying is just going in one ear and out the other."
"My lord," replied the lawyer, "I do not doubt it. What is there to prevent it?!"
"Your lordship," pleaded a witness. "You may or may not believe me but I have told the truth. I have been wedded to truth since infancy."
"Yes," replied the judge, "But how long have you been a widower?"
Here is the text of a real will approved by a British court in 1737 and which conveyed a "considerable personal estate":
The fifth day of May
Being airy and gay
And to hype not inclined
But of vigorous mind
And my body in health.
I'll dispose of my wealth.
And I'm to leave
On this side of the grave
To some one or other
And I think to my brother
Because I foresaw
That my brethren in-law
If I did not take care
Would come in for their share
Which I nowise intended
Till their ways are mended
And of that, God knows, there's no sign.
I do therefore enjoin
And do strictly command
Of which witness my hand
That naught I have got
Be brought into hotch pot
But I give and devise
As much as in me lies
To the son of my mother
My own dear brother
To have and to hold
All my silver and gold
As the affectionate pledges
Of his brother John Hodges.
The French Emperor Napoleon commissioned the Napoleonic legal code of which he was proud.
"My code is the sheet anchor which will save France," he claimed. "And it will entitle me to the benedictions of posterity."
But Napoleon did not really like lawyers. He once said that "the practice of the law is too severe an ordeal for poor human nature. The man who habituates himself to the distortion of the truth, and to exultation at the success of injustice will, at last, hardly know right from wrong."
Legal cases against animals were quite popular in ancient French law.
In 1445, there was a case brought against certain beetles which had destroyed crop. The beetles failed to obey the summons against them to appear in court and the proceedings were abandoned.
Again, in the late 1500s, a case was brought against certain rats which had infested homes in a certain village. The local defense lawyer argued that the rats of the entire village should be summoned. This bought some time as a plea was issued summoning all the rats in the village to attend upon the court on the day named in the summons. Again, the rats failed to appear and the lawyer explained that this was a matter requiring great preparation and that his clients would need more time. When the rats failed to appear the third time, the lawyer said that his clients were more then prepared to come but that they were fearful that local cats might not allow them to make it all the way to the courthouse. The case was struck from the court's agenda.
There are also many tales of animal trials in American history. In 1924, a dog was sentenced to life imprisonment by a Pike County, Pennsylvania court, for killing a cat.
In Erwin, Tennessee, 1916, a circus elephant went berserk and attacked her trainer. A hastily arranged court sentenced her to die and she was literally hung from a chain hoisted from a derrick. See also The Trial of the Hartlepool Monkey.
National sumptuary laws, or laws which try to control personal behavior such as what people eat and drink, are rare. But this was not always the case.
Some Roman and the Greek laws prohibited kissing in public and decorated ceilings or doors. An English law in 1336 prohibited anyone from having more than two courses at any meal.
In 1363, the British faced the Statute of Diet which said that the servants of Lords should eat meat or fish once a day (a subsequent amendment to that law, to help a struggling fishery industry, prohibited the eating of red meat on Fridays or Saturdays). The 1363 law also regulated the wearing of silk and purple; the poor (families of servants) were prohibited from wearing silk or fur. Only lords were allowed to wear a jacket that did not cover the knees. Only the Royal Family was allowed to wear purple.
A man was being sentenced with death for having stolen some horses. The prisoner replied to the judge that he was being too severely punished for "only" stealing a horse.
The judge replied: "Man, thou art not hanged only for stealing a horse, but that horses may not be stolen."
This reply was used for centuries to defend the harsh sentences of British law (and the principle of deterrence) which obviously had yet no concept of proportionality.
According to the Book of Lists #3 (Amy Wallace: Bantam Books, 1983), Gloria Sykes had only been in San Fransisco for two weeks when, in 1964, she was involved in a serious cable car accident.
According to court papers, the accident had the effect of turning her into a nymphomaniac. She had even had sex 50 times in one five day period. She sued the cable car company and won an award of $50,000.
Hope you enjoy the stories as much as we do.
Lloyd Duhaime, Barrister & Solicitor, Victoria, B.C., CANADA, December 30, 2007.