Friday, October 29, 2010

Ah, Here it Is! The Policeman Fishes for Haddock

I tried to quote this the other day, but from memory and I wasn't exact.  Still, I think I caught the spirit of the occasion.  It's from A. P. Herbert, Uncommon Law, the case of Rex v. Haddock:
What the appellant did in fact is simple and manifest, but what offence, if any he has committed in law is a question of the gravest difficulty.

What he did in fact was to jump off Hammersmith Bridge in the afternoon of August 18th, 1922, during the Hammersmith Regatta.  The motive of the act is less clear.  A bystander named Snooker, who, like himself, was watching the regatta from the bridge, has sworn in evidence that he addressed the appellant in the following terms: 'Betcher a pound you won't jump over, mate,' that the appelant, who had had a beer or (as he frankly admitted) two, replied in these words: 'Bet you I will, then' after which pronouncement he removed his coat, handed it to the man named Snooker, climbed over the rail and jumped into the water below ... . The appellant is a strong swimmer, and, on rising to the surface, he swam in a leisurely fashion towards the Middlesex bank.  When still a few yards form the shore, however, he was overtaken by a river police bot, the officers in which had observed his entrance into the water and considered it their duty to rescue the swimmer.  ... He was then arrested by an officer of the Metropolitan Police ... .  The charges were various, and it is difficult to say upon which of themthe conviction was ultimately based.  The appellant was accused of:
(a) Causing an obstruction
(b) Being drunk and disorderly
(c) Attempting to commit suicide
(d) Conducting the business of a street bookmaker
(e) (Under the Navigation At) endangering the lives of mariners
(f) (Under the Port of London Authority By-laws) interfering with an authorized regatta.
 It may be said at once that in any case no blame whatever attaches to the persons responsible for the framing of these charges, who were placed in a most difficult position by the appellant's unfortunate act.  It is a principle of English law that a person who appears in a police court has done something undesirable, and citizens who take it upon themselves to do unusual actions which attract the attention of the police should be careful to bring these actions into one of the recognized categories of crimes and offences, for it is intolerable that the police should be put to the pains of inventing reasons for finding them undesirable.
Id., at 24-6 (1935, 1991).  His honor goes on to caution (at 28):
It cannot be too clearly understood that this is not a free country, and it will be an evil day for the legal profession when it is.  The citizens of London must realize that there is almost nothing they are allowed to do..

Herbert remarks in the introduction that "a sserious American work called The Lawyers " repeated the story, not recognizing it as a joke: "'No such opinion,' says the author with great pride, 'could be written by an American court.'" It is with barely concealed glee that I report that I spotted the error and outed and mocked it in my review of the book in the (defunct) Louisville Times.


Anonymous said...

underbelly and i share a history -- we both were book reviewers for the "defunct louisville times." reporters who were willing to write book reviews were allowed to go into the managing editor's office, where books available for review were shelved, and get a book to review. many got, few reviewed. I was allowed free access to the shelf because when i took, i reviewed. I may have written the longest book review in a daily newspaper -- at least the longest that was ever in The Louisville Times. It was on "Night Comes to the Cumberlands," by Harry Caudill. Great book, except for the last chapter, which was on solutions for Eastern Kentucky Appalachian Mountains' problems. Harry didn't have the answer, but neither does most people.

Anonymous said...

i should have written neither "do" most people, instead of neither "does" -- ain't that right?