Gilbert and Sullivan’s hilarious Operetta Trial by Jury, first performed in 1875, mocks the pompous english legal system.
It is about Edwin who goes on trial in front of a jury for breaking off his engagement to Angelina. She has sued him from breach of promise of marriage after he went off with another woman.
The court usher advises the jury to set aside any “vulgar prejudice” they may have but then tells them to “observe the features of her (Angelina’s) face, the broken hearted bride”. He then refers to Edwin as the “ruffianly defendant”.
The jury duly takes an instant dislike to Edwin while Angelina looks sweet wearing her wedding dress.
The judge falls for Angelina instantly: “Oh, never, never, never, since I joined the human race, saw I so exquisitely fair a face.”
The jury also falls in love with Angelina: “We love you fondly, and would make you ours!”
The trial proceeds and Edwin puts his case succinctly saying that “it’s not in the range of belief, to look upon him as a glutton, who, when he is tired of beef, determines to tackle the mutton.”
Nevertheless, Edwin agrees to marry both his current lover and Angelina to atone for his sins.
The judge thinks this reasonable but when advised of its illegality he offers to marry Angelina himself.
His offer is accepted and everyone is happy.
The fun of this operetta is that it is so illogical because such bias would obviously never occur in a British court. Or would it?
Well, 135 years later it did.
In a recent court case seven defendants were put on trial for causing £180,000 of damage when they attacked the EDO arms factory in Brighton during Israel’s war with Hamas in Gaza. They believed the factory supplied Israel.
They were acquitted when Judge Bathurst-Norman similarly fell for the charm of the defendants and also compared Israel to the Nazis. Here is the full transcript.
He said: “I am going to start with the background relating to Israel and Palestine and to the evidence which points to the war crimes being committed by Israel in Gaza, an area over which Israel has imposed a blockade. Now you have to look at the evidence coldly and dispassionately. It may be as you went through what I can only describe as horrific scenes, scenes of devastation to civilian population, scenes which one would rather have hoped to have disappeared with the Nazi regimes of the last war, you may have felt anger and appalled by them, but you must put that emotion aside.”
War crimes? Says who apart from the ill-informed Goldstone Panel that took evidence from residents of Gaza in open court with all the deadly repercussions that could entail if they told what Hamas didn’t like to hear.
Yes, there was dreadful loss of life during the fighting against Hamas but to compare this to the Nazis is crass.
And after this horrifically biased direction the judge then has the gall to tell the jury to “put that emotion aside”.
Bathurst-Norman would have done better to have saved the huge amounts of pubic time and expense of all the public bodies involved in this case and declared the defendants not guilty right at the beginning of the case.
For what it counts, Judge Bathurst-Norman has now been censured for his comments.
Although this will have little overall effect on the judge, and no effect on the defendants, it should stop this case being used as a precedent in future cases when other valid businesses have violence used against them.
Up until this reprimand there was the prospect of one’s political ideology being used as a successful defence in court.
Not so now.
Either you are guilty of aggravated trespass or conspiracy to commit criminal damage or you are not.
There is no room for political ideology in a court of law, unless, of course, you are in Iran.
But, hopefully, Iran we are not.
However, as a modicum of success as this might be, and full credit to Jonathan Hoffman and others who brought this case to the Lord Chancellor’s attention, there will be more legal battles to fight against those who choose to use violence in Britain to achieve political ends.
In the meantime we can all enjoy Judge Bathurst-Norman: The Opera.