Given the British love of animals, the urbane barrister Patrick Back believed that if he could introduce a dog into his closing speech, he had one foot in the acquittal door, writes James Morton. His favourite was when the earl comes home and finds his child and the bed covered in blood, and his bloodied hunting dog lying beside it. He kills it and, pulling back a curtain, discovers a dead wolf. I think it was meant to show that the jury should not jump to conclusions. In any event it was a spellbinder the way he told it.
My own dog stories are by no means as heroic. I was trying to get a witness to move the story along, so that my client could not possibly have been seen by the police on a rooftop a few miles away. She was meant to say she had tired of Coronation Street and switched the TV onto the football, or something like that. ‘And what happened next?’ I ventured. ‘I said to Linda, that’s ma daughter. Linda, the dog’s got distemper so take its blanket to the launder-y-ette and give it a good wash’. Quite irrationally, I’ve never used a dog story since.
Early in my career I defended a greyhound trainer at a now long-defunct track. When we had added up his income and subtracted the expenses, there was a very substantial deficit. How could he possibly survive with this happening week-in and week-out? He smiled beatifically, ‘well sir, once a fortnight one of them dogs runs just for me.’
The late Sir Arthur Irvine was said to have been the victim of his instructions back in the days when drink-driving cases could be heard by a jury which, on the John Bradford principle of ‘there but for the grace of God, go I’, would acquit if at all possible. But it could have been a number of barristers. He was doing nicely and was well on the way to an acquittal, with the police officer agreeing the man had got out of the car, perfectly properly, given his name, perfectly properly, and given his address and occupation and handed over his keys, again perfectly properly.
‘So, summing up, officer, from the moment you stopped him he did everything perfectly properly?’
‘And then he got into the back of a police car and sat next to a lady wearing a fur coat?’
‘No sir, that was police dog Giles.’
James Morton is a writer and former criminal defence solicitor