Saturday, January 17, 2009

Tho' much is taken, much abides: Rumpole's creator falls off the twig

'Members of the Jury, this case has only occupied a short part of your lives. Perhaps an hour of late-night entertainment to take the place of the telly or the headphones. You will soon forget all about Badgershide Wood, and Snippers hair-dresser's, and the conversation at the Pizza Palace. But for David Stoker, whom I represent, this case represents the whole of his life. Is he to go free, or is he to be forced, by the devilish plot of a mad old man, back to his misspent younger life of prison and crime? It is his life I now leave, Members of the Jury, in your hands, confident that he will hear from you, in the fullness of time, those blessed words "Not Guilty," which, more effectively than any surgery, will give life back to David Stoker.'

Then with a great flood of relief, I lay back on the pillows and closed my eyes. My final speech was over and I could do no more. The decision now had to be taken by other beds. It was the best moment of an anxious trial. As I lay resting, I heard the sound of distant voices. Verdicts came from the snorer, the tooth-grinder and many others. 'Not guilty,' they said, and 'Not guilty' they all voted. Even Ted the screw at the end of the chain piped up with 'I don't reckon David did it.' So the trial in the Princess Margaret ward was over.

Would I ever do the case down the Bailey? Would I ever repeat that closing speech to a real jury, up and dressed, in a real Jury box? I felt sleep drifting over me, dulling my senses and darkening my world. Should I ever . . . Who knows? For the moment, all I can say is, 'The defence rests.'

With a speech very much like this, Rumpole of the Bailey, that old flatterer of juries, tweaker of judges, sampler of Chateau Thames Embankment, husband to She Who Must Be Obeyed--an aged wife, match'd with whom he metes and doles out justice unto a savage race--won over more than a few juries in his career.

John Mortimer QC, creator of Rumpole--and himself a barrister with a record of civil rights cases to his credit--has passed away at 85.

Rumpole's first article of faith, a principle he insisted should be inscribed on the walls of chambers in letters a foot high: Never Plead Guilty.

(Thanks to Lance.)

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