Legally recognised last words: 'Beware the gorillagram'

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The Independent Online
I AM PLEASED to hand over this column today to our legal correspondent, Adrian Ruttle (of the firm of solicitors Ruttle, Ruttle, Goldbaum, Ruttle and Ruttle), who will tackle your legal problems and inquiries.

AS I am now getting on, I asked my solicitor to help to sort out my will, etc. To my surprise, he asked if I had given any thought to my dying words. He said people often died without uttering anything picturesque - even worse, they sometimes died after having said something banal, such as 'Those flowers need more water, nurse.'

To forestall this, my solicitor suggested that I register my dying words now, which he could read out after my death and which would then become my legally recognised final words. I objected, saying that if I myself had not actually said the words, they were not my dying words, but he said this was not a difficulty. After all, everyone knew politicians didn't write the clever things they said, and that none of Mrs Thatcher's famous remarks had been scripted by her, but that this didn't prevent people saying that such-and-such was a famous remark by Mrs Thatcher.

Yes, I said, but she had paid someone to write the remark, and therefore it was her property. Then we tried (and failed) to remember anything memorable Mrs Thatcher had uttered, after which my solicitor said that by the mere fact of having my dying words witnessed, he could produce them as my solemn and legally binding last words.

Adrian Ruttle writes: Yes, but what is your question?

Can you think of anything interesting or funny to say on one's deathbed?

Adrian Ruttle writes: No. Next, please.

I RECENTLY attended evening service at one of our great cathedrals, the service conducted by one of our archbishops whom I cannot, for reasons that will become obvious, name. There were 10 or 20 of us (in a church built for 500) and we all huddled for warmth (and company) up at the front. But the archbishop did not share our cosy family feeling, and in his sermon he excoriated us for our sins. He called us sinners, ingrates, lechers and traitors. 'You generation of vipers]' was one of his softer terms.

Well, we were all so upset that afterwards we got together and waxed indignant. It turned out one of our number, a holidaymaker from Newcastle who visits cathedrals as her hobby, had recorded the sermon on a tape recorder, and it dawned on us that we had the material for a most unusual defamation case. We had the evidence that the archbishop had slandered us, had said we were all unworthy and miserable and were going to hell, and so on, and thought that if we got a good lawyer, we could probably take the old miseryguts for a few hundred thousand pounds.

However, a solicitor told us that slander or libel could not be uttered against a crowd, only against individuals. If a football referee were to say that the 40,000 at a game were a load of unruly yobs, the crowd could not sue, because they were not known to him as persons. To go to the logical extreme, if a politician were to say the French were all dishonest, lying toerags, the French could not sue him, but if he were to say one Frenchman was a dishonest, lying toerag, there was a case for slander. So if we were friends of the archbishop, we would have a case.

Adrian Ruttle writes: Yes, but what is your question?

Can we make friends with him now, and then sue him for slander uttered before that time?

Adrian Ruttle writes: No. Next.

I HAVE been unable to pay a large bill from a legal firm. So far I have avoided their attentions, but this morning there was a knock at the door. I was relieved to see it was only a gorillagram. I opened the door, whereupon the 'gorilla' took off his head and revealed himself to be the law firm's senior partner, who served me with a writ. Is there any way I can sue him for impersonation with intent to deceive?

Adrian Ruttle writes: No. Next, please.

I CAN recall television sitcoms set in almost every locale, from a doctor's surgery to a hotel, a pub to a minicab firm, but so far as I know never has one been set in a solicitor's office. Is this because it would not be funny? Or because the Law Society would block all attempts to show what muddle and time-wasting goes on in a solicitor's office?

Adrian Ruttle writes: Yes.

Adrian Ruttle will be back soon. Keep those legal niceties flowing in]

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