Letter: Standards of lawyers, editors and Cabinet ministers (CORRECTED)

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The Independent Online
CORRECTION INCORPORATED INTO THIS ARTICLE

Sir: Alone among the national dailies, the Independent has not overwhelmed its pages with lurid accounts of recent libel actions in which public figures have been indirectly involved.

It is indeed important that matters suggesting unfitness for ministerial positions should be coldly and dispassionately examined. The public should be assisted by the press in reaching a wise, calm and firm opinion. Instead, the press generally reported the Mona Bauwens libel case, which involved David Mellor, in a manner calculated to excite prurience and doubt. It portrayed the court proceedings as something of a battle between two QCs, who were generally stated - quite mistakenly - as being the leading QCs in the country, and whom a Jak cartoon in the London Evening Standard depicted as almost coming to blows. It is especially with this problem of court behaviour that I write.

I may, however, be expressing an old-fashioned view. Certainly, manners generally have greatly changed. In the distant past, I had a very considerable practice at the Bar, including libel cases, and some little experience of cross- examination. As Attorney-General, I was the leader of the Bar. I also was the longest-serving post- war Chairman of the Bar Council (five years) and was made an honorary member of the Council.

In earlier days, Anthony Trollope accepted all QCs as 'gentlemen' - although he did not admit Attorneys into that category] In my day, some QCs were indeed gentlemen and all sought in their court work to behave as such. If they transgressed, the judge promptly intervened. And the art of cross-examination did not consist in vulgar abuse, insult or browbeating.

It was realised then that, as the saying was, 'a silk purse could not be made out of a sow's ear'. Those with silken tongues were taught ever to bear in mind, as Mr Justice Crampton said in the famous case of O'Connell, that the barrister's 'primary and paramount retainer is on behalf of truth and justice'. It is not just a matter of winning cases and earning large fees - nor of obtaining personal publicity. Where are the Justice Cramptons now?

Yours faithfully,

HARTLEY SHAWCROSS

House of Lords

London, SW1

24 September

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