I never actually ascended the witness box, knuckles whitening as a sleek and wiggy brief cross-examined me into oblivion. I was, however, asked if I had anything to say, whereupon I embarked on a lengthy exordium about Truth and Justice until led away bya forceful clerk.
I had not then seen the film Carlito's Way, in which Al Pacino, released from prison on a technicality, declaims against the system with gleeful and lying rapture for half an hour; but for a moment I tasted the same impulse towards self-dramatisation. And therefore I understand, better than most, what's going on at the OJ Simpson trial. Everyone has remarked what a media circus it is. But have you noticed how the due process of law in the LA courtroom is itself turning into a movie?
Look at the way Robert Shapiro, Simpson's main defence attorney, keeps glancing over at the TV cameras. Why? Because he has been offered his own chat show once the trial is over, and is wondering which is his best side. Consider the jury - you can almosthear them phoning their agents, negotiating about who will play them (Robert Downey Jnr? Nah - not charismatic enough) in the inevitable feature film. Look at the judge, Lance Ito, a caricature of inscrutability; you sort of know he spends ten minutes every morning before the mirror, practising his Buddhist-elder facial exercises. Will Toshiro Mifune (he wonders, smirking) be brought out of retirement to play him?
Look at the early stages of the trial, and you see they're driven entirely by theatrical, rather than intellectual, impulses. Simpson's knee scars and his pained hobbling in front of the jury mean, says the defence, that he couldn't have murdered anybody. It's not exactly Kavanagh, QC, is it? The prosecution responds by flourishing Simpson's recent exercise video, pathetically titled Minimum Maintenance and Fitness For Men, and the pilot he made for an action series called Frogman, as though they were obvious indicators of a homicidal capability. What next? Some footage from OJ's attendance (aged six) at a children's party, in which he can be seen giving someone a Chinese burn?
When, we might reasonably ask, do we get some argument round here, some legal rhetoric, some talk of motive and predisposition, some indication that we're witnessing a battle of logic between the toughest advocates in the American courts, rather than a display of competing sight-bites?
We wait, I fear, in faint hope. As we go to press, Judge Ito has allowed the defence to have another go at an opening speech. Why doesn't he just shout "Take Two"?
H H H I am not alone in my carpings about the law.
A survey by Radio 4's Law in Action has shown that half the respondents surveyed (nearly 1,000 in England and Wales) thought that guilty people go free, while about three-quarters thought that judges and magistrates are out of touch with the problems of ordinary people.
If confidence in our legal system is lacking, how can it be rebuilt? A recent ruling in the Court of Appeal suggests a way. In a 17-page judgment, Lord Taylor, the Lord Chief Justice, has declared unequivocally that the evidence of a dog is acceptable ina court of law.
In the case in question, Ben, a German shepherd employed by Thames Valley police, was used to sniff out some armed robbers who had turned over a British Legion club and made off with the proceeds in a leather bag. Ben found the bag's shoulder strap. Three days later, a bag with no strap and some of the stolen money were found after a raid. The dog's evidence was crucial in linking the bag to the scene of the crime.
Previously, the objection to canine testimony has always been that the dog was not amenable to cross-examination: or at least, the dog could be cross-examined, but no one in the courtroom could understand his answers. The convicted pair appealed, on these very grounds. They also suggested that the heroic mutt's evidence was unreliable: it might have acted mischievously, and not followed the correct scent.
The Court of Appeal was having none of this. An English law lord tends to know about dogs. And dogs, unlike the habitues of the Old Bailey, aren't mischievous. The dog's evidence stands.
This may be a turning point in the development of English law. Once admitted as witnesses, there would seem to be no bar to the selection of dogs as jurors. And if juries are to be made up of dogs, why not the bench too? It was Walt Whitman who wrote that "the look of a bay mare shames silliness out of me". How would he have felt if he'd been on a charge of breaking and entering at Snaresbrook criminal court, under the implacable eye of some aristocratic Great Dane, some imperious thoroughbred Saluki? The justice he received would be fair, if a little ruff.
H H H Far too much has been written about Mr Eric Cantona and his reverse pitch invasion. But I must put in a good word for him. By the standards of the average British midfield slogger, Cantona has been very naughty. Compared with the behaviour of the symbolist poets and philosophers he famously reveres, however, his misdeeds are mild. He has yet to dabble in the occult. Absinthe is absent from his normal regimen, being sadly incompatible with the demands of the Premier League programme. Lashing out at the odd neanderthal in the crowd hardly compares with the deliberate self-immersion in debauchery which was Rimbaud's main hobby. No ambiguous shooting incidents have taken place in Eric's CV, something you can not say about Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine. Nor has he developed an interest in gun-running in Abyssinia. Of course, there is still time.
A certain literary creativity seems also to have been displayed by the man on the receiv-ing end of Cantona's boot-studs. Mr Matthew Simmons has devoted much ingenuity to his account of what exactly it was he shouted at the unruly Frenchman. "I yelled `Off you go, Cantona - it's an early shower for you' and pointed towards the dressing room," he claimed, in Cholmondeley-Warner tones.
What a gentleman! Those who thought they heard Mr Simmons shout, "You dirty motherf*****! F*** off back to France!" must have been mistaken. I suppose that's what happens when (post-Fever Pitch) you get the liberal intelligentsia invading the terraces and shouting: "Your technique is risibly below par!" at the fuming players.
H H H It is always good to see the Government looking for cost-effective answers to contemporary problems. In this respect, the new approach to Neighbourhood Watch is a work of genius.
Who would have thought that those intent on house-breaking could be made to desist from their burglarious plans by a burst of slow hand- clapping? But they can, as the recent television advertisements show. Now this breakthrough has been achieved, othersmust surely follow. City dishonesty might be dealt with by the rhythmic chanting of "Liar, liar, pants on fire" on the dealing-room floor. Urban riots could be quelled by a bit of gentle hissing under the breath. As for national security, perhaps we canin future achieve any necessary deterrence by standing on the white cliffs of Dover and sticking out our tongues.
H H H It's always a pleasure to welcome another new magazine, but it would be nice to feel more positive about the survival prospects of Singled Out, which styles itself "The Magazine for Independent Parents".
Judging by the cover-lines, it is in something of a quandary. One headline shouts: sex: sustaining parenthood and partner, an optimistic note that is, regrettably, not sustained. Instead, a further screamer enjoins us to enjoy valentine's day alone!, directing the reader to a first-person account by a woman whose boyfriend has never given her flowers, chocolates or a love-letter and who tells her he loves her only when he's drunk.
A versatile performer, the same writer proves to be the author of the aforementioned sex article, which suggests that single parents trying to have a love life should "grab the opportun- ity when it arises", even "a quick fumble when the kids leave the room". A rich picture of life in the author's home emerges. In a later piece, tracey's talk back, helpfully labelled "Humour", we learn that one of her first conversations with her boyfriend concerned "how many orifices a woman's body has".
If these charming visions of domestic bliss haven't put you off, the magazine offers hints about how to find your perfect partner. "Be open to all sorts of encounters," it says. "You can meet people anywhere. A friend of mine met her husband at a bus stop!"
It doesn't sound very brilliant advice to me. But then, a magazine designed to be bought by single parents would hardly be in the business of reducing their number, would it? The WeaselReuse content