A master of the memorable one-liner

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WHEN GEORGE Carman QC, is in court it is certain the judge's sentence is not the only one that will stick, writes David Connett.

His mastery of the memorable, quotable, invariably razor-sharp, phrase has singled him out among his contemporaries at the Bar. It is a cipher as consistent in his cases as the letters through a stick of rock from his native Blackpool. Arthur Scargill, president of the National Union of Mineworkers, experienced it when he sued South Yorkshire Police for unlawful imprisonment. Mr Scargill's respect for civil liberties was like 'entrusting Satan with the task of abolishing sins', Mr Carman said.

He summed up the legal adventures of Sonia Sutcliffe, wife of the Yorkshire Ripper, as her 'dancing on the graves of her husband's victims'.

He neatly signed off David Mellor's ministerial career when, during Mona Bauwens's libel action against the People in 1992, he said: 'Politicians aren't angels, nor do we expect them to be. Marbella has sand, sea and sunshine, and, if a politician goes there and - in the honest view of some - behaves like an ostrich and puts his head in the sand and thereby exposes his thinking parts, it may be a newspaper is entitled to say so.'

Mr Carman's one-liners, like everything else about his courtroom craft, are carefully calculated. Little is left to chance. His reputation for painstaking preparation, rigour and dedication has been hard earned in a career at the Bar stretching over 40 years.

'It is often useful to identify the case with a hallmark. That sometimes can be achieved by a particular phrase which will stick in the mind of the jury or epitomise the thrust and climate of the case to the judge. The selection of such a phrase is almost invariably a matter of preparation. It never normally comes to me as it might to others as sudden inspiration on my feet,' he has claimed. Colleagues say it helps him build rapport with a jury and communicate his client's case in a way few can. The solicitor Sir David Napley, who is credited with first spotting Mr Carman's talent, says it is this and 'sheer bloody hard work' which distinguishes him.

The result has been a string of successes in high profile cases ranging from the defence of Dr Leonard Arthur, accused of murdering a Down's syndrome baby; the comedian Ken Dodd, accused of cheating the tax man; Jeremy Thorpe, former Liberal leader accused of conspiracy to murder; Maria Aitken, the actress accused of drug smuggling and Len Adamson, the former Coronation Street actor charged with indecent assault.

It is a technique deplored and decried by his opponents, although one suspects envy and emulation are more profound reactions. The antidote used by Michael Beloff, QC, Miss Taylforth's counsel, was to pay gently mocking homage to the 'past and present master' of evoking sympathy and prejudice.

After likening Mr Carman's skills to a 'magician's tricks' and dismissing his closing speech as a 'masterpiece of distraction' he stung back, calling his opponent the 'Torvill and Dean of advocacy with straight sixes for style and straight noughts for content'.

Victory does not always follow. His closing speech for the Observer in a 1991 libel action brought by the Tory MP Edwina Currie, described as 'one of the most eloquent and nasty hatchet jobs', resulted in a pounds 5,000 award for Mrs Currie.

(Photograph omitted)

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