Trial and error: the case that's putting the principle of passive suffering to the test

Share
Related Topics
A most extraordinary case is going on in the High Court at the moment, which seeks to create a new offence called "passive suffering". Here is an extract from yesterday's enlightening proceedings...

Counsel: Your name is ...?

Plaintiff: Is it strictly necessary to know my name?

Counsel: Yes, Mrs Whittaker, it is.

Plaintiff: Ah, you know my name already!

Counsel: Of course I do. This is a piece of court formality in which we have to establish that you are indeed the plaintiff.

Plaintiff: Yes, I am indeed the plaintiff.

Counsel: And your name is ...?

Plaintiff: The name you have just mentioned.

Counsel: Mrs Whittaker?

Plaintiff: Indeed.

Counsel: Of 39, Bloomdale Avenue?

Plaintiff: That very address. Do you ever ask questions to which you do not know the answer?

Counsel: Not if I can help it.

Plaintiff: I see. And what is your name?

Counsel: I beg your pardon?

Plaintiff: What is YOUR name? It seems only fair that if you, the defending counsel, should stop at nothing to establish the plaintiff's name, the plaintiff should have the right to cross-examine counsel until he admits to his name.

Counsel: It is most unusual.

Plaintiff: I feel sure it would be easier for me to answer your questions if I could put a name to my interrogator.

Judge: She's got a point, George. Tell her your name and let's get on with it.

Counsel: My name is George Hansbury.

Plaintiff: And what is your home address?

Judge: Mrs Whittaker, I have to agree that this line of questioning is rather unusual. May I ask the purpose of it?

Plaintiff: Yes, my Lord. It is customary for counsel to try to unsettle witnesses with a series of unexpected and probing though probably quite trivial questions. I thought it was time a witness tried to unsettle a barrister with the same tactics.

Judge: Excellent notion! I like the cut of your jib, Mrs Whittaker. Carry on!

Counsel: Now, Mrs Whittaker, next door to you at No 39 Bloomdale Avenue there lives a Mrs Norman, does there not ?

Plaintiff: No.

Counsel: No?

Plaintiff: No. She lives next door at No 37. Counsel: Ah! Yes, that is what I meant.

Plaintiff: It is not what you said.

Counsel: Isn't it?

Judge: She's got you rattled, George. I think we've got a game on our hands here.

Counsel: About eight months ago Mrs Norman had a burglary, did she not?

Plaintiff: Had a burglary in what sense?

Counsel: In the sense that a burglar broke in and stole things.

Plaintiff: No.

Counsel: No?

Plaintiff: He did not break in. He opened the back door and went in.

Counsel: Technically, in legal language, that constitutes a break-in.

Plaintiff: You may talk technical legal language among your colleagues if you wish. I prefer to talk English.

Counsel: My Lord, I appeal to you! The plaintiff is being very obstructive.

Plaintiff: She is being very entertaining.

Counsel: This burglary caused great distress to Mrs Norman, did it not?

Plaintiff: It may well have done. It certainly caused a great deal of distress to me.

Counsel: I don't quite understand that.

Plaintiff: Mrs Norman had a face-to-face encounter with the burglar, who threatened her with violence before running off. This put her in a recurrent state of shock for weeks, so I, as her neighbour, thought it best to talk her through it as often as possible. They say it helps a lot to talk.

Counsel: And did it?

Plaintiff: It helped her. She gradually got over it. But I didn't. I started to take her worries on board. I started having dreams about violence and burglary. As Mrs Norman put the whole thing behind her, I started to sleep badly, and became depressed. I had become a victim of passive suffering.

Counsel: And so you are suing Mrs Norman on the grounds that you are suffering from her suffering?

Plaintiff: I certainly am.

Judge: I am finding it hard to follow this. Perhaps if we adjourned for lunch now, and you were to join me, Mrs Whittaker, you could tell me more about it?

Plaintiff: My Lord, that might be construed as being prejudicial to a fair outcome.

Judge: Might it? Yes, I see your point.

(More of this crucial trial on Monday, I hope.)

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior IT Trainer - Buckinghamshire - £250 - £350 p/d

£200 - £300 per day: Ashdown Group: IT Trainer - Marlow, Buckinghamshire - £25...

Education Recruitment Consultant- Learning Support

£18000 - £30000 per annum + Generous commission scheme: AER Teachers: Thames T...

All Primary NQT's

£100 - £120 per day + per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Description Calling a...

Supply Teachers Needed in Thetford

£21000 - £35000 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Supply teachers neede...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Why black cats make amazing pets, and take good selfies too

Felicity Morse
Children of a bygone era  

Kids these days aren't what they used to be — they're a lot better. So why the fuss?

Archie Bland
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star