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Paul Sieghart

Paul Sieghart author of Privacy and Computers, is currently writing a textbook of international human rights law. He is chairman of the Executive Committee of Justice, the British section of the International Commission of Jurists.

Sitting it out

Paul Sieghart, 2 August 1984

The trial of Dr John Bodkin Adams at the Old Bailey in 1957 was one of the causes célèbres of the post-war years. Apart from sex, it had everything. Adams was a fashionable Eastbourne doctor. Portly. With a chauffeur-driven Rolls. Charged with murdering one of his rich old women patients, for a chest of silver. There were strong hints she was not his only victim. The Attorney-General prosecuted in person. The press had a field day. And Percy Hoskins, doyen crime reporter of the Daily Express, was there. Covering a story in which he himself had played no mean part. He didn’t believe in the Doctor’s guilt. But Beaverbrook, his proprietor, evidently did. If the story had gone wrong, it could have broken Hoskins. Roughly, that is the style in which this book is written. Plain. Direct. Hard-hitting, now that both the Doctor and Hoskins’s main villain, Superintendent Herbert Hannam of the Yard, are safely dead. It quickly becomes infectious. And if you like the pace of crime reporting in the popular press enough to put up with this continuous burst of machine-gun fire over more than two hundred pages, you will like the book. But even if you do not, it is still worth reading, for it gives a vivid account of a case that had more than one layer. The layer the public saw is the one Hoskins reports. Its catharsis came in the great battle of the legal and medical giants at the Old Bailey. In a trial for murder by poisoning, it was the tradition that the Attorney-General himself should lead for the prosecution. In the other corner, Adams was represented by Geoffrey Lawrence QC, one of the most skilful advocates of his day, whose normal practice lay in the civil rather than the criminal courts. Not for him the faded Rumpole clichés of ‘I am bound to put it to you, Mr Snooks, that what you are telling My Lord and the jury on your sacred oath in this court is a tissue of lies’: his cross-examinations, especially of the prosecution’s forensic experts, were meticulously planned, cool, subtle and ultimately deadly. The transcripts became coveted possessions at the Bar, cherished as paradigms of the art from which youngsters were encouraged to learn how the real masters did it.

Cheap Fares and the Rule of Law

Paul Sieghart, 18 February 1982

The English judiciary does not often produce national cult figures, and less often still two at a time. There are many wise and learned men – and even a woman or two – on the judicial bench, but only Lords Denning and Scarman have become darlings of the media in the 1980s – praised for their plain speech, their courage, their humanity, their championship of the underdog, and their implacable opposition to bureaucratic arrogance. So perhaps it was predictable that there would be howls of anguish when both these tribunes of the people struck down the Greater London Council’s splendid new scheme for cheap fares on London’s buses and underground trains. Had it only been their supporting brethren in the Court of Appeal and the House of Lords who had done such an illiberal thing, no one would have been much surprised: judges, after all, are cautious men, and everyone expects them to be among nature’s conservatives. But what rankled was that it should have been Lord Denning who delivered the leading judgment in his court, and Lord Scarman almost the longest of the five speeches in his, both roundly condemning the scheme as illegal.

In Memoriam

Paul Sieghart, 19 March 1981

For those too young – or too old – to remember, Mandy Rice-Davies had a walk-on part in the Great Profumo Scandal of 1963. Now she has published a racily ghosted autobiography. It says nothing of much interest about anything or anybody that matters, and paints the predictable sympathetic picture of a fun-loving girl more sinned against than sinning.

Letter

More democracy?

17 June 1982

SIR: James Fishkin’s 2000-word survey of the current state of ‘democratic theory’ (LRB, 17 June) is a tour de force, but in at least one important respect it is seriously flawed by some national insularity. It is certainly the case that ‘in the 20th century… consensus on God-given rights has evaporated in a climate of secular scepticism and religious pluralism,’...

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