OVER THE YEARS, THE DRY COURTROOM EXCHANGES BETWEEN LAWYERS AND JUDGES HAVE BEEN ILLUMINATED BY HUMOUR.
JAMES MORTON DELVES INTO THE ARCHIVES TO RECALL THE BEST OF THEM
One of the better examples of legal wit came last November in the trial of Dennis Kozlowski fighting corruption charges in New York.
Mr Kozlowski is alleged to have used company money to finance his art collection, and his lawyer James DeVita commented: 'It's fair to say that Mr Kozlowski didn't just take the Monet and run'.
Purists might claim that Mr DeVita's comment was contrived and real examples of legal wit are off the cuff.
One of my favourites is of an unnamed Crown Prosecution Service lawyer - they must have some credit occasionally - prosecuting a drink-driving case, saying that the defendant's eyes were glazed.
'He wears glasses,' replied the defending solicitor.
'In that case, they were double glazed,' was the knock-down punch.
Michael Beckman QC must rank high for his riposte to Mr Justice Melford Stevenson, who knew him well but still referred to him as Bechstein.
'My Lord, I may be Jewish but I am not a grand piano,' replied Beckman who received a note of apology from the judge.
I was actually in court for two great examples of repartee.
The first involved 'One Armed Bandit' Billy Rees-Davies, so-called because his right arm had been amputated during the Second World War.
He was never averse to turning that loss to his advantage.
'I'll have to handle this case single-handed,' he would say to the jurors who loved him for it.
On this occasion, with his questioning of a policeman he was coming close to putting in his client's abysmal character.
Down came a note from the dock.
'May I read this?' asked Mr Rees-Davies of Alan King-Hamilton the Old Bailey judge.
'It's a billet-doux', said Mr Rees-Davies.
'Perhaps it's a Billy-don't,' was the lightening reply from the judge.
Billy Rees-Davies has been dead some ten years now but Alan King-Hamilton was 99 earlier this month.
As with many men with fast minds Mr Rees-Davies did not always read his papers that closely.
On another occasion, after a plea he was making a speech in mitigation about how, had he been fortunate enough to cross-examine the principal prosecution witness, he would have 'put his convictions to him one by one'.
'Mr Smith is a man of good character,' interposed prosecuting counsel.
'In that case he is a very fortunate man,' continued Rees-Davies imperturbably.
The second was when Wilfrid Fordham was making a speech in mitigation before Ewen Montagu at Middlesex Sessions.
Judge Montagu was not noted for his patience.
It was always said that when a mother entered the witness box he wrote down 'GBAH' before she took the oath.
It stood for 'good boy at home'.
On this occasion, he was shifting from buttock to buttock and rolling both his pen and eyes.
'I hope your Lordship is not getting bored,' said Mr Fordham.
'I'm trying not to', replied Judge Montagu.
'Then I hope your Lordship will try a little harder'.
Before my time was FE Smith, later Lord Birkenhead who, in his early days at the bar made a speciality of quarrelling with the sanctimonious County Court Judge Willis.
One quarrel produced a classic dialogue.
Mr Smith acted for a tram company sued for damages by the parents of a boy who had been run over.
The plaintiff's claim was that the accident had brought on blindness.
Judge Willis was deeply moved.
'Poor, poor boy, blind.
Put him on a chair so that the jury can see him'.
Mr Smith offered: 'Perhaps your honour would like to have the boy passed round the jury box.'
Judge Willis: 'That is a most improper remark'.
Mr Smith: 'It was provoked by a most improper suggestion.'
Judge Willis: 'Have you heard of a saying by Bacon - the great Bacon - that youth and discretion are ill-wed companions?'
Mr Smith: 'Indeed I have, your honour; and has your honour ever heard of a saying by Bacon - the great Bacon - that a much talking judge is like an ill-tuned cymbal?'
Judge Willis, in another case at the end of a long and heated argument with Mr Smith, asked unwisely: 'What do you suppose I am on the bench for, Mr Smith?' 'It is not for me, your honour, to attempt to fathom the inscrutable workings of Providence'.
I also admire the Toronto lawyer George Walsh, who launching into his third appeal of the day was interrupted by the judges: 'Mr Walsh, do you appeal all your cases?' 'No my lord, only the ones I lose.' In the 1930s, he is said to have been representing a man who had faithfully being paying his ex-wife $25 a month and was now resisting her application for an increase.
'Mr Walsh.' said Mr Justice Fisher, 'would you ask you wife to live on $25 a month?' 'I'd prefer it if your lordship asked her,' replied Mr Walsh.
Sometimes the defendants come out best in the repartee.
There is Razor Smith who had admitted having previous convictions during his trial for bank robbery.
Counsel: 'Mr Smith, it is correct is it not, that your occupation is, in fact, as a member of the London underworld.'
Smith (cupping his ear): 'The London Underground sir? No, I have never worked for them.
I do have an uncle who works for British Rail'.
His triumph was short-lived; Razor went down.
James Morton is a former criminal law specialist solicitor and now a freelance journalist