By R.S. Karunaratne
All Judges are human and most of them use a restrained language when passing judgments. Some Judges deliver lectures before reading out the verdict. As a law student I attended several Courts to be familiar with the Court procedure. Litigants and lawyers expect the Judges to display proper judicial decorum and treat everyone with Courtesy. However, unlike other professionals such as doctors, engineers and accountants, Judges have to deal with people who are charged with crimes. So, it is not an easy job. Sometimes they may have to toss some fire and brimstone into their judgments.
A Judge in the United States – W. Wyatt McKay –heard a criminal case filed against an accused charged with kidnapping, robbing and repeatedly raping a 12-year-old girl. The 22-year-old accused stood before the Judge when he passed the verdict. The Judge said, “When you slithered out of your hole that day, and spewed your venom all over this defenceless girl, you made this Court’s list of the lowest scum this country has to offer. In a way, the best sentence this Court could give would be no sentence at all, because if you left this Courtroom, I don’t think you would be alive ten minutes. You are nothing but a weed among wheat.”
The Judge continued, “And when we have a weed, it’s my job to eradicate it, because if I don’t, you will choke the wheat. Therefore, I’m going to take you off the streets for as long as I can.”
Then the Judge pronounced the sentence: “You won’t be eligible for parole until you’re 92. That leaves only one more count, aggravated robbery … You stole this little girl’s bra as a souvenir, probably to brag about it to your friends.”
The Judge looked at the accused and said, “Well, I’m going to give you a souvenir of our justice. And that is a maximum sentence of ten to 25 years of the aggravated robbery for the stealing of that bra. And I hope that in your last 25 years in prison you remember that souvenir.”
Then the Judge thundered: “Get this scum out of here.”
Later the Judge said in a telephone conversation: “If sentencing is to have any deterrent effect, it’s necessary for Judges to be explicit both about the crimes and about the criminals. It’s a catharsis for our whole community.”
The judgment received wide publicity in the press. The Judge admitted that he was inspired by a previous judgment delivered by the legendary American Judge Roy Bean who convicted a killer in 1881. Here are a few extracts from the judgment: “Jose Manuel Miguel Xaviar Gonzales, in a few short weeks it will be spring. The snows of winter will flow away, the ice will vanish, the air will become soft and balmy.
“In short, Jose Manuel Miguel Xaviar Gonzales, the annual miracle of the years will awaken and come to pass. But you won’t be there.”
“I command the sheriff to lead you away to some remote spot, swing you by the neck from a knotting bough of some sturdy oak, and let you hang until dead.”
Then the Judge delivered the finishing stroke: “… vultures may descend from the heavens upon your filthy body until nothing shall remain but bare, bleached bones of a cold-blooded, blood-thirsty, throat cutting murdering S.O.B.”
Indian Judges, with a few exceptions, love purple prose which they mistake to be Shakespearean English,” says journalist Binoo K. John, author of “Entry from Backside Only: Hazaar Fundaas of Indian English.” An Indian High Court Judge handed down the following judgment: “The summum bonum of the aforesaid discussion is that all the aforesaid material which existed before the learned Executing Court standing slighted besides their impact standing untenably undermined by him whereupon the ensuing sequel there from is of the learned Executing Court while pronouncing its impugned rendition overlooking the relevant and germane evidence besides its not appreciating its worth. Consequently the order impugned suffers from a gross absurdity and perversity of misappreciation of material on record.” It was returned by the Supreme Court.
The judgment in Grille v. San Antonio reads like an extract from a novel: “Should the parties choose to string this case out to trial on the merits, the Court encourages reasonable discovery intercourse as they navigate the peaks and valleys of litigation perhaps to reach a happy ending. An ordinance dealing with semi-nude dancers has once again fallen on the Court’s lap.”In this case San Antonio was trying to prevent exotic dancers from wearing anything less than a bikini top. The verdict was given in favour of the plaintiff.
A verdict by an Indian Judge once bewildered even lawyers involved in the case. Here is an extract of the judgment which was delivered in favour of a tenant locked in a year-long battle with his landlord. “However, the learned counsel … cannot derive the fullest succor from the aforesaid acquiescence … given its sinew suffering partial dissipation from an imminent display occurring in the impugned pronouncement here at where within unravelments are held qua the rendition recorded by the learned Rent Controller …”
The “Daily Telegraph” of 6 December 1974 carried an amusing headline: “Spring heeled husband pounced on lovers.” An irate husband flew into action on a homemade catapult when he saw his wife being cuddled by another man. He made a springboard out of a long plank and two car tyres, and after a long run-up launched himself into the air. Propelled at high speed, the husband crashed head first through the kitchen window of the house where his wife was enjoying the embraces of another man. When the police filed a case against the husband, he pleaded guilty to causing damage to the window. The Judge simply warned him not to indulge in such “amateur dramatics” again.
Queen Elizabeth II
Michael Fagan, 33, an unemployed decorator managed to enter the bedroom of Queen Elizabeth II at Buckingham Palace. He was arrested and brought before the Court. When Fagan was asked to take the oath, he said, “I’m not religious, Your Worship.” Then he was allowed to read the oath for atheists. “Please read your name clearly” he boomed, reciting the instructions at the top of the card. Even the Judge smiled. He had a defence. He said the Queen’s security was no good and he proved it. Then he gave a full account of what he did in the palace. The Jury found him not guilty. It was an extraordinary verdict. The “Sun” called it “Bonkers!” in a banner headline on its front page.
The matter did not end there. In October 1982 Fagan was brought to trial on a charge not connected to the Buckingham Palace. He was charged with taking away and driving a car that did not belong to him. The Judge who noted Fagan’s strange behaviour ordered him to be remanded. His solicitor tried his best to get his client acquitted. However, Fagan was ordered to be sent to a high security mental hospital for an indefinite period. There was a curious irony in the Court order. Never before in British history had anyone been sent to a high security mental hospital for taking away a car!
Rev Harold Davidson, the rector of Stiffkey made fleeting appearances in the press when he was brought to trial on charges relating to his moral conduct. The rector had made many trips to Soho, London’s vice centre, to help young girls who were in danger of falling into prostitution. However, the girls charged him with attempted rape. Davidson defended himself saying that he was only a father figure to the girls. At the trial he was questioned about an incident in which one of the girls had been asked to dress a boil on his buttock. He said, “I do not know what the buttock is.”
Prosecutor: Do you not know?
Davidson: Honestly, I do not.
Prosecutor: Mr. Davidson.
Davidson: It is a phrase honestly I have never heard. So far as I remember it is a little below the waist.
Prosecutor: Are you serious?
Davidson: Honestly, I have never heard it. When it was mentioned the other day I had to ask what it was.
Eventually, Davidson was found guilty. Later he was unfrocked and disgraced.