29 January 2006

Justice Blofeld, a fair judge, a noble judge

I felt I was being sarcastic in my last post. I am the first to admit that sarcasm is the lowest form of wit. I even thought about editing my post to make it more sympathetic to the way judges administer justice. However, I am attacking nobody in particular; those were the words I thought best expressed the way I felt.

I suppose it is quite funny to see experts arguing over the sensitivity of various documents, when the MoD’s own classification system should already have provided the necessary guidelines and answers. So I expect I have indulged in a little mockery of what those prosecution experts said - but what the hell - the sarcasm comes from printing the list of official classifications, so you can see just how sensitive a RESTRICTED document really is.

In Shakespeare’s Merchant of Venice, a play in which I acted in 1966 as a member of the Thurrock Youth Theatre, there is a dramatic scene when Shylock pleads his case to the judge Portia (Act 4, Scene 1). It was the task of us young and inexperienced actors to create that unfolding drama, which led to Portia’s famous speech: “The quality of mercy is not strain’d, it droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven upon the place beneath. …”

There is more than a little irony in the way Shylock uses the words that he believes will win favour with the judge, being so very complementary: “O wise young judge, how I do honour thee … you are a worthy judge: you know the law … O noble judge … O wise and upright judge … most rightful judge … most learned judge …”. It is wise to curry favour with those who will help us to receive what we desire, even chimpanzees adopt such behaviour.

A total of 23 witnesses and experts were called by the prosecution to give evidence about the scientific exhibits involved in my case, and this procession of witnesses stretched over a period of 3 weeks (15 working days). Compare this with the one scientific expert called by the defence, Dr Eamonn Francis Maher, who gave evidence for just 3 working days of the trial. Although the prosecution had presented detail ad nauseam about the exhibits - to the most trivial degree - the judge had generally allowed this to continue without undue interruption from himself.

However, the situation seemed to change when Dr Maher was in the witness box, because the judge made numerous interruptions to the flow of Dr Maher’s testimony, and at one point accused the defence of “trying to bamboozle us with science”. This would have given the jury the impression that the defence did not have a good case, and were trying to use an unfair tactic. Such a conclusion was far from the truth, as Dr Maher was for the most part giving details about the enormous amount of material he had found in the public domain, which demonstrated that the exhibits were less valuable to a Russian than sources like technical libraries and online databases.

I mentioned above that the judge had not interrupted intrusively in the evidence given by most of the prosecution witnesses. I thought it noticeable, therefore, that the judge appeared to significantly step up his verbal exchanges when Dr Meirion Francis Lewis arrived in the witness box on 7 October 1993. I was amazed, indeed astounded, at how much technical detail the judge now seemed to want to know, and at certain points I had the impression this was a three horse race, with the judge and prosecution against the defence.

What interested me, about the questions Justice Blofeld asked, was they showed he was quite knowledgeable about the subjects Dr Lewis was talking about, and I thought as I listened to this: what a remarkable judge that he can just think up these questions without having had a technical training in this field. I am quite observant in this area of technical conversation myself; although I may not be familiar with all the precise technical detail of a subject, my experience as an electronics engineer and a quality auditor mean I usually grasp where technical arguments are leading. I was starting to think that Justice Blofeld must be some sort of superhuman to be making sense of Dr Lewis’s testimony, as it was all being said live.

One point I found interesting, about Justice Blofeld’s grasp of technical knowledge, was the way he was able discuss with Dr Lewis about issues in his testimony that had not even been disclosed to the defence team. Where had that come from, I wondered? This gave me quite an unsettling feeling, because the judge had earlier told the jury how important it was, when dealing with technical experts, that both prosecution and defence had to disclose their evidence to the other side, in order to allow them to properly prepare for the trial.

The sudden presentation of undisclosed evidence caused the adjournment of Dr Lewis ‘s cross-examination, but when he returned on 11 October he came back with yet more undisclosed evidence. I found it strange that the judge did not make more of this apparent failure of the prosecution to disclose their case to the defence. Such is the wisdom of a worthy judge who knows the law.

I complained to my legal team that I thought the judge had been unduly intrusive in the manner in which he kept interrupting the testimony of my expert Dr Maher. However, I was surprised to be told that this was common practice by judges, and it was a point unlikely to win an appeal. I wouldn’t have minded so much if Dr Lewis’s testimony had gone through the normal stage of disclosure, and the defence had been given the opportunity to find an expert capable of challenging some of the contentious issues. Unfortunately this never happened, and I am still trying to find those answers and get to the truth.

In the end justice is about truth, and truth leads to justice. Justice Blofeld is the custodian of the truth in this case, and I say to him: “most noble judge … most upright judge … how I do honour thee.”